St. Patrick’s Day parade grand marshals are generally selected in one of two ways: by the number of contributions they’ve made to their community or by the level of public awareness they’ve raised about their town or village’s history and appeal. The 2019 Am-O’Gansett co–grand marshals Hugh King and Loretta Orion shine in both of these categories.
“They say we’re from the Hamptons, but I’m not. I’m from Amagansett,” King states proudly. “There are people who live in Springs and Montauk, and we’re all different in so many ways, especially our history. That’s something I’ve tried to do is delineate each of our communities so we’re not lumped into that upscale, fashionable, trendy and unaffordable ‘Hamptons’ moniker.”
In 1979, King met his future wife, Orion, at the Royale Fish restaurant at the age of 38. “We started our life together in Amagansett, believe it or not, at the Amagansett Square.” Since then, they’ve shared countless memories in the historic village. “There’s a big hill over here in Amagansett on somebody’s private property, and we all used to go sleigh riding,” he recalls. “When Loretta and I first met, there was really beautiful snow, and we went sleigh riding. It was so cold that we had to go to O’Malley’s and have Irish coffees. That’s the extent of our Irishness.”
Jokes aside, Irish blood does run through King’s veins. “My grandmother was from Ireland and married my grandfather, who was from Italy,” he explains. “Can you believe that? What a combination that was!”
While heritage is important, the history of the town where King and Orion have shared their lives is arguably more so. As East Hampton Town crier, King has made it his duty to keep local history at the forefront of town board meetings, imparting largely forgotten details about the people and places of yesteryear on decision-making officials while dressed in a Dickensian top hat and cape.
Orion has done her fair share of history keeping as well, recently publishing It Were As Well to Please The Devil as Anger Him: Witchcraft in the Founding Days of East Hampton, which delves into the infamous Goody Garlick witchcraft case of 1657. She’s also worked as a landscape gardener at the Home Sweet Home Museum in East Hampton, where King acts as director.
The couple are honored and excited to serve as co–grand marshals, and while they don’t know for sure why the Amagansett Chamber of Commerce elected to have them both lead the 11th annual Am-O’Gansett Parade, King says it’s likely that they’re perceived as a package deal, “I think we’re always together, because I take her everywhere I go. So when they see me, they usually see Loretta.”
King and Orion have been on both sides of the parade in years past and still remember the first time they attended it together. “The first year Loretta and I went to see the parade, we were watching and, all of a sudden, a UPS truck was in the middle of the parade,” King shares. “He had made a delivery in the parking lot where the parade starts, and he couldn’t get out. So he had to get into the parade, and that’s how he got out.”
This year, they’ll march front and center in the charmingly short parade—lasting 15–20 minutes—with King donning his town crier hat and cape, and Orion draped in green beads. King also confirms that a vintage penny-farthing (high wheel bicycle) will join in the parade. To him, the honor of being co-grand marshal confirms that the work he and Orion have done to keep Amagansett’s history alive hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It means that people recognize some of the contributions that you’ve made to your hometown,” King says. “And the nice thing about this is that they honor you while you’re still here, instead of after you’re gone. So many of us, we wait ’til people die, and then we have a funeral, and then we talk wonderfully about them, but they’re not here. So to be honored while you’re still around is important.”
While King and Orion have done immense work to preserve, study and recount local history, they know it’s time to start looking for someone to pass the baton to. “Richard Barons, the former director of the East Hampton Historical Society, is very, very knowledgeable about local history, but he, like myself, is getting older, and there’s nobody behind us,” King says. “I’d love to find out if we can start training people to start learning about the town where they grew up or where they live.”
However, King admits that it’s a lofty responsibility for young people to pick up. “You can’t be working three jobs and then say, ‘Well, now I’m going to study local history.’ People are hustling out here, because it costs so much to live,” he says. “You don’t have extra time to read the history of East Hampton, but just try to do a little bit at a time.” While the task does take considerable time and effort, keeping the history of the East End’s towns and villages alive is certainly a goal worth fighting for.
The Am-O’Gansett Parade takes place this Saturday, March 9 at noon, beginning and ending at the Amagansett Free Library (215 Main Street), and turning around at the Stephen Talkhouse (161 Main Street). 516-456-4016, amagansettchamber.org