Just two days before Memorial Day Weekend, earthmovers and bulldozers were still moving dirt around in a depression of the earth that had once been Town Pond at the entrance to downtown East Hampton. The next day, Town Pond was back, its glistening waters surging back in and now ready once again to host pairs of white swans, mallard ducks, fish, turtles and children on the shore operating remote controlled sailboats.
It was as if the pond had never been drained, patched, its muck taken out and its bottom scrubbed for the prior four months.
Yes, it’s true. The beautiful town pond in East Hampton is a fake. It was for thousands of years just a buggy swamp. But then around 1880, the citizens of this community together with the newly arrived high society summer people from New York drained the swamp, put in a bottom and sides and made it into the town’s pride and joy.
Of course, it was easy to make this happen back then. At high tide, the nearby Hook Pond would overflow into the swamp. With just a few tricks involving underground outfall pipes and drainage basins, voila. Everybody loves the pond. Except every quarter century it would have to be de-mucked.
I vividly remember the last time the muck had to be taken out of the pond. It was around 1990. That summer, the powers that be at Village Hall voted to have bulldozers and backhoes come in after dark and drive into the pond — it’s only three feet deep — to begin scooping it off the bottom. A huge load of dripping wet muck 10 feet high was piled high along the eastern shore that night. The Town Fathers thought that working at night — it might take three or four nights — they could get it all de-mucked without disturbing the citizenry. But they never got past that first night.
It was the people from the social set, who had awakened the following morning to see this huge and very disturbing pile of muck defacing town pond. Alarmed, they called the authorities. The muck must be removed immediately. The next night, the existing muck got hauled off and that ended the project — incomplete and nipped in the bud.
During that summer, I had our Dan’s Papers office on Main Street in Bridgehampton and at the end of the work day would drive, passing Town Pond, to my home in Springs, East Hampton. On “closing days,” the day when the paper went to the printer, the end of the day was sometimes at 2 AM the following morning. And so it was that one particular night a few weeks later, I was driving home at that hour, got to the turn where you first see Town Pond and to my amazement, my car’s headlights shone onto the pond and maybe a dozen men wearing rubber waders and carrying flashlights while standing waist deep in the pond doing something.
I pulled over, got my camera out and walked over. It was quite a scene. Three pickup trucks were parked alongside the pond. Something by the Rolling Stones was thumping out from a boombox tape deck radio in the back of one of them. A few black lab dogs were running back and forth on the shore. The people in the pond I now realized were local baymen — Bonackers — scraping the bottom of the pond with clam rakes, lifting muck dripping wet out of the water and dropping it into floating fruit baskets set into inflatable rubber donuts — the usual apparatus used when going clamming. I knew some of them.
I can’t say they were happy to see me, the editor of Dan’s Papers, with a camera. But a few did reluctantly answer my questions when I asked them what they were doing.
Turned out the village, having been berated by high society for having an alarming amount of muck on the shore, had hired the Bonackers to secretly clean the muck off the bottom of the pond at night, a project they thought might take two weeks. With them gone before sunrise, nobody would be the wiser. And they’d be augmenting their income.
I took some photographs. Asked the names of some I did not know. Some told me. Others said they wouldn’t tell me. I left.
And that’s how, last time, the pond got de-mucked.
And I did, eventually, write about it, but only after they were all done. A scoop! (Pun.) But without personal consequences.
Today, they just went out, took away the pond, and cleaned the muck out with the heavy equipment there all day for all to see day and night, for four months.
It’s a new era. And nobody cares.