“The Land of Rum and Romance”

We continue our celebration of National Poetry Month with our second Long Island power ballad from the past. This time out we are looking at “A Babylonish Ditty” by Frederick Swartwout Cozzens (writing as Richard Haywarde).

Frederick Swarthout Cozzzens. From The Knickerbocker Gallery, 1855.

Frederick Swartwout Cozzzens. From The Knickerbocker Gallery, 1855.

Few will remember New York wine merchant-turned poet Cozzens and his heyday as a humor writer in the mid 1800s (although you should try his Sparrowgrass Papers, something of a 19th-century prototype for the sticom Green Acres.) Fewer still will remember the Knickerbocker, the magazine where he cut his teeth. But that’s where, in 1850, he first published “A Babylonish Ditty,” a quick-trotting ode to a long gone summer romance.

Why Babylon? Well, the south shore of Long Island (“the merry old south side”) had a reputation that drew men out from New York City. Mostly they were merchants and lawyers, amateur sportsmen drawn to the abundant fish and game along the Great South Bay. They came by rail and stage coach and after a long day traipsing through the great outdoors, they retired to one of the many inns and taverns strung along the South Country Road (today’s Montauk Highway).

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Listen to Cozzens relive those hazy summer days and wonder to yourself how the “fickle” object of his affection viewed the whole affair. Many thanks to our guest reader, Steve Birkeland.

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Audio Credits

 

 

 

Long Island Power Ballads

Monument

Monument to Woodhull in Cypress Hills (proposed but never built). From Marsh, L.R. (1848). General Woodhull and His Monument. New York: Leavit, Trow.

It’s National Poetry Month and we’re celebrating with a series of poetry/history mashups that we like to call Long Island Power Ballads. We’re dusting off some deserving yet obscure poems (and poets) dealing with Long Island history and giving them another look. Over the next few weeks you’ll hear stories of broken hearts, tragic deaths, and the indomitable human spirit. But when we say obscure, we mean obscure. If you’re looking for Walt Whitman, seek ye elsewhere.

Today’s episode deals with “The Death of Woodhull: An American Ballad” which tells one version of the death of Nathaniel Woodhull, American patriot, Brigadier General and brother-in-law of William Floyd. Learn the history of the man and the story of the legend that sprung up around his demise. His connection to AMC’s Turn is also explained.

Hear our fearless poetry reenactors bring this ballad back to life amid fanfare, galloping horses and flashing blades. Many thanks to Anne McCaffrey, Frances Schauss and Kristine Hanson.

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Stories of Storm and Sea

Folklorists would make good podcasters. They are used to finding interesting people and getting them to tell good stories. Take Nancy Solomon for example. As the executive director of Long Island Traditions, she has spent years collecting and studying the stories of baymen, offshore fishermen, boat builders and the like. Today we’ll talk to her about a number of those stories revolving around the subject of weather lore.

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The many faces of the Great South Bay from the end of West Ave in West Sayville. Photos courtesy of Chris Kretz.

We discuss how generations of fishermen have scanned the skies and shores for signs of encroaching weather. You’ll hear of hurricanes opening (and closing) inlets along Fire Island, shark sightings, narrow escapes and the lasting impact of Superstorm Sandy.

Built up over years and passed down through generations, the weather lore of Long Island fishermen can tell us much about how things have changed and how to best work with nature.

And thanks to Debra Anwar Riad for adding her voice to our intro!

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Some Would Even Say It Glows

We return to our conversation with investigative journalist Karl Grossman, picking up his career after the memorable fight against the Fire Island road in the 1960s. For a journalist, what story could top that?

Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. Photo courtesy of the Shoreham Wading River Media Center.

Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. Image courtesy of the Shoreham Wading River High School Media Center.

Cut to: Shoreham Nuclear Power Station #1. It’s the 1970s and the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) is building the first of up to eleven proposed nuclear power plants, poised to turn Long Island into a “nuclear park.” After working at the Long Island Press until its demise in 1977, Karl covers the LILCO story through local papers like the Long Island Advance, the Suffolk County News, the Southampton Press and the East Hampton Star.

Long Island Advance May 5, 1977. From NYS Historic Newspapers.

Long Island Advance May 5, 1977. From NYS Historic Newspapers.

In addition to Karl, the story is also being followed by Murray Barbash and Irving Like. Veterans of the Fire Island fight, Irv and Murray help form the Citizens Committee to Replace LILCO. Karl relates the various tactics they and others used to help thwart the completion of the Shoreham plant and bring about passage of the Long Island Power Act and the formation of the Long Island Power Authority.

Karl also shares his thoughts on the current state of journalism, electronic media, and what has and hasn’t changed on Long Island.

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“My Kind of Conservationist”

Murray, Susan and Cathy Barbash (l-r). Photo courtesy of the Barbash Family.

Murray, Susan and Cathy Barbash (l-r). Photo courtesy of the Barbash Family.

 

It’s 1962 and a Nor’easter has just torn through Long Island. In its wake is another storm, Long Island Parks Commissioner Robert Moses with his plan to build a road down the middle of Fire Island. It will stabilize the beach, he says. It will provide beauty and ease to the motorist, he says.

But local builder Murray Barbash notices that the road will run right through his new development of Dunewood, flattening it and pretty much anything else in its path (including Sunken Forest). Murray gets together with his brother-in-law Irving Like and the rest, if you don’t know already, is history.

Murray’s daughters Cathy and Susan knew the story but over the course of the last year they set about documenting that history. Sifting through a number of local and regional archives (including Dowling’s) they pieced together the saga of the road-that-never-was. On this episode you’ll hear from Cathy and Susan and their mother Lillian about how an unlikely coalition of Long Island “vigilantes” outwitted and outlasted the great Robert Moses.

You can soon see Cathy’s and Susan’s research for yourself when the exhibit they created is permanently installed with Seatuck at the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip. For now, use the handy scorecard below to keep track of who’s who in this gripping story of intrigue and power set against the natural beauty of Fire Island.

Many thanks to the Barbash family for sharing their time, memories and photos.

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Scorecard for this Episode

The Long Island “Vigilantes”

  • Murray Barbash: builder with an eye for beauty, developer of Dunewood
  • Lillian Barbash: his wife
  • Irving Like: indomitable lawyer and Murray’s brother-in-law
  • Paul Townsend: “The Wizard,” publisher of the Long Island Business News
  • Robert Cushman Murphy: the tallest ornithologist in the world

The State

  • Robert Moses: New York’s [insert your own adjective] Master Builder
  • Nelson Rockefeller: the not-to-be-bullied Governor of New York
  • Laurance Rockefeller: Nelson’s brother and noted conservationist

Long Island’s Legislators

  • Stuyvesant Wainwright: Congressman from New York’s 1st District, proposed a Fire Island National Seashore when no one was looking
  • Otis Pike: wins Wainwright’s seat with Moses’ backing, becomes reluctant sponsor of the Fire Island National Seashore bill

The Feds

  • Stewart Udall – Secretary of the Interior, consummate insider and good guy
  • President John F. Kennedy: wanted National Parks in the East, dammit

The Media

  • Charles Collingwood: Saltaire resident and CBS newsman
  • Wolcott Gibbs: writer for the New Yorker and Fire Island playwright
  • Teddy White: Fair Harbor resident and chronicler of presidents
  • Julius Monk: New York cabaret impresario whom we have to thank for the classic “Slow Down Moses”

Further Research

Battling Robert Moses

Karl1Karl Grossman has been an investigative reporter on Long Island since the early 1960s. Barely in his twenties, he cut his journalistic teeth at the Babylon Town Leader taking on one of the most powerful men in New York State: Robert Moses.

Karl covered the developing story of Moses’ plan to build a highway down the middle of Fire Island. Although the plan horrified local residents, many on the Island and in the press supported it. Through the work of Karl and papers like the Suffolk County News and the Long Island Business News and most importantly people like Murray Barbash, Irving Like and Robert Cuhsman Murphy, the plan was washed away. In its place we have the Fire Island National Seashore.

Today is part 1 of our interview with Karl on his early career, the power of the press, and how he was almost an alum of Dowling College (then known as Adelphi Suffolk College). You’ll hear about his further battles in part 2 but first in two weeks we’ll revisit the Moses fight from the perspective of the Barbash family. Stay tuned!

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A Neighborhood of History

St. David AME Zion Church in Eastville. Photo courtesy of the Eastville Community Historical Society.

St. David AME Zion Church in Eastville. Photo courtesy of the Eastville Community Historical Society.

Eastville endures. Through the rise and fall of the whaling industry, over the long slow death of slavery, past the rising tide of development on the East End of Long Island. From the early 19th-century this small collection of streets and houses east of Sag Harbor, anchored around the St. David AME Zion Church, has retained its character as a place that a vibrant mix of African Americans, Native Americans, and European immigrants called home.

On this episode of the Project, we speak with Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director and Curator of the Eastville Community Historical Society. She relates the history of the area, from the early 1830s into the late 20th century when the Society was founded.

Portrait of an Eastville resident. Photo courtesy of the Eastville Community Historical Society.

Portrait of an Eastville resident. Photo courtesy of the Eastville Community Historical Society.

You’ll hear about the prominence of Native Americans and African Americans in the whaling industry as well as the importance of Sag Harbor as the first port of entry in New York. Among the people we discuss are Nathan Cuffee, a Montaukett member of the community who co-wrote the novel Lords of the Soil in 1905, depicting life on the east end of Long Island. Georgette also tells the surprising story of Pyrrhus Concer from nearby Southampton, an African American who, on a whaling voyage in 1845, became one of the first Americans to visit Japan.

We also discuss the challenges of documenting and preserving the histories of marginalized people. How do you prove, for example, that one of the trapdoors in the Church was used to hide escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad? How do you protect an unassuming house that is actually made out of wood from recovered 19th century shipwrecks and may contain generations of important stories?

EastvilleLOGOcapsBLUEfinal

Courtesy of the Eastville Historical Society

Sometimes you get lucky and discover a trove of tintype portraits nailed face-down into the floor of a cottage. Sometimes you fail, and structures get razed despite what they might be able to tell us about the past. Sometimes the results are mixed. Pyrrhus Concer’s house was demolished but only after significant parts had been salvaged.

You’ll hear Georgette talk about these cases and related issues along with the importance of understanding and enforcing the codes that should be helping inform decisions around such properties. You’ll also hear about ongoing projects to document African American burial sites throughout Long Island.

And if you enjoy these episodes, make sure to follow this site via email or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. Leave us a comment and let us know what aspects of Long Island history you’d like to hear discussed.

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Behind the Camera with Thom Hoffman

Shinnecock DVD case

Shinnecock (2013). Photo courtesy of Thom Hoffman

When something piques Thom Hoffman’s interest, he starts asking questions. Then he tries to work out the answers through film. The result has been an eclectic mix of documentaries (three to date) that share some common traits: his desire to educate and his love of Long Island history.

Brother Cinema Poster copy

Brother, Can You Spare a Dollar? (2012).Photo courtesy of Thom Hoffman

On today’s interview you’ll hear how Thom got his start working with Ray Adell on the “About Long Island” radio series and then expanded into documentaries. His first film featured the story of Brooklyn doo-wop stalwart Lenny Cocco and the Chimes. Next came his comparison of the Great Depression and the Great Recession. His latest, Shinnecock, explores the long history of the Shinnecock Nation in Southampton.

Still In The Mood  DVD cover copy

Still in the Mood for Love (2010). Photo courtesy of Thom Hoffman

We also ask Thom about the challenges of producing and distributing documentaries on Long Island. How do you get them to a wider audience? How do you get the quality of production needed? His answers echo many of the things we’ve heard in our discussions with others involved in documentary filmmaking on Long Island.

On that note, if you’re interested in screening any of his movies or helping find a home for the “About Long Island” archive, you can contact Thom at hof565 [at] optonline.net

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Peter Fox Cohalan Part II

Suffolk County Historian Peter Fox Cohalan is back in session for part two of our interview. This week we get deeper into the history of Islip, traveling all the way from the bottom of the Bay (and who really owned it) back to Islip, England and the ancestral home of the Nicoll family.

We also get Peter Fox’s insight into historic preservation at the local and regional levels as well as the unique situations that can arise on Long Island.

Finally, we’ll hear about the work of the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation. As a board member, Peter Fox is involved in helping the Foundation support the study and preservation of New York history with a focus on Islip and Suffolk County.

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Holding Court with Peter Fox Cohalan

Peter Fox Cohalan was named Suffolk County Historian in 2012 but in many ways he’s been preparing for the role his whole life. In fact, the Cohalans and history go way back. The first Cohalan in America arrived with Lafayette during the Revolution. One branch of the family led to a Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall, another to the first Catholic priest on Long Island. In his own storied career, Peter Fox has been Islip Town Supervisor, Suffolk County Executive, and State Supreme Court Judge (one of five Cohalans -including his father-  to reach that position.)

With the historian’s eye for detail and the Irishman’s gift for storytelling, Peter Fox can discuss the Sayville of his youth as easily as the quarrels of the early Federalists. On this episode of the Project he recounts the Sayville of the 1930s and ’40s along with his father’s time as coach at the La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale.  We’ll also hear about preservation efforts he spearheaded (like the Islip Grange in Sayville) as well as his family’s connections to the unforgettable Robert David Lion Gardiner.

Join us next week for Part 2.

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