Pegeen Hyde of Syosset had seen skyscrapers and casinos blown up on television and in movies. But she and her son Robert, 18, wanted to watch in person Wednesday as a demolition crew imploded a Kings Park smokestack.
"You see it all the time on TV from Las Vegas, but you don't see it here," said Hyde, 50, minutes before the 220-foot-high spire was brought down. "It's a bit of history. It's been here a long time."
The Hydes were among hundreds of spectators who jammed onto the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center to watch as the stack was leveled. The tower was one of 19 structures scheduled for demolition at the 521-acre site operated by the state parks office.
Under brilliant sunny skies, and with Long Island public schools conveniently closed, a crowd that included parents and children, local residents and curiosity-seekers witnessed a spectacle that lasted less than 10 seconds.
Some pressed against yellow police tape about 1,000 feet from the smokestack. Others stood on a nearby embankment along Kings Park Boulevard or staked out viewing sites on Old Dock Road.
At 2 p.m., explosives were detonated. A pair of sharp bursts startled the crowd. Quietly, the edifice tipped to the north and disappeared from view. Cheers rose along with a cloud of dust.
When it was over, reviews ranged from elation to cries of "That's it?"
"Awesome!" said Patrick Delmar, 9, of Farmingville, who had come with his dad, Keith, and sister Alana, 11, who added it was "pretty cool."
But Patrick's friend Joseph Pfeifer, 9, of Levittown, wasn't impressed. "I thought there was going to be a lot of black smoke," he said. Still, he said the explosion caught him by surprise. "I jumped up," Joseph said.
After the implosion, crews began collecting hundreds of bricks for transport to a landfill.
The smokestack, part of a power plant, was the only structure scheduled for implosion during this phase of demolition. It was among a dwindling number of abandoned structures on the site, where since 1885 hospitals treated and employed thousands of people before the psychiatric center closed in 1996. More structures are to be razed during a second round of demolition, which has not been scheduled.
Wednesday's demolition attracted nearby residents who walked a few blocks to see the last moments of a cherished local landmark.
"That's the whole reason this town is here," said Rachel McNaughton, 43, who said an aunt had been a patient at the hospital decades ago.
"I drive past it every day, 10 times a day," said Roisin Willems, 40, who brought her children Kori, 8, and Declan, 10. "It'll be weird tomorrow to drive by when it's not there."