Hugh King, known to locals as the East Hampton Town Crier, is a true East Ender. He grew up in Amagansett, taught at the Springs School, met the love of his life while working at a local restaurant one summer and after retiring has worked at East Hampton’s Home Sweet Home Museum. A jovial and honest man who knows the East End better than most, King is perhaps the personification of what a local should be.
And he’s quick to correct what he believes is a rather common error. “First of all, we don’t call it the Hamptons. It’s the East End!” he says. “‘The Hamptons’ was used in the 1850s and 1860s. They used the term ‘Hamptons,’ but it meant something different. It meant beautiful landscapes, bucolic scenery, wealthy houses, but the summer people who came here actually gave back to the village and the town. Summer people’s money built Guild Hall, the libraries, started the historical societies.”
King studied education at SUNY Oneonta and worked at the Springs School for 31 years, teaching third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades, and the gifted and talented program. “I love teaching,” he says. “I taught in the golden years of teaching—not now! You can pay someone $200,000 and to me, it’s [still] not worth it. When I taught, it was wonderful. It was the job of the parents and the children to please me. When I left, it was my job to please them,” he says with a laugh. “That’s how it changed. But everything changes. It was wonderful teaching. And, you have July and August, where you can do something else. Today you need it to recharge.”
In the early days, King recharged by working at the former Royal Fish Restaurant in Amagansett Square, where by chance he met his wife, anthropologist and author Loretta Orion. “That’s the best thing I ever did in the summer,” he smiles.
King also acted in community theater, which he says has helped him in his role as Town Crier and at Home Sweet Museum. His 30-year foray into theater began when a goat walked into a bar—and no, that’s not the setup for a joke.
“In 1963 I was sitting at a bar one Sunday night—it was called the Newtown—across from Mary’s Marvelous. I was sitting there and the door opened and a goat walked in,” he says matter-of-factly. “And a whole bunch of people came in behind the goat, hootin’ and hollerin.’ It was the Guild Hall Players; they had just finished the performance of Teahouse of the August Moon and they brought the goat to the cast party. So I started to get into theater just for the social aspect of it. I was in theater between 1963 and 1999.” Some of King’s favorite roles include Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Harry Roat in Wait Until Dark. “That was my favorite, because it proved I could do other things besides make people laugh. He was a scary guy!”
As someone who has spent their entire life on the East End, King has seen a lot of changes and evolutions. But the first thing that comes to his mind when asked about those changes? “Noise. That’s the first thing that’s changed,” he says. “There’s so much noise here. Unfortunately, because of the popularity of the place, we’ve become a work zone. They have to spend so much time in the spring and fall inconveniencing everybody by restoring everything.”
King also believes that, while it’s important for organizations like the Community Preservation Fund to exist, the barrier to entry has become very high. “What community is it preserving? Because they didn’t add another component to it—that they’re finally getting around to—which is adding another percent to build affordable housing for people. And they didn’t do that right away.” But King acknowledges that all of this is but a small price to pay to live in such a beautiful place. “Look, we still live in paradise. You can go down to that ocean anytime and sit there and look out. You can’t do that in Indiana, I’m sorry. But you just can’t believe the noise.”
While King certainly isn’t going anywhere, he does want to eventually find a successor for the East Hampton Town Crier, which is proving to be quite the challenge. “You’ve got to have time,” he says. “You have to start studying now. I know a small itty-bitty finger of what needs to be known and I keep learning. That’s the wonderful thing about my job. If I have to give a talk about something, I have to do the research on it. That means I’m learning something new. If someone could start reading the town records, for example…we have them! How many places have their town records from 1648? We have the Long Island Room in the East Hampton Library. What a place!” he exclaims. “With all the local resources in there…so somebody young, in their 30s, should start. And then when they retire they could do it. Put the word out. Wanted: future Town Crier! You can get your homework assignments from me.”
No matter the successor, King is still happy to be out east. “It’s a wonderful place,” he says with a smile. “I’m not going to Florida. Too many old people!”