Shine a light on a landmark
In “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Mark Twain spins the satirical tale of a skilled Connecticut mechanic who is knocked unconscious and awakes in the sixth century to find himself in the custody of an armor-suited knight.
The two approach a magnificent city, its towers and spires puncturing the horizon.
Twain’s narrator, the Connecticut Yankee, speaks to the knight.
“‘Bridgeport?’ Said I, pointing.
‘Camelot,’ Said he.”
So even in 1889, the year of the book’s publication, Bridgeport was recognized, not just in Mark Twain’s fiction, as a shining city of promise.
The Connecticut Yankee was from East Hartford and figuring, at first, he was still in Connecticut, surmised that a city so sumptuous must have been Bridgeport.
And indeed there was a time that the Latin phrase “Industria Crescimus” — By Industry We Thrive — that’s on the Bridgeport city seal was no boast.
We know communities need tangible symbols of identity. Think of the psychological collapse, for instance, if Bridgeport’s power plant smokestack should topple.
The town of Stratford is now going through something of an identity crisis after the American Festival Shakespeare Theater burned to the ground earlier this month.
Too bad, of course. But it’s been decades since it had operated.
Cleaning out some files, I came across playbills from productions I saw there. Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” with Fred Gwynne as the Stage Manager; Shakespeare’s Henry V with Christopher Plummer and Kelsey Grammer; Hamlet with Christopher Walken; and, of course, Hal Holbrook doing “Mark Twain Tonight.”
It was great while it lasted. It’s time to move on. That Stratford legislators are thinking of asking us for millions of dollars to rebuild the theater is preposterous. While we’re at it, let’s all chip in to rebuild Steeplechase Park at Pleasure Beach.
The theater’s setting is a beautiful piece of property. The town should sell it for a bundle and oversee its development into something beautiful.
Nostalgia is a fine thing. But don’t inflict it on all of us.
Landmarks, alas, go.
One that’s still standing in Bridgeport, a reminder of those “Industria Crescimus” days, is the old Remington Arms shot tower on the East Side of Bridgeport.
Even now, its hollow shattered eyes looking out over the city, it retains — as the theater did — a certain shabby majesty, like that of an aristocrat forced to flee to a foreign land, or, in this case, to a foreign time.
That building should be bathed in floodlight at night. Let passersby on I-95 gawk at the strange sight and wonder what it is.
Let them, if curious enough, look up the history of the Remington Arms company and the tower and the industrial history of Bridgeport.
The tower’s function, incidentally, was this: The ammunition maker would pour hot lead through a sieve at the top and, as it fell the height of the tower, the lead would cool and harden into perfectly round balls, or shot.
The Shakespeare Theater was part of Stratford’s collective identity. We can mourn its passing, but Stratford is a solid place and will carry on just fine.
The shot tower, of course, is also an obsolete, hulking sepulcher for memories.
But it’s still here and a piece of history.
Put some floodlights on it for as long as its still standing. And when it’s gone, so be it.
Landmarks should be preserved and celebrated … but not re-created.
Michael J. Daly is retired editor of the Connecticut Post editorial page. Email: Mike.Daly@hearstmediact.com.