For over a century, Clifton Park has been a hub of outdoor events in Sea Cliff. From games to concerts to picnics, the park has seen it all, as have the eight giant oak trees that stand along its perimeter. Those trees are turning 100 this year: They were planted in 1919, in honor of the eight Sea Cliff residents who died in World War I in Europe.
While the trees are grand tributes on their own, on Sept. 6, 1919, the village celebrated the return of 169 soldiers with a parade and picnic. The soldiers, and their eight fallen comrades, are memorialized on a plaque on the memorial rock in the park.
Hundreds of people gathered on Sept. 7 to celebrate the anniversary of the soldiers’ homecoming. The event kicked off with a parade from the intersection of Prospect and Sea Cliff avenues to Clifton Park. There community leaders spoke to the crowd about the importance of the day and how it symbolizes Sea Cliff’s dedication to its residents past and present. There was a picnic and a visit from Mr. Softee, and the festivities concluded with a concert by the North Winds Symphonic Band and the Sea Cliff Rock Jam Band.
There was fun throughout the day but the theme was paying tribute to veterans. David Hamon, veterans service organizations and military director of the United States World War One Centennial Commission, told the crowd that occasions like this are a fine example of how heroes, and history, should be remembered.
State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, was one of several elected officials and local dignitaries there. Paying tribute to veterans of the past, he said, is also a way to honor today’s veterans, because it shows that they will never be forgotten.
“You look at the size of the rock we put up” for the World War I soldiers, said Ted Kopczynski, vice commander of the James F. Brengel American Legion and the 100th anniversary parade’s grand marshal. “Those men are not forgotten. The Sea Cliff residents who have no idea who they were 100 years later — we’re still not forgetting. That is just, I think, a real tribute to this community.” Residents Lia Buffa, Joni Sturge and Mike Cain, who read the names on the rock’s plaque, said it was extraordinary to see so many people celebrate the veterans’ legacies. “This is Sea Cliff,” Buffa said simply. Sturge compared the village to the town of Mayberry in “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Eric Solomon, of Glen Head, said that events like this one are why he moved from Manhattan to Long Island to raise a family. “We never had this kind of community” in the city, he said, “so I had to come out today. This is the epitome of why I moved here.”
Sea Cliff Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy said he was pleased with the huge turnout of roughly 800 people. This once-a-century event, he added, was another example of residents “stepping up” to make their village the best place it can be, which has been the case since its beginnings.
“It means that this community still is the same as it was when it was founded 135 years ago,” Kennedy said. “It’s still a community that cares for each other — its brothers, its sisters, its soldiers — looks past differences in political parties and religions and just comes together as a community.”