Downtown discovery: Honoring the legacy of pioneering Westport journalist
Published 10:51 am, Monday, August 18, 2014
She was a trail-blazing journalist who worked as a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in pre-World War II Berlin.
Sigrid Lillian Schultz was also known for her lavish dinner parties that included guests like Hermann Goering, one of the Nazi elites. Eventually, she met and interviewed the Fuhrer himself, Adolf Hitler.
In 1936, Schultz traveled to the United States and bought property on Elm Street for her widowed mother, Hedwig. After she suffered a shrapnel injury in 1940, Schultz left Germany for Westport, where she recuperated at that house.
She would later return to Westport, and lived in a converted barn on the property until her death on May 14, 1980. That house -- with all Schultz's possessions still inside -- was bulldozed by the town shortly after her death, said Morley Boyd, a member of the Downtown Steering Committee and former chairman of the Historic District Commission. He said his wife's family knew Schultz personally during her later years here.
Boyd said Schultz's exploits have been documented many times and she's mentioned specifically in Eric Larson's best-selling book, "In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Berlin."
"She's a significant historical figure that's been overlooked," he said. In an effort to correct that oversight, Boyd and several other residents are spearheading a plan to relocate a granite pillar from a corner of the historic Kemper-Gunn property on Church Lane to 35 Elm St., where Schultz's home -- a front-gabled, Greek Revival house -- once stood. They want it to serve as a fitting memorial to Schultz. Boyd noted that also is the same address where the Kemper-Gunn House will be moved to make way for the Bedford Square development.
He added the 20-inch square, 5-foot-tall pillar dates back to the mid-19th century when the Sherwood family lived on the Church Lane property.
Boyd said there is no charge for the stone post since it sits on town property. David Waldman, the developer re-purposing the Kemper-Gunn House and moving it to the Elm Street site, has told Boyd he would move the stone, which extends 5 feet underground, and warehouse it until it's ready to be installed.
"It's quite valuable," he said of the pillar, estimating it would cost about $5,000 in today's market.
The only funding needed for the memorial project will be for a plaque and that money will be raised privately by an ad hoc group of interested parties that includes Matt Mandell, a Representative Town Meeting member, a member of the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group and executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, Boyd said.
Selectman Helen Garten, who chairs the advisory group, however, said last week that "nothing has been decided yet" about the stone.
"We took all references to the marker out of the lease (between the town and Kemper-Gunn for the Elm Street property) because it is not really part of this project and it is on town land," Garten said.
She said Waldman is willing to move the pillar, since it can't remain where it is. "But where it should go has not yet been decided," she said. "I'd like to preserve it, but we need to have a public discussion."
As for the Schultz memorial, Boyd said he's been thinking about what could be inscribed on the plaque. "There's so much that could be said" about Schultz, Boyd said. "It would have to be engaging, compelling, but brief."