NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 10. Nos. 1-2, Winter-Spring, 1984
BARNUM’S ISLAND, N.Y.: FACT OR FABRICATION?
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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