On a warm June evening in 1952, 340 elegantly clad young people and their guests attended Port Washington's first-ever Gambol, a locally-held and community-developed gala celebration. And when the most recent group of newly-minted Schreiber High School graduates attend their Gambol on June 22, 2001, it will mark a momentous occasion, not just for the graduates, but for this community. Gambol 2001 will be the 50th anniversary of this Port Washington tradition, a gala thrown by the town for its graduates, which has been done every year for the past 50 years. With the annual Gambol theme kept a secret as long as possible, with senior parents and friends hard at work all year long to create a unique atmosphere, with local merchants generously donating prizes and financial support, and other volunteers donating artistic, printing, and other talents, this ongoing tradition is one way in which Port Washington has established itself as one of the most special towns on Long Island.
Before the first "Graduates' Gambol" in 1952, through the late '40s and early '50s, graduates went to all-night parties at Jones Beach. But a tragedy occurred; young people from a nearby community, returning from the beach, lost their lives in a car accident. This convinced some local residents, especially parents of seniors, that a better way to celebrate had to be found.
An article written by Deborah Padova in the Port News (6/22/89) credits Mrs. Boyd Lipsett, the mother of a senior, as having approached Mr. Hendrickson, a math teacher, with the idea for a safer and more inviting party, right at home. According to the article, the High School Men's Association accepted the idea enthusiastically. Its president, Mr. Dixon Meuller, Mr. and Mrs. Charles McDonough, parents of senior Nancy, and many others, brought the idea to fruition. Parents of seniors and community members worked together on all components of the Gambol, to give PW graduates a memorable, wonderful, and safe celebration.
As the graduates entered their high school gymnasium (which is now Weber) on June 22, 1952, they were delighted to find it had been converted into a replica of the famous Rainbow Room. A silhouette of the NYC skyline, created as a mural, greeted them on one side. It even had "twinkling lights from the skyscrapers" and "tiny traffic lights." According to an account in the 6/27/52 issue of the Port News, the room had "beautifully appointed tables with tastefully arranged flowers ... There were even Rainbow Room coasters and napkins," but naturally, no alcohol. And familiar-looking "waiters" served all the guests; they were the fathers of seniors. They served punch, and at midnight, they served supper, prepared by the mothers of the graduating class. The participants of the first Gambol were also treated to live entertainment. According to the Port News account, "Mr. John Powers got the party really rolling with two stunt dances," and "four couples in colorful costumes did Polish dances to the accompaniment of an accordian and violin." There were skits, an orchestra, and awards were given out too.
Myrna Horowitz Turtletaub was a 1952 graduate, and in a recent telephone conversation, she fondly recalled some highlights of the evening. "It started at about 9 or 10 p.m, and ran until about 5 in the morning," she said. The Gambol was well-received by the graduates, especially because it was an all-night party. She recalled wearing a strapless blue gown, but unlike recent years, the Class of '52 did not arrive in limousines. Instead, they came by car, and Turtletaub remembers that some even walked. What impressed her the most was "the fact that the parents wanted to do this, and worked so hard, and kept the kids safe." Years later, Turtletaub worked on the Gambols of her three children, Bruce, Amy, and Susan. She believes the themes for their Gambols were outer space, Venice ("we did all but flood the floor for this one") and Camelot. And she makes a distinction between the Gambol, and a prom. "A Gambol is a fun event ... it is different than the average prom, especially because the parents do it all," she said with proud conviction.
The 1952 Gambol co-chairwoman, Mrs. Boyd Lipsett, was quoted as saying of the first Gambol, "It is our earnest hope that we have begun a tradition for PW high school graduates." And indeed, her words were prophetic. Local history was made that night, and a generous and heartfelt community tradition had begun.
Next: A Look at Gambols in the Fifties