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)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

THE LEGEND OF CAPTAIN BALDWIN AND CAPTAIN MURDOCH


Cosmo reports to Saltaire38.blogspot.com:


Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, there were two “Baymen” left working the Great South Bay off of Western Fire Island. They were Capt. Baldwin and Capt. Murdoch. Both made their living from the bounty of the Bay, selling fish, clams and oysters to the summer residents. They would ply the waters with rowboats or small dories. I still remember seeing Capt. Baldwin pull up to the Saltaire dock in the early 1960’s when I was still a young boy.

Capt. Baldwin was paralyzed from the waist down, but he had incredible strength in his upper body. There was stiff competition between Capt. Baldwin and Capt. Murdoch for the limited business between Seaview and Kismet, which led to intense animosity between the two. At some point, an agreement was reached whereby Capt. Murdoch sold to the residents of Dunewood, Fire Island Summer Club, Ocean Beach and Seaview, and Capt. Baldwin would sell to Fair Harbor, Saltaire and Kismet. Their animosity reached the point where there was violence on the Bay. Then, one day, Capt. Murdoch disappeared and was seen no more. The rumor was that Capt. Murdoch had been murdered by Capt. Baldwin, thought he was never charged.

Capt. Baldwin lived on an old clam boat on Clam Pond, which was decrepit and half full of water. In the early days, he lived primarily on oysters, which he would shuck, and discard the empty shells over the sided. In later years, as the oysters died off, he switched to clams. As his boat was far from seaworthy, each year he would pull his clam boat further up on the pile of shells, which grew higher and higher each year.

How he survived living through the winters on an old clam boat, half full of water is beyond me. Apparently, he had a small stove on the boat for heat, and an old lounge chair perched in the portion of his boat that remained above water. I recall the story about one winter when Helen Krowlakowski, worried that Capt. Baldwin was starving to death out in the Cove, went out to see him with a baking pan full of pork chops, thinking that it would last him a week, but which Capt. Baldwin devoured on the spot.

I also recall being told how Capt. Baldwin used to work at the Kismet Inn opening clams. He was quite a cantankerous old salt, who hot along with no one. One night, someone else patronizing the Inn got on his wrong side, and despite being crippled, cleared the twenty or so feet across the bar and almost slit the man’s throat before he was stopped.

Robin Wright told me the stories how Capt. Baldwin would run off any of the local kids that got near his boat with a shotgun. One day, Robin, Bobby Aherne (Squirt) and Mike Fitzgerald determined to get a look at the inside of Capt. Baldwin’s boat. They waited until he left to go fishing. What he saw, and what happened to them is best told by Robin.

I vaguely remember that eventually, Capt. Baldwin got to the point where the authorities came and took him away and put him in a home.

Everything related herein up to this point was oral history, but in the mid 1980’s, Bill Goldsmith (aka Bilbo), who is an archeologist by trade, went out to clam cove with my brother Chris in search of the site of Capt. Baldwin’s old boat. Sure enough, the remains were still there. They dug into the pile of shells, finding clamshells on top, but oyster shells further down. There was little left of the boat, as the wood had all rotten away. The only thing that was left was Capt. Baldwin’s old head, which, being made of porcelain was still intact. They brought his head back, and put it on our back deck at 104 Marine Walk. I remember it being a beautiful summer day, and my parents and other local residents were enjoying the day drinking. That night, one of the worst storms I ever experienced at Saltaire struck. Robin Wright woke me in the middle of the night imploring me to help him with the Full House, which was moored off Neptune Walk at the time. The storm was so severe that the wind blew, dragging his mooring, and blowing the boat up against the bulkhead. I had a motor boat at the time, and we went out in the storm and, between his two engines and my outboard, eventually dragged the Full House back out to deeper waters. The next morning, we found that the wind had picked up all the Hobbie Cats on the bay front, blew them up thirty to forty feet, and dropped them back to earth upside down, breaking most of the masts. Clearly, Capt. Baldwin was very angry at his old haunts being disturbed, and worse, his head taken. Bilbo and my brother returned the head back to where they had found it in Clam Cove. Apparently, Capt. Baldwin was appeased, as Saltaire has never seen a storm like it since.



THE FOSSIL SPEAKS: "WHAT COSMO SAYS IS TRUE"


ROBIN WRIGHT IS OUR SECOND SOURCE. HE WRITES:

Chris Hull, Bill Goldsmith and I went to Capt. Baldwin old foundation site,made up of clam shell and oyester shells, to do some excavating.The only thing we found was a piece of an old toilet. That night we had afierce tropical storm. Capt. Baldwins spirit still lives on. We returnedthe piece to where we found it.
--Robin.

OUT OF CALFORNIA THE RELIC, ROBIN WRIGHT POSTS HIS RECOLLECTIONS OF CAPTAINS BALDWIN AND MURDOCK:



Winter 1947-48 Captain Baldwin staked his claim on Clam Pond.That spring Captain Murdock, who lived on his houseboat on the South side on the Pond, disappeared, presumed drowned. Bill Cerveny and Herbie Paine reported hearing gunshots in that time frame - nothing ever came of it. No body = no crime. Captain Baldwin now had the fishing and clam trade in Saltaire and Fair Harbor. He was not allowed in Kismet.On weekends he used to work at Dick Grenameyers (Kismet Inn) shucking clams. He worked for whiskey, and one time he claimed that the bartender shorted his drinks. Words were exchanged and Captain Baldwin pulled a knife and tried to cut the mans throat. Persona non grata after that. He died sometime in the fifties. Helen and Eddie Krolikowski took him to the mainland and he died in the hospital shortly hereafter.

Robin.



Another set of recollections from Beaver/Frank Mina:


Captain Baldwin's residence, though in close proximity to the water in the Cove was basically built from scrap lumber - Frank & Richie McManus ventured down to Capt Baldwin's shack after he died and went inside - it was sort of Beverly Hillbillys' chic. Frank remembers Capt Baldwin selling clams/fish to his mother and that he was able to stand up(possibly disspelling the story that he was paralyzed from the waist down). Frank also stated that Baldwin could have been a world champion rower and confirmed the story I had heard that after the '38 Hurricane Capt. Baldwin was found way down east in his rowboat. Frank claims that there were a number of Capt Murdoch's - they were a large Bayshore family and it was very likely that one or two actually ran ferries in the early days. Gil Clark's mother, according to Frank, was a Murdoch - Gil's full name was Gilbert Murdoch Clark. Frank also said that there were, years ago two Capt. Baldwin's in Fair Harbor - he doesn't know if "our" Capt Baldwin was one of them. Again, all good yarns which make all of posts interesting.



(ed note: first posted Feb 15, 2008)1/11/09

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