By Michael Bakshandeh and Tyler Cianciulli
Everyone knows Long Island is home to the busiest commuter railroad, Charles Lindbergh’s first trans-Atlantic flight, and New York State’s first lighthouse (the fourth oldest active lighthouse in the nation), in Montauk, but here are some lesser-known local facts that may surprise even longtime Long Islanders.
7. The Giant Giraffe
Those not living under rocks have all heard about the Big Duck in the Hamptons and the Smithtown Bull. But those aren’t the only oversized animal structures on Long Island. A giant giraffe sculpture is considered the “mascot of Great Neck,” according to the Village of Kensington. You know, because giraffes have great, big, long necks. 6. LI Runs on 7-Eleven Coffee
It came as little surprise when it was widely reported that some of the busiest 7-Elevens in the nation are on Long Island. But the region’s stores also sell more coffee than any other 7-Elevens in the country, according to the company. That fact may shock those serving in the war between Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks drinkers.
5. The First Video Game Was Invented Here
Sure, LI is where Guglielmo Marconi innovated the wireless radio and Nikola Tesla tinkered with wireless electricity. But, even more importantly, in 1958 physicist William Higinbotham created the first video game, Tennis for Two, to make the Brookhaven National Laboratory visitors’ day more interesting, according to the lab. It wasn’t sold commercially, like Atari’s like-minded game “Pong,” one of the earliest video games, which wasn’t released until ’72. 4. Not So Long Island?
On the other side of the country, there was a little-known side effect of the controversial (and geographically inaccurate) 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Long Island is really a peninsula. Officials and gift-shopkeepers in the 45-mile-long Whidbey Island north of Seattle in Puget Sound used the decision to market themselves as the longest island in the contiguous United States, according to The New York Times. Not that many on 113-mile-long LI noticed.
3. LI Had The Oldest Family-Run Restaurant
Sure, King Kullen may be America’s first supermarket. And other businesses make similar historical claims. But Claudio’s Restaurant, founded in 1870 in downtown Greenport village on the North Fork, bills itself as America’s oldest same-family-run restaurant in the nation. After four generations, the restaurant was sold to someone outside the family in 2018.
2. Jaws Was Based on a Shark Caught Off Long Island
The Amityville Horror wasn’t the only scary movie set on LI decades before the region was transformed into Hollywood East. Captain Quint, the salty character that the actor Robert Shaw played in Jaws, was based on the late Montauk-based shark fisherman Frank Mundus, who made headlines in 1964 by catching a massive, 4,500-pound great white shark. The news caught the eye of author Peter Benchley, whose book was turned into a 1975 blockbuster by Steven Spielberg. Mundus, a New Jersey native, reportedly called the final result the “funniest and stupidest” movie he’d ever seen.
1. The Parkway Is a Driveway
“Why do we park in a driveway and drive on parkway?”, the old joke goes. But on part of the Southern State Parkway, what drivers pass was once a driveway. Ever wonder why there are parallel rows of tall pine trees with nothing between them in the parkway median just west of Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon? The area used to be a tree-lined driveway to the Belmont family’s historic mansion before the parkway was built by Robert Moses in 1925.
Correction: A previous version of this article cited Montauk Lighthouse as the oldest in the nation. It is the fourth oldest active lighthouse in the nation, according to Montauk Lighthouse National Historic Landmark.