T here are many ways to give thanks in—and to—New Haven at this time of year. The selection below involves really bad rhymes and puns. You can thank us later.
Claes Oldenburg’s public art sculpture Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks provided not just a powerful anti-war statement during the campus unrest of the late 1960s, it became a fun canvas for student messages and artistic statements, until it was affirmed that this was a major work of art and should be treated and preserved accordingly. Other artistic tanks in town include the oil tanks along New Haven harbor, one of which is emblazoned with a variation of Rudolph Zallinger’s famed dinosaur mural from Yale’s Peabody Museum.
There have been many Hanks in the New Haven area worth thanking. There’s the now-defunct tropical-themed watering hole Hula Hank’s Island Bar on Crown Street, which really took the chill off this time of year. There’s Hank Paper, founder and proprietor of Best Video in Hamden, that unparalleled gathering place for cineastes. There’s Hank Hoffman, who happens to work at Best Video (he books the popular live-music series there) and also helms the local visual-art news & reviews site Connecticut Art Scene. There’s New Haven-based octogenarian Hank Parker, who helped make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday in Connecticut years before it became a national one, and who has received both a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP. There’s even Hank’s Custom Automotive on Dixwell Avenue.
There are the banks we keep our money in, from community-centered ones such as Start Bank to ones which sponsor a host of city festivals, like First Niagara Bank. Then there’s Connecticut Food Bank, which has its main office and warehouse in East Haven and distributes food to hundreds of agencies statewide; Connecticut Food Bank just completed its annual “Thanksgiving for All” turkey-donation campaign. Another beneficent bank is The Diaper Bank, which gives free diapers to needy families, advocates for broader definitions of “basic human needs,” and brandishes the delightful slogan, “Change from the Bottom Up.”
The Dadaist Invasion of Lighthouse Point Park in 1988. The hardcore band Malachi Krunch crashing the Chapel Street street festival by playing atop a storefront roof in 1991. Guilty Party candidate Little Miss Mess-Up’s mayoral race in 2001. The annual self-parody issues published whenever the Yale Daily News marks a change of staff. New Haven knows how to have a good time.
The Yanks, and the Red Sox, and all other baseball teams benefited from the invention of the baseball batting cage in New Haven in 1885. Other sports innovations that sprung out of our fair city? Inter-collegiate basketball games, the Frisbee and a little thing called football.
Clang! Clang! Clang! went the trolleys. In the early decades of the 20th century, streetcars served as the preferred way for New Haveners to get to work, catch a game at the Yale Bowl, shop downtown or even head out of state. So fondly remembered are the trolleys that when in 2001 the city devised a downtown shopping shuttle route for tourists, they made the buses look like trolleys. But the trolley tracks were nothing compared to the great New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad system which operated for nearly a century before morphing into various Amtrak and Metro-North routes.
And finally… Thanksgiving.
New Haven Colony was founded in April 1638 by Puritans. This was less than 20 years after the Mayflower Pilgrims founded Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, where the American Thanksgiving tradition essentially started. Some of the things New Haven gives thanks for today—the city’s renowned ethnic and cultural diversity, its much-envied arts scene, its progressive government, its open-minded and influential centers of learning, its variety of restaurants and clubs—would surely have horrified most of New Haven’s founders. At the city’s founding, only one form of religion was tolerated and artistic expression was forbidden. It took centuries before the city could muster up the nerve to host even a modest classical music ensemble; now it’s home to one of the oldest symphony orchestras in the U.S. Theater shows were routinely banned and expurgated well into the 20th century. Then the status of the Shubert as one of the top out-of-town tryout houses for Broadway shows took hold, augmented in the 1960s with the advent of the Long Wharf and Yale Rep theater. Now the cutting edge is regularly embraced. New Haven has been a harbor city, a college town, a factory town, the site of historic legal battles and the birthplace of everything from the hamburger to the telephone switchboard to a U.S. President.
Thanks should be given, then, for New Haven’s continued, and continually awe-inspiring, growth and inspiration, its propensity for change, its influence on other cities and its international reputation as a cool place to live.
The Daily Nutmeg will take tomorrow off so that we can celebrate Thanksgiving with our families. Happy holidays to you and yours.
Written by Christopher Arnott.