Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
Roller-coaster ride for railroad outlook
Levels of expectations in railroad performance rise and fall as circumstances shift with the times, New Canaan commuters have learned over the years.
Last week, transportation administrators in the state government were enthusiastic about improvements and extensions they hope are in store for the New Canaan branch line of the Metro-North Railroad.
During this same week 48 years ago, people who rode the line regularly when it was still the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad were satisfied, elated in fact, with an announcement that the trains would be running at all.
Court-appointed trustees who were operating the railroad after it had declared bankruptcy had startled Fairfield County commuters with a declaration that train service would cease by mid-summer. Indeed, the outlook was so dreary that the Town of New Canaan suspended its search for additional commuter parking areas.
Pressured by commuters who depended, as they do now, on the life-line to jobs in New York, officials of the New York and Connecticut state governments, along with Rep. Abner W. Sibal, Fourth District Congressman, pledged reorganization and financial assistance for the stricken line. As the early steps were taken toward forming what became Metro-North, New Canaan concluded that there would be commuters after all and resumed its search for parking space for them, a search that was not really ended until a few years ago when the town acquired the former lumberyard on Elm Street.
Sibal made news that week also with a widely-publicized letter to President John F. Kennedy urging him to wear a hat. The Congressman noted that President Kennedy went bare-headed in even the most inclement weather, starting a hat-less trend in male fashions that was a blow to the Fourth District's hat factories in Norwalk and Danbury. Sibal's letter was to no avail, but his plea made the Congressional Record and national headlines.
A startling discovery of a different sort was made that same week by three 16-year-old boys, Stephen Gidley and William Jones of Darien and Rene Carillo of New Canaan, walking through a wooded area near the Merritt Parkway and Lapham Road.
They came across a huge safe, busted wide open, and found in it "lots of important looking papers." Police were called and Officer Gene Ready, with help from Ken Pinder, hauled it to headquarters, where examination of those papers, including some negotiable bonds, disclosed that the safe had come from Linden, N.J.
Police there were summoned and determined that it had been removed from a home burglarized in their community about a month earlier. While the papers it contained were intact, $25,000 in cash and $58,000 worth of uncut diamonds were missing. The thieves apparently had dumped the safe here while fleeing from New Jersey. The case was never solved.
More cautious with money, the Board of Education trimmed $37,000 off appropriations requested by Superintendent of Schools Albert P. Mathers and then passed its budget on to the Board of Finance for further scrutiny. To achieve the reduction, the school board rejected proposals for additional bleachers at Stanley P. Mead Field on South Avenue (the high school gridiron), a Russian language teacher at the high school, an addition to the faculty at Saxe Junior High and a secondary school supervisor.
Meanwhile, there was mixed news for New Canaan's emergency services. Police Chief Henry "Red" Keller announced a plan to install seat-belts in all patrol cars. At the firehouse across the street, volunteers were disappointed to learn that the Board of Finance had rejected a request for $5,185 for a radio fire alarm system with receivers in the homes of 20 volunteers.
Firemen claimed the central fire horn system was no longer adequate in alerting the volunteers because it couldn't be heard in all sections where they men might live or work. During the same week, the volunteers were called out 10 times to extinguish grass and brush fires that burned out of control in spring yard clean-ups in town.
Elsewhere, a crowd estimated at 2,000 attended a farewell party for the Rev. Edmund J. Hussey in the St. Aloysius School hall. The popular priest had been a curate at the local church since his ordination to the priesthood 16 years earlier and he was being transferred to St. Mary's in Bridgeport. Ed Janis chaired the event.
St. Aloysius School was a busy place that week. In addition to the reception for Father Hussey, it was the scene of a song and dance revue in celebration of St. Patrick's Day and the setting for the traditional Lenten Communion Breakfast of the Knights of Columbus. Anne Chabot and Dorothy Palmer were chairmen of the show, which featured all local talent, and Tom Donelan and Fred Vitiello headed arrangements for the breakfast. Sibal and Frank McBride, a former FBI agent, addressed a capacity crowd at the men's breakfast and Jack Sterling of radio and television fame was master of ceremonies.
It was the week New Canaan police continued their road-blocks to discourage young drivers from going to New York State where the legal "drinking age" was lower (18) and bars stayed open later.
At the same time, Gov. John N. Dempsey urged New York State to raise the minimum age to 21, citing the high rate of accidents occurring in pre-dawn hours along Route 123 and frequently involving teen-age drivers. Local cops were calling the road "Beer Can Alley."
Back home, the Zoning Board of Appeals finally granted a variance that permitted Dr. David Brown and Dr. Horace Crary to place a fifth physician's office in their building at the corner of East and Millport avenues. The doctors had asked for 10 when they filed their proposal a couple of years earlier, but the Town Planning and Zoning Commission at that time approved only four, noting that the property was in a B-Residence zone.
Sports headlines where made that week by Wilky Gilmore, former New Canaan High star, as he was named to the all-tournament team in the Midwestern regionals of the NCAA basketball play-offs. Gilmore led the University of Colorado in scoring, but the team lost to Cincinnati, ranked No. 2 in the nation that season.
All in all, there was much to cheer about during this week in 1962.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.