The final day of 2017 was bitterly cold, but across Hartford, in graveyards and museums, in ice rinks and lodges and churches and carousels, locals and out-of-towners alike took to the city’s frostbitten downtown streets to see out the old year and ring in the new.
First Night in Hartford was a mixture of the historical, the family-friendly and the odd, strewn across 17 downtown locales, some of them iconic, like the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, some of them more obscure — like the city’s Ancient Burial Ground.
In the Main Street burial ground, sandwiched between Center Church and the Gold Building, about a dozen people bundled in coats, scarves and hats huddled around 17th century tombstones as guide Bill Hosley pointed out the more illustrious tenants of Hartford’s first graveyard. Hosley’s first job in Hartford was across the street from the burial ground, he told the group, and he’d visit on his lunch break and admire the craftsmanship of the nearly 400-year-old markers, some of which date back to the 1640s.
He pointed to one in particular — the headstone of Israel Seymour, a potter and former captain in the French and Indian War who was electrocuted by a bolt of lightning in 1784, according to an account published in The Courant.
The graveyard tour was one of three that Michelle Fox, a Bristol resident, planned on attending Sunday.
“I lived here for many years, and I know so little about Connecticut history,” she said. “I just don’t come into Hartford that much, and I feel I owe it to my state to come in and have a little learning experience.”
Tours of Christ Church Cathedral and Center Church were on Fox’s docket for later in the day.
“I would prefer it be a little balmier,” she said, shivering in a parka, beanie and face-warmer, “but we’re hearty New Englanders. We’ll be all right.”
Across the street, at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Jacqueline Hull and her daughter Sarah were sheltering indoors and crafting pendants and bracelets inspired by the museum’s display of Norwegian landscapes.
It was the Hulls’ first time in Hartford. A resident of Long Island, Jacqueline said she had no interest in going to New York for the city’s end-of-year revelries.
“Definitely not,” she said. “You have to stand in a little area and you can’t move until the ball drops. It’s something to do once, maybe when you’re in your 20s or 30s. But never again.”
Hartford’s celebration seemed “much more appealing,” she said, “and much more family-friendly.” They had thought about going to Boston’s First Night, Jacqueline said, but the proximity of Hartford’s First Night activities — all centered around downtown, all within walking distance of each other — clinched it, once they factored in the cold. The family drove up Saturday for skiing in Southington and came into Hartford Sunday.
“It feels like a small town,” Sarah said. “But then you go past a 20-story building and you remember you’re in a big city.”
She planned to ride the early 20th century carousel in Bushnell Park and join the handful of people, undeterred by the single-digit temperatures Sunday evening, who were pirouetting on the park’s ice rink.
Elsewhere in the Wadsworth, kids painted postcards and wrote their addresses and resolutions for the new year on the backs. The museum plans to mail out the cards in June.
Jennifer Zakrzewski, a Plainville resident and First Night volunteer, was selling tickets for the night’s events at the museum’s entrance. She was heartened by the turnout early Sunday evening, which was strong despite the cold. Zakrewski works in downtown Hartford, and she’s seen people begin to creep back into the area to eat, socialize and visit the museums.
“Hartford’s been growing, and part of that growth is getting people to go downtown,” she said. “There’s a lot more businesses coming in; there’s a younger generation moving in. It’s moving in a positive direction. People who’ve worked downtown for a while, they’re all saying how much they’ve seen it grow, and how they’re seeing all these people come downtown.”
Around the corner from the Wadsworth, at the majestic B.P.O. Elks Lodge on Prospect Street, West Hartford-based attorney and flying saucer sleuth Dyke N. Spear lectured on the topic of UFOs, one of which he claimed to have seen in 1984 in Brewster, N.Y., a revelation from which there was no turning back and which implored Spear to become a field investigator for the Mutual UFO Network’s Connecticut chapter.