In the 1930’s, Armonk was one hip hamlet. Though America was in the midst of the Great Depression, Armonk’s merchants were busy. Crowds of tourists drove in their Studebakers, Fords and Cadillacs from New York City and beyond to eat, drink and dance their worries away in this remote corner of the county.
Over a dozen restaurants, bars and dance halls flourished back then. The Armonk police were called at all hours of the night by reveling couples who, on the spur of the moment, decided they wanted to wed and needed the appropriate official to do so. Now the epitome of “family-oriented,” Armonk had, back then, earned the moniker “Sin City.”
Small, but never small-time, Armonk’s largest draw was The Log Cabin. Live bands featuring musicians like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and Doris Day regularly performed for up to 1500 patrons at a time. The floors of the Log Cabin creaked and moaned as music poured across neighboring farmland and orchards. Five cents for a hot dog, or ten cents for a hamburger, was all it took to enjoy an entire night of listening and dancing to the best live Big Band music the world had to offer.
With its illustrious past and handsome new infrastructure, Armonk is ripe for an old-fashioned revival. Downtown’s appealing new landscape provides ample gathering places and spaces for people to socialize. The stage is set.
“Swing” may be just the symbol or guiding image we need to pay respect to Armonk’s roots while ushering in a new era. With its driving intensity and abandon, Swing represented freedom and pleasure amidst the financial hardships of the 30’s. It also served to ease the social tension of the era; men, women, young, old, black, white all danced the Swing. Everyone, figuratively and literally, was on the same footing!
Swing brought tolerance, mutual respect, and cooperation. It was grown by individuals who were able to suspend judgment and incorporate new sounds from diverse musical lineages. While the Great Depression was devastating, it also forced people to turn to what economists and others now call “social capital”.
Social capital, as distinguished from money or material goods, is an under-recognized but vital component of a healthy community. It is goodwill, fellowship, empathy and concern for others. It bonds people together. Data have found that communities high in social capital have children with fewer emotional disturbances and an adult population with a lower incidence of heart disease and a greater life expectancy than matched communities rated low on social capital.
In his books, articles and TED talks, contemporary writer and philosopher Alain De Botton reports that one of the losses modern society feels most keenly is the loss of a sense of community: “We imagine that where there once was neighborliness, there is now a ruthless anonymity, characterized by pursuit of contact with others for purely individualistic gains.” As we’ve become increasingly secular, many have switched worship of God to worship of professional success. “What do you do?” is our way of introduction in new social groups; the answer can determine acceptance or marginalization by the community.
It is no surprise, then, that we throw ourselves with a vengeance into our careers. Focusing on work to the exclusion of almost everything else feels necessary–not only for financial security, but to thrive psychologically.
Demonstrating kindness, acceptance, acknowledgement, and appreciation in small ways to those we encounter in our community (and noticing when others do so to us) is what creates social capital. The feeling that one “belongs” in a group, is a valued member in his or her community, fills an essential human need. Small increases in social capital may help us to work a little less feverishly while becoming healthier, more productive and happier…not a bad equation.
Armonk’s revival has begun. The stage is set. A small swing in investment toward social capital and this town will be rocking.
*Music by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Irving Mills
Dr. Rachel Levy-Lombara, an Armonk resident, mom, and licensed Clinical Psychologist, uses evidence-based approaches along with a focus on identifying and nurturing a client’s strengths and genius to help people “swing’”from surviving to thriving. She practices in Chappaqua and can be contacted at DrLevyLombara@aol.com.