The Rockaway Peninsula is a land of mystery. Did you ever wonder why we have a yacht club without a dock, and a graffiti-covered concrete box perched on a deserted stretch of bay front beach?
And why there is a house on Shorefront Parkway that has seemingly been cut in half?
It’s not an easy task to unravel these mysteries. Rockaway got its own newspapers beginning in the 1880’s (and possibly, even as early as 1876), and prior to that time, there was some coverage of major local events in papers such as the New York Times, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and Long Island Farmer. A compact little hard-cover book, History of the Rockaways from the Year 1685 to 1917, was self-published by Alfred H. Bellot in 1917. A local magazine called The Rockaway Review was distributed for decades by the Chamber of Commerce, starting in 1935. None of these materials are available to borrow at libraries here on the peninsula. The Bellot book and the vintage Times, Eagle, and Farmer articles can be found online, but not The Wave or The Rockaway Review.
Old-timers tell me that the demolition of Playland in the 1980s initiated a groundswell of interest in preserving the public history of the peninsula. The Wave celebrated its 100th year of publication in 1993 with a fascinating 100th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, compiled largely by local historian Emil Lucev. The Rockaway Museum was formed in 1995, and some aviation and amusements memorabilia were assembled and displayed during the 1990s, as well. By the time the decade ended, Dover Publications of Mineola had even introduced, for the first time in ages, a local history book about the peninsula–Old Rockaway, New York in Early Photographs, by Vincent Seyfried and William Asadorian.
In the first decade of the new millennium, more authors stepped up to make contributions. In 2003, Columbia University Press added the only title that could be called a scholarly tome, Lawrence and Carol Kaplan’s Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway, New York. The Arcadia photo histories about Jamaica Bay, The Rockaways (postcard images series), and Broad Channel, by Dan Hendrick, Emil Lucev, and the Guarinos (Dan and Liz) followed, in 2006, 2007 and 2008. My Images of America: Rockaway Beach, published by Arcadia in June 2012, is the latest entry.
October is Book Month. Although we have only one cemetery on the peninsula, there are plenty of skeletons in Rockaway’s closet, waiting to be discovered! From October 1 through November 26, from 5:30 -6:45 p.m., Seaside Branch of the Queens Library (Beach 117th and Rockaway Beach Boulevard) will be hosting a series of meetings of the Oceanus Bone Diggers Club, a new group for folks interested in reading and discussing some of these local history books. I will facilitate these sessions, and do my best to make them lively and interactive. If you are interested, a registration form is attached, or you can get one at the Seaside Library. oceanusbonediggersbookclubregform3 Please complete the form, being sure to tell us if you already own any of the books to be read. Then, return it to the library as soon as possible, to confirm your registration. The library has reserved copies of the first book we will be reading, by Seyfried and Asadorian. Be sure to pick one up when you drop off your form. This is critical, because the book is out of print, and it costs anywhere from $80 – $300 to purchase it online!
I’m looking forward to leading this community historical “dig.” Pick-axe, shovel, and headlamp are NOT required!
Drawing of skeleton, book and candle in the public domain. All other text and photos copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter.