Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
No need for dreaming of a white Christmas
It was just a few days before Christmas a generation ago when all through the town lots of creatures were not just stirring; they were actually scurrying to keep up with the frenetic holiday pace.
Last-minute shoppers hurried from store to store and traffic, swollen by visitors and students home for the holidays, moved through Main and Elm at a snail's pace, bogged down further by the season's heaviest snowfall. Yet, folks in town found time for community celebrations of Christmas.
In an era before people began to fret about the "correctness" of Christmas observances in public places, crowds attended Nativity pageants and concerts at all local schools and thousands were expected to gather around the lighted tree on God's Acre for the 42nd annual Christmas Eve caroling. The program was to begin with "O Come All Ye Faithful" and include "Silent Night" and other religious hymns, accompanied by volunteer musicians playing brass instruments conducted by Harold Swindells.
The New Canaan Community Chorus also presented its annual Christmas concert at the United Methodist Church on South Avenue during that week in 1961. Alton Fraleigh, music director at New Canaan High School, conducted the local singers and pianist Ethel Mae Gullette accompanied them. Jonathan Lovejoy, a local attorney, was president of the amateur singing group that year.
New Canaan's postal crew also was scurrying that week. Postmaster John Murphy reported that in addition to thousands of greeting cards a record total of more than 1,300 parcels had been processed for delivery during a two-day period.
Up in Ponus Ridge, Miller's Farm Dairy was promising free door-step delivery of holiday egg-nog and Patsy Totaro and Mike DiPanni were selling Christmas trees, wreaths and evergreen roping in the vacant lot at the corner of Brushy Ridge Road and Route 123.
Nature provided the perfect setting for Christmas anticipations. Folks dreaming of a white Christmas were pleased with the four inches of snow that blanketed the town early in the week, but the Highway Department's plowing crews were less ecstatic. Still, there was only one minor traffic accident and carolers didn't even mind trudging up the slippery slope at God's Acre to herald the holiday.
The storm was of some concern to the Board of Finance, however. First Selectman Charlie Kelley said he "hated to be a Scrooge," but he was concerned about the Public Works Department budget. Removing the week's snow would cost $960, he reported, already running plowing expenses to a grand total of $1,500 though it was still early in the season.
And up in New Haven, Judge Robert Anderson announced in a U.S. District Court that there would be no Santa Claus this year for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. He ruled that there would be no more government-guaranteed loans to the commuter line until it filed an acceptable financial plan to ward of bankruptcy.
Elsewhere, there were causes for celebration. Tuxedos and cigars were in order as the Exchange Club installed new officers at a dinner-dance at the Country Club of New Canaan. Ed Rabe succeeded Dick Ahearn as president.
Two New Canaan businesses announced management promotions that week. Walter Shaw was named vice president of the Fairfield County Trust Company, succeeding Selectman Gil Searles, who retired, and Ted Baker took over as manager for his father-in-law, Carl Ruscoe, at his Elm Street jewelry store.
Also during the week, Bob Petronella, former butcher in a local supermarket, was re-elected business representative of the Amalgamated Meat-Cutters and Butcher Workers of North America, AFL-CIO. Petronella went on to become New England president of the union a few years later.
At Town Hall, Public Works Director Clarence Dougal announced he was soliciting bids from contractors on dredging the Mead Park pond to a depth of 6 feet and to construct a new spillway and dam there. He estimated the project would cost $10,000.
At New Canaan High School, it was announced that two of this fall's football players, center Vic Marinovic and tackle Ed Sheridan, had been named to the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference all-star team. Also, Coach Leslie Hereford assigned 32 girls to this winter's varsity and junior varsity basketball teams.
Obviously, normal community activity had taken a back seat to Christmas preparations that week 48 years ago, but was not forsaken completely.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at email@example.com. Read both of his columns every week in the New Canaan News.