Encouraging younger people to participate in the preservation of historic East Hampton is an important part of his new job as the official town historian, Hugh King said last week.
The Amagansett native who lives with his wife, Loretta Orion, in the hamlet, wrote a history column for The Independent for many years, and is already the official town crier.
As town crier, he sometimes starts off the public portion of an East Hampton Town Board meeting by offering a short, humorous historic anecdote. He now assumes a role that is required in every municipality in New York by state law. The East Hampton town historian, unlike other towns on the East End, works for free.
King paid homage to his predecessors when he spoke with The Independent last week. “There was Morton Pennypacker in the 1930s, then there was a man named Kenneth Hedges, then there was the late, great Carleton Kelsey. Then there was Stuart Vorpahl and Sherrill Foster and then there was Averill Geus. It wasn’t their jobs. It was an extra. You are not going to make a living.”
King can trace his local roots back many generations, though it is not something he boasts about. He said he learned a valuable lesson when his wife was researching a book she wrote about Goody Garlick, a woman accused of witchcraft in East Hampton in 1652.
“Everyone says, I am a 13th generation or I am a 14th generation,” King said, which some say gives them expertise. “When Loretta wrote her book, when she was doing the research, she went back and looked at the old families. Some of them were bums. They were crooks. So, when you are bragging about, ‘I am the 14th generation,’ and you go back and look at some of your ancestors, they weren’t so great. Be careful. I don’t brag about the Kings. Who knows what some of those Kings were like?”
Achieving his goal of involving younger people to record and preserve the history of East Hampton might be aided by his experience as a schoolteacher in Springs for 31 years.
King is 78, and he noted that Richard Barons, executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society, is in his 70s.
“Everyone who knows is getting old. Who is next?” Barons, King, and the historical society conduct tours throughout the year. The two men have spoken about doing some outreach during those tours, to seek out younger likeminded people. “But you have to start reading right now,” he advised.