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Ken Reiss Tells 'The Story of Darien'

How much do you know about your town’s history? If you live in Darien, chances are it’s less than Ken Reiss, former president and current historian for the Darien Historical Society. Luckily for the rest of us, Ken spent six years compiling his vast knowledge into The Story of Darien, Connecticut , the book he published through the Historical Society.

“I’ve had enough experience to get the sense that, by and large, people who live in this town don’t really know much about it,” Reiss said. “It’s, in many cases, the sense that the town was dropped from the moon into a large, blank space the day before they moved here.” Reiss called this a “formula for trouble,” because people won’t be as likely to invest themselves in a town they don’t know much about.

Reiss chose the name of his book carefully. He wanted to make sure people knew that it wasn’t a droll, factual history textbook. Instead, it’s the stories of the people who lived in and shaped Darien throughout the years. He shared some of those stories Saturday afternoon at the Darien Library, as guest speaker for the Middlesex Genealogical Society’s annual meeting.

One of the more interesting stories Reiss told was that of Commodore William Braunersreuther. Braunersreuther, who lived in Darien and was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War in 1898. When he was traveling with the Pacific fleet, his ship fired a warning shot at the Spanish base on Guam. A Spanish delegation rowed out, offering a note of apology for not returning what they thought was a friendly salute, as they were out of gunpowder. Braunersreuther was part of the crew who went ashore to inform the Spanish leaders that their two countries were at war, and convinced them to surrender the island without a fight.

Reiss said he has been happy with the response to his book so far. He mentioned that a library worker told him that there were as many as 10 people on the wait list for the library’s only circulating copy. You can pick up your own copy at the Darien Historical Society’s headquarters at 45 Old Kings Highway North for $75. All profits go directly to the organization.

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