Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pearl Harbor - 70 Years Later

In the summer of 1941 battles for local boys were limited to being picked off between 1st to 2nd as a member of the East Hampton Bombers in the Middlesex County baseball league or factory and clerk league. That abruptly changed 70 years ago!  On Sunday Dec. 7th, the Japanese Fleet  attacked and destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor killing over 2,000 soldiers, sailors and marines.  I asked my dad what was it like that day. He recalled not hearing about Pearl Harbor until later that evening.  As done on most Sunday afternoons, he was watching the latest release at the EH Movie Theater on North Main Street (Cabinet Shoppe).   Ironically, there was little or no news.  Unlike today with immediate access to nearly any situation, storm, tragedy or military engagement, communication was a much slower and tedious process in the 1940s.  Reports came only through military channels on encrypted teletype.  The classified transmission required decoding and evaluation, then hand delivered  to appropriate officials such as President Roosevelt. The press would be summoned and radio networks (television did not exist) set up broadcasting equipment for a press conference or national address. Though suddenly catapulted into war, U.S. leaders had been preparing for the worst.  Since 1939 when Hitler's army brutally attacked Poland and rolled across Europe, there had become a growing anticipation that soon America would be drawn into battle.  The local news article on July 1, 1941, reported: 17 Young Men Register with Draft Board 34 -  Joseph Becker, Rev. John Dalhman, Gabriel Frontel, Frederick Galvin, Franklin Gates, Philip Goff, Walter Grant, William Hand, Stephen Hansuld,  Chandler Hicks, John Hicks, Norman Lapiene, Frederick Leonard, Harold Nichols, John Panonessa, Francis Sherman and Raymond Strong. As they had prepared for a July 4th celebration that year with picnics and baseball,  I'm sure the last thing on their minds was the upheaval about to unfold.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Origin of TV Criminal Pathology Investigation

Popular TV programs such as CSI, NCIS, or CSI Miami, with their investigators and medical examiners solving crimes from an autopsy, dates back to the 1970s show Quincy. In all likelihood however, they all have their origins from a novel written in 1975 entitled Autopsy by John Feegel. Born and raised in EH, John and brother Richard were the sons of Fred and Eva Feegel. Fred (Buddy), a resident state trooper, was known as the “Singing State Cop” performing as a tenor in local productions.

Dr. John Feegel was the medical examiner in Tampa Florida and pathologist and chief of staff at South Florida Baptist Hospital earning his MD from the University of Ottawa in 1960 and his JD degree in law in 1964 at the University of Denver and also taught forensic pathology at Emory College. Autopsy, Feegel’s first novel, brings out in subterfuge the names of people and places that may well be recognized locally. Generally the book was about a man from Florida who is found dead in a Middleburg Motel called “The Brownstone.”

Local names are woven into the story including Tampa attorney G. Markham Hurst, Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Campbell and Merton Hitchcock of Hitchcock's Funeral home. It is the character Campbell that presumably emulates the exploits of the author. Dr. Feegel, author of seven mystery novels, was recipient of the prestigious “Edgar” award presented by the Mystery Writers of America in 1976.

A celebrated pathologist, Feegel was the medical examiner in charge of the investigations in Atlanta concerning the deaths of 14 black children in 1980 and was retained by ABC as a consultant in the investigation into the death of Elvis Presley and subject of the television show 20/20 in December 1979 when it was speculated Presley’s death was drug related – big news 30 years ago!

John R. Feegel (1932-2003) wrote, in addition to Autopsy, Legal Aspects of Laboratory Medicine (1973), Death Sails the Bay (1978), The Dance Card (1981), Malpractice (1981), Not a Stranger (1983), and Death Among the Ruins (2002).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tennis Chamption - Howard Taylor

Although St. Clements (now a banquet and conference center) is situated in Portland just west of Cobalt, its builder and original owner, Howard Taylor and thereafter his daughter Prudence Palmer and their families, solidly identified with the Middle Haddam and Cobalt areas of Chatham - not Conway, Gildersleve or Portland - tracing their ties back to 1721 when great grandfather John settled in Chatham. St. Clements' construction commenced in 1902 by Howard and Gertrude Taylor on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River in a design reminiscent of European castles overlooking the Danube or Rhine.
Howard matriculated to Harvard University after preparing at St. Paul's School, graduating in 1885. At Harvard, Howard was a member of the Cricket Club and varsity Tennis Team. While at Harvard, Howard Taylor captured the NCAA singles and doubles tennis championship in 1883.
Over the decade of the 1880s, Howard played in the U.S. Nationals which began its tournament in 1881 at the Newport Casino on Bellevue Avenue, a stones throw away from the famous Newport cottages such as the Breakers, Marble House, or the Elms built by the Vanderbilt's, Astor's and other wealthy elite of the late 19th century.
Known today at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament played in Flushing Meadows, New York, this tennis equivalent of the Master's in golf, the World Series in baseball or the Super Bowl in football, is currently holding court ready to crown new champions. Taylor competed in the U.S. Nationals, being defeated in 1884 in the Men's Singles by Richard Sears and in 1888 by Henry Slocum. In 1886, Taylor and Godfrey Brinley were defeated in the U.S. National Men's Doubles by Richard Sears and Dr. James Dwight and also in 1887 when Taylor teamed up with Henry Slocum. But in 1889, Taylor and Slocum defeated Valentine hall and Oliver Campbell for the National Men's Doubles title.
A gentleman's sport, professional tennis players, like golfers, did not begin to flourish until 50 years hence with a total break from amateur champion not occurring until the 1950s.
Taylor, who never abandoned his love for the game, had courts constructed on the grounds of St. Clements, where he hosted a number of friends, colleagues and celebrities.
I thank my daughter, Nicole F. Markham, Curator of Collections at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport for suggesting this topic to me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The End of Summer - Baseball Brothers

Although not officially summer's end, Labor Day puts an indelible impression of it coming demised and heralds the end of another baseball season. Previously writing about East Hampton baseball brother acts, the Bransfield boys - Hal, Jake, Ed and Bill - were not an exclusive club. Ozzie and Gabe Frontel, a twosome played for the Belltown Bombers and joined brother John and Joe in the town's factory / clerk league. Before the age of TV, computers, video games, and all our modern distractions, getting out to play baseball or do other activities such as swim in Lake Pocotopaug was the norm and many played in the factory league as practice for the Middlesex County League. Other brothers included Gerald and Tom Wall and brother-in-law Vinnie "Swede" Nelson and the Wylie's - Sam and Willie. In 1937, Tom Wall, Managed and played center field for a team that started slow but finished with a winning record despite the fact that Manager Wall was sidelined in August with appendicitis.

Tom Wall was Dennis Wall's dad. Dennis is now the Democratic candidate for Zoning Board of Appeals. What else would he be. Dennis's grandfather James was a Democrat elected as a Selectman for several terms in the 1940s and 1950s. Gerald, better known by his nickname "Butch," was the Manager and head bartender for O'Neill's Tavern when Bill was politicking in Hartford as State Representative up until the time he was elected Lt. Governor in 1978.

And baseball, like the flowers, blooms in the spring. In the second game of 1938, on May 16th, "Don Mack opened the game on the mound for the locals and lasted until the beginning of the seventh inning, when he was yanked by Manager dick Ferrari and was relieved by Gabriel Frontel, a young left-hander who finished the game in good style," making his debut that Sunday afternoon.

Gabe, husband of Christine, who is my mother Pauline's sister, are still going strong, celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary this year.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Boys of Summer - The Bransfield Brothers

Baseball, at least in Belltown, often became a family affair. From the 1890s through the 1950s, the summer sport would see fathers who were succeeded by sons, or brother acts, such as the Bransfield's, dominate the diamond. Harold "Hal", Paul "Jake", William "Bill" and Edward "Ed" played side by side for the Belltown Bombers, in games that usually took place on weekends. They "practiced" in the East Hampton factory league playing along side brother John, Joe and Jim. And not to be outdone, sisters Ellen, Marion and Marge were active in ladies softball. The Middlesex County League was important for the Towns pride, but several of the factories, including Bevin Brothers, Gong Bell, Summit Thread and N.N. Hills Brass had a twilight league that more than 125 men participated in. It served as training for new talent or where semi-retired players could get some activity after they left the Bombers.

In the County League, I've been told that Hal Bransfield was one of the best to play the game, yet Paul, know as "Jake" with a .410 average, received the M. J. Higgins loving cup as the leading hitter in 1937. Brother Bill hit .342 that same year (sixth best in the league).

I remember Harold or as everyone called him, "Brandy" as the Assistant Post Master, who had begun his career as a postal clerk around 1926. I met him in 1961 when by father Donald was appointed by President Kennedy to succeed retiring Post Master Forest Thatcher. I remember this wiry elder. Little did I know he was one of the greats!

Brother Joe also worked at the Post Office as a rural carrier and would stop with his wife Connie for dinner or an ice cream sundae at Thatcher Drug. Working the old soda fountain, townspeople would be greeted and served by Mary Ann (Nichols) Wall, Donna (Skinner) Mitchell, Carol (Christopher) Hart or me (at least between 1964 to 1966), the blue plate special, a hamburger or a hot fudge sundae after a hard days work.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Boys of Summer - Belltown Bombers

Our recent EHHS men’s State Champion baseball team brings to mind the storied history of many other EH teams and our “Boys of Summer." I recently read an account of the long baseball history attributed to our Town back to the 1880s. H. F. Scranton wrote of the great Richard Wall – in an article in 1928, as the local Belltown Bombers were making mincemeat of the Middlesex County league. Ironically we had two tremendous baseball players by that name. The first played from the late 1880s to the late teens. A blacksmith by trade, his shop still exists in the rear of 64 Main Street - owned by Kevin and Kim Keily - located across the street from the Congregational Church. Smithy Wall was a stellar catcher - iron strong! By day pounding metal and crafting repair parts for machinery (blacksmiths did more than shoe horses), evenings and weekends saw Dick hammering long fly balls and rifling pick offs of runners testing his steely arm.

I said two Richard Walls. The second, great nephew to the first, was a friend and a political mentor who passed away this June. The second Mr. Wall may have been the best to play the game from our town. Dick told me how another great, Manager Charlie Barber, recruited him to play on the Belltown Bombers while a high school freshman. League rules required players to be 18 or older, so he registered under the name of his older brother John who was away at war. Later they ran Wall’s Dairy until the location was purchase by the Rossini's. Offered a professional contract, with the St. Louis Cardinals , Dick opted to stay at home to develop the thriving dairy bar business with brothers John and Phil.

In 1905, County Commissioner Hubert Hodge's team won the pennant in the Middlesex County League, the first time the title ever came to the Belltown. The 1906 County League Pennant was captured by the Belltown boys as well. Playing for that team were Frank Johnson, Arthur Gates, Richard Wall, Stanley Bevin (with a blistering fastball), Arthur Bride, David Moriarity, Wick Markham, Hubert Hodge, Charles Ivers and David Bride.

Our close knit community saw mechanics and management bank together on the diamond. Many went on to successful business careers or roles as community leaders, the skills learned of working together just another example of the success of our baseball teams.

Bevin, president of Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co., Hodge, a pharmacist and owner of Barton Drug Store (now Devine Jewelers) who served, as did David Bride, as selecmen and W.W.B. Markham, who owned the T.S. Brown Insurance and Real Estate Agency, the bowling alley and other ventures. S. A. Bevin was the pitcher on that team and was one of the most effective in position because of his terrific speed. Dick Wall, played second base that year and Frank Johnson of Middletown did the catching. In 1914, Mark Hamilton had a jaunt with the home players. Leo Strong was the pitcher and Charlie Metcalf did the catching. In 1915, Dave Bride's team won the Middlesex County League pennant.

In 1928, Harold Scranton, a local boy who covered sports for the Middletown Press, wrote, "A winning baseball team is a good advertisement for any town and for over a span of 35 years East Hampton's baseball nines have averaged up better than any town in Middlesex County ....[he expressed gratitude]... to Rich Wall, the village smithy, considered the best backstop ever to don a net mask and wind pad in Middlesex County, for information given about stars of the old days before shin guards, big mitts and masks were use."

My grandfather Percy Markham, an accomplished player, managed the 1928 Belltown Bombers while playing centerfield, to the Middlesex County Championship. When I was a boy, he relayed stories of his baseball exploits.

Now I haven’t researched the entire history, but I came across some old pictures recently of him playing and certainly have no reason to doubt his word, especially as he was held in high esteem by others in the community. He was elected Tax Collector for 4 terms, Was elected to the Board of Education and served on the building committees for both the High School (now the Center School) and Memorial School and had been the Prosecutor for our local Court for 20 some years.

His most interesting story related to his service in the U.S. Marine Corp. During WW I he was shipped to France with the Doughboys who liberated Europe in the Great War! Returning to the U.S., he extended his enlistment and spent time near Washington D.C. before being deployed to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua chasing bandits and revolutionaries.

But his Washington service that was of greatest interest, at least with respect to this story. While there, he played baseball as a member of the Marine Corp Team. He told me some really fine players – major league caliper – played and they had games scheduled against major league teams that came to the Nation’s Capitol to play the Washington Senators.

But it was games against the Senators that peaked my interest. He told me he had batted against the great Walter Johnson. He didn’t tell me how he did. However, we all know that the “Big Train” became one of the first five members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame along with Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

As Mike Thompson, Editor of Rivereast pointed out, "Percy didn't tell Dean how he did, but, I wouldn't have been shocked if it was a strikeout. Johnson did, after all, fan 3,508 people over his 20-year careeer, a record that stood for more than 50 years after he retired. It's almost shortchanging Johnson to simply describe him as one of the game's all-time greats. And Percy Markham got to bat against him."

After four years of chasing bandoleros, he returned home, married the former Rose Knotek, their marriage lasting nearly 60 years until his death in 1983.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My First Old Home Day

Recollections of my first Old Home Day were at the age of five in 1953. My father Donald Markham and Dennis Erickson were co-chairs working tirelessly to reestablish OHD which had withered at the end of WW II from lack of funds, lack of meat (no hamburgs or hotdogs) and support. In the early 1930s, the American Legion and after WW II, jointly with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, organized the summer event.

That August 1st parade included Fife and Drum Corps from EH, Litchfield, Deep River, Chester, Windsor Locks and our EHHS Band. A dozen floats entered representing the Chamber of Commerce, V.F.W. Auxiliary, American Legion and Auxiliary, Belltown Garden Club, Cranmer Club, Rotary Club, Haddam Neck Grange, 46 Club - Eastern Star, Girl Scouts and Rebekah Lodge. Fire Departments from surrounding towns of East Haddam, Cromwell, Durham and Middletown joined our EH Volunteers. The State Police Color Guard led other marching units - the Middletown Police, V.F.W. and American Legion, Sons of Union Veterans and Spanish-American War Veterans, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cubs and Brownies who stepped off from the old Town Hall.

I guess what brings back the most vivid memory of that 1953 Old Home Day was trigger this past week on the passing of Richard Hitchcock. Richard, who Co-chaired the Parade Committee, and my Dad were best friends. The morning of Old Home Day, my father took me with Richard to erect an American Flag for a widow living on West High Street near the entrance to the Middle School. You see, every year, homes would be decorated with American Flags to welcome all back to our community. This past weeks event has kept up this tradition with telephone poles lining Main Street, North Main, East High, West High and others display our flag.

I never knew the widow's name, but after the bracket and flag was installed, she had us come to attention, salute and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and then I, with my cap gun (do you remember the rolls of red paper caps?) fired 3 rounds in honor of all who had served.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 4th, 1776 - 2011

The 235th anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence, this Monday July 4th, peaked my curiosity - what did our Chatham Selectmen or Town Meeting (Chatham was then the Town that composed all the land of Portland as well as East Hampton, Cobalt and Middle Haddam) do to recognize this momentous event? The answer, simply - not much - at least immediately! Today, Town cuncil meetings are posted and regularly held. Meetings then were not held at regular dates nor were there instantaneous news updates. Selectmen, elected at the annual town meeting of land holders, would attend to town business as needed and the annual meeting appointed committees to deal with specific issues of the day. For example, there was a committee to oversee hogs. You see, hogs were allowed to roam free and it was the duty of the committee to enforce control over the swine making sure owners had properly tagged their animals. But in light of those types of actions and responsibilities, at the December 9, 1776, meeting, interesting action did occur. Created and empowered was a Committee on Observation. I'm not sure if the purpose or intent was for patriotic citizens to observe their neighbors loyalty to the American Revolution, but that information may come with further research. From those minutes I was able to decipher the archaic handwriting that recorded the events and resolution adopted, which stated:

At the same meeting was voted that this town do accept and approve of the doings of the Continental Congress held at Philadelphia in September last and agree to keep and observe the same and do our utmost that the same shall be purcisely (sp) kept and observed according to the true intent of the Congress and the following persons are appointed as a Committee of Observation according to the Eleventh Article of the Association with the powers and authorities therein mentioned. Committee on Observation - Ebenezer White, Esq., John Cooper, Capt Moses Bush, Charles Goodrich, Capt John Penfield, Enoch Smith, Jeremiah Bradford, Capt George Stocking, Capt Stephen Olmsted, Capt Abijah Hall and Capt Silas Dunham.

One can surmise from the dates that July 4th, in and of itself, was not immediately significant at the time but rather the September actions which were likely printing and dissemination of the Declaration of much greater importance. Regardless, our town stood tall as a new world unfolded whose words that came forth from the Philadelphia Hall ring as true today as then - "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Our Lake Resorts

Many might be skeptical today, but East Hampton was one of the recreational hotspots for the central Connecticut area. Our town's livelihood depended, to a great degree, on the summer patrons and guests that made this community the vacation destination of choice. Weekends would see couple from Middletown, New Britain or Hartford jumping into the old jalopy to seek out dancing and entertainment. The recent deliberations by our Town Council to enact a noise ordinance have caused a certain degree of angst. And I guess analogous with the oft heard definaition of "what is art - art being in the eyes of the beholder," noise, or the level of noise, is relative to the individual experiencing the type and intensity of the sound. But throughout much of the 20th century, our citizens relished spring turning into summer and what it brought to our economy.

Looking back through town records, we find a much different community residing on Lake Pocotopaug. In the early 20th century our Lake was line by numerous, but sadly, now gone, summer resorts and restaurants. Beginning at the outlet of Christophers's Pond were the Lakeview House, followed by the Hathaway Inn (now Angelico's Lake House Restaurant) in operation, including outdoor entertainment, for over 100 years. Next came the Blue Bell CafĂ©, Ivy Inn, Edgemere Resort, Oakwood Stand and Cottages, and from there north around the lake several guest cottages such as Winchester’s ending at Pocotopaug Lodge at the head of Spellman Point. In those days only a handful residential houses were built on the west side or for that matter, anywhere else around Lake Pocotopaug. The south east side of the lake had other entertainment venues such as Strong’s Pavilion, Carriers Casino, the Terramaugus House, the Hillside Restaurant (which became the Heidelberg), the Duck Pin Bowling Alleys, Clearwater Lodge and the Candlelight Inn.

Resorts and restaurants lined Lake Pocotopaug up to the mid 20th century. From the Wm. Bevin house at the corner of Sears Place, only 8 homes dotted the Lake - North Main Street to Lake Drive to Mott Hill Road – most being occupied by the owners of a resort or guest facility. Others were strictly summer cottages on Spellman Point or farms distanced from the lake on Clark or Mott Hill. Building did not begin in earnest until the 1930s, and in fact it was the owners of the Hathaway, the Paonessa family, that subdivided and developed their land creating the Barbara Road subdivision.

The Lake establishments became a significant part of the economic livelihood of East Hampton, second only to the bell manufacturing industry. Bands and raucous entertainment were encouraged to attract summer visitors. Friday afternoons witnessed a steady stream of vacationers arriving by train, walking from the Village Center to their chosen resort or lodge - there to relax, enjoy sports and lake activities, and party to live entertainment. Some facilities had outdoor pavilions and band stands. Our Town leaders encouraged and planned for a “good summer season” and actively sought and advertised – “come to East Hampton for a good time!”

Those times have changed but we all want some resurgence of the Lake's vitality. Friends of the Lake and our Town Councils for many years have worked to bring the pristine water quality back. The noise factor has recently been a sensitive issue and I don’t mean to make light of what people experience. Is it possible that excessive amplification hides the talent or lack thereof of the performers? When my family and friends have patronized the outdoor garden and Tiki Hut at Angelico's Lake House, we seek to engage in conversation and dining without being drowned out by the music. Maybe the solution is in moderation and maybe, just maybe, other restaurants will locate to provide entertainment, dining experiences and economic vitality.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

To those who grew up in East Hampton, Memorial Day was always special. As a child, Memorial Day, and especially the parade, was the "big event," which certainly would pale in comparison to the big production festivities such as those seen on TV from our Nations Capitol. But our community, joining together - kids laughing, adults lining the parade route and applauding those marching - to me, was so much more meaningful. And the solemn services at the Memorial at the High School, a gun salute and taps at Lakeview Cemetery and the address by guest speaker and reading of the rolls of fallen veterans with the crisp drum role made this event come alive.

Our Nation is fortunate to have a resurgence of respect and patriotism remembering the sacrifices of those soldiers who serve now and who served in our past, protecting and preserving our freedom. That to some extent came about through the tragedy of 9-11.

The realization that war is much more than a glorious exercise jumped nightly into our living rooms as reporters such as Walter Cronkite brought us to the battlefields of Vietnam, displaying the brutality of combat, the horror, the fatigue, the destruction, the noise, the obscenities, and most vividly, in spectra color, the blood and the death of your soldiers. Many became disillusioned. And the respect and honor of those that served was rarely accorded.

I have had the privilege to be elected and serve as State Representative and the honor on several occasions to present the Memorial Day Address. Preparing remarks in 1987 as I returned from meetings in Washington DC with members of our Congressional Delegation, my thought centered on some of the monuments that I took a few moments to tour while there. To the crowd gathered that Memorial Day, I posed a riddle: what does 43E - 3, 44E - 24 and 20W - 99 have in common? The answer - they identify the panel and line and position recognizing names of three young men who grew up in this town - boys I went to high school with - men killed in battle in Vietnam - James Banning, Bernd Bachleda and David Swann. In the simplicity of those black marble panels, hardly visible from Constitution Avenue as one walks below street grade to view them, shall forever humble this Nation as they display the names of over 58,000 who perished in that Asian Nation.

Monday, Sgt. Aaron McLaughlin will give the Memorial Day address. Sgt. McLaughlin grew up in East Hampton and is a decorated member of the U.S. Army having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a recipient of the Purple Heart. On a personal note, I remember Sgt. McLaughlin as a boy in what were simpler times when he played Little League baseball, my son Greg being a member of the same team. I also know how proud his grandmother, Ann, is of Aaron and how his grandfather Bill, a veteran and now deceased, was of his grandson.

So my invitation to one and all. Come watch the parade on Memorial Day. Listen to the observances - reading the roll of deceased veterans, the Gettysburg Address, the poem "In Flanders Fields," our local school bands, the solemn prayers, and Sgt. McLaughlin. Don't we owe those who have served and sacrificed at least that?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Center School Recreational Field

Often we take for granted our public facilities, parks or recreationaly lands, and certainly their origins. For instance, the athletic filed adjoining the Center School was originally a gift to the Town of East Hampton. In the Fall of 1922, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. (the fabled bell maker) gave approximately 3 acres of land north of the then grammer school ( which became the High School in 1939) for a Community playground. The land was deeded to the East Hampton Bank & Trust Co. with the understanding that when $5,000 had been raised and expended toward putting the grounds into proper condition, the land should be deeded to the town. One of the stipulations of the gift was that alcohol could not be served on the grounds. You will likely note that although beer is served at Old Home Day, it is done so from the rear of the American Legion Hall and not from the school grounds.
A commission composed of J. Howell Conklin, Secretary, Albert B. Starr, Treasurer and Harlan G. Hills, Chairman formed to raise the money by popular subscription.
In July 1923, the Village Improvement Society voted to start this subscription with a gift of $1,000 and a pledge to give 75 pecent of the proceeds of the upcoming Carnival towards the same fund. The successor to the Village Improvement Society is the Old Home Day Committe, which we all know holds its annual festivities on those same grounds.
Work commenced on the grounds on the morning of July 19th, under the supervision of Harlan G. Hills with Wolfe Reisiner, as foreman. A carloan of tile had alread been unloaded and a ditch was dug from the Congregational Church north past the Methodist Church (now the American Legion Hall). Today, DEP and our town Sanitarian would initiate a cease and decist order until proper permits could be obtained, but in 1923, the 125 feet of 18 inch tile that would carry the brook as well as connecting Bevin's sewer with storm drains in the Village Center and permitting the project were not quite as involved or formal as today. Those drainage pipes eventually emptied into Pocotopaug Creek heading towards the Salmon then Connecticut Rivers.
In addition to the drainage, horse and carriage sheds belonging to the 2 churches were dismantled or moved.
The committee planned to put in 2 or 3 tennis courts, croquet, basketball, swings, teeter and everything that go to make up a playground, and, raise $10,000 within a few weeks. The project was a success and the field has been used for a variety of activities. Old Home Day annually, but from 1939 to the mid 1960s it was the High School athletic field. Home soccer and baseball games were played her as well as track and field meets. And from the mid 1920s to the 1950s, the East Hampton Bombers played their summer baseball games along with the factory league teams.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chauncey Griswold Bevin

Known as Belltown since the mid 1800s, East Hampton was the epicenter of an international market of talented bell makers and manufacturers in an industry that produced and shipped millions upon millions of bells and related products. The premier manufacturer was, Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co., which continues is operation today, 179 years after its founding. Started in 1832 by brothers Abner, William, Chauncey and Philo, the company grew from the roots and apprenticeship with William Barton and his sons, founders and first bell makers of this fabled industry. Barton was noted for his generosity and willingness to train young apprentices is his trade, production methods and secrets and encouraged those who worked with him to venture out and ply their trade in their own enterprises. In 1946, Bevin Bros. President, Chauncey Griswold Bevin, was honored at the 55th Annual Congress of the National Association of Manufacturers as being one of the oldest active business leaders in the world. At 95, Bevin had overseen the transformation from the 35 or so small foundry shops that sprang from the Barton first foundry just south of their family home at 25 Barton Hill, to modern large scale production and worldwide clientele. Known to all in the community, his employees and his extensive family as “Uncle Chan,” Bevin was also a founder of the Gong Bell Mfg. Co., a worldwide maker of children’s toys incorporating bells. These toys were the first to use the Walt Disney characters in their designs - endearing cartoon personalities such as Mickey Mouse. And ironically, when honored, two other local businessmen and company Presidents, N. N. Hill of the N. N. Hill Brass Co., age 84, and Clifford M. Watrous, of the Gong Bell Mfg. Co., age 74, remained active in their respective companies. Maybe it was something in our local water, but Bevin stated in an interview, “I’ve never had to go to a hospital in my life. Of course I don’t work like I used to. I try to be temperate in all things. Always was. Don’t drink. I cut out cigarettes a few years ago. I felt better.” Chauncey built his home on Bevin Court on a piece of land purchased from his father Abner, overlooking the family manufacturing plants. This spectacular circa 1880 Queen Anne style country home in the middle Victorian Period presented, in a tasteful manner, the wealth and success befitting the successor to the founders of the Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. The Bevin family, among the early settlers of Chatham and the East Hampton society were strict Congregationalists. Moderation and hard work were ingrained in their demeanor and lifestyle, thus the exterior of the home did not present some of the more decorative embellishments of other Victorian architecture. Those features were showcased within the four walls.

If a bank robber invades your Town - What would you do?

The 1955 bank robbery turned out to be a call to arms - at least to several young men in the Town. My friend Richard McKinney stopped me the other day to reminisce about the CBT bank robbery (see posting on January 24, 2011) and his recollection of the event. It prompted me to seek out from others around then to find out their reaction, what they were doing at the time or any other information they might remember. Although by today’s standards the heist which yielded the robber a little over $3,000 might seem insignificant, it was a big even. That kind of money could have purchased two new Chevrolets Belairs. Remember, the robbery occurred before the days of security cameras and instant imaging. The FBI and State Police (we had no local police department) took up residence, headquartering over Hitchcock’s Drug Store while gathering clues. Hitchcock's was located at the corner of Main Street and Barton Hill and has operated as a summer ice cream shop in recent years. For the newspaper accounts at the time, scores of state troopers and agents gathered in the Village Center as they pursued all leads. Some of our local young men decided to join the search. “Richie” told me that he and several of his friends including Frank “Frankie” DiStefano and Paul “Paulie” Royce went home, got their hunting rifles and converged on the downtown. One can only envision the four 16 year olds with their rifles marching through the Village Center with State Troopers everywhere, yet with not so much as “who are you, what are you doing and why do you have a rifle?” They walked the railroad tracks and across the trestle in the center of town shouldering their guns and then worked their way into the woods in back of the bank on Barton Hill just in case the robber was hiding - waiting for dark to make his get away. No robber was ever found, but certainly an exciting afternoon and an event that still brings back memories of a time when a community rallied to protect its own.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Volunteer Firefighters - What would do without them?

In the latter part of 1915, fire raged through the toy shop destroying the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company. The fire was fought with a “bucket parade” as no fire department then existed. The final demise of Gong Bell occurred nearly 60 years later with a fire that destroyed a huge section of the manufacturing facility off of Main and Walnut Streets. In 1916, townspeople formed the first Fire Company which has expanded to include Co. 2 in Cobalt and Co. 3 on White Birch Road.

Through the years, volunteers, our neighbors and friends, have served us all with little fanfare, just doing a tremendous job helping protect our community . Today I acknowledging the past, but am grateful for the dedication and abilities of those who currently serve.

Early Monday morning, my wife awoke to the smell of smoke coming from our basement. Rousting the dog (and me) from sound sleep, we evacuated the house telephoning 911. Cell phones have become a very handy and necessary tool. Within minutes, one of our fine EH Police Officers arrived followed by a score of volunteer firefighters. Lead by Chief Marty Voelker, they fully checked the house for fire and determined, as I had suspected that the boiler was the culprit. Using a portable exhaust fan, they proceeded to clear the basement and upper levels of the house of smoke, allowing us re-entry as soon as the CO had subsided to safe levels.

So I say thanks to all who serve in this noble endeavor. I also suggest that each and everyone check the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Doing this twice a year when you change the clocks for daylight saving time would be wise– it could save your life and your property. Again, thanks to these wonderful gentlemen who respond so selflessly.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Act of Kindness

The recent picture of Helen Wallis and family celebrating her 97th birthday reminded me of an event that occurred in the 1940s but played itself out a decade later involving Chief Deputy Sheriff of Middlesex County, Jack Wallis.

In April 1955 Wallis received a $325 check that turned out to be the second installment of payment in gratitude for an act of kindness. Ten years earlier, Wallis was driving along Marlborough Street in Portland (Rt. 66) at about 2:30 in the morning when he stopped to assist a motorist with apparent mechanical difficulty. Upon alighting from his car, the deputy sheriff found an elderly couple whose vehicle had a flat tire and no spare. Further investigation found that the couple was on the way to Lynn, Mass. to visit a friend in hospital.

When it became apparent that no spare would be available for several hours until a garage opened, Wallis loaded the couple into his car and drove them to their destination. In Lynn he found accommodations for the couple and himself, it still being early morning. Several hours later, as Sherriff Wallis prepared to return home, the old gentleman still protesting his thanks and gratitude, made an attempt to pay his benefactor for his assistance. Wallis even reluctant to discuss the affair refused any money and made an attempt to leave quickly and quietly. But the old man took 2 $10s and a $5 from his wallet and threw them on the car seat insisting to Wallis that he would not take the bills back. Wallis got into his vehicle and returned to his office in Middletown.

On April 18, 1955, a letter arrived addressed to Wallis with the check, the one mentioned above – a legacy left by the old man who couldn’t forget the stranger who helped him in a brotherly spirit at a time when he desperately needed it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

CBT Robbed

Our sleepy hamlet of East Hampton is awakened every once and awhile with some sort of startling event. Geoff Smith, Eaton and Gladys Smith’s son who now resides in Naples Florida, reminded me of one such occurrence. Entering the Connecticut Bank and Trust Company branch located in the Village Center 10 minutes before noon on April 12, 1955, a man described as about 5 feet 6 inches tall and of olive complexion strode into the lobby and walked over to Miss Marie
Teller Marie Bransfield with FBI and State Police Investigators
Bransfield at the teller’s cage and asked if she had any 1040-A income tax forms. As she turned away to meet his request, the bandit suddenly produced a black automatic and pointed it across the counter demanded “Now I want all the big bills.” Shocked and thoroughly frightened, Miss Bransfield, backed away calling upon her supervisor, Mrs. Marjorie Newcombe, telling her, “This man wants the big bills!” Mrs. Newcombe asked “what he was going to pay for them with?” “I don’t know” stammered Miss Bransfield. Mrs. Newcombe, still unaware a holdup was in progress, entered the cage and asked the man what type of money he intended to exchange for the big bills. Then she saw the gun and froze in her tracks. “I want the big bills” the bandit repeated quietly. Mrs. Newcombe dug into the cash drawer whose contents only had two $50 bills and a single $100. “I don’t have many big bills,” she said. He gave a doubting glare. “I’m telling the truth.” She pleaded. “Will you take 10s and 20s?” He nodded and she began shoving stacks of money at him across the counter. The gun never wavered and he showed no signs of nervousness. “Keep ‘em coming,” he urged.

Within a matter of ten minutes the robber slowly turned and strolled out of the bank, exiting with $3,060 stuffed into his pockets. This ice man apparently had cased the bank well. At the appointed hour only three employees were on duty and one other person, Dr. J. Sheldon Davis, a local dentist making a deposit during the holdup, present. Thus the perpetrator encountered no bank officers or other customers. The robber appeared to have been on foot as several employees of Steve’s Auto Sales, Inc. located at 70 Main Street reported having seen a stranger walking north towards the bank shortly before noon. Automobiles then as now, park along the street and whether the bandit might have parked a distance from the bank was not determined.
Upon reporting the robbery, State Police and FBI agents rushed to the scene and a general alarm was broadcast over the police radio and teletype network. Roadblocks were quickly thrown up, but to no avail. A command headquarters under the direction of State Police Captain Robert Rundle was established over Hitchcock’s Drug Store on the corner of Main and Barton Hill, with Middletown Police and County Detective George M. Dunn assisting in the investigation. An intense investigation pursued. It had been thought that a 1952 Nash sedan stolen from in front of the VFW Hall on Washington Street in Middletown belonging to Mr. Michael Augeri might have been used by the robber. The vehicle was found abandoned on a New Haven street
but after questioning several suspects, it was determined not to have related to the EH bank robbery get-away. The State and New Haven Police investigated the possibility that the robber had boarded a train. FBI agents alerted New York operatives but nothing resulted. The robber walked off into the sunset, never to be seen again.

Geoff Smith, who had reminded me of the incident, was a student whose classes were held at the American Legion Hall. We all hear about Gen X and Gen Y today but in 1955 it was Gen BB – Baby Boomers – who were multiplying by leaps and bounds. So much so that the planning for the recently built and opened Memorial School became immediately deficient for the town’s growing needs upon its opening and dedication in 1951. Stretched to the limits, the Superintendent of Schools with the Boards of Education and Selectmen scurried about securing temporary facilities for classrooms. The American Legion, Congregational Church and Library were among locations used while Memorial School was expanded with 8 additional classrooms. A second expansion that created the “blue roof” in the 1980s added more classrooms, a library and new gymnasium and the highly visible landmark – it’s “blue roof!”.

Mrs. Fillmore’s was my 1st grade teacher at Memorial School when the robbery occurred. I vaguely remember her telling us that the bank had been robbed and that until the police were sure the bandit wasn’t roaming the streets (you see, many students walked to school in those days) we would be detained at school. The all clear signal must have come shortly thereafter because I don’t recall getting home any later than usual.

One of the humorous side notes resulted from a previously held East Hampton Chamber of Commerce meeting. It seems that Chamber discussed a March $305,000 New York bank robbery. All local Chamber members agreed, including CBT branch Manager Allen Guiot that it would not be feasible or profitable to hold up the local bank. The Chamber announced another meeting scheduled for the Heidelberg Inn on Lakeview Street for April 14th, two days after the robbery, with one of the topics on the agenda “just how profitable it will be to hold up the local bank.” Apparently, the bandit was unaware the Chamber had ruled out robbery the previous week!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reunion at the Blood Mobile

Every 60 days or so, I have a reunion of sorts. On those occasions, I usually catch up with some old friends such as Ann and Ray Nichols, Susan Petell or George Pfaffenbach, where we all scheduled at approximately the same time to give blood at the American Red Cross Blood Drive – the most recent being on December 14th at St. Patrick’s Pius X Center and the next to be held on February 12th at the Congregational Church.

Our townspeople have long supported the Red Cross with that precious gift of life – our blood! These Blood Bank Drives occur locally and have been sponsored by a number of organizations such as the VFW, the Masons, and numerous churches with a typical afternoon yielding about 70 pints.

Recently I came across an article describing a Blood Drive in early 1946. Mind you, WW II had just ended and there was still a tremendous need for blood for the many operations being performed on wounded soldiers, so a major effort was still occurring throughout the nation. Here in East Hampton, we did our part. At that January Blood Bank held at EHHS (now the center School), our town – and you have to remember there were less than 3,000 citizens compared to today’s population near 13,000 – contributed 229 pints. Quite an effort!

So, if you’d like to do something really important, I would suggest that you also became a blood donor. There will need to endure a couple needles, but the good you do is immeasurable. The process is quite easy. I would strongly suggest that you don’t just show up at the door to wait in a queue. Look up the American Red Cross at www.ctredcross.org or call 860-287-3327 and schedule an appointment. See you there at my next reunion.