Friday, June 16, 2006

A tale of two towns

Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly has often mentioned his boyhood years growing up in the middle class Long Island town of Levittown. The problem is that O'Reilly's mother, in an interview with the Washington Post said that Bill grew up in Westbury. The key piece of evidence for that is that she still lives in that same house, which is in Westbury.

There are variant stories to be found on Wikipedia and the Fox News Web site, as well as from O'Reilly himself who claims that the Post misquoted his mother. The four versions of reality boil down to this:

1. O'Reilly, as reported in the Post article grew up in Westbury, but in housing that was built by the Levitt company.

2. The house was in Levittown when they bought it, but the boundaries changed in 1963, and the location changed to Westbury. This is found in Wikipedia.

3. It was Levittown, and that's that. This comes from O'Reilly who bolsters this claim with a mortgage document from the purchase of the house that he published online.

4. The Fox News Official Biography of O'Reilly, which used to boast that he grew up in the "Westbury section of Levittown."

To start getting the facts, we simply visited the East Meadow Public Library on Long Island and asked to see the 1958 Nassau County phone book. What we found can be seen here:

which shows the elder O'Reilly was, in 1958, a resident of Westbury.

The information provided above contradicts the "deed" which O'Reilly published that supposedly proves that he lived in Levittown all along. This can be seen at: If you examine this document closely, you might notice some peculiarities. The address is (blank) Lane, followed by a comma. Then you drop down three lines into a new paragraph. At the beginning of this, there is a long blank space, another comma, and the name Levittown, New York. This is followed by language that says "hereby to be referred to as the mortgager." A street address is the mortgager? It appears that the long blank at the beginning of that line may be the lending institution that happened to be located in Levittown. The actual town location should have immediately followed "Lane." Furthermore, the information with O'Reilly's parents' names and the end of the street address was done with a typewriter using courier font, and in need of a ribbon. The "Levittown" is in Times New Roman and is noticeably darker - looking like a pre-printed form. In reading through the right wing blogosphere, one can see this document treated as Holy Writ - an absolute slam-dunk that O'Reilly grew up in Levittown.

One creative O'Reilly apologist on Wikipedia, writing under the category of "O'Reilly controversies" made the claim that O'Reilly grew up in Levittown, then in 1963 they changed the town borders to bring the towns in line with the new Zip Code system. As a result of that, O'Reilly's street was sucked into Westbury, where it remains to this day. Again, if this were true, the 1958 phone book would have listed his address as being in Levittown, which it did not. The Wikipedia author cites as evidence of this 1963 land grab one online map that shows Levittown in large letters and no reference to Westbury at all

This dramatic change in the population of Westbury would have been major news in a town whose boundaries were first set in the 1700's. However, author John Dwyer, writing in the Village of Westbury's web page at{25bd8f5e-47ee-4fef-928b-f47883bffc8e} writes:

"In the mid 1950's, Westbury virtually ran out of undeveloped land and with it came the end of the building boom. In 1940, Westbury listed its population at 4,525. By 1960, Westbury's population had grown to 14,757, according to the census data for that year." Nothing here about that major change of boundaries a few years later.

No doubt Dwyer would have been amused by the official Fox News biography of O'Reilly which claimed he grew up in the "Westbury section of Levittown." A 400 year old town had suddenly been relegated to being a section of a town that was created in the 1940's. Fox News has since changed this to say that O'Reilly grew up in Long Island.

Referring to the United States Census of 1970, Volume 1, Part A, Section 2, page 34-37, Levittown, rather than losing population between 1960 and 1970 gained about 150 souls, going from a population of 65,276 in 1960 to 65,440 in 1970. Westbury's population picked up about 500 during that same period, but not, apparently, at the expense of Levittown.

This has been a fascinating journey into the world of "truthiness." If you read everything about this subject written by people with a political agenda, it becomes very complicated. However, as a librarian it is my job to consult objective sources and find out the facts. The truth is what it is. Barring stunning new revelations, Bill O'Reilly grew up in a house in Westbury.


The Scribe said...

I truly detest Bill O'Reilly. He's been caught a few times in compromising positions.

BlondeSense Liz said...

Bill O'Reilly's mom's house is on the block behind mine. There are still people living here who have lived here since the 1950's. It was always called Westbury (or South Westbury or the "Salisbury" section of Westbury). Interestingly, although our public schools here have Westbury addresses and zipcodes like we do, they are part of the East Meadow School district -that's where our taxes go. There are Levitt houses in Hicksville, East Meadow, Wantagh, etc and those places are not called Levittown either.

Why don't any of those morons who defend that O'Lielly lived in Levittown ask someone who lives here? Oh wait, they will think it's some kind of far left conspiracy if we say Westbury.

Nice blog, by the way!

Terry said...

Thanks, Liz. I think the best revenge might be to stage "Bill O'Reilly Days" in Levittown. Lots of towns do that for their famous sons.

Anonymous said...

This is a complicated issue, but I can explain it if you'll bear with me....

First of all, neither Westbury or Levittown are, in fact, "towns". Westbury is a village (a municipal corporation) that was formed in 1932 and known as such for much longer. Levittown is a hamlet (an unincorporated area) of the Town of Hempstead. Westbury is in the Town of North Hempstead. So while they aren't even technically "towns", they also aren't located within the same towns. To further complicate things, the O'Rielly home wasn't in either but instead in Salisbury (or South Westbury as it was known at the time) which is also a hamlet in the Town of Hempstead. Because of non-conforming postal zones, all parts of Salisbury have either a Westbury or East Meadow mailing address (and always have) and as the previous poster mentioned, all parts of Salisbury attend school in the East Meadow School District.

The O'Rielly home is indeed a Levitt house, however that area was at no time called "Levittown" nor were the boundaries of Levittown/Westbury redrawn at any time. As liz also mentioned, there are Levitt homes throughout Long Island, not just limited to Levittown.

As for the mortgage papers, there is no law that requires a bank, developer or otherwise to print the proper name of the locale where the structure is built. Names of developments are made up constantly and then quickly forgotten, most times to make areas seem more desirable. When the O'Rielly house was built, "Levittown" was a development in and around Island Trees and not yet officially named.

Lastly, I'd also like to point out that Levittown, NY and Salisbury, NY are completely on par with one another from a socioeconomic standpoint - with Levittown most often being considered ever so slightly more ritzy than the adjacent area. The Village of Westbury itself is not an upper crust area either, in fact it is mostly viewed as somewhat lower class than both Salisbury and Levittown because it has a rough high school that draws kids from New Cassel, which is a poor neighborhood.

So do I think Bill O'Rielly lied? Maybe, but he could have simply been misinformed about the geography.

Terry said...

Misinformed? Can we picture him in his late teens filling out college applications, and puzzling over what city he lives in?

Anonymous said...

While I might be a little late to the party, I agree with everything you said. I did grow up in the same neighborhood with the O'Reilly's - they lived right behind us. He isn't misinformed; he is choosing to posture a different reality. And I am really not sure because the neighborhood we grew up in was a great one..

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!