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Friday, November 18, 2011

Westport Police Station Hosts Halloween Do-Over

Westport Police Station Hosts Halloween Do-Over
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – A wicked nor’easter tricked local children out of Halloween fun October 29 when wet snow pulled down branches and wires and made trick-or-treating unsafe. Westport Police Department and other town emergency services turned those frowns upside down one week later when they hosted a make-up Halloween Fun Fest late Saturday afternoon.

Police headquarters at 50 Jesup Road turned into a virtual Halloween fairground with emergency vehicles, candy stations and spooky décor encircling the building for young costumed visitors and their families to enjoy.

“When the nor’easter came through, it was determined there was a viable safety issue with trees and wires down,” said Westport Police Lt. Arthur Belile, who helped coordinate the afternoon activities. “The joint E.O.C. issued a press release requesting that people not go out. We felt bad for the kids and wanted to create an event that incorporated safety and fun – a Halloween Fun Fest.”

J.D. Mello, of Westport, who arrived dressed as a Mad Hatter and was accompanied by wife Gina as the Queen of Hearts and daughter Jaden as Alice, said, “The town had obvious safety concerns. It was very nice of the police department to do this for the kids that were disappointed that Halloween was postponed.”

Westporter Emily Chaves, who toted her three-month-old son Elliot, dressed as a chili pepper, agreed. “It was a very nice gesture for the kids, to be able to come to a safe place to trick-or-treat.”

Annamae Logan, of Westport, attending with her daughter Mae, 10, who was dressed as an angel, was equally excited. “It was fabulous to get an email about this,” she said. “The kids were elated.”

Mae’s best friend, Paige Roraback, 10, who styled a devil’s outfit, shared what it was like to have Halloween taken away then returned. “We were going to go trick-or-treating together, but then Halloween got postponed,” she said. “We were disappointed but, in the end, we got to do it and we’re having a great time.”

SHU Students Aid Bridgeport Beautification Effort in Fall Sweep

SHU Students Aid Bridgeport Beautification Effort in Fall Sweep
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

Bridgeport, CT – Over four dozen Sacred Heart University students set pencils and textbooks aside Saturday morning November 5 in favor of shovels, rakes, spades and work gloves to pitch in on a Bridgeport beautification effort.

Spurred by Groundwork Bridgeport, an environmental organization in the Park City that focuses on enhancement and clean-up, and coordinated by Maura Cook, Assistant Director of Volunteer Programs at SHU, the effort focused on removing tree and leaf debris, waterfront clearance, trash pick-up and the planting of flower bulbs and trees. SHU student activities were concentrated on two sites: William Barnum Park at the corner of Barnum Avenue and William Street and James Brown Park on Waterview Avenue. About 35 members of SHU’s Kappa Sigma fraternity handled James Brown Park while 16 other students managed William Barnum. All equipment and plantings were supplied by Groundwork.

“We’ve done this every year with Groundwork, for at least the past five years,” said Cook, who has worked at SHU for the past year and a half where she is also pursuing her Masters in Communications. “We also help Groundwork at various other times of the year. For instance, during our Community Connections Pre-Fall Program, we take 48 freshmen, put them in Bridgeport for a week and expose them to various service opportunities and the culture and history of the city. Really, any time they have a project come up, we will help out. We really try to meet the needs of the community in any way we can.”

Cook was very involved in service in college and said she wanted to pursue a career in non-profit. To that end, after graduating, she worked at a drop-in center in New York, helping homeless adults. “When I saw this opportunity at SHU, it was appealing as I wanted other students to find a passion in service and that it could be a lifelong commitment,” she said. “Service doesn’t have to end after college. SHU is such a great community to be a part of – that was attractive as well.”

Student participants in the morning Fall Sweep ran the gamut in terms of academic backgrounds, but many had been part of other programs like Habitat for Humanity. “They had gotten a taste for service work, and the Kappa Sigmas participate every year in the Sweep,” said Cook.

At James Brown Park, Groundwork Executive Director Jack Dillon gave the students their work assignments and they set about raking leaves and clearing brush from the waterfront, which was snarled with invasive plants and weeds and dotted with trash and discarded items like a car bumper, a bureau and tires.

Josh Keane, student president of Kappa Sigma, was among the group and remarked, “Community service is one of the most important things you can do. A lot of people take it for granted. We’ve got a good crew out here.”

At the opposite end of the park, two dozen students from Central High and Bassick High Schools helped plants trees under the guidance of Vernon Sanders of non-profit Build-On, and Chris Donnelly, an Urban Forestry Coordinator with the Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection. These students were also outfitted with equipment from Groundwork.

Meanwhile, at William Barnum Park, SHU students, under the guidance of Laura Bubela, a landscape architect from the Boston area assisting Groundwork, were also busy raking and tree planting, as well as digging shallow trenches along a perimeter fence for daffodil, tulip and crocus bulbs. The group was picking up loose rock and brick debris, too, stumbling upon disturbing items in the process like a knife, razor blade and bag of marijuana.

In the end, the areas the students had toiled in looked orderly, fresh and appealing to any visitor hoping to enjoy them. The groups were rewarded with a cookout in a back lot behind Groundwork headquarters, situated on Barnum Avenue midway between the two parks.

Keepsakes Star in Westport Woman’s Club Appraisal Show

Keepsakes Star in Westport Woman’s Club Appraisal Show
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – The items that had gathered dust in the attic, hung on the wall at grandma’s house or been handed down through the generations had their day midday Saturday at Westport Woman’s Club during its inaugural Antiques Appraisal Show.

The event, held at the 44 imperial Avenue Club headquarters, was the brainchild of Deb Fratino, owner of Pandora’s Box and a nationally known antique doll appraiser. Fratino works with Larchmont, NY-based Clarke Auction House and, in her capacity as a Club member, suggested the event as a fundraiser for the organization’s community services program. She invited Ronan Clarke of the Auction House, some of his staff and various other appraisers of art and jewelry to provide evaluations of local residents’ unique items.

At one table, Fratino carefully examined a German Bisque doll from the 1800s that Jane Trischman from Trumbull had brought. “My mother was born in 1905 and it was her doll,” Trischman said. “It was in my attic for 45 years in the drawer of a dresser.”

Wendy McKeon toted an oval-shaped landscape print in a gilded frame, for Neila Moore of Clarke to evaluate. “It was my husband’s grandmother’s and was hanging in her house in Flushing when he was a little boy in 1950.” She was pleased to learn its value was $200-$300.

Westporter Joanne Reeves brought a curious pitcher to the attention of Ronan Clarke. It had belonged to her husband’s great-grandmother. Clarke identified it as Dickensware due to the fact that it depicted a scene from Charles Dickens’ novel “Journey’s End”. Clarke appraised the item at $500, though Reeves said she didn’t have any intention of selling it.

As more curious folks trickled in with their curious items, a rain/snow mix trickled down outside, the initial signs of a nasty nor’Easter that was working its way into the area.

Chilifest a Hot Time on a Wintry Day

Chilifest a Hot Time on a Wintry Day
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – It was snowing hard, branches were coming down all over and power was flickering around the area. But at the Unitarian Church early Saturday afternoon, folks were warm and dry and having a hot time sampling various chili concoctions.

The focus of their attention was Chilifest, and it was the first time the church had held the event. However, the church had held a similar function, Chowderfest, for the past three years, which allowed for the purchase of 30,000 meals for the Connecticut Food Bank according to Chilifest organizer Jim Keenan.

“We started Chowderfest when the economy was really bad, and invited restaurants to participate,” Keenan said. “We wanted it to be a win-win situation for us and the local economy. They began to ask about entering chili in the Fest, but it didn’t mix – chowder and chili are really two different palettes. So we created Chilifest to address that desire.”

The concept of Chilifest is simple: Pay a fee to participate, receive a spoon and a ballot, sample all the chili and vote on your favorites. Two categories were offered: Classic and Creative. “A classic chili is traditional meat and bean-based,” said Keenan. “The creative is white, red, meatless, seafood, anything else.” 

Ten restaurants were represented: Ash Creek Saloon, Bobby Q’s, Brewhouse, Chili Bomb, Da Pietros, Nicholas Roberts Gourmet Bistro, Old Post Tavern, Restaurant at Rowayton, Swanky Franks and The Lime Restaurant. The restaurant getting the most votes in each area gets the trophy.

Ironically, Keenan said he was not that big of a chili guy. “The restaurants really wanted to do it,” he said. “And when the weather gets chilly, people want chili. I’ve become a fan because of the Fest and get a kick out of people enjoying it so much. They all have their own theories on how to try it – reds first, beans first. And it’s funny to see what the restaurants have added as sides and what they’ve named their concoctions.”

Indeed, there was Ash Creek’s “Ash Kicking Chili”, a traditional recipe with a sweet taste. Brewhouse’s “Dat’l Do It 3-Bean Chili”, with a dash of BBQ sauce in it. Swanky Frank’s five-alarm “Hot Dog! That’s good chili”. Old Post Tavern’s “Fire in the Hole Chili”, with just the right amount of heat.

Amid the buzz, chatter and musical backdrop, Kim Saab and Steve Ferrara had found a little oasis in which to enjoy Chili Bomb’s “Texas Peacemaker”. Ferrara said, “We’re trying to hit them all. Our favorite so far is this one. As chili goes, I don’t make it, but I eat it and really enjoy it.” Saab added, “It’s a fun way to spend a snowy Saturday.”

Serey Carlton, from Stamford, coupled with her husband Chris, was trying Nicholas Roberts’ “Texas Chain Gang Chili”. Boldly, she declared, “I dig chili.” Like Ferrara, she doesn’t make it herself, but enjoys it, adding, “I cook with a lot of spices. We did the Chowderfest last year and enjoyed that, so decided to come to Chilifest. It’s a good way to experience the various restaurants.”

What was Serey’s favorite? Bobby Q’s “Smokehouse Chili”, which featured little cubes of smoked beef brisket. You could say she’s a good judge of chili character as the restaurant took the title in the Classic category, narrowly edging out Brewhouse. In the Creative category, it was the Restaurant at Rowayton’s “Sumptuous Seafood Chili”, which featured shrimp, beans and other ingredients that made it a standout in the lineup.

Chilly days call for chili and Chilifest answered the call.

NYC Fireboat John J. Harvey Keeps History Afloat

NYC Fireboat John J. Harvey 
Keeps History Afloat:
Bridgeport a recent stop for 80-year-old vessel
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Bridgeport News)

Bridgeport, CT -- Boy, can this old girl make an entrance! She caused quite a buzz on a recent fall weekday afternoon when, with escorts by her side, she slid around St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea and made a big splash in Bridgeport Harbor.

The grande dame of note was the John J. Harvey, an 80-year-old fireboat built for the Fire Department of New York City and commissioned in 1931. After 63 years of service, she was decommissioned, sold at auction and saved from being scrapped by a small group of maritime preservationists operating under the banner Save Our Ships New York. The historic boat has been lovingly maintained by volunteers and, each year, travels the region’s waterways, stopping in various towns to teach people about maritime history, promote waterfront revitalization… and squirt some water as she did during her harbor arrival.

Bridgeport News was on the scene as this floating piece of history, led by the Harbormaster and flanked by the Harbor Patrol, pulled up to the dock at Captain’s Cove, her water cannons creating a fantastic shower and horns and bells drawing local folks down to take a look. We met the captain and engineers, spoke with dock personnel and took a comprehensive tour of the boat, learning more about her legend and recent roles she has played.

A remarkable craft and distinguished service

The noted fireboat, which spent her entire career on the west side of Manhattan in the North River, was named after Pilot John J. Harvey, who was killed in the line of duty February 11, 1930 at a fire aboard the North German Lloyd Line’s S.S. Muenchen. A year-and-a-half later, on October 6, 1931, the 130-foot-long fireboat was launched and, less than two weeks later, commissioned and stationed along the Battery Park seawall.

The Harvey’s power source was originally five Sterling Viking II, 8-cylinder, 565-HP gasoline engines. In 1957, these were replaced in the same footprint with five 600-HP Fairbanks-Morse model 38f5 ¼ 8-cylinder opposed-piston diesel engines. Two smoke stacks were also added to accommodate them. Four LeCourtenay centrifugal pumps connected to four outboard engines allowed 16,000 gallons of water per minute to be disbursed through eight deck pipes and 24 fire hose connections. These cannons and fittings are still featured on the boat – all original and in full working condition.

Powering lights and other on-board elements such as compressors, steerage and gauges is Westinghouse DC equipment with six generators and two 1065-HP electric propulsion motors, again, all original and fully operating today.

The Harvey has the distinction of being the first large modern fireboat in America – its predecessors were all steam powered. Its engines provide pumping and propulsion simultaneously, making her the fastest large fireboat while pumping.

On May 3, 1932, she responded to her first major fire, at Cunard Pier 54, joining other fireboats. On April 24, 1943, she fought a fire on the munitions freighter El Estero, which was carrying over 1,400 tons of high-powered explosives on board. The Harvey and a second boat, Fire Fighter, doused the flames as the ship was towed away from the Statue of Liberty and vital waterfront facilities, and sunk. Her efforts saved New York Harbor and earned the crew the FDNY’s Medal of Valor.

On February 9, 1942, the French Line’s Normandie, one of the most beautiful ships ever constructed, caught fire at her berth on Pier 88 and, ironically, capsized because of water pumped on board by the Harvey and other boats.

Ultimately, in July 1994, she was taken out of service by the FDNY and destined to be junked. However, on February 11, 1999, 69 years to the day that Pilot John J. Harvey lost his life in the line of duty, the fireboat was bought from the City at auction and rescued from the scrap yard.

An impromptu stopover a plus for Bridgeport

“The Harvey’s permanent berth is Pier 66 on the Hudson and we were on our way back down there from Mystic, where we had spent Columbus Day weekend,” said Captain Huntley Gill, standing dockside with Captain’s Cove owner Bruce Williams. “I called Bruce to ask if we could stop in for the night.”

Said Williams, “The history of this vessel is awesome and it’s great to have her here. We hope to have her return next summer when the restaurant reopens and have people visit.”

Assistant Engineer John Browne welcomed Bridgeport News aboard and put us in the company of Chief Engineer Jessica Dulong. Remarking on how she came to be in her role, and the fact that she is virtually unique as a female engineer, Dulong said, “I started out as a volunteer 10 years ago, after being laid off from a job right when there was an opening on board. Huntley invited me to try my hand and, after a decade of apprenticeship, I’m now chief engineer.”

Dulong’s knowledge of the craft was comprehensive. “She was overbuilt, with brass and bronze,” she said. “The deck guns and main water piping are all brass. Today, these would be made of steel. We’re looking at a moment in American history where fine craftsmanship was the guiding principle of the day.”

Dulong said that particularly rare is the engines, because of their opposed-piston design, versus single pistons wtih heads. “It was the first internal combustion-powered fireboat built for the FDNY, setting the standard for all modern fireboats.”

Stepping down steep metal stairs to the engine room, Dulong said, “This compartment can reach 130 degrees. Fortunately, there’s a lot of movement of air due to engine operation.”

With regard to the deck cannons, or guns, Dulong shared that their pumping capacity, when working at once, is the equivalent of 20 land-based pumper trucks. “When she was brand new on October 6, 1931, she shot water over the lower roadway of the George Washington Bridge,” she said. “She has an incredible amount of pressure. She can blast through a cement wall.”

Today, in addition to its education mission, the Harvey hosts young people from summer camps and foster care, as well as children with developmental, emotional and behavioral disabilities. It has also worked with the Police Athletic League and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance to offer summer programs teaching maritime and leadership skills, and boat safety.

The boat currently needs capital improvements to ensure her long-term survival. Having successfully matched a $320,000 NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation grant, advocates are now working to match a $165,000 Save America’s Treasures grant, the most prestigious of its kind.

Donations are tax deductible and can be directed to Save Our Ships New York, 100 West 72nd Street, #6-G, New York, NY 10023. For more information about the John J. Harvey, visit


Hero of the Harbor: John J. Harvey’s Role in 9/11

“On 9/11, we were parked at Pier 63 on the Hudson River, two miles north of the World Trade Center,” said Tim Ivory, former chief engineer of the John J. Harvey, standing on the dock beside the vessel at Bridgeport’s Captain Cove. “One of the boat’s owners had talked with dispatch at the FDNY and offered the boat. There was no formal communication.”

Ivory got a call to operate it and joined nine other crew members at the berth. “The North Tower dropped first, then the South tower, as we were getting under way,” he continued, “and a cloud of dust went across the river. The Coast Guard called us to help evacuate people. As we went past the site to Battery Park City, we picked up about 150 people and started coming back north.”

Ivory said an FDNY lieutenant, Tom White, spotted them, and said he needed water on the scene. The idea was to hook up fire hoses at Ground Zero to the boat’s pump system, but there was a hitch. First, there was so much destroyed equipment between the Harvey and the site, that there was no way to get relay support. Secondly, Ivory said, “Our manifolds are 3 ½ inches – the city’s today are three inches,” he said. “As our water cannons were three inches, we took the nozzles off and hooked up hoses, that firefighters brought out to us, directly to the cannons.”

The Harvey was situated between two City fireboats up close – a front row seat. “We were continuously pumping for the first 40-50 hours, with 8,000 gallons a minute going in, then stayed an additional two days as stand-by,” said Ivory. “It was surreal. Everyone and everything was black and white. In fact, it was a day or two before I realized all the crumpled up vehicles were emergency services. I also thought the lieutenant was 60 or 70 years old because of the ash. He showered and I realized he was only in his 40s. When it rained, suddenly everything had color. For our efforts that day, NY State Representative Carolyn B. Maloney secured a citation for the vessel and its service.”

Spooky Stroll Chills Participants with Local Legends

Spooky Stroll Chills Participants 
with Local Legends
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The falling temperatures weren’t the only thing giving Spooky Stroll participants the chills as they were led from site to site and regaled with mysterious local tales.

Guided by docent Jill Littig, the annual walk set off early Friday evening from Fairfield Museum & History Center, where ghoulish treats like candy lady fingers and eyeballs had been placed in bowls on a candlelit table.

Two dozen children and their parents, many dressed in costumes, participated in the tour. Annmarie Fetcho and her 10-year-old daughter Raeann, of Fairfield, were among them. “When Raeann came home from school, she said she wanted a Halloween weekend,” Fetcho said. “We looked online and found the Stroll. It sounded cool.”

The first stop was the Town Hall Green, established in 1639 amid the four original square blocks of Fairfield. “People came here to practice, see friends and gossip,” said Littig, who then led them to adjacent St. Paul’s Church. As she explained that there had been an old jail on the site until 1850, when it burned down, there was a “klunk klunk” sound on the underside of a pair of steel Bilko doors. Emerging from below was a neglected prisoner, played by Fairfielder Christine Sander, who joked about being fatigued from being down there for the past 200 years.

Over at the Sun Tavern, Fairfield Museum’s Walt Matis greeted strollers in the guise of Sam Penfield and related the story of Penfield Reef Lighthouse keeper Fred Jordan, who perished in the choppy waters near the light in December 1916, while rowing ashore to see his family. Jordan’s successor was said to have seen Jordan’s ghost in the lighthouse just a few days later, and reported finding a logbook opened to an entry that described Jordan’s passing. While Matis told the tale, lights flickered and screams were heard from within the Tavern behind him.

From there, the group walked to the lip of a large depression in the ground that was once Edward’s Pond. In the late 1600s, women suspected of being witches were tested here. The suspect’s hands and feet were tied and they were tossed into the water. If they sank, they were pure and not a witch. If they floated, they were impure and a witch. Of course, the catch with that logic was that a non-witch would likely drown while proving their innocence, said Littig.

Along Beach Road, the tour stopped across from the Isaac Tucker House, which, during the Revolutionary War, was occupied by patriot Jonathan Maltbie. When British troops came ashore to burn the town, they tossed a lighted torch into the home. Mysteriously, it went out. They tried a second time and, getting the same result, decided the house was haunted. In reality, a servant girl had been hiding in the structure and had put the torches out. The house became one of the only ones to survive the destructive fires.

While the group stood there, Littig produced a long cardboard makeshift coffin and asked everyone gathered to whisper a bad thought into it. When they were done, Littig exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, this is so heavy,” and, with that, carried it further south and into the Old Burying Ground, established by the Daughters of the American Revolution. There, Littig handed it to Walt Matis, who had transformed into a black-shrouded resident gravedigger.

Matis set the box aside, to be “buried” later, and, with the aid of a flashlight, read a spooky tale from a large weathered book. The reading put a cap on the tour, leaving little ghosts and goblins to ponder all that they had seen and heard.

WACkiness Reigns at Halloween Costume and Crafts Event

WACkiness Reigns at Halloween Costume and Crafts Event
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And don’t forget the witches, devils and dinosaurs. They – and many other colorfully costumed kiddies – were all onsite at Westport Arts Center Sunday afternoon as the facility hosted its third annual WACky Halloween event.

Sponsored by Westport-based retailer Melissa & Doug, the costume party and Halloween crafts workshop attracted over 125 children and their parents for a couple hours of happy holiday happenings.

“We’re so pleased with the popularity of this event,” said Alyssa Crouse, WAC’s marketing director. “It has become a ritual for locals. And thanks to supporters like Melissa & Doug, we are able to deliver these types of programs to thousands of kids each year.”

M & D business owner Melissa Bernstein was on hand for the fun, making crafts with two of her children and snapping photos of the goings-on. “My husband Doug and I are in the business of children and creating children’s products,” she said, “and Westport Arts Center has a similar mission: helping to make childhood magical. Our focus is on bringing joy to children with simple play.”

There was certainly no lack of joy as the room quickly filled and kids began chattering away and squealing as they snipped, pasted and decorated at several work stations set up throughout the gallery.

In one area, a group constructed haunted houses out of cardboard. Among them was seven-year-old Emma Nordberg and her dad Leif. “We do a lot of activities here,” said Leif, as he handed Emma short cuts of duct tape to connect pieces of cardboard. “Both my kids love the programs here. This is the third time we’ve done the Halloween event. It’s a fun kickoff to the holiday and chance to see what other kids from the area dressed as.”

Asked about his daughter’s “brown dog” costume choice, Leif laughed, “We have a chocolate Lab named Winston and Emma wanted to be him.”

Nearby, WAC board member and event volunteer Deirdre Price was helping a young Jared Parnes with his own haunted house. She was dressed as a witch and sporting a necklace which incorporated real spike-shaped nails that she collected from an old home teardown.

Making witches’ hats with her daughters Samantha, 9, and Jolie, 5, Westporter Lynn Gefen said, “We’re new to the area and thought this would be a great way to spend Halloween with neighbors.”

Besides the crafts stations, a Melissa & Doug Playzone had been set up for infants and toddlers, where they could enjoy activities like puzzlemaking. From that area, coloring pads and markers were also being distributed and used by kids at another set of tables.

You could say it was a boo-tiful way to scare up some pre-Halloween spirits.

New Gallery Space ‘Works’ for Stamford

New Gallery Space ‘Works’ for Stamford:
Franklin Street Works showcases contemporary art
By Mike Lauterborn

Stamford, CT -- Filling a niche and providing a place where locals could think, talk and have a community experience were the driving motivators behind the creation of Franklin Street Works, Stamford’s newest art gallery space.

Located at 41 Franklin Street in one of four connected row houses built in the 1880s, the non-profit business is the brainchild of Kathy Emmett, founder and president of the board. Emmett, a civil attorney for over 40 years who has been operating her office in the gallery building since 1990, hatched the art space concept about 10 years ago. Its official opening was September 22, 2011, celebrated with a reception that attracted about 200 people and coincided with the launch of a first exhibit titled “Fernando”.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 60s, Emmett developed an affinity for row houses and had always been visually oriented. Her family was also in theater. “My mom is actress Kim Hunter, who won the Academy Award for her role as Stella in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’”, she said. “She also wrote a book titled ‘Loose in the Kitchen’, an autobiographical cookbook. As such, it’s important to me to incorporate a café into my gallery.”

The café to which she referred is located on the main level, forming part of the gallery space. It offers a comprehensive menu of salads and sides; wine, beer, coffee and other beverages; paninis/sandwiches and dessert-type dishes. “I’m dedicated to having really good food and making people feel welcome,” said Emmett.

Several people have helped the gallery owner realize her dream. Cynthia Roznoy, who is now at Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, helped form the FSW organization and develop programming.

Architect John Fifield (Fifield, Piaker, Elman) was instrumental in incorporating both the old and new in the space and suggested an outdoor patio in a courtyard behind the gallery.

Joe Whitt manages the gallery while Terri Smith is its creative director. Smith curates the shows, secures the artists and lays out the artwork in the gallery space. The gallery’s mission, as Smith states, is to be a producer of original contemporary art projects. The inaugural show, which will be on display until November 13, is a good demonstration of this objective. “We’re trying to expand people’s worlds in a friendly way and make some great works accessible right in their own backyard,” Smith said.

For more information about Franklin Street Works, contacts and an exhibit schedule, visit or call 203-595-5211.

Storybook Characters Come Alive at Enchanted Castle

Storybook Characters Come Alive at Enchanted Castle
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – So authentic were their costumes and so rehearsed were their presentations that you would think that the actors portraying the various characters had stepped right from pages of the storybooks themselves.

The characters were but one part of the magical experience created at Burr Homestead late Friday afternoon as the 18th Annual Enchanted Castle opened. The event will be conducted almost daily through Sunday, October 30, with varying hours of operation.

Themed rooms include Cinderella, Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pirates of the Caribbean. There is also a BOOtique featuring items for sale including food, Halloween-oriented accessories and gift baskets. All merchandise was donated by area businesses and individuals and proceeds will benefit the Ahlbin Centers for Rehabilitation Medicine at Bridgeport Hospital.

“This is one of the biggest fundraisers of the year and the most highly anticipated,” said Lauren Condron, an occupational therapist at Ahlbin Centers, who was dressed as a queen and seated on the porch of the Homestead beside the front entry. “The kids love it and staff and former patients all come.”

Condron added that, this year, funding will help the Center’s FitKids program, which promotes healthy eating and activities to children.

Since its inception, the Enchanted Castle has always supported the Ahlbin Center, said Shaun Amberg, President of the Ahlbin Centers Auxiliary and a co-chair of the event. “It’s funny, I bumped into two of the original creators yesterday,” she said. “They say no one calls them anymore to be characters!”

Amberg added that the Castle was designed to be non-threatening, unlike many other Halloween tour experiences that focus on spooky and scary themes. As such, the experience appeals to families of children ages 2 to 9.

On average, the event raises $25,000 to $30,000, and has become a community tradition. “There was one year – 1997 -- we didn’t do it due to a lack of volunteers,” said Amberg. “People missed it, so we brought it back the following year.”

A strong draw is the authenticity of the sets. For example, the Wizard of Oz room features a section of real wooden fence, sunflowers, flying monkeys and a yellow brick road pathway.

Characters were played primarily by teenaged students, like Elizabeth Reidy, an 8th grader at Tomlinson Middle School playing Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean. “I printed out my script two weeks ago and have been practicing my lines, especially in front of my sister,” she said. “I was a little nervous at first, but it’s fun. I’m doing this as a community service project.”

Nick Zeleny, playing the featured pirate Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, said he had done the character last year. “I’m one of the few male characters.”

For Zeleny, the event was a family affair. His mother typeset the event program and he and his dad helped put the whole façade up.

All the hard work did not go unappreciated. “This is a great community event and one of the reasons we live in Fairfield,” said Beth Hansel, visiting with her 3-year-old daughter Ella. “She’s my fourth child. I’ve taken them all here. It’s her time. We were here early and got a private tour and chance to speak with the characters. It was like being at Disney.”

The Enchanted Castle is located in the Burr Homestead, 739 Old Post Road, Fairfield. Hours of Operation: Saturday, October 22 and Sunday October 23: 10am – 5pm; Wed – Fri. Oct. 26-28: 4pm – 7pm; Sat. Oct. 29 and Sun. Oct. 30: 10am – 5pm. Fully accessible for children of all abilities, ages 2 to 9 with an adult.

Locals Fall for Saugatuck Nursery Harvest Fest

Locals Fall for Saugatuck 
Nursery Harvest Fest
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – As the leaves fell and swirled about the great lawn, locals fell for Saugatuck Nursery’s Harvest Fest, darting from activity to activity Saturday.

Held on the hillside in front of Saugatuck Congregational Church at 245 Post Road East, the Fest offered everything from pony rides, pumpkin painting, scarecrow making and pin bowling, to a beanbag toss, facepainting, duct tape bracelets and even seeking a needle in a haystack. Coordinators were all volunteers and 100% of the proceeds from ticket sales will help fund operations of the 43-year-old school.

The funds come just in time as the school has just been licensed to accommodate 48 students, up from 32, at any given time, according to Saugatuck Nursery’s Director Ellen DeHuff. “We added Two’s for the first time in our history, so now we serve children ages 2 to 5,” she said.

In addition to school staff and parent volunteers, the Fest was being run by Staples High School students. One student onsite was Myelle Lansat, a Staples 10th grader, who was giving kids Halloween makeovers. “I’m doing this for my Child Development class,” she said, spray painting four-year-old Claire Evans’ hair.

Looking on while her children Zoe, 5, and Jamie, 8, collaborated in making a scarecrow from old clothing and straw, Westporter Jill Mann said, “We go to church here, heard about the Fest and thought it would be a fantastic fall activity. The scarecrows make instant, low-effort Halloween decorations.”

Over at the inflatable Wizard’s Castle, two-year-old Hunter Menoni came shooting down a yellow slide, much to the delight of his mother Brooke. “We saw the signs and thought this would be fun to bring the kids to,” she said. “We loved the pony ride best.”

Sprinting down the stretch to her due date, with just four weeks left, Harini Baddevolu of Norwalk preferred to take a little breather on the church steps while her husband Sreekanth and three-year-old son Siddanth were pulled around on a flatbed trailer behind a tractor. “We were going to Thali and saw the Fest,” Harini said. “Siddanth loved the pony ride and now the hay ride.”

Judging from the boy’s broad grin as he assumed the driver’s seat of the tractor and placed his hands on the large steering wheel, his parents had made the right destination decision for the afternoon.

Families Say “Si!” to Mahackeno Fall Fiesta

Families Say “Si!” to Mahackeno Fall Fiesta
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Thump, thump, thump. The tunes DJ/MC Stevie C. was laying down echoed across the landscape, an auburn-tinged, pine needle carpeted mélange of game stations, pumpkins and inflatable structures set to capture the imagination of local families.

Collectively, the scene Sunday afternoon meant the Westport/Weston Family YMCA’s Mahackeno Center was hosting its sixth annual Fall Family Fiesta. The free public event at the 37 Rices Lane space offered a full complement of diversions from pumpkin painting, birdhouse building, beading and bean bag toss games to huge inflatables, CPR demos, grilled food and a spectacular performance by the Y’s own girls gymnastics/dance squad. Over 500 people were drawn to the site, which hugs the Saugatuck River, and will soon be the location of the Y’s new 102,000-square-foot facility.

“It’s exciting to see the Mahackeno property alive with families and smiles,” said YMCA CEO Rob Reeves. “We look forward to the day we can use these 32 acres 12 months a year. Our new facility has been site planned and the first shovel will break ground in Fall 2012.”

Director of Development Jon Simons added, “Fundraising is our challenge now, and we’re more than halfway along, with about $20 million to go. The more we can fundraise, the less we’ll need to borrow.”

For now, Y event coordinators will squeak as much fun out of the site as possible, and the Fiesta was certainly one of the more significant final outdoor events of the season.

One group that really needed as much space as possible was the Y’s gymnastics/dance team. The corps of girls, ranging in age from about 7 to 14, sprang high, leaped far and tumbled long across mats spread out on the blacktop near the pool area.

Between routines, Olivia Crosby, 14, shared, “I’ve been doing this since I was six and grew up at the Y with my teammates. We’re like family. I’ve got my sisters and me, you might say. We’re so well coordinated together.”

Coordinated enough that the advanced team – 15 girls in all – was recently invited to perform in Switzerland at an international show called Gymnaestrada. Next summer, they will travel to Florida for a similar performance.

While the cameras and recording devices of dance performance onlookers snapped and whirred, over at a picnic table on adjacent flat field, Peruvian-born Danica Blas of Stamford had her girls around her and was happily tap-tapping away on a birdhouse building project. She was glad to have a family moment, sharing, “It’s a nice day to spend with the kids after working all week… and we even learned a few things like CPR and making this birdhouse. My sister came here last year; this is my first visit here. It’s a very nice time.”

Masonic Temple Gives Public a Peek

Masonic Temple Gives Public a Peek
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – “We are not a secret society – just a society that has its own secrets, like any big company,” said Tony Foote, Master of Temple Lodge 65 of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Connecticut.

Foote spoke from the third floor of the building at 210 Post Road East where the Lodge is housed, which was opened for a few hours Saturday to the general public.

“We wanted to let people know who we are and what we do,” said Foote. “There’s a lot of misperception and slanted media. It’s nice fiction but it’s not accurate. We’re also hoping people will join. We never ask anyone to join – a person has to express interest.”

Foote added that all the lodges in the northeast were holding open houses simultaneously Saturday – a collaboration initiated by the Grand Master of Connecticut, who is a past Master of Temple 65.

“He spoke to the Grandmasters of each New England state and designated today as a public open house,” said Foote.

With regard to the background of the Lodge, Foote explained, “We’ve been in this building space since the 1920s, though the Lodge has existed in Westport since 1824. We’re actually older than the Town of Westport. We have 124 members and all are of a variety of professions and religions.”

The Masons own the building and Harding Funeral Home is a tenant. According to Foote, the building was originally owned by a past Master of the Lodge, Charles Fable. The Masons bought it from him.

One little known, or overlooked, fact about the Masons is their philanthropic nature. “We always donate about $5,000 to charitable causes every year,” Foote said. “We just donated $3,000 to EMS of Westport for two mountain bikes carrying full equipment. And we just gave the Boy Scouts $1,600 to paint a trailer.”

Another big-hearted initiative is the Lodge’s Donate Life program. “It helps obtain needed organs for transplant,” said Tony Giunta, the Lodge’s senior deacon. Giunta was, himself, the recipient of a kidney a few years ago.