A look at the history of Levittown from historian Paul Manton.
a school of thought maintaining that horrible events in history, the sort
etched in dates like Nov. 23, 1963 and Sept.11, 2001, are not anomalies
but the norm and that moments of stability and tranquility are merely temporary
bubbles churned up from the turmoil.
That's what Jake Epping from Stephen
King's recent travel-back-in-time-and-change-history considers when he
discovers a portal that connects his 2011 world exclusively with September 9,
1958. He goes back several times before he realizes that he might have the
opportunity to save JFK from Oswald. Most extraordinary to me, however, are the
scenes of a grown man traveling through the streets of his hometown before he
was born. What, I wonder, would it be like to revisit Levittown on that day in
1958; to meet younger versions of people I've known for years and see,
microcosmed in this community, a very different America in a very different
Levittown of Jake Epping - and simply getting a Newsday
from the newsstand and reading of Nikita Khrushchev's
entreaty to Ike to recognize Mao's China - would confirm the date and Hempstead
Turnpike with its rush-hour cavalcade of tail finds and elaborate hood
ornaments would have confirmed it no less than back-to-school Bobby socks, poodle
skirts, and contentious leather jackets and dungarees at Division Avenue High
School, was in its heyday. Life
the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands on its cover that week, Nabokov released
the shocking Lolita
, and Dean
was up on the top of
the charts. On Hempstead Turnpike, Grant's, Lobel's, Woolworth's, J.C.
Penney's, and Loft Candies were next to the coffee shop, just west of Thom
McCann Shoes and May's Department Store. Farther down was the Quinn Funeral
Home on the site of a massive oak tree employed as a landmark by pilots out of
Nassau Airport back in the 1930's; a lone patriarch that grew at the edge of
the Seligman farm.
Until 1967 when it was removed to make way for Dunkin'
Donuts (now Rite Aide), the farmhouse sat here in waving distance of the Dutch
Colonial style Robricht farmhouse now used as St. Bernard's rectory. Beyond,
and past the Israel Community Center, was the blue-and-white brick Henshaw's
Furniture Store on the northwest corner of the Jerusalem Avenue intersection
dominated in 1958 by TSS.
Across the street was the massive 3000 Building that'd burn down a
decade later to be replaced by a structure of like size and configuration, the
Levittown movie house that was playing the newly-released A Touch of Evil
with Orson Welles and
Charlton Heston, and the original St. Bernard's Church building retrofitted
from an old aircraft hanger - although by 1958 no vestige of that former
superficial glances, cursory examinations notwithstanding, the most salient
features of Jake Epping's Levittown were socioeconomic in nature. Divorce was
for Hollywood types, single-parent homes were uncommon and from the death of a spouse,
careers ended with a gold watch and handshake for twenty years of dedicated
service, chewing gum in class was the most distressing discipline problem faced
by teachers, and a college degree was virtually a golden ticket to a good job.
Somebody- and I kick myself for not catching his name - once said that conservatives
are people who want to go back and live in the 1950's whilst liberals are
people who want to go back and work in the 1950's.
Our parents and grandparents
did both as did Jake Epping in King's novel; as he awaited the opportunity to
abort Oswald's entry into history and what he, to his reckoning and our
symbolic understanding, the day when the American Dream took a wrong turn.
Want to learn more about the history of Levittown and the surrounding
communities? Visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org
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