Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Distant Mirror: Frank Connolly looks back at the tumultuous summer that he was Saltaire's Softball Commissioner

                 



                 by Frank Connolly


Jimmy O’Hare talked me into it.

As many of you know, that boy could talk a dog off a meat-wagon. He could talk the Pope into doing shots at Hooters. He could -- well, maybe – talk Putin into putting his shirt back on. He talked me into becoming commissioner of the Saltaire Softball League, and thereby hangs a tale.

It was the summer of 1974: Richard Nixon was president, at least at the start of the summer, and a gallon of gas cost 53 cents. Eggs went for 78 cents a dozen on the mainland, though the Saltaire Market may well have charged three bucks. The Yacht Club served only two brands of beer, in bottles – Schaefer was 60 cents, Heineken 75 cents – and the only food you could order in the bar was a bowl of Goldfish. That first week in July, the number-one song in the country was The Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat,” a proto-disco masterpiece that has inexplicably been forgotten by time.

I was 17 then, working as a bay lifeguard during the day and as junior commodore of the Yacht Club at night, running the Big Room and the teen dances. (That last clause, I’m well aware, means nothing to anyone born after 1980. Too bad.) On weekends I moonlighted as commissioner of the Saltaire Softball League, a position of immense power and influence that I had come to occupy because – well, because Jimmy O’Hare talked me into it.

Jim was the Founding Commissioner of the league, but by the spring of ’74 he was looking to relinquish the reins of power. For reasons known only to him and his God, he thought I’d be a good replacement.

Piece of cake,” he assured me. “You schedule the games, keep the stats, and make sure there’s a trophy at the end of the season. That’s all.” I demurred, because there was at least some vestige of sanity still at work in my brain; I knew that Saltaire softball has always been serious business, and I didn’t want to wind up in the middle of a season full of arguments and ill will. Thanks but no thanks, I tried to say. But Jimmy kept talking. And talking. He was relentless; I was 17. I gave in.

The season started off well enough, but Jim had forgotten to mention one little detail: the deadline for roster changes. Although exhibition play began in late June, teams had until July 1 to submit their final rosters. Just a bureaucratic detail, I thought, but of course I thought wrong.

There were six teams in the league that season: The Men, with Mel Beckel and Kevin Braddish. The Oedipus Wrecks, with Ron Metzler and Hal Seltzer and Jim Sconzo Sr. The Teens, with Mark and Jeff Heller (my former team, though a bad knee kept me out of action that season). The Streakers, a new entry with John Bartow and Joe Bukowski. And then – well, that’s where things got complicated.

Before July 1, the remaining two entries were the A Team, with Danny Weinlandt, Jon Lyon and many others; and the Z Team, with Noel Feustel, Bobby Cerveny, and an uncountable multitude of Cunninghams. But on the first of July, Billy Cunningham – like Jim O’Hare, a future All-World lawyer and a persuasive talker – showed up with a “revised roster” for the Z Team, though that term was not exactly accurate. It was, rather, the roster for a completely new team, including the biggest-name stars on both the A and Z Teams, merged into one new super-team.

I didn’t know what to do. (Did I mention that I was 17?) I knew that the other teams would object – which they surely did, strenuously and at high volume and with many a vivid (if anatomically improbable) turn of phrase. But I also knew that, according to the league rules, there was nothing to prevent such a last-minute merger.

After first telling Billy that no, you guys can’t do this, I realized that yes, yes they could. And so I accepted the roster for the new, merged team – which would be known, go figure, as The Mergers – and immediately kicked off an exciting season of superheated arguments and rollicking ill will on the softball diamond.

Noel quickly gathered the discarded A and Z Teamers into a new squad, The Castaways, which would later evolve into The Dogfish. Play resumed in the newly configured league. The Mergers drubbed their opponents with metronomic regularity. And their opponents got angry with metronomic regularity – partly at the Mergers but mostly, it seemed, at me. A good time was had by all.

Fast-forward to Labor Day weekend. Jerry Ford was president by then, and the number-one song in the country was Paul Anka’s odious “(You’re) Having My Baby,” but otherwise things were the same: The Mergers were undefeated, and everybody was mad at me.

The league championship game, considered by most of us a mere formality, featured The Mergers against the upstart Streakers. But the weather didn’t want to cooperate. Days of rain soaked the field, forcing me to postpone the championship until the last possible day – the Sunday before Labor Day. Even then, there were puddles all over the field, and I thought seriously about calling the game.

The captains of the two teams talked me into allowing the game to start, and when it did a most curious thing happened: the Streakers went ahead early and, behind the steady pitching of the crafty John Bartow, they stayed ahead into the third inning.

That’s when things got ugly. In the bottom of the third one of the Mergers blind-sided a Streaker who was camped under a pop-up, hurting him badly; I tossed the offending Merger out of the game. In the top of the fourth, one of the Streakers tried to slide into second but slipped on the muddy field and broke his kneecap. While we were waiting for the Coast Guard to take the injured player off the island (Saltaire had no ambulance back then), I decided to call the game because of unsafe conditions – a decision that I should have made before the first pitch was ever thrown.

At that point The Streakers were still ahead, but the game hadn’t lasted long enough to be considered official. And the rules of the U.S. Softball Association were painfully clear: if a league championship game could not be played for any reason, then the team with the best regular-season record had to be declared champion.

I trotted out the trophies. First I handed the batting-championship trophy to Billy Cunningham, who’d hit somewhere in the neighborhood of .480 that season. Then I presented the league championship trophy – unwillingly, mind you, because I didn’t think they deserved it – to The Mergers.

“I hope you’re satisfied,” I told one of them. (Did I mention that I was 17?) This, as it turned out, was not the most politic thing to say. The offended Merger player made his displeasure known, strenuously and at high volume and with even more discussion of anatomical improbabilities. I considered, for a moment, what it would feel like to have my spine broken in three places, because that seemed to be the likely upshot of this conversation. But then it started raining again, and we all went home.

Great, I remember thinking as I headed back toward Marine Walk – even the winners hate me. But hey, what did I expect? Saltaire softball has always been serious business.


---FRANK CONNOLLY


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note:
It took us forty years to get  Frank "Kennesaw Mountain" Connolly to write his memoir of 1974's summer of stress. 
No other Commissioner paid such a price, bore such a burden, met so many hardships, opposed so many foes, in order to assure the survival and the success of the Saltaire Softball league as Frank did in 1974.

But that was the year that really got the league rolling, and it has rolled every summer since.  And Frank's efforts made it happen.

For this, forty years later, we thank, you, Frank.  
(Or should we just apologize?)
     --Editors





Monday, August 4, 2014

Somewhere, Uncle Pete is Smiling




You know, it has been fifty years since Uncle Pete gave his last swimming lessons in Saltaire.
Fifty  to sixty-one years ago he was coaching, inspiring, scaring and teaching    little kids in a bay front full of seaweed,  stinging jelly fish, big waves and   a BIG STICK. Maybe the same way he used to coach, inspire, scare and condition  American  aviators  to climb  into airplanes to be shot at to win the Good War. 

Anyone from those Uncle Pete  swimming lessons fifty or sixty years ago remembers them like yesterday.   Yesterday.

So I am sure Uncle Pete would be proud today.   If one thing he ever wanted us to know in those  lessons it was :

YOU CAN DO IT.

THREE UNCLE PETE SWIMMING CLASS ALUMNI FROM FIFTY OR MORE YEARS AGO DONE HIM PROUD AT THE MAGGIE FISCHER CROSSBAY SWIM THIS YEAR:

TOM VAUTIER
DANNY WEINLANDT
DIANE MCMANUS

see the results here:   http://greatsouthbayswim.com/2014/2014%20Maggie%20Fischer%20Swim%20Overall%20Results.htm


ALL REMARKABLE SWIMMERS AT THEIR AGE, OR ANY AGE.

At the Labor Day awards, 1962, (1963?)Danny was awarded the CUP  as the best of the senior boys. 

I remember Kuracheck  saying when Danny came up to receive his award   "We've all watched  him grow up," as he handed the cup to Danny.  I am sure Uncle Pete  could have imagined Danny swimming across the Bay 50 years thereafter.

Congratulations Danny,



Diane McManus, now that is another story.
Congratulations, Diane 
Diane McManus,    In her own Write:


"Thanks much! I both adored and feared Uncle Pete!

I think he'd be very surprised in my case, b/c I was one of those kids whom he had to practically drag into deep water. If you'd told me back then that I'd be swimming across the bay, I'd have wondered what you were smoking."
   -----Diane


Note: Danny was the kid that was always picked first when you were choosing up sides for games.

Diane.....well...... not so much.
In fact,  I can think of nothing in common between Danny and Diane except that:

                1. They both swam all the way across the bay while well into their sixties  and 
                2. More than fifty years ago Uncle Pete helped teach them to swim. 
Kuracheck could coach 'em all.


And Vautier too.
Congratulations, Tom 
Tom Vautier 2009

Somewhere, Coach Kuracheck is smiling.
Congratulations, Pete. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

FACES FROM THE FIFTIES: SALTAIRE PERSONALITIES AS SEEN THROUGH THE LENS OF BILL WEINLANDT



This is what we looked like in the Fifties, with an occasional shot from the Forties and Sixties. These pictures are from the camera of Bill Weinlandt.  

At the end of this photo array, there is a  "comments" section.  Please post your comments. 


Rich Greer and Billie Greer, 1951
Note the Pavilion at the top of Broadway at the Ocean. 

For a great series of Kodachrome Labor Day photos by Rich Greer, click here:    http://saltaire38.blogspot.com/search?q=Labor+Day
Rita Connelly, Kay Imray; Bronson Goddard to right
Kitty Goggins and the Glascocks
Note the dune line in the background. This was a dune replenishment year

1958  Chris Kartalis, Chief Lifeguard
by the way: so many outdoor shots of Saltaire vistas somehow have the water tower somewhere in the background. 

Murderers Row, 1957:
From left: Ed Weinlandt, Jack Thorp, Mike Fitzgerald, Tony Shoecraft, Bill Weinlandt, "Stick" O'Brien, Bob Marks; Larry Lynch.
Pic by W.J. Weinlandt

1957

1957

1949

Captain Baldwin 1948
Hermit. Fisherman. lived in a shack in the marshes of Clam Cove. 

Captain Baldwin, 1948
for the lowdown on who Captain Baldwin was, click on the link below to one of our most popular stories:
http://saltaire38.blogspot.com/search?q=Baldwin

1957 



Charley Ritch, Village Superintendent
from the 1930's through late 1950's

Frank and Kitty Goggins,  1948
Mrs. Goggins, too was one of the earliest Saltairians. Second Village Historian.

Larry Lynch

The Marks


Ladies' Softball Labor Day 1957
Left: Rita Connelly  Mary Wright at bat.


Labor Day, because one of the girls is holding a trophy. Best kid in group got "The Cup."
The Labor Day ceremony was kind of like the Academy Awards.


Ladies' Softball Labor Day 1957
Edna Wilson, Mary Wright

Cyril Schmidt, October 1954
Father Francis X. Fitzgibbon of Our Lady Star of the Sea 1954

Howard Sutherland October 1954



Lou Schmidt, Catsy Schmidt October 1954

Chuck Foster, Pie-Eating Champion. He won by diving into  the Entenmann's blueberry pie while all the other kids were trying to eat theirs.   Hands behind  backs, of course. 

Future Mayor and Fire Island Association President Norma and Tom Ervin 1951. Both had worked at the Nuremburg trials.

Charley Ludlow and his brother Jack, 1951  in the ball field. This Photo looks east.  No playground yet. 

Mike Coffey 1951

The Pipers 1951
Mrs. Piper was a fashion model in the 1950's.
Background: Looking West, Bay Prom was still boardwalk,  CC Sailboat on right. 

Paul Schmidt, former Mayor,  1951

Ruth Dobie and Mr. and Mrs Lynch, 1951
Among the earliest Saltairians. 
Mrs. Dobie eloped and got married on the beach, 1917.  A  summer resident until 1959, she was the First Village historian. 

Mrs. Lynch was working for a public health service organizations in 1918 (?) when a troop ship ran aground and she came out as part of the rescue corps. Village houses were used as emergency shelters.  She fell in love with the village; bought land and a house and stayed a summer resident. 

1951: future Mayor John Ludlow and Dan Langley

Ed Weinlandt, Eleanor Mark; Fred Mark; Helen Weinlandt; Bob Mark

Gil and Pat Bell, 1951 
There are kids jumping off the Fire Islander in the background.
Those days labor day swimming races were held in the boat basin. Eleanor Mark on right.
Dwight Isaccson, Chief Ocean Lifeguard   1964

Bob Marshalk and Gil Bell, 1951

All smiles. Pete Kuracheck at the  guarded  front door. Kids wait on line to go in for gamma globulin shots in polio epidemic, August, 1954. Notably, kids who got shots inside exited the back door so that the kids waiting to go in through the front door  would not see their tears. 

Oliver Hull, Georgiana Hull 1960

Peter W. Kuracheck, 1955
Athletic Director, swimming instructor, 1954-1964.
Wore this white zinc oxide on his nose, 1954-1964. 
  Played football at University of Kentucky, Class of 1937;  M.A.  in  Phys Ed, University of Kentucky. When the War came, Captain Kuracheck drilled  WWII fliers to be physically fit to handle combat flight.  Some say he was every bit as tough (but loving)  in teaching eight year-olds  to swim in Saltaire in the 1950's and early 1960's. Sixty years later, people remember his swimming lessons like yesterday. He would hover over fledgling swimmers with a ten foot long bamboo pole. Kuracheck was one of the most successful football coaches in New York scholastic history at Pleasantville High School.  

Yacht Club Steward and Stewardess Jim and Terry O'Connor, 1960

Beach Party. Lotta kids. Lotta families had lotta kids. July 1954

The Ahernes,  1954. Merry, Harriet, Marie and Bob. 
Note the artificially built up dunes 

Skinner Birthday Party 1950
Captain Al Skinner lived in a small apartment in what would now be the east end of the Fire House, with a porch facing the ball field.  "the Shim Shack" they called his apartment. By the terms of the contract between the Village and Fire Island Ferries, the ferry had to be berthed in Saltaire at night and Skinner had to live in Saltaire. In case of the need for any emergency evacuations. 
Note on the bulletin board in background.
Carved initials "JO'H"  and "DW"  by Jim O'Hare and Danny Weinlandt. 

Skinner, 1954

Skinner Birthday Party 1960
Skinner was an accomplished pianist, singer, accordion player, raconteur and life-long bayman.