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Historical Happenings

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Greenwich Historical Society
Webpage
www.ghs.org

Here's a great website which lists current exhibits,
upcoming events and provides access to digital archives.
Call (203) 869-6899 for more details.


Stamford Historical Society
Webpage
http://www.stamfordhistory.org/

This portal provides a history of Stamford, a photo
archive and information on research tools.
Call (203) 329-1183 for info on hours, etc.


Connecticut Historical Society
Webpage
http://www.chs.org/

CHS provides an online catalog, list of finding aids
and an e-Museum for researchers.
Call (860)236-5621 for information.

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.

MCA Belle545.jpg

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.

MCA Comly546.jpg

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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Historical Happenings

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"Whitey" on Trial:  Secrets, Corruption and the Search for Truth
Wednesday - April 9 - 7 PM
Greenwich Library

Investigative reporter Jon Lieberman will talk about his new book on the
recent trial of mobster "Whitey" Bolger in Boston.  Jon has reported for
CNN, Fox and Sirius.  The program is free and open to all. 


Genealogy for Beginners
Sunday - April 18 - 2 PM
Greenwich Library

Genealogist Stephen Shaw will discuss how to get started in researching your family history. He'll discuss the various tools available to today's researcher, then will provide one-on-one help to those who are just starting this exciting hobby.  Great for seasoned researchers as well.  Free and open to all.  Registration is required.  Register at:  fpcarrjr@gmail.com

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. 

ruth sims535.jpg

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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Historical Happenings

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Intermediate Genealogy Research
Saturday - March 29 - 10:30 AM
Cos Cob Library

Genealogist Anthony Lauriano will present
a program on researching your family tree.
Great for beginners, too!  Free and open
to all.


Enjoying the Country Life:  Greenwich's Great Estates
Ongoing Exhibit - April 9 to August
Bush Holley Historical Site

This exhibit of clothing, photographs and objects is representative of
1880 to 1930 -  the golden age of estate building in Greenwich. 

Call 869-6899 for more details.

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. 

Palmer Bros Upper519.jpg

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. 

Catalog520.jpg

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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Historical Happenings

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Crafting Life Stories
Thursday - March 27 - 6:30 PM
Greenwich Library

This 7-week workshop will teach you how to document your life stories.  Journalist and author Joan Motyka will lead the group. 

Call (203) 625-6533 to pre-register.  Free.

 


Intermediate Genealogy Research
Saturday - March 29 - 10:30 AM
Cos Cob Library

Genealogist Anthony Lauriano returns to talk about obtaining records to research ancestors. Great for beginners as well as seasoned sleuths. Free.

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. 

42 Greenwich Ave513.jpg

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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Historical Happenings

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Hamilton Avenue School Quilt Exhibit
February 5 to March 16
Bush Holley Historic Site - Cos Cob

The exhibit features 13 quilts created by third-graders from 2010-2013.
A quilt by Mary C. Adams, which chronicles Glenville history from 1756 to
1976, will also be on display. Call (203) 869-6899 for more details.

 

African-American Connecticut Explored
Saturday - February 15 - 2PM
Greenwich Library

Editor Elizabeth Nomen talks about the book of the same name,
which is a collection of 50 essays by prominent historians on
the experiences of African-Americans from 1630 to the 20th
century in the Nutmeg state. Free and open to all.

 

Family Music Program
Thursday - February 20 - 7 PM
Byram Shubert Library

Dan Clark will present a musical Salute to America with
historical songs.  Free and open to all.

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