Some people ask me, old friends, new ones, curious inquiring minds, even some Knapp descendants who have every right to know and be very cautious.... Why Are You Pursuing This?
I have even asked myself that question, but not been able to come up with one defining answer. What I have come up with though are some personal thoughts that might be the answer for some and might just frustrate others. I'm long past the frustration of not knowing a lot of the answers or worrying about if I ever will. What drives me forward on this project is a feeling that I'm supposed to be doing it, the answer why may come later or it may not.
In the very first thing I ever wrote about the Knapps, the short story titled "The Mansion" I mentioned that while other kids seemed to be having fun breaking windows and knocking holes in the plaster.....I would wander around it's sad and empty rooms wondering what it must of been like to live in a home like that. What were the people like? Were there children? And why so many bathrooms? (6) When I sat up on their roof and looked out the ocean , that was two miles away, I felt like I was on top of the world. I never thought then in 1955 what the Knapp's must have seen from there in 1925... nothing but their front lawn, the marshlands, the Great South Bay, Fire Island and the Atlantic Ocean.
Years later I would have some coming of age experiences in several of the other Knapp buildings, including performing with my band in Schulte's Stable, but believe me at the time I was not thinking about any Knapps at all, even when I was romping in the tall grass that grew where their fine home had stood just 5 years before, forsaken by everyone, even the town that was allowed to grow up around it. Just let 40 some years go by however and I think about it now.
And I think about did Joseph Palmer ever stay here? I hope he did. I'm pretty sure it was the fruits of his labor and his father Joseph Fairchild that provided the funds. And who actually designed the home, was it a joint effort of the Dodi & Claire? Did they share it? It was certainly big enough 21 or 22 rooms? What were the parties like they must of held in that 50 foot ballroom? Who came to visit? Joseph Palmer's sister Antoinette and her husband? The Danas from across town? Their hunting and fishing friends?
I think about the craftsmen it took to build it and how proud they had to be of their workmanship. The fine lathe work, the woodwork, tile, masonory and glass. Where did they come from? Long Island, or NYC? Were they Swedish, German, Irish, English or a mixture of all? How long did it take them to build something like that in the days of hand tools?
And I think about had Dodi Knapp not sold off the property how different my childhood would of been and those of many of my friends. Larry and Dennis Schulz, Adolph Almasy, Mary Ann, Sally Ann and Anthony Yodice, Donald and Paddy Denning, Georgie Lang, Jacky Rutigliano, Doug Percoco and my brother Butchie and sister Gerry. Most of us probably would of never crossed paths much yet travelled the same one's we all had so many adventures on. Because had Dodi not sold out we all would of had to grow up someplace else...........
There are some parallels here to what drove me to write my first book Long Ride On A Short Track and if anything it's those parallels that give me the consistency of purpose. In the last years of his life, John Hartford a fine musician/composer/ "Gentle On My Mind" and long time inspiration to me, pursued the writing of a book on a very obscure old time fiddler. Some of his friends and colleagues asked the same question. John never got to finish his book, some one else will have to do that for him....the same could hold true for me as John and I are sort of in the same boat except he's gone from Captain to Admiral and I'm still a deckhand. My only hope is, that if I don't get to finish this, I will have inspired someone else to do it . That's the best anyone could hope for..... K. S. 2001