Dan Rattiner's Stories

June 13: Pilgrims & Nazis Land on Beaches, Authors Read Essays

Morning was spent here in East Hampton looking after our two-year-old twin grandkids, whose parents have gone off to Cuba for a long weekend, leaving the twins with their nanny to be assisted by us. Swimming in the pool, playing games, going to the beach, lunch, nap.

In the afternoon I drove off to witness the re-enactment of the landing of the first English settlers of New York State 375 years ago at Conscience Point, Southampton, where the settlers were met and welcomed by the local Shinnecock Indians. The re-enactment was run this year for the first time by the Shinnecocks themselves, who put together a Native American encampment on this site nearby to where the pilgrims, in their natty costumes, came ashore from a boat that had originally embarked from Lynn, Massachusetts. This was in 1640.

About a hundred people were there to watch this. The Native Americans had occupied this land for at least 10,000 years, according to the carbon dating of the arrowheads throughout this area. As it happened, in 1640 the Shinnecocks were suffering from kidnapping, looting and burning by the Pequot Indians in Connecticut and were happy to see some people—dressed very strangely—come here. Perhaps they could be allies. Shinnecock resident Elizabeth Thunderbird Halle narrated that first encounter with the puritans—the Indians in their beads and leather, and the newcomers in their black pilgrim hats and boots.

“…our way of life that reached back 10,000 years. Nowadonah, a true leader, rose to his place in history by finding a peaceful way to direct these people, these strangers, in such a pitiful condition. He led them to safety, to an inland location. Shinnecock people indeed, provided shelter, food and drink to these newcomers…”

The event was preceded by a marine biology exhibition and a Colonial Food and Rotary clambake and picnic at the North Sea community center. Music was provided by Shapiro’s Shanty Shakedown. Also there was an aquaculture program at the Conscience Point Shellfish Hatchery from 2 to 3 p.m., and a rededication of the 1640 monument across from the landing site.

At 5 p.m., I was the Master of Ceremonies at the Dan’s Papers Literary Salon at the Southampton Arts Center on Jobs Lane, former site of the Parrish Art Museum.

Around 50 people came to attend this event, listening to writers reading their essays about the area from a podium set up before a crowd seated in folding chairs in one of the galleries. The Literary Salon celebrated the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize competition, currently underway here on the East End.

In many ways, this event—wine and cheese were served—mimicked the kind of gathering held at the old Parrish Art Museum when it was first built. Southampton hosted new visitors in the 1870s when wealthy Manhattan residents came out east on the newly built railroad to Southampton. They constructed grand mansions on the ocean and in town, and the works of local and established painters were displayed at the Parrish. Also at the Parrish, at that time, were performances by talented guests and family members—piano and flute concerts, plays, readings, lectures, something even called “tableaus” where the summer residents would dress up in, for example, Greek costumes and pose motionlessly onstage at the Parrish while a photographer took a picture of this scene from an old Greek play.

On June 13 at 5 p.m., though, Lesley Green Leben, a writer and flutist enrolled in the MFA program at Stony Brook University, read her essay “The Kids Are Not ‘OK.’

At 5:15, Susan A. Cohen, a community activist, read her essay “Littoral Drifter,” about the time, at age 15, she learned her father had died, ran away from home for five days, sleeping on the beach at Jones Beach the first night and in subsequent nights beaches further and further east until she slept out at Montauk Point. Then she went home.

At 5:30, Joanne Pateman, a former advertising art director from New York who has been published in many local weekly newspapers, read her beautiful essay “Camp Paradise,” about a small fishing cabin her father bought and the family still owns in North Sea.

And at 5:45, Shannon Mowdy, a student in the MFA Creative Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton, read her stunning essay, “I Remember the Sparrow,” about going camping on the beach on the East End every summer when she was a little girl, coming out together with her mom, dad and eight brothers and sisters. Shannon Mowdy was also the recipient of a Dan’s Papers scholarship to cover part of the tuition at the school.

The salons continue, once a month, all summer. The next one is Saturday, July 28 at the Southampton Arts Center.

To enter an essay in the competition, go to LiteraryPrize.DansPapers.com. $10,000 in prizes are being awarded. Participating at the awards ceremony on September 3 at the John Drew Theater are author Tom Wolfe, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, radio personality Pia Lindstrom, Len Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble, and many others.

At 6, I took the back roads through traffic, from Southampton to Amagansett (another event), to attend another re-enactment of the landing of the Nazi Saboteurs at Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett on June 13, 1942.

Hitler was in power in Germany, World War II had begun, and the Nazi war machine had decided to send saboteurs to America by submarine to blow up factories, railroad terminals, department stores, bridges and hydroelectric power plants. The goal was to bring America to the negotiating table to make peace with the Master Race, as the Germans called themselves at that time.

The re-enactment began at 6:30 with an apology. The actual landing took place at twenty to one in the morning. The first scene was at the Coast Guard station there, where coastguardsmen took shifts walking the beaches looking for any enemies trying to land here. A wonderful a capella singing group, Patti Page and the Andrew Sisters, set the scene by singing “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B” from the front porch of the Coast Guard station. Speeches were made by Hugh King, by family members of some coastguardsmen who were there that night, by town supervisor Larry Cantwell and by others. Then the re-enactment began. Out on that porch, the officer in charge, Captain Carl Jennett, is sending out John C. Cullen to go out on his tour walking the beach.

The crowd, estimated at about 250, followed Cullen out to the beach—walking through the site of an upcoming catered birthday party being set up with banquet tables, linens, flowers, etc. that had nothing to do with the reenactment, and boy were they surprised—to a point to the east, where the Nazis were coming up from the ocean carrying black boxes labeled TNT, seabags full of clothes and money, and where suddenly the leader of the men, a man named George Dasch, sees coastguardsman Cullen.

Dasch is supposed to kill anyone he encounters on the beach, but he doesn’t. He talks to Cullen, lies to him, tells him they are fishermen from Southampton who had drifted ashore, and then bribes Cullen to forget he ever saw them. Cullen runs off, back to the Coast Guard station, and that’s the end of that scene. Everyone returns to the final scene back on the front porch with Cullen and Jennett hastily waking the others and getting out the 30-year-old Springfield bolt action rifles to fight the Germans—who are no longer there. They have run off to the Amagansett railroad station and will soon take a train to New York City. In the end, the leader turns the others in to the FBI. And Hitler, when he hears the saboteurs have been captured so quickly, calls off future landings.

Anyway, it was a great day. Tomorrow, June 14, there’s a reenactment of the 5-mile walk the Shinnecocks led the settlers on from Conscience Point to Old Town not far from the beach (and today, the hospital) where the woods provide shelter and safety and where the Shinnecocks show the Englishmen how to build huts from branches and seaweed. It leaves tomorrow at 9 a.m. I might go, I might not. Probably depends on a couple of two-year-olds.

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