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Posts Tagged ‘1967’

On Hope Street, the turbulent year of 1967 came in with fire and went out with ice.

(Granted, there were some pleasant moments in between.)

My earlier post about the Connecticut ice storm of December 1973 is one of the most-read installments in the history of this blog.

So when I learned from my grandpa’s calendar that there was another ice storm in Stamford six years earlier, I figured I’d write about that one too.

dec1967

December 11, 1967. Later in the week, just two towns over from Stamford, a child is born who will grow up to be a titanic figure of my college and early-twenties years in New England.

 

If you’ve never heard of the Ice Storm of 1967 … well, there’s a good reason; it turns out that it wasn’t that big a deal.

The New York Times dispensed with it in a 10-paragraph article on page 41 of the Dec. 12 issue, summarizing: “Icy rains pelted the suburbs, snapping power lines.” (The city proper was plagued by blowing, heavy mist and rain, but temperatures stayed above freezing.)

The article singled out classic Tri-State sprawl-spots like Mamaroneck, West Nyack, Ramsey and Nanuet for mention, but didn’t say anything about Connecticut. Presumably that meant there was no news fit to print there.

By the following day, ice had been replaced by what the Good Gray Lady called “muddy fog,” in a story noting that New York had received two-and-a-quarter inches of unseasonable rain in two days’ time. (The author of this shoe-leather mood piece? Future two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner J. Anthony Lukas.)

The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, ran a one-paragraph brief on page 3 noting that “a sleet storm tore down power lines” in the New York suburbs. This item appeared beneath a similar one-graf news brief noting that the Maui Nukupuu — “a small bird with a large down-curving bill and a tubular tongue for extracting nectar from flowers” — had been spotted in Hawaii for the first time in 71 years.

The relative silence of my grandpa’s calendar suggests that the power stayed on and life went on more or less as usual. The calendar also makes no mention of a day off work, which my grandpa would usually note when heavy weather occasioned it. (Dec. 11 was a Monday.)

I guess, then, that the December 1967 ice storm was nothing epochal. It was just a bump in the road … something to be tolerated amidst the ongoing grind of holiday errands, like retrieving college-age kids, buying Christmas trees and putting up home decorations.

dec1667

December 16, 1967.

One hopes the people of Fairfield County tolerated it without too much grumbling. Just a few years later, they would see much worse.

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I wonder what woke my grandfather up at 2 a.m. on January 16, 1967. The sirens, perhaps? The smell of smoke? The hum of fire engines?

I suppose it’s possible he slept through to the morning and got the news later.

But I suspect he couldn’t help but wake up as part of the church across the street from his home burned.

January 16, 1967.

January 16, 1967.

As I’ve previously lamented, the Stamford Advocate has no publicly accessible online archives, so I don’t know what caused the fire at the Springdale Methodist Church, now known as the United Methodist Church of Springdale.

(An Associated Press article that ran the day after the fire didn’t give a cause, but said it started in the cellar. The article estimated the damage at $40,000, which is about $282,800 in 2014 dollars, if online inflation calculators are to be trusted.)

The church’s website says the fire destroyed the original section of the church, dating to 1876 — an area including the original sanctuary, the fellowship hall, kitchen, choir room and secretary’s office.

A substantial portion of the church was saved, including the more recently built sanctuary and social hall. The morning after the blaze, a city fire official suggested the more recent wing of the church might be available for the following Sunday’s services, and perhaps it was. (January 16 was a Monday, so they would have had a whole week to get work done.)

My grandpa does not seem to have taken pictures of the blaze as it happened.

Maybe he wasn’t comfortable with his ability to take pictures in such unusual lighting conditions. Maybe he wanted to stay out of the way. Maybe he did take pictures, but threw them out because they didn’t come out to his satisfaction.

(Or, again, maybe he slept through the whole thing.)

He was there to capture the razing and clearing of the fire-damaged parts of the church. The weather looks to have been temperate; you can see the gents from the wrecking company in what appear to be windbreakers. Perhaps those conditions made the fire easier to fight and contain.

 

Church Razing 4

Church Razing 2

Just for comparison’s sake, here are a couple of shots of the church in the years before the fire:

Christmas 1958 or 1959. The portion of the church to the left of the front door was destroyed in the fire.

Christmas 1958 or 1959. The portion of the church to the left of the front door was destroyed in the fire.

1960. I believe the people pictured were leaving on some sort of retreat.

1960. I believe the people pictured were leaving on some sort of retreat.

A church bazaar in 1959 ...

A church bazaar in 1959 …

... and another in 1960.

… and another in 1960. Nice hat on that kid in the foreground.

The church added a new wing the year after the fire, and is still using it.

I think the new section of the church is visible behind my brother and I in the next picture, which was taken in 1975.

My memory, which is not what it used to be, says my grandparents took us across the street to play on a small playground next to the church. Of course the camera went with us.

The architect hired to do the job clearly did not make it a priority to match the look of the existing building. But, however drab or stark it might be, concrete has one wonderful attribute: It doesn’t burn.

1975

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I can feel the bile rise in my throat and my eyebrows grow gray and thick, Andy Rooney-style, as I type the following sentence:

Nobody writes letters any more.

It feels like such a bitter-old-man thing to say, like complaining about how no one appreciates Glenn Miller.

And it’s not entirely true. I suspect there are plenty of people out there who write at least the occasional letter, and a small handful — some of them younger than 80 — who still use hard-copy correspondence as their preferred method of staying in touch with the outside world.

(If vinyl records can make a comeback in the popular esteem, and photographic film can cling to a small but devoted fan base, good old-fashioned handwriting can’t be anywhere near finished. Only the increasing cost of the U.S. Postal Service stands in the way of a full-on comeback for handwritten letters. Just you watch.)

One of the advantages of handwritten correspondence is the quiet classiness of personalized stationery.

Have you ever seen an email sigfile that had the same elan as a piece of personalized stationery? Me neither.

A letter on personalized letterhead always looks like it came from a mansion; an email tailed with a personalized sigfile always looks like it came from a cubicle farm. (Unless the sigfile has an embedded image, like Snoopy, in which case it always looks like it came from an elementary school.)

I do not have any saved hard-copy correspondence from the “mansion” that was 1107 Hope Street, though it is possible that my parents or my aunt do.

I do not think I wrote to my grandparents often as a young child; and when I was 12 or so, they moved about 15 minutes away from my house, so there was no longer much reason to put pen to paper.

I’m pretty sure they had personalized stationery in the house back in the day, though, because I saw it on their calendar.

October 6, 1967.

October 6, 1967. The Atlanta Braves release catcher Bob Uecker, ending his playing career. Whatever happened to that guy?

Friday, Oct. 6, saw plenty of activity at 1107 Hope St. There was a doctor’s appointment for the college-age daughter of the house; then a trip back to college for her; and in the meantime, a cake to bake for the non-driving member(s) of the family. (Did the cake go back to college, or was it for a church event? History sayeth not.)

But somebody took time during the day to order stationery from Brock Press in nearby Norwalk.

There’s no mention on the calendar of a trip there, so I’m guessing someone called — or maybe even wrote in — and perhaps renewed a standing order.

An ad for Brock Press, taken from an April 1967 issue of the Norwalk Hour newspaper.

An ad for Brock Press, taken from an April 1967 issue of the Norwalk Hour newspaper. My grandparents would not have been shopping for wedding announcements in October of that year.

Brock Press is yet another of those ’60s and ’70s local businesses my grandparents patronized that don’t seem to be around any more. The most recent reference I can find online, not including obituaries, is a 1977-78 Norwalk city directory.

(I also found the online memoir of a man who apparently married the woman who inherited Brock Press. By his telling, the company is still around, but has passed through various mergers. The meat is in the last paragraph of this page. Feel free to read the rest if you want; it is juicier and jauntier than anything you will read on Hope Street.)

It would be nice to close this post with an example of a letter from my grandparents on their old stationery. But, as I mentioned, I don’t have any.

Which brings up a larger pondering: I wonder if anything my grandparents wrote exists outside the family.

Is there some company my grandparents did business with that still has its order in their files somewhere? Some now-deceased friend whose saved life’s-worth of correspondence now reposes undisturbed in a grandson’s basement?

I’d say probably not. All that stationery my grandparents ordered probably sits — crumpled, mustard-stained, yet remarkably intact — in landfills between Bangor and Buffalo.

Not everything is meant to last forever, though. And while the stationery was around, it did the job it was intended to do.

Certainly, it looked classier than anybody’s sigfile.

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The electronics companies of my youth had, in retrospect, some of the coolest names.

Zenith television sets? The absolute peak of technological advancement, judging by the name. How do you get better than Zenith?

I bet that name moved some TV sets all by itself.

(The name “Zenith” looked good across a sports jersey, too, as it happened. But that’s another story from the frozen provinces.)

The name Magnavox was pretty killer, too, with its pseudo-Latin overtones suggesting mountains, vast plains and all-encompassing sound.

Magna vox = “big voice,” more or less. Maybe even “biggest voice.” I bet Wagner’s Ring Cycle sounded pretty good running through a Magnavox stereo. Or at least, that was the subliminal sales pitch going on at stereo dealerships across the land.

Maybe that deft bit of branding helped reel in my grandpa in the late winter of 1967, when he went out and bought himself a new stereo.

March 4, 1967.

March 4, 1967. The Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” has been out for two weeks; “The Velvet Underground and Nico” and Aretha’s “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You” are coming out in the next two weeks. I do not think any of those wonderful LPs ever got spun on this particular stereo system.

The Internet tells me nothing about “Downes & Smith,” though a little poking around suggests that “Downes-Smith” was the name of a now-closed appliance retailer on Viaduct Road in the city of Stamford.

A 1949 newspaper article floating around on the interwebs describes it as “the county’s biggest and oldest electrical supply and maintenance firm.” That might explain why my grandpa bought a stereo there: He would have been one to spend his money with a known quantity.

I don’t know exactly which model Magnavox he bought. But, thanks once again to the Internet, we can get a pretty good idea of what his unit looked and sounded like.

These big, monster-console home stereo setups were already yesterday’s news when I was growing up in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. They look positively like dinosaurs now, in an age of iPods and docking stations and phones that play music.

Still, it’s worth remembering that, once upon a time, trees died to make these stereo systems; and people made room in their family or living rooms for these big beasts. Perhaps music meant a little more to people then, back when a stereo system took up serious real estate.

(If you were gonna drop coin for one of these parlor-barges, you wanted a big voice. Nay, the biggest voice. What were we saying about that a little while ago?)

Ironically, my dad — who is something of a sound-snob, though not obsessive about it — told me a while ago that the Magnavox didn’t really sound all that good.

I don’t have an exact record of the conversation, so I could be wrong. But I could swear I remember him telling me that he was not that impressed by the sound of the Magnavox.

A shame, that. You’d expect any piece of equipment that big and heavy and serious to have cold-gin highs and melted-butter lows. Perhaps the biggest voice was not really as impressive as it seemed at the time.

Of course, the real question is what my grandfather would have played on his new stereo. I’m guessing the classic Greatest Generation mix — equal parts classical and Mantovani. I’m sure my dad will jump in and correct me if that’s wrong.

Either way, I’d like to think that the big Magnavox provided the soundtrack to many relaxing hours at 1107 Hope Street. And that’s what really counts.

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A little thematic music.

Awwwwwwright!

This is the 167th post I’ve written for this blog. And after two-plus years of writing about grandchildren, cookies and retirement, I finally get to write about some debauchery.

Well, some very well-mannered and proper debauchery. But debauchery nonetheless, by Hope Street’s buttoned-down standards.

So slip your flask in your side pocket, travel back to the end of the Summer of Love, and get ready to kick out the jams …

# # # # #

The story starts with my dad’s lifelong best friend, Louie Chiappetta.

(Faithful readers will remember Louie playing with my dad’s college band, Oedipus and the Mothers, in this earlier post, and — appropriately enough — drinking beer in this one. He’s known my dad since junior high and is still putting up with him today.)

Less than two months after my parents got married, Louie and his bride, Kathy, also tied the knot in Stamford.

Louie was such a close friend of the Blumenau family that my grandparents and great-grandma got invited to the wedding, along with my mom and dad.

And there was no question that everyone would attend. It was on the calendar, after all:

September 16, 1967.

September 16, 1967. The Yankees are three-hit by Sudden Sam McDowell.

Everything went fine until the wedding party and guests arrived at the San Souci for the reception. There, they were greeted with one of those pieces of mood-harshing news that isn’t supposed to happen on a wedding day: The reception hall chosen by the newlyweds had been double-booked and was still in use by another couple.

The managers of the San Souci, no doubt sweating furiously under their business suits, made the Chiappettas an offer they couldn’t refuse:

If the stranded wedding party and guests would be willing to wait in another, smaller room for a while, they could have all the free booze and hors d’oeuvres they could hold down. The Chiappettas and guests could move into the main room as soon as it was empty and clean.

(“As I recall this was at least an hour and a half, maybe pushing two hours,” my dad recalls.)

By my dad’s telling, the parents of the groom were understandably displeased by this snafu on their son’s special day. They quietly urged the guests to load up at the San Souci’s expense.

Many of them — including my grandpa — gladly complied.

And at the peak of the celebration, with a strolling Italian wedding band with clarinet and accordion working the room, my dad saw something he had never seen and would not see again:

My grandfather, feeling no pain, twirl-dancing with one arm around my grandma and the other around a support post in the middle of the room.

“This was the only time I ever saw your grandfather even remotely under the influence, and he was a very happy and sociable drunk,” my dad says.

It was, according to my dad, completely in keeping with the event. Nobody got pushy or obnoxious or loud on the San Souci’s booze; everyone was loose and friendly and having a good time in their own way.

By the time the formal dinner rolled around, my grandpa had sobered up, and probably felt no ill effects the next morning.

“All things considered, it was quite a successful wedding …” (my dad again) “… everyone was quite happy, there were no problems, and the establishment provided a reasonable solution to an untenable situation (double-booking weddings).”

Louie and Kathy’s wedding day worked out fine in the long run. The guests had a good time; the San Souci paid for its mistake; and the newlyweds are still married all these years later.

I wish I could have been there. It sounds like a swingin’ time.

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