Monday, August 19, 2013

Life and History on the Long Island Sound

I've just returned from a week's vacation in the Bronx or as my friends informed me, "da Bronx" which is the proper, local way to refer to the Bronx. We don't refer to Paris as "the Paris" or Atlanta as "the Atlanta", so I was curious as to why "the" is used when referring to the borough of the Bronx. My hosts for my fabulous vacation, Liz and Ron, both born and raised in the Bronx, told me why and here is Cecil Adams's answer from his website called The Straight Dope:

The name of the wealthy family was Bronck (sometimes spelled Bronk). The clan's patriarch, Jonas, settled on 500 acres north of the Harlem River in 1639 and promptly affixed his surname to various features of the local geography, notably the Bronx River.

As one of his descendants explained, "The termination of `x' merely indicates the possessive case. Instead of writing Bronk's River or Bronk's farm, the Dutch took the phonetic short cut and made `x' do duty for the fusion of `k' and `s'; extremely simple, and a space saver too. Thus, when Jonas impressed his own family nomenclature on the region he settled, the Aquahung River became Bronk's River — the Bronx, as it remains today, correctly expressed in Dutch."

As far as Cecil can tell, the name "the Bronx" didn't signify the entire area now known as the Bronx until late in the 19th century.

In 1874 about 20 square miles of mainland Westchester county was annexed to New York City. This region was known thereafter as the Annexed District of the Bronx, in apparent reference to the Bronx River, then the district's eastern border.

In 1898 the Annexed District became part of the Borough of the Bronx — presumably still referring to the river. After a while, however, people forgot about the river and began casually referring to the entire borough as "the Bronx." The use of "the," in other words, is simply a historical accident."

So there you have it. Before my trip to the Bronx, all I knew about the Bronx was what I'd seen in old black and white photographs of tenement buildings, Art Deco-style apartment buildings, corner stores, fire escape ladders, and front stoops that doubled as front porches for the residents. I'd seen photographs of kids enjoying gushing water from open fire hydrants on hot summer days and as a kid I thought that was awesome, certainly better than our measly water sprinkler in the front yard. The children's faces radiated pure joy and looked to be of diverse racial groups, all playing together. I always thought how beautiful that was knowing that the residents were probably of German, Dutch, Italian, Irish, African American, Jewish, Puerto Rican and Polish decent to name a few.

So when my friends drove me to their home, I half-expected us to pull up to a gorgeous Art Deco apartment building in the city. Not so! We pulled up to a pretty red brick house with a front yard, complete with a flag pole flying the United States flag and the Marine Corps flag which didn't surprise me as my friend is a proud Marine Corps veteran. Wait a minute, where we were exactly? In Throg's Neck, NY in the borough of the Bronx to be exact. Throgg's Neck to the locals and don't ask me why they add the extra "g" because I don't know. Some things are what they are and you just accept it.

After I'd unpacked, we walked half a block, passing what used to be private summer cottages where people now live year-round. We made a left at the corner and I saw the water down at the end of the street. I needed a map to get my bearings! Ah it made sense. The Long Island Sound. Moments later, we reached their waterfront beach club. Beautiful and not what I expected. Waterfront communities and several member-only beach clubs, who knew this little gem existed? I certainly didn't and was pleasantly surprised.

My friends have owned a boat as long as I could remember and I was happy to hear that they still had it. I should have known that they would have retired by the water. I found out that their beach club, the Manhem Club, had been part of their lives since they were young. The original members had been of Scandinavian or Nordic decent and it was evident when I was introduced to some of the members--lots of blondes with light eyes with names like Sven, Carl and Lars. My friend's mother was of Swedish origin and is now the President of Manhem Club, his wife, the First Lady of Manhem Club, is of Puerto Rican decent. I've always had a love of genealogy and history, so I found all this fascinating and couldn't wait to do a little research on the great borough of the Bronx when I got home.

My friends and the members work hard for their Club, hosting events throughout the year, but their busy season is obviously summer. Hurricane Sandy had destroyed many of the club's piers and my friend's also lost their locker building. They rebuilt in two months just in time for the Interclub Races between the different clubs. I joined in the fun and in the spirit of volunteerism, I learned to paint signs, tend bar, and make Jello Shots and Malibu Sea Breeze drinks. I had a blast. I wondered how I could become an honorary member of Manhem Club and pondered taking a bar tending course for extra money!

To become a full-fledged member of Manhem Club, one must have a Scandinavian bloodline in the family of which I have not a drop of. Seasonal members are voted in by the board which is how I also met people with names like Maria, Giovanna, Eleanor, Joe Pizza and Tommy Mustache, no lie. I spoke to people whose parents were original members. They'd been coming to Manhem Club since they were born and now, their children are enjoying the summers like they did when they were young--I found that interesting and quite unique.

Also unique and interesting to this Puerto Rican-born Army brat was the Bronx accent I heard everywhere I went. I was told that I sounded like a Southerner which I found funny. I've never heard that, but compared to the Bronx accent, I guess I did!

I'm returning to New York in early October for the Second Annual Comadre and Compadre Writers Conference in Brooklyn, just in time for Manhem Club's Members Dinner Dance. How fun is that?

Peace and love from West Virginia.



  1. Ellie, this is fascinating stuff. I love learning a little history these days - quite unlike any history I learned during my school years. It sounds like you had a wonderful visit. Now you've got me interested in that area. Like you, when I thought of the Bronx, I thought of tenement buildings and factories. I had no idea it was so "civilized". (Make sure your friends know that I'm just kidding! I knew it was civilized a long time ago!) Got any pictures from your visit? Would love to see them.

  2. Hi Linda! I meant to post a few photos and forgot! Thanks for the reminder, I'll do that tonight :) My friends were very curious as to how I'd describe the Bronx because I'm sure they've heard it all! There are still places in South Bronx that my friends and others told me to stay away from :) The same in every big city! I had a blast and can't wait to go back!

    Coney Island, the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens will be next as well as a Puerto Rican-owned book store called La Casa Azul in Brooklyn :) Be well, girlfriend and thanks for your visit!