Excerpt froma New Book 16 (draft)

It was this last decision that would bring Greenwich and its beach, once again, to the national forefront, and once again, for all the wrong reasons.

        In the history section of Greenwich in Wikipedia, point 4 of the brief 5-point summary covers a legal standoff between a would-be lawyer from out of town and local authorities who were doing their utmost to keep him and any of his kind from entering at will.  Extreme privacy is a trait very closely linked to this town.

     One day a man from nearby Stamford, Brendon P. Leydon, tried to access the grounds during a jog and was turned back at the gate for not being a town resident or a guest of one.  Two deadly strikes against him.

          Now, I should make this clear, lest you think otherwise, that living in Greenwich does not give you the automatic birthright to haul your BMW family vehicle up to the parking lot.  You have to pay for your beach card down at the town hall, just like everyone else, and if you don’t, you lose.  It’s been that way for as long as I can remember.

       I can personally vouch for this because my mother wasn’t much of a beachgoer, though she’ll vehemently denies this for some inexplicable reason, and most years the Murdock kids either hung out at their own pool up on Clapboard Ridge or scooted over to the club for a little R&R.  Tod’s Point somehow felt just out-of-reach from mid-country Greenwich; and because we rarely went to those places, we didn’t always have our beach cards.  That meant that if we wanted to spend the day there, we would have to go as guests and pay.

        There were other methods, though.  One time, when I was still small enough to be stuck in unthinkably small places, a friend of mine’s mother snuck me in by hiding me on the floor of the back seat of his family’s station wagon, wedged between two large beach bags, both of which were covered beneath a towel.  I was literally smuggled in.  It was a real adrenaline rush for a seven-year-old, I tell you.  I would imagine the college student with the sub-machine gun hanging from his shoulder unfolding the documents and looking at them slowly.  Then he would pause and scan the interior of the vehicle.  His breath would stink of coleslaw.

       “What’s in those bags?”

        My heart would start throbbing like a piston.  Would Mrs. K come through in the clutch or fold under the pressure?

        “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Would you like one?”  God she was cool under fire.

      The guard, unnerved by her response, would nod with his head for us to continue.  In reality, the facts were less heroic but nonetheless dramatic to my little brain.  We pulled out and made it safety.  I didn’t emerge from my hiding spot until the gatehouse was out of sight.  God bless you Mrs. K!

         Unfortunately, not everyone can do that nor should they be willing to.  And not everyone was going accept being turned away.  When Leydon was rejected at the control gate, he took the matter to court claiming it was illegal to prevent his access to the town beach on the basis its prohibition rule infringed on his right to gather in a public place.   The exclusion policy was not peculiar to Connecticut; hundreds of communities up and down the coast had imposed their own at one time or another.  Leydon was not a lawyer, as some sources claim, but rather a Law student at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  The Garden State had already gone through a similar legal standoff just a few years before, with the judicial system siding with the general public.  Not only did Leydon probably know that, he also was prepared to have the same done in Connecticut.

       Whether this young man had contrived this all as a way of provoking a situation which would serve as an excuse for taking on Greenwich is unclear to me.  Maybe he knew, and even hoped, this would happen so that he could cry foul.  But maybe not.  Maybe he was doing exactly what we planned to do, jog around the point, and got the boot.  Who knows?  The fact is, he turned this into a big stink, and the town of Greenwich drew once again all kinds of national attention for something it most likely did not totally deserve.  In the same way the Powerball invasion spurred a legion of jokes about the wealthy town getting ransacked by unwelcome hordes of commoners, this item of news gained greater notoriety hugely because of the town under scrutiny rather than the circumstances itself.  Had this happened to Westport or Monroe, you can bet your set of Ping golf clubs that this would not have roused the same interest in the world.  Naturally it is the price a town like Greenwich has had to pay and will also have to pay for trying to walk that fine line between being a high income society with a low profile mentality.  Not enough happens here to get the kind of exposure that would interest someone from San Francisco, no matter how many benefit dog shows it organizes.

         So, what happened next?  Well, a big stink was made, as you can imagine.  But the case was a tough one because Greenwich had been savvy about avoiding situations that would compromise it in the long run, such as just how it funded the upkeep of its beaches.  By refusing over the years to accept state or federal aid, its residents could also have a stronger say about how they wanted to run things.  It even turned down an offer of $250,000 to help rebuild the beach after a catastrophic storm had devastated the area.

        When it came down to the verdict, the Stamford High Court defended the town, but the Superior Court of Connecticut reversed that decision, and Greenwich Point has forever since been a public beach…more or less.   The beaches are open to the public in a sense that you don’t have to be a resident.   Here is the way the town words it:

           It is the Town of Greenwich’s policy to provide full, equal and non-discriminatory access to its park facilities, beaches and recreation areas in accordance with applicable state and federal laws. The Town’s park facilities, beaches and recreation areas are open to all Town residents and other members of the general public admitted thereto in accordance with, and subject to, applicable state and federal laws, and ordinances, and regulations promulgated by the Director of Parks and Recreation and the Selectmen. It is the policy of the Town of Greenwich that all Town ordinances, regulations, policies and rules with respect to the Town’s park facilities, beaches and recreation areas are applied consistently without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, lawful source of income, mental retardation, mental disability or physical disability, including but not limited to blindness or deafness or any other legally protected classification.

       I like the way it refers to the townies as “Town residents” and the rest of the world as “other members of the general public” which I have to admit has an elitist ring to it.  They also make it very clear that the Town is doing this by subject to state and federal law…not because it likes the idea.  So we can all go, but it will cost us.  A parking pass sticker for a registered resident is nothing…getting one as a “member of the general public” means forking over $100.   Apparently there are additional fees for daily passes which are per person fees, but it is not very clear if this applies to all members of the human race, general public or not.

        The irony of it all is that there is nothing especially upscale about the beach or its surroundings.   It’s just a lowkey New England shore beach that gets packed and gross in the summer.  Going to Tod’s Point is still to me a place where you would take your PBJ sandwiches (if people still eat those) and just hang out.  Teenagers used to meet and drink their Budweiser, not Sam Adams but plain old Bud, maybe Michelob if you were splurging; and mothers would bring their children and keep them busy for the day.  There was no sense that you were going to the Greenwich beach.  You were going to the only bit of sand available.  And it’s a pretty standard one at that.

         It is also an attractive park to visit, especially if you go during the off-peak season, when even dogs are allowed to come and poop in the sand.  Now who would have guessed Greenwich would have been so flexible in that sense?  I bet that helps to alter your view of the town.

      Being late December, the day we went the place was basically deserted so we blithely sailed by the famous warning gate, flipped the bird to an imaginary guard and quietly pulled into one of the many available parking spaces.  Having said that, I have to admit that for a Monday it was surprisingly active, but that was because Tod’s Point is one of the Christmas Tree dumping points in the town.  See what I mean?  New Year’s Day was four days off and people could not take vacuuming dry pine needles from their floor any more.

       It was a little chilly, a cold front was on its way in, but we bundled up and did the best thing a person can do under the circumstances: a brisk walk to get the blood circulating.  There is a road which takes you around the hook and it is girded on one side by a path for pedestrians, though at that time of year, pretty much every place was walker-friendly.  Half way down we encountered the Old Greenwich Yacht Club, really a boathouse in this sense, which was charming and unassuming.  The road hugs the shore for much of the way until you reach a point where you have an unobstructed view of the south, and with it, of theNew   Yorkskyline.  There may be some who feel that it detracts from the natural beauty of the area, but that jagged row of buildings as been so much a part of the vista for so long, you can practically call it a part of the natural habitat.  It should also serve as quietly distant but nonetheless imposing reminder to people from Greenwich of just where much of their wealth comes from.  Plus, from that distance, it just looks nice and serene.

        The park is full of side paths and cut-throughs and all sorts of gentle thrills for the suburbanly adventurous.  It has a large pond, open fields and even wooded sections, some highly specialized like the holly grove which harbors some 30 distinct species of prickly-leafed bushes and trees…not as if I could tell the difference.   Before getting back into the car, we stopped by the beach.  It was low tide and a few families, some comprised of three generations, strolled around the sand with their frolicking golden retrievers as they withstood the chilly wind.  The beach pretty much looked the same as always.  The wooden shelters and the snack bar, though closed, almost looked like a museum piece.  Just from the looks of it, I bet not much has changed within, expect for maybe the types of drinks you could get.  I wondered if you could still buy those juicy thin-pattied burgers.  I can still recall their taste.  I would have to find out some other time, or maybe not, if it meant forking over a $100.

         I was hoping we would see a horseshoe crab so my girls could enjoy looking at one of the oldest creatures still in existence in the world.  As one person put, these frightening looking hard-shell arachnids were childhood acquaintances of ours.  We used love to find one, pick it up one by the edge and turn it over to gawk at the wiggling little legs.  Horseshoe crabs are certainly one of nature’s most bizarre species.  They are both unsightly and harmoniously beautiful at the same time. They remind me of a natural stealth fighter.  The not only look prehistoric, they are prehistoric.  They have existed for about 400 million years, which is about 200 million years before the dinosaurs arrived.  Yes, that’s 400 million, or  1,075,268 times older than the Town of Greenwich itself.  And, in that period, they have hardly changed at all.  I think it is only right that I be in awe when I look at one.

         Unfortunately, finding a horseshoe crab is no longer as easy as it used to be.  The way things are going for nature, I kind of expected that, and as was to be expected also, pollution is the main culprit.  What I didn’t know was that these delightful crusty crawlers are also of enormous use and benefit (because the two do not have to necessarily go hand in hand) to mankind.  As it turns out, horseshoe crabs have blue blood, and the properties of that blood contribute to more effective ways of combating infection.  The animals are captured, control bled and then returned without any long term damage. Basically it is blood-donating.

I looked around half-heartedly and, as I kind of expected, none were lurking, so I was left with just telling my daughters about them.  Tod’s Point is one of the finest parks in town.  I recommend making the visit in the off-season, from October to April 31st when no one is asking you to explain your raison d’etre.

Excerpt from a New Book 15 (draft)

You see, a visit to Tod’s Point is also a return to the very origins of Greenwich itself, since it was at this spot that the first settlers landed and purchased the land from the Sinoway Indians which would eventually be known as Sound Beach, or Old Greenwich.   They bought it for what in hindsight turned out to be a steal: 25 coats.  The Indians, as usual, got the short-end of the deal, but they wouldn’t realize that until later when it was too late.

       The agreement was settled by Daniel Patrick, Robert Feake and Elizabeth Fones Feake.  They are considered to be the founders of the town.  Instead of a majestic moment of burying a flag in the sand in the name of king and country by a crew of courageous explorers, it appears the arrival at Greenwich was carried out rather unceremoniously by small group of misfits in search of freedom from the restraints of the puritanical New Haven Colony.  In other words, they were social outcasts.

       Elizabeth Fones Feake’s story is particularly interesting.  She was the former daughter-in-law of John Winthrop.   According to the story, his son Henry, her husband, knocked her up in the backyard of her home in England and then was sent off to Massachusetts to get his act together, leaving her behind in England due to her pregnancy.  When she finally crossed the ocean to join him she discovered that he had drowned in a river.

       Not long after that, John Winthrop arranged for a marriage between her and Robert Feake, a man who owned a lot of land in New England but who was also considered by many to be off his rocker.   He was often stricken by fits in the middle of the night and had a feeble character.  A real oddball.  Winthrop had never been very fond of Elizabeth to begin with, so maybe this was his way of getting even.

       The couple had been living in the New Haven Colony until they were pushed out not only because he was a lunatic, but also because their servant was suspected of witchcraft, which was certainly a handicap in the household in early Colonial America.  So, they picked up and went down the Long Island Sound until they moored on the shores of Greenwich and started a new life there.

      The Dutch were also in those parts and a few years later claimed the territory of Old Greenwich to be theirs; this was all right with the settlers as they felt more at ease under Dutch rule, since the colony of New Netherlands had a reputation for being laid back morally.  Even back then, they were known for having all the fun.   In fact, it is quite possible that the Dutch had explored there previously.

       Elizabeth was a strong-willed woman and led a hard-fought life.  She had plenty of children and worked diligently.  She owned land, fended off Indians, built a new life until Robert finally took the big plunge off the deep end and abandoned his family.  She marries again without getting divorced and nearly is hanged for it.  The couple moved to New Netherlands to avert trouble.  There they start up a new life only to have their house burned down by the Indians.  They start yet anew in an area what is now Flushing, New York, where she eventually died.  Has all the makings of a good romantic historical novel, right?  Well it is.  In 1958, the life of this extraordinary and determined woman was turned into a book called The Winthrop Woman, by Anne Seyton.  It was very successful.

     Elizabeth’s legacy lasted a long time in town.  For many years, Greenwich Point was known as Elizabeth’s Neck.  And the house where her first daughter lived, the Thomas Lyon House, still stands and is claimed to be the oldest in town.

       But Tod’s Point was where it all began.  The first sand castle, the first sunburn, the first fishing, the first meals, the first music, the first bonfire, the first drinking and probably the first sexual act took place there.  Many of the foundations of modern beach life, if you think about it.   I wonder if the Greenwich Historical Society has this on record somewhere.  In 1730 the point was sold to the Ferris family, not of the wheel fame I understand, and it stayed that way until 1883, when it was purchase again by a man named J. Kennedy Tod, not of the political fame as I understand, but rather a banker from New York.  The Tod family took the property and turned it into an estate called Innis Arden in honor of the family’s Scottish roots.  Though the main mansion itself unfortunately burned down many years ago, much of what we see today is thanks to him.  Other structures, like the old stone buildings, a number of the sheds and even a chime tower still stand as relics of that past.

     The property was then transferred to the Presbyterian Hospital of New York, of all places, in 1940 and then sold to the town for $550,000 in 1944, on the promise it would take good care of it, which it did.  It turned it into the municipal beach for Greenwich residents.  Only for residents.

         It was this last decision that would bring Greenwich and its beach, once again, to the national forefront, and once again, for all the wrong reasons.

Excerpt from a New Book 14


Hitting the beach

In Spain, December 28th means something.  There, it is known as the Day of the Innocent Saints and it marks the anniversary of King Herod’s highly questionable Messiah-control policy of ordering his men to slay every child under the age of two.  Of course, none of the tragedy ever would have occurred had those three big-mouthed Wise Men not blabbed about the Savior being born to begin with.  Once Herod got wind that the Son of God was residing under his jurisdiction, he sensed his reign might be in danger and decided to do something about all the rampant adoration going on.  He decided to rub the kid out.

      Herod was fully aware that the threat came from a newborn babe, a week maybe two at the most, but just for safe measure Herod took no chances and raised the legal execution age to toddlers.  I tell you, the bloggers would have had a field day with that one.  Although the historical accuracy of the biblical account is greatly disputed, a number of scholars even claim the entire story was entirely made up, the feast has been observed for some 1,500 years.

      At some point in history, the Spanish converted this historical moment, that is, the brutal slaughtering of scores of innocent preschoolers, into their version of April Fool’s Day, a time for playing practical jokes like sticking “Kick Me!” signs on each other’s backs or putting shocking but totally false reports in the newspaper.  I have come to understand, appreciate and even love countless traditions inSpain, but choosing mass infanticide as a premise for pulling the old “got a stain on your shirt” joke still escapes my grasp of this culture.   Somehow, I missed a step.

       Here in Greenwich it was just Monday.  Plain old Monday and there was little amusing about it.  Monday after Christmas weekend; Monday when we could do a few everyday things that did not require being stuffed like an animal prepared for slaughter.  Seeing that it was a sunny day, we decided it was the right time to go for a good healthy post-Christmas walk to work off some of those excess calories, which, by then, had run into the tens of thousands.  Back inMadrid, all I would have had to do is tie up some shoes and lose myself for the long walk in the endless streets and neighborhoods of the capital.  However, back home, things were different, and we needed a car to go somewhere to use our legs.  I chose the beach down in Old Greenwich known as Greenwich Point.

       That’s the official name at least, but locally everyone calls it Tod’s Point and if you are really from Greenwich, you know that.  An impostor doesn’t.  Tod’s Point is a small peninsular hook which affords one of the few true sandy refuges for the town’s sun seekers, which isn’t saying much considering its fairly modest size for a coastal community with over 60,000 residents.  Compared to other places in the northeast, the beach is a mere sandbox.  In fact, Connecticut beaches as a whole, with their painfully gentle waters and sometimes crusty unrefined sand, have never really impressed me very much.  I guess they improve as you head out towards the eastern end of the state, but the closer you get to New York where Long Island sound begins to shrivel up, the less enthralled you are about the shore, and the more suspicious you are about the quality of the water you are wading in.  It gets tested weekly in the summer, and on occasion the bacteria numbers become problematic, but for the most part they are deemed clean.  I noticed that over the years I glow in the dark from time to time.  But that may be a coincidence.  And it certainly doesn’t keep the town’s people from flocking to its sands time and time again.  Plus, the point can be very peaceful and strikingly beautiful, when it isn’t overrun with beachgoers.  This is especially in the fall and winter.

       But that wasn’t the only reason why I wanted to go down there.