November 2013 Archives

The Clown Prince of Denmark

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Greenwich has been home to many famous celebrities.  Among these was Victor Borge, who was known for his comedy and piano playing.  He lived in Greenwich (Belle Haven) from 1965 until he died in 2000.  Although he arrived in this country with only $20 in his pocket and a single change of clothing, he went on to become one of the most successful entertainers of all time.


                             Victor Borge (left) and Sergio Franchi.


Victor Borge was born Borge Rosenberg on January 3, 1909 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Both parents were musicians.  His mother was a piano teacher and his father was a violinist, who played with the Royal Danish Philharmonic.  He began taking piano lessons at age 3.  When he was 9, he won a scholarship to the Royal Danish Academy of Music.  Borge gave his first performance at age 10. He was indeed a child prodigy. He was a concert pianist from 1926 to 1934.  In 1933 Borge married American Elsie Chilton, whom he met in Denmark.  He then began performing a revue act in local night clubs. At one point, he was accompanying a singer on stage when he began perfoming his comedy.  Surprisingly, he was a big hit!  Borge ended up appearing in 6 Danish films right before World War II. He was very critical of the Nazis and never passed up an opportuniy to ridicule them.  This, combined with the fact that he was Jewish, got him blacklisted.  Borge was playing in Stockholm when the Germans invaded Denmark on April 9, 1940.  He and his wife Elsie fled to Finland.  They decided to immigrate to the United States, and had to make special arrangements to get to a boat in France.  Borge was the last passenger to leave on the USS American Legion - the last boat to leave northern Europe for the United Staes until the end of the war.

When Borge arrived in the US on August 28, 1940, he couldn't speak a bit of English!  He started to watch films to learn the language, and would go to the movie theater to watch movies for 15-cents.  Borge watched the movies over and over until he could speak fluently.  He also changed his name to Victor Borge.  His piano teacher had been named Victor, so as a sign of respect, he adopted this name.   He used his given name for his surname. Victor was concerned that people would think he was German if he didn't change his name. By this time, he was 31-years-old and teaching piano.  

Since he was a gifted pianist, it wasn't long before he became successful.  In 1941, he began warming up the audience for Rudy Vallee's radio show, and Bing Crosby's Kraft Music Hall.  He was such a big hit that he ended up giving 54 performances!  In 1942, Borge was named the best new radio performer.  He had his own radio show from 1943 to 1951, which aired on the NBC, ABC and Mutual networks.  His success was complete when he debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1945.

Victor acquired his American citizenship in 1948.  He and his wife adopted twins.  Unfortunately, they were divorced in 1951.  Apparently undeterred, he married his business manager, Sarabel (Sanna) Scraper, in 1953.  They ended up with 5 children and 9 grandchildren!

A review of the Price & Lee City Directories indicates Victor Borge lived in Belle Haven from 1965 until his death on December 23, 2000.  Although he had homes all over the world, his home in Greenwich was considered his main headquarters.  The very spacious home on Long Island Sound had an enormous music room with 2 grand pianos. He was known for his great philanthropy.  In 1963 he created a "Thanks to Scandinavia" scholarship fund for students interested in health care.  This was offered to students from Scandinavia and Bulgaria in thanks for their help in World War II. While living in town, he played in the Greenwich Symphony Benefit for many years starting in 1986 to raise money for the local orchestra.  In 1990, he appeared at the Palace Theater in a Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth. 

Victor Borge received many honors during his lifetime.  At the Kennedy Center honors in 1999, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.  He received 7 Honorary Degrees from several colleges.  He was knighted 5 times, by each of the five Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland).  Borge was also honored many times by the United Nations and US Congress.  The highest (unofficial) honor may have come from his appreciative fans, who nicknamed him "The Great Dane", "The Unmelancholy Dane" and "The Clown Prince of Denmark".

Victor Borge died in his sleep from heart failure on December 23, 2000.  He was 91. You can spot his burial place in Putnam Cemetery by the statuette of the Little Mermaid - a tribute to the story created by Hans Christian Anderson.  This is a fitting tribute to a man who used humor to interest children of all ages in music. 


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.  Victor Borge (right) with Sergio Franchi.

Gavin, Karen: Great Lives in History: Jewish Americans;  accessed online through Biography Research Center database ( on December 6, 2013.


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Historical Happenings

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Annual Tree Lighting
Saturday - December  7 - 4 PM
Byram Shubert Library

This annual program will feature music, crafts and a buffet. 
A special visitor will appear!  Free and open to the public. 


Holiday Singalong
Saturday - December 14 - 3 to 4 pm
Cos Cob Library

Paula and John Corrado will lead everyone in holiday song at the Cos Cob Library. Open to all. Free program.

Candlelight Tour
Sunday - December 15 - 5 to 7 pm
Bush Holley Historic Site - Strickland Road - Cos Cob

What a great way to celebrate the holidays!  Take a tour of the Bush-Holley House and see how homes were decorated for the holiday season during colonial times.  Open to all. Free.



The Great Train Robbery

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You most often associate train robberies with the Old West.  As we began to build trains throughout the country in the mid-1800s, a large number of people began to ride the rails.  These people carried money.  Trains were also used to ship valuable items, which attracted thieves and robbers.  Surprisingly, I came across two articles about train robberies here in Greenwich.  It seems that Greenwich was not immune from train robberies!

According to "Greenwich Before 2000", the first steam passenger train passed through Greenwich  on December 25, 1848.  It ran between Boston and New York, and had to travel over the Cos Cob drawbridge to span the Mianus River at Cos Cob Harbor.  There was another small bridge built in 1859 to span the Davis Creek in Bruce Park.   It was a covered bridge with a heavy frame and shingled roof.  Although it was painted white, one could see black smudges deposited by the exhaust of many trains that passed through it.   It was known as "The White Bridge", and remained there until  


white bridge436.jpg                                          SOURCE: Frederick A. Hubbard


The bridge was a favorite destination for boys and girls playing "hookey" from school. 
They would often hang on the wooden bridge from iron braces as trains passed.  This was very dangerous, and unfortunately 11 children lost their lives from this stunt.  There was also a Davis Burying Ground nearby.  The loss of young lives and proximity of the cemetery no doubt contributed to the superstitious tales of ghosts and goblins told by the train crews.  There were stories of spectral lights appearing near the bridge.

In 1860, two robbers escaped with millions of dollars of gold and bank notes being carried on a train from New York to Boston. It was a baggage express and sleeping car train.  Horses pulled the train through the Park Street tunnel in NYC to 42nd Street where it was coupled to the rest of the train.  This is an area known for squatters and thieves, and it's no doubt this is where the robbers boarded the train.  The door to the baggage car was either forced open or left carelessly open.  It could have been an inside job - they could have had help.  Furthermore, they seemed to be very familiar with the Greenwich area as they knew where to throw off the bags and when to jump off the train.


As the train headed north, the felons went through the bags.  Bags of gold and bank notes were piled by the door, while non-negotiable securities were strewn all over the floor.  Right before the drawbridge, they began throwing the loot off the train. It was reported that the track was littered with bags for a mile. When the train slowed and stopped at the drawbridge, the robbers made their escape. They must have backtracked to hide their booty because some of it was later found in the trusses of The White Bridge and in hollowed out tree stumps adjacent to the rails.  One young girl, who was baiting crabs under the bridge, was startled when a passing train jarred a bag loose from the bridge and it landed next to her in the creek! 

In the summer of 1876, some villians covered the tracks near the Old White Bridge in Bruce Park with boulders and cross ties.  When the trainmen stopped to clear the debris from the tracks, the robbers grabbed some loot and escaped through the woods.

Since local newspapers weren't published until 1877, there is no local information on whether the thieves were caught or the money recovered.  There was nothing in the New York Times, either.  This means that these robberies may ever remain a great mystery.



Greenwich Before 2000; HSTG, 2000

Other Days in Greenwich; Hubbard, F., 1913


Historical Happenings

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Saturday - November 16 - 10:30 AM
Cos Cob Library

Genealogist Toni McKeen will talk about this very powerful tool
for researching relatives.  Free and open to the public.


Telling American History - Print Exhibit
Now Through December 1
Bruce Museum

This art exhibit on loan features a collectiion of 40 prints covering
the period from 1905 to 1967.  Call 869-0376 for more details.


Antiquarius 2013
December 6 to 8
Bush-Holley Historic Site - Cos Cob

This annual fundraiser and holiday program features a Winter
Antiques Show, a Holiday Boutique and Holiday Tour.
Call 869-6899 for more details.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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