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The Mast-Head: Sorry, Sammy, It’s Sammis

Wed, 10/11/2023 - 17:57

We like our apostrophes here on Long Island and the sibilance of sticking an S on anything not nailed down. Case in point is the beach and small community along the northern shore of Three Mile Harbor. The Star last week called it Sammy’s, when, in fact, the correct name is Sammis, as in the local family that lived there.

The earliest reference in this newspaper, ironically enough, was in an 1898 article about the “development and growth” prospects for Three Mile Harbor; last week’s story about the area involved a proposed glass-box house of considerable scale that would replace two cottages there. In air-quotes, “Sammy’s Beach” came along much later.

A 1971 full-page campaign ad in The Star to support the re-election of the Republican East Hampton Town Board may have had our first erroneous misnaming of the beach. It could have been that someone in The Star’s production department had let the mistake slip by, or it could have been a sly jab from my father or mother, disinclined by temperament to support the G.O.P.

The earliest reference to the apostrophe S that a search of digitized editions of the newspaper via the East Hampton Library Long Island Collection online comes in a November 1944 letter from a Marine serving in Guam. “I’d love to be around now. Bet the ducks are flying thick and fast over Sammy’s Beach,” Pvt. First Class Allan Vail wrote home. But, by far the dominant use in The Star over the years was Sammis.

Families with that last name have been on Long Island since the 17th century. A Joanna Sammis appears in early papers from Southold from the mid-1600s. The beach itself and 105 acres of upland was formally deeded back to the town in March 1944 by Walter Salmon of Babylon. How Salmon came to possess it I will have to remember to track down another day. As best I can tell there never was a Sammy.

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