By JOSEPH CADRAIN
The Winsted Voice
Winsted, in the last 10 years of the nineteenth century,was witness to many important historical events.
At the dedication of the Winchester Soldier's Memorial Tower, with our state governor, lieutenant governor and chief justice in attendance, 2,000 people marched in a parade, and later 3,000 guests were served dinner at the Rink.
The Electric Railway between Winsted and Torrington, with a spur to Lyman W. Case's Highland Park on Highland Lake was completed. This railway gave Torrington access to the Railroad Center in Winsted, the spur line made Highland Lake easily accessible to travelers from around the world. Change and the nineties were here.
One of the great "Gay '90s" stories is the story of the Winsted Wild Man, which seems to be resurrected from time to time. Lou Stone, of Citizen fame, caused Boston and New York newspapers to send reporters to this area in 1929, when he added to the event, and a book written by Frank L. Wentworth called the Winsted Wild Man was printed in the same year.
On Aug. 27, 1895, The Winsted Evening Citizen ran a story that was retold in The Winsted Herald the following day, "The Wild Man."
This event, told by a selectman, caused excitement at establishments throughout the borough.
It was said, "Mr. Riley Smith is a man that talks but little: He is a man of undoubted pluck and nerve, and his word is first class." Note: pluck meant courage, resolution in face of difficulties.
Others were more direct: "When Mr. Smith says he saw the man, he did see him, and there can be no question about it." Has there been a selectman in recent years about whom this could be said?
The story that Mr. Smith told was that while picking blackberries, in a clearing, near Old Losow Road, he was startled when his bulldog, Ned, whining, came crawling between his legs. He comforted Ned, and attempted to discover what caused his companion to panic, when, rushing out of the bushes came a tall man, stark naked, covered with black hair.
For a moment in time Mr. Smith was paralyzed as the man began leaping high in the air, emitting fearful cries, and suddenly he disappeared into the woods, the long black hair on his head streaming out behind him as he took flight.
The daily Citizen and the weekly Herald ran stories of the Wild Man until it was time for the Thanksgiving turkey. Newspaper reporters came from all around to follow the story. Mr. Smith offered a reward to anyone who captured and brought in the Wild Man.
One Sunday morning over 100 men and boys met at the corner of Lake and Main with all sorts of weapons and ready for the hunt. The areas to be hunted were Injun Meadow, Cobble Hill, and Losaw Road. But when they returned it was discovered that the only living thing encountered was Riley Smith's pigs running wild through the woods.
Reported sightings included George Hoskins, who said he saw the Wild Man leaving his hen house with two hens under his arms. Jim Maddrah proclaimed he took a Kodak picture of a man with a mass of hair on his head, but none of his body. Jim explained this condition by stating his camera was so frightened it couldn't see straight.
Two ladies from New York, while in town, witnessed a large animal cross their path, turn, stand on its hind legs and stare at them. They were in belief that the Wild Man was an ape or baboon.
The chief of police, Steve Wheeler, claimed he tracked a gorilla-man into a swamp before he lost the trail and scent.
Edward Perkins of Norfolk declared he had talked with the man, and in September, at the Agricultural Society Fair held at the Lakeside Driving Park, people expressed disappointment that they could not display the elusive Wild Man.
One taxpayer, probably a descendant of Joe Pfaefflin, expressed the hope that it was really the Devil trying to scare Selectman Smith so he wouldn't spend so much of the town's money.
The Winsted Herald noted that Smith saw a remarkably agile man who appeared to be muscular and brawny. They remarked that no ordinary man could capture this being, while suggesting the selectman should look into this incident.
Mr. Rodemeyer of the Danbury Dispatch said that the Winsted Wild Man was evolving backward.
"The distinction between a man and a monkey is so plain as to admit of a possibility of mistaking one from the other, even in Winsted, despite the proclamation of the Winsted scientists. We shall cling to the belief that the truthful and sober gentleman knows a man from a monkey, and that he actually saw a naked and hairy wild man in the woods near Winsted."
The Hartford Sunday Globe ran a story of an insane artist who escaped from a madhouse. It surmised the wild man was Arthur Beckwith, who escaped from Dr. Buel's sanitarium in Litchfield. Those who observed Beckwith put forward the description of the wild man that fit the madman they knew.
The Waterbury Republican gave Winsted a dig with a remark that this wild man could be Winsted's variety of the new woman. I get the feeling this remark was related to the fact that Winsted had a weekly newspaper called The Advocate, a voice for women's suffrage.
The Winsted Herald ran a story in September called "The Wild Men Are Coming."
A postcard received by George Spencer: "The Skaneateles Fusileers (100 strong), with two Gatling guns and a military balloon, together with the Chemung Calvary (50 men), will arrive at West Winsted on the Vestibule Limited Train (gilt edge) via the Reading R.R. on Saturday, to inaugurate a campaign against the 'Jabberwock' or 'Wild Man.'
"Please have a very strong cage built as we expect to get the above mentioned individual and exhibit him in a dime museum. Very Truly, Colonel, Commanding."
These and many other stories about this incident made Winsted popular for many years.
Explanation of the postcard: George was being gigged by an out-of-town friend. He stated he was sending an obsolete army with edible muskets along with a chemical shoddy calvary to catch a chattering perverted man.
One afternoon while attending a party at Sally and Spen Coleman's in Colebrook, I found myself in a conversation with Bud Rice, a walking encyclopedia, with a photographic memory of the past. We engaged in an interesting dialogue concerning the Wild Man, concluding we both had seen this being around Winsted, usually near wooded areas, or around such places like the The Crystal Bar or The Bucket of Blood.
We realized that it was not the original Wild Man we saw but probably a descendant. We came to the conclusion that on an evening with a full moon, in those early years, the Wild Man met and united with The Witch of Winchester. A little wild boy was born, roamed the surrounding woods, and from time to time was seen by various people, yet we know not if he lived happily ever after.
Note: I am convinced the original story by Mr. Smith was factual.