New book delves into lives of Greenport’s waterfront workers

Kerry Heaney with son Tim
Kerry Heaney with son Tim : Dockbuilders | Juliana Thomas

Most people in Greenport know Dave Berson as the skipper of the electric boat Glory, but even before he began taking people out on Greenport’s waterways, he was an editor for sailing magazines who sent dispatches from ports around the globe.

Since Mr. Berson began running the Glory in 1999, he’s had a front-row seat to the lives of dockbuilders, fishermen, scallopers and sailors whose families have been a part of Greenport’s waterfront for generations.

In 2006, he teamed up with his long-time photographer and collaborator Juliana Thomas for a series of 31” by 31” portraits of Greenport’s waterfront workers, which hung at Floyd Memorial Library, Southold Town Hall and Castello di Borghese Vineyard for a year and a half.

Then, he put the photographs in storage until, in 2012, dockbuilders Kerry Heaney and George Costello both died. Mr. Heaney was only 50 and Mr. Costello was only 63.

“I thought, ‘these people should be memorialized in a way other people could read about them,’” said Mr. Berson.

He asked Rita Hagerman of Academy Printing to help him find a book binder and asked Ms. Thomas to help him go about putting together a series of 20 profiles of workers on Greenport’s waterfront.

“We worked together when I was the editor of a sailing magazine and was routinely sent around the world writing sailing stories,” he said of Ms. Thomas. “She’s a fabulous photographer. I’ve known her since she was a child. We knew each others’ style and we knew how to work together.”

“The tone is everything,” he said of writing the book. “I sat with the project for a long time, wondering what tone I was going to take. I decided the picture itself was going to communicate to me who the person was, what they were doing. It’s peeling away a little bit of their life. It’s very impressionistic, but it’s non-fiction. I didn’t want to write the who, what, why and how. I wanted to show I have admiration and great respect for the people I was writing about.”

Mr. Berson said he believes the true nature of Greenport is difficult to see for anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time there.

“What’s happening with the discovery of food in the village, there are a lot of different strata of communities,” he said. “Foodies from Brooklyn known nothing about the patrimony of the village. It’s about water. The focus isn’t to the east where the water is, it’s to the west, where Manhattan is. That patrimony is not acknowledged in the way it should be acknowledged.”

“I do know that any community that has supported much of its community through boat building and fishing is a community that’s antediluvian, it’s of another time, another period of American history.”

Over the course of the next few weeks, Mr. Berson is holding book-signings at Preston’s and at the Floyd Memorial Library, at Peconic Landing and even in the produce department of the Greenport IGA, where he will be selling copies of the newly printed book to raise funds for his non-profit foundation, which teaches fifth graders about the history and the marine science of Greenport’s waterfront.

“I will do whatever I can to sell these books,” he said of the cartons full of books now sitting on his front porch, after he tapped his home equity to complete the project. “I will sell books in a shopping cart on the street if I have to. If Walt Whitman could sell books door to door, I can sell books door to door.”

The book signing at Preston’s is on Friday, Nov. 29 from noon to 3 p.m. The official book launch, signing and Q & A session at the library will be Saturday, Nov. 30 at 3 p.m. The signing at Peconic Landing will be Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. The date and time for the signing in the produce department of the IGA hasn’t yet been established.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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