A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 68

An 1802 bill of lading for whale oil destined for the Montauk lighthouse.

Saturday, May 16

It could be a strange summer out here. Realtors see upbeat signs: The market for summer rentals is booming, with urbanites looking for a place where they can escape the pandemic. Meanwhile, paranoia strikes deep. In the local hardware store, not far away from the bags of potting soil and cans of paint, there’s a display of stun guns. (Hey, are these essential services?)

According to one real estate broker, the “mass exodus” of folks from New York City is continuing. Those who’d arranged a rental for late summer are looking to come earlier. Meanwhile, some owners who’d arranged before the pandemic to rent their homes have decided they want to cancel such rentals and stay on. And one lawyer reports seeing a commercial-property lease tying the date for paying rent to the lifting of the New York State’s business-activity limits.

Worried that those banned from Main Beach may trespass into your swimming pool? Well, for $29.99 you can acquire a Mace brand stun gun that doubles as a flashlight. Stand your ground, refugee!

I understand that out on the left coast, certain businesses are being allowed to reopen: pet groomers, dog walkers, car washes, appliance repair shops, and any retailer who provides curbside pickup. So, the bottom line is in L.A., Fido can get a trim and a workout but a human cannot.

The East Hampton Library has a link to a Digital Long Island Collection of historical materials. It’s quite extensive, containing letters, diaries, photographs, deeds, drawings, and lots more.

Each week, there’s an “item of the week,” highlighted in an e-mail sent out  from the library. This week’s item is a ship’s captain’s bill of lading for 13 casks containing “753 gallons of best head matter pressed” whale oil delivered to Sag Harbor but ultimately destined for use at the Montauk lighthouse.

Since much of what we do here is cook and eat, I’ve been taking a look at another of the collection’s digital holdings, a 1939 “Home Sweet Home Cookbook” produced by the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society. 

Not many of the recipes hold much appeal today. One curiosity, though, is the section entitled “Suggested Menus for Large Gatherings.” Here, typical ingredients might include “one peck of tomatoes” or “20 lbs. of sweet potatoes.” There’s a chicken pie and a cranberry salad, each of which serves 50. A “molded pineapple carrot salad” that uses 3 lbs. of carrots and serves 60 to 70. And a “medium-priced luncheon or supper dish that serves 100.” That recipe uses eight lbs. of spaghetti, 4 loaves of bread, and 2 gallons of milk.

I suspect that these were recipes for a more rural, and more churchgoing society than we have today. Nor would there have been much social distancing at gatherings where these dishes were served.

Tonight’s dinner: Fresh mozzarella cheese with tomatoes and a balsamic dressing, along with cold sesame noodles.

Entertainment: Two episodes of Occupied.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 61

The barn (c., 1721) at East Hampton’s Mulford Farm.

Friday, May 8

Did yesterday’s post focus too heavily on the designer-label shops of East Hampton, and thereby neglect the town’s very lengthy and complex past?

The area that now composes the town dates back to 1648, when it was purchased by two Connecticut governors. In exchange for the land, they gave the Montauk Indians an assortment of goods such as coats, hatchets, and knives. The New England men, in turn, resold the area for £30 to a group they called “the Inhabitants of East Hampton.” The new settlers came here by way of New England, looking for less-settled territory where they could raise crops and pasture their farm animals. Each original inhabitant got a house lot of several acres in the center of East Hampton, plus rights to use of the common fields.

Over the decades to come, some settlers would turn to whaling and fishing. Others engaged in commerce, trading the local produce and fish for goods made elsewhere.

By the second half of the 19th century, there were new intruders: members of the leisure class, traveling out to the East End via the Long Island Railroad. The exclusive Maidstone Club was founded in 1894, and its challenging golf course was redesigned in the 1920s to occupy 130 acres facing the Atlantic coast. By 1929, when Jacqueline Bouvier was born, there was a well established enclave of the wealthy in the Hamptons. And after World War II, as vacations and leisure activity became more possible for the middle and working classes, even more visitors came out to the area, bringing with them the development that has in recent decades become rampant.

Several groups have acted as an obstacle to this development: traditionalists, environmentalists, the local fishermen who are generally called Baymen, and the organization called the Ladies Village Improvement Society, formed in 1895 to ensure that the community’s “storied charms will not be disturbed by the pressures of contemporary growth and development.” The more commercial enterprises that have sought to win a foothold here in recent decades, ranging from fast-food outlets to the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble, have found their paths blocked. But legions of McMansions continue to advance across the former marshes and potato fields.

Much of this information comes from a 1990 book by Northwestern University historian T.H. Breen, Imagining the Past: East Hampton Histories. I will include more detail on the town’s history in future posts .

Today’s weather has been cloudy and, by the end of the day, rainy.

Tonight’s dinner: Avgolemono soup and a lettuce, avocado, and tomato salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: more episodes of The Valhalla Murders.