Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Exploring Winter’s Wonders at Fairfield Museum
The 1888 Naugatuck blizzard crippled the state. Fairfield sledding and skating, circa 1958, and Sasaco Lake Ice Company went big.
Photos Fairfield Museum & History Center
Despite the rollercoaster effect our thermometers have experienced in recent years, winter remains a fact of life in Fairfield. This season of snow, scarves, and skating is showcased in Fairfield Museum and History Center’s latest exhibit, Winter Wonderland, opening on December 1, 2017.
This celebration and study of cold weather coincides with the museum’s annual Holiday Express Train Show. Each year, thousands of visitors flock to the elaborate display of model trains, accented by period buildings dressed up for the merriest of seasons. Winter Wonderland is a complement to this classic Fairfield tradition, providing something for everyone—vintage hockey skates and sleds, photographs of historic blizzards, and cold weather couture from different eras.
“We want to attract families to the exhibit and hope to stir up nostalgic stories to be shared from one generation to the next,” shares Laurie Lamarre, exhibitions curator at the Fairfield Museum and History Center. “The items we’re displaying from our collections are also meant to remind residents of the eternal connection between Connecticut and wintertime. Artifacts and old photographs are a wonderful way to bring history to life,” says museum executive director Michael Jehle.
Many Fairfielders don’t know that the history of modern day skiing has roots in our town. Serge Gagarin, a resident and engineer at Sikorsky Aircraft, patented the first all-aluminum, hollow skis in 1947. The Aluflex Ski, displayed in the exhibit, revolutionized alpine technology, providing a lightweight, flexible, and rust-resistant design, quickly overshadowing the traditional wooden models.
Ice skating, another local favorite, is an important part of Winter Wonderland. Hockey fans will gawk at the pair of skates that hail from a Norwich factory, circa 1860. Instead of the tradition boot style, these were strapped onto shoes using leather straps with beautifully engraved brass buckles. The contraption was considered unique for its harness that fastened above the ankles, offering the increased stability found in contemporary models.
Trends in winter clothing have changed dramatically in many ways over the years. Before microfleece and Gortex hit the slopes, ermine, mink, and rabbit fur were popular for both style and warmth. More politically correct—but decidedly less chic—is a bright colored ski suit on view from the 1930s.
Although the exhibit provides an entertaining trip down memory lane, it also acknowledges the somber side of winter and its impact on residents and local businesses throughout Fairfield’s history. Photographs of the staggering 12 foot drifts from the Blizzard of 1888, aka “The Great White Hurricane,” remind us how crippling a snowstorm was without access to communication, coal, or food typically delivered by train. “People were climbing out of second story windows just to go outside because there were no modern conveniences such as snow plows and blowers to clear a path to one’s front door,” explains Lamarre.
But along with winter’s treachery sprung industry. In the 1900s, enterprising Fairfielders founded Sasaco Lake Ice Company and the Bulkley Ice House, which harvested ice from frozen lakes along the Southport-Westport line and sold blocks throughout the county. Authentic hand tools such as saws, hooks, and picks are on display to reimagine the dangerous process of collecting ice. Local artists such as Mabel Osgood Wright and Kathleen Finn also took advantage of the season by creating detailed sketches of nearby scenery, which are among the exhibit’s treasures.
“Winter is a time for work and play, a time to enjoy friends and family,” says Lamarre. Look out for the Museum’s winter party around President’s Day, featuring activities, snacks, and movies. As notes John Steinbeck, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”