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Death of Helen Keller 35 Years Ago Recalled

Then, as now, June 1 fell on a Sunday and by the time the day was over in 1968, the Westport, Conn. dateline was printed in newspapers around the world.

The stories from the small Connecticut town 35 years ago today carried news of the death of what many believed was one of Westport’s most famous residents Helen Keller.

The New York Times reported it this way: ֓WESTPORT, Conn., June 1—Helen Keller, who overcame blindness and deafness to become a symbol of the indomitable human spirit, died this afternoon in her home here. She was 87 years old.”

Trouble was Keller lived in Easton, not Westport, and had been a resident there for many years. Easton proudly celebrated the life of its legendary resident by naming a middle school after her.

Why biographies and news clippings still refer to her as a Westport resident is unclear. But it probably stemmed from the fact that Westport was better known than Easton and her home, known as Arcan Ridge, was not far from Westport.

Many Americans learned her story from William Gibson’s play “The Miracle Worker, first performed as a live television play in 1957.

In 1959 it was rewritten as a Broadway play and opened to rave reviews. It became a smash hit and ran for almost two years. In 1962 it was made into a film and actresses Patty Duke playing Keller and Anne Bancroft playing her teacher Anne Sullivan won Oscars for their performances.

Update (6/5/03): Lois Bloom, president of the Easton Historical Society, told WestportNow the discrepancy about where Keller’s home was located resulted from her living in Easton but having a Westport postal address.

“All her stationery listed a Westport post office box,” Bloom said. Other parts of tiny Easton at the time used Fairfield postal addresses, she said.

Bloom said she has answered a number of inquiries over the years about the confusion and noted that several biographies of Keller erroneously listed her home as being in Westport.

Update (6/18/03): Not all of Keller’s stationery, however, included a postal box. A Keller letter for sale on the Internet merely has as its heading “Arcan Ridge, Westport, Conn.”


06/01/2003 09:58 am Comments (3)Permalink