1942 Southington captured in TD Bank mural

Published on Sunday, 29 May 2016 19:01
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NOTES: TD refers to its branches as stores, so the reference to “store manager” is correct.

Also, please make any cutline to Wes’ photo: Upgrades to the TD Bank branch at 121 Main St. in Southington culminated in the installation of a mural generated from a photograph taken on Memorial Day in 1942.



SOUTHINGTON – Of the hundreds of scenes captured around town by photographer Charles Fenno Jacobs in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day 1942, one of the otherwise unremarkable snapshots had long ago come to encapsulate the era. Taken on the Town Green following a post-parade ceremony at the American Legion, it is arguably not the most outstanding photograph of those Jacobs shot 74 years ago today. Yet, it has developed into a powerful image – a visual time capsule of the era’s culture, underscored by the gravity of the first Memorial Day since the U.S. had entered World War II.

TD Bank thought it such an illustrative moment in time that it selected the black-and-white shot over dozens of others to be immortalized in a life-size mural at its downtown office.

“One of the best ways to connect with a community is through nostalgia and this mural gives our customers somewhere to go back to and remember,” said Mark Verner, assistant store manager. “It has been great to talk with people who grew up in Southington and tell us about the places you can see in the photo. One of our employees even thought she recognized her grandmother but isn’t sure it’s really her.”

TD Bank first began its mural project 17 years ago in an effort to promote local history and establish itself in its communities. The murals, which can be found by varying size at every store in the bank’s network, depict a key location or historic event, according to Lisa Sawicki, TD vice president of corporate communications. The bank enlists the help of local historical organizations, libraries or other agencies to find appropriate photographs, she said.

In this case, the lobby mural originated from a print held by the Library of Congress, which has cataloged Jacobs’ work from his time in Southington and maintains as part of an online archive. The print was enlarged and digitally colorized, bringing to life at nearly 14 feet wide and 8 feet tall the Town Green and a section of Main Street recognizable to some only because the First Congregational Church can be seen. In the photo, three young drum corps members are in conversation while a larger group congregates to the far left of the frame. Others, dressed in their Sunday best, head to nearby vehicles or to what was then a town center populated abundantly by single- and multi-family homes.

While the photo itself may be worth a thousand words, the story of how it came to be may be worth just as many.

With a residential population of nearly 10,000, many were aware that Jacobs, ubiquitous around town with a battery of five cameras, was on assignment to capture life for a U.S. government project. What they wouldn’t know for more than a year was that the 600 photographs he took – of nearly everything from church services and school events to local buildings and personalities – were requisitioned by the Office of War Information for a pamphlet dropped over enemy-held sections of Europe. Just one of the hundreds of propaganda missions of the OWI, the work was illustrated with Jacob’s photos of a typical American community – one that for OWI purposes was representative of a patriotic, determined, God-fearing country. It is unclear even seven decades later how many pamphlets were printed or into how many languages it was translated.

Jacobs left Southington three days after Memorial Day. Shortly after, he was called into active duty by the U.S. Naval Reserves. The Massachusetts native died in 1974 at the age of 69.

The story could end there, with Southington doing its part for the war effort. However, longtime civic leader and Southington journalist Art Secondo – who pens a weekly column for the Herald – said the Jacobs visit maintains a certain mystique for many longtime residents, chiefly because a copy of the OWI booklet has proven impossible to locate. Even in the age of online auction sites, the 28-page piece remains elusive. Secondo, born two years after the OWI assignment, has lamented often in columns and articles the frustration of not being able to unearth the culmination of the project that put Southington on the world stage.

Many residents, young and old, remain intrigued by the Jacobs visit, Secondo said. He believes the mural is a fitting testament to the tale, though he has never seen identified any of the individuals shown.

"This is the first time residents can stand in front of a life-size color photo of former residents and the historical background of their hometown,” said Secondo. “This shot is an almost perfect moment in time – the people and a historical part of Main Street, especially the former Town Hall. You can feel the typical small-town atmosphere; all Southington stores and businesses except for our factories were closed and patriotism was running high. It was a great time despite the worry people had over the war.”

Christopher Fortier can be reached at 860-801-5063 or cfortier@newbritainherald.com.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Southington Herald on Sunday, 29 May 2016 19:01. Updated: Friday, 7 October 2016 09:17.