Saturday, July 7, 2018

Visiting Greenwich of Long Ago

As we celebrate the forty-fifth anniversary of the Greenwich Library Oral History Project, we continue to share interviews from our archives that shed light on the history of our town. The following is an on interview conducted in 1975 by the Oral History Project’s esteemed interviewer, Marian Phillips. It is narrated by Thiel Ficker who sat for several OHP interviews. Ficker was the son of Mary Dodge Ficker (1885-1984) whose interview was the subject of our March 2018 post.

This month’s post was written for the Oral History Project by guest blogger, Joseph Campbell.
WWI Monument Dedication
Greenwich Library Collection
Thiel Ficker, born in 1915, lived in Greenwich all his life. He left to serve in World War II but returned soon after. To read his story is to be transported back in time to a Greenwich that is no more. Mr. Ficker grew up in the years between World War I and World War II, and to read his story is to be immersed in the Greenwich of the 1920s and 1930s. It was a time of soda fountains and trolleys and playing in forests and parks that are gone now. It was a time when families would spend the day at the beach and come home in the evening riding the trolley from Norwalk all the way back to Greenwich. Stamford was where residents went shopping, and getting to the train station to commute to New York was a trip in itself. 
WWII Bond Drive
Greenwich Library Collection
As we read his interview about growing up, we realize it is not just the young Thiel who is growing. Greenwich itself is growing up as well. Mr. Ficker describes buildings that were new when he was growing up but are now old and part of the daily fabric of Greenwich or are perhaps gone, their existence only distant memories for some. Areas that were woods and swamps to be played in are now roads and neighborhoods. Mr. Ficker grew up in a time when after church families had picnics on the church lawn, when families knew each other, and when life moved at a much slower pace.  

Reading his interview affords a glimpse into the troubled depression years in Greenwich. Mr. Ficker describes how hobos would travel through the area looking for food and shelter for the night. He tells of his grandmother who fed and provided humble shelter in the family barn for some because that is what was done then. He describes how one such roaming man who was taken in ended up staying on for years.  

Mr. Fcker tells about the town’s parades at a time when Memorial Day was still known as Decoration Day. The telephone switchboard was by Lake’s Drug Store, and ice was delivered daily to the resident’s icebox.

The beautiful thing about an oral history like Mr. Ficker’s is that it transports the reader to a different place and time, even if that place is one’s hometown.

If you are interested in what life was like in Greenwich before the traffic and the crowds, take the time to read Mr. Ficker’s story. Take notes and then get in your car and go see what exists today in the locations he describes.  Unfortunately (and perhaps fortunately), we cannot take the trolley anymore, and Mike the cab driver is long gone, too, but you can be guaranteed a wonderful trip down memory lane to a different time. You will lose yourself in a time in America’s past that seems simpler and more hospitable. But you will also be reminded of hardships we no longer face, such as long walks to the trolley on a cold winter day or on a hot summer day. It may serve us well to think of that the next time we unhappily sit in traffic—adjusting the car’s heat or air conditioning. 
Commuting by Trolley
Wikimedia Commons Collection

Thiel Ficker’sinterview, “Growing Up in Old Greenwich,” is available in the library’s first floor reference area and through the Oral History Project office, located on the lower level of the library.