The tort museum and other N.E. small-town thrills

Inside the American Museum of Tort Law, in an old bank building in Winsted, Conn.

Inside the American Museum of Tort Law, in an old bank building in Winsted, Conn.

From Robert Whitcomb's Nov. 3 "Digital Diary'' column in GoLocal24.

In Winsted, Conn., there’s a new  temple to one of America’s best known characteristics – its litigiousness. In that small city in the Litchfield Hills, famous consumer litigator Ralph Nader has founded the American Museum of Tort Law, which involves cases of wrongful injury. Winsted is Mr. Nader's hometown and he has been very loyal to it.

In the museum are such exhibits as the dangerous Chevrolet Corvair, which Mr. Nader helped drive off the road (see his book Unsafe at Any Speed), unsafe toys and the Dalkon Shield IUD.

The museum shows how tort law evolved within English Common Law and American law up to the present, including (to me) such silly cases as that brought against McDonald’s after someone scalded herself with its hot coffee. And the plan is to build a replica of a courtroom.

As the pyramids were tributes to pharaohs, so the museum, in a beautiful old bank building, will be to the 82-year-old Mr. Nader.

By the way, Winsted, a small former factory city  in the Litchfield Hills, is famous for having the buildings on one side of its Main Street swept away in 1955 by the surging Mad River in torrential rains produced by Hurricane Diane, giving the downtown a slightly surreal quality,  which the tort museum will intensify.


In other Nutmeg State news, 1,300 fans of a TV show called Gilmore Girls  last month descended on the town of Washington, which is supposed to have inspired the improbably quaint and pretty town called “Stars Hollow’’ in the show.  Steven Kurutz, of The New York Times, noted: {T}hey {the fans} wanted to do the impossible: to experience in a waking life  a dream town built on a studio backlot.’’

I know Washington, Conn., having gone to school in nearby Watertown, Conn. It’s very pretty, but of course not nearly as Norman Rockwellian as the TV show. Will the new publicity about Washington cause it to be overrun for a long stretch to come? No. There are even prettier towns in Connecticut.

The story reminded me of the invasion of Cohasset, Mass., on the ocean about 45 minutes east southeast of Boston, when some of the movie The Witches of Eastwick, based on the eponymous Updike novel, was shot  in the ’80s after the folks in the also lovely town of Little Compton, R.I., decided that they didn’t want a Hollywood invasion. I grew up in Cohasset and can testify that there was a full quota of bad and sad behavior there by the then Greatest Generation’s young to middle aged adults – adultery, alcoholism, suicide. The cuteness of Cohasset wasn’t enough to ward off evil spirits. It’sa good place for witches.

Finally, the Gilmore Girls case reminds me of how nice Providence looked in the NBC show of the same name back in the ‘90s. Indeed,  virtually perfect.

My wife and I have a friend, Vicki Mercer,  M.D., a pediatrician and former TV scriptwriter who was the adviser on medicine for the show, which revolved around a young and attractive female doctor prospering in the “Providence Renaissance’’. Vicki took us to the studio in Los Angeles where the interior scenes, including of the physician’s house, were shot. Somewhat eerily, I discovered that the outside shot of the doctor’s house was of  the house of a late aunt and uncle of mine on the East Side of Providence.

The show would have been more interesting if it had included more scenes  of the tougher aspects of Providence but the producers were, after all, pushing escapism, not education.