Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
Science lab animals trigger town debate
Running true to form, New Canaan skeptics found something to oppose almost as soon as the new school year began in 1962.
This time, it was something entirely new -- the use of live animals in the laboratories of advanced placement biology classes at New Canaan High School.
In a split vote, the Board of Education had approved a request by teachers Harry Pelletier and Ray Parry for use of lab animals and Lou Schneider, Dave Camerer and other "knights" of the Round Table, a daily luncheon group seated at the Elm Street window of Izzy Cohen's bistro, "Pierre's," reacted immediately. The "knights," masters of sarcastic wisecracks, snickered at concern for animals and worried more about the kids they said would "faint dead away" if they had to bisect a frog.
At any rate, all concerns were promptly eased by assurances that the biology labs were not about to become "torture chambers": and that all, animals (lab mice) and students alike, would come through the "ordeal" in good shape.
Attention turned next at Izzy's place to a stymied appetite for shrimp tempura and sake. The Court of Common Pleas had decided the Zoning Board of Appeals' was correct in rejecting a proposal to build a Japanese inn and restaurant on a 27-acre tract spanning the Norwalk border at the Merritt Parkway off Route 123. Norwalk authorities already had approved the plan, but most of the land is in residentially zoned New Canaan, Henry Mallia, owner of the land, was not done yet, however. He filed an amended plan showing all three buildings on the Norwalk side of the line with only the Japanese gardens and a lake in New Canaan. Promoters sent colorful Japanese parasols as gifts to New Canaan movers and shakers, but the attempt to win friends and influence people was to no avail. After protracted zoning hearings and court appeals, houses were built on the site.
Meanwhile, the YMCA launched night classes in its adult education program. Meeting in rented quarters around town, groups learned dancing, flower arranging, cooking and conversational French, German and Russian.
This mid-September week 48 years ago also was a time for new beginnings. Robert "Buck" Jordan became the first new Republican Town Committee chairman in a decade, succeeding Bob Bliss who gave up the gavel to run for state senator from the 26th District (New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk and Wilton).
Fire department news also was on the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce. Speaking at the monthly luncheon in the Roger Sherman Inn, Phil DuVal reported that the number of building fires in town had increased by 80 percent in the past 12 years and he challenged local merchants and their landlords to take every precaution to prevent fire.
The police department also had a busy week in a traffic enforcement campaign. Fifteen drivers received summonses and police spotted 200 cartons of cigarettes in one of the stopped cars. Capt. Jim Corson was tracking the tax stamp numbers on them to determine if and where they had been stolen.
Also that day, a clerk in a local supermarket reported that a man had run off with several cartons of cigarettes and several passersby told police later that they had seen a "suspicious person" putting something in the trunk of a car with Virginia plates. Police cars circled through town searching for the man until he was spotted by Chief Henry "Red" Keller and Officer Tony DeMichael who arrested him.
Keller wasn't the top gun in another event that week, however. He lost to Officer "Dinny" Lapolla by a single point in the annual competition for the Richard S. Perkin pistol marksmanship trophy.
Back at Izzy's, the "knights" laughed about how the Chief's policy had backfired. Keller, a former New Canaan High athlete, openly favored appointing other sports stars to the police force. Lapolla was among former Rams (Gene Ready, Paul Torpey and Ralph Scott were notable others) who consistently beat the Chief in golf and marksmanship.
Elsewhere, Lou Squitieri, Lions Club program chairman, announced that he had heard enough interesting stories around the Melba Inn luncheon tables to convince him that it would not be necessary to recruit outside speakers for the weekly meetings. He decided to tap members for their stories and for starters he booked Matt Bach, who was in San Francisco during the great earthquake of 1906; Al Caruso, a waiter at one of Connecticut's premier steakhouses, Manero's of Greenwich, for 25 years, Lee Benger, a church organist and piano performer and tuner since 1910, and Edgar Clausen, who rode with General "Black Jack" Pershing in the Mexican War.
Up on Carter Street, volunteers swarmed all over the Little Red Schoolhouse with ladders and buckets of paint. They were among neighbors who had taken possession of the historic one-room school from the town and were refurbishing it as a museum. For more than 50 years, it had been part of the public school system and was finally closed in 1958 when Mary Kelley retired after teaching grades one through four there for almost half a century. Years later, they turned it over to the New Canaan Historical Society though it remains at its original location.
Also during that week in 1962, the Town Players announced that Jack Sterling, noted radio and television personality, and his wife, Barbara, would take the lead roles in a forthcoming production of "The Music Man." Also in the all-New Canaan cast were Hoover Sutton, Ed Janis and Mrs. Daniel ("Joey") Dobbins.
It was the opening week of New Canaan High's football season and fans got a full share of excitement when the Rams rallied from behind to tie the game with Amity of Woodbridge, 16-16. With only 52 seconds left on the clock, Bobby Dix scored the key touchdown from 6 yards out.
The week was not without tragedy. An elderly Springdale couple was killed when a New Canaan bound train hit their car on the tracks near Camp Avenue. Police reported that the man at the wheel inexplicably turned off the road and onto the railroad bed, driving along for almost half a mile before the train arrived.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.