‘True Ghost Stories of Connecticut’? 3 books to read this summer around Connecticut’s music, legendary women and ghosts – Hartford Courant

Connecticut history can be arranged in many different ways. One could construct a workable history of Connecticut based solely around famous buildings (from the Old State House to the PEZ Visitor Center), roads (from the Post Road to Interstate 95), parks (from Putnam Memorial Park to Bushnell Park) or movies ( from “Friendship” to “The Conjuring 3″).

Three recently published books form dynamic pictures of Connecticut’s past, shaped for the most part around places that can still be visited. They take novel approaches to specific facets of the multifarious state and provide a living portrait of how the state grew and changed — as long as you accept that the term “living” can encompass the dead and undead.

Here are three recent Connecticut-focused books for some summer reading.

By Patricia W. Harris (Globe Pequot Press, 2022)

Connecticut figures prominently in this collection of profiles of famous New England women. With nine entries, we’re second only to Massachusetts among the six states.

The book’s best feature is that, besides the useful biographical essays on each woman, it’s a travel guide, describing places where women’s achievements are celebrated. The entry on Mabel Osgood Wright spotlights the still-thriving Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary she founded in Fairfield in 1914. Yale-educated sculptor Maya Lin is noted for “The Women’s Table” outside of the university’s Sterling Library, a tribute to the legacy of women enrolled at Yale between 1873 and 1993. Katharine Hepburn is represented by the arts center that bears her name in Old Saybrook, and Prudence Crandall and her school, Florence Griswold and her museum (listed under its original purpose, “Art Colony Boardinghouse”) and “Harriet Beecher’s Stowe’s Final Home” all naturally make the cut.

The book also stirs interest in lesser-known historic homes such as the family home of Theodate Pope Riddle in Farmington and Caroline Ferriday’s Country Home in Bethlehem. The most enlightening entry might be the one devoted to Kathleen Moore, who was a lighthouse keeper in Bridgeport’s Black Rock Harbor for over 60 years.

“Chalk it up, perhaps, to government bureaucracy,” Harris writes, “but Kathleen Moore had to wait until after her father’s death in 1871 to be officially recognized as the head lighthouse keeper” — performing tasks she started doing as a child around 1817 .

By Tony Renzoni (The History Press, 2022)

For Connecticut music fans, this book, which should be read in tandem with Renzoni’s earlier effort “Connecticut Rock ‘n’ Roll — A History,” carves out a fairly narrow slice of the past. Its primary audience is Baby Boomers who came of age when the state’s drinking age had not yet turned from 21 to 18, when nightclubs were bigger, rock bands were more widely traveled and local radio stations could turn a hometown record into a regional hit.

“Connecticut music venues,” refers to a certain sliver of mainstream rock and roll and does not follow classical music, rap, or even folk. There is no mention of the legendary Exit Coffeehouse. Renzoni overlooks landmark punk/new wave venues such as Ron’s Place (where REM famously played as early as 1981), The Grotto, The Moon (where Nirvana played) and The Tune Inn.

Some venues are extolled for world-famous acts that played there: The Doors at New Haven Arena, Bob Dylan at Yale’s Woolsey Hall and elsewhere and U2 at Toad’s Place, New Haven Coliseum and Hartford Civic Center. Others are lauded as launching pads for top regional acts. When listing the locals, Renzoni’s main affinity for him (as in his earlier book) is for the guitar bands and party bands that ruled the state in the 1960s and 1970s. These include The Scratch Band (whose vocalist Christine Ohlman is still playing out today with Rebel Montez), Flying Tigers (formed by members of the original Alice Cooper Group), The Wild Weeds (featuring Al Anderson, later of NRBQ and now a solo star ) and Bram Rigg Set (whose drummer Beau Segal once ran The Oakdale, which was founded by his father). More recent local acts that get noticed here tend to be of the jam band genre, mainly those who appeared at the Gathering of the Vibes Festival, which is afforded its own short chapter in the book.

“Historic Connecticut Music Venues” ends with three random-seeming appendices: “Interviews with Two Hall of Fame Legends,” Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and Felix Cavaliere, by dint of them each having lived a good chunk of their lives in Connecticut; “The Amazing and Mysterious Saga of the Mega-Hit Song ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ Recorded by a Bridgeport Trio,” memorializing the band Steam; and a gratuitous 11 pages of photos that could’ve been put elsewhere in the book but weren’t.

Despite the lack of organization and huge gaps of knowledge, the book is ultimately more charming than frustrating. Renzoni is a devoted booster of a specific scene he knows well, and he glorifies them in a way that makes you want to seek out collectible old records, photos and videos of that time. The book jumpstarts nostalgic urges for those who recall places like the Hartford State Theater, which closed in 1962 and hosted everyone from local legends The Five Satins to Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. The Bushnell may not be recognized for having Patti Smith there just three years ago but is remembered for booking Jimi Hendrix in 1968 and The Who in 1969 and also supporting locals like Gene Pitney and The Fifth Estate.

There may be a lot of local music history missing, but there are worse places to start.

By “Cryptmaster Chucky” aka Charles F. Rosenay!!! (Kiwi Publishing, 2022)

Ghosts don’t often appear randomly. Typically they seem to haunt places where they once dwelled or died or were buried. The backstories of supernatural manifestations, therefore, can be vastly more interesting than the appearances themselves.

There’s a good-sized number of books on hauntings in Connecticut out there, but “True Ghost Stories of Connecticut” adds new material to the genre. Local entertainment promoter Charles Rosenay!!! (the exclamation points have been legally attached to his surname of him for decades and come in handy here) asked a variety of acquaintances to recount their firsthand experiences with the supernatural.

Some of the best-known haunted areas of the state are duly invoked (the spooky forest in Dudleytown and the Sterling Opera House in Derby each get two chapters), with present-day experiences. Some of the locations are obvious places: cemeteries, native burial grounds, Newgate Prison or Fairfield Hills Asylum. Others haven’t been on the map before. Mike Cronin of the 2 Brothers Extreme Paranormal investigation teams describes “The New Demon House of Derby,” which he uncovered just last year, and Paul Longo, the publisher of the Ghost Watch magazine and website, contributes a creepy encounter that happened at his childhood home in Stratford.

Many of those sharing their stories are true believers, while others are converts who were shaken by their brushes with the unknown. Some of the tales are accompanied by photographic evidence of shadowy figures. Several stories involve Connecticut’s supreme ghost-hunting couple, the late Ed and Lorraine Warren.

What centers this book is everyone’s desire to find out more about the spirits they’ve encountered. This leads to fresh research and perspectives on Connecticut history and culture that you won’t find elsewhere.

Christopher Arnott can be reached at [email protected].

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