‘Secret Connecticut’ Provides Map To State's Weird, Wonderful, And Obscure; Meet Author At Booth Library
“The first time Martin Luther King Jr experienced life outside the segregated South, it was in Simsbury. He spent the summers of 1944 and 1947 here, and his letters home expressed wonder in the freedom to eat in any restaurant and sit wherever he pleased on public transportation.”
So opens “Dreaming In Simsbury,” the third chapter in Secret Connecticut: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, an easy, breezy, very enjoyable read by career travel writer and editor Anastasia Mills Healy. Released in March, the Reedy Press book offers more than 80 stories about this small state we call home.
The Greenwich resident will be the special guest on Tuesday, June 15, when C.H. Booth Library hosts a virtual author program. Registration is needed for the free program, which will begin at 6:30 pm.
When the travel writer could not safely travel last year outside the country — or even her home state, or home, she notes in the book’s introduction — Healy began a trip down memory lane.
Laughing when asked about the number of places she knew she would be able to include in her book even before her research began, Healy said, “The template is 84 stories, and I figured I would get to maybe half.”
The template Healy references comes from the St Louis-based publisher and its “Secret” series, which takes readers on tours of cities, states, and even the country through its books.
“I’ve lived in the state for so long, and written about the state, but when I actually sat down to write, I came up with only eight or ten,” she said while speaking recently with The Newtown Bee.
Among those at the top of her personal list of favorites are Winvian Farm in Morris and Latin Day in Prospect.
The former is a 113-acre property with 18 unique and extremely unusual themed cottages. Healy’s favorite is Helicopter, an 890-square-foot cottage that makes use of a real 1968 Sikorsky Sea King Pelican HH3F Coast Guard helicopter.
Inside the Connecticut-built machine — which saw plenty of action before this sweet retirement gig — is a living area that includes a television and a bar. Outside the flying machine (should “the novelty of having a helicopter in your hotel room wear off,” Healy writes), the cottage also offers a screened-in porch, wood-burning fireplace, and Jacuzzi tub.
Connecticut State Latin Day is an annual athletic, scholarly, and artistic competition open only to middle and high school Latin students.
“I’ve been to Winvian twice in the past decade,” she said, “and Latin Day I participated in when I was in high school.”
When it was safe to do some local traveling, Healy was out the door, eager to do in-person research.
“If I hadn’t been somewhere within the past four years or so, and if I couldn’t fact check, verify, or get someone on the phone, then I went places and checked myself,” she said.
She visited Action Wildlife Foundation in Goshen, for instance. The northwestern Connecticut attraction has an 18-acre safari trail “where cars can loop around big pens and pull over to get close-up looks at American bison, African Watsui cattle, and three zebras,” Healy wrote in the summary for that location. The visit, she told The Newtown Bee, proved the importance of in-person research.
“I’m really glad that I went, because the water buffalo had been killed by coyotes,” she said. Coyotes are a constant issue at the location.
“But I learned all this stuff,” she added. “I was there at closing one day, and was able to talk to the owner about his place, and got information I wouldn’t have known otherwise. He had killed all the animals in the taxidermy area and natural history displays, for instance. That was interesting, and I wouldn’t have known that without the visit.”
Healy also visited her library, where she checked out any book that had the word Connecticut in its title. The step was one part making sure her book did not duplicate work already done by others, and one part finding inspiration for her project.
Healy subsequently wrote about world explorer Adriaen Block, George Washington’s presidential predecessor Samuel Huntington, Eli Whitney’s other invention, diving horses, and even a spa resort that John Adams documented, among other stories.
For those who want to join the ranks of the first Yale students who were members of the Brain Society, Healy’s book provides information.
Interested in exploring “Connecticut’s Stonehenge”? Secret Connecticut has the address and cost for that day trip.
Readers also learn that around a campfire in the woods of Greenwich, circa 1902, the forefathers of Boy Scouts gathered. UConn is the only university in the country that offers three puppetry degrees, including a masters. While Willimantic is known for the four huge copper frogs on each end of the Willimantic River bridge (which are explained in another chapter), not many outside the city know of its July 4 tradition. All these topics, and dozens more, have been collected and disseminated by Healy.
Entries are brief but provide just enough to pique a reader’s interest. Each chapter includes an address and contact details, and at least one photo.
One of Healy’s previous jobs was invaluable for Secret Connecticut.
“I used to be a guidebook writer, and I’d go into these places and would then have to synthesize into a few sentences, without judgement,” she shared.
“You have to get to the salient points, quickly. I feel like that is one of my writing superpowers,” she added with a laugh.
Healy has provided the breadcrumbs to dozens of weird, wonderful, and obscure locations to find (or rediscover) within the Nutmeg State; follow-up is on the reader.
The 208-page Secret Connecticut: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure is available as a paperback ($22.50) from the publisher directly (reedypress.com) and as a paperback or e-book ($12.99) from most book vendors including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Reservations for Anastasia Mills Healy’s June 15 program can be through the events calendar online at chboothlibrary.org. For additional information, call 203-426-4533.
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.