The environmental organization, called Group for the East End, thought the clip referred to the New York island and sent the clip to the government agency that was conducting the report. When it received only a short mention in the final document, the group sent it to the New York media. It became a sensation.
New York media outlets such as Newsday picked up the story, and the bones became bones of contention for the opposition. The Group for the East End called upon the government to conduct archaeological fieldwork to discover more about the bones and other ancient remains that might be on the island. Paleontologists speculated on the possibility of valuable prehistoric finds on the island, based on the bones story.
“It was really big, because it was picked up by a lot of environmental groups that were opposing the sale,” Fleming said. “They latched onto this story.”
But Fleming said his suspicions were aroused from the outset.
“As soon as I saw it in the paper, I knew it was wrong,” he said.
The clue was a reference to the bones being discovered near a lifesaving station. Fleming and the historical society had been conducting extensive research on Plum Island for a book the society plans to publish, and the research showed there wasn’t a lifesaving station on the island in 1879.
“It couldn’t possibly be the same Plum Island,” he said.
But Fleming learned there was a Plum Island that had a lifesaving station in 1879 — our local Plum Island. Fleming made his information known to the local media, and the Southampton Press published stories this week casting doubt on the origin of the bones.
There was still one piece of the puzzle missing. The clip that started the controversy had only been found in the Long Islander newspaper. This week, The Daily News of Newburyport sought to find local evidence to confirm Fleming’s contention.