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)

Sunday, January 11, 2009


by Patsy O’Shea

The configuration of Broadway at the ocean was different in the early 50’s. There were steps to the beach, a snow fence, a sign that said “No walking on the dunes,” a bench for several people to sit down on and gaze at the sea , and one shower for a rinse after a swim. The flagpole with the code system of flags was there too: a red flag for a wild ocean with a strong undertow, lateral or out to sea pull, a white flag for a challenging but swimmable ocean and the American flag for a gentle ocean, good for all kinds of swimmers. But there were big differences. Looking west, you could see a big white box of a house on the top of West Walk, jutting out with no intervening houses. It belonged to the Kempthorns and a few years later would be purchased by the Ervins. Everything was sparser then, and views wider and cleaner. As I recall it on the top of Broadway, there was no shed for beach chairs, no fancy lifeguard equipment like red rockets with rope, no tall lifeguard chair, no lifeguard tent, no launchable boat, no surfboards, no multiple faucets for feet or full body showers, and no Bell telephone booth. There was no bulletin board telling about ocean temperature or carrying life guard messages to the bathers either. Hurricane Carol in few years hence would sweep most of it all away anyway. I witnessed that aftermath too.

When I was about 8 years old Art Mol was the life guard at the ocean. He was very tall, muscular, dark tanned and he had very white teeth in that brown face. I was a child standing at the top of Broadway observing the SHOCKING SPECTACLE going on down below on the beach. The life guard Art Mol was leaning over this large dark brownish/gray creature that had washed up on the sand. and he was carving it up with a big knife. Blood was dripping off the knife. He was offering large chunks of flesh to the adults standing by. These chunks were about 4 inches thick and 8”-12” square. People were carrying these chunks away. There was something primordial in this scene and even as a young child I recognized it. The hunter was feeding his community.

I need to gather a term that wouldn’t enter the lexicon for about another 16 years when hippies were taking psychedelics and describing their state of mind during their drug explorations: mind-blowing. It was a mind-blowing sight. I somehow felt like those adults going off with the giant chunks were a bit like cannibals. Something unseemly was going to happen to eat of that flesh. I moved closer, down on the beach. The creature was about 15 feet long with a blunt head shape, lying on its left side, and it had a tongue. Was it a mammal, a whale? When Art Mol started carving the tongue too, the scene became even bloodier, with more blood running back toward the water’s edge. I don’t recall telling my family about the creature and I doubt any O’Shea came up to the ocean for a chunk of flesh. My dad was probably working in New York, and my mother was taking care of yet another baby, Deirdre.

After recalling this image, I later saw a comment on the blog written by Jeff Weinlandt. He wrote about Art Mol’s successful spearfishing of a skate. So I would say it’s clear that Art Mol loved the sport of it all. He was like an archetype of a hunter from tens of thousands of years ago. I wish I knew more about what he did in his life. I bet he was always an explorer and hunter, and had an interesting, virile path in life. If anyone knows more about him, I hope you will step forward to tell me.

Art Mol lived in the first house built in Saltaire by the F.I. Beach Development Company, 100 Atlantic Walk. It was subsequently bought in the mid 1950’s by the Stillgebauers. There’s a big fish with a sail, perhaps a marlin, that has resided over the mantle in that house for many years, and I don’t know if it was inherited with the property by the Stillgebauers and therefore came from the Art Mol era.

When I was about 15, I read the great sea adventure Kon Tiki by the Norwegian seafarer, Thor Heyerdahl, and there was a great deep creature that heaved up on that balsa raft and blew Thor’s mind completely. I know the emotions Thor Heyerdahl felt that day. I had experienced the same reactions as a child of 8 on the beach at Saltaire. Art Mol, Thor Heyerdahl, and mystery sea creatures are all wrapped up together in my mind to this very day.

-P. O'S.

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