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Living History

Posted on 26 August 2010

Clifford Foster’s gift of Long Beach to the town of Southampton and the people of Sag Harbor was as extraordinary in 1950 as it is today. Especially in the present-day, when generosity is counted in dollars and cents, Foster’s donation of this remarkable stretch of invaluable beachfront property would be unprecedented. A comparable gift certainly doesn’t readily come to mind. Foster saved Long Beach from becoming a built up board walk or another row of million dollar homes. He was able to preserve a gathering spot for generations of families and created a hallmark of living in Sag Harbor. Even though Foster’s name has receded with the tides of time, as most people are unaware of his gift, he lives on through his vision for Long Beach. And perhaps that is a more powerful legacy.

The story of Long Beach also offers a different lesson on the importance of preservation. Jean Held and Dorothy Zaykowski’s meticulous work in creating a cohesive volume on Long Beach reminds us of the importance of keeping historical records. In our increasingly digital and paperless age, we wonder what our descendants will use to assemble our own histories. Will they comb over emails instead of letters? Will our Facebook and MySpace profiles replace the scrapbook of our lives? Will our twitter feeds be looked at in the same manner as a diary? We are at the beginning of these news technologies, without much foresight to see how they will ultimately shape society and the record of history. And though we cannot determine whether this is a detriment, we do feel that there is something to be said for holding history in your hands and feeling its weight.

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