Sag Harbor Historical Society Video Celebrates An ‘American Beauty’

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Joseph Zaykowski Jr. delivers the first copies of "Sag Harbor: The Story of an American Beauty," the local history book written by his mother, Dorothy Zaykowski, to the Sag Harbor Historical Society in 1991. COURTESY SAG HARBOR HISTORICAL SOCIETY

In recognition of March being Women’s History Month, the Sag Harbor Historical Society has recently posted on its website a short video celebrating Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski and her village history, “Sag Harbor: The Story of an American Beauty,” which was published 30 years ago this summer and is now in its fourth printing.

The video, made by two long-time society members, Nancy Remkus and Jean Held, focuses on the ways Ms. Zaykowski and her well-researched and comprehensive history book have affected the lives of various people who have come into contact with her.

Ms. Remkus credited Ms. Held with the idea for making the video and choosing the people to be interviewed. Ms. Remkus handled the filming and both edited the work.

Besides shining the light on Ms. Zaykowski and her book, Ms. Remkus said the video was made, in part, to introduce new families who have moved to the village in recent years to the historical society and its community programming.

Historical society vice president Jack Youngs, who introduces the video, says of Ms. Zaykowski’s history, “This is the book that everyone should have on their shelf — a book for reference or to read about the entire history of the village you are now living in.”

Tony Garro, known for his walking history tours of the village, said his wife bought him a copy of Ms. Zaykowski’s book to occupy him so he wouldn’t follow her around the house after they both retired in 1997, and it sparked an interest in local history.

He recounts in the video how he found a half of a gravestone and brought it to Ms. Zaykowski. “Leave it with me for awhile and I’ll see what I can find out,” she told him. A month later, she had matched it to the Whitney family plot at Oakland Cemetery. “I’d go to her with all my history problems,” he said.

Ms. Held, who said she met Ms. Zaykowski in the Long Pond Green Belt when she was searching for mushrooms and Ms. Zaykowski was looking for arrow heads, agreed. “She is it,” she said. “That’s where people go if they have a question about history. She leads you to the answer. That’s what Dorothy does very gently.”

In Ms. Held’s case, it involved research into a resort run by the Miller family on the southern edge of Trout Pond. Ms. Held had heard that a giant whale jawbone had once graced a bowling alley on the property and wondered if it was the same bone that stands at the door of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum. It turns out her hunch was correct. “Dorothy’s magnet found the needle in the haystack of Sag Harbor history,” Ms. Held says in the video.

Plenty of other familiar Sag Harbor faces appear in the video. Alison Bond, who edited the book with Pace Barnes, recalls the day Ms. Zaykowski showed up at her house with three shopping bags stuffed with manuscripts of her history in the making, and how once the book was finished, copies of it were delivered by boat to Long Wharf, where they were brought by horse and wagon to the grounds of the Old Custom House, where a party was held and the initial supply sold out.

“Dot was an absolute gem to work with,” Ms. Bond recalled. “She was diligent and very attentive to detail.” The book continues to sell, she said, because Ms. Zaykowski told the village’s history through the eyes of the people who lived there.

John Jermain Memorial Library Director Catherine Creedon said, “The book was so important to us that when we opened our doors in 2016 after restoration, this was the book we carried in a book brigade” from the library’s temporary location on Long Island Avenue.

Ms. Zaykowski’s son, Joseph Zaykowski Jr., remembered the pride he felt when he sat with his mother on the steps of the library as her book was handed person-to-person on that day. His mother worked diligently to produce a worthy history of her village, he said.

“‘The American Beauty’ is a reflection of who my mom is,” he said. “‘The American Beauty is the pulse of Sag Harbor, the Bible of early Sag Harbor. It is the foundation and roots which connect us to our past.”

The Story of “Sag Harbor: The Story of an American Beauty” by Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski can be viewed on the Sag Harbor Historical Society’s website, sagharborhistorical.org, by clicking on the “blog” tab.

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