By Rita J. Egan
With the help of those who appreciate history, events of the past have a chance to live on. Margo Arceri is one of those history lovers, and her passion has inspired others to learn more about their local landscape.
Arceri didn’t need the AMC series “TURN” to discover how instrumental the members of the Culper Spy Ring were in the Colonies winning the American Revolutionary War. While growing up in Strong’s Neck, she learned about the Setauket spies directly from Kate. W. Strong herself. The great-great-granddaughter of Anna Smith Strong would tell stories of the patriot who used her clothesline to send messages to her fellow spies, and through those tales, Arceri developed a deep curiosity for history and the local intelligence group.
Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly Tyler said Arceri’s passion is so strong her car features “Culper” license plates.
“She loves the Revolutionary War,” Tyler said. “She loves Anna Smith Strong, and the whole idea of the spy ring.”
A few years ago, Arceri, a former vice president and past secretary of the Three Village Historical Society, created Tri-Spy Tours, where participants follow the footsteps of the spies by walking, biking and/or kayaking through the area.
Steven Hintze was the president of the society when Arceri came to him with the idea of the tours. He said he liked the concept and discussed it with the board members.
Hintze said it was while conducting Tri-Spy Tours that Arceri realized there was more to share about local history, so she developed Culper Spy Day, an annual event that sponsors a self-guided tour where attendees visit various structures and museums in the area to learn how the Setauket spies assisted President George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Hintze said the day, which marked its third year in September, has greatly grown in popularity, attracting history lovers from all over the tristate area. According to historical society records, the event attracted twice as many people in 2017 than it did the year prior.
Hintze said he isn’t surprised how popular it has become through Arceri.
“She’s one of those people who has a great personality, she’s friends with everybody,” Hintze said. “She knows a lot of people, and she knows how to put them together.”
Tyler agrees that Arceri has done a wonderful job, especially in getting various organizations involved in Culper Spy Day. Arceri reached out to local groups such as The Long Island Museum, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and Drowned Meadow Cottage in Port Jefferson, which once was owned by the Roe family, members of the ring. The happening has also grown to include organizations outside of the Three Village area, such as Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay and Ketcham Inn in Center Moriches. Tyler said Arceri is working with a historical society in Fairfield, Connecticut, to take part next year.
“I think it’s very important to the area,” the historian said. “It’s starting to bring in people.”
Steve Healy, the Three Village Historical Society’s current president, said when it comes to questions he may have about local history, in addition to Tyler and Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara Russell, he considers Arceri one of his go-to people.
“It’s difficult in today’s environment to dedicate time to history, and she seems to have found a good mix with history and with [her] work,” he said.
Arceri has a knack for getting people to think about history, Healy added, saying it’s apparent during both the Tri-Spy Tours and Culper Spy Day. He said the history buff connects with people by allowing them to ask questions and have a dialogue. She’s known for asking participants: “What do you think happened? What do you think are the elements that drove this situation?” because she doesn’t see historical events in black and white.
“Margo likes to engage people, and that’s one of her strong points, too,” Healy said. “She has many, but one of them is to engage people in a situation where they can have an honest, educated discussion.”
Healy believes the future looks bright for Arceri and her Culper spy ventures.
“I think she’s found a great niche where she can introduce local history to people and grow that further, because she’s always looking to grow,” Healy said. “That’s one of the things that I really like about her. She’ll have a conversation with me and say: ‘Steve, I want to expand. I want to get more people involved in this. I want to teach more people to let them know what happened here.’”