Hang It Up

I n 1990, Frank Cooper had an idea. Hamden’s Camp Rainbow—“one of the first programs in the state that did a summer day camp for kids with special needs”—was always short on funding for activities. Cooper had worked in Newtown before becoming Hamden’s deputy director of parks and recreation, and he remembered that town’s series of holiday ornaments. Why not sell the same kinds of ornaments in Hamden and fund the camp? “It’s the old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So I just copied a good idea,” Cooper says.

28 years later, Cooper’s good idea has become a town tradition. The first Hamden ornament depicted the town seal, featuring Sleeping Giant State Park. Since then, the pewter keepsakes have honored churches, schools, parks, municipal groups, historic homes and buildings, iconic businesses and even the Ghost Parking Lot, an art installation involving junk cars covered by asphalt that was dismantled in 2003.

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Mr. Gilbert's Railroad at the Eli Whitney Museum

“We try to get things that have some history in the town,” says Laura Luzzi (pictured third), recreation supervisor. On a recent Friday afternoon, she was busy packaging this year’s ornaments, which had just arrived, in padded plastic cases with accompanying historic information cards. Ornaments cost $10, intended to cover expenses. Camp Rainbow closed years ago as other organizations were better able to serve its population, Cooper says. Now any proceeds go into the town’s general fund.

Sales generally top 250, Luzzi reports, though popular themes can move hundreds more. The 1993 ornament honoring Hamden High School was a top seller, Cooper recalls. At the time, there was talk of possibly demolishing the 1935 building, and “people were unsure whether or not it was going to stand as is… Boy, we had to reorder like four times.” (The building was renovated and its historic facade retained.) An ornament depicting the iconic Glenwood Drive-In in 2005 was another big seller. “Talk about an institution,” Cooper says.

This year’s ornament features another beloved Hamden business: Whitney Donut and Sandwich Shop. Owners Julie and Saki Louizos say they’re “honored” and “lucky” to have been chosen. On a recent chilly morning, customers dined around Whitney Donut’s old-fashioned, U-shaped counter or waited for takeout from the register or the drive-through window. The 31 flavors of doughnuts behind the counter that day included standard favorites—plain, glazed, cinnamon, chocolate frosted—shelved alongside flavors like maple bacon, pumpkin and toasted coconut. The shop also offers a full-service breakfast and lunch menu. Opened by Julie’s parents, Peter and Sharon Demetropoulos, in 1980, the shop moved to its present location on Whitney Avenue north of Hamden’s town center in 2000. Whitney Donut serves more than 1,000 customers every day, Saki says.

The pewter image of the shop hanging on Hamden Christmas trees this year was designed by Hamden graphic designer and animation artist Karl Wildman. It depicts the exterior of the popular eatery, transforming its roof into a giant box full of doughnuts with a coffee cup logo, its steam wafting beyond the box’s edge. “The artwork was unbelievable,” Saki says. “We were amazed.”

“I took artistic license there,” Wildman says with a laugh. He studied the building in different kinds of light and took several photographs, asking himself, “What can I do with a square building? Can I add something to it graphically?” The doughnut box roof was his answer. Wildman has designed Hamden’s ornaments since 2011, and other years have posed different challenges. Working with pewter, a soft metal alloy, can be tricky. If you don’t design bold lines with lots of contrast, the manufacturing process “can actually buff your design right off the metal,” Wildman says. The ornaments are crafted at Woodbury Pewter in Woodbury, Connecticut.

At least one Hamdenite has a complete collection of all 27 ornaments (none were produced in 2004 and 2009). A small wooden cabinet hangs outside the office of town clerk Vera Morrison in the lower level of the Hamden Government Center. Morrison opens the cabinet’s glass door to offer a closer look at the pewter replicas hanging there. Antique fire trucks are parked outside one of the volunteer firehouses. Snow blowers and flower pots stand in front of Spring Glen Hardware. The Hindinger Farm sign is surrounded by a wreath with a bow.

The cabinet is a landscape of important Hamden buildings and sites—as Frank Cooper sees it, “a way to let people know about the history of the town.” It’s a history they’ll be reminded of anew each year as they unpack their ornaments and hang them for the holidays.

Hamden’s 2018 holiday ornament
$10 at the Hamden Recreation Department
Hamden Government Center – 2750 Dixwell Ave, Hamden
Mon-Fri 8:30am-4:30pm
(203) 287-2579
www.hamden.com/recreation

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 3 depicts Laura Luzzi.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Join her this month on Goodreads for a guided winter reading of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.

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