Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
Present repeats past with minor changes
Current events in community life tend to be cyclical, a fact never more obvious than in last week's news.
New Canaan's Board of Finance, it was reported, has approved an appropriation of $1.1 million for dredging the pond in Mead Park.
During this week in 1962, an excavating contractor from New York, walked off the dredging job, declaring it was more than he could handle after being hired for $10,000 to dredge the pond, found that the job was more than it could handle and quit. The Public Works Department scurried around rambled for weeks to find a contractor who would be willing to finish the job, but the pond remained a mud-flat, ugly and odorous, for the rest of the summer.
Ultimately, the job was finished, but it had to be done again less than 20 years later. The pond, after all, was called "The Dismal Swamp" before local volunteers, some with their labor and others with monetary contributions dug out the bog and began beautifying the area.
Recent political news also sounded familiar. It was noted that the probate courts of Darien and New Canaan are being merged, like many throughout Connecticut, in compliance with a state attempt to cut costs and that this fall's election will decide which judge will preside over the combined court.
During this week in 1962, New Canaan Probate Judge Carl Nelson, a Republican, announced his candidacy for reelection and said he would be willing to preside also over the Darien court. An interim arrangement was made to share the judge after Ted McLean of the Darien court was appointed to the federal bench in New York.
Now the Darien-New Canaan probate link is being renewed, thanks largely to the efforts of the local judge, Russ Kimes, who is retiring from the court. Initially, state plans for consolidating the courts had placed New Canaan in a probate district with more distant towns and Judge Kimes was among those who successfully pointed out that a Darien-New Canaan merger made more sense.
Kimes himself was involved in fierce competition for the local judgeship almost 40 years ago. He was one of four Republican candidates for the office, joining Pen Mead, Jonathan Lovejoy and Bruce O'Dea. O'Dea won the caucus endorsement, nipping Mead by a single vote. Mead filed for a primary, however, and then defeated O'Dea handily. A few years later, Kimes succeeded the retiring Mead. O'Dea and Lovejoy had moved away.
It was during this week also 48 years ago that a town meeting authorized appointment of a committee to set up an historic district encompassing the God's Acre area. In more recent weeks, town planners have been contemplating a re-arrangement of municipal buildings in a campus-like setting.
There was grim irony in the news this week in 1968. Just a week after the State Highway Department announced that it was planning to straighten and widen about a mile of Route 123 near the New York State line as a traffic safety measure, to two Norwalk boys were killed and a New Canaan friend was seriously injured when the car in which they were riding crashed through a fence and stone wall at a curve about 100 feet north of Michigan Road.
The accident brought the death toll on New Canaan roads to six in the first six and a half months of 1962.
There was some anxiety in town that week also over the fate of the New Haven Railroad (now Metro-North). The fate of the commuter line depends on how the people of Connecticut respond to the "very real possibility that the trains might stop running," said Ted Winpenny, chairman of a local committee reviewing the plight of the bankrupt railroad. The response should include more use of the railroad's passenger and freight-hauling services, Winpenny said.
He cautioned commuters that a U.S. District Circuit Court was scheduled act in December on recommendations by the three trustees appointed by Judge Robert Anderson to run the railroad under terms of the Federal Bankruptcy Act.
In the meantime, a Connecticut survey determined that family income in New Canaan in 1961 averaged almost $20,000, the highest in Fairfield County and almost double what the county averaged. New Canaan income ranked just above that in Darien, Greenwich and Westport, which followed in that order.
There was other good news. A storm dumped about a half inch of rain on the area that week, ending a spell of sweltering weather and a long summer drought. A house on Hoyt Street was struck by lightning during the storm, but damage was minimal.
Elsewhere, the local boys' baseball season ended with a split decision. The Babe Ruth League All-Stars won the first game of a regional tournament, beating Greenwich, but then lost to Stamford.
The team was coached by Police Officers Jim Dubay, Ralph Scott and "Dinny" Lapolla and the roster included Mike Olson, Greg Raymond, Bob Saggese, Jack Williams, Jim Newcomb, Glen McDonald, Dick Tiani, Peter Paglialunga, Bob Patterson, John Palumbo, Jim Tiani, Joe Perna, Tom Paris and Jerry Spiegel.
The week's sports pages also heralded the signing of Johnny Thibdeau to a bonus contract with the Boston Red Sox. Thibdeau, a resident of Vista, N.Y., pitched for local teams during the summer and compiled a record of 30-2 with 400 strike-outs in three seasons at John Jay High School.
True to form, much of the week's mixed bag was mirrored generations later.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at email@example.com.