A look at ‘Kent Back Then’ in the mid-20th Century

A look at ‘Kent Back Then’ in the mid-20th Century


The award-winning curator of the Kent Historical Society (as well as the Sharon Historical Society), Marge Smith will take a nostalgic look at Kent life in the mid-20th century, including farming, the village, moving to Kent, and the role that three private schools have played in the town’s life.

“Kent Back Then” will be presented by the Kent Historical Society, as part of its Sunday Series lectures in the Kent Town Hall Sunday, January 21, at 2 p.m.

Advertisement from 1956 Kent Good Times Dispatch

The depth and breadth of Ms. Smith’s knowledge of Kent is the backbone of the Kent Historical Society, and in this interactive discussion with the audience, she will link the past with today using a series of images and old advertisements from Kent’s iconic local newspaper – The Kent Good Times Dispatch, known fondly as The GTD. In its heyday, The GTD had its finger firmly on the pulse of the town, with reporters submitting stories from every corner of town. So, search your memory banks and plan to join us for a fun afternoon.

 

This Sunday Series lecture inaugurates the theme for the Historical Society’s 2018 events, “Our Town: A Sense of Community in the Mid-20th Century.” One goal for the year will be to celebrate the memories of those who lived through the dramatic changes that took place in Kent before and after World War II.

The Kent Historical Society sponsors the Sunday Series in March, May, July, September, and November. Free admission for members; $5 suggested donation for non-members.

For more information please call 860-927-4587.

Holiday House Tour Showcases Historic Homes

Holiday House Tour Showcases Historic Homes

The Kent Historical Society will feature a Historic Holiday House Tour in December to showcase seven historic homes in Kent, CT.

This vintage image of a historic house in South Kent is one of the homes that will be open to the public for the Kent Historical Society’s Holiday Historic House Tour Dec. 10 from noon to 4:30 p.m.

“We are fortunate in Kent to have several Colonial-era buildings (18th Century) that articulate the difference in scale, character and construction that were characteristic of early Connecticut upland vernacular architecture. Many of these houses have been ‘accumulative. as they have seen 19th, 20th and 21st century additions and alterations.  Some retain most of their early fabric and others have evolved over time,” said Bruce Whipple, who is a member of the society’s Board of Trustees and serves as treasurer for the organization.

The tour will take place Sunday, Dec. 10 from noon to 4:30 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $45 online and at the Heron Gallery, Kent Wine & Spirit, and the Kent Town Clerk’s Office. The price jumps to $60 on the day of the tour, so be sure to get your tickets early!

Whipple had the idea for this fundraiser in part due to his own interest in historic architecture and he knew that others would also enjoy seeing what Kent has to offer.

“We knew that patrons would be interested in visiting several homes and seeing them in their current uses.  Each house has a distinct sense of their owner’s tastes and we were pleased that seven families agreed to open their homes for a charitable cause,” Whipple said. “These homes will not disappoint realtors, designers, builders, historians or everyday visitors who come.”

Many of the homes are located in the Kent Hollow section of town. One house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The fun will begin that day at the Swift House, located at 12 Maple Street (also known as Route 341), where day-of tickets may be purchased and ticket holders will be able to get a map to the homes with a brief description of them. The Swift House will be open from 11 a.m. through the afternoon.

Afterwards, everyone participating is invited to gather back at Swift House to share festive beverages at the wassail bowl.

“The cocktail punch reception that will follow at the Swift House will allow patrons a chance to meet and compare their reactions to what they saw during their visits,” Whipple said.

Proceeds from the event will be used by the Kent Historical Society for its operating budget. Our 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.

 

Giving thanks for our volunteers

Giving thanks for our volunteers

The Kent Historical Society would like to acknowledge those who generously helped us with their time and services during the 2017 calendar year. As a small non-profit, we depend on those who share their time with the organization because this allows us to continue to provide events, exhibitions and programming to the community of Kent and the region.

Our thanks to all of you!

Seven Hearths Museum Docents

  • Sue Lopardo, volunteer coordinator
    Curator Marge Smith
    Guest Curator Susan Shepard
    Seven Hearths conservator Jeffrey Morgan
    Catherine Bachrach
    Darlene Brady
    Deb Chabrian
    Karen Chase
    Melissa Cherniske
    Anne and Mike Everett
    Heather Forstmann
    Fran Goodsell
    Lara Hanson
    Rick Levy
    Charlotte Lindsey
    Karina O'Meara
    Linda Palmer
    Ellen Paul
    Jennie Rehnberg
    Jann Tanner
    Lisa Weinblatt
    Bruce Whipple
    Lynn Worthington

Trustees

  • Austi Brown
  • Melissa Cherniske
  • Mike Everett
  • Deb Chabrian
  • Kent Freeman
  • Roger Gonzales
  • Jeffrey Morgan
  • Chris Naples
  • Guy Peterson
  • Bruce Whipple
  • Lynn Worthington

Seven Hearths in Bloom volunteers

  • Deborah Chabrian, co-chair
  • Jeffrey Morgan, co-chair
  • Melissa Cherniske
  • Mike Everett
  • Kent Freeman
  • Roger Gonzales
  • Adriana Martinez
  • Ed Martinez
  • Marge Smith
  • Lyn Stirnweiss
    Brian Thomas
  • Kate Vick
  • James Vick
  • Michael Ward
    Bruce Whipple
    Lynn Worthington
  • J.P. Gifford Market and Catering Company
  • Kent Greenhouse and Garden Center
  • Kent Wine & Spirit
  • Tepoz Tequila

GLN Art Scholarship contributing artists

  • Scott Bricher
  • Deb Chabrian
  • Mike Everett
  • Susan Grisell
  • Bob Lenz
  • Ed Martinez
  • Richard Stalter

Other Volunteers and Contributors...

  • Ky Anderson
  • Sarah Bacon
  • Michael Benjamin
  • Berkshire Taconic Foundation
  • Diane Blick
  • Darlene Brady
  • Christine Branson
  • Austi Brown
  • Kevin Capobianco
  • Patti Case
  • Michael John Cavallaro
  • Zanne    Charity
  • Aiden Cherniske
  • Darrell Cherniske
  • Bonnie Jo Cheron
  • CT Humanities
  • Bobbie  Davis
  • Davis IGA
  • Caroline DeVita
  • Don DeVita
  • Paul Everett
  • Fife ’n Drum
  • Bill Gawel
  • George-Ann Gowan
  • Dan Greenbaum
  • Linda Hall
  • Heron Gallery
  • Alice and Jim Hicks
  • Housatonic Valley Association
  • House of Books
  • Tony Iovino
  • John Gleason and Gleason Electric
  • Kent Barns
  • Kent Center School Wildlife Habitat Committee
  • Kent Coffee & Chocolate
  • Kent Greenhouse
  • Kent Land Trust
  • Kent Lions Club
  • Kent Memorial Library
  • Kent Wine & Spirits
  • Tom Key
  • Joan Larned
  • Kathi Lee
  • Connie Manes
  • Adriana Martinez
  • Alfred W. McCoy
  • Norm Mosher
  • Wendy Murphy
  • National Society Daughters of the Revolution
  • Northwest CT Community Foundation
  • Joanne Pappano
  • Frank Pierzga
  • Martin Podskoch
  • Christina Purcell
  • Catherine Rawson
  • Marel Rogers
  • Nancy Schaefer
  • Ira Smith/ Kent Wine and Spirit
  • Richard Stalter
  • Students from the Kent School
  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
  • The Marvelwood School
  • The Town of Kent
  • Paul Tines
  • Gail Tobin
  • Town Clerk's Office
  • Michael Ward
  • Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust
  • Susi Williams
  • John Worthington

Foods of our Founders


Sunday Series will focus on “Foods of our Founders”

In what promises to be a lively afternoon, self-proclaimed foodie Lola Chen will examine colonial cooking from the ground to the kitchen in mid-18th century Kent. She’ll examine what food was available in Kent in the founders’ era, what foods might have been borrowed from the Native Americans, and how everything would have been prepared. Salted cod, anyone?

“Foods of Our Founders” will be presented by the Kent Historical Society as part of its Sunday Series lectures in the Kent Town Hall Sunday, May 21 at 2:00 p.m.

Chen brings a global perspective to the subject. Educated in the UK and Hong Kong, Chen has traveled the globe and examined foodways and their history wherever she’s gone. She’s a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, and also the Museum Educator at the Wilton Historical Society. She brings an unusual blend of food and cooking excellence, along with a deep historical awareness of how cooking evolved over the years.

The lecture, as well as future Sunday Series events in 2017, helps give context to the Kent Historical Society’s upcoming exhibit in the summer of 2017, “The Founders of Kent,” on the emergence of one New England town in the 18th century. The 2017 Sunday Series events are sponsored by the Kent Barns and the Kent Lions Club.

The Kent Historical Society sponsors the Sunday Series every other month September through May. Free admission for members; $5 suggested donation for non-members.

For more information please call 860.927.4587

Who Saved Otto Klug? Investigating a 75-year-old mystery

Who Saved Otto Klug?
Investigating a 75-year-old mystery

By Peter M. Heimlich, copyright@2017

So-called “alternative facts” are nothing new. Here’s an intriguing example tied to a dramatic, high-profile event that happened about 75 years ago in Litchfield County.

It starts with an August 29, 1941 front page New York Times article, Children Escape in Train Wreck; 2 of Crew Killed, about a massive train wreck in Kent. Six cars carrying hundreds of campers derailed into Hatch Pond. Two trainmen were killed and a third had a leg amputated.

The article concluded with information provided by “Henry Heimlich, 21, of 30 West Ninetieth Street, a sailing counselor at Camp Mah-kee-nac and a pre-medical student at Cornell University, who was… the ‘hero’ of the accident.”

“I was riding in the next-to-the-last coach.” Heimlich related, “when suddenly there was a lurch…I ran forward and jumped out. I saw that the engine and the first car were almost submerged and that the fireman’s leg was caught under the steps of the second car which had overturned. He was lying in about four feet of water.

“He was floundering around, hysterical, and I ran toward him and held his head above the water…”

“He was all black and he was crying that he was afraid he’d lose his leg. Another counselor, Jack Handelsman, who is also a pre-medical student jumped into a boat nearby and rowed out to help me. Then a lot of people came and while I held the fireman up they started digging underneath with their hands, and later with shovels, to free his leg.”

A few months later, the Times published a follow-up item with a photo of the handsome 21-year-old pre-med student receiving an award for bravely saving the life of the train fireman.

The sailing counselor and apparent hero was my father, Henry J. Heimlich MD, who died a couple of months ago. If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because of a choking rescue treatment he first called “the Heimlich method” in the June 1974 medical journal Emergency Medicine. Only two years later, what had been re-named “the Heimlich maneuver” was incorporated into national first aid guidelines. Since then my family name became a household word and my father’s namesake treatment has been credited with saving the lives of thousands of choking victims.

Fast forward to Spring 2002 when my wife Karen and I began researching my father’s career. To our astonishment, we uncovered an unseen history of fraud throughout my father’s career. Most shocking, he’d used nonexistent or fraudulent data in order to promote a string of crackpot medical claims that resulted in serious injuries and deaths.

In order to prevent more harm, we decided to bring the information public attention via the press. Since 2003, our work has been the basis for a couple hundred mainstream media reports that exposed what one medical journal called my father’s “overreach and quackery.”

hjh-press-photo-med
Dr. Henry Heimlich, from Peter Heimlich’s files: A fabulator’s career started in South Kent.

My dad was no slouch when it came to singing his own praises to anyone in earshot and I was no exception.  Most of our time together consisted of him telling me about his achievements and awards, especially after he became famous.

And that was my first problem with the train wreck story – over the decades he never mentioned it to me. I only learned about in the early months of our research when Karen and I happened upon the 1941 New York Times articles.

My interest was piqued, so about 14 years ago, I decided to take a closer look.

Via public libraries in Connecticut, I obtained copies of every article I could find about the headline-making disaster. I also contacted Marge Smith at the Kent Historical Society who sent me some paperwork from their files and put me in touch with Emily Krizan, whose husband, Joseph Krizan Jr., reportedly participated in rescue efforts at the train wreck including helping the trapped fireman, whose name was Otto Klug.

Interestingly, none of the articles and none of the people with whom I communicated said anything about any camp counselor (or my father by name) being involved in the rescue.

Instead, they near-unanimously identified a local resident named Jack Bartovic as the person responsible for holding Klug’s head above water for hours. Local residents Charles Durcher Edwards and Philip Camp were also identified as participants in the rescue.

The most compelling telling was a lengthy August 29, 1941 Waterbury Republican article consisting of detailed interviews with Bartovic and Emily’s husband:

“Joseph Krizan, Jr., had seen the locomotive and cars topple off the track into Hatch Pond at South Kent yesterday as he was mowing the grass in front of his mother’s house, just off the South Kent Road.

He and a friend, Jack Bartovic, ran toward the accident as fast as they could…Krizan was the first person to reach the scene. Bartovic didn’t get into the car, because he saw a man half in and half out of the water, a short distance away at the other end of the car. It was the fireman, Otto Klug, of Seymour.

Bartovic waded in and held Klug’s head above water, for his leg was caught. Later they found it had been almost severed and a doctor wanted to cut it off and get Klug out of there, but Klug said, ‘My leg isn’t bad. I won’t let you cut if off. I’ll wait until the crane gets here and they lift the car off me.’

So Bartovic stayed with him for more than two hours, and the crane lifted the car and then Klug saw that his leg was hanging only by flesh.

Krizan and Bartovic told their stories as they watched the wrecking crew working on the derailed trains in the late afternoon sunlight that slated off the green quiet hills.”

In a March 25, 2003 e-mail, Marge Smith wrote me:

Emily Krizan stopped by here today with some thoughts for me to pass along to you…She got into a discussion with Marge Richards, who is sure HER husband was THE one to hold up Klug’s head. But we feel positive that several people had that task, as the poor man was in the water for many hours. Emily and her husband had a dear friend named Jack Bartovic (no longer alive), who also held up Klug’s head. Many years later, Klug knocked on Jack’s door and came in to thank him for helping to save his life. Jack said he remembered Klug begging them to save his leg because he could feel it.

At the time I also interviewed Jacob “Jack” Handelsman – the camp counselor my father told the Times reporter had “rowed out to help me.” Dr. Handelsman, then a prominent surgeon at Johns Hopkins, said he never heard anything about my father being involved in the rescue. He also didn’t remember anything about a rowboat. When I asked him about my father getting the award for bravery, he expressed surprise because my father never told him about it.

The mystery of the Hatch Pond train wreck resurfaced recently because a December 19 Wall Street Journal obituary about my father repeated the 1941 New York Times version about how my father “held up the head of one of the train workers until help was able to arrive.”

In the course of corresponding with the Journal about the apparent roles of Jack Bartovic and other area residents, I again reached out to the Kent Historical Society. That resulted in a gracious invitation to write this article which I hope generates more information from readers.

To get the ball rolling, I composed and uploaded this page to to my website that includes all articles and related information I’ve obtained: http://medfraud.info/OttoKlug.html

Do you have more documents and/or information to share? If so, please contact me and/or the Kent Historical Society.

Civilian Conservation Corps Camps

CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS CAMPS BOOK TALK & SIGNING

Join the Kent Memorial Library and the Kent Historical Society as they welcome Martin Podskoch of East Hampton, Connecticut on Saturday, March 11, at 2:00 p.m. at the Kent Town Hall, 41 Kent Green Boulevard, Kent. He will discuss and sign copies of his newly published book, Connecticut Civilian Conservation Corps Camps: Their History, Memories and Legacy.

Connecticut Civilian Conservation Corps Camps: Their History, Memories and Legacy is the definitive book that records the CCC experience for the men who helped support their families during the Great Depression with days of hard work, Army discipline, and camaraderie.

This volume is the second state CCC project Marty has completed.  New York State was the first. He learned from the first research effort the skills needed to complete such an all-encompassing history. He interviewed many old men whose fond memories of their youth in the CCC remained vivid. In his interviews Marty found that these men felt great pride in their work with the CCC, that it was a good time in their lives – – for some, the best. Most agree they learned how to get along with many types of people. As you read what each man said you will come to know something of the time, to reach into the past and know what it was to be in the CCC!    

The CCC was a public works program that operated from 1933 to 1942, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It targeted young men and veterans in relief families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression, providing unskilled manual labor related to environmental conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands.

Volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways. In nine years, 2.5 million young men participated in restoring morale and public appreciation of the outdoors.

These young men worked in 21 Connecticut CCC camps while some traveled to Western states to do conservation projects. These interviews and hundreds of marvelous photos of camp life capture the vitality of the young men who worked so hard to improve our forests, which had been ravaged by fires, lumbering, and storms. We must not forget their labors in the woodlands and state parks that continue to be enjoyed by millions today.

Podskoch’s book describes the history and projects of the 21 camps located throughout the state. Camps were located at Housatonic Meadow in Sharon; Stones Ranch in Niantic; Natchaug State Forest (SF) in Eastford; Nipmuck SF in Union; Squantz Pond in New Fairfield; Meshomasic SF in Cobalt and Portland; Pachaug SF in Voluntown; Black Rock SP in Thomaston; Tunxis SF in East Hartland; Mohawk SF in West Goshen; Burr Pond in Paugnut SF;  American Legion SF in Barkhamsted; Salmon River SF in East Hampton; Wooster Mountain SF in Danbury; Shenipsit SF in Stafford Springs; Experiment Station Land in Poquonock; Macedonia Brook in Kent and three camps in Cockaponset SF in Killingworth, Haddam, and Madison.

Enrollees signed up for six months and worked a 40-hour week for $30/mo. The government sent $25 to the enrollee’s family and the enrollee received $5. The young men received good food, uniforms, and medical care. At first they lived in tents; later they lived in wooden buildings. These young men and special camps for war veterans were able to help their families and gain a sense of worth.              

There are hundreds of pictures of the boys at work and at camp, sometimes laboring mightily, other times clowning around or playing on camp teams.

There are excerpts from camp newspapers of cartoons, poems, doggerel, and songs that will delight the reader for this unique window into their lives.

Since most of the boys quit school after 8th grade to help their families, the Army organized evening classes for those who wanted to get a GED, learn vocational skills or just hobbies like photography. In precise detail the reader will see what the boys studied in the education classes, a wide variety of classes from Accounting (practical) to Drawing and Music (entertainment), and life skills.

Scores of interviews with CCC veterans tell each man’s story from early life in a large family trying to help during the hard times. Angelo Alderuccio, from Bristol, worked at the Cobalt CCC camp in 1934. He said, “I was happy joining the CCCs because my mother was going to get some money, and it took me off the streets.”

CCC enrollee, Ed Kelly of Woodbury, said: “I was interested in the CCC because there were no jobs and I had cardboard in my shoes to cover the holes. There were eight children in my family and the money I earned helped my parents.” 

You will follow boys from city and village as they learn of the CCC, enlist, travel away, and become the muscle and bone that built the state parks, water projects, planting trees, and so much more. Their stories continue, most often through WW II, a return home to begin to use what they’d learned. There are stories of their families and their professional lives. After reading one boy’s life journey it is clear how much the CCC helped each one develop the character and purpose they carried through life.  

Marty Podskoch has authored six other books: Fire Towers of the Catskills: Their History and Lore, Adirondack Fire Towers: Their History and Lore, the Southern Districts, Northern Districts and also Adirondack Stories: Historical Sketches and Adirondack Stories II: 101 More Historical Sketches. His travel book, The Adirondack 102 Club: Your Passport & Guide to the North Country, was published in 2014.

This event is free & open to public. His book Connecticut Civilian Conservation Corps Camps: Their History, Memories and Legacy will be available for purchase & signing after the talk. Please register. For more information, call the Library, 860-927-3761; email kmlinfo@biblio.org; stop by the Library; or visit the Library’s online calendar at kentmemoriallibrary.org.

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, visit kenthistoricalsociety.org or call 860-927-4587.

The Kent Memorial Library’s mission is to enrich the lives of individuals and the community by providing materials, programs, and services to encourage reading, learning and imagination. The Kent Memorial Library is located at 32 North Main Street, Kent, Connecticut. Visit kentmemoriallibrary.org for more information.

 

Rods and Chains


Sunday Series focused on “Rods and Chains”
and the unsung hero who surveyed Litchfield County

Who gave the landscape of Kent and the Litchfield Hills its current outline?  According to New Milford historian Michael John Cavallaro, the towns we inhabit today were shaped by one of Connecticut’s unsung heroes — Edmund Lewis, a surveyor who laid out Kent, New Milford, Canaan, and a number of other towns.  Cavallaro spoke at our Sunday Series event on Sunday March 19, 2017.

A rod is 16.5 feet, and a chain is four rods. With these units, brave surveyors like Lewis mapped almost all of Litchfield County. In a highly visual, dramatic presentation, Cavallaro showed how and why the land was carved into its current shapes and boundaries, and explored the implications of decisions made so long ago.

Cavallaro also painted a vivid picture of the circumstances that Lewis and other surveyors endured as they traveled the undeveloped land with their equipment, keeping the records and identifying the likeliest spots for settlement. He presented maps and books for the audience to examine as he brought little-known aspects of the past to life.

The lecture, as well as future Sunday Series events in 2017, helped give context to the Kent Historical Society’s upcoming exhibit in the summer of 2017, “The Founders of Kent,” on the emergence of one New England town in the 18th century. The 2017 Sunday Series events are sponsored by the Kent Barns and the Kent Lions Club.

The Kent Historical Society sponsors the Sunday Series every other month September through May. Free admission for members; $5 suggested donation for non-members.

For more information please call 860.927.4587 or email info@kenthistoricalsociety.org.

A Trio of Grants

A Trio of  Grants Upgrades the
Kent Historical Society’s Archives and Art Storage

The Kent Historical Society recently completed a renovation project that more than doubles the storage available for its art collection and its archives. According to KHS President Mike Everett, “The upgraded Art and Archives Area provides excellent storage space on the society’s property. It will also prevent deterioration and damage to the artwork as well as make far better use of our whole campus. We’re grateful to the three organizations who gave us grants for this project: Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.”

Like many nonprofits, the Kent Historical Society puzzles over finding more space. The need had become acute since they discovered that the second floor of Seven Hearths, where they had been storing the artwork of George Laurence Nelson, was a Colonial-era fur trading operation. That meant we needed to move the paintings…. But where?

A timely visit from Richard L. Kerschner, Conservation Consultant on Museum Environments, suggested a way forward. Kerschner pointed out that the largely unused space in the Tallman House basement was in fact dry, tight, and structurally just fine for art and archival storage.

This opened up some possibilities. The Society realized that they could move George Laurence Nelson’s paintings there, and have a better environment for the works on paper, which had been suffering at Seven Hearths. With the proper outfitting,the same space in Tallman’s basement could also house the Society’s archives, which would free up space on the first floor of Tallman.

To address these issues, the KHS applied for three grants aimed at renovating the Tallman lower floor for storage of paintings and archives. The grants were carefully structured to cover different phases of this renovation.

The Society was awarded $4,000 from the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation from the Edwin M. Stone and Edith H. Stone Fund, aimed at the basic reconditioning of the basement — removing an unnecessary oil tank and a furnace, and preparing the walls and floor.

The Daughters of the American Revolution supplied $5,000 for Historic Preservation. Once the KHS explained the relation of the Tallman basement renovation to the fur trading post, they agreed to support us, too. The DAR money covered additional outfitting to make the space suitable for archival work.

More ambitiously, we applied for $17,394 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to custom-build a storage module for the paintings and artwork. The IMLS grant is the Society’s first federal grant ever we’ve ever received. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant to KHS was one of 206 museum projects awarded that totaled $21 million. The museums were selected from a pool of 548 applications to the highly competitive Museums for America grant program.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries (link is external) and 35,000 museums. Their mission has been to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. For the past 20 years, their grant making, policy development, and research has helped libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow the IMLS on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Florence Maybrick

Arsenic and Injustice ~ The Trials of Florence Maybrick
By Brian Thomas

Her tale stretched from Alabama to England, and ended on the grounds of the South Kent School. Locally known as a solitary cat lady in shaky mental health, only a few neighbors realized that she had been one of the most notorious women of the 19th century, and the victim of a galling injustice. Her name was Florence Maybrick.

Florence Elizabeth Chandler was the daughter of a banker who was once the mayor of Mobile. On a ship to England, Florence caught the eye of a wealthy cotton dealer, James Maybrick. She was 19, he was 42. They married in 1881, and settled in Liverpool, where her beauty and her husband’s wealth guaranteed their social status. They had two children, James and Gladys. But James Maybrick had many mistresses, and even fathered five children with one.  More perilously, hypochondria and an addictive streak led him to experiment with poisonous chemicals, including arsenic. At the time, arsenic was a recreational drug.

Unhappy with her husband, Florence took lovers herself. When Maybrick learned of her affairs, in a fine piece of Victorian hypocrisy he became enraged and threatened to divorce her. He tore up his will and wrote a new one that left Florence almost nothing.

James Maybrick fell ill in April 1889 after a self-administered double shot of strychnine and declined rapidly. In May, with her husband dying, Florence wrote an affectionate letter to a lover, which a disgruntled servant intercepted and passed to Maybrick’s brother, Michael. Michael loudly declared that Florence had poisoned his brother, and had her held under house arrest.

James Maybrick died at on May 11, 1889. His brothers ordered an autopsy, which revealed faint traces of arsenic, but not a fatal dose, especially not for an out-of-control user like James. Nor could they prove that Maybrick didn’t deliberately take the poison himself. Some of the specifics looked incriminating, though. Florence had bought arsenic-laden flypaper around this time to lighten her complexion, she said — also a common practice at the time.

Despite the rickety evidence, Florence Maybrick was charged with his murder and stood trial in Liverpool. The prosecutor’s summation claimed that Maybrick’s extramarital affair meant that her guilt was certain. She was convicted and sentenced to death, later commuted to imprisonment for 15 years.

From a modern legal point of view, the trial was outrageously defective. The Maybrick family held Florence incommunicado. British law prevented her from mounting a defense or giving any testimony on her own behalf (though she was allowed to read a statement). She couldn’t point out that her late husband’s stingy new will gave her a strong motive for keeping him alive as long as possible. Nor were there any courts of appeal.

What’s more, the judge, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, had never really recovered from a paralyzing seizure three years before the trial. A legal observer at the Maybrick trial said that had never heard “such a pathetic exhibition of incompetence and inaccuracy” by a judge. In charging the jury, he spoke for twelve hours (over two days) about the defendant’s wickedness and immorality. But in England there was no mechanism for removing a judge, no matter how impaired.

During the 1890s, her supporters produced new evidence of James Maybrick’s prodigious recreational arsenic use, but without the possibility of an appeal, the Home Office would not relent. King Edward VII finally pardoned her in 1904, after 14 years in prison. Broke, she returned to the United States. For a while she earned a living on the lecture circuit, explaining her innocence and arguing for reforms in women’s prisons, but her spirit tottered from her ordeals. She drifted for some years. English law was eventually reformed to prevent the abuses that led to her imprisonment, too late to help her.

In 1918, Florence had to earn some money. A supporter referred her to Henrietta Banwell, who wanted a housekeeper in Gaylordsville. With funds from supporters, she bought less than an acre in South Kent and built a tiny house. She told everyone her name was Florence Chandler.

She never said a word of her past. A visitor saw a photo of a baby in her cabin. When asked, she said it was the child of an old friend of hers. In fact, it was one her own children, whom she hadn’t seen since her imprisonment.

Sometime in the 1920s, she gave a black lace dress to her Kent neighbor Genevieve Austin and her sister-in-law Alvy Austin. They noticed a drycleaners ticket for “Florence Maybrick.” Austin wrote to a cousin who was a librarian, who wrote back with the piping hot news from over 30 years earlier. Austin told her husband, Tom, and her cousin Connie Kissam. Out of kindness, they chose to reveal nothing. They protected Florence’s privacy, which was almost the only thing she had left.

maybrick-late-p1_edited-1By 1926, nobody was allowed in the cabin except her cats, and she didn’t make eye contact or pay bills. She was seen around town occasionally, but she kept to herself. Boys from South Kent School would bring her firewood. Her neighbors helped her through the Depression years. Pop Conkrite looked in on when she fell ill, and discovered her body in October, 1941.

Once she died, the Austins revealed her identity, and a flurry of press interest rehashed how her life had been poisoned by Victorian sexism, and how the case changed English law. The press emphasized every aspect of her life except the final one — as a tragic neighbor in Kent.

 

The Howling Wilderness

“The Howling Wilderness: Western Connecticut in the 18th Century”

howling-wilderness-1-22-17-and-rods-and-chains-3-19-17This video is the entire talk from Jan. 22

Michael Everett, the President of the Kent Historical Society and an Emeritus Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, discussed the conditions in Western Connecticut at the beginning of the 18th century, during a Sunday Series talk on Sunday January 22 at the Kent Town Hall.

The Revolutionary period is often viewed as the starting point of Kent’s history, but the town was founded well before that. Through the entire period, the Puritan view of the countryside as a “howling wilderness” had theological and cultural consequences, which Everett will explore as he examines the natives and settlers, changing agricultural and ownership ideas, and more.

The lecture, as well as future Sunday Series events in 2017, helps give context to the Kent Historical Society’s upcoming exhibit in the summer of 2017, “The Founders of Kent,” on the emergence of one New England town in the 18th century.

This year’s Sunday Series lectures are sponsored by Kent Barns and the Kent Lions Club. The Society extends its thanks for their generosity to make this program possible.

The Kent Historical Society sponsors the Sunday Series every other month September through May. Free admission for members; $5 suggested donation for non-members.