Dwindling Empires “A Housatonic View”

Dwindling Empires
A Housatonic View

By Brian Thomas

 

Rumors of a possible Kent connection prompted us to get in touch with Alfred W. McCoy, a distinguished historian of US foreign policy and a 1964 graduate of Kent School. His latest book will be out in September 2017. It’s called In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, and it contains several passages highlighting his time in Kent. For example, in the acknowledgements he notes:

“Whenever I write, I am reminded of a deep debt to my high school English teacher, Bob Cluett, who gave a me both a love of this craft and the skills to pursue it.”

McCoy informed us that he returned to Kent for his 50th reunion in 2014, bringing his single shell for three days of rowing on the Housatonic, down to the Bull’s Bridge dam and back, pausing to take in the countryside and think a bit. He said, “Boarding schools in general, and Kent in particular, are transformative experiences. So, yes, Kent has personal meaning for me.”

Indeed, the introduction to his book, “ever-so modestly” titled “US Global Power and Me,” spells out some of that meaning. There, he says, “I was also privileged to attend schools that trained our future leaders, allowing me to observe firsthand the ethos that shaped those at the apex of American power, their character and worldview. For five years in the 1960s, I went to a small boarding school in Kent, Connecticut, that steeled its boys through relentless hazing and rigorous training for service to the state. Admiral Draper Kauffman (class of ’29), founder of the Navy’s underwater demolition teams (forerunner of the SEALs), was the father of a classmate. Cyrus Vance (class of ’35), the future secretary of state, was a commencement speaker. Sir Richard Dearlove (class of ’63), later head of Britain’s MI-6, was a year ahead of me. Countless alumni were known to be in the CIA. Through its defining rituals, this small school tried to socialize us into a grand imperial design of the kind once espoused by East Coast elites back when America was first emerging as a world power.”

Since his time in Kent, his scholarly work has had a significant worldly impact. After earning a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history at Yale, he focused on Philippine political history and global opium trafficking. His first book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (published in 1972), sparked controversy when the CIA tried to block its publication. But after three English editions and translation into nine foreign languages, this study is now regarded as the “classic” work on the global drug traffic.

His more recent work on covert operations, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2006), explores the agency’s half-century history of psychological torture. A film based in part on that book, “Taxi to the Darkside,” won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2008. His 2012 study of this topic, Torture and Impunity, explores the political and cultural dynamics of America’s post 9/11 debate over interrogation.

The Philippines remains the major focus of his research. An investigation of President Marcos’s “fake medals,” published on page one of the New York Times (January 23, 1986) just weeks before the country’s presidential elections, contributed to the country’s transition from authoritarian rule. Analyzing the many coup attempts that followed, his 1999 book Closer Than Brothers (Yale) documents the corrosive impact of torture upon the Philippine military.

In Shadows of the American Century, he says, “Both family and school taught me that criticism was not only a right but a responsibility of citizenship. So it has been my role to observe, analyze, and, when I have something worth sharing, to write and sometimes to criticize.”

The KHS hasn’t escaped his critical eye. McCoy also said in his email, “Your message led me to your KHS website where I spent a profitable, pleasant half-hour learning a great deal about the town’s history… If you will forgive a suggestion, there seem to be two major lacunae on your coverage—the Schaghticoke people and the Kent School. Both, of course, have their complexities, but you might find a way to incorporate them into your website….” It’s a fair point, and this article is an attempt to begin filling in the gaps about the Kent School.

 

 

 

Bridge Flight, or a Dreadful Example

Bridge Flight, or a Dreadful Example
By Brian Thomas

dad-in-his-plane
Andy Stirnweiss in the cockpit of one of the many aircraft he flew during his career as a Navy pilot. He is the only person whose name is on all three granite slabs at the Kent Veterans Memorial, since he served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Photo courtesy of the Stirnweiss family.

In devising the Kent Quiz, we strive to find little known facts to stump our readers, but in our February 2017 issue, we failed completely. We asked who flew a plane under the bridge in Kent in 1945, and everyone knew the answer. It was Andy Stirnweiss, the father of the Kent Historical Society’s own Lyn Stirnweiss.

After joining the Navy in 1942, Stirnweiss flew more than 50 different kinds of military aircraft and served as a test pilot during the 1950s. But his riskiest, most high-stakes flight took place in Kent in 1945, when he was 21 and already an expert pilot.

He wanted to wow a young lady who worked at N.M. Watson on Main Street. What would make a snappier impression than flying under the Route 341 bridge across the Housatonic River, next to Kent School? Answer — nothing!

Before the flight he measured the understructure: he had 14 feet of clearance with his Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter/bomber, which was just over 13 feet tall. Safety check out of the way, it was time to impress the ladies. First, he buzzed the town center then swooped over to the river, taking aim at the narrow gap under the bridge. Once through, he veered right to skirt the rocks in the shallow water underneath.

He then flew back to his base in Rhode Island undetected, although some party pooper filed a complaint with the State Police. Can you imagine the uproar if someone did that today? Stirnweiss rarely mentioned his “dumb stunt,” but it may have been the smartest dumb thing he ever did. Later that year the young lady from Watson’s Store became Mrs. Andrew Stirnweiss and the two were happily married for more than 55 years be-fore she passed away in 2000, raising five children, all with warm memories and rich tales. After he retired, the Navy captain volunteered for FISH in Kent and was a member of Sacred Heart Church. He often attended Navy reunions, about which he commented, “The older we get, the braver we were.” He died in 2005 at the age of 82.

In the Historical Society office, Lyn often remembers her father and talks about his jokes and wry observations. Stirnweiss was also the subject of a fond, perceptive portrait by Bob Deakin in the Kent Good Times Dispatch in 2005, from which this article is drawn — along with some kibitzing from Lyn Stirnweiss, who supervised my writing. You can find Deakin’s full article, which is very much worth reading at: http://www.bullsbridge.com/Andy_Stirnweiss.htm

 

 

Talking with Patsy Stroble

Talking with Patsy Stroble
by Brian Thomas

 

Patsy Stroble grew up in a family of skilled, committed cooks, so it’s hard for her to remember a time when she wasn’t creating in the kitchen. As an adult, she says, “I’ve always cooked for my family, and enjoyed baking.”

That’s an understatement. Until it closed in 2007,  Stroble’s bakery was a fixture on Main Street in Kent for 30 years. Who knows how many tens of thousands of pies, cakes, cookies, scones, rolls, bread loaves, and other dainties passed from her ovens and out the door at 14 North Main Street?

Stroble generously agreed to hold two baking workshops to prepare the period-themed treats for the April 17th Musicale and Spirited Tea Party held by the Kent Historical Society. All the savories were baked by the workshop participants. For many, it was going back to the time when they could satisfy their sweet tooth with a visit to Stroble’s bakery.

“We moved up here,” she remembers, there weren’t many bakeries around. “I took some classes over at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, just to see if I was on track. I had great fun doing that. But I was pretty much self-taught.”

So with her two college-age daughters, Kari and Laura, she turned a cottage on their property in Sharon into a bakery. After about a year and half, they moved the irresistible baking vibes down to Kent, to where 109 Cheese now is, at 14 North Main Street.

Patsy Stroble conducting a baking workshop in 2014.
Patsy Stroble conducting a baking workshop in 2014.

Empty for years before the bakery warmed into life, the building is historic and fascinating. Her business started in the newer section, which had a modern cement slab, but as she expanded into the rest of the structure, the other sections had no slab at all. She installed stairs to make use of the upper floors. Eventually Stroble used almost every corner of the building.

Remnants of an old grain elevator lurked in the attic, a relic of the era when the building had been a grange. “You pulled on a rope. It was big, kind of like dumbwaiter. When I left, the wooden cogs for the hoist were still in position.”

Before turning to her baking business, Stroble worked at several different kinds of jobs, including laboratory work for Sloan Kettering in Rye, New York.  Her training was in biochemistry, and at that point people were looking at enzymes as a possible solution to cancer.

Was it a leap from the lab to the kitchen? Not really. She finds her biochemistry training useful in baking. “I was always very happy doing what they called bench work, choosing and manipulating ingredients, and the baking worked right into that.” It turns out that preparing wonders in the kitchen is benchwork of a kind, too. In biochemistry and in cooking, workers in the lab discover new, valuable things, sometimes by accident. Patsy Stroble says, “Both are creative processes.”

 

 

 

Pearl Harbor Day

Pearl Harbor ~ Dianne Lang articlePearl Harbor Day
Not Just Another Day Anymore

By Dianne Lang (an abridgement)

As a baby boomer who missed World War II by a few years, I never thought much about how the war had impacted the older generation who lived through it.   No one spoke much about those times, and I felt disconnected from that period in history.  

Ensign Hitnoff ~ Dianne Lang articleThen everything changed.  My mother, Marie Camp, was contacted by Robert Valley, Volunteer Coordinator of the USS Oklahoma families. Information had been uncovered by a researcher that led him to believe that the remains of my mother’s first cousin, Ensign Joseph Parker Hittorff, Jr. could now be identified.  Previously knowing little beyond Joe’s name and that he died on the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor, I had a lot of questions.  My mother was able to give me some basic information as she is the family’s unofficial historian.  She remembered some visits by Joe and his family to her family home on Birch Hill in Kent.

Joe’s sister, Marion, then 98 and in a nursing home (now deceased), had referred everyone to my mother as Marion felt she could not cope with all that might need to be done.  We were informed that there were 27 “unknowns” buried in three grave sites.  While the identities of the individual remains were not known, the researcher found paperwork indicating the names of all who were buried in each of the three graves.  For some unstated reason, the anthropologist at the time refused to sign the necessary paperwork.  What was needed was a DNA test to help in the identification process.  After much red tape, we were able to coordinate with the military to obtain a DNA sample from Marion.

I began to try to find out as much as I could about Joe.  His picture showed a handsome, serious young man.  My mother had a copy of a hand-written letter from Herbert Rommell, a shipmate of Joseph’s on the Oklahoma.  He provided some details of that fateful day.  “When the alarm sounded, he (Joe) went to the engine room to get the ship underway.  When last seen, he was in the machine shop, which is right above the engine room.  The ship was hit by many torpedoes in rapid succession and keeled over rapidly.  Some of the men down there abandoned ship, but Joe decided to stay and attempt to get the ship underway, and he went back down to the starboard engine room.”  Herbert goes on to tell about what happened to himself and some of the others, but knew nothing further of Joe’s fate.  Rommell in his letter said, “Maybe these additional details will make you sad—and it would have been better if I hadn’t written—but they should also make you proud.  After all, we all must die, and what could be better, but for a fighting man to go in action.  What counts is not when we must go, but how we go, and how we have lived.  Joe was truly an officer and a gentleman.  He was a good fellow—would come with us to the Officer’s Club or to the town’s night spots—but he was always a credit to himself, to his folks, and to the Navy.”  

Further research indicated that Joseph was in the index of a book called Pearl Harbor Survivors by Harry Spiller.  Obtaining a copy, I was shocked to find an account of Joe’s last moments.  Ens. Adolph D. Mortensen authored the chapter on the Oklahoma’s fate.  He talked about the chaos in great detail, telling of the torpedo hits and the general confusion about what was happening to those below decks.  Although they had routinely practiced “man overboard” and other drills, no one had addressed when or how to abandon ship.  “For the first time that day I saw the division officer, Ens. Joe Hittorff and our Warrant Machinist, Bill Goggins.  Joe looked at me and said, ‘Abandon ship.’  I felt some relief.  Finally someone over me had said it.”  According to Mortensen, the ship was listing badly, and all the loose items and furniture were jumbled on the floor, making walking a challenge.  Hatches were difficult or impossible to open because the ship was rolling rapidly onto its side.  The water began rising, and only a few men were able to make their way out.  “We went aft, Joe Hittorff, Bill Goggins, and I past the ladder which led to the first deck.”  There was a small hatch opening, but men were lined up trying to squeeze through. “I turned my attention to making my way aft to Chief’s quarters.  Hittorff and Goggins were just ahead of me.”  They continued over to the port side where there were portholes, arriving there just as the ship quickly began to roll over and take on water.  Apparently the Oklahoma had been moored to the USS Maryland as they lay in port. Fearful that the Maryland would be pulled over by the listing Oklahoma, the decision was made to cut the tethers.  At this point, the Oklahoma went over rapidly until its mast hit the bottom.  “The water continued to rise inside and the ship continued to slowly roll.  I soon found myself treading water and watching the ship as it rolled slowly above my head.  I looked around quickly and could not see Hittorff and Goggins.  I assume that in time I averted my eyes and watched the ship.  They both slipped beneath the surface and drowned.  I was told later that neither could swim.”  A few men who were able to tread water were now trapped with a small bubble of air.  They managed to get a porthole open that was now below water.  Diving down and helping each other, they were able to push individuals down and out of the porthole where they then bobbed to the surface covered with oil.  At that point, they were either rescued in boats or swam to safety.

Many years passed while politicians debated, funding lagged, DNA labs were overtaxed, and officials were staggered by the sheer enormity of the task of identifying all of the Oklahoma remains.  On March 7, 2016 our phone rang. Totally caught off-guard, it was the call we had been waiting for.  Joe had been identified, and we would have a formal visit the first week of April.  I was happy that after 74 years and 3 months to the day, the family had gotten word that Joe was no longer missing in action.  We were nearing closure for Joe.

We have an extra spot in my mother’s family grave site here in Kent.  Joe will be buried next to his aunt and uncle overlooking the Housatonic River.  Just down the river a couple of miles is where Joe came up from his home in New Jersey on occasion and played as a youngster with his cousins.  Some of his father’s Hittorff siblings had houses next to each other on Birch Hill.  I also know our local veterans will see that his grave gets the proper recognition.  Our extended family all seems content that this seems the best solution of all the options.  Joe will be buried with full military honors in the Kent Congregational Cemetery on June 18, 2016 after his funeral at the church at 11:00.

As we were going to press, we received word that Marie Camp, a long-time and dearly loved friend of the Kent Historical Society, passed away. She will be missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Galterio and the Moravians

History on Foot:  Frank Galterio and the Moravians

By Brian Thomas

Some people learn a landscape by reading a book about it. Others must walk its length and breadth over many years. Still others, like Frank Galterio, do both.

A longtime friend of the Kent Historical Society, Galterio has been walking Schaghticoke Mountain since the 1970s when he came here camping from Long Island. Eventually he moved to Kent. He explains, “I hike all over the place, all day long. And I usually don’t follow trails.”

Frank Galterio filming Alan Russell (left) and Craig Atwood, the Moravian historian.  [photo by Basil Merlot]
Frank Galterio filming Alan Russell (left) and Craig Atwood, the Moravian historian. [photo by Basil Merlot]

On one walk, he had a conversation with Alan Russell, chief of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe.  Russell showed Galterio a copy of a map of a gravesite that had 68 graves in it. Later, around 2010, Galterio found two volumes about the Moravian missionaries who lived in Kent from 1743 to 1767 among the Schaghticokes– translated and edited by Corinna Dally-Starna and William Starna, called Gideon’s People: Being a Chronicle of an American Indian Community in Colonial Connecticut and the Moravian Missionaries Who Served There.  Galterio has read this account five times.

Galterio explains what makes these Moravian diaries so interesting. The missionaries had to write day by day diaries of everything going on, from the weather to earthquakes, and especially their ties with the Native Americans. “The Moravians were really truthful in their diaries,” Galterio says. “They didn’t lie. It was a sin.” Many Schaghticoke Indians became Moravians during this period.

The history was checkered, since Connecticut expelled the Moravians during the French and Indian War. Many of the Moravians, in addition to a number of Moravian Indians, fled to the main site of the Moravian church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the order welcomed them and provided land for them to farm. Eventually it became possible to return to New York and Connecticut.  Galterio says, “They said they wanted to return where the land was most beautiful and the people were the most peaceful. And that was here in Kent.”   

Galterio’s research is ongoing, but a high point came in 2012, when Frank brought Craig Atwood, director of the Center for Moravian Studies to Kent and led him to the gravesite on the map. He introduced him to Alan Russell. The Schaghticokes and the Moravians “hadn’t been together for 269 years,” Galterio said. He filmed them together, standing among the graves of their ancestors.

Birdsey Grant Northrop, Tree Hugger Extraordinaire

BIRDSEY GRANT NORTHROP, TREE HUGGER EXTRAORDINAIRE
By Wendy Murphy

Birdsey NorthropJuly 18, 1817 marks the birthday of Kent’s own Birdsey Grant Northrop. Few Americans know his name today but over the eight decades of his very productive life he was revered not only in New England but in places as far away as Japan, Australia, Turkey and Germany. Farmer, teacher, preacher, educational reformer, world traveler, prominent writer/lecturer, town planner and diplomatic envoy, his greatest and most lasting work was on behalf of planting trees and beautifying small towns, two causes that he believed were essential to the happiness and vigor of democratic society. He is the often-unsung “Father of Arbor Day” in many countries.

Birdsey’s life began modestly enough. His parents moved to Kent from New Milford around 1800, buying Azariah Pratt’s homestead near the intersection of Route 7 and Cobble Road and enough acreage to establish a typical subsistence farm of the day. Like his four brothers and sisters, Birdsey’s boyhood days were divided between attendance at the district primary school, farm chores, and church.

Kent, like most of Connecticut in those years was largely denuded of trees as farming and the charcoal industry claimed the state’s once resplendent forests, which probably explains his particular affection for trees. He would always remember the joy he took as a boy of six helping his mother plant a young maple tree in their front yard, then watching it grow in size and beauty as he grew to manhood.

Birdsey might well have gone on to become a farmer like his father, but he had larger ambitions beyond Kent. Much to his father’s displeasure he eventually set off for college, graduating from Yale with a degree in theology in 1841 at the age of 24.

Young Northrop took a wife and was soon called to lead a small Congregational church in Massachusetts. But he continued to look for some greater platform for service. When offered the job as director of Massachusetts’ school system and then of Connecticut’s fledgling program, he left preaching to become a champion of free and compulsory public school education. Recognizing that America had much to learn from Europe in those years he read avidly and traveled abroad to investigate both public education and environmental conservation.

Even in those busy years he made time to lecture and write, going from town to town to stir up interest in planting shade trees along thoroughfares, cleaning up front yards, painting aging buildings, and installing gas lights and sidewalks to improve village and community. His
report on tree culture in Europe, published in 1879, so impressed the Connecticut Board of Agriculture that he was asked for advice in reviving Connecticut’s primordial forests.

From this was born Connecticut’s Arbor Day, made into law in 1876 by the State Legislature. As it was the centennial year of American Independence, Northrop urged everyone to honor the
heroes of the American Revolution by planting a tree that “its fruits may survive 1976.” That first year Connecticut’s teachers and students were awarded prizes for planting five trees of specified height and species. Many other states followed Connecticut’s example.

Remarkably, Northrop’s work was particularly influential in Japan, which had only recently opened itself to foreign trade. Invited by the Emperor of Japan to visit in 1872 to consult on modernizing their educational system, Northrop was too busy to make the trip. Instead, he brought over several Japanese girls to educate in the U.S. as a demonstration of what Japan should aspire to. Northrop went on to win lasting admiration as the individual most responsible for resolving the prickly Shimonoseki Indemnity stand-off between the two nations in 1883. Carrying a 40-foot long petition signed by virtually every influential figure in academia and the clergy in the U.S., Northrop successfully petitioned Congress to return some $750,000 that had been extracted 20 years earlier in connection with Japan’s default on its Open Door Treaty.

Northrop House, with Abby Northrop (left) and Lucy Hall, early 20th century.  Those trees were planted by Birdsey Northrop.
Northrop House, with Abby Northrop (left) and Lucy Hall, early 20th century. Those trees were planted by Birdsey Northrop.

Northrop finally made it to Japan in person in 1895. He delivered 38 lectures in the short space of two months, mostly focused on establishing Arbor Day in Japan, an annual custom observed ever since. An old man now, he remained committed to his causes, traveling to almost every state in the union to spread the word until his death on April 28, 1898.

Birdsey Northrop’s legacy to Kent continues thanks to the gratitude of a Japanese forester,
Shunichi Kuga, who visited Kent in 1972, bringing copies of his own biography of Northrop and a check for $1,000. The gift, Kuga explained, was in appreciation to the town for what Northrop had done for Japan so long ago. Emily Hopson, town historian, received the unexpected check, promptly depositing it in the Town’s bank account.

In the 1980s the Kuga Fund was tapped once for street tree planting along Main Street, after which it was largely forgotten. Then in 2001 the new Kent Conservation Commission volunteered to take custody of the account, which had grown in value considerably, for tree maintenance in the village. Most recently the Kuga Fund contributed to the planting of eight new shade trees along Elizabeth Street. And come Friday April 29, Birdsey Northrop will also be remembered at the annual Arbor Day ceremonies at Kent Center School. This public celebration of arts, poetry, music and tree planting by children was revived in 2001 with help from the Kent Conservation Commission, the Kent Garden Club, and the Kent Greenhouse. Hometown boy Birdsey would be well pleased.

 

Northrop’s Enduring Legacy
Arbor Day had more than one father, as the citizens of Nebraska City, Nebraska are proud to point out. In 1872 resident J. Sterling Morton, year after year observing the loss of precious topsoil to wind and water erosion, persuaded the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture to sponsor a statewide program of tree-planting across the treeless prairie.  Morton’s Arbor Day, held in early April on his birthday, was first and foremost concerned with “economic conservation” and the majority of trees planted in those early years were in wind rows to shelter farm fields. By contrast, Birdsey Northrop and his followers were driven by a more aesthetic and “moral” concern for village improvement; his Arbor Day was launched in 1876 in the nation’s centennial year. Over time the efforts and celebration of both movements merged. More recently, growing concerns over oil spills, air and water pollution, loss of habitat, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, pushed the broader topic of environmental protection onto the national political agenda. In 1970 the first Earth Day, also in April but one week earlier than Arbor Day, was held in hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. That same year Congress created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health and the environment through the writing and enforcement of environmental regulations in every state and territory.

 

Chris Dalla Riva

Hot Dogs and History in One Bun

By Brian Thomas

Some things are constant in Kent. The Ice Watch. Bulls’ Bridge. The schools. And since 1979, Chris Dalla Riva’s hot dog stand on Route 7. He’s been there every summer, witnessing Kent history unfolding under his blue and yellow umbrella. Chris Dalla Riva 1979 original

He hasn’t always been at the same spot. Selling hot dogs started as a project for him and his brothers back when Jimmy Carter was president. The boys stationed themselves on a grass island next to what was then the Gulf station (now Patco). His brothers moved on to other things, but Chris donned the apron every summer. After some years he migrated a little bit south to his current location.

He’s seen a great deal change over the years. “There used to be many more gas stations in town. Now it’s only Patco.” He wonders why there are so few these days. Better mileage, maybe, or tighter environmental rules? Such are the thoughts that occur as customers roll up and place their orders.

Another curious feature he’s noticed – Main Street used to be far more wooded. Storms and other bad weather have punished the tress that used to line the road. Economic development and street widening took out some. Various blights and trees diseases have played their role.

Chris Dalla Riva resizedThe constants might be more important than the differences. The stand has always served as a meeting place. People can spread out to the various picnic tables that mark the site. It’s a convivial spot, where a surprising amount of town business and socializing gets transacted. Relationships have started and ended at those picnic tables.

What’s a misconception that people have about you? “Everybody thinks I go to Florida on what I make doing this. I don’t go to Florida. Selling hot dogs won’t sustain me for a year.” During the winter he works as an electrician for long-time KHS friend and benefactor John Gleason. But he’ll be back in the spring. “I love doing it. It makes me feel connected to the town.”

Signature Quilt

Kent Quilters creating signature quilt to benefit
Kent Historical Society

The Kent Historical Society is excited to be the beneficiary of the Kent Quilters newest project – a “signature quilt,” which will permanently preserve signatures from full- and part-time Kent residents.

For a suggested minimum donation of $5 residents are able to sign a muslin square in permanent ink by Feb. 15 by stopping into the Town Clerk’s Office in Kent Town Hall during quilt 1business hours. All proceeds are being given to the Historical Society.

Signature quilts were very popular in the 19th century and groups used it as a form of fundraising, selling off the opportunity to sign the quilt and then raffling off the quilt itself. The Kent Historical Society featured both of its signature quilts during a presentation in January 2014 by quilt expert Sue Reich of Washington.

KHS Curator Marge Smith has said that another added benefit of signature quilts is that genealogists can use these quilts as a way to determine who lived in a town.

“It will help us capture the town of Kent at a point in time that eludes census records. We are in the middle of the census cycle,” Smith said, adding that this time is called a “dark spot” for researchers. “Genealogists sometimes get very frustrated by trying to prove who is in town at a certain time.”

quilt 2Jane Zatlin, who is the group coordinator for the Kent Quilters, said the group enjoys working together on community quilts. The group decided that it would rather donate the quilt to the Society’s collection, rather than raffle it off.

Once the signatures are complete, the Kent Quilters will meet at Town Hall one Saturday a month to plan and make the quilt.

The Kent Historical Society’s mission is to collect, preserve, interpret and present the rich history of Kent as well as to provide educational and research material to enrich the public understanding of Kent’s artistic and cultural heritage.

For more information, call 860-927-4587.

Rescuing the Past with Marie Camp

Rescuing the Past with Marie Camp

by Brian Thomas

Marie Camp(Marie Camp passed away quietly on April 15, 2016. )

Marie Camp thumped the arms of her easy chair. She said, “All of a sudden, I’m 96 and I don’t know how.” Along the way, she has become an accomplished watercolorist, a skilled genealogist, and — especially important for the Kent Historical Society — a meticulous recorder of her own past and others.

It’s a complex story. On her mother’s side, her great grandfather owned a tavern in Bonn, Germany. He drew the attention of the authorities by helping emigrants. Worried for his safety, he deeded the tavern to Marie’s great grandmother to sell and emigrated to the United States, and then she followed him to America. His name was Peter Anton Joseph Hittorff, and had a number of children.

Her mother, Matilda Caroline Hittorff, was one of a pair of twins. Nine years older, Marie’s father Gus Neels (Gustave Adolph Neels to the family) worked at the Post Office. “I was a girl in the Bronx,” Marie says, where she attended PS 23. Gus retired young on a pension as part of a New Deal program to make room for younger workers. They moved to Birch Hill in Kent and he sold real estate for a time. They had summer houses: “no insulation,” she recalls.

During the Depression, Marie was working at the Kent Inn, where the Patco station now stands, for about a year, but she didn’t like it. She also attended Kent High School for her final two years. There were 11 people in her class. She met her future husband there. She also completed Crandall’s Secretarial School course and went on to work for the town and South Kent School.

Marie married Phil Camp, a farmer, in 1942. He was five months younger than Marie. He was ordered to stay on the farm for his wartime service, which was called “frozen on the farm.” The young couple had a boy (Bill, who now lives in Myrtle Beach) and a girl, Dianne, in whose house Marie now resides.

Phil was proud of his registered Holsteins. His wife used to grouse that the cows got more care than the family – a chronic complaint in livestock circles. Marie remembers that the First Selectman at the time had a way of showing up a little before dinner time and not leaving, to wangle an invitation.

A shoulder injury forced Phil to give up the cows, and he took several jobs in Wassaic at the mental hospital. To occupy himself, he began writing memoirs of his life as a farmer and submitting them to the Kent Good Times Dispatch. These are vivid firsthand memories of a vanished life, sold as a series of booklets by the Kent Historical Society.

Throughout the years, Marie chronicled the life around her. In fact, she has been keeping records in one form or another since she was 12 years old, asking her uncles and other relatives questions and writing down their answers. “That’s how I got started. I’ve got quite a lot of material. I keep finding connections.”

As younger generations married, Marie’s circle of research expanded. She amassed information on numerous other families in Kent and New Milford. She filled over a hundred of loose-leaf notebooks and boxes with clippings, maps, documents, records, all meticulously organized. In fact, her personal archive is so large that it’s important for more than just Marie’s immediate or even extended family. Marie also acknowledges that her lovingly tended archive needs professional care. That’s why she has agreed to slowly transfer her trove to the Kent Historical Society. Curator Marge Smith said, “We couldn’t be more grateful to have this priceless record. We will make it readily available to all, which will help keep Marie’s project alive for everyone.”