Family Stories | The Hamptons

My dad spent many of his teenage summers in East Hampton as a counselor at Anthony Drexel Duke's camp, Boys Harbor, a place that gave him some of his greatest adolescent memories.  But my favorite stories of my dad's New York beach experience happened in his late teens/20s, in South Hampton:

(1) One day he hitch hiked home from the movies. "A little man in a big convertible" pulled up and offered him a ride. He took it. He later realized it was Truman Capote.

{2} George Plimpton would pop by the house and wait until someone offered him a drink. "Someone always did because he was Geroge Plimpton," dad said. (George started the Paris Review in the offices of one of my grandma's closest friends, Eddie Morgan. Eddie and George had the same accent, which some say came from Eddie).

(3) He attended the Fernanda Wanamaker's Coming Out Party (along with scores of other preppies, including the man who, decades later, married my mom's sister).  Below, I reproduce what may be the greatest news story Time Magazine ever printed:

Friday, Apr. 24, 1964


"Some Harvard gymnasts had been doing stunts," said Sophomore Eaton Brooks of the University of North Carolina, nervously fingering his smartly striped tie. "The gentleman from Harvard who was on the other gentleman's shoulders was swinging the chandelier back and forth. I was up on the mantelpiece, watching people crawl on the rafters. One of the other boys up there swung to the floor on the chandelier, and about ten minutes later I guess I wanted to be a gymnast, too." That was when the chandelier collapsed and dumped Tarzan Brooks on the floor.

 Suffolk County Court House at Riverhead, Long Island, was hearing a repeat of one of society's best late late shows: the house-wrecking escapade of some 65 young bloods after the Southampton coming-out party of Philadelphia Debutante Fernanda Wanamaker Wetherill (TIME, Sept. 13). Seven combat veterans of the after-party brawl were hailed to court on charges of "malicious mischief" in causing $6,000 worth of damage to a beach house Fernanda's stepfather Donald Leas had rented to put up a bunch of the boys for the weekend.

 All seven were released because of legal technicalities and insufficient evidence—such as lack of proof that the chandelier had been damaged "consciously and deliberately with a wrongful intent." In the process of clearing themselves the natty young witnesses added some filigrees and footnotes.

 >Stepfather Donald Leas Jr., a "reluctant" prosecution witness, quoted Defendant Granville Toogood, 21, of Philadelphia, as explaining: "I was dancing on a table when someone body-checked me and I went through the French doors. That's all the damage I did."

> Stepdaughter Fernanda remembered seeing about five boys on the mantelpiece. Some were dancing, and some were playing "yacht" with a ship's steering wheel on the wall. Everybody thought this was "very funny."

> Witness James Curtis III of Glen Head, L.I., explained why he had not slept at the house: "I passed out."

> When Curtis came to a couple of hours later, he said he saw Defendant Samuel Shipley III, of Philadelphia, on the beach "taking his date home." The prosecutor asked what Shipley was doing. "Sam was crawling across the sand," said Curtis, "and he was being called Lawrence of Arabia."

Debutante Fernanda, in a fresh Nassau tan, a blue dress and a double strand of pearls, told reporters afterward that she had something more important to think about: the offer of a four-year movie contract from Producer Kevin McClory, beginning with the next James Bond thriller. "Frankly," confessed Fernanda, "I'm still toying with the idea. I guess a lot of girls would be excited. But at this point, I'm really not." She hadn't been very excited about her old job, either. "I never really had any enthusiasm for deb parties. I really didn't get any pleasure out of them at all."

Chandelier-swinger Eaton Brooks said that he was "not ashamed of what I did," went on to explain. "We had been drinking for two straight days, with no sleep and a liquid diet. We weren't the same people we are today. I agree that someone has a moral obligation about this damage, but I don't know who is responsible for the atmosphere that caused what happened at the party."

(Dad tells me that the house had actually been on the market for only sold after all the publicity from the party).

(Years ago, I saw photos of this mess in a magazine - I believe it was LIFE - but all visual evidence seems to have been wiped off the face of the earth/internet.  So, I used an absolutely unrelated image of The Dunes that illustrated this nearly-as-good article from New York Magazine). 

Update: Jerry, super sleuth from the Architecturalist, came across these shots of the aftermath!


  1. When Curtis came to a couple of hours later, he said he saw Defendant Samuel Shipley III, of Philadelphia, on the beach "taking his date home."


  2. Carol says:

    I love this story and the aspect of complete naivety/sense of privilege that goes along with it. From my family, my great aunt, who grew up in what is now the Russian Embassy on 5th Avenue, told the story of rollerskating in their ballroom, which was the size of a gymnasium. She accidentally bumped into a table, knocked over a sculpture that was ruined. She remembers, "Mummy was darned mad. You see darling, I was 8 years old and I didn't know who this Rodin fellow was. I was just having a ball."

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  4. Cyn says:

    Get out ~ Old Man Sam Shipley lives 3 houses down from me in Wayne, PA. This description makes me laugh, he is quite a subdued fellow these days!

    Happy 4th

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  6. Tiphaine says:

    I'm a big Truman Capote fan !

  7. Kim says:

    It sounds like a good time was had by all.

  8. your posts on your family are my favourites. insanely fascinating.

    fernanda wanamaker!!! wow. love it.


  9. rob says:

    I believe the beach house belonged to my Great Uncle R. Harriss, of the NY Cotton Exchange. He retired to plantation life in atchez,MS .. afraid "Ladd House" was emolished, according to OLD LONG ISLAND blog... coincidently, had the unfortunate occasion to need an attorney while in prep school in VA,,, of all people in Charlottesville, a sharp attorney E. Brooks, drove a classic '71 280SL became my defense attorney. Sadly, I am afraid he died (suicide) in the 1980's. Would appreciate any comments or clarification you might offer! Rob