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Sep 11, 2018 9:49 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton's Town Crier Likes His Job

Hugh King, the officially appointed town crier and historic site manager for the East Hampton Village, in front of the Home Sweet Home Museum on 14 James Lane in East Hampton.  KYRIL BROMLEY
Sep 11, 2018 11:09 AM

Cornelia Huntington was one of the first important female writers on record in East Hampton, keeping a diary from 1821 to the 1880s, as well as writing nonfiction. She incorporated the citizens of East Hampton in her book “Sea Spray,” which was written in 1857 and published under the name Martha Wickham.“Cornelia Huntington was the smartest person in East Hampton,” said Hugh King, the officially appointed town crier of East Hampton, on a sunny Friday afternoon at his childhood home in Amagansett.

“We have the diary, and it’s a wonderful window to what life was like in that time,” he said. “From the book, we found out that this town was crowded [even] in the 1840s and 1850s in August.”

An officially appointed town crier sounds like something from pre-Revolutionary war times, or from a J.K. Rowling novel. Few towns have a town crier such as East Hampton’s own Mr. King, who can be found giving candlelit graveyard tours of 1600s burial grounds around Halloween, lecturing in his old-fashioned hat and cape at East Hampton Village Board meetings to a captivated audience, or managing the Home Sweet Home Museum built in the 1720s, while his wife, Loretta Orion, tends to the colorful gardens on the premises.

On that recent Friday, Mr. King delved into a bit of the history of East Hampton, and of his own life, while his black cat, Bombay, trotted on the floor around the dining room table.

“If you go to the end of Gerard Drive in Springs, you’ll see the white windmill on Gardiners Island,” said Mr. King, who as the historic sites manager for East Hampton Village manages several windmills of his own. He spoke enthusiastically about Fanny Gardiner, a member of one of East Hampton’s founding families, born in 1919, who “could out-ride, out-shoot and out-cuss any man in the Hamptons,” said Mr. King.

“She was different from the other Gardiners—she wasn’t upscale or trendy,” he said. “She always wore a cowboy hat and was a big horseback rider.”

Another woman of interest: “Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’—her father was a minister here in East Hampton,” Mr. King said. Lyman Beecher—the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famous abolitionist and author—was ordained in 1799 and served as the minister for the Presbyterian Church in East Hampton.

“There is so much to look at in this town,” said Mr. King.

In his library sit old town records amplifying East Hampton’s history. They include information about the first East Hampton settlers, the artists’ colony of the 19th century, and buildings dating back to the 1600s. He credits his knowledge to documents such as the East Hampton Town Trustees records.

As his cuckoo clock struck noon, Mr. King wandered up the stairs to search for a 3-inch-thick East Hampton 350th Anniversary Lecture Series book, which he describes as a must-read for any East Hampton history buff. The lecture series delves into the early days of East Hampton in 27 lectures commemorating East Hampton’s 350th anniversary.

“I wasn’t born knowing this information,” Mr. King said matter-of-factly.

Mr. King grew up in Amagansett, not too far from the train station. His family on his father’s side were some of the original settlers of East Hampton. “It’s not something to brag about,” he said. “You can go back and find out that your ancestors were thieves or not well-liked, so I don’t brag. Who knows what the Kings were like in the 1700s.”

His father, Hugh King Sr., was a plumber, and when he retired he became an East Hampton Town councilman. “He knew history as far back as the 1920s, but not like the history I know,” Mr. King said.

After graduating from East Hampton High School, Mr. King packed up and left town to pursue a degree at the State University of New York at Oneonta, then taught in Riverhead briefly before teaching third to sixth grade at the Springs School for more than 30 years, ending in 1996.

Also an actor, he performed in community plays at Guild Hall—which ties in perfectly with his storytelling job as the town crier, dressed in colonial garb.

The idea for that role came from a former town supervisor, Tony Bullock, and former town clerk, Fred Yardley, in 1987. “The position was created after the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Constitution,” he said. “I dressed as Rufus King and spoke about the Bill of Rights,” a lecture that was warmly received.

“Hugh always brings levity and a keen sense of humor to town and village meetings,” said Larry Cantwell, a former town supervisor and lifelong friend who grew up in Amagansett along with Mr. King. “His knowledge of our history and the people who have lived here is priceless. He’s one of kind.”

Beginning In 1993, Mr. King also wrote a history column for The Independent newspaper, which he continued for six years. “While writing that column, I learned a lot too,” he said.

Mr. King is also the historic site manager for the Village of East Hampton, managing the three village windmills, Home Sweet Home and other historic buildings. Signatures of people visiting from all over the world flood the sign-in book at Home Sweet Home, a tiny museum dedicated to the memory of John Howard Payne, who wrote the lyrics to the song “Home Sweet Home.”

“The village doesn’t make any money from the windmills or Home Sweet Home, “ Mr. King said. “They’re giving the people a gift.”

His favorite thing about living in Amagansett, he said, is that “you can always go to the edge,” meaning the ocean. Home Sweet Home is one of his favorite places, too, because it’s where he and his wife, Loretta Orion, get to work together.

Ms. Orion could also be considered a historian herself. The couple met when she was waitressing at the Royal Fish; today, Ms. Orion is in the process of publishing a book about the Goody Garlick witch trial that took place in East Hampton. Goody Garlick was accused of being touched by black magic and practicing witchcraft in East Hampton in 1657, well before the hysteria of the Salem witch trials of 1692. Her story has a happier ending: She was later released, and Goody Garlick lived to be 100 years old.

Spreading historic knowledge is of concern to Mr. King. As of now, there is no one to continue the job as the town crier whenever he decides to retire. “That’s the problem: There are no younger people showing interest in our history,” Mr. King said.

The town crier must have a deep interest in all things historic in East Hampton and on the East End, said Mr. King.

“It’s important to keep the history alive,” he said. With a village and township so rich in history, Mr. King fears that some people take it for granted. “Everyone thinks the Hamptons are the land of the upscale, trendy and unaffordable,” he said. “We need to tell everyone that we have an important history here, too.”

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