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20 Towns in 20 Days: Mystic

Mystic in the 90s and now
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 5:52 PM EDT
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MYSTIC, CT (WFSB) - 20 Towns in 20 Days continues in Mystic.

Historical and charming, it’s a place known for so much more than its famous pizza.

This year the iconic Bascule Bridge is turning 100 years old.

Over time the landscape of cities and towns can change drastically, but some places like Mystic manage to hang on to pieces of history and tradition while moving forward.

Eyewitness News caught up with locals who remember fondly a simpler time in Mystic: 1990.

Some of the most pivotal places for the youth in the 90s are no longer standing in Mystic, but their memories live on in the hearts and minds of those who frequented them, like Bee Bee Dairy.

“Bee Bee’s was famous for their very sort of bad coffee but it was bottomless, you could have as much as you wanted, and we were all raised on it,” said Michelle Gemma.

Mystic in the 90s

Before Michelle was the prolific artist and photographer she is today, she was just a kid from Mystic and the food scene hadn’t blossomed either.

“Now it’s a new day for the foodies, you know? In our lives, they love all the restaurants in town. Back in the 90s there wasn’t really a focus on ‘where can I go get oysters?’” Michelle said.

The options were few, but classic.

“You had Mystic Pizza, and that was it! Literally you had Bee Bee Dairy for your omelet special, your all-day breakfast, your turkey clubs, your Bee Bee fritters, your footlong dogs you had Ships Lantern and the adults, you know your parents, would go to the Ancient Mariner,” said Michelle.

Back in the 90s, Mystic local Rich Freitas was all about music, and more specifically his band 17 Relics.

Rich remembers being inspired by small town players who made it big.

“REM and Sonic Youth were huge pillars for almost every musician that I knew. REM was a pillar because they were just normal people from a little town, and Sonic Youth were these archaic geniuses who were doing something that no one had ever heard before,” said Rich.

The Reducers, New Johnny 5 and Paisley Jungle were hot on the Connecticut music scene.

Rich said in hindsight it all came down to the shared foundation of living in Mystic.

“We were always a little ahead, or a little behind the curve, but really the central tenet of everything we did, was this sense that we were completely dependent on each other,” said Rich.

It was an exciting time, the movie Mystic Pizza starring a young Julia Roberts just premiered a couple years earlier, bringing attention to the otherwise relatively quiet streets.

In the summer of 1992, the famous Mystic River Bascule Bridge was just 70 years old.

Today, amid a landscape of new shops and restaurants, locals are preparing for the centennial celebration of the iconic landmark.

For a group of young adults in this quaint community, the 1990s will always mean two things: art and music.

You’ve probably heard the expression “what’s old is new again” and when it comes to trends, things fall out of style and often reemerge with new life.

The same thing can happen with a publication - like Root of Twinkle, a music and arts fan-zine started in the 90s by some young adults, and was suddenly was brought back to life 25 years later during the pandemic.

“If you made it into Root of Twinkle, you were on your way, and that’s not an exaggeration,” said Rich.

Rich says in the case of local talent, making it into the fan-zine Root of Twinkle was a measure of success in the early 90s.

Started by two best friends Eva Peck and Vanessa Gazari, the duo published five issues between 1991 and 1995.

Friend of the creators, artist and photographer Michelle remembers helping promote Root of Twinkle especially around one of their favorite spots Mystic Disc.

“It builds excitement to the next issue, to the next show, to the next poetry reading, and all of us felt an obligation to help promote it because we believed in ourselves,” Michelle said.

Articles featured reviews of performances, poetry readings, photography shows, and more, giving local artists a unique platform rich remembers being interviewed about his band, and how the girls asked some tough questions.

“My band, the 17 Relics, we’re not the most prolific song writers, and some other bands in town could crank out a song every week, and so they did an interview with us, and they were like ‘why can’t you guys write more songs? You’re supposed to be this great band, it was challenging?” said Rich.

Michelle says as time went on, the fan-zine gained a following.

The group would often put on shows to keep the lights on and the publications coming.

“We had to pay a heat bill one year so we were like ‘lets have a dance party, we’ll collect 5 dollars, and we’re going to give these guys a great show, a dance party,’” said Michelle.

Like in many situations, life changes, people move away and fall out of touch.

That’s what happened for many years until an idea came to Michelle late one summer night in 2020 in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Oh my god Eva’s in town let’s do a Root of Twinkle,” said Michelle.

Getting in touch was a little different than back in the early 90s with no cell phones.

“I messaged her on Instagram and I said “Eva its Michelle, I just had a great idea you’re in town for the summer, let’s do a Root of Twinkle, we can do this! We can cover the pandemic, we can cover the protests, BLM was very important to us and we could talk about the inclusion,” said Michelle.

After weeks of outreach, research, and good old-fashioned reporting, Root of Twinkle released their first issue in 25 years, selling out of their 100 copies quickly.

“People were like my kids don’t understand why I’m so excited for Root of Twinkle! So even though people have moved on with kids and marriage they still felt this pull of nostalgia for Mystic in the 90s,” Michelle said.

Like many of the cultural events archived in Root of Twinkle, it’s important to move on, but always remember where you came from.

“You’re in the present moment always and you’re always looking toward the future but you bring the past with you, you bring the best bits of the past,” said Michelle.