The Village News Columns: Long Island Stories

Long Island Stories

"Long Island Stories" is an opportunity for local authors, or authors who write about Long Island events and places, to share their work with our local community. There are no restrictions so let your creative juices flow!

The Little Red House - So Much Bigger on the Inside by Deb Canellis

Muddy Shoes by Deb Canellis

The End by Richard Weissmann

Horseback to Old Inlet by Richard Weissmann

Sad, But True by Rich Giannotti

The Girl in the Woods by Richard Weissmann



The Little Red House - So Much Bigger on the Inside
by Deb Canellis

Eight months pregnant, in July heat, I followed a sweet grandma silver haired lady through the front door of a little red house, number 28. There had been many days just like this, too numerous to count, so many houses, too little, too dark, too ‘not right’, too expensive. Long Island, New York is a challenging real estate market to break into when you are 24, eight months pregnant, in July, 1980. Currently, we were renting an apartment on Woodruff St., right across from the fire station. Every time the fire alarms sounded, my little baby startled in my belly. I knew I needed to find a quiet place, safe and warm for her to land.

When I walked around the corner to the real estate office in the Village of Bellport, I was too hot, too tired and red in the face with tears. I sat down in blessed air conditioning, still weepy and found myself sitting across from the sweetest face, Julia Wallace. I would come to know her quickly and love her instantly.

“I am 8 months pregnant, I have looked at dozens of houses. I have very little time left and I need to find my home.” I was HUGE pregnant, my feet were swollen and I had way too much red hair for any one person to carry. I was trying to stay calm and stop crying. She gave me a tissue, took a moment and said, “I have the home you are looking for.” My heart soared instantly! Could it be possible? Would it be? Really?

Stepping into her car, I was a new mother-to-be, full of hopes and dreams, for a safe place, open and bright, cheerful and affordable. I wasn’t sure it would be possible, but I went anyway. I had to. My husband had given up on the search weeks earlier. He was tired of “it’s not right” feelings. He said, “Find something you like, if we can afford it, I’ll take a look”.

Within 5 minutes, I was walking up a short three steps to a front door of a tiny little red house on General McLean Dr. Nice name, I thought. There were trees, sidewalks, little houses all in a row, mostly ranches, salted with Capes here and there, nice yards, clean, quiet.

Julia unlocked the front door to the next 40 years of my life.

I didn’t know it then, but here I sit, remembering the day I stepped into my home. It radiated with sunlight, open air, a HUGE kitchen. I looked out the back window…a back yard that needed a lot of TLC, but the amazing part…it was so much bigger on the inside than it appeared from the street! I noticed it immediately. The kitchen was so big and bright, a porch off the kitchen, the living room and dining room open to each other flanked by big bright windows. I didn’t see the rest of the house, “This is it. I don’t need to see any more.” I knew I was ‘home’.

Then the gulp. “How much is it?” Julia looked at me and said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll work it out together.”

It was ten thousand dollars more than we had budgeted. In those days, ten thousand dollars was a huge sum of money for a 24 year old to hurdle over. My heart sank.
We returned to the real estate office. Julia sat at her desk, smiled and said, “I will personally loan you the $10,000.00 with a promissory note to pay me back in ten years.” Again, I was crying in front of Julia.

The house had already gone through all the hurdles of a title search, all the deed clearances everything was done two weeks prior and the house was only available now because the young couple that had gone through everything to buy it had broken up and backed out of the purchase.

Not only would we be able to afford this little red house, but all the paperwork was already done! We just needed to sit down, sign the mortgage and move in!

Two weeks later, my husband and I settled down for our first night on General McLean Drive. One double mattress on the floor, nothing else was in the house. Not a stitch of furniture, curtains, chairs, nothing. It was the first day of the rest of my life, finally in my first real home, after more than 15 moves in my young 24 years of life. I was home.

My first baby girl was born 5 weeks later in my little red house. My husband went to the Village Office to register her birth and get a birth certificate. The Clerk said, “all the berths were taken”. No, not a boat berth, a baby birth. It had been over 25 years since a baby was born ‘in’ Bellport Village. The Clerk had to go to Patchogue to get a birth certificate and he drove that certificate right to our front door. I welcomed him in and introduced Bellport’s newest village resident, three days old.

My second baby girl was born 4 years later in my little red house, but now painted light gray, had a new white porch on the front, starter shrubs getting their footing along the front of the house, an ivy bordered walkway to the front and flowers, lots of flowers.

My little house invited friends, family, pets, holidays, Girl Scouts, swing sets, picnics down at the Bay, endless walks to Kreamer Street School to play on the playground. My daughters learned to ride their bikes, roller skate, build snow horses, blanket forts, carve pumpkins, sing, ballet dance at the fellowship hall at the end of our street, and climb the Dogwood tree in the front yard with all their friends hanging from its branches.

My little red/gray house is SO much bigger on the inside than it looks from the street. This little house has seen children grow, a marriage gone, life changing challenges, trials and triumphs, birth, life, sickness and death, and all that goes in-between. When I remarried it housed two teenage girls, 3 dogs, a wheelchair bound grandma and two newly remarried adults, with one bathroom! It is so much bigger on the inside than it looks from the street.

Sunday picnics on a blanket in the living room, food from the deli if it rained and we couldn’t go down to the bay. Gateway’s ‘Secret Garden’ inspired the back yard to become, just that, two little girls’ Secret Garden. It remains to this day. School plays at all the schools, every Sunday at Old Southaven me playing the old pipe organ up in the back balcony for over 12 years.

Grandma passed in my little house, two girls grew up, grandbabies were born, puppies became old soul dogs sorely lost and my strawberry blonde curly hair turned white in my little house.

Forty years ago, I moved into a little red house, that was so much bigger on the inside, into a Village that was so much bigger on the inside, living a life, that was so much bigger on the inside that it appeared from the street.

I can only imagine all the lives lived bigger than they appear from the street, in all the little houses, in the little Village it took to raise me up.


Muddy Shoes
by Deb Canellis

Pets Photo ContestIt was a beautiful sunny day in January, a year after laying on a hospital bed with my hubby who was recovering in the cardiac intensive care unit. When the nurses saw me lying beside him way past visiting hours, every one of them, one by one, looked in the room, and then kept on walking. No one was separating me from him.

Hubby, fully recovered from his heart episode made me think, maybe it was that time once more, to invite a puppy back into our lives. We had lost three in one year and made my heart so sore I could not even think about it for a long time. This time was different. A puppy might bring the twinkle back into my hubby’s eyes and he would need to do a lot of walking, as per doctor’s orders.

This beautiful sunny day in January took us on an hour’s drive to North Shore Animal League Adoption Center. My hubby was so excited, “we’ll just look”. Of course, my heart knew we would fall in love. We just didn’t know who it would be.

Three hours later, after careful deliberation, the little black bear cub puppy, with one white paw and a lovely white bib, was with us on our trip home. Buddy was ours, with his bright eyes and impossibly soft fur, pink paws and razor sharp baby teeth.

Our lives had come through a year of painful loss. Buddy filled our home with gleeful puppy yips, snuggling with a warm fur ball, the amazing energy and spirit of fresh life. We rescued him, but ultimately and completely, he rescued us.

A year later, Buddy was HUGE. We concluded that we was a Karelian Bear Dog/Black Lab mix, with all the characteristics found in each. He had an amazing sense of humor, always ready to play and wrestle with my hubby. They were the best of buds. I was his Mom. He always listened to me with no argument. Hubby…well they were playmates. Buddy could string Hubby along and we’d just laugh. Buddy guarded the house with strength, power and conviction and discerned immediately who was welcome or who might be suspect.

Grandchildren came along. The gentle side of our loving giant became a new part of who we saw. He learned to speak with an ‘inside voice’ because Mom really didn’t love his HUGE dog bark. When Mom or Dad got sick he stayed real close and wouldn’t step away ever until he was certain all was back to normal again.

When Buddy was four years old, he became infected with MRSA and a system wide yeast explosion in his body. It took Mom weeks and weeks of research to figure out how to save him. Most dogs do not survive MRSA, but with the help of a loving Vet who kept testing him for us, we came up with a protocol that was incredibly intensive.

Daily baths in white vinegar, specific natural whole foods, supplements to help his gut flora recover slowly. All his hair fell out.

He was long suffering and so patient, as we worked every day to clean him, feed him, nourish his body and soul, to keep him going, day by day. He wore Hubby’s shirts outdoors for his walks to keep him warm and cover his obvious embarrassment at being bald. It was a year-long siege of sickness, dread, fear and courage on all our parts.

Recovery finally came. Slowly, but surely, his hair began to grow back, his eyes became brighter again, his system became stronger. Buddy’s spirit, tenacity and power pushed back MRSA. Loving him through that, was Hubby, pulling our very sick dog, through every day.

We got our puppy back, much to the amazement of our Vet. He wanted to see the protocol we established. He kept it. He had not seen recovery from MRSA in a dog. Buddy was THAT dog.

Life settled into normalcy again. Work, family, holidays, travel, all of it was a party of three.

Christmas meant Buddy was impatient to open his stocking and presents. We’d have to remind him pretty regular that he needed to wait until Santa came to open his presents. He was so excited when Christmas morning came. A house full of children and he got to open his presents, which he did with great gusto.

Thanksgiving was a test of his patience. He waited quietly for his Thanksgiving dinner, while we all expressed what we are grateful for and then, helped ourselves. His patience was always rewarded with all the fixin’s of turkey dinner and then we would all crash hard. Well, it was Thanksgiving Day, that’s what we do.

In his eleventh year, he began to slow down. The wiggle in his walk became more pronounced. His legs were weakening. His spirit still soared for his walks, face in sprinklers for a long drink, finding water bottles along his path in the dead of night, picking up sticks or rocks as he went.

Mom eventually retired and was home with Buddy every day now. Companionship at its best. We were both getting slower. When Mom was sick with pneumonia, Buddy stayed real close all day, every day.

Then, Buddy fell, hard. His huge spirit and heart was so eager and willing to keep doing all that he loved to do. His body was growing tired and weak. Breathing, acutely labored. Through tears and anguish, we took him to the vet one last time. “If he were my dog, it would be time”, the vet said, with love and compassion.

We brought our Buddy home.

There are ways to walk this walk. We chose to be home. My babies were born at home. All our furry family passed at home. Hubby’s Mom passed at home. Our little house held all our happiness, love and grief for all our lives. It would hold Buddy’s too.

When Dr. K walked up the path to our front door, she was quiet and loving, gave me a hug and we walked in together to where Hubby and Buddy were lying next to each other on our family room floor, quiet, waiting. We held Buddy, loved him and shared a chocolate bar together. All Buddy’s life he heard, “I’m sorry Buddy, you can’t have it, it’s chocolate.” Not today. This day, Buddy could eat all the chocolate he wanted. We shared the chocolate and all our love, life and heart with this Good Old Dog.

It occurred to me a while ago…G O D… Good Old Dog. I mentioned it to my hubby. We both decided, yeah, we loved that.

Our Good Old Dog passed peacefully in our arms, crushing our hearts, wringing out messy tears and so much painful loss. Losing our family dog, who’s soul we had grown to love and cherish so deeply through nearly 12 years of our lives, was heartbreaking, completely.

An hour later we opened the earth in Mom’s garden to lay him gently in his final resting place, with his car sling that he loved when we went for a ride, his rock that he chose as a 10 week old puppy to play and chew on, his bones, and a water bottle (common walk treasures). The clouds began to gather. A huge storm cell was approaching. Thunder, Lightning, pouring rain, gale force wind, and Hubby remained with our Buddy to make sure he was securely tucked in and safe. I tried to call him in, it was getting so seriously dangerous to be out in this storm. Hubby remained
with our Buddy, carefully placing the warm wet earth over our precious boy.

When Hubby was satisfied, soaking wet and muddy feet, he slowly came into the house. It was done. The skies opened up with walls of water, lightning crashing over us and roaring thunder rocking the house. It was done.

This morning in the warm sun on our front porch, I discovered Hubby’s shoes, caked in mud and dirt. They were so heavy with wet, caked mud and dirt, it struck me. Hubby would never wear these again. They would never again, be cleaned, or polished, or worn. I picked them up gently, to keep the mud, dirt and wet intact. Shoes worn for the last time, in grief, sorrow, heartache and pain. Shoes worn by my Hubby to bury our Buddy in my beautiful garden earth.

We are keeping those shoes.

Just as they are.

Muddy Shoes.


11/10/2008 - 09/02/2019



“Judges Choice Award” Dan’s Papers, August, 2018

The End
by: Richard Weissmann

The summer that I turned fifteen I camped several days on a Montauk beach with my buddies Mike and John. Being city kids, we took the train from Jamaica Station. This was toward the end of the Eisenhower administration when our summers usually meant handball courts, municipal pools, and carp fishing in city parks. But we had heard about the legendary fishing at Montauk and were determined to go. Helicopter parenting and social media monitoring hadn’t been imagined yet.

So, for three hours we sat on the LIRR “Fisherman Express” with a few dozen sleepy fishermen for a morning arrival at Montauk.

The one thing we didn’t plan on was the location of the Montauk train station. It was miles from our campsite at Ditch Plains Beach!

Standing on the shell and cinder-paved parking lot, we stared across the waters of Fort Pond in the general direction of the Atlantic Ocean. At our feet were our Army surplus knapsacks stuffed with cans of Spaghetti O’s, Rice-a-Roni, and Dinty Moore’s Beef Stew, along with a bunch of cooking pots. Also, our fishing rods and tackle bags. The canvas tent, complete with metal tent poles and support ropes, looked like a sack of cement. The eastern sun was already getting hot. Now what?

At the far end of the parking lot was a huge, pink Cadillac with the pointed tail fins of the late 1950’s. Lettered on its side was “Fred’s Taxi”. Standing next to it was a wiry, raw-boned man wearing a faded sport cap and baggy khaki pants. He looked more like a fishing captain than a cabbie.

“You boys looking for a ride somewhere?” he asked with a curious country twang to his speech.

We told him of our plan to camp for four nights on Ditch Plains Beach.

“You have a three-mile hike, then,” he said smiling. “Or you can just load your stuff in the car and I’ll take you there.” Seeing our hesitation, he added, “Don’t worry. I won’t charge you much.”

The Caddy was pretty new and had a feature none of us had experienced in a car: air-conditioning! So far, we were travelling in style.

“Guess you boys are out to do some fish’n,” Fred said.

“Yes, we really want to catch a striped bass,” Mike said.

“Striper, eh? Not that easy to come by even out here,” Fred commented. He said “heah” for here.

He must have seen the disappointment on our faces, and added, “You can fish mornings and evenings at Ditch Plains. Maybe get lucky. But, if you want stripers you gotta go to the end.”

“The end? You mean Montauk Point?” I asked.

He nodded. “It’s a long hike on a rocky beach, but just this side of the lighthouse the shoreline curves in forming a kind of cove—Turtle Cove, we call it. On a rising tide you’ll see three big boulders a hundred yards out. Look like the backs of big turtles at high tide. You cast some floating plugs out towards them. If the surf’s calm, let them splash around a bit. You might find a striper that way.”

And, with that lesson, we arrived at the campground.

“Here’s my card. You can call from the camp office if you need to be picked up.” He smiled and slid back into the Caddy. To this day, I don’t remember what—if anything—he charged us.

Montauk was a quieter and simpler place in those days. Ditch Plains campground consisted of a bathroom/shower building and a scattering of campsites. There were mostly Winnebago-style campers, some proper family-sized tents pitched on wooden platforms, and a few actual beach sites consisting of nothing more than a square of sand with a fire pit.

Ours was maybe a hundred feet from the surf. No amenities, but what a view. Windswept dunes, blue-green ocean swells crashing on the beach in front of our tent, and, off to the east, the boulder-strewn cliffs and height of land that stretched several miles across mostly empty moors to the Montauk Lighthouse.

We felt like kings: no parents, no teachers. Just freedom. We fished in the mornings, swam and hiked along the cliffs in the afternoons, and cooked over an open campfire each evening. Mainly we fished. We caught fluke, porgies, bluefish, blackfish, sand sharks and skates, but no striped bass. They were what we wanted to catch most of all. Striped bass were, and still are, the king of coastal fish. But, in the late years of the 1950’s they were becoming scarce.

On the third day we woke up before dawn. The first thing we noticed was how calm it was. No wind. The surf barely lapping at the sand. Almost eerily calm. A perfect day to hike to “the end”.

Instead of hiking the beach, we followed a faint trail that meandered along the cliff edge forty feet above the shore. We felt like adventurers hiking towards the rising sun with the wide Atlantic spread out below us.

A mile or two into the hike, we came to a group of large, shingled houses that faced the sea across the mostly treeless moor. The closest house had lights on downstairs and a dog barking inside. Like the teenagers we were, we imagined ourselves commandoes on a dangerous mission. So, we ran along the cliff edge leaping across narrow ravines and around glacial boulders.

Soon, a concrete building with a big radar antenna on top loomed into view. We emerged from the stunted oak and catbriers to find the way blocked by a high, chain-link fence. Behind the fence were the buildings and gun emplacements of Fort Hero, which was now an Air Force base and part of the early warning system against Armageddon. The threat of heavily armed soldiers deflated our heroics and we slipped down the embankment to the beach.

Minutes later, we could see the lighthouse framed by the graceful curve of Turtle Cove.

“There’s the three rocks,” Mike said as he pointed out to the glassy sea.

We quickly rigged up and started casting wooden lures out towards the turtle rocks. At first nothing happened. We made sure to let the lures splash on the calm water as we retrieved them, just as Fred had directed. Still, no fish.

A half hour went by.

“Look at those birds,” John yelled. “They look to be coming this way.”

Sure enough, a big flock of gulls were dive bombing baitfish that were being driven to the surface by predators below. Within minutes we were all hooked into fish that were strong and fast. We whooped like drunken sailors as we landed the first of several striped bass that we caught in the next hour.

The fish were beautiful: bronze backs and white bellies with glistening scales the size of dimes and black lines running the length of their sides. They were school bass, all around 20-inches in length, which was well above legal size in the 1950’s. Still, we had no reason to keep them and so let each one return to the sea.

By the time the feeding frenzy ended there were big clouds rolling in off the ocean. An east wind had come up and seas were beginning to boom onto the beach.
When we got back to the campground it was late afternoon, the wind was howling, and the campground was already almost cleared out.

But, we stayed. Maybe a Nor’easter would add to the adventure.

The heavy rain and gale force winds began around nightfall. I slept fitfully but awoke during the night to find I was lying in a puddle of water. The tent had sprung a dozen leaks. The three of us sat on upturned cooking pots and gazed miserably out at the scene. Lightning flashes lit the beach and tree branches blew past the tent. At some point a thunderous crash of lightning struck an old Coast Guard tower a half-mile west of us. The tower toppled onto the sand. All bravado gone, we were really scared.

It was after midnight when the beach was suddenly lit by headlights. A voice, with a familiar country twang, called out from the darkness, “Hey boys. Let’s get that tent down!”

We crawled out of the tent and saw the big, pink Cadillac parked in the mud with Fred opening the trunk to load our soaked gear inside. We were never so glad to see an adult.

“I thought you boys might want a safer and drier spot to camp out tonight,” he said.

Fred’s taxi stand stood next to an abandoned garage near the downtown. “It’s not exactly a hotel but it should keep you out of the weather until morning,” he said. “You can get some breakfast in town and I’ll pick you up around ten for the train back to the city.”

That night we slept like princes.

*Note: Growing up in Queens it never occurred to me that I lived on an island. I only realized it after I rode the LIRR from Jamaica to Montauk and saw the mist shrouded cliffs and the rotating light that still warned ships and sea away from the rocky shore. It was an adventure discovering it that way. If I were a kid today I’d probably just google it and go on playing video games. Today’s adventure usually comes under the category of adult supervised activities. I’m glad I grew up in an era when kids could find adventure on their own. Even if we did have to be rescued by adults in the end.



Horseback to Old Inlet
by: Richard Weissmann

Horseback to Old InletThe sudden appearance of the breach at Old Inlet after Super Storm Sandy changed Fire Island overnight. The enormous forces of nature demonstrated their power at one fell swoop. But, what about changes to our barrier beach that are not so dramatic? Changes that have been going on gradually for many years?

I was thinking about this recently and it brought to mind a trip that I made on the beach forty-years ago.

Back then I was a seasonal Ranger with the new Fire Island National Seashore (FINS). I was stationed at Watch Hill, and it was a pretty wonderful job. I got to patrol the beach in a big, rusted-out Jeep Grand Cherokee. Sometimes I would be on foot checking the campsites and the marina. Other times I patrolled in a 17-foot Boston Whaler to keep an eye on boaters in Great South Bay. But, in August of 1976, I was assigned to be the horse ranger for the rest of the summer.

Horse ranger? I grew up in Flushing! I had never ridden a horse in my life!

Of course, the federal government spared no expense. I was given two-hours of training by Barbara Avery at her little family farm next to the Swan Deli in East Patchogue.

The next day I was fully in charge of the care and riding of Bandit, a sturdy Morgan horse who had retired recently from the NYC Police Department. Bandit lived in a stable just east of the Watch Hill campground. Once I had mastered getting a bit in his mouth and slapping a saddle on his ample backside, I began to ride him around the general area of the campground and beach.

I was supposed to be in charge, but Bandit had other ideas. He was especially fond of fresh, tender poison ivy leaves, which usually grew in the swale behind the dunes. I tried to be nonchalant as summer bathers expressed surprise at seeing a ranger and horse atop the dunes that were clearly marked with signs to “Keep Off Dunes”. Sometimes, in the heat of day, Bandit enjoyed wading a little too deep in the surf.

On those occasions my riding boots filled with water, until I got better at coaxing him back to dry sand.

During that first week, I’m sure that these spectacles provided entertainment for the campers and beach goers. It also gave me a week of painful saddle sores and a fair amount of sunburn.

By the following week, I felt confident enough to venture farther afield on Bandit. This was in the years before the “High Dunes” district east of Watch Hill had been designated a “Wilderness Area” free from any development. That meant that the several little communities that existed there would soon have to be condemned and removed. So, I decided to ride about four-miles east to Old Inlet, the last of these remote settlements. A friend and fellow ranger, Paul Stoutenburgh, and his wife Barbara, were living there that summer. I would pay them a visit.

I didn’t have any regular patrol schedule. The horse was more-or-less a good-will ambassador to make people feel more accepting towards the federal government takeover of this, somewhat lawless, end of Fire Island. Besides, there were often illegal campers in the eastern dunes. It would be my mission to seek them out.

I rode on the trail behind the primary dunes known as “Burma Road.” This was a name jokingly given to it by returning WWII vets, some of whom built squatter shacks along the trail in this wild part of Fire Island. Burma Road cuts through bayberry, beach plum, catbrier, and beach roses as it follows the natural swale between primary and secondary dunes.

Just east of the horse barn is the first of these little pocket communities, Long Cove. One house, built primarily of driftwood, sits near the top of the dunes. Its owner is a local bayman, but the house is now scheduled for removal or demolition within the year as FINS begins to reclaim the land to establish a National Wilderness Area.

It’s promising to be another hot day as I pass the dune cut in front of Skunk Hollow. Several beach cottages are scattered about and I see a few people on the beach. They are naked. This is not a surprise as Skunk Hollow is an unofficial nudist beach. The Seashore’s position on this was to ignore it. At that moment, I envy the nudists. The new superintendent of FINS had decided that year that all rangers would wear dress green, woolen trousers. Sitting in a hot saddle, I was already beginning to sweat.

A few hundred yards along the trail I spooked a white-tailed deer with a couple of fawns. This did surprise me: deer were not as common a sight in those days, before the population explosion that we currently experience. The little family quickly faded into the scrub pine and high-bush blueberry north of the trail.

Red-winged blackbirds chirred liquid notes from the thicket. Out over the marsh a harrier hawk cruised low in search of rodents or rabbits.

I was enjoying the view over the flat countryside that is only possible when sitting high in the saddle of a big horse.

Or, maybe not, I thought, as the old tower at Whalehouse Point hove into view. During WWII, a Coast Guard station had stood here. The tower was used for spotting any U-boat activity offshore. To my knowledge none were ever spotted, though the Nazis did manage to land some saboteurs forty-miles to the east in Amagansett.

A fellow named Bill Porter owned a rustic cottage where the old station had once stood, and he claimed to own the tower as well. As I approached, I saw him standing next to his 1928 Chevy truck that he used for getting on and off the beach.

“I see you traded in that Jeep for a more reliable conveyance,” he said.

“Yeah,” I answered. “You can’t get stuck in the sand with one of these.”

He held out a cold can of Coke, which I gladly accepted as I climbed down off Bandit to take a rest. But, when Bill invited me to have a look from atop the tower, I couldn’t resist.

I think it was about six-flights of iron steps to the top, but the view was worth it. Beyond the surf, the ocean shimmered blue/green. A few trawlers dragged their nets offshore. To the east, a group of cottages lay tucked into the dunes at Bellport Beach (now called Ho-Hum). North—out near the bay—was Glenna Hulse’s bungalow in the marsh just in front of the Coast Guard dock. I had met Glenna once before and she was a character. I believe she was the only person to live in the wilderness area year-round; winters she fed the wildlife, including deer and a family of foxes.

Before I left Whalehouse Point, I let Bandit drink from the artesian well left over from the Coast Guard days. It gushed cold water from hundreds of feet down and formed a little rust-colored marsh in the sand around it.

I hadn’t gone a hundred yards before I passed the beach house of John and Sarah Ince. Both Ince’s were waiting by the front door with carrots for Bandit. Like everyone living in the wilderness area, they knew that they were living on borrowed time. In the late 1960’s, FINS had given all the residents a temporary lease. These ranged anywhere from 5-years to 25-years. I believe Sarah and John still had a dozen or so years left, and they were determined to enjoy every day of it. Their little house was filled with bird carvings, old bottles, and assorted treasures from the beach. The front door was propped open with part of a rib from the “Bessie White”, a coasting schooner that went aground on the beach in 1928. When I asked about life on the beach, John was willing to wax poetic:

“Every season brings a new set of sights. In the fall the poison ivy turns deep red and huge flocks of snow geese go winging over the marshes. Spring is magnificent with yellow flowers on the beach heather and white blossoms—like snow—on the beach plums. But, you haven’t fully appreciated the place until you’ve been here in winter. Then the snow drifts over the dunes and wind-blown sand coats it with a subtle shade of gray.”

Back in the saddle again, I waved farewell to the couple. The next sign of civilization I came to was the dozen, or so, houses clustered near the boardwalk at Bellport Beach. One middle-aged woman came out of her house and asked to pet Bandit (he was a star wherever we went). I’ve forgotten her name now, but, ironically, she had just retired from the NYC Police force. Both retirees stood in the hot, summer trail and nuzzled each other for a moment.

Continuing my patrol—no offending campers encountered yet—I rode through the most desolate part of the wilderness area. There weren’t even any squatter shacks in the two-mile stretch to Old Inlet. A few deer, several cruising hawks, some rabbits in the thickets, and a set of fox prints in the sand were the only signs of life. The dunes here were massive, though. Some soared 30-feet or more above the low tide line.
Many were streaked with the deep purple tint of fine garnet sand and topped with billowing beach grass. It was truly a unique wilderness of sand, sky, and vegetation, enclosed by ocean and bay.

There were a few signs of civilization past. The rusted-out frame of a Model-A Ford—they were the original beach vehicles—lay off the trail, its skeletal remains almost hidden in the catbrier and poison ivy. Some old timbers emerged from the sand. Perhaps remnants of a ship that sank in the inlet more than a century earlier?

Old Inlet was a navigable inlet in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Fishing boats and coasting schooners regularly accessed ocean and bay through its shifting channel. During the Revolutionary War, a pair of British warships used it to anchor in the bay near the Manor of St. George. But, it was a dangerous inlet even then. By the 1840’s, after a series of storms and shipwrecks that blocked the channel, the inlet had shrunk to a mere trickle.

I don’t think that as I rode Bandit along the hot swale enclosed by high dunes, I had any clue that the island would succumb to a new inlet 36-years later.

Suddenly, up ahead, the long, low-slung roof of the Old Inlet Club emerged from behind the dunes. Up on its second-story deck, I saw Paul Stoutenburgh looking out over the beach with a pair of binoculars. Paul was an accomplished ranger/naturalist who was working for FINS to document the wildlife—especially the birds—of the wilderness area. When he turned the binoculars on me, I waved and urged Bandit forward.

It didn’t take much urging as Barbara Stoutenburgh came out of the house holding an apple for the horse.

“Welcome to paradise!” Paul said as I hitched Bandit to the house railing.

He and Barbara have a deep respect for nature and feel very lucky to get to spend the summer in this isolated place. As we greet each other, a family walked up the boardwalk from the dock. Paul greets them and we all chat as the children pet the horse. Like many of the people who come to the beach here, these are members of the former Old Inlet Club. The club consisted mainly of Bellport and Brookhaven residents who formed it in the early 20th-century. The original clubhouse was destroyed in the great hurricane of 1938 and was rebuilt into the one the Stoutenburghs were now living in. In years past club members used it for family gatherings and parties. It had a snack bar, showers, and changing rooms. Several generations grew up in this little corner of paradise. So, Paul’s job included being a good-will ambassador for FINS. Since the club did not own the property the clubhouse was scheduled for removal, and many club members had to be mollified by the fact that the Seashore would be preserving this section of beach as a “forever wild” place.

While Bandit enjoyed his apple, I joined the Stoutenburghs on the deck for some traditional English afternoon tea. Fresh blueberry scones made with the beach’s wild blueberries, and rose-hip tea made from the wild beach roses (rosa rugosa) that grew in the dunes. Paul and Barbara live on a farm in Cutchogue, so I’m sure that they are used to living off the land, but the Old Inlet Clubhouse brings its own challenges. It has no electricity so food is kept in a cooler and ice packed in each day. The sink has a hand pump to bring well water to the surface. The bathroom is an outhouse and next to it is the outdoor shower. Lighting is candles and oil lamps.

There is a propane stove, however, for preparing meals. The couple makes use of all the natural gifts that the beach supplies: fresh bluefish or striped bass from the surf, blue-claw crabs and clams from the bay, blueberries and beach plums from the dunes.

As he speaks, it’s clear that Paul loves this place. “Barbara and I love to walk the beach together, watch the ocean change its many moods, and wish everyone could experience the wonders of this fascinating world of the barrier beach with us.”

Swallows are darting about under the eaves of the porch. Along the dune line a steady flow of monarch butterflies flutter purposefully along heading west on the beginning of their southern migration. The boom of the surf mixes with the voices of the club member’s children on the beach.

Paul seems to read my mind. Pointing to them, he says, “Those club members knew a good thing and kept it all those years in its unique character. How hard it must be for them to close the books on this. Yet nothing is forever. Let’s hope there will always be a vision of Old Inlet in everyone’s mind.”

I nodded in agreement as I rose and thanked them before making my journey back. Little did I imagine, that, almost four decades later, Old Inlet would become a magnet for summer visitors once again.



Sad, But True
by: Rich Giannotti

While doing some research on my maternal grandmother’s family from Blue Point I learned of this story which is ultimately about my great, great, great grandfather. Thanks to the wonderful Blue Point historian Gene Horton ( author of several books including “Blue Point Remembered”) and a couple of reprints from the Brooklyn Eagle archive I was able to flesh out this story.

One day in 1904 a man named Riley came to the “poor house” in Yaphank looking for his older brother. He related how in 1882 when he was five both he and his brother were adopted from that place having been put there by their mother who could no longer care for them. He was sent to the Robinson family in East Patchogue and subsequently ended up a stable hand and migrated to Kentucky. He was back in this area for the first time and decided to try to find his older brother.

Through the help of people at the facility he learned his brother had been adopted in March of 1882 by Benjamin Abrams an Oysterman (my ancestor) from Blue Point. He was saddened to learn that “Little Joe” as he was known around town was drowned along with Ben Abrams when the oyster sloop “Alice” capsized on the bar while attempting to come in the Fire Island Inlet. Joe was buried in the old Patchogue Cemetery and Mr. Riley was arranging to have his remains moved to near his home according to the 1904 story.

I then found a story from the Brooklyn Eagle in 1882 documenting the fatal accident. It seems another captain named Suydam from Bayshore was also lost that day. It must have been a bad day to be in the inlet with only sail power and no accurate charts or electronic goodies. Ben Abrams had traded his sloop, Calista (named for his 18 year old daughter) to a man from Patchogue for The Alice six months earlier. A few months after her father’s death, Calista died of “a broken heart” as folks were wont to do in those days.

Some accounts said they were coming in with a load of oysters which seemed odd to me since I thought oysters were harvested in the bay and then perhaps delivered to NYC by boat. I then learned that even at this early date oysters were being over fished in the bay and some oystermen would go up the Hudson to near Sing Sing prison where there were public oyster beds. There was a problem however; that being those oysters were living in polluted water courtesy of the prison inmates. The oysters taken there would be replanted in cleaner waters in New Jersey opposite Staten Island or in that area. After a few weeks in that pristine environment they were deemed edible and the men like my ancestor would retrieve them and bring them to Blue Point or Sayville where they were sold as Genuine Blue Point Oysters!

We tend to wax poetic about the old days. I wonder how many of us would have made it through with nothing but the next catch to keep us housed, fed and clothed?



The Girl in the Woods
by: Richard Weissmann

She was only eleven-years old when she died in November of 1724. According to the ancient tombstone in the woods, her name was Elizabeth Jessup, daughter of Isaac and Sarah Jessup. Probably she died of some childhood disease? Perhaps a tragic accident? I only know that her body rests in what must be the most remote, and lonely, grave on Long Island—deep in the tangled undergrowth of the forested peninsula called Jessup’s Neck, which juts northwards into Peconic Bay like a comma.

Today, this peninsula comprises the Elizabeth Morton National Wildlife Refuge. Encompassing upland forest, fresh and saltwater marshes, freshwater streams and ponds, miles of rocky beaches, as well as a native population of virtually every bird, mammal, amphibian, crustacean, and fish known to populate Long Island, the refuge is a local treasure. A hike through the refuge is a journey back into another time.

It was several years ago that my hiking partner and I first descended the forest trail. Chickadees and nuthatches flitted and chattered in the cedar trees. Some flew onto our hands as we held out offerings of sunflower seeds. Ahead, wild turkeys pecked at seeds and insects, then loped comically as they veered into the tangled catbrier and poison ivy along the trail. I wondered if Elizabeth walked this trail and marveled at the bird life? Or, in her day, maybe this was a field of corn or a meadow for horses to graze?

Half-a-mile down the trail the trees ended, the sky opened, and we stood on a gravel beach looking out at the shimmering waters of Peconic Bay. Due west, off in the distance, lay Robin’s Island, across the bay the shoreline of Southold, and, to the east, the waters of Shelter Island Sound. A few sailboats slid lazily by on a light breeze. It didn’t take much imagination to envision the coastal schooners of Elizabeth’s day sailing east from Riverhead loaded with firewood to warm Manhattan homes. Did she watch them go by and wonder what life was like in a big city?

This part of Jessup’s Neck is more like a barrier beach, just a couple of hundred yards wide with a fresh-water pond cupped in its center and ringed with marsh grasses. Some egrets and a great blue heron stood in the pond and a pair of ospreys circled above their nest built in the top of a dead tree. The beach gravel is too soft for comfortable hiking, but, higher up, just below the driftwood and storm-wrack, a white ribbon of sand made a nice trail to follow.

Less than a mile of beach walking brought us to the forested north end of the neck. A mixed forest of hardwoods and cedars is perched upon eroding cliffs twenty-feet above the water. Once we reached this tree-line, we followed a narrow trail on the right that led us past the pond and into the trees for a short-cut across to the opposite shore.

It was near there that we came upon Elizabeth’s headstone, enclosed by a rusting, iron fence, probably erected many years later by someone who was sensitive to the loneliness of the grave. Could it have been an ancestor? A later property owner? Maybe even a historical society? I remember that the forest was especially dense and gloomy there. The leafy ceiling of sassafras and oak trees blotted out the sun, and ominous looking anthills nearby swarmed with red ants. Perhaps solitude is what ghosts prefer.

With some relief we emerged out onto the eastern shoreline and sat on a big, glacial boulder to drink water and eat a snack. Looking east we saw the shoreline of North Haven and the bluffs of Shelter Island. Just offshore a line of wooden poles stuck out of the water with a few cormorants perched on them catching the warmth of the afternoon sun. I recognized these poles as the frame for trap-nets, used by baymen to capture migrating schools of weakfish, fluke, and striped bass. This type of fishing hasn’t changed since its invention by native Americans, and it struck me that it might have been practiced by Elizabeth’s father all those years ago.

We turned to the north again, and with the bluffs on our left, walked to the end of the neck. Since the beginning of the hike we had not met another person. Now, as we stood on the very tip of land where it turned into a long finger of gravel before disappearing into the bay waters, we felt as isolated as two people could get on the mainland of Long Island. The nearest road was nearly three-miles away. The only sound was the chuff of wind and lapping of waves. It was a place frozen in time, steeped in nature; and inhabited by a very old, young ghost.