IT IS THE SUMMER OF 1914. The same summer an archduke and heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, is assassinated in Sarajevo, sparking the beginning of World War I. In just weeks the Panama Canal will officially open after 10 years
of U.S. construction, and the world’s first red and green
electric traffic light will be installed in Cleveland, Ohio.
Unemployment is at 7. 9 percent; the Boston Braves win the
World Series; and the cost of a first-class stamp is two cents.
The world is changing, but for the eight young heads, bobbing
in the water off a dock in Huntington, Long Island, time is centered
on the here and now. On long hot summer days on Nellie H, the
38-foot oyster sloop owned by A.J. Sammis, the father of Kathleen,
Erma, and Gwen Sammis, the three young ladies pictured in swim
caps (left to right) below.
Nellie H had been built in 1903 by Erastus Hart, and named for
the owner’s daughter. It was bought in 1910 by A.J. Sammis from
Brooklyn, who made his fortune in the textile industry in New York
City, and who created a summer retreat, and later permanent home,
for his family on what were then the farmlands of Huntington,
Long Island. There, the boat became a social center for the families
and friends who left the stifling streets of Brooklyn en masse in the
summer. “It would be packed on weekends,” says Ken Cotter of
Ellicott City, Maryland, great grandson of A.J. Sammis, who recently
donated Nellie H to be restored. “My mother tells me they once had
up to 21 people aboard.”
But 110 years after she was built, and after several reprieves,
Nellie H has somehow endured. During the Great New England
Hurricane of 1938, which killed between 700 and 800 people,
she landed on another boat, but made it through. After A.J.
Sammis passed away in the 1940s, she went to a cousin, Kenneth
Johnson, a New York City harbor pilot later lost at sea during
a transfer in 1974. After that, the boat left the family for a few
years, before Ken Cotter bought back his great-grandfather’s,
grandmother’s, and mother’s beloved boat. Now, more than
THE LONG LIFE OF