Life was a giant block party to the Baby Boomers who grew up on Long Island in the 1950s. Popular historian Doris Kearns Goodwin remembers the open-door policy of her Rockville Centre neighbors: “we didn’t knock on doors. We just raced in, gathering up our gang.”
The gang grew by leaps and bounds. By 1960, Long Island’s median age was just 30, and more than half of its population was under age 20. Communities with one-room schoolhouses at the end of the World War II – Island Trees, Plainedge, and Brentwood – now scrambled furiously to catch up with house construction and the birth rate, building dozens of new schools.
Outside their neighborhoods and schools, young kids popped their gum, stretched their legs and raced their mouths at plenty of fun spots, including Nunley’s Amusement Park in Baldwin, and Lollipop Farm in Syosset. Teenagers lived at Jones Beach or caught the latest cowboy or Brando flick at the old Hempstead Calderone Theater or the Rocky Point Drive-In. By the spring of 1956, as Alan Freed’s national radio program (carried locally on WABD) blasted out tunes from Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard, rock and roll took many Long Island teens by storm. One 14-year-old East Meadow girl – self-described as one of Elvis’s biggest and “first” fans – ran away from her parents in 1957 to Memphis to try to catch up with the crooner. “I thought if I came here I might become his secretary or something,” she told the startled reporter that found her.
Where did you grow up? What things do you miss most about your hometown? What do you see as improvements? Where did you dream of ending up when you were 12? Are you there yet?