2004-05-07 / Columnists

Boyle And Sarnoff Launch Oral History ProjectIn Search Of Rockaway Glory Days...

"In Rockaway, landmarks are like sand castles… They’re short-lived, full of fleeting beauty, too vulnerable to the elements…so much of old Rockaway continues to disappear."

From Braving The Waves

by Kevin Boyle

Rockaway is undergoing profound change. Like the old wooden beach jetties being buried by time and tide, Rockaway’s unique and splendid past slowly but surely slips away. To ensure that Rockaway’s past is not completely forgotten or lost in newspaper archives, Kevin Boyle and Robert Sarnoff, are collaborating on an oral history project aiming to capture the essence of Rockaway’s glory days. The Graybeards (a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping the Rockaway community), the Rockaway Museum, and The Wave are joining together to lend support.

Why an oral history project? For more than a century, The Wave has duly recorded news and events and remains Rockaway’s most important chronicler of life on the peninsula. Boyle and Sarnoff, however, recognize that life is more than a black and white newspaper account and seek recollections that may not have made the newspaper. Boyle, who authored the widely praised book, "Braving The Waves" said, "No newspaper account can capture the sights, sounds, smells, and memories better than those who lived them. Old stories and great memories might not have been newsworthy at the time, but they belong to history. And unless there’s an effort to preserve the memories, they will be lost forever."

Sarnoff, local artist and Wave editorial cartoonist, was inspired to initiate this project after his beach jetty painting proved so evocative for many longtime residents. Without prompting, may locals regaled him with stories of jumping off the jetties, fishing, searching for mussels or treasures of some kind hidden in the jetty’s crevices. The painting made an impression with the United States Postal Service as well. Sarnoff’s jetty will be used as a matted imprint cachet that will be postmarked at the Rockaway Beach Post Office in June.

The enthusiastic response to the painting inspired Sarnoff to contact Boyle about collaborating on an oral history project that could properly capture and chronicle some of the tales he was hearing. Boyle, one-time editor of The Wave, was immediately drawn to the idea. He thinks a video could be used in schools, at civic functions, and would eventually be a dynamic addition to the Rockaway museum. A companion book would be a worthy addition to any family collection.

Boyle told The Wave that he thinks so much of the old will be new to so many. "I’m a new arrival. I just got to Rockaway fifteen years ago. I’ve got a lot more to learn. Stories about the bungalows, when the yacht club was on water, dogball on the beach, Curley’s, Lenny’s Amusements. I hope we’ll be able to talk to people who lived it." Boyle also said that he sees this as an opportunity to do something intergenerational. "I think by putting this on video, in addition to a book, we’ll be able to show young people about Rockaway in a lively way. Rockaway is special to so many people. Well, it all stems from the good days. The kids should know that."

There will be great reliance on the Rockaway public. "We hope family members will encourage grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles to contact us," Boyle said. Initially, Boyle and Sarnoff hope to gather anecdotes and memories, and photos through the mail. (Letters and the like can be sent to Oral History Project c/o The Wave, 88-08 Rockaway Beach Blvd., Rockaway, NY 11693, attention Kevin Boyle or Bob Sarnoff. Pictures or memorabilia will be returned). In the weeks and months ahead, Boyle and Sarnoff will interview and tape numerous volunteers for this ambitious undertaking.

In addition to The Graybeards and Rockaway Museum, Boyle and Sarnoff are seeking the help of corporate and private enterprises to offset costs. Interested benefactors and contributors can do so my mail (The Wave address) or by calling The Graybeard office at 718-634-6812.

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