This feature examines titles old and new. Our fall installment focuses on Connecticut places and personalities. Read on!
The Norwich Free Academy v. New London Football Rivalry
By Brian Girasoli
New England isn’t typically the region you think of when you consider sports rivalries. The recent World Series victories by the Boston Red Sox seem to have cooled their once heated rivalry with the New York Yankees. And it’s debatable whether the contest between these teams ever reached the levels of passion seen in some of the more spirited football feuds, such as Alabama vs. Auburn or Michigan vs. Ohio State.
So it can be a little surprising for newcomers and visitors to learn that southeastern Connecticut is home to the oldest high school football rivalry in the United States. Starting in 1875, the teams from Norwich and New London began a Thanksgiving Day match to see who would be able to take home bragging rights.
Brian Girasoli, a former sports editor and past president of the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, gives a thorough overview of this annual contest. He’s clearly done a great deal of research in order to trace the game from its early origins to more modern times.
I should probably disclose that I know Girasoli personally. In fact, we play bar trivia together all the time (he’s our sports ringer). And he spoke at my wedding.
OK, so maybe I’m not the most unbiased person to be reviewing his book. I can still offer a bit of criticism, in that the book makes heavy use of newspaper articles. This gives an intriguing look at how sports coverage has evolved over the years, but can also limit Girasoli’s own voice and result in a more repetitive style.
Nevertheless, the book presents a clear narrative, with numerous interesting and amusing vignettes from games past. The game in 1889, played in a snowstorm, ended abruptly after a punted ball could not be found again. A brawl among fans in 1951 put the game on ice for a couple of years. A controversial call in the 1960s would be discussed for years. Each school has built up lengthy winning streaks, only to see them shattered and have the advantage tilt to their rivals.
If you’re interested in Connecticut history or football, this book is sure to appeal to you.
By Eric D. Lehman
Every state has its claim to fame, often related to the famous sons and daughters who once lived there or continue to make it their home. Authors who write a book on such local icons face a few challenges, including whether they should simply rattle off a list of celebrated figures or try to unite them around a common theme.
Eric D. Lehman, whose previous works have ranged from natural history to a definitive account of Benedict Arnold’s attack on New London, recently released his own picks for some of our states most prominent figures. Connecticut Vanguards focuses on those “who were pioneers, groundbreakers, or trailblazers in their particular fields.” He adds the further stipulation that each subject either grew up in Connecticut or spent a significant portion of their life there.
As such, readers shouldn’t go into this volume with the expectation that Lehman will touch upon every famous Nutmegger. Many familiar names are featured, including Eugene O’Neill and Katharine Hepburn, are featured. Others are excluded; Mark Twain gets a quote in the introduction, but not an individual profile.
In each essay, Lehman makes the case for how the person became a powerful influencer. Some people have received plenty of analysis over the years, including Harriet Beecher Stowe’s galvanizing of the abolitionist movement with Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Others are fascinating, lesser-known examples such as Ebenezer Bassett, the nation’s first African-American ambassador.
Lehman profiles 24 people in all, and his selections provide a good balance of different personalities and professions. Artists, entertainers, industrialists, politicians, and more are covered. The concluding essays focus on more recent innovators, such as criminologist Henry C. Lee and sustainable sushi chef Bun Lai.
Connecticut Vanguards is a thoughtful look at some of the pioneering personalities of the Constitution State. It’s easy to take as a leisurely read, a chapter or two at a time, learning about some of the groundbreaking people from the area and perhaps getting a little inspiration along the way.
Connecticut River Ferries
By Wick Griswold and Stephen Jones
It’s always impressive to see how niche local history publications can be. Stop by this section of a bookstore and you’ll not only find countless volumes focusing on individual towns, but also a variety of slim but informative narratives on everything from a specific fire department to a vanished streetcar line.
Wick Griswold and Stephen Jones have added to that panoply with Connecticut River Ferries. As the name suggests, the book limits its focus to river crossings, including the long-serving Chester-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferries. You’ll have to look elsewhere for a history of the seafaring steamboats or a look at the current Long Island Sound ferries.
While there are plenty of sections that follow a more historical style, such as a catalogue of mishaps on the ferries and a thorough recounting of the pressures to shut down the two remaining crossings, the book often follows a more folksy, whimsical style. There are plenty of anecdotes gathered from interviews with ferry captains, the legend of a stodgy old man who showed up a ferryman by walking around the Connecticut River instead of paying the fare, and much more.
This usually works to the book’s favor, but it can sometimes be a little grating. The third chapter, prefaced as an interlude authored by Jones, seemed to me an overlong and overwritten break that clashed noticeably with the rest of the book.
While there is plenty of discussion of the older ferry crossings that were set up out of necessity, I was a little dismayed to find that other river ferries were mostly or entirely omitted. There’s scant mention of the crossing that served Lyme and Old Saybrook before the construction of a bridge there, and nothing at all about the ferries that once plied the Thames River between Groton and New London.
Connecticut River Ferries is a bit of a muddled look at the history of this service. But it’s well-written and entertaining, and should appeal to those with an interest in the maritime heritage of the state.