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City Island Childhood


As a boy in the ‘30s, I knew City Island as a real country-type town. When I was a kid, I knew every house and every family on City Island, from the bridge right on down to the Belden Point. I knew everybody. That’s the way it was on City Island in those days. – Herb Hild


We all went down to the City Island Yacht Club, 11 o’clock at night, and had a ball, swimming, diving all over the place. Then old man Schmidt would come down looking for his daughters, raising hell. When we all saw him coming down the dock, we all dove under the floats because there was an air pocket that you could get under. All the guys disappeared under the floats. We were down there breathing, listening to old man Schmidt yelling and screaming at all the girls, because the only ones swimming were girls, no boys. –Herb Hild


You spent most of your day at the beach. You’d go down as soon as you could get up. Stay down through lunch (your mother would bring it down) and you’d stay through supper, and if it was nice after supper then too, depending on how old you were and how late you could get away with. – Hunter Hild


You would go down to the beach at low tide and just walk around City Island at low water. – Hunter Hild


Wheeling, dealing boats a little bit. You buy a junked-out rowboat for $12 and sell it for $35. When you’re 11 or 12 years old, 35 bucks is a lot of money. So you do something stupid, you buy another boat, a little bit bigger. You try to sell that one, and it goes on and on and on. – Hunter Hild


A bunch of guys, say, at 9 o’clock at night would jump off the City Island Bridge and swim around City Island when the tide was going favorable. These were the swimmers who later performed in college. Some of them were national champions, and it was from swimming against those tides that developed them. – Leo Keane


Last year I brought my children down to the beach to show them how to clam at low tide. We used to have so much fun. What I did, differently from other people, was to dig with my toes until I found some and I would kind of dig it up and bring it up between my two feet. – Theresa Henning Nativ


I spent my summers down at the beach. I remember coming up with such a golden brown tan. I loved across the street from the Yarussos and they were the greatest people going. They’d always say “Come use my beach,” and you’d walk down and there were always kids around and we would literally spend the day on the beach. – Theresa Henning Nativ


I did rowing to school and running a launch from the time I was nine. And in doing so, among other things, like handling my father’s fishing boats, I felt liberated long before most women. – Fay Jordaens


My earliest remembrance was when I was a child and my mother took me down at dead low tide to a big boulder sticking out all green and slimy. – Myra Walsh


They would come home with all their clothes wringing wet and they’d say to me, “Oh, Mom, I felt off.” What did you fall off? I” was walking on the sea wall and I fell off.” Did you get hurt? “Oh, no, I just got wet.” –Vera Kehlhoffer


We loved the water so much. We were forever badgeting the boys to take us crewing. Comets, Stars, Bulldogs. Finally, we were able to get a Cape Cod dinghy. They used to give us a 45-minute handicap over the Bulldogs and the Comets. – Myra Walsh


We’d catch ourselves horseshoe crabs. Indeed, when I was older, we had a horseshoe crab club. –Myra Walsh


The water, of course, at that time, was polluted. We had no garbage disposal units. We didn’t care. We brushed aside the garbage. – Myra Walsh


We’d go through the slime and slides of the City Island Yacht Club to the wonderful long eel grass. –Myra Walsh


We would take the mast, ropes, and tackle and swing out yelling our Tarzan call at dead low tide to see who could come closest to the bottom without knocking themselves out. – Myra Walsh


When I was younger, the beaches were nicer. They were really well kept. They had rafts. Down on Beach Street there was a big barge and we used to dive off it and play water games off it. Now it’s gone. They destroyed it. They also had rafts there but now it’s just a little plot of sand and a lot of rocks. It’s not really maintained the way it used to be. – Maureen Byrnes Yarusso


I always loved the water because Berlin is surrounded by lakes. On weekends we would go to the lakes, and that’s why, of course, City Island was the perfect place to live. – Kate Laue


They fix the beach up and we get sand every year and have beach parties. Everyone o the block, if they can make it, comes and brings a different kind of food, soda, and beer and wine and we just sit there. Anyone’s invited on the block or if they’re a member of the beach club. – Tracey O’Donnel


They used to swim dance under water. We had a neighbor who was an ex-Rockette and she’d come down the beach and teach them how to do the dances. – Alice Persteins


Our Sunday school used to have one of the boats come by on its daily run to New York. I don’t know whether it came from Stamford, Bridgeport or New Haven, but it was a daily run. They’d get that boat to stop at City Island, pick up the Sunday school picnic and drop it off at North Beach. I think it was on the other side, on the Long Island side. I don’t think it was too far down. And the boat would come back and pick us up and drop us off. They would pull in at the end of the dock, and this gangplant would come up and we could get on or off. – Jennie Lowndes


The water used to come up in there, up where the creek came in (Tier Street) Maybe now they call it wetlands, but we always called it the Meadows. But that’s all filled in. –Jennie Lowndes


Summers were great. Of course, the kids went swimming. We had the Maxim bathing beach on Fordham Street and the Casino Beach on Ditmars Street. They were nice beaches. – Elsa Kroepke


I’ve been on Earley Street since 1931. We organized the block about 1937 and we bought the riparian rights down at the foot of our street. It came about because my husband and two other men on the block bought fireworks for their kids. They decided rather than let them shoot them off at home, they would shoot them off down the beach. Someone said, “Why don’t we get franks and hamburgers?” and that’s what started our beach party. And we’ve had a beach party ever since down there. – Elsa Kroepke


The water in those days was so full of sewage, you didn’t want to go in. And when you didn’t’ have sewage, you’d have jellyfish or bloodsuckers. All these I things I didn’t want to have. – Elsa Kroepke


I was never a good swimmer. I used to like to jump off the bulkhead into the water. If I had company, I’d take them to Casino Beach and there they had all kinds of races for the kids. – Elsa Kroepke


The beach was the thing that brought this street together. They worked very hard on it. Even the kids worked. Walter was maybe six or seven years old, and he would help lug planks for the runway and nail the planks down. And the kids would start painting them. The kids even built a dance platform down there. That’s where they all learned to dance. – Elsa Kroepke


Pea Island is a little island between here and High Island. We used to go there and get fiddler crabs for bait. You just turned over a rock and you’d find the fiddler crabs and then you’d put them in a can. And then you used that for the bait. We used to get clams on Fordham Street. You’d throw a stone and when the clam would spit up, you’d know there was a clam there. You see, the stone would hit and disturb the clam, and it would spit. So you’d dig there and get the clams. – Adelaide Rosenfeld


We went swimming, of course, at my great-grandfather’s beach right at the foot of Fordham Street. I learned to swim there, and my daughter learned to swim there. The boys, who were very good, would get on top of the little house on the end of the dock. They’d wait for the ferry to come in from Hart Island, and they’d dive from the very top of the house. We also went fishing off that dock. That dock was a godsend. –Adelaide Rosenfeld

We had these sharpies (small rowboats). We could take one of those anytime we wanted to as long as we put it back the way we found it. And we had our instructions: Don’t stand up in the boat. Don’t change seats in the boat. Row against the wind so if you get tired, the wind will help you get home again. Put the book back where you found it. Put the oars in the shop. – Jennie Lowndes


I had a Grand Banks fishing dory I used to row to New York. We’d row down the Sound, turn the boat over on the beach, go clamming, sell the clams, and talk to people. At that time there were a lot of sand barges going through the Sound. We’d stand up and get a ride in a sand barge. Maybe get out around Execution Lighthouse near Sands Point and stand up and wave as the guys came by in the sand barges. When they slowed down, you could hitch a ride to near Port Jefferson. – Skip Lane

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