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Long Island Maritime Museum’s annual boat burning is hot stuff

October 26, 2001 Newsday staff photo by Daniel

October 26, 2001 Newsday staff photo by Daniel Goodrich. At the Long Island Maritime Museum, Sayville the annual Boat Burning was held and a 34 foot wooden boat was burned to celebrate the season. and the end of the boating season Credit: Newsday / Daniel Goodrich

The pyrotechnics at the Long Island Maritime Museum’s annual boat-burning in West Sayville on Friday, Oct. 27, aren’t the explosive kind, but they still light up the night sky — and spectators’ faces — with a spectacular display.

“It’s like going to a fireworks show,” Joe Stork, 68, of Bohemia, says of the annual pre-Halloween bonfire, held near the beach on the museum’s 14-acre waterfront grounds. Stork expects to be sitting in a lawn chair with a cooler alongside his kids and grandkids, as thousands watch what amounts to an old boat’s Viking funeral, with a bonfire lit and controlled by the West Sayville Fire Department.

Stork, who also watched last year’s 43-foot cabin cruiser burn to the ground, said that, depending on the color of the bottom paint, the flames “will glow green or red or another hue.” And the boat’s last gasp always gets a rise from the crowd, he says. “People are always waiting to see the thing fall apart.”

Terry Blitman, executive director, says the boat bonfire was held 27 years ago as a local event but has grown to attract 3,000 spectators because, “once the boat gets burning, it really is quite spectacular.”

Here are five things you might not know about the boat-burning:

IT’S A THOUSAND-YEAR TRADITION

Bonfires at harvest time are an ancient rite, according to museum documents, which say the Druids lit bonfires to drive away the spirits of the dead, and the bonfire tradition that continued in the British Isles after Nov. 1 became a Christian feast. The Long Island Maritime Museum has hosted one since 1990 to dispose of vessels with no value to its collection of historic watercraft. “Typically, the boat we burn is beyond repair and restoration, and it’s donated to us so that everyone can enjoy a big bonfire,” Blitman says.

KIDS CAN DRESS UP

Wearing your Jack Sparrow or superhero get-up outside four whole days before Halloween is generally considered cool only if you’re going to a costume party. But the museum encourages kids to dry-run their Halloween garb. “Children do come in costume, so it’s very family oriented,” Blitman says. Kids can make their own light show with glow necklaces, wands and other light-up-the-dark toys. The Long Island-based band Quarter Horse will play original songs.

THERE’S HOT FOOD

Trick-or-treating will have to wait for the big day. But hot dogs and hamburgers will be sold, served by members of the U.S. Coast Guard. Befitting the waterfront setting, the Blue Island Oyster Company of West Sayville will be ladling out fresh clam chowder.

YOU COULD WIN A WATERCRAFT

The museum’s annual raffle is held the same night — but not for a basket of cheer or a trip to Bermuda. Every year, a watercraft is raffled off, and this year it’s a paddle board and paddle. Raffle tickets cost $5 each.

THERE’S A BOAT SHOP

Learn a little bit about how a boat is built, from actual boatbuilders. The museum’s skilled volunteers will be working in the historic Frank F. Penney Boat Shop. Stork, one of the volunteers, says the visitors can walk into the shop, ask questions and check out progress on the new 11-foot skiff under construction — not as more wood for the fire, but for raffling off at next year’s event.

Halloween Boat Burning

WHEN | WHERE 5-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at Long Island Maritime Museum, 88 West Ave., West Sayville

INFO 631-854-4974, limaritime.org

ADMISSION $5 (free younger than 6)

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