“George Washington Slept here”…. is a popular phrase appearing on plaques of establishments that were lucky enough to have hosted our first president. While I am unaware of any tales of George Washington spending the night in East Hampton, I did come across a grand story in an old East Hamptons Star, reporting on a girl’s sleepover atop the steeple of our very church. The following appeared in the East Hampton Star on November 17, 1960, during its conversion from a two steeple church to a single steeple.
When the workman were demolishing the south tower, which had an open top from which the whole village could be viewed, they found names of half the youngsters in East Hampton, past and present, scrawled on the sides of the rickety winding stairway.
One young matron recalls how she and another girl, when they were Girl Scouts, actually carried their sleeping bags up that south tower and spent the night there, for a great thrill. The girls were unnamed. I wondered if it would be possible, all these years later, to find out who they were. But then by chance, I overheard one of our church members repeating the tale. There it was…mystery solved…..our steeple sleeper was none other than Elly Ratsep!
Rev. Francis Kinsler was the minister of the First Presbyterian Church of East Hampton from 1942 thru 1954. Back in the war years of the 1940’s, as the story goes, he and his wife decided to take their two sons camping on Montauk. Hardly believable today, the minister’s daughter and a group of her friends were left, without adult supervision, to have a sleepover…..alone in the manse! The girls were Helen Kinsler, Carol Ann Walthers, Geraldine Gould-Webb, and our own Ann Pierce-Roberts and Elly Osborne-Ratsep. One of them came up with the grand idea to sleep atop the steeple of the church. The girls headed over to the church, climbing through a series of doors and up a series of ladders to reach the top of the south tower. Prior to 1960, the church had two steeples. One had a flat roof, with an iron fence around its perimeter. Elly says the fence was very secure, she knows because she tested it herself. After a while, one of the girls had an allergy attack, the other girls escorted her back to the manse, leaving Geraldine and Elly atop the steeple. Geraldine and Elly thought they should leave but realized the other girls had taken the only flashlight. It was now dark, and too dangerous to descend the ladders to get back down. They would have to spend the night. Elly says the best part of the adventure was when they awoke in the morning to a glorious unobstructed view of the ocean. Back during this time, there were hardly any trees. In the morning, the girls had an unobstructed view all the way across the village to the ocean at Main Beach. Elly says she has carried that memory of the ocean, on that morning, in her mind’s eye, her entire life. “I still see it like a slide, the view was incredible”, she says.
-–Hilary O Malecki