What's happening in Connecticut? Here's a collection of trending topics from around the state.

011: Photo by Ralph Emerson, Sr. from author's collection. View from Barbour Street looking East. The Side Show tent in the foreground would remain standing.

The Hartford big top burns, as the sideshow tent in the foreground is unburned, during the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944.

Historic mystery

In October, the remains of two women who died 75 years ago during the Hartford Circus Fire were exhumed. They are among five victims of the fire still listed as unidentified. Kristen Hartnett-McCann, Connecticut’s state forensic anthropologist, led the dig, and hoped to obtain enough DNA for positive identifications. Some believe one of these two women is Grace Fifield, a Vermont woman who was never found after the fire. The identities of these victims is one of several mysteries still surrounding the fire all these years later, including how it started. In July, we wrote about the possibility that it was started by an arsonist.

Final round

West Hartford gun manufacturer Colt recently announced it will stop producing AR-15 rifles for consumers but will continue to produce the gun for use by the military and law enforcement. The AR-15 has become the weapon of choice for perpetrators of mass shootings and was used in the Sandy Hook and Parkland tragedies. Though Colt did not produce the weapons used at either Parkland or Sandy Hook, it held a patent on the device until the 1970s. Dennis Veilleux, Colt’s CEO, released a statement about the decision that framed it as financial rather than political, saying, “The fact of the matter is that over the last few years, the market for modern sporting rifles has experienced significant excess manufacturing capacity. Given this level of manufacturing capacity, we believe there is adequate supply for modern sporting rifles for the foreseeable future.”


Mark Stand, owner of Sweetwater Juice Bar & Deli at 60 West Main St. in New Britain.

"Twenty-seven million dollars, which I do not have yet, could never give me back the time I lost. It was much more important for me that I finally heard in an open court that someone was responsible for what happened to me." — New Britain’s Mark Schand after a federal jury awarded him $27 million for the 27 years he spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Schand, who was arrested in Hartford in 1986 at the age of 21 for a Springfield murder, sued the Springfield police officers who he says framed him. The city of Springfield is appealing the ruling.


Drew Drechsel (left) and Sara Thomas


Sarah Thomas can be forgiven for not being in front of the television on Sept. 16 while Drew Drechsel was winning his $1 million prize on season 10 of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. (We profiled Drew Drechsel back in January 2018, spending time with him at his New Era Ninjas facility in Hamden.) Thomas, a 2004 UConn grad, was busy swimming the English Channel. Four times. Without stopping. While some marine life may have previously accomplished this feat, Thomas is the first human to do so. She swam about 130 miles in total from Sept. 15-17. Thomas, who completed treatment for breast cancer just last year, told Amanda Kilyk of The Daily Campus: “It’s pretty neat to be able to say that you are the first to do something. It’s cool to be a woman and [to be] the first to take on really hard challenges.”

Millstone Nuclear Power Station

Nuke news

In mid-September, Connecticut regulators approved a contract between Dominion Energy, the owner of the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford, and Eversource and United Illuminating to keep the state’s lone nuclear plant in operation for the next decade. (The agreement came just two days before the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, site of the worst nuclear accident in American history in 1979, closed for good.) 

We took a closer look at Millstone, which powers over 2 million homes, in 2017 when its future was uncertain. Some argued it was “vital to the energy future of Connecticut and New England.” Others said it would “stifle the growth of renewable energy in the state.” Safety advocates were concerned that the facility’s spent-fuel pools and security issues “endanger the lives, the land and the water for many miles outside the plant.”


Joe Heller

Give 'em Heller

“Hilarious obituary sounds like an oxymoron, until you read the death notice of one Joe Heller. And based on what we learned from the beautifully written, viral obit — it was picked up in a story by The New York Times with the headline “The Best Obituary Ever” — there was only one Joe Heller. A resident of Centerbrook who was born in New Haven, Heller was a Navy veteran, a self-taught chemist and the town dog catcher. But it was his irreverence, mischievousness and sense of humor — and his daughter Monique’s poignant prose — that resonated worldwide. Here are a few of our favorite excerpts:

His mother was not immune to his pranks as he named his first dog, "Fart," so she would have to scream his name to come home if he wandered off.

When [his daughters] began dating, Joe would greet their dates by first running their license plates and checking for bald tires. If their vehicle passed inspection, they were invited into the house where shotguns, harpoons and sheep "nutters" were left clearly on display.

He never met a dog he didn’t like, the same could not be said for the wanna-be blue bloods, snoots and summer barnacles that roamed about town. His words, not ours.

Joe was a frequent shopper at the Essex Dump … If there was ever a treasure that he snatched out from under you among the mounds of junk, please wait the appropriate amount of time to contact the family to claim your loot. We’re available tomorrow.

He relished his role as Papa and Grampa Joe to [his eight grandchildren] and hopes that he taught at least one of them to cuss properly.

Sorry, Mom, Lisette and I did the best we could to take care of him and keep him out of your hair as long as we could. Back in your court now.

This article appeared in the November 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.

The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University