Long Islanders have been leading the way for the rest of the country for a very long time. Whether in politics, science, entertainment or most recently, fine wine – mainland America’s largest island is filled with a consummate record of achievement. As a native Long Islander, I’m extremely proud of where I come from. But I also know that many of our most extraordinary stories get lost in the strident sounds of today’s media. This space is usually reserved to talk about wine but I think it’s important to remember the place where we make it and understand the framework in which we live – not with only climatological or environmental descriptors but in historical and cultural terms as well.
The first English colonists came to live on Long Island in 1640, long before the rest of the country was even discovered. A great historical narrative has taken place on Long Island – from the critical Battle of Long Island (the first and largest battle of the American Revolution) to the seminal flight of Charles Lindberg – to the building of the Lunar Module. Throughout all of this, farmers and fishermen made up the backbone of our economy. Agriculturally, Long Island was the “bread basket of New York City” with local farms supplying produce and livestock to the Big Apple so it could thrive and grow into the great city it is today.
Of course being so close to one of the world’s largest cities doesn’t come without a price. Long Island was also one of the first areas in the country to experience suburban development. We’ve been called the “first-born burbs of the baby boom.” In fact, the birth was fast and furious with large tracts of farmland eaten up by the post-war families and their housing needs. Luckily for the East End, the expansion fizzled and left what is today a modern miracle – the bucolic area of the North Fork with a thriving agricultural economy. Today, Suffolk County still remains the most important agricultural county in New York generating more farm revenue than any other county in the state.
In addition to agriculture, science holds a prominent place in our regional history. Guglielmo Marconi – the father of radio transmission – set up one his first stations in Babylon, Long Island for training wireless operators and for beaming wireless messages to ships at sea. Among the most important centers for scientific research in the United States are the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 1952, James Watson and Francis Crick presented their model of the double helix for the structure of DNA at Cold Spring Harbor and in 1983 Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of genes that could jump around chromosomes. Brookhaven is also the home of several Nobel Prize winners including T.D. Lee, Chen-Ning Yang, Samuel C.C. Ting, James Cronin, Val Fitch, Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger.
The reach of Long Island stretched the furthest with the development of the Apollo Lunar Module. In Bethpage, Long Island, the Grumman Corporation designed, assembled, integrated and tested the Lunar Module (better known as the LM), the famed Eagle of the Apollo program. Between 1969 and 1972, six Grumman lunar modules carried 12 astronauts to and from the surface of the moon and one – Aquarius – served as a lifeboat for three astronauts during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.
From a creative standpoint, the output of Long Island artists is almost without peer in our nation. The list of people is quite impressive and their impact has resonated not only across our nation, but around the entire world. Here’s just a short list:
Authors: Walt Whitman, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Pynchon, Nelson DeMille, Louise Glück, Maurice Sendak
Comedians: Lenny Bruce, Mel Brooks, Andy Kaufman, Billy Crystal, Jimmy Fallon, Rosie O’Donnell, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Kevin James, Howard Stern, Dom DeLuise, Jimmy Kimmel, Buddy Hackett, Jim Breuer
Movies: Michael Lynne, Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Copolla, Judd Apatow, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen
Musicians: George Gershwin, Jay-Z, Simon and Garfunkel, Richie Havens, Buddy Rich, Lena Horne, Lou Reed, Arlo Guthrie, Public Enemy, Mariah Carey, The Ramones, Adam Yauch, Harry Chapin, LL Cool J, Billy Joel, Chuck D., John Sebastian
Designers: Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole, Steve Madden, Calvin Klein
The above list highlights those who were actually born on Long Island – but there were many others who thought the area was so cool they just had to live here. Here’s a short list: Theodore Roosevelt, William Cullen Bryant, Albert Einstein, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, John Philip Sousa, Joseph Heller, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Jackson Pollock, Isaac Asimov, Lee Krasner and William DeKooning.
There are many great Long Islanders – people who are working to help their communities and enrich lives every single day. Most of them are unsung heroes. Others are remembered for their sacrifice. Thousands of Long Islanders gave their lives serving their county in the great wars of our nation. More recently on 9/11, nearly 500 Long Islanders lost their lives in the World Trade Center. We remember all of these people as great Long Islanders.
This is the land we work, the soil we till and the region we live in. This is the legacy of where we planted our vineyards and where we make our wines. It’s a chronicle of greatness written by some of the most incomparable pioneers in our nation’s history. It’s about reaching across vast oceans, flying into the great unknown and to our eventual exploration of space. It’s about service and sacrifice. It’s about beauty, song, laughter and the creation and appreciation of the finer things that life has to offer. It’s where we are – and its way cooler than we ever thought.