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On November 30, 1964, “the most notorious liar in the country” came to speak at Stamford High School, and my aunt was among 2,000 to 2,500 people who came out to hear him.

From the sound of it, she found him pretty believable, and still does.

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November 30, 1964. The Yankees take outfielder Leon “Duke” Carmel from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft, the first direct transaction between the two teams.

There’s not much I need to say to introduce you to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (The “most notorious liar” smear was issued not long before this date by J. Edgar Hoover, who needs no introduction either.)

Instead, I’ll set the scene by noting where King was on Nov. 30, 1964.

At 35, he’d just become the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and was scheduled to go to Stockholm in about two weeks to formally receive it. (A film clip of his Nobel acceptance speech can be seen here, for anyone wanting an idea of what King looked and sounded like around the time he came to Stamford.)

In December 1964, King also began to join civil rights protestors in Selma, Alabama, culminating in the famous marches of March 1965.

Still in the future were King’s involvement in housing-related protests in Chicago; his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War; and his support for striking black public works employees in Memphis, which immediately preceded his assassination in April 1968.

As of late November 1964, King was also the author of four books, with his most recent, Why We Can’t Wait, being published in July of that year.

And — in an honor that was most certainly noticed at 1107 Hope St. — King had begun 1964 by being named Time magazine’s Man of the Year.

Two excellent retrospective stories by the Stamford Advocate fill in some of the specific historical blanks from Nov. 30, 1964.

King’s Stamford appearance was arranged by religious groups as a fundraiser for his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. When the high school auditorium filled with people, an overflow area was set up in the gym.

Before the event, King held a press conference at the city’s Jewish Center. This is the most likely source of a brief United Press International piece that ran on page 44 of the New York Times the following day, indicating that King intended to ask for a meeting with Hoover to discuss their disagreements. (Hoover had called King a liar after King claimed that FBI agents did not intervene on behalf of Southern civil rights demonstrators because the agents were themselves Southerners.)

A bomb threat was called in before the speech, and protesters standing in frigid temperatures outside the school branded King a Communist. But neither one stopped the event.

King’s speech was filmed by John Maher, a high school student from nearby Darien. Unfortunately, while copies of the film were circulated in Darien schools and also offered to King, no copy is known to survive.

The Advocate’s retrospective story does not capture King’s speech extensively either — simply indicating that he spoke on topics of civil rights, inequality and segregation.

“There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society where a segment of that society feels they have no stake in that society,” King is quoted as saying. “I am firmly convinced that if democracy is to live, then segregation must die.”

My aunt does not remember much in the way of specific phrases. But her other memories are still strong. So we’ll let her tell the story for a while:

Yes, I remember seeing Martin Luther King Jr.! It is one of those memories that is seared into one’s mind. I went with our MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). I think I had seen a poster that MLK was going to speak at Stamford High School. Because I was interested in Civil Rights, as was our Minister, the info was passed on to the MYF. A small group of us decided to attend.

What a life changing event! I have heard others say that MLK spoke in poetry, and he really did! I quickly started scrawling down some of his poetic speech on the program I had of the event there. Somewhere in my closet, I still have the program.

Anyway, he spoke in a booming voice and looked 10 feet tall, so when he walked out in the aisle by me, I was surprised to see that he was actually shorter than I had thought.

Anyway, back to the stage upon which he stood to speak: he was surrounded by a close circle of black men in hats with arms folded. I wondered why this was, and later realized they were there to protect him. I believe one of those young thin men was Jesse Jackson.

(Editor’s note: Most online sources suggest that the not-yet-Rev. Jesse entered King’s orbit around the time of the Selma protests. If Jackson was in Stamford with King, that would have been at the very start of their connection. My aunt also remembers King leading the Stamford audience in a chant of “I Am Somebody,” a phrase that later became associated with Jackson but was used in multiple speeches by King.)

MLK was a minister, so there was a collection of the sort that is taken in church. I gave all of the money I had on me (probably not much) because I was so inspired. (Me again: A pile of collection baskets is visible in the photo that accompanies the Advocate story about King’s speech being filmed.)

Most of the audience was black, so our small mostly white MYF group was a minority–something that was new to me at the time, and the black people only looked at us curiously for a short minute.

I believe this experience helped to shape my career. I attended Southern Connecticut State College because they had a program in education for urban youth, and I student taught in the New Haven inner-city schools. I was student teaching at one of those schools when MLK was assassinated. Everyone was devastated. We all were instructed to go home that day, because the situation could become dangerous. After that time, the tone of the inner city neighborhoods changed from hopeful to angry. However, I did go on to get my MSSS (Masters Degree in the Science of Social Service) from Boston University.

At the time I made the decision to attend the MLK event, I had no idea that he would become so famous, or have such influence on myself and the world!

 

 

Once again I find myself writing about a name you only read in obituaries nowadays.

(It’s a lonely business, like clearing the leaves off a grave, but not without its pleasures all the same.)

This week we ring the bells of memory and follow my grandpa into a once-proud community institution that was already dying when he went to visit:

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December 16, 1969.

I’ve written about department stores before, almost three years ago, so I won’t unleash the full torrent of my crap on you again. (My views have not changed.)

Suffice it to say that C.O. Miller’s was another in America’s seemingly endless roster of once-beloved downtown department stores.

Founded by Charles O. Miller in 1868, it moved through several downtown locations before settling into a bent-wedge-shaped brick building at 15 Bank Street in 1933.

(This photo spread of C.O. Miller’s posted by the Stamford Historical Society provides an interesting glimpse inside what an American department store looked like in 1917, as well as a look at Mr. Miller himself.)

Stamfordites of a certain age remember the store fondly … the walking outside on crisp winter days; the dignified absence of breathless Black Friday geekery; the white-gloved elevator attendants.

People of other ages — like, my age and younger — don’t remember it at all, because the ’60s was the last full decade C.O. Miller’s would survive. It closed in 1973 or ’74 (sources differ), and had been a discount-store shell of its former self under out-of-town owners for a period of time before that.

Although some urban renewal took place in the general vicinity of 15 Bank Street, the distinctively shaped C.O. Miller’s building is still there — a short distance from Mill River Park, former home of the previously explored Pink Tent Festival.

(It’s also a few blocks away from 307 Atlantic St., which I’ve just discovered is where The Jerry Springer Show tapes its episodes. Whaddya know.)

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Mmmmm, falafel. (Yeah, I snagged this from Google Maps. The former C.O. Miller’s building is at left center. I believe there was a nearby warehouse where the giant parking garage is now.)

I couldn’t guess at this juncture what walking cap, scarf, bottle of perfume, or pair of gloves brought my grandpa to C.O. Miller’s. No doubt the store was bedecked in Christmas abundance, or as much as it could muster at that point in its history.

He went shopping in the afternoon, just a few days before the shortest day of the year. Perhaps the sunshine was feeble and the air chilly on Bank and Main streets when he exited with his purchase, whatever it was.

Perhaps he looked around and thought, “I’m not coming back here.” And then, like so many others, he didn’t.

These are the sorts of small decisions, repeated thousands of times over, that turn one-time community pillars into names you only read in obituaries.

You learn some interesting things writing a blog like this.

Things like this: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — a classic engineering school, and mostly not thought of as an athletic powerhouse — has been fielding football teams (not quite continuously) since 1886.

This week we hearken back, through my grandpa’s hand, and revisit a rare and noteworthy highlight from a particularly difficult stretch for the school’s football program.

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October 23, 1965. Future Mets pitcher Al Leiter is born in Toms River, N.J.

A Homecoming win is always a nice thing, if you’re into high school or college football.

(My high school was more likely to be a patsy than a victor in Homecoming games; we were the sort of school other teams wanted to play on their Homecomings. The one time in high school that we won our Homecoming game, the other school went out of business at the end of the year.)

Anyway, RPI’s victory over Middlebury College on Oct. 23, 1965, must have sent the Homecoming crowd in Troy home happy.

But, looking at the records, this one meant a lot more than your average win: Going into the game, the Engineers hadn’t won a football game in more than six years. Most of them hadn’t been tremendously close, either.

Following a 21-0 win over Union on Oct. 17, 1959, the RPI gridders lost their last four games of 1959 (scoring a combined two points); all eight games in 1960; all seven apiece in ’61 and ’62; all six in ’63; six in ’64; and four more to start the 1965 season.

(In football-speak, they did manage to kiss their sister at one point, earning a single 20-20 tie against Nichols on Oct. 10, 1964.)

The nadir of this stretch had to have been an 82-6 pasting by Vermont — at home in Troy — on Sept. 29, 1962. For comparison’s sake, the RPI squad only managed to put 76 points on the board in the 1961, 1962 and 1963 seasons combined.

So after the final whistle sounded on Oct. 23, 1965, there must have been some serious celebrations in the dorms, frat houses and beer cellars of Troy.

The student paper, The Polytechnic, got in on the act a few days later with an above-the-fold tease and five pages of coverage:

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The Engineers wouldn’t win another game in 1965, but would post records of 5-4 and 4-4 in 1966 and 1967 — positively Lombardian by RPI standards.

(Rejiggering the schedule had something to do with it. Haverford College, a team that hadn’t been on RPI’s schedule during the down years, conveniently showed up in time to get walloped 57-0 in 1966 and 61-14 in 1967. A lot of events in 1966-67 made people think the world was turning upside down; RPI football winning a game 57-0 must have been one of them.)

The one remaining question, for Hope Street purposes, is whether my grandpa or my dad actually happened to be there for the big day.

The answer appears to be no. My dad only attended a few RPI football games over the years, and those because membership in school organizations required him to. He was not in the house for RPI’s only win of his five-year tenure:

I did not see the game, but I know it was a great excuse to party that night, although no excuses ever seemed necessary.

My grandpa’s calendar doesn’t record any trip to and from Troy that weekend. And if my dad wasn’t at the game, my grandpa surely wouldn’t have gone either.

So the calendar entry for Oct. 23, 1965, is simply a reflection of my grandpa’s amazement at a noteworthy and long-awaited event.

Would wonders never cease?

At precisely this time of year in 1974, as summer gave way to the early chill of fall, you could have seen the artwork of Bill Blumenau prominently displayed in a public place.

If you’d cared to look up while filling out your deposit slip, that is.

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September 30, 1974. Mets win; Yankees, who are only one game out of first, are idle.

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October 30, 1974. The Mets and Yankees are on the golf course.

I don’t know how my grandpa connected with the State National Bank of Connecticut, but they were a pretty big deal in his area, back in the day — no two- or three-branch local player.

A 1977 document made available by the Stamford Historical Society indicates that State National had 42 branch offices at the time they displayed my grandfather’s work.

(I can’t guess at which office my grandfather’s paintings were displayed. But I’m betting it was in Stamford, as there is no indication on the calendar that he had to drive anywhere else to hang or pick up the paintings.)

State National, headquartered in Bridgeport, marked its 114th year in business in 1977. It claimed that year to have America’s oldest continually active national bank charter, tracing back to a bank founded in Stamford in 1863.

While State National reached historic milestones in the ’70s, it was also looking toward the future.

In 1973, the bank introduced what it called “the 25-Hour BanKey Banking Center,” a computerized device that allowed customers with personal checking accounts to perform any one of 12 financial transactions at any time in a secure vestibule.

Twenty-eight of these pre-ATMs were in place at the time my grandfather hung his paintings. Perhaps he bemoaned his luck: Just as he’d scored a nice public placement, the number of potential eyeballs on his work was dropping, because fewer people needed to come to the bank during business hours.

(This is very much a 21st-century perspective, of course. I’m guessing only a tiny percentage of State National’s customers in 1974 used the BanKey Banking Center as a regular, meaningful alternative to going into the bank and doing business with a teller. Times hadn’t changed yet.)

State National would go from celebration to resignation in just about five short years. In 1982, the company — then the fifth-largest bank in Connecticut — agreed to an $86 million takeover by the CBT Corporation, owner of the Connecticut Bank and Trust Co., the state’s largest bank.

If some Googling is correct, the merged CBT-State National later fell under the wing of Bank of New England, which went into bankruptcy liquidation in 1991. (An interesting New York Times article from 1990 about the foundering of Connecticut Bank and Trust can be read here.)

According to Wiki, the remaining Bank of New England assets are now mostly part of Bank of America.

Bank of America has several branches in Stamford — including one at 898 Hope St. — so it’s possible that, through all the changes, the bank office where Bill Blumenau hung his paintings might still be serving customers.

One other note: While my grandfather might have landed a nice setting for his work, he was still paying his dues.

On the first calendar entry shown above, if you look closely, you can see “W.C. Class #6” written in the previous week’s calendar entries (on Sept. 24, to be precise).

That would have represented a watercolor class. I find it kinda cool to think that, even as he was getting his work in front of people, he was still trying to learn.

I bet the people who noticed his work at the bank — and there had to have been at least a few — might not have guessed that they could find him there in town once a week, leaning over a canvas, taking notes and trying to get better.

It was a big day in New York City on Sept. 24, 1970.

Of course, I guess it’s always a big day in New York City. But if you were able to walk through walls, ghost-style, and also able to park in front of any building you wanted, Theo Kojak-style, you could have seen the following eminences that day in the five boroughs:

Muhammad Ali met with boxing officials and underwent a physical examination at the offices of the New York State Athletic Commission, about a month before his comeback fight against Jerry Quarry. The New York Times described him as “subdued,” showing a “quiet demeanor and disinclination to boast.”

Sophia Loren and her husband, director Carlo Ponti, were in town to promote Loren’s latest movie, “Sunflower.” (According to Wiki, it was the first Western movie filmed in the U.S.S.R.)

-Director Otto Preminger was in town too, though not to shoot or promote a film. According to the Times (which will be my source for info henceforth unless otherwise credited), he attended a fundraiser at Sardi’s restaurant for U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell.

-Canadian actor Christopher Plummer stopped in town briefly, en route back home to be installed as a Companion of the Order of Canada. The Times reported him speaking enthusiastically about his next role as Frederick the Great, in between sips of a Bloody Mary in the Algonquin Hotel lobby.

-Other performers in town included comedians Bob and Ray, performing at the Golden Theater; gypsy violinist Sandor Lakatos; and Cleavon Little and Melba Moore in “Purlie” at the Broadway Theatre.

-Photographer Bruce Davidson was back in Harlem, showing copies of his book East 100th Street to some of the people he’d photographed for it two or three years prior.

-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was in town to pick up a re-election endorsement from the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association. (Mayor John Lindsay was in town too, of course, breaking ground on a new police station in the Bronx.)

-The Mets were on the road and the Yankees idle, but Joe Namath and the New York Jets were practicing at Rikers Island ahead of their Sunday, Sept. 27, game against the Boston Patriots.

(This roundup doesn’t include Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, who were in New York in character though maybe not in person. Their Manhattan-set The Odd Couple made its network TV debut the night of September 24.)

The usual bustle of life in New York went on that day despite a serious power shortage caused by unseasonably warm weather. Con Ed imposed voltage cuts for the third straight day, causing shrunken images on TV sets, while the New York Telephone Co. fired up auxiliary generators for the second day to power its offices and network.

And, amid all that, my dad was in New York City too.

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No one seems to remember what led him there, except that it must have been work-related, as he wouldn’t have just gone to New York by himself.

(The note “Stuff to Jac. Penfield” probably means that my grandparents dropped off some things with my other grandparents in Stamford, the Jacobellises, so they could bring it to my parents in Penfield, N.Y. That further suggests that my dad was in New York City on work duties: He would have stopped off in nearby Stamford and picked up the stuff himself, if he’d been able to.)

Inevitably, there is a record of this exchange, as there was for every long-distance call my grandparents were involved in. I wonder when they started that practice and why: Did they get hit with false charges at some point?

My parents have never much enjoyed going to New York City, so it doesn’t surprise me that a brief work trip would be forgotten all these years later. I don’t remember every single place my employers have ever sent me, either.

If anything, then, this calendar entry serves as a reminder of how fast things fade.

Work meetings and projects seem so important when you’re doing them — and if you’re getting sent out of town, that must be even more important.

But try remembering what you were working on five years later — much less 47 years later — and unless it was really major, like a corporate takeover or something, you’re bound to have forgotten.

Work stuff drives us gray, and gives us heart attacks and ulcers and restless nights … but it doesn’t take long for those super-important tasks to vanish into the dustbin and never get seen again.

(If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go apply to be a lighthouse keeper or a tree farmer or something.)