The Hampton Curse

Dan Rattiner

A total of five American presidents spent time in the Hamptons. All finished their terms badly. Two were impeached. One resigned and fled to avoid being impeached. One broke away from his party to start a third party and lost. And one got kicked out of his party to prevent his running for a second term.

Nearly all the other 40 presidents ended their tenure with handshakes, congratulations and a friendly wave into the sunset.   

Is there such a thing as the Hamptons Curse?

John Tyler was president from 1841 to 1845. During his time in office, he courted a beautiful East Hampton woman, Julia Gardiner, age 21, wrote letters and poetry to her, then, when he was 53 and she 22, married her. He’s the only president to marry while in the White House. As it turned out though, if successful in love, he was a lousy president and when his single term was coming to an end and he hinted he’d like a second term, his political party voted to kick him out of the party and run somebody else. The other party, the Republicans, didn’t want him around either. Twenty years after the start of his presidency, he became a senator. For the Confederacy.

Richard Nixon and his wife Pat vacationed at Gurney’s Inn before becoming president in 1968. He wrote his first nomination acceptance speech in Montauk. Then he was caught in a lie. Running for a second term, he had paid some thugs to break into the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., and plant bugs in the ceiling panel of his opponent’s political office. He could anticipate his opponent’s every move. After his landslide win, however, it was learned he’d done this. When confronted, he denied it. When it was proven this was a lie, both parties said they wanted to impeach him. So, he resigned before the process could begin and fled into seclusion. Not to the Hamptons, but to California.   

Teddy Roosevelt spent six weeks in Montauk starting August 14, 1898. He hadn’t intended to be here, but because he was part of the U.S. Army that went to Cuba and beat the Spanish, (he led the charge up San Juan Hill), he came to this place with many of his fellow troops who had come down with tropical diseases. The sitting president, William McKinley, didn’t want them all mustered out of the Army to go home right away. That could cause a national epidemic. McKinley instructed the whole army to quarantine in isolation somewhere to recover. Montauk, wild and isolated at the time, was perfect.

From 1901 to 1909, Teddy Roosevelt was president. He was highly regarded, but after retiring from political life for four years, he declared himself ready for a third term.   When his political party nominated somebody else, he got angry, broke off and started a third party which in the election went down to a disastrous defeat, sending him off into political retirement. Too bad. Nevertheless, his statue is up on Mount Rushmore. Also a ranch building in a Montauk county park is named for him.

Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 and served our country well through to 2001.  He is considered one of our better presidents. But in 1998 he was impeached by the House of Representatives for allegedly having had an affair with one of his young White House interns. Although his impeachment did not lead to conviction, he finished his second term with this blot on his reputation. Since about 2011, he and his wife Hillary have rented a home in the Hamptons in the summertime. He sometimes appears at the annual Artist & Writers charity softball game in East Hampton. One year he called balls and strikes.   

Donald Trump was president from 2017 to 2021. Many consider his tumultuous single term the worst ever. Others adore him and say they will follow him anywhere, even if it meant storming the U.S. Capitol while Congress was in session. Trump wanted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he had lost, and he got impeached for urging this insurrection to do so. He was also impeached the previous year for allegedly trying to bribe a foreign leader into denouncing one of Trump’s political opponents. He did avoid conviction both times. And he did complete his one term. Before becoming president, Trump had a helicopter business in the Hamptons from 1989 to 1992. He flirted with the idea of developing a golf resort in Southampton, but never went ahead with it. Instead, the Sebonack Golf Club was developed without him. He’s also been Out East numerous times fundraising at people’s homes, both in the campaign of 2016 and the one in 2020, which he lost.    

A FUTURE PRESIDENT?   

Our local Congressman Lee Zeldin is a major backer of everything Trump. Zeldin, without evidence, voted to challenge 7 million votes that defeated Trump, voted not to convict Trump for the insurrection at the Capitol and voted against impeaching Trump in 2018. And when Trump flew to the Hamptons, Zeldin was often at hand at the airport to meet him.

It is baffling to me that Zeldin, who is otherwise a nice guy, would be like this. Anyway, crowds protested outside his Shirley office. Others called for him to resign. But he is young. Some think he might be chosen vice president in another Trump run. Is there a presidency in Zeldin’s future?  

But beware the Hamptons Curse.   

More from Our Sister Sites