Southern Poverty Law Center Event Tackles Hate, Extremism in US

Southern Poverty Law Center’s Lecia Brooks spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 on the state of hate and extremism in the U.S. during the featured lecture for the Hate Has No Home at UMass campaign on Oct. 2.

Brooks, who led the talk in the Bernie Dallas Room in Goodell Hall, offered a detailed assessment of the recent rise in hate groups. She discussed where and how these hate groups emerge and also provided guidance for effectively challenging bigotry and hate speech. 

“People often ask us, ‘why is there an increase in hate?’” said Brooks. “The primary driver is shifting demographics.”

Read more.

Hartford Drill Team is a Labor of Love

It had been four years since Gwen Morgan last coached a drill team. After 35 years, she had retired from the coaching scene, focusing instead on her day job as a bus driver in Hartford.

But when she got a call from Jackie Thornton, a high school student in Hartford who wanted her help assembling a team, she couldn’t say no.

“When Jackie called, it was my sign,” Morgan says.

That was more than a year ago. Now, the 25-member group known as Another Bad Creation Drill Team and Drum Corps (ABCs, for short) has danced in several drill competitions, often winning.

Drill dance is a synchronized style based on military drills that focuses on precise movements, straight lines and sharp transitions to music. Another Bad Creation uses a live drum team to create the music for its routines.

On Tuesday, 16 of the team members performed, with guidance from Morgan, at the Hartford Community Garden on Niles Street to a crowd of approximately 30.

But it’s their own event that the drill-and-drum team is most excited about.

Tonight at 7, Another Bad Creation hosts Drill-O-Rama, a drill dance competition at Ron-A-Roll in Vernon.

So far, five teams are competing for a cash prize. (Second- and third-place teams receive trophies.) Each team of 25 that enters the competition pays $50; spectators pay $10.

PLANS TO TRAVEL

The ABCs hope that the money raised will cover the costs of future competitions in Connecticut; the big goal is to send the team to a competition in Ohio in August, which will cost $10,000.

“I really want to take them out to see what’s going on elsewhere, not just here but competitions around the world,” Morgan says. “I have to get them out of here. If they stay here, all they’re going to learn is what they see. We want to do something positive for them.”

Though they’ve been trying to raise money through bake sales and car washes, people haven’t been responding as positively as Morgan had hoped.

“I don’t get it. I really don’t get it,” she says. “I don’t have time for politics; it’s about the kids. So we’re pretty much on our own, and we get what we get. I would love to have some sponsors that aren’t about politics.”

They have gotten some help from the Hartford Community Center and its executive director, Deborah Garner, who provide the team with a space to practice and help with expenses, when possible. “They take care of us as much as they can,” Morgan says.

Natalie Ruff, one of the team captains, says, “Even though we’re basically an independent team, we need help from our community, too, because that’s who we represent.”

To make the Hartford community proud, the drill dancers, ranging in age from 10 to 24, practice six hours a week during the school year, 20 hours a week in the summer.

The routine and music changes for each competition. Thornton, another team captain, does most of the choreography.

“Sometimes I’ll just start dancing, and if everybody likes it, we’ll put it in the routine,” Thornton says.

The drum team is a crucial component, too. Led by Harold Ortiz, the drummers provide the beats for the drill team (and also perform alongside the drillers).

“I’m in charge of the whole percussion section, all the beats, all the rhythms, everything,” he says. “But I don’t do it all by myself. Everyone helps, too.”

IT’S SHOW TIME

By now, it’s nearly 6:30 p.m., and it’s time for the team to perform.

“Our crowd’s about to die down,” Thornton announces. “Let’s go.”

And like that, the team gets in position and launches into its routine, moving with confidence and power in sync to the beat of the live drums and cymbals.

The crowd enthusiastically cheers, dancing and clapping along for the 20-minute performance. When the group finishes – slightly out of breath, but laughing, smiling and celebrating a job well done – Morgan says, “I love my team.”

Another Bad Creation isn’t her first, though. She’s coached three teams before and started drilling when she was 7. She got into coaching at 15.

“I loved everything about drilling: the arts, the discipline, everything,” Morgan says. “I was a DCF child. To me, that was my family. Everything that they gave me, I wanted to give back to my community, to the kids who went through what I went through in life.”

As a coach, she’s taken in a lot of kids, feeding, dressing and caring for them.

“I didn’t want them to go through what I went through,” she explains.

Morgan continues to pay for transportation costs and registration fees out-of-pocket despite the fact that she coaches for free.

She says simply, “This is what I do. It all goes back to everybody wanting to give back. We do what we’ve got to do. I love it.”

Published in Hartford Courant

The Ice Man Carveth: Ex-Chef Now Serves Up Frozen Artworks

Bill Covitz spends his days inside an 18-degree warehouse freezer wielding a chainsaw.

As an ice sculptor running his own Waterbury-based business, Ice Matters, with his wife, Jen, Covitz says working inside a freezer is crucial.

“Other ice sculptors carve outside, in the shade. They can’t imagine carving in the freezer,” he says. “I can’t imagine not.”

As a former chef, Covitz specialized in French cuisine and traveled around the United States, Belgium and to France.

Fine dining “was about how beautiful you could make the plate,” he says.

As a chef, he often was asked to create ice sculptures to accompany his food, and, says Covitz, “I fell in love with it.” Over the years, he’s gone beyond decorating tables with his ice creations to competing in national and international contests.

In 1996, Covitz began to carve competitively and went on to become the 2004 champion at the National Ice Carving Association’s competition. He took a break to focus on his family (he and his wife live in Cheshire with their two boys, Liam, 8, and Joshua, 3) and to run his business before returning to competitions in 2006.

Covitz will compete next at the Lyman Orchards Winterfest during the circus-themed “Ice Wars” challenge Feb. 26 and Feb. 27.

Covitz, whose mother and grandmother were both painters, now can make everything from a corporate logo and a pterodactyl with a 12-foot wingspan to a dainty shot glass with ice. Most recently, he’s done a martini glass that holds two quarts of liquid and has a working spigot as well as a life-size ringmaster.

To carve, Covitz uses various tools. The chainsaw shapes the basic structure; the angle grinder smoothes the cuts, much like a sander; the die grinder, used like a pencil, creates small curves and details; the iron and large handsaw adhere two pieces of ice together; and the torch, used last, smoothes the ice and makes it clear as glass.

But his favorite tools are his assortment of large, medium and small chisels, which he keeps sharp enough to effortlessly slice through ice.

“A lot of people don’t use chisels anymore; they’re all about power tools,” he says. “I still like them a lot, so I use them often.”

While carving in his studio, Covitz – always bundled in a winter coat, snow pants, boots, gloves and a hat (but no goggles, which he says would instantly fog up and obstruct his view while working) – tends to “jump all over the piece” with the tools, he says.

The power tools that he uses produce a blanket of ice dust that clings to his clothing. (“The worst is when ice gets in between his gloves and his skin,” he says.) He eventually removes it with an air blower. The ice and snow that accumulate on the ground are eventually removed with a shovel.

“It gets a little tiring, especially in the winter,” he says. “You get used to it.”

SELF-FULFILLMENT

Looking forward to next week’s contest, Covitz says, “I want it to be a good competition. I compete for myself. That’s where it breaks up the monotony of the everyday grind. I can come up with my own piece. That’s where I get my real fulfillment.”

Though he competes less now than he did before, Covitz does plan to get back into it within the next year, he says.

He recently returned from Norway’s annual Ice Music Festival, which he’s participated in for six years. He got involved after musician Arthur Lipner asked for his help creating an ice marimba for the event.

“I do a lot of repetitive sculptures for weddings and things like that, so I was really intrigued by this,” he says. Since then, Covitz created an ice stage in 2010 and several working ice instruments each year, including a flaming guitar.

As for what Covitz looks for in an ice canvas, it’s clarity, he says. He owns several specialized machines – at $6,000 each – that make the clearest ice possible. Each machine produces four 300-pound clear blocks per week.

How does Covitz feel knowing his art will eventually be a puddle?

“It’s good and bad. There is something special about it. It shows that this sculpture was personalized for you, even if it’s just a swan for the wedding,” he says. “The fact that it melts away is proof that it’s made just for you.”

Published in Hartford Courant

Toasting 80 Years of Magic Moments at The Bushnell

“I tell people, ‘When I die, I either want to be in bed, with all of my family around, saying farewell, or I want to lie down in the aisle and look up at the ceiling at Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell,'” said Alan Schwartz of Avon. “That, to me, is one of the most beautiful, beautiful venues I have ever been in, and my dear, I have been around.”

Schwartz, a former theater professor, director and actor, was first introduced to the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in the 1940s. He worked there as an usher with close friend and future famed director, actor and comedian Charles Nelson Reilly, who grew up in Hartford.

Like many, Schwartz fell in love with the theater and is one of the more than 200 people who are helping the Bushnell — which opened on Jan. 30, 1930 — celebrate its 80th anniversary season.

To do so, the theater solicited memories as part of its “Tell Us Your Story” campaign. The submissions told various stories: of a 10-year-old boy receiving a subscription to the Travel Series from his grandmother; of a husband and wife meeting during a performance of “Wicked”; of a woman accidentally running into President John F. Kennedy after his speech at the Bushnell Memorial in 1961.

Those who shared their stories — which may be used in Bushnell publications, on its website or in displays throughout the building — were invited to an anniversary celebration Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. It included a free concert by the Ensign Darling Vocal Fellows and a backstage tour.

Schwartz was looking forward to celebrating the place where he and Reilly spent a great deal of time.
“The Bushnell, on an artistic level, is not only Hartford, but it’s what Hartford ought to be and should ascribe to be,” he said a few days before the event. “It’s every blessed thing that the arts were meant to be.”

There, Schwartz witnessed what he calls magical performances (he sometimes worked as an extra), everything from “Showboat,” “Faust” and “Aida” to magician Harry Blackstone to the Shrine Circus, complete with elephants and horses.

“What the Bushnell did for me was it planted a flame in my identity. It was the flame of appreciation for the beauty of the arts,” he said.

Rosemarie Swiatkiewicz from Wethersfield first visited the Bushnell as a child to see an opera with her school. It wasn’t until 1980 that she returned for a show hosted by Sammy Davis Jr. for the Greater Hartford Open.

In 1987, she and a friend became season ticket holders.

“We both love Broadway,” she said. “We get to see some fabulous shows with first-class talent, and it’s right in your backyard.”

It was at the Bushnell that she saw “Guys and Dolls,” starring Lorna Luft, Judy Garland’s daughter.

“Just before the curtain went up, they brought in Liza Minnelli. She came in and sat a couple of rows in front of me to see her sister perform,” Swiatkiewicz said. “I thought, ‘I really do have good seats.'”

For Marilda Gandara, former member of the Bushnell Board of Trustees, the Bushnell holds sentimental value.

Though she visits the theater often (last weekend, she and her husband went to see “Hair”), it was in 2000 that her fondest memory occurred.

At the time, her father had cancer. Gandara took him and her mother — both of whom had migrated with her from Cuba in the 1960s — to see “Ragtime.”

She found the story line particularly moving, about a Latvian Jewish immigrant named Tateh who had moved to America with his young daughter.

“I knew this was the last time I would be there with my father because he was already close to dying,” she says. “It was such a powerful experience to be there with him, to see this play, where this man just takes the little girl by the hand, and they plunge into life in America.”

Tateh and his little girl experienced the difficulties of adjusting to live in a new country, much like Gandara’s family.

“To me, it was so incredibly moving to be watching this. It really felt like it was my dad and me up on stage,” Gandara said. “I’ve never forgotten it. I was grateful to the Bushnell for providing the place where this magical experience happened for me and my dad just before he went away.”

Published in Hartford Courant

Historian Unravels A Killer Story; Long-Overlooked Conn. Case Was First Mass Murder

It’s Feb. 3, 1780, on the cusp of midnight. Outside, it’s snowing. The Mallorys, like most of the residents of Washington, Conn., are asleep in their bedroom. But 19-year-old Barnett Davenport, the family’s farmhand and boarder, is not. In one hand, he holds a swingle, a wooden instrument he uses each day on the Mallory farm to extract flax fiber for linen production.

The candle in his other hand is the room’s only light.

He stands next to the bed where Caleb Mallory lies sleeping. Beside Caleb, in a separate bed, his wife is sleeping with their 8-year-old granddaughter.

Davenport swings. The wood makes contact with Mallory’s head. There’s screaming, panic. Mallory knocks the candle from Davenport’s hand, and it hits the ground, making the room now dark. Davenport continues to attack, first Mallory, then Mrs. Mallory, then their granddaughter. He doesn’t stop, not even when the swingle splits and he has to change weapons, grabbing the musket beside their beds. He thinks they’re dead.

Down the hall, the Mallorys’ 5- and 6-year-old grandsons are startled by the noises. Davenport tells them everything is all right. He puts them to bed and proceeds to loot the home.

And then, a groan from Caleb Mallory in the bedroom. More swinging. Then silence.

Davenport changes out of his blood-soaked garments and into some of Mallory’s clothes. He lights several fires throughout the premises. Then he leaves the house, the bodies and the two live children to burn.

It’s America’s first known mass murder, a case that has intrigued New Milford historian Michael-John Cavallaro.

The Research

After nearly three years of investigation, Cavallaro, author and vice chairman of the New Milford Conservation Commission, will be sharing the details of this gruesome night with the public Tuesday. He stumbled across the murders while researching his first book, “Tales of Old New Milford,” and returned to it while writing his latest book, “Slavery, Crime and Punishment on the Connecticut Frontier.” He has since written a screenplay about the murders and Newgate Prison.

Although uncovering the details of the 1780 crime proved to be challenging, Cavallaro eventually discovered the only surviving copy of Davenport’s 14-page confession, published later that year. With the help of curator Stephen Bartkus at the Gunn Historical Museum, Cavallaro was able to view a microphage file of the document.

“The tale that this [confession] told was just phenomenal. For the first time, I knew that I had the truth,” says Cavallaro.

The confession was not written by Davenport, who was illiterate, but most likely transcribed during Davenport’s jail time by the “very well-known and much-loved” Rev. Judah Champion of the First Congregational Church in Litchfield, says Cavallaro. It didn’t simply detail what had happened that night. It also explained the history of the 19-year-old killer.

The Murderer

Described as a “career criminal” and “sociopath” by Cavallaro, Davenport was born and raised in New Milford. He had three brothers; two were older, and one, named Nicholas, was younger.

“He had a very, very tough childhood,” says Cavallaro. Davenport’s father ran an ironworks and offered his son out as a farmhand from the age of 7 or 8. He didn’t have an education and eventually picked up what Cavallaro calls “bad habits.”

By 15, Davenport was guilty of robbery and horse thievery and had already contemplated murdering his employer, a farmer. At 16, Davenport enlisted in the Massachusetts military under the name Bernard, an alias, which he was prone to using throughout his lifetime, says Cavallaro. He deserted, then joined a militia and deserted again.

He eventually ended up in Woodbury, where he met Caleb Mallory. Seeing Davenport dressed in rags, with nothing in his pockets, Mallory invited him to work for his family.

“They took him in. They felt sorry for him. They gave him a job,” says Cavallaro.

A little more than two months later, after spending hours using a swingle to help with the family’s linen production, Davenport decided to use the tool to murder the family.

The Arrest

Although Davenport looted the home, Cavallaro says it was an afterthought and not the motive.

“He tells you right in the confession that his mind was just obsessed with the thoughts of murder and that he had set his mind on murdering [them] five or six days earlier,” he says. “Clearly, this is a very, very disturbed man who has gone from being a sociopath to a psychopath.”

Davenport set the house on fire, with the live children inside, hoping the fire would cover his tracks, says Cavallaro.

It didn’t.

When the police found only five bodies in the rubble of the Mallory home, they sent out a search party that eventually found Davenport in a cave in Cornwall.

“At the point of capture, he said he had an accomplice,” says Cavallaro, who suspects that Davenport was simply trying to lessen his punishment.

But when Davenport was taken to Newgate Prison and realized that his younger brother, Nicholas, had been arrested because Davenport had been using his name, “he recants the statement” about an accomplice, says Cavallaro.

The Mallorys knew Davenport as “Mr. Nicholas.” He had stolen his brother’s identity, says Cavallaro, leading the police to arrest them both.

Although Nicholas had nothing to do with the murders, Cavallaro says the brother remained imprisoned because he knew that Davenport had abandoned the army.

“Had Nicholas turned his brother in, then the murders may not have happened,” he says.

Nicholas, then 17, received 40 lashes and was sentenced to life in prison. He spent two years at Newgate before being released under the condition that he would stay in New Milford for the rest of his life. He died a pauper at 58.

Davenport also received 40 lashes. He was hanged on May 8, 1780.

“The number of victims goes on and on and on. Nicholas is a victim. The parents of the lost children? They’re victims. Caleb Mallory’s seven adult children? They’re victims,” Cavallaro says.

The Aftermath

“From farm to farm to farm to farm, this story spread like wildfire,” says Cavallaro. “Up to that time in 1780, nothing like that had ever been heard of before. It was just a shocking, shocking, shocking tale.”

While researching the murders, Cavallaro was initially unfazed. It wasn’t until Cavallaro read the confession that he was affected, particularly upon discovering that the Mallorys knew Davenport as Nicholas.

“That was it. That was where I felt like I was suddenly kicked in the stomach. I was depressed for several days. The reality of it all truly, truly sank in,” says Cavallaro, who drives by the site of the murders on his way to work most days.

The most haunting line of the confession, says Cavallaro, “sent chills up my spine.” He named his lectures after it: “A Night Big With Uncommon Horror.”

Cavallaro’s lecture is at 7 p.m. tonight at New Milford Town Hall, 10 Main St. He’ll discuss the murders, his research process, his reaction to the story and a screenplay he’s written based on the crime.

“The average person today thinks of the Colonial person as being humble and pious and Puritan-like,” he says. “But really, we’re no different now than then.”

Published in Hartford Courant