Saint Anns Cemetery Sayville, Suffolk County, New York, USA
Camilla Zdenek Munkelwitz (1890-1975) was a long Island woman of eccentric and perhaps bisexual inclination.
Camilla Zdenek was the daughter of Johan Zdenek (1853–1938) and Katherine Melsha (1862–1936). She married into the ethnic Bohemian community on Long Island. In 1912 she married William Henry Munkelwitz (1874–1961). She had two children: Shirlee Norma Munklewitz Nugent (1916–2015) and Robert "Bob" Dewitt Munnell (1925–1999), who later became an important figure in Cherry Grove's politics.
Munkelwitz preferred the company of gay men in Cherry Grove, where she raised her son, Bob Munnell, becoming something of a local legend.
The reputed existence of a 1930s “nudist colony” to the east of Cherry Grove signified the relaxed hold of civilized rules. Years later, Camilla Munkelwitz claimed to have been “in that Pines nudist camp. I’ve always been for nudism; I think it’s perfectly healthy”. In the late 1940s, a woman named Kay, Munkelwitz, and a third woman from Chicago who was Kay's friend, were arrested for nude sunbathing. The friend gave the address of a Chicago brothel as her own in order to confound the police.
When Cherry Grove's residents refused to rent houses to gay people, they’d just go to Munkelwitz and tell her they were one of the boys, and she’d find them a house right away.
The summer newspaper the Fire Island News regularly covered the resort with photos, stories, and a gossip column that often took gay mores as a given, but when it published an interview in 1968 by Emmet Murray with Grove old-timer Camilla Munkelwitz (“Meet Camilla, the Grand Gadabout Dame of the Grove.”) in which she frankly discussed how the Grove had turned gay in the 1930s and aired her somewhat uncomplimentary views on the gay phenomenon, the volume of protest from the Grove was “unprecedented in the history of the Fire Island News,” according to the editor. Temporarily all Grove businesses pulled their ads and stopped distributing the paper. Most of these outraged callers, according to the paper, identified themselves as falsely defamed straight residents and claimed that straights actually made up “nearly half” of the Grove population.
Although Camilla was always mentioned by Grovers as loving gay men, she is quoted in the same article as saying, “I think these gay fellows are sick. Oh, I don’t mean bad sick or dangerous sick; just that a certain something is wrong.”
One of the reason the articles infuriated Grovers was its inclusion of a photo of Camilla with Grove "girl" Kay, who was identified in the caption as "a liker of women". Kay was supposed to have suffered serious repercussions from one relatives as a result of being "outed" - old-timers were still referring to this twenty years later as a reason why the Grove should avoid publicity.
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