ROCKAWAY BEACH — Laura Cryan remembers the big, bright whale statue covered in pieces of tile that lived at Beach 95th Street since she was a kid.
Whalemina, as the statue was called, was brought to Rockaway after being tossed from the Central Park Zoo, serving as the area’s unofficial mascot and welcoming visitors.
That mascot was one of many things lost during Hurricane Sandy — destroyed by the tide, its tail ending up in someone’s front yard. What happened to the rest of her remains a mystery.
But Cryan, 23, hopes to keep her memory alive, and solve some of the mystery, in a children’s book with illustrations by the same artist who beautified the statue for decades — and she's set up a fundraising page to help get her project off the ground.
“Whalemina was so special,” she said. “It makes me so sad that little kids don’t know who [she] is.”
Cryan, a writer and bartender who is pursuing a career as an ESL teacher, was living in Venezuela last fall during the anniversary of the storm, and got the idea for "The Story of Whalemina" while looking at photos from home.
“I was so far away from home and I knew that I wanted to write something,” about her experiences with Hurricane Sandy, she said.
Whalemina began as Jonah’s Whale in the Central Park Zoo and was brought to Rockaway in the mid-'90s after a local civic group pushed for the statue to be closer to the sea.
Jonah, who was renamed Whalemina in a local contest, lost her tail during the trip and was delivered to Rockaway in sad shape.
Then-Parks Commissioner Henry Stern told the New York Times in 1997 that “the Rockaway people promised they would make it beautiful.''
That job fell mainly on artist Geoff Rawling, who beautified the statue for years and covering her mouth after neighbors complained of people sleeping inside.
He wasn’t surprised she was destroyed, he said, but saw a symbolism in the loss.
“It creates a mythology,” he said. “It’s a mystery. Where did she go?”
Rawling, now 53, will illustrate Cryan’s book and is also designing a new Whalemina, who will be portable and made out of fiberglass.
Cryan is looking to raise $2,000 to help offset the cost of self-publishing, and would also like to put some of the proceeds towards the planned recreation of Whalemina.
Both the book and the future statue will help keep Whalemina alive.
“Like anything in life, memory is important,” Rawling said. “This is passing it on generation to generation.”
Cryan’s book takes on a fantasy element and imagines a young Whalemina as an adventurous little whale who loved mischief — and ends up in the zoo after getting lost.
The book then takes her on her journeys through New York City in the 1970s, 1980s and up until the 1990s when she finds a new home on the peninsula.
“You can find yourself in all these different places and meet all these different people,” she said.
“But at the end of the day you're going to find your family and find your home again.”
To donate to "The Story of Whalemina," visit Cryan's Go Fund Me page.