Posts Tagged ‘1967’

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.


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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.


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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The following has absolutely no connection with family history. If that’s why you’re on the train, come back next Monday.

I love beer. Adore it, in fact. Nectar of the gods and all that.

There have been beer-related posts here before; and there are likely to be more in the future.

In fact, here comes one now …

# # # # #

For this past Monday’s post, I found myself looking at pictures of my parents’ rehearsal dinner, held in July 1967 at my grandparents’ house in Stamford, Connecticut.

Many of my dad’s fraternity brothers attended. So it’s no great surprise that beer mugs, cans and bottles are visible in the pictures.

I decided it would be an interesting historical expedition to try to figure out exactly what my grandparents chose to serve on their big occasion.

(I assume my grandparents, as gracious hosts of the party, supplied the beer, and that it was not brought by the fratboys. I am sure my grandparents would have wanted to make sure everyone was happy.)

And what did the hosts with the most offer their guests? For the most part, they served a brand still familiar today:

My dad-to-be with the Champagne of Beers.

My dad-to-be with the Champagne of Beers. Is there a sweeter sight than a nearly-full mug of beer?


Not sure whether the cans pictured are flipped upside-down because they’re empty, or whether it was the Thing to Do to open them upside-down. (If you’re using a church key, you can go either way, no?)

But Miller High Life wasn’t the only brew there … and that’s where things get historically interesting.

The can in my dad's hand is probably a Miller, though it looks vaguely Schlitzy. But more importantly, what's that brown can -- Gabl-something?

The can in my dad’s hand is probably a Miller, though it looks vaguely Schlitzy. But more importantly, what’s that brown can — Gabl-something?

Another brown can in the hand of my dad's best man, Louie Chiappetta. Looks like we can complete the name: Gablinger's.

Another brown can in the hand of my dad’s best man, Louie Chiappetta. Looks like we can complete the name: Gablinger’s.

My dad and his buddies might not have realized it at the time, but they were on the bleeding edge of a massive development: Light beer.

Just two weeks before the rehearsal dinner, Time magazine ran a story about how Rheingold, the venerable New York brewery, had purchased a Swiss chemist’s formula for making carbohydrate-free beer.

As of July ’67, the beer had just been rolled out, and was being pushed in the Tri-State Area by a “saturation advertising campaign,” the magazine noted. Perhaps it was that selfsame ad campaign that inspired my grandparents — or somebody — to pick up a sixer of Gablinger’s for the big party.

(The development of lower-carbohydrate beer is also commonly credited to a biochemist named Joseph Owades. Perhaps Dr. Owades, who worked for Rheingold, took the Swiss chemist’s formula and adapted it for Rheingold’s use.)

Gablinger’s print ads stressed that the beer was made the same way as any other brew — except with a mysterious “extra step” that removed carbs, making Gablinger’s a beer that “wouldn’t fill you up.”

Other ads, more directly aimed at weight-watchers, described Gablinger’s as a “diet beer” with fewer calories than skim milk.

Neither pitch connected with the frothing mass of America’s beer drinkers.

Perhaps those people felt that drinking “diet beer” was tantamount to an admission of being overweight. Perhaps, if they were slimming down, they simply chose to cut out beer altogether. Or, perhaps the pale golden brew simply didn’t deliver enough beer flavor and body to win over drinkers.

Whatever the reason, Gablinger’s was a failure, and Rheingold went out of business as an independent brewery less than a decade after the “diet beer” was introduced.

It was Miller — that other brand at my folks’ wedding reception — that finally hit paydirt years later with light beer, using a humorous, jock-filled series of TV ads that emphasized the tastes-great, less-filling angle while playing down the “diet” pitch.

(Using athletes was an ingenious way to connect with diet-shy drinkers: “That’s Mickey Mantle! He can’t be fat; he’s Mickey Mantle. Hence, Miller Lite must not make you fat.”)

And today, light (or “lite”) beer is inescapable. There will be countless rehearsal dinners across America this summer where the participants quench their thirst with Bud, Miller or Coors Light.

Personally, I’d rather have a Sam Adams … or, in a pinch, a Miller High Life.

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