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Aisle Seat: Have Reporter's Notebook, Will Travel

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

The author’s old-school reporter’s notebook
The author’s old-school reporter’s notebook

When I became

a Newsday family entertainment columnist

in the ’90s,

the world was my oyster.

As in Oyster Bay,

a cozy hamlet on Long Island,

lauded for oyster shucking and ingesting

(if you’re so inclined).

My Sunday column’s purpose

was to inform readers about

regional cultural, historical

and just plain, good old-fashioned

fun activities

for family and friends.

Bonus: My kids Emmy and Ben

were invited cohorts.

Not exactly as guinea pigs per se,

but their preteen perspectives

were duly noted and appreciated.

On second thought, maybe they were guinea pigs.

The Long Island Oyster Festival

was a joyous occasion for all, pre-pandemic.

Canceled in 2020 and 2021,

organizers hope to bring it back

in October 2022.

It’s a big deal.

More than 150,000 participants

traditionally hang out

for the live music, carnival rides

and the star attraction.

We scoured Long Island and Manhattan,

covering the sublime (Broadway!)

to the ho-hum

(an old time-y General Store).

It was a dream gig,

right up my proverbial alley.

As a suburban mom,

I was forever on the lookout

for kid-friendly

creative outlets

and teachable moments.

We learned some stats and fun facts.

The Isle of Long is

118 miles from east to west

and 22 miles at its widest.

The eastern end is divided

into two narrow peninsulas,

the North Fork in Orient Point

and Montauk

marking the far south end.

In the mix we discovered

a plethora of beaches,

from the Rockaways to Jones.

The long split, aka Fire Island,

is a national seashore,

treasured by generations of families

who appreciate its car-free lifestyle.

With Emmy and Ben in tow,

we soaked up the island’s

enticing and disarming sites.

We charged around

Teddy Roosevelt’s historic Sagamore Hill,

the summer home of the 26th president

and his flock of relations.

He had a big flock.

We learned that his Oyster Bay-area estate

Included 83 acres of nature trails,

woodlands, beaches,

a salt marsh and a chicken coop.

But wait, there’s more!

The house tour was fascinating,

in all its stuffy, musty glory.

Sagamore Hill’s library showcases Teddy Roosevelt’s affinity for shooting wild animals
Sagamore Hill’s library showcases Teddy Roosevelt’s affinity for shooting wild animals

We averted our eyes

from the animal head trophies

hanging spookily on the walls.

But learning about

Roosevelt’s prescient conservation efforts

made us feel better about

the dead animal head distractions.

The Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary

was the country’s first

National Audubon Society songbird sanctuary.

The 14-acre park protects goldfinches,

grackles, kingfishers and kingbirds.

Planting Fields Arboretum would make

a nature lover out of the most cynical.

It’s a sprawling, lush, 400-plus-acre

Gold Coast oasis for nature lovers.

Gold Coast as in The Great Gatsby.

The air smells expensive.

Tree tunnels (!) cozy cottages,

fountains and stately structures

impressed us all.

The arboretum played host

to myriad family events in the summer.

What’s not to love?

It’s listed on the

National Register of Historic Places,

meticulously landscaped and nourished

by groundskeepers and horticultural experts.

Two lush greenhouses overflow

with exotic and Crayola crayon-colored blossoms.

Hidden benches beckon and a visitor’s center

has an interactive exhibit

about the estate’s history.

We explored museums in

Nassau, Suffolk and New York counties,

counted our lucky stars

in planetariums and visited a taxidermist.

It wasn’t all light-hearted

reverie and galivanting around, though.

Like other parts of the country,

Long Island has a shameful enslavement past.

Poet Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806)
Poet Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806)

Jupiter Hammon,

the first published African-American poet,

was born into slavery

at Henry Lloyd’s estate

in über-wealthy Lloyd Neck.

He was granted access

to the manor’s library and

educated with the estate owner’s children.

The Lloyd family encouraged Hammon

to attend school, where he learned

To read and write.

He went on to work for Henry Lloyd

As a bookkeeper and negotiator

For the family’s business.

His first work was published in 1760

and he was considered a religious scribe.

While a slave,

Hammon preached to

other enslaved members of the Lloyd estate.

He became a member

of the African-American community

and in 1787,

Hammon delivered a speech

at the African Society of New York.

He was buried in an unmarked grave

on the Lloyd property.

On a more light-hearted note,

we checked out a Long Island game farm,

explored a guitar museum,

played at the Children’s Museum of New York

and ventured backstage

during the run of

Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast.

The kids were young enough

to believe my whopper

when we visited the world-famous toy museum:

FAO Schwarz.

Fun and games at FAO Schwarz
Fun and games at FAO Schwarz

No critics, please.

I didn’t always exaggerate,

only when it served a greater purpose.

My sanity.

Regardless, it was win-win.

Ben and Emmy made music

on the second-floor keyboard

from the movie Big.

I was able to luxuriate among

the over-the-top, futuristic playthings

and insanely priced stuffed animals.

They marveled at

the giant Teddy Ruxpin mechanical bears

taking up valuable real estate

inside the magical establishment.

The bears were all the rage in the ‘90s.

But to be honest, it was a creepy toy,

in a hauntingly sinister Twilight Zone way.

Meanwhile, Emmy caught my Broadway fever

and she got it bad.

She was already a creative, published writer,

and became an entertainment columnist

for ZuZu, an outstanding children’s newspaper.

It’s worth a Google.

But my all-time favorite outing

was to the annual New York-hosted Toy Fair,

where hundreds of toy representatives

hawk their wares to vendors strategizing

for the following year.

Broadway actors love Toy Fair

because they’re hired as

interactive superheroes.

A job’s a job.

They boldly strolled

the three floors decked out to the nines.

Latex and spandex bodysuits

and he-man duds turned the joint

into performance art.

They improvised and goofed around

among themselves and onlookers.

Rainbow-shiny bubbles

freestyled dreamily through the air.

Moods were buoyant.

Toy vendors gamely courted toy buyers.

Free samples and sweets at every booth.

It was a three-floor kids’ party

Shangri-la emporium

teeming with brand-name dolls,

stuffed animals, classic games

and industry stars.

Another year the original Bozo was afoot.

R.L. Stine signed his latest YA book.

Slinky aficionados, of which I am one,

were rewarded when the inventor’s family

showed up to celebrate

the toy’s 50th anniversary

on February 18, 1996.

The late Betty James, co-inventor of the Slinky  (along with her husband Richard), demonstrates the 50th anniversary model
The late Betty James, co-inventor of the Slinky (along with her husband Richard), demonstrates the 50th anniversary model

They were funny, warm

and not afraid to look silly.

After all, playing with a Slinky

is supposed to look silly.

They gifted me with an autographed Slinky Dog

and posed for photos.

Exploring and writing about

Long Island’s unsung treasures

was a dream gig.

The world was indeed our oyster

And each outing was a pearl of a day.


Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including

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