By JOHN GORALSKI
Perhaps, after 138 years, the Town of Southington has finally let go of its resentment for that noticeable notch on the town’s northern border with Bristol. Because when Bristol mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu greeted the crowd gathered in the Lake Compounce Ballroom for the 138th annual Crocodile Club, nobody from Southington greeted her with friendly opposition.
“Welcome to Bristol and to the Crocodile Club,” Zoppo-Sassu said. “It’s one of our most enduring traditions.”
This is the point in a Crocodile Club speech when a Southington official would usually stand up in mock contempt to point out that the ballroom is actually within the borders of the Southington map. “Don’t you mean ‘Welcome to Southington?’” somebody would usually ask. But this year, the chair reserved for a Southington official was noticeably empty on the stage.
For 138 years, local and state officials have gathered at Lake Compounce to eat goat and roasted corn, trade good-natured barbs, and keep the real politics outside. The dinner was the brainchild of former legislator Gad Norton in 1875 as a way to thank members of the state legislature for carving out his farmhouse and the surrounding land, so that he could vote in Bristol where he conducted most of his business.
“There will be no serious politics allowed,” Norton is credited as saying, “no postmortems from the last legislative session, just pleasant sociability, good fun, and good food.”
On most years, the good-natured rivalry between Bristol and Southington has been the central theme of the picnic, along with guest appearances by local and state politicians. Zoppo-Sassu said that even Mark Twain made a notable appearance at the annual luncheon to check out the commotion.
The Crocodile Club is just one of the many traditions of the area, said the Bristol mayor. “Almost 100 years ago, we had the Spanish flu epidemic, and that brought us Bristol Hospital,” she said. “We also have ESPN. I was there this morning, to celebrate their 40 years and to see their new conference room, which brings 75 new jobs to Bristol.”
Once again, nobody from Southington jumped from the chair to point out that ESPN was another local business that has land—and employees—shared by the two towns. But Southington officials weren’t the only ones missing on Friday, Sept. 6. Numbers were down for this year’s event, and that was the theme explored by rookie emcee, Eyewitness News anchor and “Face the State” moderator, Dennis House.
House recognized U.S. Representative John Larson, Zappo-Sassu, and Connecticut Republican Party chair J.R. Romano for making the trip to the Bristol amusement park, but then he poked fun at longtime attendee U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal for his absence. Blumenthal was at home recovering from a recent surgery, or “meeting the teleprompter repair guy at his house” as House quipped.
“Truth be told, Chris Murphy is walking here today,” said the WFSB anchor. “You know how he likes to walk across the state, but he won’t be here ‘till Monday.”
The annual event typically draws more state-level officials, along with a handful of local officials, but event organizers said that they expect crowds to return to normal next year when state and national candidates are on the campaign trail.
“I will say that I’m a little offended at all of the talk here in this room about this being an off-year,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “It’s not an off-year for me. This is an election year.”
That drew applause from the crowd. “I encourage all of you, from whatever town or city you’re from, to understand the local government and make sure that you, your family, and your friends come out to vote,” said the Bristol mayor.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.