Throwback Thursday – Nuns at the Seashore

“Nun’s on Picnic in fron of my Dad.’s house off Wood. Dr. Old Mt.k Highway.” George J. Knoblach, 1948 | Vivienne and John Wilkinson Donation, Montauk Library Archives

He was better known as a spearfisherman and pioneering underwater photographer, but George Knoblach also took black-and-white photographs of nuns on the beach off Old Montauk Highway.

“I was sitting at the table in my dad’s old house and a station wagon pulled in,” he recalled in an oral history interview in 2003. “At that time you could see the cliffs, the growth wasn’t that high … and they were all climbing out of this station wagon, the nuns. And I grabbed my camera and went down and they were all lined up along the beach, it was just great.”

“And then they were playing baseball and … I think they were cooking, they were having a picnic. And I have some other photographs I took of them. And this photograph that you see here is the one that I think it was used a couple of times, Martin Pedersen used it on of his calendars that he did years ago.”

George Knoblach died in 2018 at the age of 92, so it’s not clear if the photo above is the one he was referring to that Pedersen, a Montauk resident, graphic designer, editor, and publisher, used in Graphis magazine and/or in a calendar. A slideshow of Knoblach’s photographs on the Graphis website features a different photo — this one of a row of nuns at the ocean’s edge with long skirts hiked up as waves break at their feet:

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This may be the photo Knoblach was referring to in the 2003 interview when he explained that he didn’t photograph the nuns while they played ball because “I felt I might have been intimidating … When you’re doing photographs like that you don’t know what it is with the convent.”

And in fact, he said, afterward, “one lady said, how could you take them with their feet in the water? … They’re showing their legs.”

Nuns can also be seen having a good time in photographs from the Carl Darenberg Sr. Collection in the Montauk Library Archives. In this case they are posing with their catch at the conclusion of a shark-fishing trip:

“Nuns on dock next to their catch for the day,” date unknown.| Carl Darenberg Sr. Collection, Montauk Library Archives

And finally, on the subject of nuns and the ocean, so was an NPR podcast, called Snap Judgment, about 10 years ago. The interviewee had been a Brooklyn girl in the 1940s whose family persuaded her to become a nun. She recalled how she began to think better of her decision and headed east to reflect:

“I didn’t know what to do and all I could think of was get out of the convent, and I went to Montauk. Montauk Point is the farthest end of Long Island and you climb up the cliffs and you see the ocean, the wild ocean. I had a veil on and, you know, my habit, and I climbed up to the top of the cliffs and I said I am really not happy.”

“ … And I looked out at the ocean. It was hitting against the point. And out on the horizon it was calm. And I’ll never forget the feeling. I went oh, my gosh. Look how calm. God is telling me that’s OK. … Everything will be all right.”


#MontaukHistory #Montauk #Nuns #GeorgeKnoblach #MontaukLibrary #MontaukPoint #Ocean

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