Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
No fire drills indicate no cause for alarm
Way back in 1962, Fire Prevention Week was a lot more than just several days marked off on the October calendar along with some cautionary advice from Smokey the Bear.
A fire truck was dispatched to each school in New Canaan and Chief Fred Pickering, all decked out in a full-dress uniform, white hat and all, showed up with his stop-watch to time evacuation of the buildings. He was invariably accompanied by Firefighters Bud Hoyt and Joe Ahearn who inspected the furnaces and checked the buildings for potential fire hazards. The fire marshal's job was a part-time post, mostly volunteer, in those days.
At one of those drills at South School, Pickering remarked to Principal Lee Haines that he always suspected kids were eager to get out of school, but "this group broke all speed records." Then both pronounced the drill a success.
Across the street from the firehouse, things weren't going as well for New Canaan's other men in blue. For the second consecutive week, the Police Department was having a problem with safe-crackers.
This time, burglars broke into the New Canaan Cleaners on Pine Street, drilled a hole in the office safe, reached in to grab a bag of money and then made off into the night. Seymour Krevlin, owner of the establishment, estimated his loss at $1,200. In the previous week, burglars lugged a heavy safe out of a house on Country Club Road and then dumped it on the Woodway Country Club golf course in Darien after prying it open and removing more than $100,000 worth of jewelry.
Elsewhere, the Board of Education received a petition from the New Canaan Education Association, the teachers' union, asking for changes in some policies. Among them was a required annual physical examination for each teacher at his or her own expense. The union also asked for creation of a joint teacher-board committee to consider any faculty salary proposals.
On the political front, New Canaan's two Democratic candidates for the State House of Representatives, Realtor George Haynes and Attorney George Vest, made news with an unusual proposal. They said they would favor legislation requiring New York State to return income taxes paid by Connecticut commuters to Connecticut, earmarked exclusively for improved service by the financially strapped railroad.
At Town Hall, Leslie B. Young, chairman, disclosed that the Charter Revision Commission was considering replacing New Canaan's three-member Board of Tax Assessors with a single assessor. In effect, it would be hardly any change since only the chairman of that board, Ed Pauley, served full time. The other members were Al Lutringer and Hugh Mills.
Young, often called "Mr. Moderator" because he usually presided at town meetings, also reported that members of his commission were attending sessions of the Representative Town Meeting in Darien, Greenwich and Westport as part of their deliberations on whether such a system should be adopted in New Canaan.
New Canaan's physical appearance also was a public topic as autumn dawned. The Garden Club and the Garden Center both revealed plans for "civic beautification" projects.
The New Canaan Conservation Council joined the two women's garden groups in their interest in the town's appearance. The Council asked the Board of Realtors to help preserve the town's "charm and rural characteristics."
At Center School, students formed the town's first "bus safety council." Teams of students, equipped with identification badges, belts and hats, were organized to "ensure proper behavior and safety on school buses." Mark Leswing, Kim Runyon, Lou Ann Paglialunga and Bobby Baldwin were team leaders.
The week also saw a change in clergy. The Rev. Arthur Norton of St. Aloysius R.C. Church and the Rev. William Bagnall of St. Mary's Church in Greenwich exchanged assignments. Each had completed four years of service at his church and for each it had been the first parish after ordination.
Also during the week, 11 policemen competed in the Police Department's annual golf event at the Country Club of New Canaan. Officer Anthony "Dinny" Lapolla turned in the low gross score, shooting a 159 for 18 holes to nose out Chief Henry "Red" Keller and Officer Pete Kisken. Tied for low net honors, 71 for 18 holes, were Officers Jim Dubay and Paul Torpey.
All in all, it was a quiet week in town, but it still produced some fodder for the Main Street "watchdogs." Called "old dads" by author David Finnie, they met almost every evening, perched on a make-shift bench they devised by placing a plank between window sills in the doorway of Geoff Langsam's store, and they always had plenty to talk about.
Herb Scofield from the furniture store next door thought it ironic that Young, a long-time Board of Finance member, would be directing studies of possible charter revisions to replace the traditional New England town meeting as New Canaan's legislative body. After all, he said, "Mr. Moderator" had made the town meeting the success that it was. Others argued that it had outlived its usefulness and because its make-up shifted constantly according to what was on the agenda, it lacked accountability.
His son-in-law, Roz Bryant, had another matter in mind. He snickered at the Conservation Council's plea to preserve New Canaan's "rural characteristics." That was long gone, said Bryant, who still kept a cow or two on his Seminary Street property. Everybody chuckled in agreement and they laughed again about the story of the Frogtown Road rooster.
According to a news report, a young couple had moved here from New York City because they wanted to live "out in the country." Within a week, they filed a complaint with the zoning authorities because a neighbor, Mike Saaf, kept a rooster in his yard and the darn thing crowed loud and long at dawn every morning. So much for the rural life. The "problem," if that's what it was, was never resolved and they were advised simply, "get used to it."
Yes, attitudes were different during that October week 48 years ago.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at email@example.com.