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New York Folklore Vol. 10. Nos. 1-2, Winter-Spring, 1984
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Vol. 10. Nos. 1-2, Winter-Spring, 1984

by Joann P. Krieg

ON THE SOUTH SHORE of New York’s Long Island lies an island of approximately two square miles. Though in fact an island, it is today so firmly connected by roadways and a six-lane drawbridge to the neighboring municipality of Long Beach, that few of the thousands of people who pass through it in summer on their way to Long Island beaches realize they have detoured From the mainland onto Barnum Island. Only a small sign posted near a stationary concrete bridge, once a hand-operated drawbridge, marks the entry way to a community that has preferred folklore to its own history.

Located on a portion of the island is the incorporated village of Island Park, population 4,847, and home of New York’s Senator Alphonse D’Amato. The citizens of Island Park are proud of their favorite son and of the fact that his work in the nation’s capital has not caused him to abandon his hometown residence. But they, along with those 4,108 residents of Barnum Island who live outside the Village precincts, are also quite proud of the “fact” that the island’s original owner was none other than P.T. Barnum. The history of how this bit of local fabrication came to be accepted as truth is as neat a bit of hoaxing as anything Barnum could have devised. Of greater significance, however, is the evidence the spurious legend provides of the determining role of orality in the development of folklore....

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