Re: the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford, people of color in the Ancient Burying Ground, and Sol LeWitt

Cover of Connecticut Explored, Fall 2019 issue

The Fall 2019 issue of Connecticut Explored magazine includes an article from me on the history of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hartford, which was a launch pad for the national B&G Clubs movement. You’ll need a subscription to read it … so subscribe!

Other Hartford-related articles in the issue include:

  • “Unburying Hartford’s Native and African-American Histories,” Katherine A. Hermes’ overview of the effort to tell the stories of an estimated 300-plus people of color who are buried in the Ancient Burying Ground, the city’s earliest extent graveyard. (It also the subject of an episode of “Grating the Nutmeg,” the podcast associated with Connecticut Explored. You can listen here:
  • “The LeWitts Raise a World-Class Artist,” an adaptation of Larry Bloom’s new biography, “Sol LeWitt: A Life of Ideas.” LeWitt, who became one of the most important artists of the 20th Century though his pioneering work in minimalism and conceptualism, spent the first six years of his life in Hartford. He and his parents lived in a spacious house on the north end of Main Street, not far from the hospital that his father, a surgeon, co-founded: Mount Sinai. But when Sol’s father died of a heart attack in 1934, amid financial troubles brought on by the Great Depression, the boy and his mother moved to an apartment in New Britain.  LeWitt’s connection to Hartford didn’t end there, however. He took art classes at the Wadsworth Atheneum, which would later display his work, though the LeWitt-Hartford relationship was usually, the Hartford Courant notes, contentious.  

New trivia question

Hermann P. Kopplemann (1880-1957) rose from the immigrant neighborhood of Hartford’s East Side to found H.P. Kopplemann and Co., which eventually became Connecticut’s leading distributor of newspapers and magazines. But it was in the political realm where Kopplemann did his most important work, achieving several “firsts” in the process. What were they?

The answer is here:

Exhumation planned for two Circus Fire victims

Grace Fifield, a 47-year-old woman visiting Wethersfield from Newport, Vermont went to the Ringling Brothers Circus in Hartford’s North End on July 6, 1944 and never came home. Her family has assumed all these years that she was among the 168 people killed in the fire that swept through the big top that day. But because none of the bodies recovered that day were identified as hers, it could never be more than an assumption.

That may change as a result of a request Chief State Medical Examiner James Gill submitted last week to Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy. According to the Hartford Courant, Gill wants a judge’s permission to exhume two of the five bodies that were never identified. He hopes technological advances made over the past 75 years will help him identify one of them–both female–as Fifield’s.

The newspaper says the move stems from its own investigation:

[Gill] started researching exhuming the bodies after the Courant began asking questions whether it would be possible, given the advances in DNA science, specifically genetic testing, to identify the unidentified circus fire victims. Rather than dig up all five unidentified bodies, Gill has targeted the two that could match the DNA of a surviving relative of a missing fire victim that the Courant located.

Fifield had brought two of her children with her to the circus; both of them survived.

The five unidentified bodies lie under numbered grave markers in Northwood Cemetery, on the Hartford-Windsor line.

The Courant has supplemented its article with a sidebar summarizing the fire, the worst disaster in Hartford history and one of the worst fires in American history. Here is’s page on the fire.

Hear Susan Campbell talk about her new Frog Hollow book

Susan Campbell got to know the city’s Frog Hollow neighborhood as a longtime reporter and columnist for the Hartford Courant. Now she has poured that expertise into a new book that delves into the neighborhood’s long history as a hotbed of industrial, political, and cultural change. You can meet Campbell and buy a copy of her book, “Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood,” at the Barnes & Noble UConn Hartford Bookstore today from 6 to 8 p.m.

If you can’t make it to B&N, you can still hear Campbell discuss her book on “Where We Live,” the Connecticut Public Radio talk show. Here’s the recording  of today’s show, on which she was a guest.

Publisher Wesleyan University Press gives this description of the book:

Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood is a collection of colorful historical vignettes of an ethnically diverse neighborhood just west of the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford. Its 1850s row houses have been home to a wide variety of immigrants. During the Revolutionary War, Frog Hollow was a progressive hub, and later, in the mid-late 19th century, it was a hotbed of industry. Reporter Susan Campbell tells the true stories of Frog Hollow with a primary focus on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the inventors, entrepreneurs and workers, as well as the impact of African American migration to Hartford, the impact of the Civil Rights movement and the continuing fight for housing. Frog Hollow was also one of the first neighborhoods in the country to experiment with successful urban planning models, including public parks and free education. From European colonists to Irish and Haitian immigrants to Puerto Ricans, these stories of Frog Hollow show the multiple realities that make up a dynamic urban neighborhood. At the same time, they reflect the changing faces of American cities. Features 40 illustrations.

You may also buy the book on Amazon.

A Willie Pep movie? Set in Hartford?

Several Hartford-area executives already have invested in the project, which has a projected budget of $1.5 million, according to the Journal. The investors hope this movie, named “Pep,” will raise Hartford’s profile the way another boxing movie, “Rocky,” did for Philadelphia in the 1970s.

Willie Pep vs Albert "Chalky" Wright

Willie Pep, left, fights Albert “Chalky” Wright in New York City, Nov. 20, 1942.
Source: Flickr stream of Rogelio A. Galaviz C.

The Hartford Business Journal reports that a New York-based production team is raising money to create a film on the life of Hartford boxer Willie Pep, with shooting to take place in the city.

“We have so many people speaking negatively about the state,” investor Manon Cox told the Journal. “It’s important for Connecticut to start creating some buzz, and whatever we can do to make that happen is good.”

Willie Pep was the professional name of featherweight boxer Guglielmo Papaleo, who was born in Middletown but trained to fight in Hartford. Starting in 1940, he won 63 straight fights. He held the featherweight title for six years, finishing his career with a record of only 11 losses out of 242 bouts. He achieved that record despite having to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II and suffering serious injuries in a 1947 plane crash. Pep died at a Rocky Hill nursing home in 2006. Read more about him here, here, and here.