WESTPORT — The most interesting man in Westport has died.
The Westport Historical Society — currently featuring an exhibit on his life — confirmed that Ed Vebell died Friday at 96.
“Ed Vebell was truly a remarkable and inspirational person and we are honored to have played a small part in recognizing his vast artistic legacy of service to country and community,” Historical Society Executive Director Ramin Ganeshram said in a statement.
“All of us at Westport Historical Society who were privileged to get to know him feel immeasurably enriched by the experience and feel fortunate to have had him with us for the opening of The Curious Case of Ed Vebell less than two weeks ago.”
A memorial will be held at the Historical Society Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.
Vebell bought his Compo Beach home in 1953 for $29,000 and lived there with his wife, Elsa Cerra, and three daughters. At that time, it was the only house built on what was farmland and the Long Island Sound was easily visible from more than one spot on his property.
He came to the Westport plot by way of a New York City penthouse apartment and, before that, Europe during World War II.
Vebell was best known professionally for his work as an illustrator, which has been featured in publications like Reader’s Digest and Sports Illustrated.
Drafted in 1942, Vebell left his hometown Chicago for Algiers, Algeria, where he was initially conscripted as an aircraft gunner. While visiting an art gallery near where he was stationed, Vebell, who had been drawing since he was 6, was referred to the offices of the military publication Stars and Stripes. After showing a book of his sketches, Vebell was offered a job.
Vebell worked in northern Africa for a year, learning both French and Arabic and interviewing “colorful” people for the publication, including the dancer Josephine Baker and then-French President Charles de Gaulle, with whom he sat on a balcony as the general gave a speech. After a year, he was moved to the front lines, where he documented the violence of war alongside American soldiers.
On his last assignment for Stars and Stripes, Vebell illustrated the proceedings of the Nuremberg trials, where he sketched Nazi Party leaders including, Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess and Wilhelm Keitel.
The exhibition at the Westport Historical Society, “The Curious Case of Ed Vebell,” which includes illustrations, items and stories collected over the course of nearly a decade, runs through April 16.