Suffolk Closeup: 50 years of covering — and uncovering — Long Island

Reporter columnist Karl Grossman, the dean of Long Island journalists, will have his archives of more than 50 years preserved in the East Hampton Library for scholars and reporters to access.
Reporter columnist Karl Grossman, the dean of Long Island journalists, will have his archives of more than 50 years preserved in the East Hampton Library for scholars and reporters to access.

It was a highlight of my life.

Dennis Fabiszak, director of the East Hampton Library, sent an email last month saying: “I have great news. Your archive is now live. We currently have 3,401 documents included and we are scanning every day …” Dennis provided a direct link to the archive:

What a thrill!

After 55 years as a journalist on Long Island, all my files — thousands of articles and what historians call “primary documents” — are being digitized by the East Hampton Library to be available to anyone on Long Island and indeed the world.

They chronicle the modern history of Long Island, which I’ve covered from 1962 to the present, most of those years as an investigative reporter and columnist. My now nearly 50-year-old column, begun at the daily Long Island Press, has, since The Press folded in 1977, run in weekly newspapers and on news websites. The material amassed derives, too, from my work as nightly news anchor on the island’s commercial TV station, WSNL67, and host of “Long Island World” on its PBS station, WLIW21.

It’s a great honor to donate all the material to the East Hampton Library. The title of the archive: “Karl Grossman Research Archive.”

The library, famous for its “Long Island Collection,” notes on its website: “What was once a room specially built in 1930 to house the personal collection of historian Morton Pennypacker is currently a five-room research and study area containing a vast array of original, historic, as well as contemporary materials that chronicle life on Long Island from the 17th century to the present day.”

The “Long Island Collection’s holdings include photographs, postcards, whaling logs, diaries, account books, deeds, wills, genealogies, maps, architectural drawings, oral histories and newspapers. Various items of note include Native American documents and artifacts, the 1599 Gardiner family bible, the original deed to Shelter Island, the Captain Kidd ‘cloth of gold’ [presented by the pirate on a visit to Gardiner’s Island], and materials relating to the Culper Spy Ring.”

I’ve had a front-row seat as Long Island has exploded in population and gone through many changes while, fortunately, preserving much of its natural beauty and the charm of its communities.

Some examples of what you and others can now start to access digitally:

Robert Moses was hell-bent between 1962 and 1964 on building a highway the length of Fire Island but was stopped by creation of a Fire Island National Seashore. I was in the middle of this story. All of the documents — Moses’ declarations, the statements of Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore — and many, many articles, are there.

The three major campaigns for the secession of the East End from Suffolk to form a separate Peconic County, are chronicled. The first, in the 1960s, was led by Shelter Island Supervisor Evans K. Griffing; the second, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, by then State Assemblyman John Behan of Montauk; and the third, in the 1990s, by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor.

Other significant stories: The establishment by New York State of Stony Brook University was mired in “town-gown” conflict with some in the nearby area objecting to the university and its students. This culminated in an army of Suffolk police streaming onto the campus at 5 a.m. on January 17, 1968 in a raid I covered called “Operation Stony Brook.”

The police put out a 107-page manual, in my files, identifying student after student as a purveyor of drugs, mostly marijuana. One of the cops whose undercover activities led to the raid would later remark: “We were the first police department that ever had the nerve to hit a university.”

There are voluminous records and articles on a huge Suffolk scandal of the 1970s — the $1 billion Southwest Sewer District project. With the sewering issue front and center in many communities, these documents offer lessons.

The Long Island Lighting Company spent decades seeking to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants, with Shoreham the first. There are thousands of records of this ultimately defeated scheme to make Long Island what nuclear promoters called a “nuclear park.” I also wrote a book published by Grove Press on this nuclear push titled: “Power Crazy.”

As a result of intense development pressures, Suffolk created an extraordinary Open Space Program, the largest land acquisition undertaking of any county in the U.S., and a first-in-the-nation Farmland Preservation Program. Many documents and articles about them are in my files.

There was the scam about building a “deepwater port” in Jamesport. Excavation on a square mile of land along the Long Island Sound was proceeding full-tilt by 1970. But, in fact, what really was involved was a gigantic sand mine, not a port. I received the George Polk Award for my my reporting played a role in stopping this. Then LILCO bought the land for four of its planned nuclear plants. And this was stopped in the 1980s. I was deep as a journalist in this phase of the saga, too.

The land is happily now the site of Hallockville State Park.

If you’d like to support this archive project, please contact Mr. Fabiszak, at [email protected], or call him at (631) 324-0222, extension 7.