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The Museum of Cartoon Art

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When I first moved to Greenwich in 1976, one of the first places I visited was the Museum of Cartoon Art on Comely Avenue, just over the state line in Rye.  The "castle" sat high on a hill and had a wonderful view of "The Valley" - the Byram River Valley in the Pemberwick section of town.  It had the world's largest and finest collection of original cartoon drawings.  This museum was established by the National Cartoonists Society, led by Mort Walker, who created the "Beetle Bailey" comic strip.  It was first located in Greenwich, then moved to Rye.  The founders eventually moved it to Boca Raton, Florida, in 1992.

Cartoon art is actually the most popular form of drawing.  Artists draw original strips, which are reproduced for newspapers and comic books.  Surprisingly, Ben Franklin and Paul Revere had dabbled in cartoons.  At first, no one consider this art very valuable.  Many of these works of art were discarded or used to protect the floor from paint splatter.  It wasn't until Mort Walker and artist Jack Tippit decided to take matters into their own hands that anyone made a serious effort to collect, exhibit and preserve these renderings in one location.  There were two small museums in Orlando and San Francisco;  but Walker wanted to create a large museum to preserve comic strips, animated films, magazine drawings, editorial cartoons and sports illustrations.  He looked in Washington, DC, New York City, Boston, Syracuse and New Haven.  Yale offered some space in a new cultural center, but it wasn't scheduled to open for 4 more years. In his travels, he approached the Hearst Corporation to explain his idea, and was rewarded with a check for $50,000.   Walker was able to rent a turn of the century mansion located at 384 Field Point Road in Belle Haven.  (He had his own studio around the corner at 51 Mayo Avenue.) It was opened in 1974.

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The 24-room mansion was owned by Augustus I. Mead, and was rented for $20,000 per year.  It sat high on a knoll, and had angled walls, high ceilings and large windows.  Four of the rooms were opened to the public.  One room served as a Cartoon Hall of Fame, which was reserved for Pulitzer prize winners.  A Reuben Award was created by the National Cartoon Society and bestowed on a deserving artist.  It was named after Rube Goldberg, who's name was used to describe a foolish, complicated invention.  Greenwich artists who were honored in the museum include Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), Bob Gustafson (Tillie the Toiler), Ranan Lurie (Lurie's People), Jerry Dumas (Sam's Strip), John Cullen Murphy (Prince Valiant) and William Brown (Mixed Singles). Other artists installed were Thomas Nast ( creator of the Elephant and Donkey political icons), Charles Gibson (Gibson Girl), Elzie Seegar (Popeye), Walt Disney and Walt Kelly (Pogo). The museum grew in popularity and size, and the founders wanted to expand the mansion to add a classroom for seminars, a theater to show films and a library to store reference material. The Society had tee-shirts, stationery and buttons made (with an image of the house as a logo) to raise funds.  Unfortunately, the Mead family became concerned with the increased traffic and limited parking in the residential area. There was also talk of some structural damage being done to the house.  As a result, the family refused to renew the lease.  The museum had to find a new home.

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In 1978, the museum found a new home in the Ward Castle on Comely Avenue in Rye.  The mansion had been built in 1876 by nuts and bolts manufacturer William I. Ward.  It was a Victorian structure which sat on a hilltop.  Many called it "Ward's Folly".  There were over 6-acres of land surrounding the mansion.  The turreted, 4-story building had massive carved mahogany doors, exotic wood paneling, brass fittings, marble fireplaces, and crystal chandeliers.  At one time, the Wards had offered it to the Town of Rye as a Town Hall. Ward left the castle to his two daughters, who were heirs to the Piels Beer fortune.  By 1978, it had been vacant for several years.  The Society purchased the structure for $70,000.  Renovations to the building cost $50,000.  They received a $30,000 grant from the National Parks Service, and sold a large portion of the land for residential development.   Since the Society was a non-profit organization and not subject to tax, the Town liked the idea of getting tax revenue for the new homes.  Walker and company moved 50,000 items from Belle Haven to Ward's Castle.

 

This was the only museum of its kind.  What was once considered lesser art, subject to mutilation and destruction, was now recognized for its historical value. The exhibits were a great way for the young to learn about history.  Cartoons presented a record of slang, fashion, thought, etc. It was a mirror of society and culture. 

 

Classes in cartooning and monthly lectures were presented.  The building was an ideal venue for this enterprise.  It was one of the first buildings constructed with reinforced concrete.  There were chandeliers, sliding wooden doors, onyx and marble newel posts.  Several fireplaces were restored, door panels contained engraved glass panels and mirrors were installed throughout the building.  A videotape room was built to view filmstrips. Over time, a carpet emblazoned with superheroes (Flash Gordon, Popeye and Barney Google) was added, and a stained glass skylight with such cartoon characters as Donald Duck and Prince Valiant was installed.

The Cartoon Museum was open Tuesday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm.  On Sunday it was open from 1 to 5 pm.  Admission was $1 for adults and 50-cents for children.  The museum had 200 films totaling 50 hours of videotape.  On Sundays, the film looped continuously.  A guest cartoonist would give a presentation on Sundays, and there was an exhibit on how a comic strip was put together.  One of the more popular exhibits was a "tongue-in-cheek" environmental sculpture of a cartoonist at work.  Shoved in an open broom closet, it showed a harried cartoonist in short pants, red socks, big yellow sneakers, surrounded by discarded, crumpled paper.

It wasn't long before the Museum began to outgrow its facilities.  Once again, parking and traffic became a problem.  Mort Walker began to search up and down the East Coast for another site.  He received a proposal from Boca Raton in 1992 to build a new, larger museum on a piece of land known as Mizner Park.  They were trying to establish a number of cultural attractions in Palm Beach County.   A 52,000 square foot museum could be built easily on the land.  Fifteen million dollars was needed to build the new museum.  Six million dollars was raised from donations, pledges and loans.  The rest would have to come from revenue from admissions and programming.  The Museum moved its collection of 200,000 pieces to Boca Raton in 1992, and its name was changed to The National Cartoon Museum.  The new facility was opened in 1996, at which time it became The International Museum of Cartoon Art.

The Museum experienced 6 years of successful operation until 2002. Although it was predicted 500,000 people a year would visit the museum, only 70,000 came.  This may have been due to the fact that it was a winter resort.  There was also conjecture that comic art was still not being accepted as legitimate art. Then several major donors were unable to fullfill their pledges.  Marvel Comics, which had given $100,000 originally, filed for Chapter11 and couldn't continue support.  A company that had offered the Museum $1-million for the right to use Beetle Bailey characters on candy wrappers, also went bankrupt.  Walker tried to sell some of the art to pay some of the debt, but he still fell short.  The result was a $5-million shortfall.  The bank foreclosed on the mortgage, and the museum was forced to close.

Then in 2008, Ohio State University entered the picture.  They had a Cartoon Research Library, which contained 250,000 original cartoon drawings, 34,500 books, 51,000 serial titles, 2800 linear feet of manuscripts and 2.5 million comic strip clips. One of the faculty members had been a member of the Board of Directors of the Cartoon Museum, and came up with an idea.  He proposed that the two collections be merged.  OSU offered to provide new, state-of-the-art gallery space for the 200,000 items amassed by Walker's museum. It would be named after him as a tribute.  The collection now included comic strips, comic books, animation, editorial drawings, advertising, sport drawings, caricatures, greeting cards, graphic novels, illustrations, display figures, toys, and collectibles.  It became the largest collection of cartoon art in the world!

 

Hopefully, this will be the permanent home of the museum's cartoon art for centuries to come.  Visitors, especially young students, will be able to learn about American history from the many drawings.  They will learn about period fashion, slang, historic events, culture and customs. 

 

Cartoons reflect the ideas and attitudes of a Society.  It's a great vehicle for communication.  The artwork is impressive and high quality.  The old adage remains true:  "A picture is worth a thousand words".  This art form should be considered legitimate art, and be recognized as a national treasure.


SOURCES

Electronic

 

Gardner, Alan: "International Museum of Cartoon Art Moves to OSU Cartoon Research Library; 14 May 2008; The Daily Cartoonist, 12 April 2014

http://dailycartoonist.com/index.php/2008/05/14/international-museum-of-cartoon-art-moves-to-osu-cartoon-research-library/


Ohio State University: Billy Ireland's Cartoon Museum Library and Museum; 2013: International Museum of Cartoon Art; 12 April 2014

http://cartoons.osu.edu/news/2013/10/07/international-museum-of-cartoon-art/
 
 

Pollak, Michael: "A Cartoon Museum's Tortuous Round Trip"; 21 April 2002, New York Times, 12 April 2014.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/21/nyregion/a-cartoon-museum-s-tortuous-round-trip.html?src=pm&pagewanted=2



Print

Bologna, S. : "Serious About Doing Things For Laughs"; Sunday News (Pg 21), October 20, 1974

 

Martin, N.: "Greenwich Cartoonists and Their Creations", The Nutmegger (Pg. 31), October 1974.

Moore, M.; "The Fabulous Funnies", Travel and Leisure (Pg E82/6), August 1981.


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Since March is Women's History Month, I wanted to write about a woman who was important to the history of Greenwich.  I decided to research Ms. Ruth Sims, who I call the "First Lady of Greenwich". 

Ms. Sims was a First Lady for several reasons:

 1.  She was the top political figure in Town government as First Selectman,

 2.  She was the first woman in 72 years to actually hold the position, and

 3.  She was the first full-time First Selectman

You could also say she holds another distinction:  Sims was a Democrat who was elected in a prominently Republican town!


Ruth Sims was elected in 1977 after two recounts and a second general election.  In the first election, she led by 6 votes.  A recount gave Mr. Vernon a 1 vote advantage. After challenging the recount due to discrepancies in the count of absentee ballots, a new election was held. Sims defeated Republican incumbent Rupert Vernon by a wide margin of 13,962 to 9,361 votes.  In 1979, she defeated Albert F. Varner, Jr. by fewer than 200 votes.

Ms. Sims was born Ruth Bodman Leiserson in Rochester on March 4, 1920, in Rochester NY.   She was the fourth of seven children.  Ruth attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where she studied English.  After graduating, she worked for Senator Harold H. Burton in Washington DC. Sims worked in the Division of Defense Housing, a part of the Federal Works Agency.  In 1941, she married Albert G. Sims.  Ruth joined the League of Women Voters in 1953, and even became a local and state president.  Later she became a member of the National League of Women Voters.  In 1954, she and her husband moved to Riverside, and she worked as a director of the Southern New England Telephone Company

Active in community affairs, she served on the Riverside, Eastern Junior High School and Greenwich High School PTA.  Ms. Sims also served on the Community Council and Community Chest.  From 1975 to 1976, she served as the Vice Chairman of the United Way.  She was the chairman of the Commision on Compensation of Elected State Officials and Judges, served on the Committee to Reorganize State Government, and the Regional Planning Association and the 1983/1984 Charter Commission.  Nationally, Ms. Sims  served on the United States-South African leadership Exchange Program. 

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COURTEOUSY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES


Ms. Sims developed an interest in politics when she was a national director of the League of Women Voters.  She served 2 terms on the Board.  Having served on the national and state level, she eventually decided she wanted to serve on the local level.   Ms. Sims decided to run for the First Selectman position in 1977 to effect real change.  The first hurdle was securing the Democratic nomination by winning a primary.  She was opposed by favorite William Morris and Sheila Arnaboldi.  This brought much needed attention to her campaign in the Republican stronghold.  In this first election, she challenged Rupert Vernon.  Initially, it was reported that she had won by six votes.  Then there were subsequent recounts, and the results gave the election to the Republicans.  While the voting machines showed no evidence of tampering, there were some discrepancies with the absentee ballots, which were easily accessible.  After a two-week hearing with a judge, a tie was declared, setting the way for a new election.  In the followup election on Decmber 29th - three days before the new person was to start as First Selectman - she won by about 3500 votes.

As a peace offering, Ms. Sims asked Republican Everett Fisher, Chairman of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, to swear her in.  He agreed, but cooperation between the two parties was still strained.  She decided to make her inauguartion a public affair by having it on the Town Hall front stairs.  To improve communications, she established weekly meetings of department heads to share information.  Ms. Sims had a new centralized phone system installed to reduce costs, and centralized all office functions ( word processing, duplicating, microfilming) under an Administrative Services department.   A Labor Relations Officer was added to handle grievances in a timely manner.

Her most noteworthy accomplishments as First Selectman include converting the Cos Cob Power Plant from coal to oil to reduce pollution, establishing subsidized housing for the elderly, initiating traffic calming, and preserving the residential nature of the community.   Perhaps the most important accomplishment was demonstrating that a full-time Selectman was more efficient and productive than a part-time Selectman.   Ms. Sims also made a case for women being able to perform the same work as men, and doing that work efficiently and professionally. 

She would not be the last woman to serve as First Selectman.   Ms. Rebecca Breed followed Ms. Sims from 1981 to 1983, and  Lolly Prince served from 1999 to 2001.  Still, others served on the Board, although not as First Selectman.  These included Lin Lavery (2007-2009), Penny Monahan (2001-2007), Stephanie Sanchez (1997-1999) and Cindy Rubicam (1985-1987).  Hopefully, these won't be the last women to serve on the Board of Selectmen.  There are many talented women also serving on the many commissions and Boards of the town, as well as the Representative Town Meeting.   Greenwich is indeed fortunate to have such dedicated women (and men) willing to serve the community. 


SOURCE

Ruth Sims at Town HallAn Oral History Interview; Oral History Project, Friends of the Greenwich Library, 1984.



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Palmer Brothers Engines

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Several years ago, I received a call from the Oral History Project office telling me there was a man who wanted to give the library some information on the Palmer Brother's Engine Company in Cos Cob.  I'd heard that at one time there was a  marine engine shop in Cos Cob where the Palmer Point condominiums were built. I'd also seen photos of the operation they once had on Valley Road near Dumpling Pond and Palmer Hill Road. The man handed me some manila folders with papers, diagrams and photos. I placed these in our vertical files for future reference. Well, now is as good a time as any to document this enterprise.

Frank T. and Ralph L. Palmer opened a machine shop on the banks of the Mianus River along Valley Road in North Mianus in 1888.  The river provided water power. This was called the "Upper Works".  Initially, they manufactured electric telephone equipment.  Several years later (1894), when gasoline became available to power automobiles and boats, the Palmers abandoned the telephone business, and started building boat engines. 

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PHOTO OF PALMER BROTHERS "UPPER WORKS" IN NORTH MIANUS

     PHOTO BY RAY PALMER (No Date)

GIVEN TO GREENWICH LIBRARY BY WINFRED MILLS

             Frank Palmer handled the business end while Ray was the engineer.  The company was known for their quality engines.  Their engines were hand-made and lasted for years.  They were shipped all over the world.  Palmer produced a 2-cycle, 2-horsepower engine in six different sizes.  They required no spark plugs. Initially, the company employed 40 to 50 employees.  The business was so successful that it outgrew its old plant, and the company moved down to Palmer's Point in Cos Cob in 1905.

The Palmers had a 200-foot by 60-foot steel frame building erected on River Road located on what is now partially covered by the New England Turnpike (I-95).  This building contained the machine shop, an assembly line and an office.  Later a 150-foot by 60-foot building was built for the assembly and shipping operations.  Finally, a wooden building was constructed near River Road to house the business office. 

An old steam engine was used to operate the machinery.  It turned a long shaft which ran the entire length of the building.  Large belts were wrapped around the shaft, which in turn powered the machines.  A low-voltage generator also ran off the steam engine to provide lighting.  However, in the dark winter, employees had to use candles to provide enough light to work.  Although heat was provided by an exhaust fan from the old steam engine, it was still very cold in the building.  Workers had to wear multiple layers of clothing to stay warm. 

Around 1909, Palmer Brothers was one of the first marine engine companies to mix oil with gasoline as a means of lubricating the engine.  They began advocating this procedure throughout the industry, and before long most companies were also mixing in the oil.  It's still being done today.  This may be one of the reasons that Palmer's engines last so long!  It's interesting to note that some European automobiles (ex. Saab) imitate this practice.  (Oil is mixed in with the gasoline.)

Frank and Ray Palmer were very benevolent to their workers.  They bought 50 to 60 houses in Cos Cob near the shop and had them renovated for the workers.  A maintenance crew re-roofed the buildings, and they were rented to the workers for a very low rent.  This may account for the loyalty of the men, who stayed for life - well into their senior years.

Not all of the workers were model employees, however!  Some tried to cheat on their piece work by moving pieces manufactured in the morning to the count for the afternoon - in effect getting double credit for the same piece!  Some even threw damaged pieces out the window into Cos Cob Harbor.  Most workers were honest though, and worked very hard.  The accuracy they were able to maintain when manufacturing parts with the crude technology available was uncanny.  The engines lasted anywhere from 10 to 18 years - even in a saltwater environment.

The Palmers developed a new 4-cycle engine.  Eventually, they made 1-,2-,3-,4- and 6-cylinder engines.  The 50- to 60- pound engines powered small rowboats, tenders, fishing boats, and commercial fishing vessels.  When Julius Ulrich took over for Ray as engineer around 1934, he introduced bigger engines primarily for charter boats and big fishing vessels.  The company catered to all kinds of sailors - including bootleggers!  These men had the engine company add an oil container so that they could escape Coast Guard pursuers by ejecting black smoke!  The engines were also tuned up so they could outrun the law!  By this time, the company also started their own boat shop, and started manufcaturing 18- and 20- foot open launches. 

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REPRODUCTION OF A PALMER MARINE ENGINE CATALOG CIRCA 1907

The marine engine field was not very big, but there was stiff competition from other small companies.  Fortunately, ingenuity and product quality kept the Palmer Brothers in the forefront.  Forward planning also helped.  The company had 3000 bins of surplus parts they could sell to customers.  Furthermore, they could manufacture a part if they ran out.  This was great customer service.

Unfortunately, the Great Hurricane of 1938 caused a great deal of damage to the Cos Cob operation.  Although the winds were only 70- to 80- miles per hour, the storm surge forced water into the narrow western end of Long Island Sound, creating a tide 8-feet above normal.  Water rose to 3-feet in the assembly building, damaging 150 engines and thousands of parts.  This meant the engines had to be taken apart and cleaned.  Surprisingly, the operation was up and running in a short period of time due to the diligence of the workforce.

Despite the hurricane, the year 1938 turned out to be very profitable for the Palmer Engine Company.  First of all, a British company - the Russell Newberry Engine Company - contracted Palmer to sell it's new diesel engine.  The engine could save up to 50% of fuel consumption as borne out by a survey.  Frank Palmer started traveling up the northeast coast as far as Nova Scotia to extoll the new engine's benefits.  When Frank Palmer passed away, his son-in-law, Carl Hatheway, took over the marketing of the diesel, and expanded sales routes along the east coast to Florida and west to Texas.  One group was impressed when Hatheway sent for  engine parts and assembled an engine on the spot!  Hatheway was diverted to Nassau in the Bahamas, where his boat sunk.  Once again, Hatheway impressed buyers when he raised the boat and rebuilt the engine.  A trip to Guantanamo was not so successful since the boat was seized and used as a boarding boat due to its speed and power! 

During World War II, Palmer was contracted to manufacture 200 engines for PT boats.  They started out making 1 or 2 per week, but soon speeded up to 1 or 2 per day.  They also made engines for lifeboats on the Liberty ships.   Known as the "Little Huskie" (yes, it was "ie" instead of "y" on the end), it was a powerful 20-horsepower engine that could be started by hand.  The Russians bought engines from Palmer that actually burned wood!  (Gases from the combustion ran the engines.)  The company ran 24-hours per day during this period.  The windows were blacked our for air raid purposes.  Inventories were monitored very closely by the government to ensure efficiency and prevent fraud.

After the war, Palmer returned to manufacturing commercial engines.  The company had been operating for almost 50 years, and the remaining principles were getting closer to retirement.  Hatheway decided to put the company up for sale.  A New Jersey Company - The Columbia Aircraft Products Company - decided to diversify and bought the company.  They installed their own management team.  Everything was revamped and machinery was electrified.  This in itself was good;  but they made a critical mistake with the inventory.  They failed to monitor the parts inventory, and they ended up ordering too many types of one part, and not enough of some others.  It wasn't long before they ran out of storage space and were in debt for $1.5 million. 

The company was sold at auction in 1952 to a group composed of previous personnel and Frank Hekma, a large investor.  The company reopened with a smaller staff of 25 men.  It took about 4-years to get up to speed.  Meanwhile, creditors were constantly looking for payment of past bills.  Something had to be done to secure a quick infusion of money.  In 1958, the International Harvester Company decided to enter the marine engine market.  They contracted Palmer to build engines for commercial fishing vessels and yachts.  This was at least a stop gap measure.  Hatheway saw an even bigger opportuniy.  He started lobbying the IH Board of Directors to buy Palmer outright.  The Board agreed in principle and all seemed rosey.  However, a new Board seized power and wasn't aware of the proposed deal.   The deal "fizzled out".

Although the marine engine market was small and very specialized, there were a few powerful competitors who entered the field.  Among them were the Packard Motor Company and the Chrysler Motor Division.  Not only did they have a vast manufacturing operation, but they also had a strong marketing network already in place.  Servicing was also no problem.  This meant the companies could sell the engines at lower cost than Palmer.  This was the final straw.  The Palmer Marine Engine Company was forced out of business and closed its doors in 1972.  Surplus engines were sold to a company in Detroit, and the land was sold to a developer who built the Palmer Point condominiums.  A Mr. Richard Day was able to salvage some of the equipment for a Heritage Engine Museum in Severna, Maryland. 

In 1974, the old Palmer plant was demolished to make room for new housing.  The familiar building complex on the shores of Cos Cob Harbor was no longer there.  Early commercial vessels were replaced by pleasure craft as marinas sprung up along the Mianus River.  An important part of Greenwich's marine history ceased to exist.  Yet, there is no doubting the importance of Palmer Brother's Marine Engine Company to the history of our town. 


SOURCES:

The Palmer Engine Company;  Bolling, R; Oral History Project, 1990.




 




 

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The Marks Brothers Store

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One of my favorite stores on Greenwich Avenue used to be The Marks Brothers Staionery store.  It reminded me of some stores back home with its tin ceiling, wooden floors and candy counter.  They always seemed to have all the odd office supplies like old typewriter ribbons, mechanical pencils, etc. There was always a cashier and someone on the floor to help you find what you needed, as well as a stockboy refilling the shelves.  It was your typical "Mom and Pop" store, run by local residents.  I was saddened when it suddenly closed in 2003.  Chain stores started popping up on Greenwich Avenue about the same time.  It seemed like it was the end of an era.  I thought it might be something interesting to research, so I checked the local newspaper index and Oral History transcripts. 

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PREVIOUS LOCATION OF THE MARKS STATIONERY STORE AT

                               42 GREENWICH AVENUE


The Marks family came from Goris, a town near the border of Russia and Germany.  Their grandfather had come in 1875 with an older son.  An uncle had preceded them, but died on a railroad train.  (Foul play may have been involved.)  Their grandmother came about five years later.  The family went into the fruit business, and opened a store in Port Chester.  (I found a Louis Marks in the 1908 City Directory, who ran a fruit store at 74 Greenwich Avenue.)   Eventually, son Philip Marks (at the age of 12) and his brothers immigrated to the United States. The family moved between  Port Chester, Pemberwick, and Norwalk.

Several years later, Philip Marks bought a newspaper business in Greenwich.  It was primarily a newspaper route, but it grew into a large business.  As a matter of fact, it was the only business of its kind at the time!  Some cousins took over the fruit business in Port Chester, and Philip opened up a store near lower Greenwich Avenue in 1907.  The 1910 City Directory lists a Marks Stationery store at 378 Greenwich Avenue.  By 1922, the Marks ran businesses at the 380 Greenwich Avenue location and 39 Greenwich Avenue.  After 1926, the address is listed as 42 Greenwich Avenue, near Putnam Avenue.

The business was indeed a family run affair.  Sons Irving, Sam and Abe, and daughter Jennie all pitched in to run the store.  Although the boys were paid - they were saving for college - Jennie received no pay,  but she was told she could ask for anything she wanted and her father would buy it.

In the Oral History transcript entitled "Marks Brothers Stationery Store", Jennie Marks Levine describes a typical day at the store during the Depression years.  She states that her father would get up at 2 am to pick up newspapers at the railroad station.  He would bring them to the store, where they were folded.  Then her father and brothers would help deliver papers in Greenwich until 12 pm. At noon, they'd change horses and drive up Round Hill Road and North Street, delivering papers until 6 pm. At first they used a horse and buggy, then eventually had a Ford automobile. The horse was so accustomed to the route that he knew which houses to stop at!  He also knew where the road was - even in the snow!

The downtown store was sold after a smaller uptown store was bought around 1922. They lived upstairs above the store. The routes were also sold, and the operation became strictly a stationery retail business.  The store opened at 6 am and stayed open until 9 pm.  The boys went to college, but returned to help out with the business. Ironically, none of their training related directly to the business.   Philip Marks bought the building and wanted to invest in other real estate on the Avenue, but his sons advised against it!  No doubt he would have been a very wealthy man if he had. 

The Marks family sold the business to Irving Pincus in 1978.  He ran the business for 25 more years, but the emergence of "big box" office supply stores (e.g. Staples) was too much to compete with.   In September of 2003, the business moved to the second floor of the building.  Then, the business was transferred to the Ridgefield Office Supply Company in December of that year.  They operated there for a while, but are no longer in town. 

The Town installed a bronze plaque on the building commemorating the business in 1987.  It serves as a tribute to the spirit of the Marks family, immigrants who moved to this country in search of prosperity.  They worked hard to achieve the American dream.  These people made Greenwich Avenue what it is today - a successful retail center.

SOURCES


Greenwich TimeHearst Corporation

Growing Up in Greenwich and the Marks Brothers Stationery Store:  Levine, Jennie Marks; Oral History Project, 1974.

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The Greenwich Olympic Connection

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Since the 2014 Olympics is currently underway in Sochi, Russia, I thought I would write about athletes from Greenwich who competed in the international games over the years. Greenwich has been well-represented in the Olympics.   Some athletes were born here, and others lived here.  Some are well-known, and some are obscure.  So I decided to research the subject, and post a blog, which I hope will interest you.

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I discovered that James Stillman Rockefeller won the Gold medal as a member of the 8-man rowing team at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. He worked as a banker in New York, and had a mansion in Greenwich.   He was married to Nancy Carnegie, grandniece of Andrew Carnegie,  

The next name I came across was that of Bob Swenning.  He was born in Greenwich on July 25, 1924.  His specialty was figure skating, and he and his partner, Yvonne Sherman,  took fourth place in the 1948 Olympics in Los Angeles.  Bob passed away on November 8, 2012.

Donna de Varona, born in Greenwich on April 26, 1947, participated in the 1960 Olympics preliminaries for the women's freestyle relay, but did not participate in the finals. The team won the Gold that year.  Donna returned to the 1964 Olympics and won a Gold medal for the 400-meter individual medley, and another Gold for the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay.

Favorite Dorothy Hamill was born in Chicago in 1956, but grew up in Riverside,  She won the Gold medal for figure skating at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck. She skated with the Ice Capades from 1977 to 1984.

Carlie Geer, a Greenwich native born in 1957, won a Silver medal in rowing in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Riverside resident Gillian Wachsman (b. 9/19/1966) and Todd Waggoner competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in pair skating.

British skater Charlene von Saher, who spent most of her life in Greenwich, represented Great Britain in the 1994 Winter Olympics. 

Peter Leone was a member of the US Horse Show Jumping Team that won the Silver medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Courtenay Becker-Day won a Bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in sailing.

Greenwich resident Tricia Byrnes participated in the 1998 and 2002 Olympic snowboarding competition at Nagano, Japan, and Salt Lake City.One of the better-know athletes,

Sue Merz, born here on April 10, 1972, competed in the 1998 Olympics in women's ice hockey, and won a Gold Medal.  She returned to the 2002 Olympics and won the Silver.

Stacey Blume competed in freestyle skiing at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

Greenwich-native Helen Resor (b. October 18,1985) was a member of the Women's Ice Hockey team, which won a Silver medal in 2006.

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss competed in rowing during the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, China.  The twins attended Harvard, where they developed a social networking website similar to Facebook.

This year, 2014, Kevin Shattenkirk, who was born in Greenwich in 1985, is competing with the Men's Ice Hockey team in Sochi, Russia.   Hopefully, he and his Team will put in a good showing and bring home the Gold!

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LINDA AND HEATHER WHITE HOLDING THE 1984 OLYMPIC TORCH.

In 1984, the Olympic Torch was run through Greenwich along the Boston Post Road (Putnam Avenue, Route 1) on its way to Los Angeles.  The runner stopped at West Putnam Avenue to hand off the light.  I was working close by at that time, and called my wife to bring our year-old daughter, Heather, along to see the torch.  The runner allowed my daughter to hold it while we took a picture!  That's the photo above.

Greenwich has also been the site of another well-known torch run.  Runners for the Special Olympics used to carry the torch much like the International Olympics. The Greenwich Police would meet them at the Port Chester line and escort the runners to the Stamford line.  Greenwich resident Paul Morrell often carried the torch.   Greenwich Library was very often a stopping point.  One year I had the pleasure of working as a volunteer at a snack bar at the Special Olympics held at the Yale Bowl.  I was very impressed with the sportsmanship, courage and dedication of these young athletes.  They were athletes in the true sense of the word.

All these Greenwich athletes should be commended for their courage, determination and persistence.  They put in endless hours training for a chance to compete in the Olympics against athletes from all over the World.  For one brief moment, they joined hands in the spirit of  Good Will, cooperation, and sportsmanship.  It certainly makes for a better World.

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Coat of Arms vs Town Seal

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When I received my beach card last year, I noticed a "seal" which looked different than another seal I'd seen in town.  I've probably seen each seal many times over the years, but never paid particular attention to either one.  Recently, however, I became interested in researching these insignia, and was surprised at what I found out.

coat of arms481.jpg                                        TOWN COAT OF ARMS 

The town's official Coat of Arms (or Crest) was adopted on April 25, 1940.  Alexander Malcolm designed it.  It consists of a shield with a ship above, an early settler on the left side and a Native-American on the right side.  A scroll underneath reads (in Latin) "Fortitudine et Frugalitate".  This stands for "Courage and Thrift".  Greenwich Time columnist Bill Young wrote in the October 3, 1981 edition that it meant "strength of mind and careful management of resources".  Roman numeral MDCXL represents the date 1940.  Upon closer examination, the center shield is divided into four quadrants by a cross.  The cross represents the Christian faith of the early settlers.  A windmill in the upper left quadrant signifies the Dutch influence on our town, evident is some of our architecture.  The horsehead in the upper right section commemorates the name `"Horseneck", which was the tract of land developed by the 27 Proprietors of 1672. In the lower left is a seashell which stands for the early shellfish industry.  It was also an emblem adopted by early pilgrims.  In the lower right, you will find the image of a plow below the sun and a rain cloud, signifying the town's early agrarian (agricultural) industry.  The ship with crossed anchors, and furled flag and sails above the seal, is a nod to Greenwich, England - our namesake.  This image was taken directly from their Coat of Arms.

350 th seal482.jpg                            350TH ANNIVERSARY COAT OF ARMS 


In 1990, as part of the 350th Anniversary of the town, Bradbury Thompson modified the Coat of Arms by taking the shield only and adding five vertical lines to represent central Greenwich, Old Greenwich, Riverside, Cos Cob and Byram.  The words "Greenwich 350" were added below.

Seal485.jpeg

                                               TOWN SEAL   

There seems to be a mystery as to the origination of the Town Seal, however.  According to First Selecman Ruth Sims in 1981, there is no record of when the Seal was adopted.  The Seal depicts General Israel Putnam escaping from the British down Put's Hill.   It's set on a brown, green and white background.   The words "Town of Greenwich Seal" is circumscribed around the orb.  The Seal is used for ceremonial functions, and can be found in the main meeting room in Town Hall.

On September 28, 1963, the Town adopted a flag designed by Edward Pietrzak, which displayed the Town Seal.  First Selectman Peter Tesei directed that the Town Seal be applied to all Town vehicles in 2007.  You can see it on any of the Town's maintenance or utility trucks.

If anyone knows anything more about the Seal, I'd be happy to share your comments with my loyal readers.


SOURCES

Before and After 2000: HSTG, 1999.

Greenwich Review: Special Commemorative Edition, May 1990.


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Humanitarian Helen M. Alvord

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Before there was a United Way of Greenwich, there was a Community Chest.  The names are still used interchangeably today. This charitable organization was the outgrowth of the Liberty Loan Drives of World War I.  The success of our local fundraising organization today can be directly attributed to one individual - Helen M. Alvord.

Helen Alvord was born on September 21, 1897, in Bryan OH, just outside Toledo, to Justus E. and Ada May (Crum) Alvord.  She received a Bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a Masters in Sociology from Columbia University in New York.  When she graduated from college, she started a career dedicated to helping other people.  From 1923 to 1927, she worked as a caseworker for the Social Services Federation of Toledo.  Helen was the Secretary of the Community Chest in Grand Rapids MI, and then moved on to become an Executive Secretary of the Council of Social Agencies in Troy NY.   At the height of the Depression in 1933, she took over as the first Executive Director of the Community Chest and Council in Greenwich.  Ms. Alvord served in this position for 35 years until she retired in 1968.  She resided in town for a total of 54 years, and lived at 1 Andrews Road.

Alvord469.jpg

 COURTESY OF THE GREENWICH LIBRARY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT


The Community Chest was in its infancy when Helen took over the reins.  It had evolved as a way of centralizing fundraising for a number of organizations. The "Chest" was the fundraising arm, while the "Council" was the planning part of the organization.  Prioir to this time, men had primarily taken the role of fundraiser.  That was the stereotype.  Helen was a pioneer for feminist rights - whether she knew it or not! 

During the Depression, there were many in need of the numerous programs that provided relief.  Public relief money was drying up, so the private sector had to be tapped.  Alvord proved to be a true leader by convincing influential members of the community of the need for social programs. In her very first year, she was able to raise $192,000 - $17,000 over the goal.  Alvord was able to get prominent figures in national business involved in the work of the Community Chest.  She knew many neighborhood and industrial leaders, and was a great information source on the town and its residents. Under her direction, she was able to get competing interests to work together for the good of the community.  Helen also limited duplication of effort by creating a Social Services Exchange to identify people who needed assistance.  She worked with Roger Baldwin, a prominent lawyer and politician, to establish Visiting Nurse service to homes and schools.   After World War II, she worked to have temporary housing created for returning veterans, and got developers to build housing in Riverside and Cos Cob.  This eventually led to the creation of the Greenwich Housing Authority.  State funds were obtained for the Adam's Gardens and Armstrong Court residences.  Federal funds were procured for Wilber Peck Court and Quarry Knolls.  Alvord worked closely with the local papers (Greenwich News-Graphic, Greenwich Press, Stamford Advocate and Port Chester Daily Item ) to promote many social programs in the community. 

In her 35-years as head of the Community Chest, she faced many new challenges.  The population grew, there were new wars, working mothers needed day care, seniors required special programs.  Change was ongoing.  It's to Alvord's credit that she and her organization were able to meet the changing needs of the community.

Although modest and self effacing, she was a great leader, who set goals and communicated needs effectively to the community.  Helen Alvord was a great success at raising the money to meet the needs of many non-profit organizations. She   was able to get people to concentrate on the entire community so that individual sections didn't feel separate.   Until the Representative Town Meeting replaced the Town Meeting, special interest groups in town could push for their own agendas, ignoring the needs of the rest of the town.  Helen worked for consistency and fairness. She was very dedicated to the town. 

After she retired in 1968, she continued to work on social programs.  Helen served as the Secretary of the Greenwich Foundation for Community Gifts, as an honorary board member of the United Way, a director of the Greenwich Hospital Corporation and a member of the ARCA Foundation Board.  From 1968 to 1970, she served on the National Organization of Community Chests and Councils.  She was also a member of the National Association of Social Workers, American Association of University Women, League of Women Voters and the National Institute of Social Sciences.  her interest in theater led her to become a member of the Advisory Board of the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford.

In her honor, the United Way created the Helen M. Alvord Award for Excellence in Humane Services in 1984.  Biannually, it recognizes individuals who exemplify the characteristics attributed to Helen Alvord:  skill, competence, imagination and a caring concern for the community.

Helen Alvord never married.  Perhaps she didn't feel she had the time to devote to a traditional family while carrying out her duties at the Community Chest.  One thing is for sure:  her dedication and caring helped those in Greenwich who needed the many social programs our town has to offer.  She set the bench mark for public service.   Alvord was the right person for the right job at the right time.  Her leadership shall never be forgotten.

Helen Alvord died on December 12, 1987.  Many friends gathered at her memorial service to pay homage to her.  She was remembered as a kind, warm, loving individual who knew how to get people to make good things happen in our community.  There could be no greater tribute for someone who dedicated her life to the welfare of others.  We should all be so lucky to be remembered like this. 


SOURCES:

The Community Chest and Council; Alvord, H. narrator; Oral History Project, 1975.

First 35 years of the Community Chest and Council; Alvord, H, narrator; Oral History Project, 1975.

Greenwich Time, Hearst Publications


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Horseneck

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At one time, a good portion of central Greenwich was known as "Horseneck".  Research indicates that the term was used as early as 1669.  That year the Town Meeting discussed the idea of establishing a settlement in this area.  In 1670, a committee was created to lay out 30 lots of 4-acres each on land near what is now called Horseneck Brook near Field Point (Belle Haven).  The local Native-Americans (Indians) sold what was known as Horseneck Plantation in 1686.  It included all the land from the Mianus River to the Byram River, north to the New York state line with the exception of some land in Cos Cob (i.e. Indian Field).

horseneck466.jpg

There were "27 Proprietors" or landowners who received lots south of the "Country Road".   Field Point was designated as a common pasture for settler's horses.  A field fence was erected on the north side of the peninsula, probably to mark the grazing area.  Since Field Point was a peninsula (neck) with water on 3 sides, and since it was used to graze horses, this was probably the derivation for the name "Horseneck".  The Proprietors gave it the name "Horseneck Field Point".  After the ecclesiasticasl division of the town into the First and Second Socities, central Greenwich was commonly called Horseneck.  This was also used interchangeably with the Borough of Greenwich and West Greenwich.  When the railroad pushed through Greenwich in 1848, the name was considered "low class", and changed to Greenwich (probably after Greenwich, England).

Once the settlers adopted the name "Horseneck", it was widely used to describe a number of features in Town. The waterway that flowed across the entire Greenwich area from Converse Pond to Greenwich Harbor was called "Horseneck Brook".  It's also referred to as "Horseneck River" and "Horseneck Creek".  A wharf located in front of what is now the Boys & Girls Club was named the "Horseneck Brook Dock".  The first permanent structure assocoiated with Christ Church was "Horseneck Chapel" on Put's Hill.  A hurricane on September 3, 1821 destroyed the chapel.  "Horseneck Falls" on the brook off Round Hill Road were located on the property of artist John Twachtman, who immortalized them in a painting.  Since the brook empties into Greenwich Harbor, it was called "Horseneck Harbor" in the 18th century.  The hill where the Second Congregational Church was built was called "Horseneck Hill".   "Horseneck Lane" runs in front of the Boys & Girls Club, and connects with Field Point Road.  The "Horseneck Meeting House" once stood on the hill occupied by the Second Congregational Church.  Lake Avenue used to be called "Horseneck Road" even though it didn't extend to Horseneck Brook; but it did lead into the center of town.  Frank Haggerty operated a saloon on Greenwich Avenue known as "Horseneck Tavern".  It was a "speak easy" during Prohibition (e.g. liquor was served there illegally).  In an Oral History interview in 1984, resident Henry Minchin mentioned there was a "Horseneck Tavern" on the corner of Maher and Putnam Avenues. 

An aerial map of Belle Haven shows an oval road in the center of the peninsula which was used for horse racing at one time.  Judge Hubbard talks about sleigh rides in the area during the winter.  People would travel between houses this way - especially for holiday parties.  Horse races were held along Putnam Avenue to Put's Hill at one time.  There were several liveries in town, also.  If you didn't own a horse and sleigh, you could apparently rent one.  Horses were common on many of the early farms in town as work animals.  Today, there are some horses in back country, and the annual Polo games in the Conyers Farm area are quite popular;  but it will never be the same as it was in the early history of Greenwich.


SOURCES

Greenwich Before 2000; Richardson, S, Editor;  Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich; 2000.

Greenwich History: The Judge's Corner; Hubbard, F; Nicholson, F, Round Hill Publications; 2001

The History of the Town of Greenwich; Mead, S; Harbor Hill Books, reprint; 1979


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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.

victor459.jpg

                             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. 


SOURCES: 

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 (iConn.org) on December 6, 2013.



 

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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.

robber437.jpg

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.

 

SOURCES:

Greenwich Before 2000; HSTG, 2000

Other Days in Greenwich; Hubbard, F., 1913

 

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