Thursday, April 26, 2012

Life Changer - Joel West Smith

We don't often know or appreciate how events or actions in our lives impact others. The work of one East Hampton native, Joel West Smith, had a life changing impact on thousands, one being a young lady from Alabama, Helen Keller.  At the age of 2, Helen fell ill and was struck blind, deaf and mute. Blinded himself in 1860 at the age of 23 during a July 4th celebration by a prematurely exploding cannon, Smith started a remarkable career by entering the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. His exposure to other sightless people awakened his ambitions for a life of achievement and drove from his mind the fear of a helpless existence. Within 6 years he rose to a supervisory position; later assisted in the administration of the London Academy of Music for the Blind and went on to help found the Royal College for the Blind in England. In 1872, Smith began a European tour to study teaching methods in schools for the blind, concentrating on methods used by the blind to repair and tune pianos, which became an important vocation.

Smith also developed of an improved system of Braille writing which simplified and made far less tedious the reading and writing by the sightless. He invented the first typewriter for Braille "letters" and helped found, and later managed and published The Mentor, the first magazine for the blind in America. During Smith's management of The Mentor, Helen Keller was inspired to learn to speak, an accomplishment which, according to Ms Keller's teacher Anne Sullivan, "singly justified its existence." 

Remembered by few today, Joel West Smith's indomitable spirit has served an inspiration to thousands and impacted us all in ways unimaginable 100 years ago thorough enactment of legislation such as American's with Disabilities Act. 

His family home is now Spencer Funeral Home on Main Street. He lies today in Lakeview Cemetery amongst the many great men and women who founded our Town and contributed their talents to make a better world.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mt. Pleasant

This is a story that I might entitle, If It's Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is.

As a Realtor with Prudential Connecticut Realty, a 1929 Middletown Press article titled “SUPPOSED REALTOR ALARMS DISTRICT” caught my attention. Apparently, a strangely acting man terrorized folks in the Mt. Pleasant section of East Hampton leaving residents alarmed and disappointed, after visiting the homes of Mrs. Axel Cornelisson, Arthur, Einar and John Jacobson and John G. Johnson.   Mt. Pleasant is the area along RT 16, Cochester Avenue, Flatbrook Road, Tartia Road, Markham Road and now Jacobson Farms Road. 

Claiming to be from Massachusetts, the real estate man bargained to purchase their farms at prices asked by the owners, agreeing to return Friday to close the deals.  In the meantime, the sellers, who believed they had sold their property and were about to reap a small fortune, made preparations to move out and look for rents in town.  Friday came but the real estate man didn’t.  That evening, he showed up in the Flanders area and bought two cows from Mike Daley, Dairyman, and bargained for the Gates Farm. 

Witnesses report at no time did he appear to have money.  On Saturday morning, he returned to Mt. Pleasant, stopping at the home of John Johnson. Appearing excitable, he brandished a long knife and pointing a large caliber revolver to his forehead while drawing the back of the blade across his throat murmuring all the time in a foreign language thought to have been Polish.  Mr. Johnson became alarmed and notified Deputy Sheriff Ray Youngs and Constable Ellery M. Flood, who motored to Mr. Pleasant in hopes of capturing the man. The officers scoured the woods for several miles and learned from the Dill family on Waterhole Road that the man had stopped there for a time but had not been seen for several days. Late that Saturday, he reappeared in Mt. Pleasant, but without  consummating the purchase, left, never to be seen again.