Fire Island Folklorist Signs Books to Raise Funds for OBP FD Auxiliary

Everyone on Long Island is familiar with Fire Island as a favorite weekend getaway. However, are they aware of how much history and mythology surrounds their favorite vacation spot? On Aug. 13, I had the pleasure of meeting Warren C. McDowell while attending his book signing event hosted by Ocean Bay Park Fire Department Auxiliary.

OBP FD Auxiliary member and former Tide columnist Robbie Harris with the author, Warren Clifford McDowell.

McDowell is the founder of Fire Island Tide, the news publication that was in business from 1977 though 2021. He is also a decorated war veteran, and now author and folklorist. His book, “Fire Island Saga: How Fire Island Got Its Name,” was released in 2019.

This book tells you everything you need to know about the history of Fire Island as well as the various urban legends that surround it.

After listening to McDowell talk in person you can tell that he is very passionate and knowledgeable about the subjects he described to his audience. He is also a very personable presenter!

Some events like this can be on the dry side if the speaker has the knowledge, but lacks charisma. Not the case with McDowell. His audience really got a kick out of this man and the “dad jokes” he peppered throughout his lecture.

It was apparent that some of the people in attendance had a close relationship with him – possibly for decades. When folks freely interrupted while he was speaking, he would brush it off casually, often with a witty comeback ready for his “hecklers.” All if it was in good fun, and you could really feel this sense of comradery in the audience.

All jokes and kidding aside, this was an informative event. The main takeaway being that if history is not documented it is harder to prove that it happened. In stories of myth and reality McDowell generously pieces together how the legends may have been created based on facts blended with island lore. The message being that history is not static but fluid, and can shift, not unlike the dynamic barrier island itself.

McDowell chronicled all the stories this slender ribbon of sand has witnessed: inlets opening and closing; vessels caught in what became known as the Fire Island Ship Trap; and the United States Lifesaving Service with rescue stations along the length of the island to aid shipwreck survivors, and hopefully discourage scavengers from looting the ships (aka land pirates). This latter being a favorite topic with the audience – so much so that McDowell humorously used this as an opportunity to get people to buy his book – which they did.

The wealth of interesting factoids covered at the event would be rather impossible to include comprehensively in this article. You will have to read the book if you want to learn more.

It’s also worth mentioning that this book is exquisitely designed and full of beautiful illustrations – a must have for any Fire Island coffee table or the bookshelf of any South Shore Long Island history buff. Did anyone say gift list? Holiday season is right around the corner.