Welcome one and all to this, the fifth installment of my Halloween Lost Legends series and most notably, the final post of What’s on the Menu?.
I’ve already explained in my previous post here about the ending of this site after 11 years, so I won’t bore you with it again. However, my one promise was that I would end the site on Halloween posting what I love to write about most, the Lost Legends of Stamford.
I started this series in 2015 as a way to get folks interested in the city’s history in a much different way. I thought maybe by making it less ‘school-like’ and more fun (and twisted), it would get you the reader to want to learn more about where you live…and get involved in preserving what’s left of our dwindling history.
I put months of research into each of these pieces and love every minute of it. For me, the biggest problem is that I end up with SO much material, that narrowing it down to just a few stories and then having to consolidate those into just few paragraphs for a blog post is very hard. I don’t want to leave anything out and what you see here is but a fraction of what I’ve discovered. However, I’ve decided that while I can’t post every detail of every story here, since this IS the final post of this site, making this particular post a bit longer is ok…so that’s what I did!
As a writer, I like to tell the WHOLE story. And because of this, the goal has always been to take these posts and my notebooks full of other findings, expand on them and put them into book form. That has been a dream of mine for some time now. Plus, just because I’m ending this particular site doesn’t mean I will stop writing about Stamford. Not at all. The time has come to end WOTM but I will be adding these pieces and more to a future site of mine and I’ll put a link to my social accounts below to keep you updated on its progress.
Before I close this out (so you can get to the good stuff), I cannot end this piece without thanking all of you. It is because of you that I’ve continued to keep this site up and because of you that has kept me going with these pieces in particular. When I reached out to the community for story ideas, feedback, etc, the support I received was overwhelming. I’ve been here in Stamford for almost 30 years now, more than half of my life, and as established as I have gotten here, I still worry when I present my work to those who were born and raised in this town. You have shown me such incredible heart and community spirit and for that, I am truly grateful.
So now, let us get to it! Again, I had a hard time deciding what would go into this post. I went from the truly morbid to the strange to a bit more light and fun. Let’s see where I landed shall we?
Happy Halloween Stamford and Thank You for 11 Years. 🙂
“Ghosts are history demanding to be remembered.” – Jeff Belanger
Forget the Third Rail…Beware the Cut & Crossing: Stamford became part of the NY/New Haven/Hartford railroad system in 1848. It was a big move for the up and coming industrial city with goods manufactured here now being able to be transported more easily to New York and other areas. But with the good, came the dangerous…
In the early days of the rail system, the tracks were flush with the streets. And while trains certainly did not travel at the speeds they do today, crossing them with a horse and carriage or by foot, could prove to be deadly. At times, one could not hear a train coming and the inevitable would take place. Just as today we have train gates that lower to signal an oncoming train, back in the day, they put flagmen at certain areas to let folks know when a train was coming. However, they were human and accidents still happened.
There are two sections of tracks that saw so much death and anguish, that they were legendary throughout the railroad community. Both in Stamford and known as Taylor’s Crossing and Selleck’s Cut, they were unfortunate examples of the dangers of early rail travel. Add to this, while other towns had speed limit laws regarding the trains, Stamford did not. As an example, Bridgeport had a limit of 8mph while trains in Stamford could go as high as 25mph. Express trains in particular took full advantage of this to make up the time lost in other cities.
One particular and tragic death at Taylor’s Crossing, an area that as far as I’ve been able to tell is towards the Greenwich border, happened in December of 1880. 17 year old Harriet Davenport who was travelling with her uncle John L. Davenport and the daughter of Rev. J. W. Hyde, was killed when the carriage they were in was struck by an oncoming train. They had been waiting for one train to pass but did not hear the second coming from the other direction. Miss Davenport was thrown from the carriage and her head struck a rock and she was killed instantly. Miss Hyde was thrown down an embankment and injured but both she and Mr. Davenport, who himself suffered some cuts and other injuries, survived.
Due to over a dozen deaths in a 10 year span, in 1888, an arrangement had been made between the town of Stamford and the Railroad Company to abolish the Taylor’s Crossing site. It was considered a ‘grade crossing’, (where railroads and roads cross at the same level) and due to the risks, the company was determined to get rid of all grade crossings along their routes. By the mid 1890’s, iron bridges were built for vehicles over the tracks so that they could avoid contact at the busiest and most dangerous points.
Selleck’s Cut, which crossed with Selleck Street, was the other spot known for its trail of death. For this length of track, what added to its danger was the sharp “S” curve that really, when you look at the map of its layout, one can’t help but wonder if they could have avoided this danger from day one. It was noted that between 1901 and 1903 a dozen people had been killed in those two years alone in at the Cut.
Two tragic examples of folks trying to cross the tracks on foot at Selleck’s Cut include the 1887 deaths of both local confectioner, Mr. J. H. Ficken and his 14 year old son and later in 1903, when Mrs. Patrick King had every bone shattered by a train while walking home with groceries and crossing the tracks. The medical examiner made a point of saying that there was “not one whole bone left in her body.”
This area saw it’s share of train deaths over those early years. The suidcide of 35 year old Michael Nevins was particularly gruesome. In 1903, he was walking near the tracks not far from Selleck’s Cut and timed it so that when the train came, he jumped in front of it just in time and to be decapatated and his body mangled on impact.
Selleck’s Cut was also the target of sabotage on several occasions with both rocks and railroad ties left loose as well as secured on the tracks to promote derailments. This happened a few times with some placed by vagrants, some by pranksters and one time by workers who were protesting working conditions.
While Stamford had many deaths in the first 50+ years of having a rail system, (in 1884 alone there were 9 deaths along its tracks), Taylor’s Crossing and Selleck’s Cut were the two spots that were the scariest. It is a tragic part of our history that was brought on by the advent of a new era of progress.
I think the question here is this…with so many sudden and tragic endings in such a concentrated area, are there spirits left behind? It is my understanding that a school that used to be near the tracks years ago (no longer there) had been haunted. Perhaps other locations in this area may also be feeling the effects of wandering souls taken oh so quickly and wondering exactly what happened to them all those years ago.
Hidden in Plain Sight: With so much of our town’s history being lost to overdevelopment, if you really take a moment to look, you just might find that there is still some of older Stamford all around. Subtle reminders of our past with ghost signs on the sides of buildings; historic barns that are still standing; small family cemeteries of those who came before us; small dedication plaques on bridges, in parks, on benches, things you may never have taken notice of before, but now, may start to seek them out and find there’s more out there than you ever realized.
One part of our history that has intrigued me through the years are the schools that are no longer around. When I moved to Stamford in 1994, I noticed that some of the homes on our street didn’t look quite like regular homes. I had done some research and found that there was once a rather large school here and the homes were part of the property. After that, I began to look more carefully at places around the city to see if I could spot other out of place objects and that is how my love of this city and it’s history began.
So let’s go back a bit…
While Stamford was founded in 1641, the first public school wasn’t built until 1671. When the original meeting house was torn down to make way for a larger one, some of the wood was used to build the first school across the way on the property of what is now our Town Hall. Originally a one room, unheated schoolhouse, they didn’t get heat until 1685 when a new school was built to accommodate the growing number of students. Over the years as the town grew and expanded, more schools were added to be closer to where the families were in different parts of the area.
The evolution of the Stamford school districts has ebbed and flowed with the times. Schools have come and gone, some having outlived their usefulness, some torn down because of age or because districts consolidated and a couple even burned down. However, some of the older structures are still with us as reminders of a time long gone by.
There are a couple that are quite obviously still noticeable as former school buildings. The first that comes to mind is the former Glenbrook School on Crescent St. which is now home to the Glenbrook Community Center. The other is the former Willard then Martha Hoyt School built in 1914 which now houses the Stamford History Center. Both are imposing stone structures that are now being repurposed for such good works and keeping the history alive!
Now of course while these two examples are right out there for all to see, there are a few that aren’t as obvious. There are several former one room school houses, eight in all, from Stamford’s past that thankfully unlike other historical burildings, were not torn down but rather continue to be used and their histories added onto in the process.
Four of these former schools: Roxbury, High Ridge, North Stamford and Bangall Schools are have all been repurposed for the public to see and use. Roxbury School is now a Real Estate office at the meeting of Roxbury and Long Ridge Roads; the old High Ridge School building is part of the side hall structure of the old Korean Methodist Church on upper High Ridge Road; the former Bangall Schoolhouse is part of the Grace Church facility at the corner of Roxbury & Westover Roads; and the old North Stamford School moved to reside across from the historic North Stamford Community Church to become their Guild House. Once you see them, you can completely see the original schools and visualize how they must have looked many years ago.
The other four one room schools have been turned into additions of private homes. For these, I will not be giving specific addresses but rather just the streets they now reside on…
The old Hunting Ridge School building has been added on to a home on Dannell Drive; On Riverbank Road, you may just spot the old Farms School; The Scofieltown School was moved to Brookdale Road and The Turn of River School was moved a bit and now resides a little more south on Turn of River Road.
Knowing that these one room buildings still exist in a city that is constantly evolving is really quite something. That they have survived the wrecking balls all around us and have lived to let their stories continue is something we need to more of here. That they were once schoolhouses and we continue to learn from them makes this even better.
Just one more thing…I’ve heard inklings that one (or more) of these old school buildings may be haunted! Again won’t say which ones, but really, don’t all schools have a ghost or two in them?
One House, Three Artists and a Monster: There is house in North Stamford that at different times, had many special residents. And while all different in character, there are three in particular that had one thing in common…they were all artists in their own right.
One was a sculptor who gave this county the majestic stone carving of presidential heads on the side of a mountain. One gave us laughs in the comics section of the newspaper. And one gave us monsters and zombies in Stamford…oh my!
The first to reside at the home on Wire Mill Road was the sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The gentleman artist who created and sculpted Mount Rushmore was a resident of North Stamford from 1914-1924. He bought the original property with a borrowed $40,000 in 1909 and then proceeded to buy up many more parcels of land to create his compound later named “Borgland”. (Ironically at the time of this writing, the house went up for sale during the research of this piece and is pending for $1,099,000.00.)
Part of the estate included a studio for the artist to create works and later, this studio would house two other artists.
Mort Walker, a Stamford icon, was the third in this trio to own the house and work in that studio. Mr. Walker created the great comic strips Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois which are still loved by millions of folks today thanks to his sons Brian and Greg who continue to produce them. Mr. Walker also gave us the National Cartoon Museum, once housed in Greenwich and now located in Florida and was a veteran of World War II. We lost Mr. Walker in 2018 at the age of 94 when he passed in the house of pneumonia.
So much can be written on both Mr. Walker and Gutzon Borglum and of course, a lot has already and for good reason. However, what brings us here today is the “middle child” of this trio of artists who resided in this North Stamford home. This actor, writer and director of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s gave us the perfect gift for Halloween cult movie lovers everywhere…two horror movies that well, make Plan 9 from Outer Space seem like Oscaar worthy pieces of art. They are in that lovely genre of “so bad they’re awesome” and what makes these films even better was that they were filmed right here in Stamford!
Del Tenney was a renowned actor in theatrical productions from Broadway to the Washington DC area. He and his wife, actress Margot Hartman gave Stamford the Hartman Theater on Atlantic Street (Part of the SCA — now known as the Palace and Rich Forum theaters. According to newspaper ads in the 70’s and 80’s, the address shows where the Rich Forum is however, they also had works done where the Palace is now. Will happily correct this information if clarified in the future).
Known as “the B-movie King of Connecticut”, in 1964, Mr. Tenney gave us two ultra campy 60’s movies. One had that oh so perfectly beachy vibe of the times. The Horror of Party Beach not only embodied the films of the era but also celebrated our city at the same time.
The beach scenes were filmed on Shippan Point; High Ridge Road was featured with familiar businesses that (thankfully) still stand, but under different names. The shop scene was filmed at what is now Fusaro’s Deli, but was known then as K’s Market. To give a nod to his home where the movie was produced, Tenney also mentions Wire Mill Road as well as shows the street sign for the area. And to make this whole thing even better, Stamford residents were used in the filming for extras throughout the movie.
The plot is one of legends…radioactive waste leaks from a drum that was on a boat that sunk in the water off the coast and the waste just happens to land on a skeleton underneath the water. The skeleton then transforms into a monster that was once described by another late great Stamford resident, Gilda Radner in the movie “It Came from Hollywood” as “a big monster with a lot of hot dogs in his mouth.” Lots of murders happen and of course, there is dancing on the beach. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, maybe you can!
Known as both one of the worst movies of all time as well as one of Stephen King’s favorite movies, this take-off of 1960’s beach musicals is a gem that whether you watch the original or the MT3K sendup of the film, it is one that Stamford locals should see at least once.
Party Beach is not the only one Tenney filmed and produced here by the way. In fact, his other 1964 film, The Curse of the Living Corpse has an added bonus to it’s classic-ness! This movie is the film debut of none other than Jaws legend Roy Scheider!
Another gem that the American Film institute labeled as “generally scathing”, this is another one that cult movie lovers need to add to their bucket list of must see films. Set in 1892, a series of murders happens after the patriarch of the family, a man with a fear of being buried alive, passes away. Is it his corpse that comes back for revenge or could it be something more sinister? Like sands through the hourglass, these are the zombies of our lives.
Which leads us back to that house on Wire Mill Road…
These three gentleman who lived there with their families all gave us something special. And whether it was a giant stone cutting, a few laughs on a Sunday morning or movies that will live in infamy, we should never take for granted the history our homes and properties have. The beautiful log cabin style house that was built in 1877 is a rare gem in Stamford. Not only that it is still standing, which these days is a miracle, but one that if those walls could talk, would scream out stories for years and years. What they must have seen over the last century and a half has truly been fascinating and it is homes like this that must be preserved.
As a wonderful addition to this particular piece, this house has for years, been rumored to be haunted! Is it the spirit of Gutzon Borglam who never got to see Mt. Rushmore finished before he passed or did the monsters of Del Tenney’s movies decide they wanted to come to life?
Anyway you look at it, that one house has a history unlike no other…and may it live on for generations to come.
That’s all folks!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these pieces as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing them to you and it is on this note that I take my leave of my site of the last 11 years.
What’s on the Menu? aka. WOTM (wha-tum) has been a true labor of love. But one that opened doors for me I never knew I could walk through and for that, I am truly grateful.
I can’t thank you all enough for your support over the years and have been so overwhelmed with the response to this series. It has been an incredible experience and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Thank you for coming along on this ride with me and I wish you all a very happy and safe Halloween.
I can’t leave without one more thing… Keep it Local Stamford!!! 🙂
To read my previous Halloween posts here on WOTM:
Legends and Lore of Stamford (WOTM Halloween 2019)
Twisted Tales of Stamford (WOTM Halloween 2018)
The Stranger Side of Stamford (WOTM first in series 2015)
NOTE: STARTING IN OCTOBER 2022, THESE LINKS WILL BE AVAILABLE ON MY NEW WEBSITE: CCSOCIALCREATIVE
(I am hoping to add to these pieces there as time goes on. WOTM may have ended, but my love for Stamford history certainly has not.)
Featured in Ignacio Laguarda’s Halloween piece for CT Insider in 2019!
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