Footprints in the sand may only be temporary, but it is the story behind the people that leave those footprints, that truly matter.
Starting in 1994, Breezy Point resident Mary Elizabeth Smith began telling the stories of those people in a historical column in The Rockaway Point News, called Footprints in the Sand. With each column, Smith published well-researched and verified stories about the unique history of her hometown, Breezy Point. She wrote the column for 12 years, until 2006. And just like footprints in the sand, eventually taken away by the waves, that history was thought to be lost as in 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed hundreds of homes in Breezy Point, taking those archived news clippings with it. However, it wasn’t just Pointers who had been saving those articles.
Lee Rosenzweig, a Brooklyn native currently living in West Hempstead, and a historian who has worked on more than 20 historical books about Brooklyn, had his own collections of Smith’s articles, and it was his idea to collaborate with Smith and preserve history once again by reprinting those articles in a book published at the end of May—Footprints in the Sands of Time…Revisited.
“Everyone loved Mary’s articles and after Sandy, everything was wiped out. I worked in the Silver Gull Beach Club in the 1970s and you always heard these stories about people living by the beach, but here was this community that was actually living ON the beach. I found that so unique and I became very interested in the history of the place,” Rosenzweig said. “When Mary’s articles came out in 1994, I was friends with the editor of The Rockaway Point News at the time, Donald Ryan, and he gave me copies of every paper in his archives, which had to be close to 75 to 100 papers, and I’d pick up new papers on a weekly basis. I knew Mary since the late ‘90s and after Sandy, every time I spoke with her, the convo would come back to her articles and how everyone loved them, but no one had them anymore.”
Rosenzweig had an idea. “I gave Mary my collection and said, here’s my album, pick out the 100 best articles. I’m going to put them together in a book,” he said. Rosenzweig was already working on his first historical book about Breezy Point with Brian Merlis—Rockaway Point, Breezy Point, and Roxbury Communities—a photographic history showing the unique history of this beach community, when he had the idea to preserve the written history by reprinting Smith’s articles. After the first book came out in November, he fully dedicated his time to making Smith’s historical account come back to life and on May 25, Footprints in the Sands of Time…Revisited, was published.
Footprints in the Sands of Time…Revisited is a 148-page historical recap of some of Breezy Point's most unique, interesting and pivotal moments. The content includes reproductions of Smith’s articles with the original photos, plus 21 other photos that were provided by the Breezy Point Historical Society. Smith’s historical articles, and now the book, show that through its many triumphs and challenges, Breezy Point and its people have always found a way to persevere. While the bulk of Smith’s reprinted articles were written between 1996 and 2006, it’s only appropriate that the last story of the book features an article written in 2015—Smith’s firsthand account of one of Breezy Point’s more recent major obstacles—Hurricane Sandy.
“Our time, our history, and our determination to overcome obstacles which threatened our community, whether it was the Hurricane of 1938, the sale of our property to real estate investors, the idea to turn our land into a park, or Superstorm Sandy, we have remained on this peninsula as families, friends and residents who have met challenges that seemed insurmountable at the time, and we have prevailed,” Smith says in the book’s preface.
Smith, a longtime Breezy Point historian and English professor, says she started the column because “it was something I had to do internally.” After all, she and her family had a longtime connection to the community. In 1956, her grandfather, a WWI and WWII Navy Veteran used his military savings to purchase a bungalow in Breezy Point. Since then, the generations that followed became invested in their little slice of paradise, with Smith delving deep into the history of the place and sharing it through The Rockaway Point News, and her brother, A.J. Smith, acting as chairman of the Board for the Breezy Point Cooperative since 2002.
When Smith began her historical column, she was able to access the historical collection of another longtime Pointer and secretary of the Breezy Point Cooperative, the late Ruth Clarke. When Smith began her column, she started to establish herself as Breezy Point’s new historian, and when her first book was published in 2003—The History of Breezy Point, it’s no surprise that it became a bestseller around town. Smith and Rosenzweig have hopes for a similar outcome with the new book.
“We hope that this book renews people’s interest in their past,” Rosenzweig said. “People were very proud of Mary’s articles when they first came out and it allowed people to reestablish themselves with the start of the community and I think people thought that just like their personal possessions that were lost in Sandy, these articles would never be seen again. This will let people hold them and read them again, which I think will make people really happy.”
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