Baymen’s Oral History Group (1977-2002)

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Cover Image:
John Kochiss and various baymen sitting around a table at the Long Island Maritime Museum during a recording session of the baymen’s oral history group, June 19, 1985 (Image taken from a video tape).
John Kochiss and various baymen sitting around a table at the Long Island Maritime Museum during a recording session of the baymen’s oral history group, June 19, 1985 (Image taken from a video tape).

Collection Facts


Historical Context

Beginning on April 16, 1977, John M. Kochiss (1926-2017), a researcher and author of maritime related books and articles, began recording oral histories of baymen of the Great South Bay while working for the Suffolk Marine Museum, now the Long Island Maritime Museum.  By the time Kochiss started making these recordings, the occupations and culture of Long Island’s baymen had, for the most part, disappeared but the baymen themselves were still alive and willing to help preserve their stories on the Great South Bay. 

Beginning in May of 1980, Kochiss began to gather the baymen he had been recording separately at their homes and the baymen’s oral history group began to form. Over the course of the 1980s the group was constantly growing, changing as other baymen joined, and shrinking as older baymen began to pass away. The group would meet once a week, usually on a Wednesday at the museum to reminisce and discuss their experiences. Kochiss recorded each session onto an audio cassette tape to preserve the memories of these local people who had navigated and worked the local bays for generations and to use them as research tools in the future. The group also gradually grew to include other types of fishermen, boatmen, ferrymen, occasional bootleggers, boat builders, and sometimes even family members of these individuals. Additionally, many of the interviewees were of Dutch descent. Kochiss was also assisted by other staff members of the museum that include Peggy Holsten, grant administrator, researcher, archivist and exhibit developer; Ruth Dougherty, research librarian and photographer, and Gertude Welte, assistant to the museum’s director, Roger Dunkerley.

By the early 1990s, group recordings became more scarce and Kochiss reverted back to recording people one at a time as he did for the first few years before the oral history group began meeting at the museum. By the end of the 1990s, recordings ceased almost completely with the last known recordings taking place on August 1, 2002 under the supervision of Kochiss.

Scope of Collection

All interviews were conducted between the years 1977 and 2002.The entire collection is composed of four hundred and eighty-two audio cassette tapes and one video tape. These extensive oral histories provide extremely valuable information regarding Long Island’s fishing and shellfishing industries, historic environmental conditions, climate change and pollution, and a primarily extinct regional maritime culture. The recordings are particularly unique in that most focus on baymen who were active on the Great South Bay along the South Shore of Long Island throughout the first half of the 20th century. The accents of these individuals are also equally as rare. Inside this digital collection you will also find images from recording sessions, a cookbook from 1980 that includes some recipes from the wives of the baymen, and a videotape of the only known video recording of an oral history group session.

Some of the individuals found on these recordings are Clarence Newey, Lou Pearsall, Ed Ockers, Fred "Ted" Eckhardt, Capt. Patrick "Elmer" Patterson, William Knubel, DeVerne Swezey, Nelson Van Wyen, Adrian Hoek, Oliver Locker, Adrian Daane, Ed Furman, Harold Hoek, Clarence Hoek, Marinus Verschuure, William Broere, Aidyl Bason, Stanley Thuma, Michael Tuomey, George Rigby, Fred Zegel, Pep Zegel, James Conkle, Dick Schuchman, Steve Lang, Charlie Peppard, Joe Pokorney, Tom Pokorney, Capt. George Van Wyen, Fred Sherman, Matthew Sherman, Thomas C. Lambdin, Estelle Carpiello, Mrs. Lucille Hulse Gaible, Sue Warner Schaper, Fred Strybing, Mike Van Essendelft, Fred Pagels, Bill Pagels, Don Bevelander, Rolff Roscott, John Vignali, Len Sharp and others.

These oral histories were digitized through Long Island Maritime Museum’s partnership with LILRC’s Accessing Archives Program in 2022 and 2024 and have remained largely inaccessible until parts of the collection were uploaded to New York Heritage in 2024.