Connecticut gets its first national historic park

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Weir Farm

Straddling Wilton and Ridgefield, Weir Farm became the state’s first National Historic Park after then-President Donald Trump signed the proposal in January. The effort began with U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, who submitted a bill to turn the 75-acre national historical site into a national park. A companion bill in the Senate was put forth by Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal. “Walking through Weir Farm in any season is a quintessentially Connecticut experience,” Himes said of the park, which is dedicated to Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir. “It’s a beautiful, extensive site that gives visitors perspective into an important period in American art, as well as a much-needed space to reconnect with our natural world.”

 

Hero Navy chaplain honored

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Rev. Thomas Conway

The USS Indianapolis was attacked by a Japanese submarine and sank in the waters off the Philippines on July 30, 1945. The ship’s chaplain, the Rev. Thomas Conway, was killed along with most of her crew, as chronicled in a 2016 story in this magazine. The original complement had been 1,196, but an earlier attack had left some dead. A total of 880 sailors went into the sea, of whom 316 survived. 

Now Conway, a Waterbury native, has been awarded the Navy Cross. “Completely disregarding his own well-being, Chaplain Conway continually swam between the clusters of adrift sailors — many of whom were severely injured, delirious and dying — to provide them encouragement and comfort, pray with and for them and administer them sacraments,” according to the Navy Cross citation. “After three days of tireless exertion to aid his shipmates, he finally succumbed to exhaustion and his body was committed to the deep.” According to the citation, Conway was credited with saving 67 of his shipmates.

Battles fought — and won

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From left, the Rev. Richard Battles, Martin Luther King Jr., Gayle Stockham (in glasses) and James D. Peters, in a 1964 photo.

There’s a street in Hartford named “Battles Street,” but it does not commemorate the Revolutionary War, Civil War or any other military conflict. In a way, Battles Street, named after the Rev. Richard Battles of Hartford’s Mount Olive Baptist Church, commemorates a different kind of conflict. Battles, a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., was a prominent leader of the civil rights movement in Connecticut.

Fifty-six years ago this month, on March 7, 1965, police attacked protesters at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Battles responded by gathering 90 Connecticut residents, as connecticuthistory.org wrote, and boarding a chartered plane at Bradley Airport bound for Alabama. “Dr. King would make frequent visits to Connecticut and Mount Olive Baptist Church traveled the globe untiringly to support Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with his ‘Dream’ and his Marches including to Selma, Alabama, and to Washington, D.C.,” according to the church’s website. Battles’ goal was to aid King in his protests aimed at gaining voting rights for African Americans. On Aug. 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

Battles died in 1980, after 20 years leading the Mount Olive Baptist Church congregation.

Connecticut’s changing demographics

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Any shifts in the demography of Connecticut as a result of the pandemic won’t be fully understood for a while. But things change, pandemic or no pandemic, and Connecticut had been shifting before the coronavirus was ever identified. Using U.S. Census data, the CT Data Collaborative has released a breakdown and interpretation of those pre-pandemic demographic shifts, revealing a state slightly more diverse, a little less populous and a bit wealthier.

The population of the state decreased by 0.5 percent from 3.59 million in 2014 to 3.57 million in 2019 

The state is 3 percent more diverse than it was in 2014, with 33 percent of residents identifying as people of color. Hartford has the highest percentage of people of color, 85 percent. 

Between 2014 and 2019, our median household income increased by 12 percent from $69,899 to $78,444. However, inflation during the same period was about 8 percent. Of the state’s 169 towns, 151 saw increases in median family income; 108 towns saw enough of an increase to outpace inflation.

Auto accidents crash during the pandemic

The total number of car crashes in Connecticut dropped considerably during pandemic-related lockdowns, but the total number of fatal crashes did not. The UConn Crash Data Repository keeps track of all crashes in the state, and a review of data showed that there were 46,718 total car crashes in Connecticut between March and October 2020. That’s 28,000 fewer than the average over that period — a decline of 37%.

Fatal crashes are not down as much. In March–October 2020 there were 152 fatal car crashes, only a 21% decline compared to the average of 194.3 for that period.

Why? There were fewer cars on the roads during lockdowns, so fewer overall crashes. But emptier roads, and perhaps more substance abuse, led to a higher percentage of fatal crashes, according to Eric Jackson, executive director of the Connecticut Transportation Institute and director of the Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center. “Traffic volumes due to COVID are way down,” he said. “We saw corresponding dramatic increases in vehicle speeds. We think that these increases in speeds caused crashes to become more severe.”

Greenwich back in the White House

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki

Hope Hicks, one of President Donald Trump’s advisers, was a Greenwich native. Her departure after President Joe Biden took office left a Greenwich-size hole in the White House. It was filled by Jen Psaki. Born in Stamford, Psaki graduated from Greenwich High School in 1996. Before taking center stage at the Biden administration’s first press conference as the 34th White House press secretary, she was communications director for President Barack Obama. During her opening remarks, Psaki spoke of bringing “truth and transparency” from the executive branch back into the briefing room. “Rebuilding trust with the American people will be central to our focus in the press office and in the White House every single day.”

The photog who launched a thousand Bernie memes

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Bernie Sanders in mittens on an album cover. Bernie Sanders in mittens on the subway in New York City. Bernie Sanders in mittens in literally every situation possibly imaginable. The memes were everywhere, possibly getting more coverage (at least on social media) than the presidential inauguration Sanders was attending when the original photo was taken. 

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Bernie even made his way around Connecticut.

Blame Brendan Smialowski. The Newtown High School graduate, a photographer with wire service Agence France-Presse, took the now-iconic photo of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sitting in a folding chair at Joe Biden’s inauguration, decked out in his coat and handmade mittens. 

Though he said he’s “not crazy” about his work being turned into a meme, Smialowski is glad that his photo got noticed. “We’re journalists, and we don’t get to pick and choose how people react to things,” he said. “It’s OK for people to take a break from the heavy journalism and find lighthearted moments.”

This article appears in the March 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.