Sag Harbor, New York
July 27, 2012
I am so grateful that I decided to spend a couple of days vacationing in the Hamptons after the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference was over. (If you missed my post about the conference, you may read it here.) It was a lovely area in which to relax.
Emma had given me a list of things to do and places to see that I think would have kept me happily busy for a couple of weeks rather than a couple of days! As it was, because I’m not used to the heat and humidity, I wasn’t able to do as much as I would have liked. So I will keep the rest of Emma’s list for next time, and look forward to next time coming as soon as possible!
I did get to have some delightful experiences and meet some wonderful people, though. Click the magic words to learn more…
The first item on Emma’s list was something I’d already read about and was planning to visit. Emma’s suggestion made me put it first on the agenda for Monday morning. The Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum is a fascinating place. It occupies the ground floor of this lovely historic house, which I’m sure has many of its own stories to tell. I was privileged to be the only visitor there at the time, and that turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.
I chatted for a little while with the woman in the gift shop, then went in to view a ten-minute video on whaling. Through dramatization combined with historical photographs, the video brings to vivid life the story of the hardships and challenges the whalers faced. I was shocked to see how tiny the harpooning boat was in comparison to the huge whale. Do you see that archway around the front door of the museum? That is the jawbone of a whale. I can’t imagine just a few men in a small wooden boat wrestling with a creature that size. But they did.
Looking around the museum was fascinating. Not only are there many artifacts, log books, and letters connected with the whaling industry in the Sag Harbor of the past, but there are items from the daily life of the former occupants of the house. I was particularly interested in the Toy Room, which had many delightful examples of toys and books of the period. There were a few tiny books, including a very old Primer — the first book a child learned from in school. Look at the size of them next to the fairly ordinary sized book to their right!
The very tiny book beneath it was excerpts from the Bible. I don’t know if children were actually supposed to use these books and read from them, or if they were simply curiosities or miniatures.
Besides the exhibits in the museum, my chief joy in this visit was talking with the lovely woman in the gift shop and with the director of the museum. Because I was the only visitor, they took time to talk with me about my writing, and to regale me with stories. They were very excited to learn, from a rather excited me, that I’d had an idea for a middle grade mystery novel or two inspired by things I’d seen in the museum. One of the stories the museum director told me sparked an idea for a picture book. I came home with a large book about one of the people who once lived in the house, for research purposes, and with promises to keep in contact with the museum staff and keep them informed of the progress of my writing projects.
Another joy among many during my two days in Sag Harbor was a visit to the temporary location of the John Jermain Library. The 100-year-old structure the library usually occupies is undergoing extensive renovation and restoration, and I just happened upon the library’s temporary home while looking for a parking place! Earlier in July, Emma Walton Hamilton had interviewed the head librarian of the John Jermain Library for the Children’s Book Hub. Having enjoyed (and learned much from) that interview, I was eager to meet Catherine Creedon, the librarian. So I popped in to the library on Monday afternoon only to learn that she’d just headed to the city for a meeting. They assured me she would be back the next day. I had a good time browsing the shelves of the children’s section, and talking with a library worker at length, particularly about Perfect Picture Book Friday, which she was very interested in.
On Tuesday, I returned to Sag Harbor. (How I wish I could have stopped along the route to take pictures — the roads my GPS took me down, with entrancing names like Scuttlehole Road, were beautiful, but there was no place to stop.) I had a wonderful visit with Catherine Creedon. She is a delightful, articulate, well-informed woman who has worked as a librarian, archivist and historian. She was very interested in my proposed writing projects, and showed me a book that would help me in my research about the history of Sag Harbor. It happened that the library had copies of the book for sale, so naturally I bought one! She showed me where the microform collection was — I think she would have been very happy for me to settle down to researching things right away, but I felt I needed to sort out my project and figure out what information I needed first. I assured her I would be back to Sag Harbor. I won’t be able to stay away! She also gave me an autographed copy of her own book, Blue Wolf, which I look forward to reading.
It was good to see what I did while in Sag Harbor, but far more important were the person-to-person contacts, the friendships started, the colleagues met, and the ideas sparked. I will be back. There is no doubt in my mind about that.