15 Things You Should Know About Long Island
On Long Island, you’ll find some of the country’s best bagels, prettiest beaches, and thickest accents. Here are a few things you should know about the one-of-a-kind landmass.
1. ONE OF THE FIRST COMPUTER GAMES WAS CREATED THERE.
Video games as we know them didn’t evolve from a single starting point. Instead, they had many separate precursors, which were built independently of each other during the 1940s and '50s—and among them was a little time-waster called Tennis for Two.
At the end of 1958, staffers at Brookhaven National Laboratory planned out the following year’s annual Visitor’s Day. Normally, the visitors who came to these events were bored out of their minds. William Higinbotham, a nuclear physicist and head of the lab, was hoping to change that. “[I thought] it might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society,” he said.
Higinbotham recruited a pair of colleagues to help him design and build such a game. Their end product was Tennis for Two—more or less a primitive form of Pong. Long Islanders absolutely loved it, and guests lined up by the hundreds to try their hand at the digital sport. Pleased by its success, Higinbotham had a bigger and better version built for the 1959 Visitor’s Day. Sadly, though, it was never sold commercially, and the original copies were thrown out. To honor the game, nearby Stony Brook University established the William A. Higinbotham Game Studies Collection in 2011.
2. SAGAPONACK IS HOME TO PRICIEST ZIP CODE IN AMERICA.
Life in this Hampton village can get awfully expensive—especially if you have to write 11962 on your return address. According to Business Insider, that’s “America’s most expensive ZIP code,” where the median home sale price is $8.5 million.
3. THE HAMPTONS HAD THEIR OWN, PRE-SALEM WITCH HUNT.
The Salem trials were still 35 years away when 16-year-old Easthampton resident Elizabeth Gardiner Howell suddenly grew sick in February 1658 and blamed it on a witch. She named her family's neighbor, Elizabeth Garlick, and after Howell died the next day, Easthampton residents quickly assembled a board of inquiry to scrutinize the accused witch. Numerous witnesses came forward with supernatural claims against her: Garlick was said to have cursed livestock and spread diseases, and one person even swore that she’d killed a baby just by touching it.
Ultimately, the town magistrates handed Garlick’s case over to a higher court in Hartford, Connecticut. Three weeks later, she was found not guilty and released. Garlick then returned to Easthampton, where she spent the rest of her life in relative peace.
4. CHARLES LINDBERGH’S FAMOUS FLIGHT BEGAN ON LONG ISLAND.
At 7:52 a.m. on May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, part of a long-gone airport where a Nassau County shopping mall now sits. Thirty-three hours and 30 minutes later, he touched down in Paris, France, ending the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight in human history.
5. VISITORS CAN SHOP INSIDE A GIANT, DUCK-SHAPED BUILDING.
Historically, chefs from around the country have associated Long Island with top-quality ducks. Back in the 1870s, fast-growing Pekin ducks were shipped there from China en masse. At its peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the island’s duck industry produced almost 8 million animals per year.
These days, only one Long Island duck farm remains. Still, the industry has left its mark: Long Island’s Atlantic League baseball franchise is called The Ducks. And in Flanders, there's a 20-foot-tall, 30-foot-long duck statue that was built in 1931 by farmer Martin Maurer. Upon completion, he set up shop right inside the belly, selling both eggs and (real) birds. These days, it’s a one-stop superstore for duck-related memorabilia.
6. THE LIRR IS THE BUSIEST COMMUTER RAIL IN NORTH AMERICA.
On its 735 daily trains, the Long Island Railroad transports an average of 301,000 commuters per weekday. Altogether, more than 80 million customers hop aboard every year. The LIRR holds another important distinction: Founded in 1834, it’s the oldest railroad in the United States that still uses its original name.
7. FAMOUS LONG ISLANDERS INCLUDE WALT WHITMAN AND JACKIE KENNEDY.
Best known for his beloved poetry collection Leaves of Grass, Whitman was born in West Hills on May 31, 1819. Fifty-five miles to the east is Southampton, the hometown of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was born on July 28, 1929.
8. A SHARK THAT WAS CAUGHT OFFSHORE INSPIRED JAWS.
In 1964, novelist Peter Benchley read a newspaper article about a 4500-pound great white that had been captured near Long Island—and inspiration struck. “I thought, what would happen if one of these things came into a beach and wouldn’t go away?” Benchley later said.
The thought lingered, and Jaws—by far his most successful book—was born. While conducting research for his story, Benchley interviewed several Long Island fishermen. One of them was Frank Mundus of Montauk—upon whom Captain Quint is probably based. For the record, he didn’t like how Jaws portrayed great whites. “There’s nothing in that book that’s true,” Mundus once insisted. “And Peter Benchley don’t know about sharks.”
9. IT’S NOT REALLY AN ISLAND (OR SO SAYS THE SUPREME COURT).
We recently ran an entire article on this touchy topic. Here’s a quick summary: In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case called United States v. Maine. This legal struggle had huge implications for the Block Island Sound—which lies between Rhode Island and the northern fork of Long Island. The states argued that these waters fell under their jurisdiction, but the federal government disagreed.
Legally, the waters surrounding an American island are considered “open sea,” and as such, they’re under the federal government’s control. But the states argued that so-called “Long Island” was really a peninsula. If true, then by law, New York and Rhode Island would be in charge of regulating the sound in question.
When the dust settled, all nine justices sided with the states. Is Long Island surrounded by water on all sides? Yes. However, the court argued that the East River (a strait which separates Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens) was too shallow for most ships to pass through. Therefore, they classified Long Island as a peninsula—at least, for legal purposes. Geographically, though, it’s still an island by any definition. So, if you’re from there, feel free to keep calling yourself an islander. After all, “peninsula resident” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
10. MONTAUK POINT HAS THE OLDEST LIGHTHOUSE IN NEW YORK STATE.
Many a vessel was wrecked on Montauk Point so, in 1792, Congress set aside $255.12 to buy the land for a lighthouse there. Completed in 1797, the lighthouse became the first American structure that millions of immigrants ever saw. Once the U.S. entered World War II, the site was used as a strategic fire control station by the armed forces.
11. IT WAS ONCE FORMALLY KNOWN AS “THE ISLAND OF NASSAU.”
On April 10, 1693, New York’s General Assembly announced that Long Island had been officially rechristened. “Be it Enacted,” read the decree, “... That the Island commonly called and known by the name of Long Island shall from henceforth be called the Island of Nassau.” The intention was to honor King of England and member of the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau William III, but unfortunately for him, the renaming effort was ignored by pretty much everyone. Centuries later, though, the name Nassau resurfaced—in 1898, it was given to one of Long Island’s four counties.
12. THE LONG ISLAND-BASED BELMONT STAKES IS THE TRIPLE CROWN’S LONGEST RACE.
Founded in 1867, the Belmont Stakes was named after banking agent August Belmont, who financed the race and its original track, which was located in the Bronx.
Unhappy with the facility, Belmont’s son, August II, picked Elmont, New York to be the site of an all-new one. Construction began in 1902. Three years later, Belmont Park was open for business. Successful from the start, its very first race attracted over 40,000 spectators. Architectural problems later forced Belmont to close down from 1963 to 1967—during which time the original building was replaced.
The modern-day park hosts several contests every year. By far, the most famous and well-attended is the famed Belmont Stakes. After the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, it’s the Triple Crown’s final leg. At a mile and a half from start to finish, Belmont Stakes is the lengthiest. It also happens to be the oldest of the three—and, in fact, it’s also the fourth-oldest horse race in North America.
13. WILLIAM KIDD BURIED SOME TREASURE NEARBY.
Instead of hiding their booty underground, most pirates—being thieves—just went ahead and spent it. Still, there is some truth to the whole buried treasure cliché.
While fleeing from the English government in 1699, William Kidd made a stop near Long Island. Specifically, he landed on Gardiner’s Island, so named after the family that owned it (and still does). Island owner John Gardiner watched as Kidd buried copious amounts of gold and other valuables in the sand. Today, the whole cache would be valued at about $1 million.
Kidd was arrested in 1700 and sent to London for trial. During the proceedings, Gardiner helped English authorities retrieve the treasure. This was later used as evidence against the hated outlaw. Convicted of both piracy and murder, Kidd was executed on May 23, 1701.
14. THERE HAVE BEEN MULTIPLE SECESSION MOVEMENTS.
Talk of a permanent break-away from the Empire State has been going on for quite some time. Fed up with Albany’s politics, one group of influential Long Islanders tried to mount a secession campaign in 1896. Leading the charge was sugar magnate Adolph Mollenhauer, who told The New York Times, “People [upstate] cannot legislate us for any better than we can legislate for ourselves ... We’re tired of bosses and bossism.”
More recently, in 2009, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to create a task force that would explore the feasibility of seceding for good (along with Nassau County). “The time has come to send a message that we are not a cash cow for the rest of the state,” said Kenneth P. LaValle, a State Senator from Port Jefferson. Ultimately, though, this effort fell short—but not before The Daily Show did a memorable segment on the issue.
Should Long Island ever become an independent state, it would be America’s most densely-populated and 13th most populous overall. Geographically speaking, its land area is just 1401 square miles, which makes it bigger than Rhode Island, but smaller than Delaware.
15. THE LONG ISLAND ICED TEA MIGHT HAVE BEEN INVENTED SOMEWHERE ELSE.
When, where, and by whom was Long Island’s signature drink created? None of these questions have a clear answer—but the beverage does have two main origin stories.
The first theory is a bit controversial. That’s because, according to its supporters, the so-called “Long Island” iced tea was actually invented in Kingsport, Tennessee. Located just below the Virginia border, it straddles the Holston River. Within city limits, there’s also a 4-mile-long island. Its name? Long Island.
According to legend, a Kingston bartender known as Old Man Bishop mixed tequila, gin, rum, vodka, and maple syrup to create a delicious new refreshment in the 1920s. To honor that landmass on the Holston, he named it the Long Island iced tea, and the rest was history.
But then again, maybe this brew came from the east coast Long Island after all. Mixologist Robert “Rosebud” Butt swears that it was born in 1972 at the Oak Beach Inn, a Suffolk County nightclub. And that’s not all: He also claims to be the inventor. One night, Butts recalls, “We had a contest at the bar that I was working [at] … they put a bottle of Triple Sec on the bar and then they asked us to make something out of it. So, twenty other bartenders and myself went to work.”
“My concoction,” adds his official website, “was an immediate hit and quickly became the house drink at the OBI. By the mid-1970s, every bar on [Long Island] was serving up this innocent looking cocktail, and by the 1980s it was known the world over.”