Dillon Stadium flashback

Cover of the book "Connecticut Gridiron: Football Minor Leaguers of the 1960s and 1970s."Today’s ceremonial groundbreaking for the renovation of Dillon Stadium put me in mind of the Hartford Knights, the minor-league football team that played there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was nine years old when my father brought me to Dillon for the September 5, 1970 game against the Indianapolis Capitals. I don’t remember much of the game action, but I vividly recall an incident that put the game in the news: a bomb threat that prompted a temporary evacuation of the stands. All 5,000 or so of us were led onto the field, where we milled around with the players and coaches. Soon, we had cleared spaces to watch players toss footballs around–with fans as well as each other. Everyone was smiling, enjoying the novelty of the moment and (seemingly) not taking the scare very seriously. Maybe at that point in the era, bomb scares were taken in stride.

Andrew Crossley’s excellent blog about minor-league sports franchises, Fun While It Lasted, has a great entry on the Knights. Then there’s “Connecticut Gridiron: Football Minor Leaguers of the 1960s and 1970s,” a book by William J. Ryczek that confirmed my memories of the bomb-scare game. (See page 240.)

Remembering Hartford in World War I

If all the national coverage of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I has you wondering how the Hartford region got through the war, check out David Drury’s fine 2015 book, “Hartford in World War I.” At 141 pages, it’s a quick read yet packed with  information and photographs. (I was especially struck by a photo of the Army demonstrating one of its early tanks — in Pope Park.)

News of the Armistice signing reached the east coast of the U.S. around 3 a.m. on November 11, 1918, and Drury describes the jubilation that broke out despite the hour in Hartford and surrounding towns:

In the Connecticut capital, a crowd of onlookers began forming outside the {Hartford] Courant’s State Street office at 3 a.m. to catch the latest bulletins, their voices soon hoarse from cheering and singing patriotic anthems. Within an hour, downtown streets were filling up … Over the din of parades and marching, the ringing of trolleys, the tooting of auto horns and the spectacle of hanging the Kaiser in effigy, newsboys scrambled to hawk special editions. Factories and schools closed for the day, as did the saloons, and city officials made preparations for an evening Peace Parade, with the route ending in Bushnell Park beneath the Capitol.

He goes on to quote Mayor Richard J. Kinsella’s proclamation, which seems to capture the relief so many must have felt at the war’s end. Perhaps it was that relief which led him to predict such a war couldn’t happen again.

God is in the heavens and all is right with the world! Autocracy has been crushed and Democracy has been exalted. Never again will a deluded human being, intoxicated by the belief that he is a superman, from the vantage ground of a throne, crush the heads of his people in mad pursuit of abnormal ambition. The Kaiser in ignoble flight to save his own head is a picture that warms the hearts of the American people today.

Hartford honored its World War 1 dead by planting a Trees of Honor Memorial in Colt Park, featuring 186 American elm trees–the known number of dead at the time. To go with the trees, plaques were created for each of the deceased. They eventually numbered 209, to reflect the updated casualty list. But by the late 1960s, the trees and plaques were all gone. More on that later.