Fourth of July from Wilton's past
Wilton has had a long and storied history since its time as a Parish of Norwalk. It has sent its sons to every major war since the American Revolution, and has suffered their losses in the name of freedom, as well.
In recent years, the Fourth of July has been remembered in town with large fireworks shows and celebrations. However, in researching the archives of The Wilton Bulletin, there are stories of July 4 that don’t always revolve around the celebratory motifs found throughout the country today.
No celebrations were planned — according to The Bulletin — on July 4, 1938. Though in its waning years the Great Depression continued. The week of the Fourth, the United States agreed to accept the first Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Europe (about 27,000 of them), and Howard Hughes completed his 91-hour flight around the world just 10 days later.
Simply listed by the paper as a federal holiday, the weekly meeting of the Carpenter’s Union at the Wilton Fire Department was postponed, and a baseball game between the Wilton Farmers and the Community Stars was held at Orem Field.
At the height of World War II, rationing was mandatory and many wartime weddings were being held in Wilton. It seemed nearly every woman getting married had a military husband. Wilton contributed about 400 soldiers to the war effort, and everyone in town was encouraged to buy, buy, buy war bonds.
There was even a “clothes for the Russians” drive, where residents were encouraged to donate clothes to be sent to needy citizens of the Soviet Republic.
On July 4 that year, there was little in the way of celebration. Instead residents could treat themselves to a “by demand” reshowing of Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman at the Fine Arts Theater in Westport.
The war was finally over, and the post-war economic boom began to take shape. Harry Truman was president, and relations between the U.S. and the Soviets quickly grew cold. With a surge in the number of returning GIs, Americans bought more houses, cars, and college educations than ever before.
After five years of wartime inactivity the Wilton Riding Club reopened and presented its first horse show on July 4, 1946. Competitors in various categories attracted Wilton’s best riders. More than 11 different classes of competition were held that day in front of a group of four judges.
The Korean war was over in the late 50s, and Americans were living in relative peace. The beatniks were stirring up controversy with their off-kilter views of American society, and former World War II GIs were having children in record numbers.
There weren’t many celebrations held in Wilton in 1957, but there was certainly excitement for those celebrating the weekend at Miller’s Meadow. A glider-plane piloted by Arthur Millay of Chester, Pa., was forced to make an emergency landing in town after he could not find significant up-drafts to keep his glider afloat. While he waited for a friend to arrive and give him a ride home, he happily instructed area children on the physics involved with keeping a glider afloat, though judging by his experiences he may not have been the best teacher.
Connecticut State Police warned residents they would again be using a traffic helicopter to be on the lookout for dangerous July 4th driving, and according to advertising in The Bulletin, you could vacation to Mexico for five days for just $114.
In Greensboro, N.C., in 1960, four black students began a sit-in protest at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. Although they would be refused service, they were allowed to remain at the counter while counter-protestors poured milkshakes and ketchup over their heads. John F. Kennedy announced his bid for the presidency, and the decade of love began.
Though Wilton residents thought they were hearing an overzealous display of firecrackers on July 4, 1960, they were actually hearing a gun battle taking place between a Wilton High School student and state police.
A “High School Informant” the paper read, told reporters the teenager was upset over a recent break up in which “the father of the girl friend (sic) had sent the girl out of town to break up the couple.”
The young man was sent to bed enraged after his mother found him drinking, causing his mother to alert police. As they arrived, he fired three shots at the officers’ car. Within minutes, the young man appeared on the front stoop — gun in hand — appearing prepared to surrender. He shot himself in the neck, dropped the gun, and walked up to police to surrender. The wound was superficial.
Ten years later, in 1970, Richard Nixon was president, and the Voting and Civil Rights Acts had changed the face of a nation. Cigarette advertisements were banned on TV, and the U.S. celebrated the world’s first Earth Day.
In Wilton, former U.S. Army Green Beret Steve Noetzel gave a July 4 lecture regarding atrocities committed by the U.S., and Republic of Vietnam forces against Vietnamese civilians during the still ongoing Vietnam War.
Mr. Noetzel, a member of a unit that served in Vietnam in 1964, described their actions as “unstated policy,” and “standard operating procedure,” according to The Bulletin.
The Bulletin went on to report that “one way of ‘warming up detainees’ was to place them overnight in a room with a python. Although the constrictor snake cannot kill an adult, the Vietnamese are terrified of them, he explained.”
Personal computers and the second English invasion reigned supreme in 1980, with bands like The Clash defining new musical genres. Reaganomics seemed poised to bring the country to a new level of economic growth.
By 1980, a celebratory mood became more common in Wilton. Residents that year were treated to a presentation by four skydivers, who bailed out of a plane above Wilton and landed at the high school athletic fields “just inches from the bright orange target” laid on the ground.