Armistice Day in Litchfield

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The recent centennial of the end of World War I provides a timely opportunity to look back on how that occasion was marked in Litchfield. The following account of November 11, 1918, is from Alain White’s 1920 book, The History of the Town of Litchfield, Connecticut, 1720-1920:

“The Court House bell gave the local signal and soon all the church bells
joined in, ringing out the tidings in a perfect medley of noise.  The firemen manned the chemical engine, and started out on a procession all over the Borough, a crowd quickly gathered, and soon about 200 men, women and children were in line, headed by the Stars and Stripes. They marched down South Street, and at the invitation of the rector, Mr. Brewster, into St. Michael’s church, where the people with deep emotion, sang together the Doxology and the national anthem, and gave thanks with grateful hearts that the long terrible years of conflict were ended at last. Out again on the Green, a bonfire was built, and while it was burning brightly impromptu speeches were made. The day dawned, soft and mellow, as a November day sometimes is. About seven o’clock there was a little let up for breakfast, but the bells never quite ceased ringing. The dignified village of Litchfield had a disheveled look on that morning, very unlike its usual trim appearance. Papers, confetti, the remnants of the bonfire littered the center and plainly showed that the town had been up all night celebrating. Refreshed by breakfast, every one who could get there, hastened to Bantam to join the parade. A band, provided by the forethought of W. S. Rogers led the procession, which included about sixty automobiles. Another pause came for the noon-day meal, then came the Litchfield parade, in which Bantam joined. The marchers were headed by Frank H. Turkington, and the Home Guard, the D. A. R., the Red Cross, the fire departments, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, the service flag of St. Anthony’s carried by young women, and many automobiles were in line, a coffin dedicated to the Kaiser was a special feature.  Litchfield’s enthusiasm did not spend itself with these demonstrations, but finished the day with a patriotic “sing” on the Green in the evening, patriotic speeches and an appeal for the United War Work Campaign, which was then in progress.”

Amidst the understandable celebration, the town still mourned for its ten sons who died in the conflict. The sacrifices of these men were noted with a star next to their name on the town’s monument to its men who served in the World War. In many cases, those stars are now missing; in this centennial year of the Great War’s end, it seems appropriate for the town to repair this honor. But it is important to remember that these were men with lives and families, not just names on a plaque, deserving to be remembered for their sacrifices and experiences. They are:

Henry E. Cattey, who is often listed as being from the “Marsh District” of Northfield, but sometimes listed as being from Thomaston. He was a mechanic in Company I of the Sixth Infantry, and was killed in October 1918 while liberating the French town of Bois des Rappes in the first phase of the Meuse-Argonnes Offensive. 

Roy F. Cornwell, who enlisted as a member of the New York State Militia from his father’s residence in Ellenville, but had lived in Litchfield for some time. He died on the ship en route to France.

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Clayton Devines died of the Spanish Flu in November 1918 while at an army camp in Florida. Between 50 and 100 million people worldwide died of the epidemic.

Joseph Donohue – hometown unknown – was a student at the Connecticut Junior Republic who enlisted in the army and died in action on July 23, 1918, during a French and Americans advance on the Ourcq River. 

August Guinchi of the 56th Regiment Coast Artillery was gassed was driving a tank. In a weakened condition, he succumbed to typhoid fever October 31, 1918.

Robert Jeffries died of pneumonia on January 20, 2018, at Camp Gordon, Florida.

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Litchfield’s Morgan-Weir American Legion Post is named for Frank A. Morgan and James V. Weir, both of whom died in combat in World War I.

Frank A. Morgan was eager to enlist but was twice rejected from military service because he didn’t weigh enough. When the weight limit was lowered, Morgan became the first man from Litchfield to enlist. A corporal, he also became the first of Litchfield’s men to die in battle. His mother, Mrs. G. Durand Merriman, received a letter from her son’s commanding officer, providing details about his death: “Your son, Corporal Frank A. Morgan was killed June 20, 1918, near Mandres in the Toul sector. He was killed by the concussion of a shell; even though he died instantly, there was not a mark on him. . . . When we first went into the line he acted as a runner between the platoon and company headquarters and did his work so well that I proposed his name to the company commander as one to be made corporal at the first opportunity, and I am sure that had he lived he would have continued to win promotion. He is buried in an American Military Cemetery and the flag he fought for floats over his grave, while by his side are comrades who with him have paid the supreme price.”

Howard C. Sherry died of pneumonia on January 16, 1918, at Camp Johnston, Florida.

James V. Weir served in the 102nd Regiment alongside his brother, Thomas. Thomas provided the following account of his brother’s death at the Battle of Chateu Thierry:  “At the start of the Chateau Thierry drive they went over the top at 5:30 A.M. and went into woods the other side of the starting position. They relieved the Marines, with Marines on left and French on right; the position was in a horse shoe. The company went ahead and had to wait for the French. They went back and went ahead again without barrage. Co. H. was in the 2nd batallion. Enemy artillery fire was very heavy, 2nd battalion in support, 3rd battalion ahead and 1st in reserve. The company was in open field kneeling down in close formation, a German big shell came over and landed 200 yards away. A piece landed beside the two Weir boys and hit James between the eyes. Roy Hotchkiss helped to carry out and bandage James, who was taken to the 103rd Field Hospital at La Ferte and buried there”.

Of Pio Zavotti, little is known except that he was born in Italy and was killed in action fighting for his adopted country.  

                                     Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
                                     There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
                                     Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
                                     The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
                                     And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?’
                                          – From Thomas Hardy, “And There Was a Great Calm”
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The 4th of July: Benjamin Tallmadge’s Grave

Major Benjamin Tallmadge

Major Benjamin Tallmadge

While associated with Litchfield, Benjamin Tallmadge was born in Setauket, on Long Island, in 1754. A Yale graduate and classmate of Nathan Hale, Tallmadge was serving as superintendent of schools in Wethersfield, Connecticut, when the Revolutionary War broke out. Tallmadge was initially a major in the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, but gained his fame as the organizer of the famed Culper spy ring, gathering information in the New York City area for relay to George Washington.

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Tallmadge led several small unit actions during the Revolution, which later generations might term “commando raids.” Perhaps the most famous of these was a raid on Manor St. George on Long Island which was followed by the destruction of a stockpile of hay intended as winter fodder for British horses. This earned Tallmadge a commendation from General Washington, who wrote “I have received with much pleasure the report of your successful enterprise upon fort St. George, and was pleased with the destruction of the hay at Coram, which must be severely felt by the enemy at this time. I beg you to accept my thanks for your spirited execution of this business.” Tallmadge concluded his service as Washington’s chief of intelligence, which earned him the rank of colonel. In this role, Tallmadge was present for Washington’s famed 1783 farewell to his army at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan.

Tallmadge's home on Litchfield's North Street.

Tallmadge’s home on Litchfield’s North Street.

During the war, Tallmadge and his brother had begun a mercantile business in Litchfield, and it was in this town that the Colonel settled when the war was over. As a businessman, investor, banker and member of Congress and associate of Washington, Tallmadge was certainly among the town’s most respected citizens. Tallmadge’s wife, Mary, was also a prominent resident, and her father William Floyd was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

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Tallmadge died in Litchfield in 1835 and is buried in the East Cemetery, where a ceremony commemorates his contributions to American independence every July 4th.

Seth Numrich as Benjamin Tallmadge on AMC's Turn.

Seth Numrich as Benjamin Tallmadge on AMC’s Turn.

Tallmadge has recently come to the public’s attention through the AMC Revolutionary War spy drama “Turn,” which features his exploits. A tip of the hat to reader C.S. Moore for reminding me of this!

Hidden Nearby: Torrington’s Carl Bozenski’s Christmas Village

IMG_1407A site for which people stand in line for hours is hardly hidden.  Carl Bozenski’s Christmas Village has been a fixture of Litchfield County’s celebration of Christmas since 1947.

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Bozenski was Torrington’s Parks and Recreation Supervisor who, frustrated with the commercialization of Christmas, opened his own Yuletide attraction to spread holiday spirit.  (The site was also once used for summer camps.) Nearly seventy years later, crowds continue to pour into the village.  The Christmas Village opens with a parade through town in early December.  Visitors stand in line – often for hours – to see the toy workshop and Santa’s house, to meet Santa himself and receive a small toy.  (Toys are collected through a community toy shower.)  In 2013, more than 20,000 people visited the Christmas Village, keeping alive the dream of Carl Bozenski and securing its place as a centerpiece of a Litchfield County Christmas.

A very merry holiday season to everyone who takes the time to check out this blog!

Sandy Beach Memorial

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An earlier post examined the memorial to Alain and May White that stands near the Plunge Pool.  That monument, an inscribed boulder in the woods, was erected in 1980.  An earlier monument to these great conservationists stands at the entrance to Sandy Beach.

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In 1953, the White Memorial Foundation dedicated this monument.  It was designed by James Kip Finch, who served on the Foundation’s board of trustees from 1925 to 1966.

Sandy Beach, c. 1930.  (Courtesy Litchfield Historical Society)

Sandy Beach, c. 1930. (Courtesy Litchfield Historical Society)

 

Sandy Beach is an appropriate place for such a memorial, as one of the goals of the Whites was to make Bantam Lake’s shoreline available to local residents.  The Whites purchased the land in the 1920s from the Wadhams family, who farmed the area.  By 1929 Sandy Beach sported 30 bathhouses as well as a concession stand and a float in the lake.  Sandy Beach was widely popular from its inception.  It hosted nearly 650 visitors on a single day in 1929, and 30,000 people utilized the beach in 1930.  The beach offered cheap entertainment to a region facing the Great Depression.

Photo courtesy of litchfield.bz

Photo courtesy of litchfield.bz

The Whites established the Sandy Beach commission in 1928, which worked with the  Foundation to manage the site.  In 1976 stewardship of the beach passed to the towns of Litchfield and Morris.  After more than 80 years, however, Sandy Beach continues to serve its original purposes of offering local residents a refuge from the summer heat.

July 4, 1876: Litchfield Celebrates the Centennial

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The town of Litchfield celebrated the nation’s centennial in grand style.  A committee had been formed “to arrange for the commemoration of the Centennial Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.”  The festivities began on the evening of July 3, when the village bells were “rung from 8 to 10 o’clock P. M., and houses in the village illuminated.”

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An 1869 issue of Harper’s Weekly depicted Fourth of July fireworks.

At sunrise on Independence Day, the town’s bells rang for another hour, and all townspeople were asked to display the American flag.  The formal public ceremonies began at 10:00 am with church services and a reading of the Declaration of Independence by Truman Smith, the 94 year-old former senator and congressman.  In the afternoon, a display of Revolutionary War artifacts was opened in the Court House.  The day concluded with another illumination and with fireworks over the center of town.

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George Catlin Woodruff

The driving force behind the festivities was George Catlin Woodruff, who that day delivered a 44-page address on the town’s history.  Woodruff was born in 1805, and was described by a fellow townsman as “erect in figure, and singularly robust; always of the finest health; always at work and never seemingly fatigued; nothing in nature so typified him as an oak which has withstood every vicissitude of storm a century of time.”

An 1825 graduate of the Litchfield Law School, Woodruff served several terms in the state legislature, and one term in the United States Congress.  He was best known for his 1845 history of the town, which was marked by the precision of his research.  The same year he wrote a Geneaological Register of the Inhabitants of Litchfield from 1720 to 1800.  In his address that day, Woodruff discussed the town’s history between 1776 and 1876, but was “concerned chiefly with the share our town had taken in the Revolution.”

DSC_0035Woodruff would go on to be the first vice president of the county historical society before his death in 1885.  It is not difficult to imagine that it was with great pride in his role in honoring the nation’s centennial that Woodruff had that memorable date carved into a stepping stone outside his home on South Street, opposite Saint Anthony of Padua’s Church.

A Christmas Treasure in Bethlehem

18th-century Neapolitan Crèche at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT

Situated in what appears to be a typical Connecticut rustic barn along Flanders Road in Bethlehem is a holiday and artistic treasure.

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Victor Amadeus II was crowned king of Sardinia in 1720.  As a coronation gift, he was presented with a Neapolitan crèche, consisting of 68 figures made of wood, terra cotta, porcelain, and jute.  They represent the Christ child, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, the three kings, and Italian villagers.  Their village is made from the bark of cork trees, and gives insight into the activities of those who lived along the Italian coast in the 18th century.

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Following the king’s death in 1732, the crèche was obtained by an Italian noble family, and it made its way to the United States in 1948.  The Abbey  of Regina Laudis was established the previous year, born out of the destruction of World War II.  Mother Benedict Dunn was born Vera Duss in the United States, but lived much of her early life in France.  She spent most of the war in the bell tower of the Abbey of Notre Dame de Jouarre, from which she watched the advance of George Patton’s liberating United States Third Army.  The kindness and sacrifice of the soldiers led Mother Benedict to establish a foundation in the United States.  The nuns were welcomed to Bethlehem by the artist Lauren Ford, who opened her home to the order until they could find a place of their own.  A local industrialist named Robert Leather donated the 400 acres that today comprise the Abbey.  The crèche was a gift of Loretta Hines Howard, who presented it to the Abbey in 1949, in memory of her husband.

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Several years later, Mrs. Howard donated a similar crèche to the Metropolitan Museum of arts, where it graces their Christmas decorations every December.  The Metropolitan’s curatorial staff was instrumental in the three-year restoration process the Regina Laudis crèche underwent from 2005 to 2008.  The crèche returned to Bethlehem for Christmas 2008 after the figures had been cleaned and repaired, the original 1720 costumes being hand stitched.

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The barn, which itself dates to the 18th century and once belonged to famed local minister Joseph Bellamy, was outfitted with climate control technology to ensure the preservation of the pieces.

To all of those who have taken the time to stop by this blog, a very happy holiday season!

Hidden Nearby: Goshen’s Liberty Pole

Note: Occasionally Hidden in Plain Sight will leave the environs of Litchfield in search of the historical landscape of the area.

On this Fourth of July, a marker on East Street North in nearby Goshen, Connecticut, allows us a window on to past celebrations of American freedoms and liberties.

John Adams famously believed that the signing of the Declaration of Independence “ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” He was not far from the mark; he erred only in believing that the celebrations would be held on July 2nd, the day the Continental Congress approved the document.

Raising a Liberty Pole in New York City, 1765

In Adams’ time, American patriots expressed their desire for freedom with liberty poles. Liberty poles were a common sight in the years before and during the American Revolution. These were tall, wooden poles, planted in the ground; they were different from regular flag poles in that they were usually topped by either a banner emblazoned with patriotic phrases or a liberty cap. (Liberty caps were conical-shaped hats, often made out of felt or other soft material; they were associated with the quest of Roman slaves for freedom.)

Liberty poles were often seen flying a red ensign; this was a signal for patriots to assemble to discuss the latest acts of British oppression. Naturally, British authorities objected to this means of communication between rebels, and the poles were destroyed. Just as quickly, however, they were rebuilt by Americans – especially the Sons of Liberty.

A French liberty pole

Liberty poles became symbolic of liberty, freedom and independence, and their use caught on in France during the French Revolution. They were also used as symbols of protest by farmers in western Pennsylvania during the period of the Whiskey Rebellion, from 1791 to 1794. As a symbol of liberty and freedom, the liberty pole was a popular image on 19th century American coins. In this 1857 “half dime,” the seated figure of Liberty holds a liberty pole topped with a liberty (or Phyrgian cap) in her left hand:

One wonders about Goshen’s liberty pole; it seems unlikely that there were many people in the area to gather around it in 1776. Why was it erected at this site, and not in the center of town? Was it, perhaps, simply a patriotic statement by an individual? Has there been a dramatic shift in the population center of Goshen? (There are other remnants of colonial Goshen further north on East Street.) Still, the town was proud of its patriotic activity in the Revolutionary Era and chose to commemorate it for the nation’s bicentennial. The town’s history records the events of July 4, 1876:

“In the early morning a company had assembled at the spot where a liberty pole had stood during the Revolution, and with appropriate ceremonies the stars and stripes were raised and flung to the breeze.”

One hundred years later, Goshen’s liberty pole was rededicated, as part of the official celebration of the nation’s bicentennial. A stone marker was dedicated, bearing the official seal of the Bicentennial, a flag pole erected behind it, and a time capsule buried.

We will celebrate the 236th anniversary of the nation’s independence in the style predicted by Adams – with pomp, parades, sports, and illuminations. Still, it is worth a trip to Goshen to be reminded of how freedom and liberty were celebrated in a simpler time.