Submarines, the Goodspeed Opera and LObsters 4-20-10

Submarines, The Goodspeed Opera and Lobsters

Richard J. Garfunkel

April 20, 2010


The Connecticut coastline abuts right against the Long Island Sound, and there are a number of lovely resort towns that stretch east of New Haven and right to the Rhode Island border at Westerly. These towns that stretch from Madison to Mystic, each offer a typical, but individually unique quaintness. Certainly on one stretch of Route I, from Clinton to Old Saybrook, a hungry visitor can find an incredible number of venues to satiate that craving for cuisine from the sea. When it comes to clams, mussels, lobsters, chowder and the entire accoutrement that goes with it, one can’t go to far wrong. Of course our visit was a few weeks before the real season opens on the 1st of May, but there is plenty of parking along all of the road houses like, Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale, the Westbrook Lobster, the Harbour Seal Restaurant, and the Clam Castle. After a two hour trip up I-95, we pulled into the Water’s Edge Resort at about 6:30 pm. Water’s Edge is located in Westbrook, right on the Long Island Sound’s shoreline , and is a beautiful time-sharing resort and hotel, where we had booked a comfortable and commodious duplex. The town itself is bordered by the communities of Essex, Clinton, and Old Saybrook, where the Connecticut River empties into Long Island Sound.After unloading the car we headed out for dinner, and decided on Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale.

Meanwhile, on our way up to Westbrook, we had a problem with our cigarette lighter and thus our GPS. The next morning, Linda searched the yellow pages and came up with a few options for our car. One was the All Pro Automotive Center in Old Lyme, so we headed east on the Boston Post Road. On the way we passed through Old Saybrook. This town is where the Connecticut River Meets the Sound.  It is one of the oldest towns in the state, incorporated on July 8, 1854 and has a long history dating back to 1635 when it began as an independent colony known as the Saybrook Plantation.  The colony was started when a company of English Puritans headed by Viscount Saye and Sele and Lord Brook, and led by one John Wintrhop, Jr. erected a fort to guard the river entrance.  This settlement is the site of the Pequot Conflict (war) in 1636.  Yale University was founded in Old Saybrook as the Collegiate School for the education of ministers in 1700.  The Saybrook College of Yale University Seal is used as the Town logo on its letterhead and town-owned vehicles. On our way, we stopped at Smith Brothers Transmissions, but unfortunately they could do us no good, and after 45 minutes of tinkering around, we headed up the road to Old Lyme, where All Pro Automotive Center was located. They knew what the score was, they found the blown fuse very shortly, they recommended a heavier battery for the Jaguar, and it wasn’t long before the car was ready, the bill was paid, and we were back on the Post Road.


So, while we had to wait for Dana and Jon to arrive from Boston, where they have lived for quite a number of years, we headed down (west) the Boston Post Road (Route 1) and stopped at the Clinton Antique Center. Linda found some decently priced pieces of Wedgwood, and I found three interesting military books: Death in the South Atlantic (the sinking of the German raider, the Graf Spee), The Chindit War (Orde Wingate fights the Japanese in Burma, ) and Osprey’s 49th Fighter Group, (Tom Lamphier and his friends, with their P-38 Lightnings, shoot down Admiral Yamamoto!).

Our “adult” children arrived about noon at the Water’s Edge and since every one was hungry we drove west on Route 1 and stopped at the Westbrook Lobster in Clinton. Linda and I split a Caesar salad and a lobster and the kids each had chicken francaise and barbecued salmon. The Town of Clinton traces its history from 1663 when the land between Guilford and Saybrook, as they were then bounded, was known as Homonoscitt.  In that year, a committee was appointed by the General Court at Hartford to lay out this area as a plantation. In 1667 the settlement was designated a town and named Kenilworth. By the middle of the eighteenth century, through changes in usage, this name became Killingworth. In 1838, the southern portion was incorporated by the General Assembly as the Town of Clinton, the northern portion retaining the name of Killingworth. The line marking the division between the towns of Killingworth and Clinton was the same as that which divided the first and second ecclesiastical societies, or, as they were later known, “school societies,” which were established in 1735.

As in most small New England shore towns, life centered about fishing, farming, shipbuilding, and the church. One of the early leaders of Clinton's church was the Reverend Abraham Pierson. In 1701, when the General Court of the Colony in Hartford granted a charter for “the founding of a collegiate school within His Majesty's Colony of Connecticut, ” its founders chose the Reverend Mr. Pierson as its rector. The first classes were held in his parsonage in Clinton. In later years the school was moved to Saybrook and then to New Haven, where it eventually became Yale University. But today there are fortunately no British Redcoats, who derogatory were called lobster backs, and lobster is still the main attraction along this coastline.

After our enjoyable and filling meal, we were off to the outlet mall, where everyone got something. By the way there were great bargains to be had, and I bought a couple of golf shirts at 33% off list. After all of our shopping and running around, we decided on Chinese food, and let our Garmin GPS direct us to a few nearby. We finally agreed on a Taste of China, and ordered the usual cuisine and took it with us back to our rooms. Meanwhile, one can hear, with great clarity, all the New York radio stations and we were all happy listening to another Yankee victory. The Mets meanwhile began another marathon with the Saint Louis Cards, and almost seven hours later they eked out a narrow 3-2 victory. I don’t know whether the Mets won or the Cards gave it away, but the hapless boys from Queens needed a victory. It was a terrific sports weekend with Red Sox being swept by the Rays, the Celtics coming back and beating the Heat, and the opening up of the Stanley Cup’s early rounds.

We were all up pretty early. It was unseasonably chilly, but the rains that plagued both New York and Boston must have passed north of the Sound and therefore we remained quite dry. After breakfast we decided to head up to Groton, which is a town located on the Thames River in New London County and is the home of the Electric Boat Corporation, which is the major contractor for submarine work for the United States Navy, and the Navy's SUBASE New London. The Avery Point section of Groton is home to a regional campus of the University of Connecticut. We decided to see the Submarine Museum which is located right next to the Electric Boat Yard which  produced all our submarines, including the all the atomic submarines built under the guidance of the legendary Admiral Hyman Rickover. Groton, Connecticut was established in 1705 when it made its separation from New London, Connecticut. Over the years Groton has become a very populated city with numerous monuments that makes it one of the most historical cities in the area. A hundred years before the town was established, the Nehantic Indians were settled in Groton, Connecticut between the Thames and Pawcatuck Rivers. The Nehantic Indians were brutally attacked by a band of red skinned invaders. These invaders burned their wigwams, destroyed their cornfields and food supplies and a few possessions were stolen. Many of the Nehantic Indians warriors were tomahawked. The survivors fled to Misquamicut, Rhode Island.

The newcomers to the land were the Pequots, a branch of the Mohawks, who were most feared in the region. They were brave, heartless and had little sympathy which allowed them to create horrifying types of torture for their enemies. They wrote their names in blood and fire all over, but also in Groton. As the Pequots population grew it forced them to move eastward into the Connecticut Valley. But soon enough they began to rampage through the villages of the River Indians. The Peqouts finally rested and made their headquarters in Groton and built 3 villages at Groton Heights, Fort Hill, and Mystic. This was all prime Indian country. The land supplied them with all they needed to survive, and there was game of all kinds.

The summer on 1614 was the first time the Pequots ever met the white settlers. They started trading furs for the settler’s goods. Things like steel knives, needles and boots. In 1633 the Dutch bought land from the Pequots and permission for River Indians to bring their fur for trade. Meanwhile the English bought land for settlement away from the local tribes. The Dutch had unintentionally killed the Pequots Chief. This created a need for revenge by the Pequot tribe, so they attacked. Soon after attacking the new leader of the Pequots Sassacus realized that they were in grave danger because the English hated them and so did the surrounding Indians. The Pequots had been expelled from their land by white settlers. They too could see the beauty of the land as it was covered in forest and flowing with wildlife and all types of birds and animals that they have never seen previously.

The first settlers of Groton had to be farmers because they needed to provide the necessities of food and clothing. The land was mainly made up of rocks and trees and farming was not easy. Because of the earlier glaciers it wiped away all of the top soil. Therefore, all of the rocks and trees had to be removed before any work could be done to the ground. Livestock was also very important to the settlers. Cattle were great for providing dairy; pigs and sheep for wool and animal protein; and the oxen did the heavy farm work.

Meanwhile the centerpiece of the Submarine Museum is the USS Nautilus, SSN 571, which is anchored permanently in the Thames River and is accessible to all who wish to climb down its steep ladders, and squeeze through its water tight doorways. The Nautilus was made possible by the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by a group of scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, under the leadership of Captain Hyman G. Rickover, USN. Hyman George Rickover (January 27, 1900 – July 8, 1986) was eventually raised to a four-star admiral in the United States Navy. He invented and controlled the naval nuclear propulsion. Rickover was known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy“, which as of July 2007 had produced 200 nuclear-powered submarines, and 23 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and cruisers, though many of these U.S. vessels are now decommissioned and others under construction. With his unique personality, political connections, responsibilities, and depth of knowledge regarding naval nuclear propulsion, Rickover became the longest-serving naval officer in U.S. history with 63 years active duty. Rickover's substantial legacy of technical achievements includes the United States Navy's continuing record of zero reactor accidents, as defined by the uncontrolled release of fission products subsequent to reactor core damage. He was incredibly controversial. He refused to wear a navy uniform in his later years, was quite acerbic, he didn’t tolerate fools easily, and was tough as nails. He personally interviewed all of the officers who applied to work in the nuclear navy, and many were “washed out” because of his strict standards of excellence. His interviews with these candidates were often fraught with sarcasm, biting comments, and a sense of urgency. He was quite tough and even many WWII veterans of the submarine service were also cashiered out of the new and emerging nuclear navy because they could not meet Rickover’s exacting standards. Over the course of Rickover's record-length career, these personal interviews amounted to tens of thousands of highly impressionable events; over 14,000 interviews were with recent college-graduates alone. These legendary interviews loomed large in the minds of Navy ROTC students. Varying from arcane to combative to humorous, and ranging from midshipmen to very senior naval aviators who sought command of aircraft carriers (which sometimes lapsed into ego battles), the content of most of these interviews has been lost to history, though some were later chronicled in the several books on Rickover's career. During his wartime service, as noted later in the January 11, 1954, Time magazine issue that featured him on its cover: “Sharp-tongued Hyman Rickover spurred his men to exhaustion, ripped through red tape, drove contractors into rages. He went on making enemies, but by the end of the war he had won the rank of captain. He had also won a reputation as a man who gets things done.

In July of 1951, Congress authorized construction of the world's first nuclear powered submarine. On December 12th of that year, the Navy Department announced that she would be the sixth ship of the fleet to bear the name Nautilus. Her keel was laid by President Harry S. Truman at the Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, Connecticut on June 14, 1952. After nearly 18 months of construction, Nautilus was launched on January 21, 1954 with First Lady Mamie Eisenhower breaking the traditional bottle of champagne across Nautilus' bow as the submersible slid down the ways into the Thames River. Eight months later, on September 30, 1954, Nautilus became the first commissioned nuclear powered ship in the United States Navy. I can remember quite well when it was launched, when it sailed under the North Pole and when it broke all the endurance records of a submersible. The museum itself tells the remarkable history of the submarine from its earliest days as a one-man self-propelled vessel called the Turtle, to the gigantic Ohio Class Trident II atomic submarines which are 560 feet in length and weigh over 16, 000 tons. After our tour, the kids headed back to Boston, and we headed over to Mystic. Linda also found out that the naval personnel are all assigned to a three- year stay at the museum. That is quite a change from the rigors of Iraq and Afghanistan, where many of these men and women spent a tour. I had a great time talking to one of the men, who happened to have his young family there on Sunday. He was well schooled in naval history, and I had an enjoyable time exchanging naval vignettes about WWII.

Mystic is a historic locality, though it has no independent government. It is not a legally recognized municipality within the state of Connecticut. Rather, Mystic is located within the towns of Groton (west of the Mystic River, and also known as West Mystic) and Stonington (east of the Mystic River).Historically a leading seaport of the area, the story of Mystic's nautical connection is told at Mystic Seaport, the world's largest maritime museum, which has preserved both a number of sailing ships (most notably the whaler Charles W. Morgan) and the seaport buildings ashore. The village is located on the Mystic River, which flows into Long Island Sound, providing access to the sea. The Mystic River Bascule Bridge crosses the river in the center of the village.

A major New England tourist destination, the village is also home to the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, and notable for its research department, dedication to marine life rehabilitation and not captivity, and its popular beluga whales. The business district, on either side of the Bascule Bridge, where US 1 crosses the Mystic River, includes many popular restaurants including Mystic Pizza which inspired the name of the 1988 film, though that was not the location of the restaurant in the film. Scenes in Mystic Pizza were shot in Mystic, Stonington, Noank, Watch Hill (RI), and also at the Planetarium at Mystic Seaport. We didn’t stop at Mystic Pizza. Linda revealed that they only rated a “17” in Zagats, so we passed. By the way Johnny’s Pizza in my old hometown of Mount Vernon gets a “27” rating! We strolled around town, relaxed in a coffee house, looked over the book store, went into a great Army-Navy store and took some pictures of the sailboats anchored on the Mystic River. From Mystic, it was on to New London, where very little was going on. Maybe it was because it was a Sunday morning, and the tourists were in the coastal towns.

We headed back to Water’s Edge, relaxed for a few hours. At 5:00 pm we made our way up to the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, to see Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, which is located 19 miles north of Westbrook. The Goodspeed isa non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and advancement of musical theater and the creation of new works, was formed in 1959 to restore the Goodspeed Opera House to its original Victorian appearance. The Goodspeed reopened in 1963 and, under the direction of Michael P. Price and since 1968 it has sent 16 productions to Broadway. Goodspeed productions have won more than a dozen Tony Awards, while Goodspeed Musicals have won two special Tonys. The opera house was originally built by a local merchant and banker, William Goodspeed. Construction began in 1876 and finished in 1877, but despite the name, it was not in fact an opera house, but rather a venue for presenting plays. Its first play, Charles II, opened on October 24, 1877. We had been here once before when we went to see, Most Happy Fella in 1992. The show at that time had been in the midst of two major revivals. The first, a limited engagement by the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center, opened on September 4, 1991 and played 10 performances in repertory. Four months later, a duo-piano version, transferred from the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut to the Booth Theatre on Broadway and ran for 229 performances. We had a quick meal at La Vita Gustosa on Main Street (10” pizza) which is right across the street. We finished our last bite at 6:28 pm and left just in time to climb up to our $45 mezzanine seats. The theater holds 390 people and I quickly estimated that it was about 90% full. Meanwhile the show was significantly different from the production we had seen at the Broadway Palm Theater in Mesa, Arizona in March of 2004. The producers added two songs, I’ll Share it With You, and Who Do You Love, I Hope, and removed Indian Ceremonial. This new production was modeled on a more politically correct and racially sensitive one, which removed perceived stereotypical and demeaning references to Native Americans. But, all in all, the show was quite good. The leads, Jenn Gambatese, who played Annie Oakley and Kevin Early, in the role of Frank Butler were great. They both have wonderful voices and were supported quite well by a very engaging cast. The show has a wonderful score, featuring such standards as: There’s No Business Like Show Business, They Say its Wonderful, Anything You Can Do, and You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun. Of course, the show was originally opened on Broadway, at the Imperial Theater in May of 1946 with Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton. It ran for 1147 performances and was revived for a short Broadway run of 78 performances again in 1966 with Merman in the lead and Bruce Yarnell as Butler. Jerry Orbach played the role of Charlie Davenport. The 1999 Broadway, at the Marquis Theater ran for 35 previews and 1046 performances and featured Bernadette Peters, with various leads following, including; Susan Lucci, of soapbox opera notoriety. In 1950, Metro Goldwyn Mayer made a well-received movie version of the musical. Although MGM purchased the rights to the film version with an announced intention of starring legendary singer-actress Judy Garland as Annie, early work on the film was plagued with difficulties, some attributed to Garland. Garland was fired and replaced by the brassier, blonde Betty Hutton. In 1957, a production starring Mary Martin as Annie and John Raitt as Frank Butler was broadcast on NBC. In 1967, the Lincoln Center production described above, starring Ethel Merman and Bruce Yarnell, was broadcast on NBC.

After the show, I was able to meet the charming and talented Ms. Gambatese, and I invited her to be a guest on The Advocates. We’ll see what happens. So it was a very successful, long, and entertaining day. We were on the road by 9:30 pm and within 30 minutes we were back at Water’s Edge and snuggly ensconced.

The next morning we packed the car, checked out, but altered our earlier plans a bit. We had first thought about going to one of the Yale University museums in New Haven, CT, but decided instead to work our way down Route 1, see some of the small towns and then find I-95 south and head back to Tarrytown. We actually made one stop in Madison, walked around their charming downtown, had our fill and found our way to the interstate. The trip was punctuated by many slow downs because of mid-day work on the road, but within two hours we were back in Tarrytown and glad to be home.





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