Dump Stories: When You Throw Something Away It May Not Mean AWAY

Garbage in the black bag in the waste pile - Not separating waste for Recycle
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Years ago, before global warming became a problem, we took our garbage to the dump. And it was okay. Beginning about 1990, however, the dump stopped being called the dump but instead got to be called the Recycling and Transfer Center. We all know that had to happen, but nevertheless, it has left me, as the longtime editor of Dan’s Papers, with some stories about when it was a dump. Here they are.


One year, the Town Board of East Hampton decided that the dump ought to be closed on Sundays. It was the day of rest, after all. And those who worked there could use a day off.

When that happened, this closure hit those with summer homes hard. On Sunday mornings, they’d gotten used to loading their families into their cars and putting their garbage bags in the trunk. On their way back to New York City, they’d drive into the dump to drop off the garbage. Kids in the back enjoyed watching the seagulls and the big mound of the garbage mountain out the back window.

The first Sunday after the town did that, I happened to drive by the dump entrance on Springs Fireplace Road. A great steel gate had closed off the entrance. And this enormous mound of garbage bags was leaned up against it, next to the “Closed Sundays” sign. No well-to-do summer person worth his salt was going to drive his garbage back to the city with the kids in the car. I thought, well, this is trouble.

The next Sunday, there were no garbage bags at the gate. Instead there was a policeman in a police car there and a big padlock on the gate.

At that point, I wrote an article about this situation. I said they should not have closed it. It certainly wasn’t good to have families and garbage in the same car going back to the city. And they couldn’t leave the trash in the house. Lock or no, the raccoons would get at it.

Well, it turned out the summer people were not driving all the way back to the city with the trash. They were heading down the Montauk Highway with everybody on the lookout for stores along the way that had big dumpsters in the back. By the following week, merchants were screaming that they were coming to work on Monday morning to find their dumpsters full of the rich people’s garbage.

And then I got a phone call from a guy I knew who owned an antique shop in Wainscott.

“I’ve got something to show you. I’m not telling you what it is on the phone. You have to come down to see it.”

The man was sitting at a big wooden desk by the front door amidst all the mirrors and whirligigs when I arrived. He stood up. We shook hands. He sat back down. Opening a drawer, he took out a copy of a 10-page federal income tax return.

“Don’t mind the ketchup,” he said, handing it to me.

I didn’t know the man whose return this was. But his address was New York City and his return showed he’d made more than $800,000 the prior year working on Wall Street. We looked at each other. “There’s lots more of his stuff in my dumpster.”

“I believe it. What do you want me to do?”

“Publish it in the paper. Name him. Tell him we’d found his return in my garbage. He should come by and get it. I’m open 9 to 5.”

I did that. I ran it front page, and included a photo of the return so you could see his name and what he made. Though the man never did come back for his errant return, the town relented and reopened the dump the following Sunday.


Three weeks later, a man who worked at the dump in Bridgehampton called to tell me another dump story.

“You know Wainscott Harbor Road?”

I did. It was a narrow, paved road back then, and it went straight north from the highway to end at the Long Island Rail Road tracks.

“Drive down to the tracks, but then walk across the tracks and into the woods along a dirt trail. About 50 yards in, look what’s on the ground.”

I did that. It was a warm, sunny morning. There was a huge pile of several desks and chairs, four filing cabinets and scattered professional papers of the former United States Congressman Stuyvesant Wainwright II from our district from years before.

Some of these papers were marked “top secret” and “for your eyes only.” We were in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviets while he was in office. There were architectural plans for missile sites and military bases. In one filing cabinet I found all the applications of young men from our district who’d applied for admission to the United States Military Academy. Photos of the applicants were stapled to the forms.

Fifteen minutes later, I heard the whine of a motorcycle coming toward me down the trail. It frightened me. I wasn’t supposed to be reading this stuff. But as it roared through, I saw that it was a kid riding a dirt bike. But I’d had enough. I took a picture of the pile, left and that night wrote a story for the paper about it, including the congressman’s name.

A year later, the congressman’s son called to explain how this happened. The Wainwrights owned a house in the Georgica Association. One day Mrs. Wainwright filed for divorce and kicked the congressman out. But the house had a finished basement and Mr. Wainwright had left a home office down there. Because of this, one day, a lawyer for Mrs. Wainwright called and said she wanted his basement stuff out. He ignored this request. And so, as a result, she hired a local man with a truck to take the stuff to the dump.

There were now fees to use the dump, though. And so the man she hired, to avoid the dump fees, took the stuff down Wainscott Harbor Road and threw it into the woods.

Today, the whole area is an upscale housing development. I have no idea where this stuff is now.

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