Experience Port Washington

Oral history

Introducing: Captain Jack

John J. FlohertyJohn J. Floherty (known as “Captain Jack”) was a prolific author and Port Washington mainstay in the first half of the 20th century.  He wrote more than 40 career-oriented books for young people, including such titles as Sons of the Hurricane, Youth and the Sea, Our FBI: An Inside Story, Get That Story, Sentries of the Sea, and Five Alarm: The Story of Fire Fighting.  Floherty traveled widely and stayed with people he was researching. He spent time in lighthouses, and among FBI agents.

Floherty lived in Port Washington for over 50 years, at 9 Shoreview Road in Baxter Estates. He was a member of many local organizations including the Manhasset Bay Sportsmens Club, Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, and the volunteer fire company.  In 1917 he helped organize the Port Washington Home Guard, and in 1941 he was chairman of the Port Washington Committee for Community Mobilization and Defense.

Captain Jack was interviewed by Port’s Chief of Police James Salerno on March 6, 1964 for the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society .  He died on December 3 of the same year.  Following is the first in a series of audio clips taken from that interview.  Here, Floherty and his extremely proud wife Margaret discuss his writing.  Ubangi, for those who may be curious, is actually a group of 40 languages that are spoken in Central Africa.

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“…as well as the usual languages one thinks of…”  Click the arrow to listen.  (1:12)


"Our FBI" Cover Image"Search and Rescue at Sea" Cover Image"Men Against Crime" Cover Image

Many of John J. Floherty’s handwritten manuscripts may be viewed at the PWPL Local History Center.


Biographical information by Francesca Pitaro.

John J. Floherty portrait from the Stanley Gerard Mason Collection, PWPL Local History Center.

The Help

The Guggenheim Estate, Sands Point, NY, c. 1920

In the 1910s and 1920s, 325 country houses of over 25 rooms were built on Long Island, which became home to some of the wealthiest families in America.  Among them were the Guggenheims, Belmonts, Astors, Mackays, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Hearsts, Pratts, Coes, Phipps, Morgans, and Whitneys.

Behind the gates of these estates, the needs and desires of the owners were attended to by cadres of household maids, cooks, domestics, groundskeepers, superintendents, stablehands, chauffeurs, dairymen, and gardeners.  Some stayed on their jobs for a few years, others for a lifetime.  “Small” estates had 10-15 servants, while the largest had up to 400.  Estate workers shared a unique way of life that has long since disappeared.

Evan Williams & State-of-the-Art Lawnmower

Megan Rumbelow grew up around the Gold Coast Estates.   Her uncle, Evan Williams, worked as a chaffeur at the Guggenheim estate in Sands Point.  Her mother and aunt were also employed as servants.  In the following interview excerpt, she tells historian Elly Shodell about the realistic depiction of servant life in the British TV series Upstairs,Downstairs:

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“Don’t talk… stand straight…”  Click the arrow to listen.  (2:06)  Click here for a transcript.

  

Megan Rumbelow (as a child) with aunts and uncle Evan Williams

To hear more of this interview, read transcripts, and view more photos, please visit the Port Washington Public Library Local History Center.

Megan Rumbelow interview (excerpt) conducted by Elly Shodell.  © Port Washington Public Library, 1983.

Some text adapted from the PWPL publication “In the Service,” ed. Elly Shodell.  © Port Washington Public Library, 1991.

The Booze Cruise

On January 16th, 1920, the 18th Amendment made drinking alcohol illegal.  “It was an era,” wrote Port Washington News editor Ernie Simon, “when the most popular guy in town was the one who knew where the best ‘speakeasy’ was.”  Police raids on transports and barrooms were frequent, such as this one at  Main Street’s Cove Inn:

It's a bust! The Cove Inn on Main Street.

Rum running, the smuggling of liquor over water, became a common activity along Long Island Sound.  According to Port resident Clarence “Chappie” Miller, even the kids had an idea of what was going on…

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“Get out of here you kids!!”  Click the arrow to listen. (0:42)

Roswell Valentine worked as a gardener at the Matheson estate in Lloyd’s Neck, a Gold Coast mansion similar to those in Port Washington and other towns along the North Shore.  Here he describes a Prohibition-era scenario:

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“They would hide their cases of liquor all through the woods…”  Click the arrow to listen. (1:13)

Quick, small boats were used for rum running.


To hear more of these interviews, read transcripts, and view more photos, please visit the Port Washington Public Library Local History Center.


Clarence Miller interview (excerpt) conducted by John Poland.  © Port Washington Public Library, 1983.
Roswell Valentine interview (excerpt) conducted by Prof.Richard Harmond and Tom Vincittorio, 1987.
 

Life On the Line

Fontaine Fox (1884-1964), the celebrated “Toonerville Trolley” cartoonist, lived in Port Washington from 1914 to the 1930′s.  His “Terrible Tempered” Mr. Bangs, the “Powerful Katrinka,” Banker Grey, and Old Man Flint were small-town characters who earned Fox a syndication in over 200 newspapers.

In the interview excerpt below, long-time Port resident Bill Bohnel tells historian Elly Shodell about the local inspirations for these memorable characters, and about Port Washington’s history as a home for artists and writers.

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“The whole town was a cartoon!”  Click the arrow to listen.  (3:49)

Fontaine Fox's Carlton Avenue Home

“Toonerville Trolley” (officially known as “Toonerville Folks”) ran from 1908 until 1955.  It was adapted into cartoons, used in numerous advertisments, and inspired a number of short films starring Mickey Rooney.

To hear more of this interview, read transcripts, and view more photos, please visit the Port Washington Public Library Local History Center.

“Toonerville” cut-outs are from the collection of the PWPL Local History Center.