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Living in Rowayton in the 1940s and Early 1950s

Sunday, July 7th, 2013 3 Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

The comments in Italics were contributed by Pat Dawson Lauder, RowaytonKid of the 40s, 50s, and 60s and co-founder of this website.

by Nan Lauder Eckfeld

When I was growing up, my hometown of Rowayton was really just a fishing village of about 2,000 people, located on the Five Mile River. The river ran south into Long Island Sound. On the northern end of Rowayton Avenue was a Baptist Church and a Methodist Church. Our ancestors had attended the Methodist Church for generations, but my parents belonged to the South Norwalk Congregational Church, “up town” as we called South Norwalk. On the west side of Rowayton Avenue heading south along the river, our “downtown” had Soybel’s drugstore, Stephanak’s grocery store, the barber shop, the Post Office and the Library. That was the main shopping center. A few blocks further south on the east side of the street was another small grocery market called the First National, and next to it was Louie’s News Stand, a great little store that sold newspapers, magazines, candy, toys and various assorted must-have sundries.

I feel like I should be carrying a cane and bent over with a hand on my back when I talk about Rowayton back in the 40s, but thankfully I am not there yet. I lived a block away from my grandfather’s boat yard, Rowayton Marine Works, and I would always find an excuse to pop in to say hello, pet the cat, check out the activity on the river and give grandpa a hug, which was generally followed by the gift of a penny or two. That was big money for a little kid and that wealth allowed me to stop at Louie’s News Stand only a hop-skip away on the corner of McKinley and Rowayton Avenue. Louie’s was a sliver of a store with well-worn wooden floors and jammed packed with newspapers, magazines, basic grocery needs, sundries, toys and candy. The main attraction there for me were the M&Ms out of the penny candy jar – 10 for one penny. In those days we could stick our filty mitts in the jar, grab a handful, count them and put back the overage!!! My, my, times and health laws have changed, but we all survived and built up our immune systems in the process. Pat Dawson Lauder

Across the street from these stores was the gas station. Rowayton also had several beaches and boatyards.

The new, brick, one-story elementary school was several blocks from “downtown” and opened a couple of months after I began Kindergarten. Buses took the older children to junior high and high school “up-town.”

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Rowayton Kid Remembers His Historic Victory in the 1949 Arthur J. Ladrigan Swim Race

Saturday, July 6th, 2013 one Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Crick

It was a beautiful day in early September when somehow I, Cricky Leavitt, found myself standing on the float tied to the west end of the Bayley Beach waterfront with a gaggle of other kids my age – about 5 to 6 years old. I had never been in this situation before so I sort of stood at the outside of the float being the anti-social kid I was. Little was I aware that this character flaw would pave the way for one of the greatest accomplishments of my long life. Clearly I was the underdog and you could cut the tension with a knife so to speak.

.

I was going to swim in the annual Art Ladrigan swim race for five and six year olds although the race was not called that at the time … and why would you name a race after a curmudgeon anyway. My fifteen or so competitors and I were told to calm down and form a line at the edge of the float to get ready because the race was about to start. I moved up into position and found myself on the outside in the deepest water. There was a bang and all of us instinctively dove or jumped into the water to head toward the finish line that seemed in retrospect to be about 25 feet away. It was like being in a running diswasher with water splashing everywhere. Being on the outside I managed to swim forward without being drowned by flailing arms. I thought at least these noisey kids had stopped shouting to avoid swallowing water. After what seemed like an eternity I made it to the finish line and found that I was first … numero uno.

I had won the only swim race I would ever enter and I retired undefeated to the cheers of Rowayton mothers. I remember having a medal that I kept in a box with all of my other things that glittered but I have not seen that medal in decades. I did have one more moment of swimming glory though. In the summer of 1952, I was banished to Camp Mohawk for two terrifying weeks where I rose to the rank of Flying Fish because I was able to swim to the center of a small lake and back. I’m pretty sure I got a medal for that too but haven’t seen it in decades either. Woe is me.

Thanks to the Rowayton mothers who cheered me on. And a special thanks to Rolly Maury who taught me how to swim a few years earlier.
Left to Right: Jane Buffum; Sis Jenkins, Randy’s mom; Rolly Maury, Johnny and Dickie’s mom; Hatsie McKissock, Holly’s mom; Hester Maury, Brooke’s mom; Pat Gage, Jeff’s mom; June Leavitt, Crick’s mom; Ann Henry (behind June playfully placing a ‘witch’s’ broom in front of June), Connie’s mom; Jane Dwiggins, Ranny Grinnell’s mom; and unknown.
Rowayton Gang of Women

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Rowayton Civic Association

Saturday, July 6th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Crick

The Rowayton Civic Association has a very nice website www.rowaytoncurrents.com that watches for articles at RowaytonKids and lists them using a rolling News and Events plugin. Because of this RowaytonKids who wish to communicate with modern day Rowayton can do so by publishing at RowaytonKids.

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Wilson Point Beach

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 5 Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Crick

I spent the summers of 1961 and 1962 taking care of this beach which included two nice tennis courts just beyond the beach. It was like having my own private club. Allie and Cookie McDowell’s father would come by on weekends to pay me for my labor.

The labor was cleaning the seaweed off the beach first thing in the morning and then raking the sand smooth. As you can see, this wasn’t a big job. I would also mow the lawn behind the beach and make sure the dressing rooms were tidy. The courts took care of themselves because they were hard courts. The rest was playing tennis with Ward Chamberlin and his guest, sports author John Tunis, both of whom lived in Rowayton; also playing tennis with Paul Tebo, and giving an ocassional lesson to Sybil Schwarzenbach. Sybil had a brief cameo in Peter Sellers entertaining movie “World of Henry Orient” getting on a school bus in Manhatten. I remember this because Heide Thorsen was jealous because she didn’t get in the movie.

There wasn’t a great amount of traffic at the beach so it became my domain for these summers. I can remember counting the cars that were parked at the Phillip’s mansion on The Point just east of the beach and marvelling at their wealth from selling Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia. One weekend the very attractive Yolanda McDowell showed up at the beach with a “Duke” in tow. Word had it that the McDowells had met the Duke and his entourage in Canada and had invited them down as house guests. At some point the hosts learned that the Duke wasn’t a Duke, and I never saw the Duke again. Toward the end of the 60s, I read in the Norwalk Hour that Mr. McDowell had committed suicide up at the Norwalk reservoir, very sad. I wonder what happened to the rest of the family? Also Sybil’s brother, who I never saw at the beach, lost his life racing his sports car around Darien. Remarkably, I remember the night because I could hear the tires screeching in the distance from our home on Bluff Avenue. This was also very sad because he was going to Yale and had so much promise of a productive life ahead of him.

These were lazy summers before my transition from pure RowaytonKid to a guy with a career that is still running strong today. I entered grad school at the University of Pittsburgh in September of 1966 and received my Ph.D. in Biochemistry in April of 1971. Without that experience and three special scientific mentors at Pitt, I can’t imagine where I would have ended up…probably in Vietnam. My first job was this Wilson Point Beach job; then I spent most of 1964 and the summer of 65 as a lab technician at Diamond National in Stamford. During those two summers Suzie O’Gorman and I ran the Bayley Beach concession also. Then after a summer in Europe I started with a full fellowship at Pitt which covered the cost of my life for 4.5 years. So I have been employed since the summer of 1961 with few gaps.

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Jean Wilson Templeton

Monday, June 24th, 2013 2 Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Jean

My childhood was spent in a safe and very small, affluent, white world on Covewood Drive in Rowayton, CT. And then I ventured out into the larger world. At age 18? 1968, was I ever unprepared for what I walked out and into! I would love to hear from others that I knew. Jean (Wilson) Templeton

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House on Wilson Point – Bois Jolie

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013 7 Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Suzanne Miller: The name was Bois Jolie….pretty woods. We have a booklet called Point in Time which is a small history of the Point. If you would like one, I have some extra copies. Let me know!

From Shelby McCord

Does anyone on the website remember the “name” of this house on Wilson Point? Most of the old homes had names like “The Nob”, Naramoke Farm” or “High Hedges”.

It was the original “Wilson Point” developer’s home. Col. Duncan G. Harris built it in 1920 and used it as a weekend or summer home. He was a real estate developer from NYC. He married a french woman, Alice Abell but they never had children.

My son just purchased it in foreclosure and I am trying to collect the history on the house for him as a “house gift”. Any clues would be great.

It is located at 10 Woodland Road in Wilson Point. The house is small and directly on the water. It has survived all these years virtually intact and unremuddled.

From Crick
Norwalk Hour August 17, 1933

Dorothy (left) and Lillian Gish and two pictures of Dorothy (left to right).

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Please See the Interview of Judy Beatty by Dorit Reiss

Saturday, June 15th, 2013 one Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Judy

Judy with sister Janis. From Dorit: “Judith remembers the day when it all started very, very clearly. “I was 6, almost 7. It was in late August 1949 in Connecticut. I jumped out of bed to run to the bathroom and fell and then couldn’t get up.” Judith was very, very frightened. By the next day, she was paralyzed from the neck down.”

Dorit Reiss’ interview.

From Crick Leavitt: Thank you Dorit for writing this story and Judy for telling it. I have written about Judy’s experience on a number of ocassions. Judy and I grew up in Rowayton CT and our memories are exactly the same, even Judy’s description of learning to swim. We were playing together when her contraction of polio began. I remember this in my mind’s eye and the thought of that early evening comes back to me often. I wrote the following some time ago:

“Shortly after I arrived at the Bureau of Biologics of the FDA (at the Natl. Insts. of Health) all the staff were tested for polio antibody titre in our blood because I was going to grow the live poliovirus. A titre of 1:8 to 1:32 (negative serum:immune serum) achieved by vaccination is thought to provide immunity to poliovirus. I had a titre that was basically off-scale (1:>>>5000). This finding confirmed that I had once had the natural infection. I believe that this was when I was four or five because I remember playing with my friend Judy (about 1949) in our front yard at dusk. My parents also connected the dots although at the time we had no proof of the timing of our infections. Judy went home with a fever and ended up in an iron lung. I was the lucky one because I ended up with a flu-like disease with no apparent paralysis. Today you don’t often see people walking around with leg braces due to polio but this was not that uncommon before the 1970s. One of my Ph.D. advisors, Garrett Ihler who was a brilliant scientist, wore one. I have always been aware that I favor my right leg tremendously but this only shows up when skiing or skating. I hate to bring this up in light of Judy’s struggle; but it is worth mentioning that poliovirus infections left less dramatic physical effects on some of the unparalyzed.

I am so happy that you both told this story. John (Crick) Leavitt

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Remembering the Rowayton Fathers

Saturday, June 15th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

Any other father/child pictures are welcome.

Left to right and down.
1. Jerry Beatty with Janice, Judy…
2. Paul Ballard with David…
3. David Baumgarten with wife Florence and Margo and Laurie.
4. Jeff with daughters.
5. Shelley with Chip.
6. Ellin’s father with Horace McMahon and daughter
7. Jane Smith’s Dad
8. Crick with dad Peter in the late spring 1944
9. Crick with Mariah 1991
10. Crick with Elizabeth, Drew, and Christina at Candlestick Park in 1990.
11. Holly’s father Alan McKissock
12. Jack Maury, Johnny, Dickie, Betsy and Rosalie’s dad with June Leavitt and Anne Henry.
13. Jeff’s father, James, with step-mother, Francis.

Judy is furthest to the right and Janis is second from the left. Click to enlarge.

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You Can Now Search RowaytonKids

Thursday, June 6th, 2013 2 Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

I managed to put a SEARCH BOX next to “Participants” in the Right Sidebar. The box at the top of the page works only if you type in the word and hit return and I am not sure why. If you put a word in the BOX next to “participants” or at the top you can find the articles that mention “Crick” or “Cricky” or “Pat” or “Patty” or “Connie” or “Hickory” or “Thomas” or even obscure people like “phoebe”… etc. Have fun.

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Striper Fishing Off of Sheffield Island

Monday, June 3rd, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Andy Leavitt

I remember going out with Peter when he was lobstering. Later, I had one of my most exciting times on the water with brother Peter. We were in my aluminum skiff and we were off some rocky shores of Sheffield Island. Peter taught me that the Stripers like to swim amongst the rocks. He was sure right that day. My line went taught, the pole bent in half and I stood up yelling “I GOT ONE!!!” Peter threw a seat cushion down and told me to sit before I fell in! Those boats are very light in the water and the fish was rather large. So it wasn’t so much me struggling to haul in a mighty catch as it was reeling the boat to the fish. The boat just scooted along until a 39″ striper (or was it 42″) was grabbed into the boat by Peter. We were so happy. When we got ashore Mom took a picture of me holding the fish. I was so small that it came up to my chin. Later she made a little clay statue of the picture she had taken.

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Those Pesky Peacocks, not to mention the attack osterich

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013 4 Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

At the Bluff we were always within earshot of the peacocks. Crick

From Jane

Thanks for the interesting commentary about Tavern Island; it is indeed a special landmark and full of history. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Billie Rose kept peacocks on the island, roaming freely. They would, however, fly over to Wilson Point and spend the morning on the roof of Walt’s mother’s house (Anne Graham) on Woodland Road. They made a racket but were very beautiful to watch strutting in the yard and eating any birdseed left on the ground from the feeders. This is an old post card of “Pilot Island”. The house on the left was moved and rebuilt to the right of the main house. The photo of Tavern Island was taken in 2010. Surprisingly, there was minimal damage from Hurricane Sandy, due to the fact that the water washed over the island and did less damage than it did on the shore lands, according to the current caretaker, Mike Hart. BTW, the island is for sale for a mere $12+ million.

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Lobstering at Tavern Island

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Peter Leavitt

I once put one lobster pot just off the rocks of Tavern Island and waited 2 or 3 days to pull the pot and see if I had any luck. Well to my surprise I caught four lobsters. What a haul! Lobster being my favorite food, it seemed so easy that I decided to get a license so I could put out strings of lobster pots maybe even sell some.

My first string of six pots I put right off Tavern Island near the same spot of the first one waited the 2 or 3 days; then headed out to pull in what had to be a great haul. As I pulled up the first pot I could hardly stand it. Oh no, nothing pot after pot nothing! Well, I loaded them with bait, changed the spot a little, and hoped for the best. Time after time, no luck.

During this time I was working in a boatyard in Stamford. During lunch all of the yard hands would sit in this large shoproom and have lunch telling each other stories. One man one day was eating lobster for lunch and we where all surprised because lobster was very expensive and we teased “What are you. rich?” We were all poor laborers. I remember, he had a Norwegian accent and he laughed and in a deep Norse accent.

He said, “I live on an Island in Norwalk called Tavern Island owned by Billy Rose. I am the caretaker for the island. Every Sunday a dumb ass comes out and puts lobster pots right next to the Island. He comes back every third day at the exact same time; so I go out a few hours earlier and pull the pots. I’ve been really making a good haul.”

That was the end of my lobstering career. Did I say anything? I was the youngest and smallest worker there. No, I didn’t say anything. I did not want to be the dumb ass. What are the odds?

Peter

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Rowayton From Tavern Island

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Crick

I lived my first 18 years in Rowayton CT. I’ve attached below an inspiring picture of Tavern Island. This is the harbor and open waters where I took sailing lessons for five years and many of us frolicked.

In the Picture:

dark green arrow = Hickory Bluff dock, beach, and store, where Tommy Westerling and Meg Gatten hung out before they got married. Nearly all of us hung out there. I can still taste the chocolate ice cream.

dark blue arrow = Tavern Island custodian house and dock.

purple arrow = Our house and beach in the 1960s where I took many a skinny dip.

red arrow = Shelly T. and Chip’s house with beach and canoe.

gray arrow = Fashionable Thomas School for girls where Diane (Wilkinson), Judy, Margo, Laurie, Connie, and cousin Nancy Cornbrooks went along with other Rowayton girls.

green arrow = Wilson Point beach where I was lifeguard/beach boy/tennis teacher for two years.

light blue arrow = Where I capsized in Shelly’s canoe in March of 1964 and had to swim the canoe with the current and the wind to the Wilson Point Beach…burrr.

pink arrow= Bell(e) Island where Margo, Laurie, Pam, Bronwyn, Roussie, Linda, and my Aunt and Uncle Charlie and Kate Cornbrooks with Suzie and Nancy lived. No wonder the Island was often called Belle Island.

orange arrow = Bayley Beach around the corner from Bell(e) Island and Roton Point. I spent almost every summer day there playing tennis in the summers and ran the beach concession for two summers.

source: http://www.norwalkcitizenonline.com/news/article/Island-oasis-for-sale-in-Norwalk-3974742.php#photo-3633268

From our terrace looking at Tavern Island at dusk.

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Tavern Island

Saturday, June 1st, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s


From Crick

This is from Who Put the “Tavern” in Tavern Island?” by DC
If you go to the original article, there are some interesting comments.

While a web search of Sheffield Island or Cockenoe Island immediately produces a wealth of information about the history of those islands, Tavern Island remains more of a mystery. That’s probably because it’s privately owned, and has been throughout recent history. The island is home to a mansion and some smaller structures and gardens. Rumor has it that it took the name Tavern Island during the prohibition period. This can seemingly be corroborated by the fact that Billy Rose owned the island in the ’20s. The showman is said to have used it as a stopover for rumrunners (Editor’s correction: per Benjamin Shepherd’s comment, below, Billy Rose did not purchase the island until 1957). A post on RowaytonKids.com (an interesting collaboration of photos and tales from kids who grew up in Rowayton in the ’50s) shares some gossip about the island from the middle of the century: “Barbara Streisand was once seen on their pier waiting for the launch to take her to the island.” (attributed to June Leavitt; told by Crick Leavitt) Or better, ”you had to be careful if you tried to sneak onto Tavern Island as they had a rather aggressive ostrich.” (attributed to Andy Leavitt). The Norwalk Islands certainly add a lot to our little chunk of Long Island Sound, not only from a perspective of gunkholing, kayaking, camping, and scenery, but history as well. I invite readers to share any more tales or rumors of the history of any of the islands that you may know.

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Heidi Westover Winning the Vermont City Marathon Yesterday in Burlington VT

Monday, May 27th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Crick

I like to brag about my cousin Meg Gatten Westerling’s daughter. Meg grew up on Wilson Avenue next to the Ladrigans and married Tommy Westerling of Norwalk. They live in New Hampshire and have a son Tommy Jr. and daughter Heidi. Heidi came in 15th in the US Olympic Qualifying trials in Houston in January 2012. Here she is winning yesterday. She had to pull up at the Boston Marathon because of a hamstring injury.

Westover, from Walpole, N.H., crossed the finish line a 2:42: 02, despite struggling with rain and cold temperatures.
“It’s really exciting,” Westover said. “It was definitely a tough day out there. It was pretty cold. I was battling a hamstring issue since the middle of March, so I just wanted to have a good day.”
Westover was not shy about wanting to break the women’s course record that she set in 2009. She fell seven minutes shy of the 2:35:02 mark.
“I was going after my record but I got to 13 and ½ (miles) and I was only 30 seconds off of where I had been for my record, but it got really cold after that,” Westover said. “It started to get cold around 12 (miles) for me, from then on it was just a cold day.”

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Memorial Day, Vietnam, and Wars in General

Monday, May 27th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Peter

Today, I wonder how the Vietnamese think of the war? To Americans it’s still a stone in our collective shoe. Maybe that’s because we lost. Have they moved on never really looking back? My hero of Vietnam was a local boy, Will, a RowaytonKid. I won’t say his last name because he may not want it out there; but he’s my hero because he knew what was right for him at the time while most simply did what they were told. He was a conscientious objector. Because of this he was called a coward by his father and actually went to jail for refusing to go to a war he thought was wrong. I personally wasn’t smart enough to truly understand Will’s conviction and knowledge of the situation at hand. For those who fought I would say they answered a calling from their leaders and did what they thought was responsible. There is no shame in that and there is no shame in Will’s own personal war.

I grew up living in the North. I’ve always thought of the United States as just one beautiful country. I don’t think of the civil war that often but when I do I enjoy learning its history. I’ve been to many civil war battle areas and seen the horror of what happened. Antietam is always hard to believe. I’ve been living in the South for many years and, believe it or not, you feel like the Civil war is just on hold at times. It’s as though there is more to be done. To me it is actually a little funny. I’m not laughing at my Southern brothers and sisters but the only thing I can come up with is that the south lost and some are unwilling to give up. Most people, I think, don’t understand that we both lost – the North and the South. And we both won because the solution was the best for all.

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The 1959 Tea Dance

Saturday, May 11th, 2013 one Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Jane

I found this photo taken at the Rowayton School 6th grade tea dance in June, 1959 of (L to R) me, Martha Aspblom and Missy McMahon. The picture was taken at the church’s “meeting house” built in 1955; the new church followed in 1962.

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Another Yankee Fan

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Diane Wilkinson Trefethen

Crick’s article brought back warm memories for me. I loved baseball in the 50s and the Yankees were my favorite team too. I played hardball with the boys at recess because the girls weren’t interested. Actually it was one-a-cat (really “one old cat” but what did we know?) because we never had time to get two real teams together. I learned to throw hard by standing in front of a mirror in my bedroom and “practicing” pitching a la Whitey Ford (#16). My hero was Mickey Mantle (#7). As John says, we were kids and had no clue about what went on behind the scenes. We saw the people they were through the eyes of adoring kids, not objectively at all.

The Yankees broadcaster on Channel 11 was Mel Allen (remember the Bert & Harry Piels ads for beer?) and Vin Sculley did the Dodgers on Channel 9. During the summer, I would score ball games on the telly.

The only World Series game I’ve ever been to was in 1956. It was Thursday morning and I had barely gotten to school at Darien Junior High when my mother called the office to say she was coming to get me. She took me straight to the Darien station and put me on a train to New York. My Dad had gotten two last minute tickets for game #2 at Ebbets Field. The Yanks lost. That was the year that Don Larsen (#18) later pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.

Thank you so much for bringing back happy memories of baseball when it was a game and we loved not just “our” team but “our” players too.

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My Momment With Jackie Robinson

Saturday, April 13th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

The movie “42” starring Chadwick Baldwin as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is a must see for anyone growing up in the 1950s or who loved baseball in that magic era.

From Crick

I was a huge baseball fan as a kid. I was devoted to the New York Yankees in the 1950s and can still recite the numbers of the starting eight Yankees (not the pitchers). Phil Rizzuto, short-stop (No. 10), was my favorite to the point where I would actually pray for him to get a hit when he came up to bat – he was short like me. He was the Most Valuable Player in 1950. In the early-mid 50s, I was also the only kid in the “300 Club” which was named the 300 Club because it was limited to 299 New York City business men and one child (me) centered at the Republican Club located on the same block where my commuting father worked at Schumacher’s next to Bryant Park.

The 300 Club was a gambling club. Every year in April, the members submitted their teams of 10 players with two alternates (if one or two of the first 10 did not come to bat at least 400 times). The trick was to pick a team with the highest combined batting average by the end of the baseball season. It was not as easy as it sounds because every year someone would have an off year or would not come to bat 400 time because of an injury. The pay-off was $50 if you were leading at the all-star break and $500 with a smaller second place prize if you won at the end of the season. So the New York Times sports pages were my bible for that decade. The closest I came to winning was when I came in second at the all-star break one summer.

Because of the club I didn’t just study and choose Yankees (usually Mickey Mantle #7, Hank Bauer #9 and Yogi Berra #8). I knew of all of the top hitters of that decade which included Willie Mays (center field) and Don Mueller (right field) on the NY Giants, Stan Musiel (center field) of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Duke Snider (center field), and Jackie Robinson (third base) on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Guys like Joe Campanella (Dodgers), Roger Maris (Yankees and Cardinals) and Hank Aaron (Boston Braves) came in toward the end of this era. I went to quite a few Yankees games with my parents. At my first game, Yankees v. St. Louis Browns, I saw Satchel Paige give up a bases loaded home run to Yogi Berra in the last of the 9th. I never had an opportunity to go to any Dodgers’ games in Brooklyn. Andy Rooney took me to my only NY Giants’ game in their last season at the Polo Grounds in New York before the team moved to San Francisco. We sat in the CBS box and I recall seeing Willie, Bobby Thompson, and Mueller hitting and fielding. In the 80s and early 90s Becki and I with kids rediscovered the Giants and went to many games at Candlestick Park where we were entertained by Will Clark and Matt Williams among others. Remember the earthquake World Series between the Giants and Oakland As?

I have always enjoyed my brushes with fame so when John Sharnik, a CBS producer and author, asked me to warm up Jackie Robinson for an exhibition at the Rowayton Bayley Beach tennis courts one summer weekend in either 1959 or 1960, I was more than happy to do so. As much as I was a student of baseball I was only faintly aware of the difficulties that Jackie struggled with in the late 40s and 50s. This is because I saw baseball through a kid’s eyes. Only later would I learn to understand the destructiveness of prejudice and hate in our society.

In Rowayton I was considered the best kid tennis player. I would consistantly beat the pro next door at Roton Point, I was number one on the Norwalk High team, went on to play college tennis and ultimately made the all conference team in doubles. But if the truth be known, Mike Newman and Paul Tebo, two other Rowayton kids, were just as good. But I had a lot of important mentors like Ward Chamberlin, best adult player around and George Shiras whose son Lief became a top grass court player with success at Wimbleton. I would usually be put out of the annual Rowayton Tennis tournament by Ward and there was always a good gallery. Ward would make sure that I got more games off of him than the other big hitters in the tournament. I also like to tell people that I beat Paul Gerken from neighboring Norwalk who rose to 32nd in the world beating the likes of Bjorn Borg and Arther Ashe. Paul has the only winning record over Borg (2-1). This was in the summer of 1961 when we played one set and I won 6-2. I always follow-up and confess that Paul was only 10 years old and I was 18, but Paul was already receiving his rackets from Jack Kramer.

So when Sharnik asked me to warm up Jackie Robinson, I rose to the occasion. I vaguely remember that when I was introduced to Jackie I showed no awe because this was serious business and I sensed that Jackie felt the same way. Since he was quite stoic, I wondered about his interest in being at Bayley Beach where everyone was white except for him. Darien next door was also all white except for the maids that came daily on the bus from Stamford. Jackie and his wife lived in Greenwich between Rye NY and Stamford where my maternal grandfather had built fine homes in the 1920s and early 30s.

I call this “my moment with Jackie Robinson” because it probably lasted 20 to 25 minutes. It was a beautiful warm day and I was hitting with someone I admired as a baseball player. He was at best an above average country club tennis player because of his athleticism. His forehand bounced deep in the court and was heavy to return. Jackie went on to play the exhibition doubles match with Ward and two other Rowayton men. Over those years we also had exhibitions with other top players including Billy Talbert. In my book, Ward was always the star.

After this experience I became more aware of Jackie Robinson’s trials and tribulations and the negative side of baseball in that era. In the 1960s I lost all interest in the major leagues except for the revival that I mentioned in the late 1980s and early 90s. Two things dashed that revival – the baseball strike that ended a superlative season and homerun crown for Matt Williams in the early 90s and the arrival of Barry Bonds in San Fransico. Bonds made even his uncle Willie Mays look bad.

Jackie paved the way for Elston Howard (Catcher, Yankees), Don Newcome (Pitcher, Dodgers), Roy Campanella (Catcher, Dodgers), Minnie Minoso (perennial 300 hitter, outfield, Chicago White Sox), Monte Irvin (outfield, Cleveland Indians), Roberto Clemente (right field, Pittsburgh Pirates), Willie Stargell (first base, Pittsburgh Pirates), and many others. I lived in Pittsburgh while in Grad School from 1966 to 71 and would often walk from the lab at the medical school about five blocks down to Forbes Field where I was able to enter the stadium for free after the seventh inning (bleachers on the left field foul line cost only 50 cents). Roberto Clemente was the best all-around player I ever saw. He played right field because he had a terrific throwing arm and would occasionally throw out surprised hitters at first base who thought they had hit a single. Stargell was a phenomenal clean-up hitter behind line drive hitter, Clemente, who on numerous occasions hit the ball over the third tier roof in right field. When that happened, everyone at the KFC up on the hill (the getto) would get free Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Baseball in the 40s and 50s was magical. It’s not the same for me today.

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Annette’s Gone

Monday, April 8th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

Daily introduction to the Mickey Mouse Club Show on TV in the 1950s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4C_lUy58Rw

M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

Annette’s mini-movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2F1nO2ak6M

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Happy Day For Rowayton Kid and Daughter

Saturday, April 6th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Crick

Our Mariah’s Zane called me a little before 9 AM today and asked if he could marry Mariah. Without hesitation I told Zane that Becki and I “are thrilled.” He was on his way home from his overnight duty on his submarine, the attack sub USS Albany. He was going to propose to her when he got home. I called Becki who is in Burlingame CA and woke her up to tell her the good news.

Zane’s last deployment began at the end of July and ended on March 8th when the Albany returned to Norfolk (longer than initially planned). It probably took three weeks to get the ring. “Albany steamed more than 40,000 nautical miles during the deployment, which is enough to encircle the Earth, and still make four round trips from Norfolk to San Diego,” said Skipper Soldow. “We were privileged to have visited Lisbon, Portugal; Haakonsvern, Norway; Faslane, Scotland; and Rota, Spain.” This is the Albany at dock.

Zane hails from Burnet Texas.

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My Most Satisfying April Fools Joke

Monday, April 1st, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

from Crick

This was on April 1st 1987. Becki and I had moved into our first house in central Palo Alto. We had only a few pieces of furniture but the winter was warm and we were joined by Becki’s beloved German Shepherd Chewbacka and cockatiel JD. Becki for some reason had concluded that JD was a boy, so we were quite surprised to find a small egg in ‘his’ cage a few days before April. JD’s cage was mounted high on the wall so you had to stand on a stool to see the bottom of the cage. So while Becki was not around on the morning of April 1st, I took a chicken egg out of the fridge and placed it in the bottom of the cage. When Becki came into the living room, I got up on the stool, peered into the cage, and reacted like an academy award winning actor … “my God, JD laid another egg!” Becki rushed over and stood up on the stool to see this new wonder. For a second or two the expression on her face was most gratifying. While I was across the room revelling in laughter, Becki reached into the cage, grabbed the egg, and started chasing me around the house… only then, in the frenzy that ensued, did I learn how successful the prank was. Thinking that the egg was raw, I did my best to avoid the curveball that was thrown which I was able to deflect with a flat hand.

…it was hard-boiled.

My partner in crime. The bird and I got along quite well.
jd-1.jpg

(Left to Right) Becki at the Pauling Institute plotting my future a few months earlier. Our house on Maureen in Palo Alto. Then Becki and me two months later in May 1987 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge on a bridge walk. Becki two and a half months later in June on the Statue of Liberty. And then finally wedding bells in Carson City 11 months later on February 29th, 1988.
Some of these will enlarge by clicking

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Crick’s Family Expands

Saturday, March 16th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

I have updated my Page at the top with developments in the last four years. Also, It’s great to hear from Pat Dawson’s sister, Bonnie Jacobson. Crick

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Topper Is Gone

Saturday, March 16th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Dirk and Kipp

James H. “Topper” Fenton, 67, of Middletown, PA, passed away at his residence surrounded by his family and close friends on Saturday, February 23, 2013, following a difficult battle with colon cancer.

(from the Hour on April 5, 1945) Born April 1, 1945 in Glens Falls, NY, he was the son of the late J. Hugh Fenton and A. Patricia (VonDwingelo) Fenton. He was a graduate of Central Catholic High School in Norwalk, CT, and received his bachelor’s degree from Murray State University in Murray, KY.

He was a retired business analyst who enjoyed, football, Nascar, reminiscing about his years at Old McDonald’s Farm in Norwalk, CT, photography, trains, bluegrass, coins, cooking, spending time with his family and friends, and seeing the smiles on children’s faces when he was Santa at his local mall.

James was a member of Hanover First Church of God in Hanover, PA, and he enjoyed volunteering with the Hanover Area Council of Churches Provide-A-Lunch (PAL) program. He was a wonderful husband, loving father, and proud Papa.

James is survived by his wife of 39 years, Joanne M. (Cardillo), his daughters Kelly (fiancé of Richard Godbout) Middletown, and Erin (wife of Andrew Hinton) Phoenixville; granddaughters, Olivia Matson and MacKenna Johnson; sister, Martha (wife of Joseph Giordano) Fairfield, CT; brothers, Peter (husband of Mary Beth) Bradford, NH, and Phillip (husband of Toni) Danbury, CT, as well as 8 nephews, one great nephew and 6 great nieces.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 3PM at Hanover First Church of God. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to Hanover First Church of God’s Benevolent Committee, 600 Fairview Drive, Hanover, PA 17331.

Published in The Hour on March 12, 2013

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Our Stomping Grounds in the 1940s-1970s

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 9 Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

From Crick

This was our neihghborhood in the 50s and 60s. We did little roaming in the 1940s.

My parents’ (Peter and June Leavitt) first entry into Rowayton was to live in a cabin on the edge of Casmar’s Pond in the first year of their marriage (Sep 1940 through the summer of 41) just north of the railroad tracks, still the sixth district. After living in Greenwich Village and Darien they purchased their first house on Harstrom Place next to the Hartogs and a short walk through the thicket to Rowayton Ave. We moved to Harstrom Place around 1945 and then to Bryan Road around 1949 and eventually to Bluff Ave in early 1962 next to the Trubowitz. My parents presence in Rowayton eventually attracted my aunt Kate Cornbrooks and uncle Charlie with cousins Suzie and Nancy to Bell Island and aunt Lois Gatten and uncle Rex with cousins Meg, Tupper, and Neal first on or near Memory Lane, then to their house on Wilson Ave next to the Ladrigans. Also close friend of June and Kate, Nancy Foster and husband David with Grey, Meg, Ian, Jan and Nina moved next to us after returning from North Carolina and buying the Fogel house on Ridgewood Road. Nancy (Adamson) had grown up in Milton Gardens (Rye NY) next to my mother in the 20s and 30s where the Leavitt/Magill families came together. This picture shows my mother (third row face partially hidden) with Nancy (second row just to the right) in front of my mother around 1930. Kate Cornbrooks is second to the left of Nancy in the second row. In the third row are taller Jean and Tommy Sinclaire (later Tommy Hardy) who with husband Jerry moved to New Canaan and rented our house on Bryan Rd for the summer in around 1960. Here are my mother (June), with Tommy and Jean, Kate and Nancy Foster later in life. We all hanged together through life and I have been in touch with Kate, Nancy and Jan, Tommy, Jean, Meg G, Suzie and Nancy C in recent years (in addition to sister and brothers Phoebe, Peter, David, and Andy), and of course my parents lived with Becki and me in their last year of life (2010). to be continued

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Hey! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me

Saturday, February 16th, 2013 one Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

from Laurie

The question posed by Connie and responded to by Bron and Crick is immensly interesting to me, and I have often thought about this over the many years that I have lived so far away from my roots in Rowayton. There are, of course,  many people who grew up in Rowayton who still live there, some in the same houses in which they were raised. I know three such people on Bell Island, and we probably all know Billy Tims who still lives there and is a realtor in Rowayton. But that still leaves the query, “why did many of us leave and not come back to such an idyllic place?”

Like Bron and Crick, I have very fond memories of childhood  exploring all the nooks and cranies  of the beaches and seawalls and rocky points and boat landings and all the wild places that provided the stuff of a rich imaginative life. Even as young as five or six, I was off on my bike riding miles from home, picking up lunch in a grocery store where the clerk knew to simply add it to my parent’s bill. Yet, by adolescence, there began to seep into this existence a loneliness and isolation, a parochialism, something stifling. Was I just absorbing the culture in which I found myself? Much has been written about this culture from The Feminine Mystique, to Peyton Place, to Mad Men on TV and Revolutionary Road in film – all trying to explore and capture the underbelly of these bedroom communities with their rigid role assignments and homogeneous fabric.

Bron describes this sense of constriction as a type of claustrophobia. Our closeness to New York and the fact that many of our parents (fathers mostly) went into the big city everyday, and that often we went there with friends to go to museums and  plays and hang out in the Village, must have contributed to this itchiness and the  contradiction of wanting both … the beauty and quiet and fresh air of the suburban countryside and the energy and aliveness of the city.

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On Why We Didn’t Return to Rowayton To Live

Saturday, February 16th, 2013 one Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

First posted on February 22, 2010

from Bronwyn Jones Dunne

Dear Margo and the rest of the RowaytonKids,

I loved the description of your trip to Rowayton. In the last few years, because my mother is in a retirement home in Darien, I have made that same drive quite a few times just to check up on the house I grew up in on Bell Island. Of course, it is entirely different now having been transformed by two renovations over the years. But East Beach is still the same, a picture postcard of a beach. And the park has been improved. It no longer sports the metal swing set, jungle jim (scene of my first kiss) and slide, thank goodness! There is now a state of the art set of children’s playground equipment. The shuffle board concrete strips are now grass. But the stone walls, the rocky border of the island that was the joy of young oceanographers and the intimate gardens and overhanging porches are still there.

What strikes me each time I visit is that it’s such a unique place. Could those of us who lived there in the ’50s and early ’60s have had a more interesting and creative place to live? No one had to drive us anywhere. Our friends, our school, the library and market, the barber shop and hardware store were all within walking distance. And we all had boats to take us across the way to Sheffield and Tavern Island -if we didn’t swim there! I think it gave us an amazing experience of independence and security all at the same time.

So here are my thoughts about why we don’t live there anymore: Life in Rowayton made us feel that life was our oyster. We could dare to do anything and many of us did. I think it’s not surprising that Becky Booth lives in Hawaii and Judy Beatty in Sante Fe, Margo and Laurie in California, etc. We were raised in an atmosphere that encouraged exploration. That’s the positive side. The negative side is there was a certain claustrophobia that was created because of the size of the town. At least I experienced it. I remember at about the age of 13 or 14 wishing that we could build a huge wall around our house so living in it wouldn’t seem so much like life in a fish bowl. When I did come back to Connecticut in the early ’70s, I looked for a larger town on the Sound and found it in Old Greenwich.

Does anyone else have experiences that support mine and Margo’s or other stories and ways of looking at growing up in Rowayton? I’d love to hear about them!

Fondly, Bronwyn

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One Thing Led To Another

Saturday, February 16th, 2013 No Commented Categorized Under: RowaytonKids.com 1940s, 1950s, 1960s

from Crick

I’m sure everyone has a different answer to Connie’s query wondering why RowaytonKids did not return to live in Rowayton. I’m also sure that there are some common threads in each of our stories. Bron said that we were raised in an atmosphere that encouraged exploration. I think this is true for me to some degree. I can recall a summer night at dusk in the late 50s when Paul and I were sitting on the stone wall that bordered my parents’ property and the Fosters’ property. We were having a conversation about what we were going to become. I can’t remember what Paul said but I do remember what I said. I said that I thought that I might become an astronomer.

My father had purchased a 6” reflecting telescope. I would spend chilly nights in our back yard staring at the heavens. With this telescope I could see the rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s moons, Mars and Venus. The best sight was almost standing on the terrain of the moon. This was an era of space fantasy. Did anyone doubt that Sputnik’s beeps were coming from outer space? One Sunday in the early mid-50s, Paul and I took in a fabulous science fiction double feature at the South Norwalk Theater, “War of the Worlds” and “Worlds Collide” (I still enjoy watching these old films today). In the earlier 50s I was hooked on the TV serials “Flash Gordon”, “Buck Rodgers”, “Tim Tyler’s Luck”, and Gene Autry’s “The Phantom (Underground) Empire”.  And I read many Landmark books about famous explorers like Captain John Smith and Lewis and Clark. I always wanted to explore some frontier; but frontiers are hard to find in our modern society.

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