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)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Hikes to Ocean Beach

In Day Camp in the 50's and 60's Uncle Pete was always big on hikes.

The most common one was from Saltaire to Ocean Beach and back. That could be completed with the kids back to Saltaire by 12:30 or 1 PM.

“The only day you can’t take the kids on a hike is Friday,” Uncle Pete would tell his counselors. Since there was no meat on Fridays, mothers might pack tuna salad sandwiches with mayonnaise that could spoil in the sun.

This is pretty much how a hike to Ocean Beach would go with a class of ten to fifteen boys, ages eight and nine:

The whole day camp of 100 or so campers, ages five to thirteen would meet in the field at 9:00 AM. Everybody in the bleachers. Then Uncle Pete would stand in front flanked by his counselors, clip boards in hand. His whistle would shut everyone up. After a few introductory remarks, he would announce: “5 year olds, go with your counselor." The kids would line up with their counselor. Uncle Pete to counselor: “take your group to the playground.” Then it was “ Six and seven year old girls, go with counselor.” Uncle Pete to the counselor: “take your group out to center field for a game of dodge ball,” and off they went. “ Six and seven year old boys: you will be going with your counselor to ocean front for games.” And so on. It was kind of military like-- or perhaps football practice like-- just like up at Pleasantville High School, where Peter W. Kuracheck was (and still is) a legend.

At any rate, on a day your particular group was going on a hike he would announce, “eight and nine year old boys, go to your counselor , you are going on a hike to Ocean Beach today. Did everybody remember to bring lunch?” And off you went.

The usual itinerary was to walk inland as far as Lonleyville where you would go out onto the beach and walk the rest of the way to Ocean Beach.

The walking distance from Saltaire to Ocean Beach is about three miles. So with distractions I figure it took an hour each way.

One time when I was counselor for the eight and nine year old boys, I figured out that it took about as long to walk to Ocean Beach as it takes to recite the entire script for the movie “The Giant Behemoth.” I found that out because I had this kid in my class named Hughie O’Brien, who started the recitation of every single line of “The Giant Behemoth.” somewhere on Lighthouse Prom and he finished by the time we got to John and Ann’s in Ocean Beach. He recited all the parts, all the lines, by heart. Non stop. “Captain, we have a sighting at 500 leagues.” Scary noises. He could do sound effects: Monster’s roar, airplane sounds, the whole bit. For Hughie to do the whole movie from heart, all the parts, sound effects, even some theme music and final credits, took the same time it took to walk to O.B. I wonder if I could walk that fast today.

For fast walking kids, there were distractions along the way. Between Saltaire and Fair Harbor there was a strip of about 75 yards of undeveloped “no man’s land” between Saltaire and Kismet. You had to walk on a path of wooden planks over sand and brush. By the late 1950's that section was developed, but I still call it “No Man’s Land.”

One of the first houses in Fair Harbor, on the right, had a couple wooden figures, like a little sailboat or a little wooden kid with a fishing line or maybe a windmill that would spin in the wind.

Halfway through Fair Harbor some kids would already want to peel off and run down to the Pioneer Store or Lipinsky’s to spend some of the 75 cents or so they took along, but a good counselor would discourage that. “We don't have time to stop. Save your money for Ocean Beach.”

Then you get to the far end of Fair Harbor. Boys would shout “Who bit her end?” as they passed the house with a sign: “The Bitter End.”

Dunewood was created in the late 1950's. Before that there was a very long stretch of plank walkway through brush and sand from Fair Harbor to Lonleyville.

The advent of Dunewood was a Eureka moment for marauding kids. Dunewood had the famous “Pirate Ship.” It was a big wooden scaffold built in the shape of a Pirate Ship in the Dunewood playground. It was designed for kids to climb on, and it appeared on Dunewood advertising logos. The kids from Saltaire would definitely take time out from their hike to charge the Pirate ship like a bunch of pirates, climb it, jump around it like monkeys, ridicule it, insult the Dunewood kids, and sometimes pee on it before leaving. (I guess that was to leave their mark, like dogs.) This anarchy would never happen if Uncle Pete were along, but more often the hikes were supervised by mere counselors.

Then they would move on. When you got to Lonleyville, there was only one skinny boardwalk from bay to ocean. Loneleyville only had a few little shingled houses then. Lots of bushes, and then over the sand dunes and on to the beach.

At Lonleyville, instead of going to the ocean you could take Burma Road, the inland route to ocean Beach, but we did not usually do that. It was all deep sand and windy and the sun could make the sand blazing hot to trudge through. But Burma Road wound through sand dunes and there were always a few very old skeletons of rusted Model A or similar trucks that had long since been abandoned. Mostly it was rusted frames of the trucks half covered in the side of a sand dune. They were a fun distraction but, like I said, we usually did not do Burma Road, we usually walked along the oceanfront from Loneleyville to O.B.

You couldn’t eat on the streets in O.B. so the kids usually ate their lunch somewhere along the way. Maybe with a can of soda. Some of the soda cans in those days had angular tops with caps just like beer bottles. I think Chocolate Cow started out that way.

So then you would get to Ocean Beach. It was the metropolis. The big city. The Emerald City of Fire Island. You would walk by a swimming pool: Lucille Stretch Swim School. I wondered why in the name of God they needed a swimming pool on Fire Island.

Then you would get up to the immaculate village green. It was said you could get arrested if you stepped on the grass. Eugene Piper once wanted to throw beans onto the lawn, hoping they would sprout and ruin the perfectly manicured village green.

There were three stores that held my attention on trips to Ocean Beach: Kline's, John & Ann’s and Flair House.

I never went into the Flair House. It was a clothes store for grown ups, but it made Ocean Beach look to me like a real town. A real little fashion store.

John’ & Ann’s had a long counter with stools, and everybody would go there to get ice cream or maybe a soda.

Kline’s: There was a news cart outside that always had the Village Voice, Fire Island News, and in the very early days, the Fire Islander.

Every year there was one stupid thing that boys would buy from Kline's. It was a little tube of plastic goo that came with a little straw the size of today’s coffee stirrer/straws. You would put a blob of the goo at the end of the straw and you would blow and make little sticky bubbles. I can not recall what ever happened to those bubbles. I don’t think anyone carried one home. I think the kids who bought silly putty instead got a better buy at Kline’s.

So we’re in OB maybe 45 minutes to an hour, blown about 75 cents apiece, and it was time to go home. Walking back was usually a little less energetic. Nobody had the energy to assault the pirate ship again.

So you would get back to Saltaire and home.

How was your trip?”


Did you get anything to bring home?”

I got that plastic bubble stuff”

Oh, let me see”

I lost it”

I'd bet a tube of that stuff never made it back to Saltaire.


Followup comment. Beaver sez:

Wonderful memories of a great childhood with a teacher/football coach who was a REAL role model. My older sons former stockbroker lives in Pleasantville and some 40 years after his retirement Bert tells me that Uncle Pete is viewed their with reverence to this day..... obviously he never made his P'ville teams swim in seaweed and leech filled ponds. My fondest memory of Uncle Pete occurred on a "forced march", which rivaled any I encountered in the Army,from Saltaire to Sunken Forest. Were in not for Uncle Pete's intervention and help I'd probably still be lying face down, exhausted, on the beach opposite OBP.


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