Jeanne Sager | Democrat
LONGTIME SWAN LAKE resident Irma Lymar points out landmarks in an older picture of the hamlet to Sullivan Renaissance volunteers Kate Sawchuck, 14, and Tori Kleinberger, 13, during a work session at the Swan Lake Museum.
They aim to save Swan Lake history
By Jeanne Sager
SWAN LAKE What’s a town to do when its history is gone?
If you’re the small but plucky group of volunteers who have been trying to bring Swan Lake back to its former glory, you buy a building. You set it up on a spit of donated land and you fill it with pictures, maps, Borscht Belt hotel lunch menus… remnants of that former glory. You convince a Syosset social studies teacher who wrote his first history of the hamlet for a report in sixth grade to act as curator.
And you set an opening date for the brand new Swan Lake museum.
They’ve done it all.
This Saturday, from 1 to 5 p.m., the doors on the small gray building across from the Sullivan Renaissance winning park will be thrown open to the community.
They’ll stay open, every day, from June to September every year to give visitors to Swan Lake a little context, to give the kids who grew up in Swan Lake fodder for memories, to inspire the next generation of Swan Lake.
“I think there’s so many people who grew up in Swan Lake and have memories of Swan Lake,” said resident Nancy Levine. “They’re always coming back, and there’s nothing concrete for them to show off to their families.
“Everything’s changed so drastically, it’s hard to imagine what Swan Lake was like.”
Tommy LaGattuta is one of those Swan Lake kids. He grew up here. He stuck around, opened a business and raised a family.
The owner of E&T Landscaping agreed to lend his hand on any projects Levine needed over the years to Renaissance Swan Lake.
But he told her he wanted a museum. He wanted his memories back.
True to his word, after the building arrived from American Storage in Parksville, LaGattuta came back to landscape.
Dozens of other residents have stopped in in recent weeks to share their memories, lend a hand or lend their mementos.
Scott Eckers’ family lives in Presidential Estates these days, but they spent every summer visiting from Long Island when the 27-year-old was a child.
Eckers is the museum’s curator, sharing bits of Swan Lake history he started collecting as a kid staying at Kappy’s Bungalow Colony.
He’s an old soul, born at the extreme tail end of the Borscht Belt heydays, and the old stories have captivated Eckers in a way he knows they have for people who lived them, people he thinks will want to walk into the museum for a trip down memory lane.
“I’ve spent the greater part of the last year cataloguing hotel postcards, brochures and fliers and menus and things like that,” he explained. “We’re trying to give people a basic understanding of what the hamlet was like and how it’s changed, the role it played in the Borscht Belt and Sullivan County history.”
It’s a hamlet that once boasted eight or nine hotels among them the famed Presidential, the precursor to the private home community where Eckers’ parents live today.
Irma Lymar remembers them all.
“There used to be a lot of hotels here,” Lymar said with a wistful smile. “I remember the Presidential Hotel… they used to come down with their minks and their diamonds on Saturdays.
“They used to have ice cream of all things at Evanksy’s,” she said with a laugh.
“In the winter, of course, it was very sparse, but it was a great place to bring children up,” Lymar continued. “There were no problems, no drugs, no thefts.”
The widow of Hyman Lymar moved to Swan Lake in the early 1960s, to a place where her husband was known as the man who saved the town.
Hyman rushed to the rescue of the dam during a massive 1950s flood. His is the sort of story Levine says will one day grace the walls of the museum, the stories of the people who made Swan Lake.
Ecker’s hopes to complement his maps and menus with pictures from people of the community, pictures that put the human touch on the history of Swan Lake.
There will be a drop box in the museum for donations of any sort. Money, of course can be dropped of at the Swan Lake Country Store, as this is a non-profit, but material can be dropped right at the museum. “We’ll copy everything and give it back or whatever they want us to do,” Eckers promised.
“It’s going to be a dynamic exhibit,” he said. “It will change over time.
“We’re not charging admission because the point isn’t to make money,” he explained, “but to have people come, to see Swan Lake the way it was.”
The museum will open Saturday at 1 p.m. and remain open until 5 p.m. throughout the summer.