Jewish People Contributed Much To City

The old Brothers of Joseph Synagogue stood proudly on West Main Street. It was a historic monument to the Jewish community that first settled on the West Side.

The old Brothers of Joseph Synagogue stood proudly on West Main Street. It was a historic monument to the Jewish community that first settled on the West Side.

Once upon a time, Brothers of Joseph Synagogue stood on West Main Street on the west side of town, an old wood-frame with stucco exterior and a steel fire escape. Today, the Orthodox Jewish community enjoys their beautiful synagogue on Broad and Washington streets.

In Norwich, the first Jewish settlers passed through the West Side, where later many nationalities would settle in Norwich’s greatest melting pot. The Congregation Brothers of Joseph Synagogue begins way back in 1883, when Jewish immigrants gathered and called themselves the Congregation of Norwich. The name, Brothers of Joseph, was established in 1886 when Kive Lahn was awarded the honor of naming the synagogue. He named it for his son, Joseph, the first born to Russian Jews in Norwich.

Through the years, I have been so blessed with Jewish friends who helped me in so many ways, and some served as mentors. Charlie Simon, who once owned Simon Ford, trained me to become a stockbroker. When he died unexpectedly, I took over his brokerage accounts. As a young man without many clients, Jewish investors stayed with me while I established my business. No one helped me more than the flamboyant attorney, Sam Safenovitz.

Working in my office was a wonderful man, much like a second father to me, a very devout and wise Orthodox Jew, Saul Agranovitch. One Holy Thursday my wife, Peggy, invited Saul and his wife to supper. He was so delighted that we celebrated Holy Thursday as Passover, and we actually had the Seder supper in our home. He cried tears of joy.

The Jewish people in Norwich have done so much for this community that after the high holiday, I think it is appropriate to recall some of the great names worthy of remembrance. Cat Silverman, in my mind, will always be the father of Little League baseball in Norwich. Stan Israelite, more than anyone or anything thing else, put Norwich on a new industrial footing, but he had the help of Milton Jacobson — “Uncle Miltie.”

In the 1950s, there was Sen. Joe Goldberg, who demanded a two-lane highway, know as Interstate 395, through Eastern Connecticut. Joe also had help in Gov. Abe Ribicoff.

List Goes On

There are so many names who, down through the years, have done so much. Rutherford Swatzburg dedicated much to The William W. Backus Hospital, and builder Isadore Berkman created the Loew’s Poli-Sears Roebuck building. There was Dr. Lewis Sears, Norwich Free Academy’s legendary school physician, Judge Harry Schwartz, for whom Schwartz Manor was named, Aldermen Oscar Silverman, Ab Levin and prosecutor Mickey Globerman.

Main Street merchants included the Silbermans, Adelmans, Schwartz Brothers, Feister & Raucher and Mandells. Remember Joe Sadinsky’s Boy Shop, Julie Berk’s Young Folks’ Shop, Trachtenbergs, H.A. Bruckner, Harry Kline, Ben Bruckner and that wonderful fellow, Sam Rabinovitch? Each of these names have memories for the people of Norwich.

There were other names: John Meyer of Norwich, Joe Greenstein, Harry Swatsburg and Bob Welling. There were Norwich’s two corporation counsels, Orrin Carashick, who often served as city manager, and Gurdon Silverberg. Gurdon’s brother, Orrin Silverberg was the best alderman Norwich ever had. He was honest and totally dedicated to his family, his faith and his community. He died a very young man.

Don’t Want to Forget

As I write this story, so many names come to mind. The danger of this type of column is you overlook or forget someone, and for this I apologize. But let me mention a few: The Levys, Slosbergs, Seders and Marshall Meyer, who became a rabbi for all of South America. He was brilliant, and we were all classmates and good friends.

Some time ago, I got a call from a rabbi who many will remember. His name is Mitchell Geller, then a resident of Baltimore. He was in town to perform a wedding, and I was so happy he called. Many years ago, the rabbi was so flattering. At the time I was a state senator, and he wanted me to give the spiritual message. As he introduced me, he didn’t use my title. He said, “Bill Stanley, the only Roman Catholic Jew I have ever known.”

That night I spoke to the congregation and said that the people always get what they deserve in politics and in business, so I said the Congregation Brothers of Joseph deserved their beautiful new temple.

Today, I would like not only to remember the Jewish contributions of the past, but to wish today’s Jewish community, though I am a week late, a happy and healthy new year. Shalom to all of our Jewish friends and neighbors.

Completion Of Routes 2, 11 Looks Unlikely

BILL STANLEY photo The Norwich Trade School constructed a model of the proposed plan for Route 2 around Norwich in 1966, complete with the houses, streets, rivers and intersections in great detail. From left are Kathleen Materas, Henry S. Fillebrown and Norman Moran.

BILL STANLEY photo The Norwich Trade School constructed a model of the proposed plan for Route 2 around Norwich in 1966, complete with the houses, streets, rivers and intersections in great detail. From left are Kathleen Materas, Henry S. Fillebrown and Norman Moran.

Once upon a time, back in 1966, I was a senator representing Norwich and eight other surrounding towns. Because I fought my way into the Senate, John Bailey gave me just about anything I wanted without legislation.

John Bailey was the Democratic chairman who ran the state of Connecticut. In those days in politics, there was a discipline, and, in my years, the Senate was in perfect balance … that is, almost perfect balance. There were 19 Democrats and 17 Republicans — a total of 36 senators. So, if one Democrat voted the wrong way, there was an 18-to-18 tie. The lieutenant governor would have to break the tie.

There were times that I voted against my party for the benefit of the people in my district, but very often, talking to commissioners, you could get pretty much what you wanted on a handshake. I worked hard to get the commissioners to become friends. In fact, during my two terms, almost every state commissioner had dinner at the Stanley home, with one exception — the commissioner of Motor Vehicles, Commissioner Tynan of Middletown — who always avoided me because I fought the party and won.

In those days, the Commissioner of Transportation, Roads and Bridges — the Department of Transportation as they call it now — was Howard Ives. He lived in North Stonington. We liked each other, and we often had breakfast at Mara’s Drug Store on Franklin Square.

I told him, when we first met, that I was going to fight to have Route 2 through or around Norwich completed. His response was “Good luck!,” which was his way of saying what they are saying today about Route 11. Everybody says we are going to do it, but during these last 30 years it hasn’t been done. Of course, Route 2 is still incomplete, dating back to the early 1960s.

The officials of the Department of Transportation, I belive, are woefully inadequate. It takes them a month to do a job they should do in a few days. Their past highway design, done by those who are all retired, was nothing short of a nightmare.

Just One Problem

One Friday morning, in 1965, I sat down with Howard Ives and told him that I had a plan that would get traffic around Norwich without going down Washington Street or Broadway, and it would relieve the traffic in Norwich and make travel so much easier for the through-traffic. He said to me, “You’ve got the solution?”

I said, “Yes, sir. I hired an airplane and flew around Norwich, around and around. Then it became very clear.” I said, “If you exit Route 2, where it now enters into New London Turnpike, and cut down to the location of the Canada Bridge, crossing the water, and then follow the railroad tracks to Thames Square, then cutting over the marina, over the Laurel Hill Bridge to Fox Hill, and rejoin Route 2 where Foxwoods’ parking lot now is.”

He looked at the aerial photos I had. He smiled and said, “There is only one thing wrong with it, Bill.”

I said, “What’s that, commissioner?”

He said, “My people didn’t design it.” And you know, the wise, old commissioner was right. The plan was good, and it would have worked perfectly. But my fight came from within the Department of Transportation. I was even able to get the money — about $60 million — but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get Route 2 through the Senate or the House.

I lived in East Great Plain and watched what DOT has done with millions and millions of dollars at Exit 80. I do think their work and planning is excellent. The intersection is better for their work, but, of course, one has to ask: Why in the world didn’t they do it right first time?

There was a fellow named Bud Shugrue, whose folks came from Norwich. After Howard Ives, Bud Shugrue, also a dear friend, became commissioner. Bud and I were very close. He often explained the politics in the Highway Department.

It was Bud Shugrue who developed the viaduct that carries traffic around Norwich, behind the railroad station, connecting Laurel Hill, Shetucket Street and Burnham Square and taking most traffic out of downtown. Bud Shugrue had common sense and still, like the senator from the 19th, he had trouble getting certain pet projects through the legislative process.

Still Unfinished

Route 2 should have been completed in 1960. Now, 49 years later, they don’t even talk about completing Route 2, and it probably never will be completed. Route 11, as badly as it is needed, will not be completed. The design of many of the cloverleafs on Interstate 395 and Route 2 are so dangerous, yet they will never be changed.

Bud Shugrue told me over lunch one day that they had done a study — not official, but a hypothetical study — around 1965 of how many lanes you would need along Interstate 95 to accomodate peak volume traffic; it would require 22 lanes in each direction. He said that would be 44 lanes total, but, he said with a shrug, “I’ll be gone by then.”

But, wild as it seems, it’s possible that to accomodate traffic in today’s world would probably take 22 lanes of traffic in each direction.

Personally, I have many friends with the DOT. Those guys who drive the snowplows in the winter, and the fellows who reconstruct our many highways are not the ones at fault. It seems the design is, but, in fairness, when they built the turnpike in the 1950s, everything in East Great Plain was farmland.

The O’Neill farm is the one I remember best, as my high school girlfriend’s grandparents lived there, and my sixth-grade teacher, Mimi O’Neill, lived there. The farm was sold, and Ames Department Store built a shopping center. In later years, they built the Sheraton Hotel, and then, even later, Jim Cronin’s Dime Bank headquarters was established on Salem Turnpike. Of course, the real traffic generators were Walmart and Big Y.

Who in the world would ever have guessed that farmland would all become high-traffic-volume retail space? But, in truth, the highway department should have know that all the cloverleafs would ultimately be centers of high-volume traffic, and they are.

From the Massachusetts line to New York, most of the cloverleafs are big traffic generators with shopping malls everywhere. It isn’t uncommon that we overlook the potential of the future.

Sold Too Soon

Some years ago, I and a fellow named Ed Gravelin, created a 50/50 partnership and built about 97 luxury apartments on land Stanleys owned in the Industrial Park. We built them in 1976 and sold them in 1986. We thought the sale was overpriced, but if we had only hung onto those apartments, the mortgage would have totally been paid off, and the rent from 97 apartments would have earned something like $100,000 per month. So, before I am too critical of the highway department, I should look in the mirror. That was one the worst mistakes of my life — selling too soon.

But, my experience, even after I was no longer a senator, was very good with the state, especially highway. I was a Democrat, still am, though it becomes harder and harder to be Democrat these days.

For many years, the highway department would answer my phone calls and, very often, do minor jobs that were needed. Today, regrettably, I don’t know anyone at the DOT, and I have become a critic — maybe unfairly — but my criticism is not of the highway department employees, but the design and administrative people.

I guess this morning I am being a crotchety old man, and for that I apologize. But, when there is an accident on 95, maybe somebody could tell me why it takes four hours to clear the highway when, at Mohegan Sun, the same accident would be cleared in 20 minutes. Private enterprise, I suppose.

West Side Was Home City’s Best

An aerial view looking east, West Side in the foreground and the city of Norwich in the background.

An aerial view looking east, West Side in the foreground and the city of Norwich in the background.

Once upon a time, the West Side was made up of several neighborhoods, each with its own character and ethnic base. There was not one West Side; there were many.

One of the many neighborhoods, the lower West Side, at the time this picture was taken, was made up ethnically of a large Jewish population — the Jennis, Crumb, Fox, Swatzburg and Hankin families — and a large Italian population, and most of them from Tusca, Sicily. There were the Grillos, DeNovellises, Maioranos, Tusias, Macionis, DeSios, Christinas, Longos and the Culottas.

There were others, to be sure; the Hazams and the Haddads. Greek names included the Nickolas, Pappas, George and John families. There were numerous black families, prominent among them the Scotts, Ruleys, DeBarros and Brewers. There were a few Irish — the Caulfields, Falkners, and Ryans — and the Polish neighbors included the Tribensky, Straub, Buckowicz and Suplicki families along Spring Street, High Street and Summit Street.

The West Side was a closely knit and friendly community, all eager to help one another in times of need. People of all nationalities, faiths and races lived together, worked together and struggled together to provide for their families.

If there was one outstanding quality about the lower West Side, it was how everyone helped each other and the pride they had in their homes and in their neighborhoods. Perhaps the unity came because so many had labored to learn the language and the customs and overcome the prejudices of the new world.

Thames Square was the center of their world, with Julius Cooper’s Drug Store, Segal’s Dry Goods and Bokoff’s.  Saul and Izzy Budnick ran the fish market, Miller’s, and Weiner’s Grocery stores were located on the corners of High and West Main streets, as was Hertz’s Meat Market.

Werman’s Shoe Factory provided a great deal of the employment, as did several  mills in the area. Two of the largest automobile agencies in town were Lou Goldberg’s Blue Ribbon Pontiac and Jacob’s West Side Garage, which sold, I believe, DeSotos and Plymouths. Then, of course, there was Cip’s Grinders, DiMaggio’s Shoe Repair, Milbouer’s Community Bakery, DePinto’s Grinders and Grocery, and many others.

Around Thames Square, which doesn’t exist today, there was a city within a city. There was a Kosher meat market just over the bridge, next to West End Hardware. And while many — if not most — of the residents from the lower West Side had come to America as immigrants, they struggled and worked, and, by the time I took this photo, they owned their own homes, and their children were going to college.

A Closer Look

Today, many of Norwich’s most prominent, successful and valuable citizens grew up on the West Side.

The West Side story is a composite of so many activities that we will, in the weeks and months ahead, tell the stories individually with photos taken throughout the neighborhoods.

As old timers look at this picture today, they will acknowledge the heart of the West Side hasn’t just changed — it is gone completely. The entire center of this photo that housed hundreds of families and was part of Norwich’s history has yielded to a new highway and redevelopment.

Once upon a time, there was a lower West Side that was the golden gate of opportunity to many immigrants. It is now a part of history that must be committed only to memory.

Group Wants Presidential Library In Norwich

Harry Truman 1949 Navy Day New York City Hall

Navy Day 1949 at New York City Hall. Harry Truman gives a great welcoming wave and smile to photographer Bill Stanley.

Once upon a time, America had a president whose ratings were lower than George. W. Bush’s. They accused him of everything, and in 1949, every commentator and newspaper in the country said Harry Truman couldn’t possibly win. In fact, Harry Truman did win against all odds.

The Democratic Party was split two ways. The Dixiecrats, all of the Democrats from the Southern states, had walked out of the convention, and Strom Thurmond ran for president, representing Southern Democrats.

The governor of New York was Thomas Dewey, popular and sure to win. The Chicago Tribune was so sure Dewey would win that it went to press with the headline “Dewey beats Truman.” It was Harry Truman, known as “Give ’em hell Harry,” who won the election. As they said at the time, nobody loved Harry — except the people.

Today, looking back, Harry Truman was a great president. The reason I mention this this morning is because I truly believe in one of his most famous quotes. Harry Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history we don’t know.” Here in Norwich, we have so much history, and not even the residents know about it.

This year, there was a new historical group formed in Norwich. It is an offspring of the Norwich Historical Society, but it will stand alone with a single purpose. The purpose of the Forgotten Founders is to establish in Norwich a presidential library that will celebrate 14 great Americans.

While every president has a presidential library, the Forgotten Founders are those men who were presidents of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. They have been completely forgotten, never recognized, and there is no library to celebrate their accomplishments, which were monumental.

The Forgotten Founders will have one purpose — to establish a library for the 14 men who were presidents of the Continental Congress, three of whom were actually presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled under our first Constitution, known as the Articles of Confederation.

Included in the presidential library will be a center for the study of the first Constitution, which few people know about, but which served as the foundation for today’s Constitution put together by well-known-founders — Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington and so many giants whose names come to mind on reflecting of the birth of this nation.

The Forgotten Founders of Norwich have had preliminary talks with the Chelsea Gardens with the hope that if the two groups work together we may access more funds and create a great site for the presidential library and a great public attraction for Norwich’s botanical gardens. Nothing has been decided, only preliminary talks.

The Forgotten Founders will be seeking support of the community, the state, the federal government and many foundations for substantial gifts … foundations like the Ford Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Carnegie Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. These great philanthropic organizations have been generous to many foundations that were once a dream and are now a reality.

It is our intent to invite all 13 states to participate, though we can expect that states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York will compete for the library because so much of our history happened in those states as well.

Connecticut

But it was Connecticut, and more particularly Norwich, that offered Samuel Huntington, who was president of the Continental Congress on Nov. 1, 1781, when Maryland finally became the last state to ratify the Articles of Confederation, and we first became a nation of the world — the United States of America — no longer the United Colonies of America.

The first Constitution proclaimed that whoever was president of the Continental Congress would also serve as “His Excellency, President of the United States in Congress Assembled.”

On the day we became a national for the first time, Norwich’s Samuel Huntington was president of the Continental Congress, and, with the ratification of the 13 states, he automatically became the first president of the United States in Congress Assembled under  the Articles of Confederation.

Personal Research

I didn’t know that until the work began to restore Samuel Huntington’s tomb. At that time, I was searching everywhere for information on Huntington. I contacted two very learned and famous historians — Gen. Dave Palmer and internationally known historian Thomas Fleming, thought by many to be the greatest authority on the history of the American Revolution.

Palmer was superintendent of West Point for years and told me of the Articles of Confederation and how badly they worked. While Huntington was technically the first president, the presidency then as nothing like today’s presidency.

Fleming, author of many volumes including “Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America,” “Liberty! The American Revolution” and “Washington’s Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge,” said a presidential library for all 14 men is something that should be done, as these men put on the line their treasures and their very lives. Had we lost the war, all 14 of them would have been executed for treason.

It will be a long, hard climb, but if we, the Forgotten Founders of today in Norwich, can’t finish the project, at least we can launch it, and others who follow may finish the project.

This would be a national historic site, in the words of Fleming, and would create tourism traffic for the average American and a center for study for students and professors of history. According to Fleming, “Visitors will come from every state in our current union to discover how Americans learned to govern themselves as a nation.”

The Forgotten Founders will have two boards of directors; one to raise money and to build and operate the facility. The second board of directors will be nationally recognized historians who will determine the curriculum and will be in total control of the academic and historical nature of both the library and the study center for our first Constitution.

Ambitious it is, but it is even more deserving to give recognition to the men who made it happen — who today are known as the Forgotten Founders.

Navy Day

This morning’s picture was taken on Navy Day, 1949, at Town Hall in New York City. I took it and had to break police lines to get close enough for this particular photo. As it happened, I  had misplaced the pass the Secret Service had given and had to get the picture for the Sunday paper. Truman referred to the young photographer (who raced across the square with half of New York’s police following in pursuit) saying, “When the photographer got 15 feet from me, I raised my hand and gave him a good picture.”

This morning’s picture is that photo. In 1949, I lived in New York, went to photographic school in the morning and work afternoons and evenings as an apprentice photographer with The New York Herald Tribune. It was a great chapter of life, and I am very proud of this photo of one of my favorite presidents.

War Creates Bonds We Have Lost

The men of the 745th marched through Franklin Square enroute to the railroad station.

The men of the 745th marched through Franklin Square enroute to the railroad station.

Once upon a time, it seemed everyone you knew was a veteran. Of course, I grew up during World War II when, if you could walk, you were in uniform. Those veterans saved the world, as America has done so often.

It is so hurtful to our fighting men when some of our own people will criticize America. We, as a nation, are the greatest nation on earth. Though we have our faults, one of them is not a lack of courage or care for our fellow man. Today, it is hard to find a young man who is a veteran, and a majority of American men have never worn the uniform of this nation.

Back in 1950, when I was trying to establish a photographic business, and my brother, Jim, was graduating NFA, Americans were fighting in Korea. Harry Truman was president, and he called the Korean War a “police action.” Korea was a war, and 54, 299 American servicemen were killed in action.

There are today Vietnam veterans who, I believe, make up the majority of younger veterans. Of course, today we are fighting two wars, and we have spilled a lot of blood of young men and women who have given their lives for their country.

Most veterans don’t see combat, but they do surrender their freedom to a greater cause — their country. They are not free to come and go as they please. They are told what to do and when to do it. I did benefit from my stay in the Marine Corps and am proud of the fact that I am a veteran and will always be a Marine. I went into the Marines a boot and was honorably discharged a staff sergeant.

There is a discipline that our veterans had to learn that I think would be so good for all young men. When you read of the gang wars in New Haven and Hartford, I can’t help thinking if every young man in America had to spend a year or two in the military, the streets of major cities would be a lot safer, because the Army, Navy, Coast Guard or Air Force have a way of teaching young men what authority  means, and you learn quickly to respect it. I think military training is good for a man and does make you feel grateful for the lessons you learn and the comrades you make.

This coming Wednesday, Nov. 11, is Veteran’s Day, and we should think and pray for our veterans of all wars.

Military Life

When Jim and I joined the Marine Corps, we had no idea what military life was like. Our first night at Parris Island, we laid awake, both wondering why in the world we had joined the Corps. I am sure the same is true of Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force veterans. The training is not glamorous.

Jim and I joined the Marine Corps, although, in 1950, they were drafting men into the military.  All of Eastern Connecticut, during World War II, was very much a Navy area.

So many sailors from all over the country were stationed at the submarine base, and many families, the Stanley’s among them, would invite sailors or coastguardsmen to Sunday dinner. There was always a sailor or coastguardsmen at our Thanksgiving dinner as well as Christmas and Easter.

War is a terrible thing, but the one thing that it does do is bring a nation together, and it does increase appreciation for the veteran who is, after all, offering his life for this nation and all of us.
Better Generals

There was a time when I was part of a Fourth of July cookout and was introduced to a former Nazi SS commander. He was insulted when I refused to shake his hand. He went on to lecture me about the super race, which he was part of. He literally shouted the Nazis were better than the Americans.

My response was, “The people you hate, the Jews, the Poles and the blacks, all put down their six packs of beer and bowling balls, went over and beat you after you had prepared for war for 20 years. We also had greater generals.”

He said, “Who, besides Patton?”

I said, “We had General Motors, General Dynamics and General Election.”

His response was, “Ya, Ya. Your generals beat us.”

Today, as America takes apart its great industrial might, I wonder, if we were to get into a world war in the future, what would we do without the great generals of industry to supply the goods for the fighting men.

On Wednesday, stop and think of what this country has paid for peace in the world, and think of the sacrifice that Joe Blow, American veteran, has made for you. Let’s all pray for the safety of those young men and women fighting two wars for the good of the world and to stop terrorism.

Missed Benefits

It is indeed an honor to be a veteran, and I wish there were more young men today that would become part of the military. The pay is not bad, and the opportunity, now and in the future, is great. A side benefit is the training, which is excellent, and military training prepares you for so many things in later life.

It is easy for people who haven’t been there to look at the news and the men and women, but for those in combat zones, there is so much they have given up that we don’t even think of.

In Korea, the temperature was tropical in the summer. In the winter, it fell to 30 and 40 degrees below zero. There were no warm showers in the winter; no cool showers in the summer. Simple things like bathrooms and hot meals were seldom available.

It is so easy to forget, but, of course, guys my age lived during World War II, when America’s military might was 16 million men strong.

Thousands were killed in a single day. During that terrible war, more than 400,000 of the “greatest generation” were killed in action. Today’s wars are different, as the enemy doesn’t have uniforms, nor do they carry flags, nor do they have any purpose except hate.

While we may not like the war we are fighting, someone has got to put out the evil that extreme terrorists have imposed on the world.

You can’t pick and chose your wars, but once you get in, the one thing we, as a nation, should do is support the troops that are under fire with everything they need, including our prayers.

There’s No Replacement For Aliano

Once upon a time, about 37 years ago, my brother, Jim, then director of the Norwich Chamber of Commerce, told me about a most wonderful man who had come to town. “Bill,” he said, “You’ve got to meet this guy. He has so many ideas and so much energy.” So, it came to pass that my brother first introduced me to Ron Aliano.

Ron was then only 28 years old, and I was only 43. But from that day until the day he died, Ron and I became very good friends. We were as different as day and night, but I will say that Ron Aliano was a great treasure that Norwich has now lost.

I have no idea who will take his place, but he changed the face of Norwich more than anyone else I know. He created a world-class marina, which once was only the ruins of an abandoned coal yard.

He built the ambulance business in Norwich from two to a fleet of 27 ambulances today. Norwich can now boast one of the best ambulance services in all of Connecticut. When they arrive with paramedics, you know that you are in good hands.

Ron built the headquarters for American Ambulance on the West Side. Without him and New London County Mutual, the hill would be barren.

I remember the transition. Two very dear friends, Herman Leone and Joe Viadella, owned City Cab, and they ran the ambulance business in Norwich. If you called the hospital — there was no 911 in those days — they would call City Cab and the ambulance would be dispatched to your home. Then, City Cab would radio two taxis to your home, and the taxi drivers would lift you from your bed to the ambulance, and the ambulance driver would drive you to The William W. Backus Hospital. Then, at the hospital, you would be taken from the ambulance.

Many may think it was a real Rube Goldberg ambulance company, and, of course, it was. Herman and Joe ran the ambulance service after taking it over from Backus. When Backus ran it, the maintenance men — janitors, painters, whoever was available — would drive the ambulance.

While everybody in Norwich associates Ron with American Ambulance, he was much more than that. He was American Ambulance, American Wharf Development, American Professionals Education Service and The American Group. There are others, but he always used the word “American,” because Ron was a super patriot. Even the names of his ambulances symbolized great American achievements.

Ron has his critics, and I have often wondered why so many people criticized the wonderful things he did. Probably because of jealousy. Ron accomplished what other people only dreamed of. Those who criticized him might be better looking the mirror and asking themselves: What have I done for Norwich that amounted to anything?

Ron Aliano worked with the Boy Scouts, and when he was on the board at the Huntington Home, he saw to it that the whole facility was modernized. When the Abe Lincoln flag had to be bought, then restored, he was in the forefront of restoring that historic flag.

One Disagreement

He fought to have the community college downtown. It was one of the few battles he lost and one of the few times Ron and I didn’t agree. I felt it should be in East Great Plain, but the entrance should be on Route 32, through Uncas-on-Thames Hospital, and the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Highway Department should be along New London Turnpike.

But, as often as Ron and I disagreed, our friendship never wavered. He was a doer. He made things happen. He loved the press, and the press loved him. He always could provide a story on a slow news day.

I made an unfortunate comment that an out-of-town newspaper published. When talking to the reporter, I said, “Knowing Ron as well as I did, if he could have picked the day he died, he would have picked a Saturday so he would be the lead story in the Sunday paper.” He did die on a Saturday, and, in time, Norwich will realize what it lost. His fingerprints are all over this town.

Father Tony said the Mass, which would have please Ron very much, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral was filled to capacity for Ron’s funeral. That doesn’t happen very often, but Ron touched so many people in so many ways that news of his death was a shock.

Ron worked with Backus Hospital and United Community Services. In fact, the last time I had lunch with Ron, it was to ask a favor. I sat down and explained to Ron that I was the chairman of the Forgotten Founders — a historical group that wants to establish in Norwich a presidential library for the 14 men who were president of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. I told him my health was so bad that I couldn’t do what I needed to do and needed someone who could break doors down at Norwich City Hall and at the State Capitol.

Ron told me that day, “I will do everything I can,” and I asked him to be vice chairman. He was vice chairman or chairman of so many things, I was not even going to try to list them, but one award he was proud of was Citizen of the Year in 1988, after completion of the Marina at America Wharf.

He was a Fighter

There was tough side to Ron. He was, after all, a businessman, but the man cared for people and believed in service. I don’t think anybody loved Norwich more than Ron, though Norwich was his adopted city. As he loved Norwich, I don’t know anyone who can take his place, to dream great dreams for this city, and then carry them out like the marina or his American Center on Mount Pleasant.

He did stumble occasionally. It must have cost a million dollars to create Putts Up Dock, and it just didn’t work, but there were few things that Ron did that didn’t work. He was known for success, and I loved him for all that he did.

We were good friends, and the one deep regret I have is that I wasn’t physically able to see him in the final days. We did talk on phone often, and he suffered so much. Then, one day called me and said, “Bill, I have got to tell you something because I don’t want you to hear it secondhand.” Then he said. “I’ve got cancer,” and he went into detail.

My only response, “I’ll pray for you, Ron, because that’s all we can do.” But I thought, as I said that, his happiest years were those spent with his wife, Valerie, and how proud he was of his two children, Michael and Ronda.

At his funeral, after Mass, Rob Simmons, our former congressman, speaking characteristically of Ron, said to me, “You know, Ron is probably on a first name basis with St. Peter and making suggestions for improvement. Maybe a marina.”

Ron Aliano was a wonderful man and a Norwich treasure. He will be sorely missed by this old town.

Thanksgiving Traditions Lost To Years

Photo courtesy Bill Stanley's "Once Upon a Time" They stacked the barrels high on Mt. Pleasant Street in this 1920's photo

Photo courtesy Bill Stanley's "Once Upon a Time" They stacked the barrels high on Mt. Pleasant Street in this 1920's photo

Once upon a time, there was no refrigeration and no frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving. So often in life, we get used to something we never had before, and it becomes so common that we feel it always existed.

In the 1930s, there were no fluorescent lights, very few automobiles, no refrigeration or television. Everything was newspapers and radio and shopping for fresh meat and fish everyday.

At Thanksgiving, turkeys would be hung in the meat markets and grocery stores of the time. On Franklin Square, there was the First National Store, Beit Bros. and the Mohican Market. Behind the meat counter were headless turkeys hanging by their webbed feet.

Of course, scattered across Norwich were a host of turkey farms. Many of the farmers would deliver fresh-killed turkeys, but you had to pluck the feathers yourself. It was a messy job. Those who had automobiles would drive to the farms where many of them even cooked the turkeys to be picked up Thanksgiving Day.

To be sure, it was a different world. But, the best part of Thanksgiving isn’t the turkey. It is getting the family together. Except for mother, it is the only holiday of the year you don’t have to do anything except sit down, eat and enjoy the company.

As kids, Halloween was important to Thanksgiving, because in those days, all of the garbage cans were wooden. On Halloween, the children, mostly boys, would wear costumes, but they also did dirty tricks, which, looking back, I am ashamed of.

We would cut clotheslines, let the air out of car tires, wax windows, and, most important of all, we dumped all the garbage out of those wooden barrels and took the barrels, hiding them in garages and basements so that on Thanksgiving night we could have a traditional Thanksgiving barrel burn.

Norwich, with its nine hills, had many barrel-burning sites. There was a barrel burn on Fox Hill, Ox Hill, Jail Hill and Mount Pleasant. On Roath Street and at the Lake Street Playground, the legendary barrel-burner, Sal Colonna, had the biggest fire of all with the Baltic Street and Roath Street gangs collecting all the barrels, tires and boxes.

Three Things

On Thanksgiving Day, it was football, turkey and barrel burns. On Thanksgiving morning, the Norwich Free Academy, in the early 1930s, had alumni day, and the game started at 10. All of the NFA players from the past — some of them college students, some of them in the service, but all alumni who could make it — would play the NFA varsity.

Let me tell you a sad story about the Thanksgiving varsity game of 1916. My uncle, Bill Stanley, who I am named for, was home from Holy Cross. He was injured in the game on that Thanksgiving Day, so long ago, and taken from the field. He died a year later, after never walking again. In the 1940s, the game time was the same, but the team was always the Worcester Commerce.

Most people walked to the football game. There were few cars. The hill in the back of the bleachers behind NFA would be packed. To have 3,000 people at a Thanksgiving football game was the norm. There are times, I am sure, there were 4,000 people and only 25 automobiles.

We were a lot healthier then. We did more walking, and we ate less – except on Thanksgiving.

There is something about looking back and remembering. I remember how wonderful it was getting out of school in autumn, walking home and smelling the burning leaves. It was almost as sacred as incense in church. They don’t allow that anymore, though I, for one, think there are too many silly restrictions. Did it pollute the air? Yes. Was that once-per-year pollution so damaging that a national tradition be abandoned?

When you consider the holidays, there were things we used to do that we can no longer do. No fireworks on the Fourth of July. That was so much fun for kids, and I am sure some were injured by the firecrackers, but, on balance, there are more dangerous things today that seem to escape regulation.

Thanksgiving to many is such a wonderful holiday. Looking back, as I do, Thanksgiving Day is symbolically the same, but actually quite different than years ago. You buy those frozen Butterball turkeys, and all of the veggies come in frozen packages. Instead of visiting, there is a football game on and the big Macy’s Day Parade. It is fun, and it is wonderful, but it is also so different. We would thank the Lord for all of our blessings as we sat around the festive table.

So, this coming Thursday, a lot of turkeys will make the ultimate sacrifice, and we will all enjoy more food than we should, but, more importantly, we will cherish the friendship of associates and family.

May everyone reading this column enjoy Thanksgiving and give thanks for all of the blessings that have been bestowed on this great country and all of us individually.

Read at Your Own Risk

My daughter, Mary, helps me greatly with my wife, Peg, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. I told her what I thought to be a funny story, but instead of laughter she said, “That’s gross, Dad.” So read on at your own risk.

When I was 5 or 6 years old, one Thanksgiving, my uncle Lefty Dugas, Norwich’s most famous ballplayer, my father, a mailman, and my uncle Henry Keroack bought a turkey for dinner, and we drove to Baltic, my mother’s  hometown. In the big house, on the hill, we took the turkey to the cellar. It had a dirt floor and a chopping block.

My Uncle Lefty held the turkey, with its neck on the block, and my father with an ax, cut the bird’s head off. Lefty let go of the turkey which, for what seemed liked a long time, ran around the basement with no head. It traumatized me, and that Thanksgiving, as I looked at the big bird, I couldn’t eat, and it haunted me for several years. But today, at 80, I look forward to that big, stuffed turkey we are having this year at my son Bill’s house.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone everywhere. We have so much to be thankful for.

City History Will Be Taught In Schools

Historic Sites of Norwich From the Beginning by Bill Stanley

Historic Sites of Norwich From the Beginning by Bill Stanley

Once upon a time, starting about 1934, little Billy Stanley started his education at Laurel Hill School. I stayed back in the third grade because I couldn’t read. As it happened, I suffered, and still do, severe dyslexia. I couldn’t read, but they didn’t know that. Margaret Coleman, my most wonderful teacher, thought if I repeated third grade, my reading might improve.

Then it was from Hobart Avenue to Broadway School. Graduating Broadway in 1944, I headed for Norwich Free Academy. What a wonderful chapter of life. NFA, I truly believe, is better than any other high school in the country. I graduated in 1948, having completed the commercial course learning bookkeeping, accounting, typing and sales.

The point of telling you all this is I don’t remember, in any of my classes, learning any local history. They taught me Benedict Arnold was a bad man — evil — which, of course, was not true. Admittedly, he is the most famous traitor in American history, but he also was George Washington’s best field general.

I did learn that Samuel Huntington signed the Declaration of Independence, but other than that, I don’t remember any teacher teaching classes about Norwich history.

Saratoga’s Victor

There is a funny story that occurred during my senior year at NFA when I was given an English assignment, with all my fellow classmates, to write an essay on the most valuable man in American history. In my young mind, I felt whoever won the Battle of Saratoga would be the most valuable, because if we had lost at Saratoga, the country would have been lost, and there would have been no United States of America.

According to my history books at NFA, they said Horatio Gates won the Battle of Saratoga, but digging deeper into the battle, I learned it was Norwich’s own Benedict Arnold, the traitor, who won the Battle of Saratoga, which brought the French into the American Revolution and caused the victory over the British.

I was very excited, because the Arnold homestead was next to NFA, and it is possible at least one or two of the buildings were built on land that once belonged to Benedict Arnold.

Didn’t Get Far

The day I was called on to read my essay, I got no more said but the title. I said, “The most valuable American who ever lived was Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold.”

My teacher interrupted me and said, “William, this is no joke. You will be graded. Shall we start again?”

And so I did … “The most valuable American who ever lived was Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold.” At that she said, “You go to the principal, young man.”

I marched off to the office of George Shattuck. Reaching that good man, who I so respected, he said, “What did you do to make her so angry?” He said, “She’s as hot as a $2 pistol.” I remember that phrase because I never heard it before.

I told him what happened, and he shook his head and said, “William, how could Benedict Arnold be the most valuable American?” Then he said, “I’m going to send you home, and don’t come back until Monday.”

He wasn’t even angry. He was just punishing me to accommodate the teacher. It was May. I was 18 or so. Having three days off was mighty good punishment.

The point is, I never got to read my paper, and on my report card, which I still have, for English, in my senior year, I received a D.

Now, over the years, people, especially learned historians, know much more about Benedict Arnold, but why, I ask myself to this day, don’t they teach the history of Norwich to the children that they might know that a man from Norwich won three battles that saved the nation?

Arnold won the Mohawk Valley and fought the first naval battle in American history at Valcour Island. It was Arnold who won the Battle of Saratoga, but how many local children know that?

Norwich’s Own

So, the next chapter of life found me erecting a plaque at the grave of Samuel Huntington. It was in disgraceful disrepair, so I launched a campaign to rebuild the tomb, and $130,000 in money and in-kind services later, Samuel Huntington has a beautiful tomb.

But studying the life of Samuel Huntington, I learned some things that were never taught in Norwich Schools … that he was one of only 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence … that he was chief justice of Connecticut … that he was governor of Connecticut … and that under the first Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, he was technically the first president of the United States. None of that is taught in local schools.

You may know that I now lead a historical group called The Forgotten Founders. The name was born of man named Stanley Klos who has published books about our Samuel Huntington and who agrees there should be a presidential library for all of the presidents of the Continental Congress — 10 of whom were actually presidents of the United States.

So, I suggested to the board, that to introduce ourselves to the people of Norwich, we memorialize the historic sites around Norwich from the beginning and give to the Board of Education the number of books needed so that every child has a book telling the story of the historic sites around this historic town.

Olive Buddington, herself a retired teacher, counted the public schools, parochial schools, charter schools and NFA. She determined that we would have to publish 5,000 books so that every child would have one, and so, the book, “Historic Sites of Norwich from the Beginning” was put together with the help of Denison Gibbs who worked tirelessly with me.

Books For School

On Nov. 10, the Forgotten Founders presented the Norwich School System with 5,000 books. The book, of course, will stay in school. They will not be allowed to be taken home.

It was then suggested by a board member that we should make the books available in case some parents or grandparents wanted a book at home for their youngster, so we ordered 3,000 more to go on sale during the Christmas season. All of the local banks including Dime, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal Savings Bank, Liberty, Putnam Savings Bank and Savings Trust and Loan and People’s Bank volunteered to sell the book. Of course, The William W. Backus Hospital Gift Shop and Johnson’s Flowers and Gifts have always sold Bill Stanley books.

So there you have it. The board has indicated local history will be incorporated in the social studies courses with grammar school children. I presume parochial school children and NFA will also make use of the book to acquaint the students of Norwich with the history of Norwich.

Generally, when my books go on sale, we sell 3,000 to 5,000 at Christmas. This year, the publisher made an unfortunate error, and instead of 3,000 books, we only have approximately 2,000 to go on sale. I mention this because many who have collected all of my past books — this will be the 10th — will want to complete their collection. It is possible that these books will sell out quickly because of the shortage.

The only place the books will be sold is in Norwich, because it is about Norwich history. The price is $19.95, and all of the proceeds will go The Forgotten Founders with the hope that we may recover the cost of publishing those 5,000 books.

Even the cover says what The Forgotten Founders intend: “A gift to the children of Norwich from The Forgotten Founders on Norwich’s 350th anniversary.”

Popular Opinion Often Proves Wrong

Harry Truman 1949 Navy Day New York City Hall

Navy Day 1949 at New York City Hall. Harry Truman gives a great welcoming wave and smile to photographer Bill Stanley.

Once upon a time, before I was born, the Roaring Twenties were in full bloom. Prohibition meant no liquor, but the speakeasies were doing a great business. It was the age of Al Capone, Dutch Schultz and, later, Bonnie and Clyde.

The biggest part of the 1920s was in the stock market. Everybody was investing — the mailman, the shoe salesman, the carpenter, the plumber. Everybody was in the stock market and making more money than they had ever known.

Then, in October 1929, the market hesitated and dropped a bit. Then, of course, it recovered, as it always had done, but then it dropped a little more, and on “Black Tuesday,” Oct. 29, 1929, the market crashed. They called it Black Tuesday because it was the worst day in the history of the stock market.

Today they talk of “Black Friday,” which, of course, is the best sales day before Christmas for retailers to put black ink on their books.

The point I want to make about the stock market crash is everybody thought it would go up forever. Most people borrowed money to buy stocks. So, when the stock market crashed, many not only lost everything they had, but owed the borrowed money.

That great crash ushered in the greatest depression the United States has ever had. While the crash started in 1929, it continued into the mid-1930s, and the Depression is what followed the crash.
There was no unemployment compensation, no Social Security, none of the programs we now have in place to help.

If you were out of work, your family didn’t eat. Norwich, like all of Connecticut, was hit as hard as any other town in the nation. Unemployment and food lines were the stories of the day.

Wake of Crash

Then, in Europe, there was a madman who came into power. His name was Adolf Hitler, and he was head of the Nazi Party. The world thought he was nothing more than a nut and was no threat at all.

There was one man, Winston Churchill in England, who predicted that Hitler would cause a world war and that he should be dealt with. But the world felt safe and secure that Hitler was no threat. Almost 10 years to the day from the stock market crash, Germany invaded Poland, and thus started World War II.

Today, there is another man who is referred to as a nut, but he, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is similar to Hitler as he leads the Islamic Republic of Iran. If he attacks Israel, as he says he will, then the world will pay attention.

It is a strange thing in life, how so very often the things we believe will happen never do. The things we feel cannot happen often do.

In the 1940s, everyone felt sure that America’s economy was exhausted after the war, and that we would head into a second Depression. But, as all the servicemen came home from war and married, America experienced a baby boom. That cause a housing boom, which gave us a very strong economy coming out of the war. The majority were wrong.

There was another unexpected event in 1948 when the world felt Harry Truman could not possibly win the election. At the Democratic convention, the party fought to the point that all other southern states walked out of the convention and formed a new party called the Dixicrats. Strom Thurmond was their candidate for president.

The Republicans nominated the popular, energetic governor of New York, Tom Dewey, and Harry Truman had ratings lower than George W. Bush. Truman could not possibly win. So sure was the Chicago Tribune. But, of course, when the final vote was counted, Harry Truman did the impossible. He won.

As America continued to prosper, and all of the automotive companies were running full blast, Ford announced a new car that would be the answer to all cars. It would be sleek, efficient and stylish. It would be the car of all times.

Ford introduced and heavily advertised the Edsel, which sold from $3,500 to $3,706. It came to be known as the “E” car, and by buying an Edsel, the public was supposed to be stepping up to prestige.

The car was beautiful. At the same time, a small, failing automobile company, called American Motors, was taken over by George Romney, and as much as Ford advertised the Edsel, sales continued to fail. The hottest car in America became the Rambler. So, the experts were wrong again. The Rambler was the car America wanted, and Edsel, within a few years, was taken out of production.

No Ice Age

For example, in 1975, in the April 28 edition of Newsweek magazine, they were predicting the coming “Ice Age.” The article started off, “There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically, and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth.

The drop in food output could begin quite soon — perhaps only 10 years from now.” So, the world prepared for an ice age.

One article in a popular magazine predicted that by the year 2000, it would be so cold that cars would be able to drive from England to France over a solid frozen English Channel. Now, of course, 2000 was 10 years ago, and, to my knowledge, they are still swimming the Channel. But it brings us to the point that I think, in time, global warming will prove as laughable as the ice age in 1975.

The global warming that the whole world is preparing for is hard to explain when the warmest year that we have had in the past 12 years ago was in 1997. Scientists are at a loss to explain why, with the coming global warming, we have had in 12 years of cooler winters, and the summer that just passed was the coolest on recent record. Is it possible that the public will be wrong again … that global warming is, in fact, an Edsel … that everybody could be wrong and the temperature changes will prove a natural occurrence that may have happened many times in the past?

I, for one, am a contrarian, and, through the years, my point of view has been more accurate than the popular opinion. It is just one old man calling attention to how often the public is wrong. The more enthusiastic they are, the more serious and expensive the false decision becomes.

When we consider all of the costly methods we are now employing to prevent global warming, we could find, down the road, that money might destroy the greatest economy on Earth for no reason at all.

Currently, we are going through a severe recession, and it was caused by the public who thought housing prices would go up and up forever. So, everybody bought a house, whether they could afford it or not. Today, the world is paying for that stupid enthusiasm.

After some of you who are reading this column reach the age of 80, you may yourself have some observations worth a second look.

Norwich Went All Out For Christmas

1930's Norwich Santa

A 1930s photo of Santa on his Ponemah Mill flatbed trolley en route to Porteous Mitchell Department Store where he would greet children in the window.

Once upon a time, Santa came to town by trolley, stopping in Baltic and Taftville before Norwich.

Downtown Norwich, at this time of year, was so festive and active. Every store on Main Street, Franklin Street and Broadway was occupied. On Franklin Square, there were three major supermarkets: Beit Bros., Mohican and First National. Of course, just off Franklin Square, the Ferry Brothers had a grocery store, and George Powers had a fish market on Bath Street. On lower Broadway, there was also a supermarket next to the Dime Bank.

There were many restaurants to handle all of the people that got off the buses at Franklin Square. There was Alexander’s, the Beverly Tea Room, Sella’s, G&G, Woolworth’s and the Metropolitan Store. At Mara’s Drug Store, they had fountain service and several booths. Around the corner, on Bath Street, was Fortin’s Diner that always had the best breakfast in town.

Down Rose Alley, on the side of Franklin Square, was Duke’s Lunch at City Landing. The most famous diner was Buster’s. Buster was a legend in his own time,  and later his sons, Bob and Joe, took it over and ran the diner for years. Buster’s was next to the railroad station and just a few hundred feet away from Duke’s Diner.

As you headed up Main Street, there sat the most elegant eating place, the Wauregan Hotel, and across the street was a soda and sandwich counter at the Candy Mart next to the Norwich Savings Society. On Shannon Corner, in the Shannon Building’s ground floor was Liggett’s.

From Other Towns

During the Christmas season, all of the restaurants, at lunchtime, would be filed with the clerks from all of the stores. But even at 3 in afternoon, it would be hard to get a seat in a restaurant or a diner because people waiting to take buses back to Putnam and Danielson, and even Groton and New London, would often have a snack before they headed for home.

There were so many stores that today are not even recalled by people who were born 25 years or 30 years ago.

All of the hardware stores sold toys at Christmas. There was Triple X on Franklin Square, Benny’s at the foot of Cliff Street, and Campbell’s at the intersection of Main and Water Street. The biggest toy display was on the fourth floor of Reid & Hughes on upper Main Street.

However, Porteous Mitchell was the most Christmas-spirited store in town. They, like Reid & Hughes, were a department store and, in fact, on the other end of town, by the Chelsea Bank, was Sears & Reobuck. Yes, we had four floors of Sears & Roebuck. It was not a catalog shop. It was the real thing, and they sold toys.

Most of the doctors’ offices, the lawyers and insurance companies were on the second floor surrounding Franklin Square.

The clothing stores — there were so many of them. There was Ben Bruckner’s on lower Broadway, H.A. Bruckner’s on Shannon Corner, the Young Folk’s Shop, Mandell’s, Rose D’Atri’s and the Boy’s Shop. Then Trachenburg’s, The Star, Brooklyn Outfitters and Fesiter & Raucher.

Why, we even had a shop dedicated entirely to women’s hats right on Franklin Square.

Of course, there was P & Q Clothing and The Enterprise Store. The site is now occupied by the Otis Library. There were half-a-dozen shoe stores downtown.

Norwich, in the late 1940s and 1950s, was truly the shopping center of Eastern Connecticut. For several years, we won the award as the Christmas City of Connecticut.

The uniformed firemen would work all year with the Department of Public Utilities, and they would create thousands of feet of Christmas lights. From Washington Square to the Preston Bridge, on both sides of the street, hung Christmas lights. City Hall was decorated with more lights than we even use today. The firemen made the lights, and Public Utilities would string them.

Symbol of The Season

There was always a Christmas tree in the middle of Franklin Square, which, in those days, was actually the bus terminal for the Connecticut Co.

The greatest attraction in Norwich for the children was Santa Claus. Porteous Mitchell sold a little bit of everything, and that beautiful store has been restored, though the one-time prosperous site went bankrupt a few years ago.

In Porteous Mitchell’s window was a jolly old St. Nick with a long beard and a beautiful red suit. He would invited children to come and visit him. You would walk into the store, and they would direct you to Santa’s window. Little ones could sit on Santa’s lap. Crowds of people would gather around that wonderful big window filled with toys and Santa.

While I have told this story before, perhaps some of you would enjoy hearing it again, or maybe you never heard it before. It must have ben when I as seven or eight years old, and all of my friends and I didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. As with all boys that age, we were so proud of what we knew and that we took pleasure in telling the world that we knew something other people didn’t know. There is no Santa Claus!

As five or six of us gathered in front of Porteous Mitchell’s Santa Claus window, we made quite a commotion. To my shock and disbelief, as I shouted, “There is no Santa Claus,” three or four times, Santa Claus took his little blackboard and wrote, “Billy Stanley is a bad boy.” I truly believe my heart stopped, and I felt, oh, my goodness, there is a Santa Claus and he thinks I’m a bad boy. I believed one more year. Years later, I learned that particular Santa Claus was Paul Hinchey, a good friend of my dad.

It was 1950 when we changed our form of government. When malls began to spring up, and more people had cars, little by little Norwich lost one shop after another. Today there are fewer stores than I can ever remember in downtown Norwich. The clothing stores have left and the furniture stores have left. I don’t know of any toy stores downtown.

Not as Bright

The Christmas lights today are nothing like the lights we used to enjoy. But many of you reading my column this morning don’t remember the days when there were no empty stores on Main Street and when people come from all around by bus to shop in Norwich. They don’t do that anymore. I guess it is truly said that, in time, all things change, but it would be so wonderful if Norwich could have stayed the way it was in the 1940s and 1950s.

There was Christmas music from so many stores, and nobody said “Happy Holidays.” Everybody said, “Merry Christmas” because we were, after all, celebrating the birth of Christ. It is not a holiday. It is a holy day.

Old turkeys like me, I am sure, remember, as I do at this time of year, how wonderful Norwich was, and the old folks know how much we have lost. But, in spite of the retail loss, Christmas is still observed in all of the churches, as Hanukkah is observed in all the synagogues.

We have lost our title as shopping center, but it seems more evident every year that the faith of our people is as strong now as ever before, and that, after all, is what Christmas is all about.