Pranks: Fishing a Sex Doll Out of Town Pond & the Biggest Prank of All

Last Monday afternoon, an anatomically correct sex doll was found floating in the beautiful Town Pond in downtown East Hampton. The police came with fishing rods, hooked it and reeled it in. Presumably it was a she (or it wouldn’t have been a sex doll), presumably it was inflated (or it wouldn’t have been a sex doll) and presumably it did not impress the swans in the pond (who have seen it all. They are only impressed when a motorist drives a car into Town Pond.)

I cannot show you a photo of the sex doll being removed. It was gone long before we had a reporter there. As editor though, I did think we ought to have a picture of the sex doll floating in the pond in Dan’s Papers to accompany this story and suggested we go out and buy one, but my staff wouldn’t agree to such a thing, even when I suggested we could float it face down, mafia style. So here the story runs without a photograph. [expand]

No arrests were made in connection with this incident. I’m not sure that even if they found who did this, the police COULD arrest the person, as I don’t recall any ordinances in the village that this might have been in violation of. It is a prank, though.

It brings to mind one of the world’s greatest pranks that happened right here in East Hampton years ago. Alongside this, the sex doll in the pond pales by comparison.

At the time, and this was in the late 1950s, there was occasional outrageous talk among the kids, never serious talk, in which the high school kids would threaten to burn the school down some night so we wouldn’t have to go there anymore.

No, I am not going to tell you the kids burned the school down. But I can tell you this. At the time, the high school was in what is now the Middle School on Newtown Lane, and it did not pass anybody’s notice that railroad tracks ran behind the school and there was a spur from the main line to within 50 yards of the back of the school cafeteria built so the school could get supplies. It wasn’t used anymore because, by this time, school supplies were brought out in trucks rather than on freight trains. The tracks, however, remained.

So, no, the kids weren’t going to burn the school down. They were going to have a train drive into the cafeteria.

Around 4 a.m. on a Monday morning in April of 1956, some persons of note went out behind the school, walked out the back lawn up the spur and out to where it met the main track line and tried to pull the switch so that any train coming along eastbound would be shunted over onto the spur from that point on. The switch had a lock on it. So one of them went back home and returned with a fireman’s axe. They gave it a few smacks and the axe broke, so now one of them went home and returned with a hacksaw. With this they were able to saw through the lock. Now they could pull the switch. And they did. Then they went home and back to bed.

There were lots of Long Island Rail Road trains that came out toward Montauk every day back then. A 3 a.m. eastbound train had passed through safely without incident, so investigators, later studying the accident, knew that the switch to the spur had not been activated at 3 a.m.

The problem was with what arrived heading eastbound at 6:22 a.m. It had stopped a half-mile away at the East Hampton station at 6:14 a.m. and a few people got off and a few got on. Then the doors closed and the locomotive, spewing white smoke under the strain, started off again and picked up speed. It was now rattling along the straightaway there with everybody expecting the next stop to be Amagansett.

It never made it.

By the time it reached the spur switch, it was doing an estimated 35 miles an hour. It turned onto the spur and the engineer, immediately reacting, hit the brakes and pulled the steam whistle chain to alert everybody. Forty-three people were on this train. All felt the lurch as the brakes were applied. All heard the train whistle. What was going on? As the train squealed and squealed, some of the passengers, together with their bags and newspapers were thrown out of their seats to the floor.

In the end, it was wet ground that saved the school. Earlier in the night, there had been a big rainstorm. Of course, the engineer didn’t imagine that such a thing would be a factor and so when the locomotive turned onto the spur and he realized he was going to hit the school, he braced himself. And then the locomotive came to the end of the spur, crashed through the steel block placed at the end, dropped to the lawn, sunk down and proceeded along, digging a deep furrow through the wet grounds as it went.

Finally, dirt had piled up so high in front of the locomotive that, miraculously, it brought it to a halt.

The front of the locomotive now rested behind this wet mound less than 20 yards from the cafeteria wall. Behind it the coal car and the first two of passenger cars came to a halt in the furrow, tipped to one side or the other. The rest came to a halt still on the spur.

I don’t know how long it took for the authorities to get to the scene. The police came, of course, and so did some ambulances, one of which transported the single casualty in this accident to Southampton Hospital—a woman with a broken arm. And of course the volunteer fire department folks were there. Soon after that, the sun rose on this fabulous scene, the kids came to school and then were immediately given the day off and bussed back home. It took the railroad weeks to get out there with a big crane and retrieve their train.

What a mess.

No one ever found out who was responsible for this dastardly act, though I should retract that. Eventually, the statute of limitations ran out and those who did it, now grown and long out of high school, were free to talk.

The perps were, as you might have imagined, all local boys, and were all either seniors or juniors at the high school at the time of the event. Thus they were the class of ’56 and ’57. After graduation, this was, forever, to be the wonderful little secret they shared.

It was only 10 years later that, some of them, now owners of some of the mom and pop stores that were prevalent in the Hamptons at that time, began to talk about this long ago event with big grins on their faces. I’d walk around town with a pack under my arm selling advertising in Dan’s Papers. A few would talk about it. They were men with names such as Dayton, Cooper, Osborne, Strong or Lester.

“And you ought to talk to so-and-so,” pointing at an insurance office down the street, “about this too.”

Yesterday, driving along East Hampton Main Street past Town Pond going toward Bridgehampton and our offices there, I saw out of the corner of my eye, a full-size plastic pink flamingo standing in the pond, the water halfway up its spindly little legs. Neither the ducks or the swans were paying much attention to it.

As pranks go, neither of these—the flamingo or the sex doll—can hold a candle to the great train wreck of 1956.

But there may be something else in the works. And this would not be a prank. As I mentioned earlier, there have been occasions when a car has failed to make the 90-degree left turn at the corner of Woods Lane and Main Street. When they almost but not quite make the turn, they wind up in Town Pond. When they simply barrel straight on through that intersection, as happens about every 10 years—usually a DWI situation—they pass to the south of the pond, knock down some signs, cross the grass triangle between Main Street and James Lane, cross the lane to smash into and through the picket fence in front of the Hedges Inn and, as has happened at least once, plow into the front porch of that establishment.

The plan in the works that the Village is considering is putting a depression into the grass triangle, a sort of swale, so a car coming across would dip down into the swale as they approached and then have to climb up the swale on the other side and surely, the hope is, that this would awaken them enough to stop.

I think the Village is completely underestimating the drivers of these cars. They don’t even slow down. Their cars will hit the swale and after coming up the far side of it, take to the air. They will fly over the fence, over the porch and, as you sometimes see in pictures in Newsday, wind up sticking out of the side of the second story of the Inn beyond. THAT they will not sleep through. Nor will anybody else.

Don’t build the swale.

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