From the Charter Oak to the last of the red-hot mamas

If you haven’t subscribed to Grating the Nutmeg, a podcast dedicated to Connecticut history, you’ve been missing some great Hartford-related episodes.

Logo for Grating the Nutmeg, a podcast dedicated to Connecticut history.

In the August 19th episode, State Historian Walt Woodward delved into the legend of the Charter Oak. He offered “a new, true, and sometimes amusing look into the history behind this foundational legend.” Mary M. Donohue, assistant publisher of Connecticut Explored, followed on August 30 with the story of Sophie Tucker, the internationally famous entertainer who grew up in Hartford’s East End.

Speaking of entertainment, be sure to listen to the Charter Oak episode all the way to the end. That’s where Woodward channels Hartford poet Lydia Sigourney by giving a dramatic recitation of the elegy she wrote when the tree fell in 1856. It’s, um, unforgettable.

These were the 100th and 101st episodes of the podcast, a project of Woodward’s office and Connecticut Explored, a quarterly magazine concerning state history. Fortunately, you can catch up on all of the episodes in this archive. (And here are some of the Hartford-related ones.)

Props for the Polish National Home

For a while, it looked as though the Polish National Home on Charter Oak Avenue had settled into hidden-gem status. Architecture buffs loved its circa-1930 Art Deco facade and beautiful ballroom; lovers of pierogies and beer always had a home in the unpretentious dining room. But even Hartford boosters would forget to list the Home as one of the city’s attractions.

Fortunately, that appears to be changing. The Hartford Courant has taken notice of a new generation of leaders at the Home. One of them, board president Rob Kwasnicki, told the newspaper that the Home aims to boost membership by not only remaining loyal to Polish heritage and culture but also becoming an engine of progress for the Charter Oak neighborhood and the city as a whole. Steps so far have included sprucing up the rooms new members are most likely to use, like the dining room, and loading up the calendar with community events.

“We have an opportunity for the Polish National Home to be be what it has always been: an anchor in the community,” Kwasnicki said. “We can be a focal point, a gathering place, a beacon or central point of informational disbursement.”


How has this thing survived?

Because of the huge crowd, most of us who attended the Women’s March on Hartford back in January had to park their cars some distance from the Capitol. In my case, it meant parking in my old neighborhood, on Charter Oak Avenue. There, on one of the utility poles in front of the former Capewell factory, I spotted something I’d never noticed before: a bumper sticker from Lowell P. Weicker‘s 1990 gubernatorial campaign.

“Nobody’s man but yours.”

Has this thing really survived 26-plus years of New England weather? Probably, because it sounds more plausible than someone slapping Weicker stickers on utility poles years after the election. Congratulations to the responsible printer for making such a durable product.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the Capewell since its days as a deteriorating, boarded-up hulk, you’ll be thrilled to see how much nicer it’s looking these days, as a beautiful apartment complex.