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Cockenoe Kodachrome

It’s been decades since Bill Whitbeck lived in Westport. (Westport, Connecticut, that is. He’s now in the beautiful seaside town of Westport, Washington.)

But he remembers fondly his days on Cockenoe. That’s the island a mile off Compo. (Which Westport now owns, having bought it in 1968 to save it — and us — from a proposal to build a nuclear power plant there. Click here for that unbelievable story.)

Still, he did not realize how many times his family visited Cockenoe until his father died, and the Whitbecks examined thousands of old 35mm slides.

It seemed like every other roll of film taken during the summers showed camping on the island.

The other day, Bill sent some of the images, from 1958 to ’60.

Bill Whitbeck’s sister Joanne, neighbor Bobby Bittner, Bill (waving) and his mom, at the highest area of the sandbar in 1958.

“We brought tents, camping gear and food for the weekend,” Bill recalls. “We’d camp on the western side’s long sandbar. From current photos I’ve seen, it’s almost gone from erosion.”

Other prime campsites were nestled in the trees on the southern side of the island, on higher ground with little trails leading to them. Those sites were usually snatched up first. But if Bill’s family got there early enough on Friday afternoon, they snagged a site for the weekend.

Bill Whitbeck (with pail), his mother, sister and a neighbor digging clams on Cockenoe’s sandbar, now almost totally gone. This stretch between the sandbar and the higher part of the island in the distance was covered at high tide, though it was shallow enough to walk between the two in 1958.

I was struck by the quality of the colors, and composition of the photos. I told Bill that they seemed like a Life magazine spread on the Kennedys at Cape Cod.

“The colors haven’t faded after almost 60 years,” he agrees.

“Kodachrome film used layers of dyes, as opposed to silver halide crystals found in other transparency films, like Ektachrome of Fujichrome. The silver crystals give most film their ‘grain’.”

Bill Whitbeck, his sister’s fiance, and 2 sisters on the maiden voyage of a 16-foot outboard his father built. It was so new, he had not yet installed a windshield. The photo was taken in Cockenoe’s bay, a perfect anchorage, surrounded by the island’s horseshoe shape. Check out the wooden boats — there was no fiberglass in 1959.

In 1994, Bill took his dad for one more walk around the island. He died a few years later.

Breakfast on the south side of Cockenoe, in 1959. The bay is behind young Bill Whitbeck. In the distance to the left is Sprite Island; Saugatuck Shores (still undeveloped) is to the right.

Looking east from the camp site in 1959. Some large Army-style tents are on the beach. Families would set them up, then stay on the island for weeks at a time. They made runs back to town once or twice a week for supplies. Whitbeck remembers during a few summers, enterprising young boys would go to Cockenoe on Sunday mornings with blocks of ice, and copies of the Sunday New York Times, Herald Tribune and Daily News, to sell to boaters and campers on the island.



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