Skinny-dipping teenage girls beware
Once every August a few of us would go camping for a weekend and live off the land. We would gather our own firewood and catch and kill our food. Of course, in those days cans of pork and beans roamed free on the vast prairies that are Noyac today.
Trout Pond was said to be the southernmost pond in the United States fed directly from a glacier. That meant it was pure enough to drink, or at least we believed that.
Basically, we’d arrive at the campsite Friday (one of our parents would drive us), gather some firewood (though not nearly enough), and unload our camping gear (I had a blanket). We also had a case of Budweiser, which we drank sitting around the fire telling tales. We had a couple of cans of pork and beans for dinner. We forgot a can opener so, as you can imagine, the whole thing was a messy affair.
The highlight was swimming in the glistening pond under the moonlight. Then we passed out on our blankets and that was that.
The next morning the plan was to fish for our breakfast. Instead, we had eggs and bacon someone’s mother packed for us, which we ate with our fingers because no one remembered to bring forks. Someone suggested we forage for edible roots to cook up, which drew robust laughs from the rest of us and scorn that lasted for years.
We were so hungry later we hiked for miles to steal corn from the Bridgehampton fields, boiling the ears in the water from the pond.
There were two problems with ingesting the water from where I stood: one, we all swam nude in Trout Pond, which tempered my enthusiasm and also raised legitimate questions about its purity.
Then there was the infamous snapping turtle, said to be 150 pounds or more. According to legend it claimed two lives, both teenage girls who were skinny dipping, their bodies disappearing forever. That was back in the ’50s but the legend lived on. I can remember my spinster aunt saying the girls disappeared because they were skinny dipping, the implication being God punished them.
The part of the pond you see off Noyac Road, with the rope swinging out over the water, was benign enough. Teddy Babula informed us The Snapper hung on the other side of the pond. (There’s something about “snapping” turtle and swimming with no trunks that unnerved me, though).
But it was a rite of passage, as was jumping off the North Haven Bridge. Late at night, a dare would be made, and the beer, and the peer group pressure, would demand tradition be honored, so off came the clothes and in we went (even the good girls).
Saturday night we sat around the fire looking out at the pond. We were half asleep when something very large slowly cracked the surface. Then we saw the wrinkled neck and grisly shrunken head. It was like periscope on a submarine, turning slowly, looking for something to attack — probably something with no clothes on.
We moved our sleeping bags back 100 yards but none of us slept. By dawn, one of the guys had already left to walk all the way home and alert our parents that we were alive, fully clothed, but starving to death. When I got home I ate manly food an outdoorsman craves, like Corn Pops, and sat on the couch, watching cartoons, still spooked. I told no one — no one would believe me.
Most kids who grew up in Sag Harbor have heard the stories. Many years later, on July 3, 2012, a press release came across my desk from the Southampton Town Police. It seems a young man was in the water at the spring-fed, freshwater pond when he succumbed to a notorious but well-concealed and steep drop-off in the water — the depth plunges from about four feet to about 17 or 18 feet. His 17-year-old girlfriend, also a non-swimmer, was in the water at the time and in distress. Witnesses said the man pushed her toward shallower water before he went under himself.
Many, many young swimmers disregarded the ominous, musty waters over the years. Many were camping, like we were — it was what teenagers did in those days. Many a young man told his date of the snapping turtle, sometimes walking along Noyac Road, hoping she would be so afraid she’d jump into his arms at the right moment, when the night unleashed its first fitful howl.
Yes, the water was glacier cold and pure as the winter snow, but the evil thing that lurked there in 1955 was still there in 2012, and it’s still there now, patient, waiting . . . drive over on a moonless night. Park and walk over to the northeast corner where the rope hanging from the tree used to sway over the deep part of the pond. And be very afraid.