BRISTOL - The Crocodile Club will celebrate its 138th reunion dinner at the Lake Compounce Ballroom on Friday, Sept. 6, courtesy of the New England Carousel Museum.
The annual gathering is a time for politicians to put aside their differences to have fun with each other, with the public invited to join in.
Festivities will begin with the social hour at noon with a beer and wine cash bar. During dinner, Connecticut’s politicos get their chance to get up and speak - limited to three minutes per person, and no serious political speeches allowed.
Louise DeMars, co-chair of the event, said the Crocodile Club has drawn upwards of 200 visitors in recent years. DeMars announced her retirement as executive director of the New England Carousel Museum last March, after 28 years, but she said the Crocodile Club was one of the few projects she wanted to stay involved with.
“It’s such a wonderful opportunity to preserve a piece of Bristol history, and it’s just a fun day,” she said.
DeMars said Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and state Rep. Whit Betts are among the politicians expected to attend, as well as representatives from Southington.
This year’s host will be Dennis House. A native New Englander and Emmy award-winning journalist, House co-anchors Eyewitness News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and interviews politicians as the moderator of Face the State on Sunday mornings.
Max Reiss, who was last year’s host, had committed to come back, but then he took a job as communications director with Gov. Ned Lamont, DeMars said. “So Dennis House very kindly agreed to step up, and since he is a political commentator it should be interesting.”
The story goes that the Crocodile Club was formed in 1875 when Gad Norton, a former state legislator who started the Lake Compounce amusement park in 1846, decided to thank his colleagues in Hartford for their help in passing a statute that changed the town line between Bristol and Southington so as to put his farmhouse in Bristol.
The reason for this request was so that he could vote in Bristol where he did all his trading and knew more people. Also, in the days of horses and buggies, old dirt roads, and tough winters, the three-mile ride to Bristol was a lot easier than the six miles to Southington.
Norton himself dictated to the original group: “there will be no serious politics allowed, no post-mortems from the last legislative session, just pleasant sociability, good fun, and good food.”
“So they did move the line for him, which is just amazing to me,” DeMars said. The Norton family kept the tradition going, but decades later when Stretch Norton, Bristol’s former mayor, decided they could no longer do it, DeMars got the museum to take it over.
Plantsville’s Paul Gregory’s will cater the 2019 event and provide the traditional “Crocodile lunch” of lamb, fried corn, tomatoes, sweet and white potatoes, and watermelon.
DeMars said Tom Barnes has provided the old-time recipe for the fried corn. “I think Stretch gave it to him. It was lost to us for a while, but thanks to Tom we can give it to the caterer and they can do it the way it’s supposed to be done.”
“I hope Bristol comes out and supports this,” DeMars said. “It’s a fundraiser for the museum, but more importantly I have found it helps put Bristol on the map.”
As a commissioner of Connecticut’s Northwest Tourism District, she said she goes to the state legislature often and finds that people there often know all about the museum and the city because they have been to the Crocodile Club.
As for the origin of the name “Crocodile Club,” DeMars has no idea. “I have done this for a while but I wasn’t there 138 years ago, though some days it feels like I might have been,” she added.
Golf cart shuttles will transport guests from parking areas to the ballroom as Lake Compounce will be closed for the season. Guests will be able to ride the carousel from noon to 1 p.m.
Tickets are available in advance at the carousel museum for $55, or $60 at the door.
For more information contact the New England Carousel Museum at 860-585-5411 or visit www.thecarouselmuseum.org/crocodileclub .
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.