A new book by Farmingdale resident John Hanc, Jones Beach: An Illustrated History, traces the history of Jones Beach, from the naming of the beach after the pirate Thomas Jones, through its inception and mid-20th century heyday as a State Park, and on through a decline in popularity to the present day, where it has recently come back into the public eye thanks to publicity surrounding Donald Trump's proposed $30 million restaurant complex at the site.
Hanc, 52, a longtime Newsday contributor, has lived in Farmingdale for more than 20 years, and currently teaches journalism at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury. He has been going to Jones Beach since he was a child, and says it is the setting for many of his childhood memories.
"I remember most of the typical kid memories, running around on the boardwalk, building castles in the sand," he said. "I suppose those are memories that one could have at any beach, only at Jones Beach the scale is so much bigger. It's unlimited and vast and open and fraught with the sense of possibility."
As well as the typical, though, Hanc has memories of the beach that are altogether more personal. The son of a Czech immigrant, many memories of his grandfather are situated on the boardwalk on the South Shore, within a few miles of his current Farmingdale residence. Those memories are especially precious, given that his grandfather's ties with the Democratic Party in the Communist-controlled former Czechoslovakia prevented him from leaving the country to visit his sons in the U.S. for many years.
"I have fond memories of my grandfather at Jones Beach," Hanc continued. "I remember my father buying him one of those captain's hats and watching him put it on, laughing and smiling, on the boardwalk. He loved Jones Beach. It wasn't until much later, when I visited Prague, that I figured out why he loved it so much: there's nothing like it in Central Europe, which is completely landlocked."
In addition to this, Hanc - whose current wife, Donna, is from Farmingdale, and whose son, Andrew, 11, is a sixth-grader at Howitt middle school - also likes to tell the story, included in the book, of the role the beach played in his first marriage. Having recently split up with a girlfriend, he went to the beach in the winter of 1980 and met a woman whom he married a year and a half later, only to get divorced two and a half years after that.
"The day she moved out, I ran a half-marathon that ended at Jones Beach, so I've always felt that Jones Beach sort of bookended that first marriage," he recalled.
Given the prominence of the beach within his life, it hardly seems surprising that Hanc, a successful writer with six previous books to his name, chose it as the subject for his latest work. The decision to write the book, however, came out of more than a personal whim.
"Jones Beach has a rich history, and I knew a little of it, but it wasn't until 2004 - which was the 75th anniversary of the opening of Jones Beach State Park - that I became really interested," he added. "Newsday did a summer-long series on Jones Beach and I was involved in that."
The following year, one of the editors Hanc knew at Newsday who had worked on the series went to work for a book publishing company, Globe Pequat, and suggested Jones Beach as the subject for a book. Upon looking into it, Hanc realized "there was no history of Jones Beach," and the idea was born.
The book took Hanc around a year to research and write. During that time, he drew upon sources and documents at newspapers, including The New York Times and Newsday, and institutions such as the Long Island Studies Institute at Hofstra University, the DeLancey Floyd-Jones Free Library in Oyster Bay and the New York Public Library. There are also some 123 photos included in the book, many of which were sourced at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, with others provided by Dan Goodrich, a Newsday photographer described by Hanc as "the master photographer of Jones Beach."
For Hanc, this trawl through history was "a different kind of challenge, but one that I really enjoyed doing." Having written on sports and fitness in the past, the opportunity to write about history was "an evolution."
"It was really fun to go through the documents and meet these characters, not only Moses, but also the guy Jones it was named after," he said, referring to two of the most famous characters in Jones Beach's history - the pirate Thomas Jones, for whom the beach was named, and the designer of the State Park, Robert Moses, whose vision of what a beach-front should be is still very much in evidence today, and stands in stark contrast to other beaches throughout Long Island, and further afield.
"There is no other public beachfront park in the world like Jones Beach," explains Hanc. "In the past, people went to the beach for a whole day. Now, it's the equivalent of appointment TV. People go there for specific things - to see a concert, or the airshow, or the Christmas lights. Even the people who go to walk or run do it and then go home."
He believes, however, that the future for the beach is bright, especially since the announcement of the planned Trump on the Ocean restaurant complex, scheduled to open in summer of 2008. Any doubts Hanc may have had about Trump's proposal quickly faded as he learned of the details.
"I was prepared to be appalled, but I was happily surprised by what a beautiful building they're envisaging," he said. "I got every sense he wants this to be something that's in keeping with the atmosphere and taste of what's there."
More than anything, Hanc said he just wants the beach to survive and prosper in the hearts and memories of the current generation of New Yorkers. He said he is prepared to stand some change in order to see that happen.
"One thing Donald Trump is bringing is attention, which is needed," he added. "I hope people will start coming back. Above all, I hope they come back."
To learn more about the book or to purchase a copy, visit www.jonesbeachmemories.com.