Posts Tagged ‘new haven’

A couple of days ago I went with my son on his first formal college tour.

More tours are planned for this coming summer, including several in New England. I look forward to the chance to fill the trunk of my car with Narragansett Bohemian Pilsner — er, I mean, accompany the kid as he gathers information to help him make the biggest decision of his young life.

During Friday’s college tour, we saw just about the entire campus, with one significant exception: We didn’t go inside the dorms.

Perhaps they were left off the agenda because of the security hassles involved in bringing 30 strangers inside the building.

Or maybe it was because, well, kids are still living in ’em.

(You can never be entirely sure what you’ll encounter if you lead a gaggle of guests into an occupied dorm. At the very least, you might run into some kid who’s been up for 36 hours, cranked up on Mountain Dew and advanced physics, giving it his best Raoul Duke. Not a great vision for a tourload of kids and parents just in from Altoona.)

My grandpa never got the chance to go to college himself. Never drank Mountain Dew either, so far as I know. But he worked to send both of his kids off to college.

And this week’s calendar entry finds him in a college dorm.


April 28, 1968. Yanks split a doubleheader with Detroit; the Mets beat Cincinnati. Neither team troubles the leaders in their respective leagues.

Not far southwest of Stamford, a major American university was being torn by student revolt on Sunday, April 28.

My grandparents, and maybe even my great-grandma, were headed in the opposite direction, though.

They were headed to the campus of what was then Southern Connecticut State College in New Haven for a student event at Wilkinson Hall, the college dorm where my Aunt Elaine lived as an undergraduate.

This was not their only trip there. A previous Hope Street blog post makes passing mention of their going to Wilkinson Hall in May 1966 to see “Wilkinson Follies,” a dorm talent show fondly remembered by my aunt.

My aunt was involved in the ’67 Wilkinson Follies, too, earning her a brief mention in the Naugatuck Daily News newspaper. (The content is intentionally jumbled here, so’s to make you pay for a clear view, but you can make out what you need to in the article text box at the bottom of the page.)

I wonder if my grandpa got a chance to actually go up into the six-story building during any of his visits, and if so, what he thought of his glimpses of college life. Maybe there were posters, and music pouring out through half-open doors, and maybe even a shaggy-haired guy visitor here or there.

(I wonder what I’ll think the first time I go into my son’s dorm. It won’t be quite so much an excursion into alien territory as it would have been for someone my grandfather’s age in 1968 — I think — but it will remind me how old I am.)

Wilkinson Hall is still there, as it happens, retrofitted for the 21st century with microfridges, cable TV hookups and wireless Internet. Freshmen and sophomores live there now, and presumably, prospective members of the school’s Class of 2022 will soon be pouring in for summer visits.

You can also “tour” a standard double room such as those found in Wilkinson online; they don’t look any too large, but what dorm room does?

An online search for the phrase “Wilkinson Follies” suggests the dorm variety show may be an extinct tradition. Somehow I find that easy to believe: I imagine today’s college dorms are full of kids who are either staring at their cell phones or listening to music through earbuds.

I guess I’ll find out whether that’s true soon enough, when circumstances require me to make my own excursions into alien territory.


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The time period many of us think of as “the Sixties” — for now, we’ll place it at roughly 1963 to 1974 — is reaching its 50th anniversary.

This will doubtless produce a flood of think-pieces, retrospectives, grasps at clarity and, from time to time, outright revisionist spin, as the still-lively Baby Boom generation continues to tangle with its legacy.

But I think the history of that period is a little too hazy and complex to produce many clear-cut conclusions, even now.

This week we drop in on a late-’60s college commencement, where some of the decade’s big questions get grappled with in public:

June 7, 1969.

June 7, 1969. The Mets are eight games behind the streaking Chicago Cubs; the Yanks are coughing along in fifth place.

I’ve written at some length about my Aunt Elaine’s tumultuous two years of grad school at Boston University.

I’ve only occasionally mentioned, though, that she earned an undergraduate degree from what was then Southern Connecticut State College (now University) before going on to BU. June 7, 1969, found my grandparents and great-grandmother headed up to New Haven to attend her commencement.

It just so happens that the 1969 edition of the Laurel, the Southern Connecticut State yearbook, is online.

You have to pay to see all the pages in full detail, but a page summing up that year’s commencement can be easily read. I’ll reproduce the relevant passage here.

(I’m not sure if there’s a copyright issue in reproducing this chunk of text. But if the copyright belongs to anybody, it ain’t the people who are trying to make me pay to read it. So I’m gonna go ahead and copy the text. I believe the Class of ’69 referred to this as “sticking it to The Man.”)

Anyway, here’s part of what was said that day:

ln a departure from tradition a member of the graduating class, Frank Wargo, delivered the Commencement address. He called today’s college student protesters “a distinct minority who do not represent the feeling of 98 per cent of the students across the country.” “That 98 per cent,” Wargo said, “is the ‘Other Voice,’ and somehow it must be heard above the protesters.”

In his address Wargo said, “At 6:30 every evening when Americans sit down in front of their television sets or pick up their newspapers to see and hear what is going on in our country, they always seem to hear about that two per cent. It is no wonder, then, why the American public is being turned on by the younger generation.

“The rest, the overwhelming majority,” Wargo said, “are rarely seen or heard. But they’re there. They go into industry, business or teaching, they enroll in graduate school or join the Peace Corps or go into the service.”

“These are the people who help keep our country strong, these are the people who go unnoticed, but who are always there. Ask the two per cent what they want or where they are going and most of them won’t be able to give you an answer.”

Wargo conceded change was both healthy and necessary, but that it must be accomplished in a non-violent manner because “violence begets violence.”

“Somehow,” he concluded, “the voice of the 98 per cent must be heard above the protesters so that at 6:30 when Americans pick up their newspapers or turn on their television sets and see our colleges and universities in the hands of that small minority and throw their hands in the air and ask what is wrong with our younger generation, they will hear that ‘Other Voice’ saying: ‘We are here, we are trying hard, won’t you please give us a chance?”

Young Mr. Wargo went on to make the “Other Voice” proud. He earned a master’s degree in city and regional planning, worked for 30 years, served on several town government boards and commissions, and has been active in community organizations.

It’s not my intent to pick his speech apart with the hindsight of 45 years. In any event, I imagine my grandparents pretty well agreed with him as they sat in the crowd and heard him speak.

Still, his address raises some challenging questions in retrospect.

Just how big was the “two percent”? Of course the real hardcore radicals made up a small minority of the student population in 1969 — probably less, even, than 2 percent.

But what of all the kids, like my aunt, who never threw a rock or burned a draft card, but attended demonstrations and came to oppose the war?

What percentage of young America really did have significant concerns with the way the country was being run? How many of them discerned in the Nixon administration a hostility and dishonesty that turned out to be very much real?

I suspect the opinions and positions of college-age America covered every stop on the spectrum, with plenty of gray in between, and summing it up was much more complicated than a simple 2-percent-vs.-98-percent breakdown. I’m not sure historians will ever get a firm handle on it, at any rate.

– What did they want? The assertion that the radical wing of American youth didn’t know what it wanted or where it was going seems doubtful. Were the Weathermen truly that vague about their ideals?

I would imagine that a pretty big swath of the 98 percent were the ones who didn’t know what they wanted or where they were going. They were the ones who sat in late-night dorm-room bull sessions asking questions like:

– “Should I go to Vietnam, or go to Canada?”
– “Should I go to work for a company that makes materials used to fight the war?”
– “Do I want to work for a nonprofit in the inner city and make a difference, or get a corporate job and set myself up with some money?”
– “This country seems pretty well broken. Do we need some kind of revolution to make this society work the way it was designed to?”

Valid enough questions, one and all; and all confounding to future historians trying to get any sort of unified handle on the generation. They wanted any number of things, and the paths to most of them were winding and unclear.

Who won? The commencement speech — at least, the quoted part — asks that the older generation recognize the efforts of the kids who stayed on the straight and narrow, because they’re the ones who “keep this country strong.” (There’s an implication there that dissent is un-American and leads to weakness, but we’ll let it lay.)

We know the real hardcore revolutionaries of the ’60s didn’t achieve what they wanted. I wonder how many of the 98-percenters did.

Most of them, I suspect, joined The System and worked for 30 or 40 years to make the trains run on time … at the end of which, the country was still broken in a whole bunch of ways.

Most of them tried, as the speech said they would; I imagine only a small minority (2 percent, perhaps?) set forth to line their pockets and the hell with everything else.

And America, like the Class of ’69, is far too complex for an easy answer. No one could really expect one generation to sort out all its problems and challenges.

Still, when historians look back 50 or 100 or 200 years later and try to summarize what that generation truly achieved, I wonder how the lot of them — the bomb-throwers and the teachers and the ditch-diggers and the Peace Corpsmen — will be judged. How much of their diverse vision were they able to make real?

It will be interesting to see how much of that judgment the Baby Boomers will be able to guide or stamp before they fade away. History hasn’t passed from their hands yet, but it will, as it does to every generation.

I don’t pretend to know the answer myself. My area of historical specialty is the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut; the big-picture stuff is going to have to come from someone smarter and better-versed.

So we’ll leave off with the image of a lawn full of capped-and-gowned graduates, their motivation clear and their ideals high, beseeching their older generation for their chance.

They got it, anyway.

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Over the years, I’ve used my grandfather’s calendar entries to follow him to all kinds of long-closed businesses.

There was Stamford’s beloved Chimney Corner Inn … the Clam Box in Wethersfield, a heavenly-sounding family-owned seafood place … a Red Coach Grill chain restaurant in Framingham, Massachusetts … and the expensive-but-worth-it Carriage House in Westport, just to name a few.

It’s kinda nice to come across a place on his calendars that’s still in operation, under its original name, all these years later.

It’s like a minor connection to his world — and a reminder that, while the retail world is fleeting and capricious, a few businesses do it well enough to really last.

June 6, 1973.

June 6, 1973. The Yanks, winners today over Texas, are only a half-game back.

New Hampshire has only 13 miles of coastline (18 by some measurements), so I figured Amarante’s had to be one of a relative few restaurants lucky enough to nestle in. Must be some of the state’s most expensive real estate, I figured. Did the food match the view?

I was totally off the mark, of course. “N.H.,” in this case, meant New Haven, just up the coast from my grandparents, a city they’d visited when my Aunt Elaine went to school at what was then Southern Connecticut State College.

And it was my Aunt Elaine they were once again meeting there — this time, I’m guessing, to scout out the potential site of a wedding reception.

Amarante’s, unlike the places I listed above, isn’t a restaurant. It’s a wedding and function hall overlooking the ocean, in the Morris Cove area on the east side of the city’s harbor.

Apparently, the place did well enough at the June 6 visit to win over my family and get the gig.

August 17 and 18, 1973.

August 17 and 18, 1973. Hope they remembered the napkins.

Serpe Bros., the tuxedo shop mentioned in my grandpa’s August 17 entry, is still in business on Bedford Avenue in Stamford.

And Amarante’s, now known as Amarante’s Sea Cliff, is still serving up chicken piccata and “Brick House” to a whole new generation of southern Connecticut brides and grooms after more than 50 years.

I’ve not been there myself, so I couldn’t endorse the place, but they must be doing something right. It takes some degree of skill to keep any service business going that long, no matter how good the location.

I’ve wondered before about how much, or how little, my grandfather would recognize if he were able to visit his old stomping grounds today.

Change is inevitable — and often for the better. But it’s still kinda cool to find out about a place he’d know, and a place where he (presumably) had a good time while marking a major family event.

Although I’ve never been to Amarante’s, I can sort of imagine my grandfather looking out across New Haven harbor in his rented gladrags, munching a plate of cheese and crackers, and smiling.

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Maybe 15 years ago, I came to a curious realization about my visits to Stamford. This was years after my grandparents had moved out of town, and my regular trips to Connecticut were at an end.

Stamford is not tremendously far outside New York City, and serves as a bedroom community for many people who commute into the city every day. (Nine Stamford residents died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.)

Stamford gets New York TV and radio stations, and by and large, its residents read New York newspapers. The ties between the two cities are significant.

And yet, in a dozen years of visiting Stamford at least once a year, I’d never once been to New York City.

There were reasons for this. New York in the Seventies and Eighties was still trying to play down the ironic “Fun City” image it got in the John Lindsay years as a crime-ridden, threatening, fading metropolis.  Out-of-towners — including some who had been content to visit in the ’50s and early ’60s — turned their backs.

My own parents had a similar experience. I don’t know the details, but I know they went to New York in the late ’70s or early ’80s to see some old friends, and had a poor enough time that they had no interest in going back. And they didn’t.

I was a big Mets fan as a kid. And yet, it never occurred to anyone to suggest a trip to the city for a a big-league game — I think because there was a built-in family aversion to going to New York. (The Yankees were around too, of course … but a trip to the South Bronx? Nope.)

My grandparents, as I’ve said before, were stay-at-home types, not tremendously adventurous by nature. My grandpa took my young dad to ballgames at New York’s various stadia in the Fifties, and my grandparents went to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens. But beyond that, they tended to get their kicks close to home. And as New York’s reputation got hairier, they were probably content to steer clear.

It is kind of sad, I suppose, to have the City that Never Sleeps a short train ride away and never take advantage of it. But that’s how it went down at the time.

That’s not to say my grandparents never left their house, though. This week’s calendar entry finds them heading out on the town — or at least planning to:

May 4-6, 1967.

I always thought New Haven suffered from much the same urban woes that plagued New York, on a smaller scale.

But apparently, the chance to hear “Gee, Officer Krupke” performed by Ivy League undergrads was too good a chance for my grandparents to pass up. Or at least it was until the show got cancelled, for reasons I am unable to determine.

This would have been my grandparents’ anniversary weekend. (The mention of sauerbraten at Hugo’s would have been their yearly anniversary dinner.)

So perhaps my grandfather hit upon the idea of an exotic night out, and looked to New Haven as the nearest easily accessible big city in which entertainment might be found.

This is not the only record of their visiting New Haven: A previous blog post about football mentions a 1969 birthday dinner for my Aunt Elaine at the city’s long-gone Les Shaw’s restaurant.

I believe my aunt was going to school in New Haven at the time, at what was then Southern Connecticut State College, which would have added to my grandparents’ interest in visiting.

(New Haven is also reputed to be the birthplace of the hamburger and the home of the best pizza in America, though I doubt either of those would have lured my grandparents there.)

So, there you have it. A night out on the town.

Not The City; the town.

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After leaving 1107 Hope Street and Stamford, Connecticut, behind, my grandfather lived the final 15 years of his life in Rochester, New York, where I grew up.

And the cutest thing happened: This placid, skinny 80-year-old man became a football fan.

Those years — we’re mainly talking late ’80s through late ’90s — were halcyon times for the Buffalo Bills, who by some combination of intelligence and magic molded themselves into one of the league’s toughest teams.

(What’s that you say? Do I know what “BILLS” stands for? Yeah, I’ve heard that one. Go play in traffic.)

I’m still not entirely sure what turned my grandpa into a Bills fan. Maybe he saw it as a way to find common ground and start conversations with the shivering, Genny Cream-fueled masses of Monroe County. It’s not easy to uproot yourself at an advanced age, after all, and anything that makes a new hometown more homey is welcome.

I do know that, when Doug Flutie came to Buffalo, my grandpa was particularly charmed by his story. He delighted in talking about what the little guy had done the previous Sunday, especially when Flutie had engineered one of his fourth-quarter comebacks. (Thankfully, my grandfather did not live to see the J.P. Losman years, which were enough to make the living envy the dead.)

At any rate, it was kind of endearing to go over to my grandparents’ house and hear my grandfather enthusiastically hold forth on the Bills’  latest effort.

I was never much of a Bills fan as a teenager. But I’ve become one since I left WNY, and I think my grandfather’s interest contributed a little to that. It’s almost like I feel a desire to stay updated on the team for him, since he’s not around to do it himself.

None of the above rambling explains this week’s calendar entry:

August 22, 1971

I have no indication that my grandpa was a football fan before he moved to western New York in the mid-’80s. So I have no idea why a football score from 1971 — from a pre-season game, no less — would be considered worthy of noting on his calendar. I am 99.44 percent sure (like, Ivory Soap sure) he would not have attended in person.

I can think of a couple reasons why this game might have been important to my grandfather, but they’re all supposition:

* New Haven was a city my grandparents sometimes went to for big occasions like birthday or anniversary dinners. So maybe an NFL game there was redolent enough of the Big Time for my grandpa to put it on his calendar.

That being said, the Giants played regular-season games — games that actually counted — in the Yale Bowl in 1973 and ’74, after they got kicked out of Yankee Stadium and before Giants Stadium was ready. None of the results of those games made it onto my grandfather’s calendar; nor did he suddenly develop a fandom for Big Blue when they moved to New Haven. So maybe his interest was based entirely on the novelty of the first game.

* My Aunt Elaine was apparently in New Haven that day on undisclosed business. If she attended the game, perhaps that would have piqued my grandfather’s interest in it. I don’t think she had any more interest in football than my grandpa did, though. So I’m guessing she wasn’t at the game.

* This game appears to have been the first head-to-head matchup between the two teams that have fought since 1960 for the allegiance of the Tri-State Area. (The Interwebs tell me that the first regular-season Jets-Giants game occurred in New Haven in 1974, with the Jets winning.) So maybe my grandfather was seduced by first-time-ever hype to take notice of the game.

One major figure was missing from the Aug. 22 game. Flamboyant Jets quarterback Joe Namath suffered a serious knee injury a few weeks earlier in the team’s first preseason game, against Detroit, and missed most of the rest of the 1971-72 season.

Of course, stars rarely see much playing time in preseason games. Still, the absence of Namath meant one less thing to draw a casual fan like my grandpa into the Giants-Jets game.

About 15 years of my grandpa’s calendars (1961 to 1975) are still in the family collection. And, based on my month-by-month review, only two football scores ever made the grade for inclusion on his calendars.

The Aug. 22, 1971, preseason game is one. This legendary game is the other:

Jan. 12, 1969: Super Bowl III.

This, of course, was Super Bowl III, the famous game in which brash young Namath promised a victory for the underdog Jets against the entrenched Baltimore Colts.

Joe Willie didn’t exactly light up the skies — his team managed only one touchdown and three field goals — but the Jets’ fierce defense ensured a 16-7 win. (No one remembers Randy Beverly, but he did as much as Namath did to win that game.)

I would have guessed that my grandfather would feel a much stronger kinship with the Colts’ Johnny Unitas — a crew-cut, high-topped organization man — than with the shaggy-haired playboy Namath. Again, I’m guessing that the pre-game hype drew him in, and the game itself delivered enough drama and tension to keep even a non-fan interested.

Incidentally, if you ever want a time trip to the Sixties, run a Google search for “Les Shaw’s New Haven.” A number of postcards still circulate showing the building’s exterior and main dining room. They pop up on eBay from time to time, and offer a great view of what a long-running locally owned fancy-night restaurant looked like back then.

If science perfects a time machine in my lifetime, I will go back to January 1969 and secretly reserve the table next to my grandparents and aunt at Les Shaw’s. I will order a big American steak, with a baked potato on the side, and a few Old Overholts to wash it down with. And I will smoke unfiltered cigarettes the entire time I’m eating.

And when I’m done, I will leave a generous tip worthy of Sinatra himself, and then travel directly back to 2011, without passing Go or collecting $200.

I lived through the J.P. Losman years once; only a fool would do that twice.

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