The Jazz Age Returns To East Hampton In An Exhibit

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It was the age of glitz and glamour, Prohibition and excess. The 1920s—the Jazz Age—fondly remembered for its beaded dresses, straw boater hats and the insatiable desire for a good time, is being celebrated at the East Hampton Historical Society’s Clinton Academy Museum through October 13.Visitors to the exhibit “Jazz Age East Hampton: Clothes, Clubs & Contraband” can get a glimpse into life in East Hampton from 1919 to 1933 during a special curator tour at 10 a.m. on August 17 and September 7.

Once inside the museum, imaginations of the Gatsby-era materialize as black-and-white photographs depict smiling faces at East Hampton landmarks like the Maidstone Club, Main Beach and the very first movie theater in town.

“Everyone automatically connects with the glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age in the Hamptons, but they also connect to the regular people—there’s a good contrast between the visitors and the locals,” said Liz Neill, the assistant to the society’s executive director, Richard Barons, about the variety of photographs at the exhibit. “People love to see East Hampton how it was. It’s the same but different.”

Photos of polo matches paired with worn riding boots sit just feet from photos of happy beachgoers with their striped umbrellas and mannequins modeling wool bathing suits. Fishermen aboard the steamer Amagansett with their bounty stare on in one photo as a large crowd gawks at the derailing of the Cannonball train, which killed two in 1932.

A photo of a Napeague beach looks all too familiar, according to Ms. Neill. “They’ve got great views and a lack of parking—nothing has changed except for the cars,” she said.

Nearby, a bottle half-full of uncontaminated whiskey from 1922, which was found at the bottom of the ocean nine miles south of Jones Inlet, sits in a glass case. The once-illegal beverage was one bottle of many that sank with the Lizzie D., a rum-running vessel.

In addition to the delicate beaded dresses that seemingly decorate the museum, a Bakelite vanity set, a box just for shirt collars, and a small selection of jewelry and purses fashionable in the Jazz Age are on display for those interested in the finer things of a 1920s life.

“One must have one’s collar box,” Ms. Neill said, moving on the wood-beaded belt with cubic zirconia featured next to it. “People were reaching out for a foreign influence but had to have their glitz and glamour. People could not put anything down that was from the Orient, as they called it, or from Egypt because of the opening of King Tut’s tomb in 1922. There was a rush for anything foreign.”

Throughout the exhibit are professional photographs and postcards of East Hampton estates, many of which no longer exist, showing the splendor of a Hamptons garden in the 1920s. Lush flowers and perfectly manicured lawns complete with statues and reflecting pools show no expense was spared.

“Many people say, ‘Oh, it’s so Gatsby!’” Ms. Neill said. “It is Gatsby!”

For more information, call the museum at 324-6850 or visit easthamptonhistory.org.

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