History

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Above, a 19th-century glass plate portrait of mother and infant in Australia. Photo courtesy Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences
Whaling wives in the 19th century faced daunting challenges
Nomi Dayan

By Nomi Dayan

As I prepare to become a mother for the third time around, I am brought to reflect on one of the most dirty, reeking and unlikely places possible to birth a baby: a whaleship. Today’s challenges with pregnancy and childbirth pale in comparison with the experience of the 19th-century woman — and even more so, the challenge whaling wives faced at sea.

 

Because whaling wives saw so very little of their husbands, some resorted to going out to sea — a privilege reserved for the wife of the captain. Aside from dealing with cramped and filthy conditions, poor diets, isolation and sickness, many wives eventually found themselves — or even started out — “in circumstance.”

In the 19th century, pregnancy was never mentioned outright. Even in their private diaries, whaling wives rarely hinted to their pregnancies. Some miserably record an increase in seasickness. Only the very bold dared to delicately remark on the creation of pregnancy clothes. Adra Ashley of the Reindeer wrote to a friend in 1860, “I am spending most of my time mending — I want to say what it was, but how can I! How dare I!” Martha Brown of Orient was more forward by mentioning in her diary in 1848 that she is “fixing an old dress into a loose dress,” with “loose” meaning “maternity.”

Once the time of birth approached, women at sea faced two options: to be left on land — often while the crew continued on — or to give birth on board. Giving birth on land was far preferable, as the mother would be theoretically closer to medical care and whatever social support was available. Martha Brown was left in Honolulu — much to her personal dismay to see her husband depart for 7 months on the Lucy Ann — but fell into a supportive society of women, most left themselves in similar situations.

During Martha’s “confinement” after birth when she was restricted to bed rest, a fellow whaling wife nursed her. When Captain Brown returned, he wrote to his brother: “Oahu. I arrived here and to my joy found my wife enjoying excellent health with as pretty a little son as eyes need to look upon. A perfect image of his father of course — blue eyes and light hair, prominent forehead and filled with expression.”

Giving birth on land did not always ensure a hygienic setting as one would hope. Abbie Dexter Hicks of Westport accompanied her husband Edward on the Mermaid, sailing out in 1873. Her diary entry on the Seychelles was: “Baby born about 12 — caught two rats.”

Some whaleships found reaching a port before birth tricky. In 1874, Thomas Wilson’s wife Rhoda of the James Arnold of New Bedford was about to give birth, but when the ship arrived at the Bay of Islands of New Zealand, there was no doctor in town. A separate boat was sent to search up the Kawakawa River for 14 miles; when a doctor was finally found and retrieved, the captain informed the doctor that it was a girl.

Some babies were born aboard whaleships — either by design or by accident, despite hardly ideal conditions. Births, if recorded in the ship’s logbook, were mentioned matter of factly. Charles Robbins of the Thomas Pope recorded in April 1862: “Looking for whales … reduced sail to double reef topsails at 9 p.m. Mrs. Robbins gave birth of a Daughter and doing nicely. Latter part fresh breezes and squally. At 11am took in the mainsail.”

Captain Charles Nicholls was in for a surprise when he headed to New Zealand on the Sea Gull in 1853 with his wife. Before the birth, fellow Captain Peter Smith had told him during a gam (social visit at sea), “Tis easy,” and advised the first mate be ready to take over holding the baby once it was born. When the time came, Captain Nicholls dutifully handed the baby to the first mate, only to return several minutes later shouting, “My God! Get the second mate, fast!” — upon when he promptly handed out a second infant.

Captain Parker Hempstead Smith’s wife went into labor unexpectedly: “Last night we had an addition to our ship’s company,” seaman John States recorded on Feb. 18, 1846 on board the Nantasket of New London, “for at 9 p.m., Mrs. Smith was safely delivered of a fine boy whose weight is eight lbs. This is quite a rare thing at sea, but fortunately no accident happened. Had anything occurred, there would have been no remedy and we should have had to deplore the loss of a fine good hearted woman.”

He also added his good wishes for the baby: “Success to him — may he live to be a good whaleman — though that would make him a great rascal.”

A pregnant Martha Brown had two options, to be left in Honolulu while the crew continued on or to give birth on board. She chose the first.

The author is the executive director of The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor.

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More reading:

▶ Joan Druett, “Petticoat Whalers.” Auckland: Collins, 1991.

▶ Anne MacKay, Ed. “She Went a Whaling: The Journal of Martha Smith Brewer Brown.” Orient, NY: Oysterponds Historical Society, 1993.

Members of the Col. Mickey Marcus Post 336 of the Jewish War Veterans Robert Sandberg, Leon Margolies, Stan Feltman, Marty Kupferberg and Ed Brandes after participating in the East Setauket Memorial Day Parade in May. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The oldest war veterans organization in the country is still going strong on the North Shore.

Membership in the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America Post 336 may have decreased over the decades — the name even changed this year from Three Village to Col. Mickey Marcus Post 336 — but nothing has changed when it comes to the members’ mission of supporting their fellow veterans.

Stan Feltman, a member of the post, sells poppies to raise funds for veterans regularly outside the Middle Island Walmart or the 7-Eleven on Route 112 just south of Route 83. Recently he helped raise $5,000 for the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University along with his fellow post members. The World War II veteran said he brings photos from wartime with him on his fundraising excursions to show those who donate.

“Once they see some of these pictures, instead of giving me a buck, they give me five dollars,” Feltman said.

Stan Feltman was a B-29 tail gunner in the United States Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1945. Photo from Stan Feltman

The 91-year-old was a B-29 tail gunner in the United States Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1945. Besides selling poppies, he participates in lectures at schools and senior groups. Recently he was interviewed for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, an initiative established to collect and preserve firsthand remembrances of wartime veterans. Feltman said he and members of Post 336 believe it’s important to educate others about their service.

“I think the kids don’t realize what we went through,” he said. “That’s why every once in a while I will go and talk to them.”

The Coram resident said he has been a member of Post 336 for a few years. The organization welcomes Jewish service men and women from the Three Village community and surrounding areas who served during a wartime period.

Among the members is Arthur Golnick of Stony Brook, who served from 1951 to 1952 in the Cold War as a private first class in the United States Army. He joined the post 35 years ago when the members would meet at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station. Through the decades, he said he has participated with his fellow local veterans in countless parades and ceremonies.

“We want people to know the history of past events,” Golnick said.

He said overall he’s most proud of the post’s main function of helping their fellow veterans, especially those at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook and Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Stony Brook resident Robert Sandberg, a member of the post for 30 years, said Civil War soldiers who fought on the Union side founded the Jewish War Veterans in 1896. Sandberg said it was started after stories, propagated by author Mark Twain, circulated that Jewish men didn’t serve in the Civil War.

Robert Sandberg, a retired United States Air Force lieutenant colonel, at a recent Post 336 event. Photo from Alan Golnick

Sandberg served for 25 years in the United States Air Force and retired in 1982 as a lieutenant colonel. He said while he was in Vietnam, he didn’t see battle. His son Scott followed in his military footsteps and became a tanker pilot in the Air Force and recently retired as a colonel.

While Sandberg continued to work after leaving the military, including for Suffolk County and Huntington, he said he hasn’t done anything nearly as interesting or challenging as his time in the military.

The post members have the opportunity to share stories of their days in the military during meetings held once a month in the New Village Recreation Center on Wireless Road in Centereach.

Golnick said he was stationed in Germany for a while. He said he has fond memories of being an umpire for the regiment’s softball team, but doses of reality were never too far away. He said the barracks were just walking distance from a former concentration camp.

“You could tell by the smell,” he said.

Feltman, who grew up in Brooklyn, said it was during his stint in boot camp that he first encountered anti-Semitism. He said one of his fellow soldiers kept giving him a hard time about his religion.

“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “I got along with all of the other soldiers that were in that barrack.”

One day after calisthenics class and another verbal altercation, he said the dispute turned physical. Instead of facing punishment, the commanding officers asked him to box for his section — considering at 5 feet 9 inches tall and 136 pounds he had just sent a 6 feet 2 inches tall soldier weighing 220 pounds to the hospital. In 1944, Feltman won a boxing championship in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Arthur Golnick, of Stony Brook, served from 1951 to 1952 in the Cold War as a private first class in the United States Army. Photo from Alan Golnick

Despite the bond among the veterans, membership continues to decline, and out of the approximately 50 official members of Post 336, about 20 are active.

“The challenge for our organization, like all veterans organizations, is that the younger generations aren’t interested in joining,” Sandberg said, adding that the number of Jewish War Veterans members doesn’t accurately represent Jewish people serving in the military over the years. During World War II, 500,000 Jewish soldiers served, and 11,000 were killed.

As for the post name change this year from Three Village to Col. Mickey Marcus Post 336, Sandberg said while Marcus wasn’t a Long Island resident, he was an admirable Jewish veteran. A United States Army colonel, Marcus went on to assist Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and became the country’s first modern general. He was killed by friendly fire and is buried at West Point Cemetery.

Sandberg said sharing time with others who have served is vital for veterans, and he encourages them to join organizations to share their unique experiences. 

“Other vets will understand instantly when you start talking to them,” Sandberg said. “You sense an understanding. It’s maybe like a subconscious language or something because of the common experience that you had. When you meet other vets, and you hang around with them, you get this tremendous feeling. It’s not quite camaraderie, but it’s a bond; it’s a meeting of people that have the same experience that others don’t. So that’s a special thing that you get from being in a veterans organization.”

For more information, visit the website www.jwvpost336.blogspot.com.

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Above, Vanderbilt’s 213-foot diesel yacht Ara, a refitted French warship. Vanderbilt Museum Archive photo

Epic cruise began 89 years ago

William K. Vanderbilt II, an expert yachtsman, naval officer and marine naturalist, first circumnavigated the globe in 1928-29. Eighty-nine years ago — on Oct. 28, 1928 — he and his wife, Rosamond, a few friends, and a crew of 40 boarded the Vanderbilt yacht Ara, moored in Northport Bay, just off the Eagle’s Nest estate grounds.

Above, from left, Rosamond and William Vanderbilt, atop camels at the Pyramid of Cheops in Giza, Egypt, 1929. To the right is the Great Sphinx. Vanderbilt Museum Archive photo

The crew weighed anchor and, with Vanderbilt at the helm, pointed the 213-foot ship westward toward New York City, then headed for the Atlantic. The Ara cruised southward along the eastern seaboard, passed through the Panama Canal and steamed across the Pacific. The voyagers made numerous ports of call in the South Pacific, Asia, the Middle East, through the Red Sea to Mediterranean destinations, through the Strait of Gibraltar and back home. By the time they arrived back in Miami six months later, they had traveled 28,738 miles.

During the journey, Vanderbilt collected marine and natural-history specimens for his Hall of Fishes museum in Centerport. Artist William Belanske, hired away from the American Museum of Natural History, traveled with the Vanderbilts. He made detailed paintings of many of the fish collected for the museum.

By late 1929, Vanderbilt, using his ship logs and photographs, produced and privately printed a 264-page book about the journey, “Taking One’s Own Ship Around the World.” Nineteen full-color plates of Belanske’s work are included.

Chapter One begins: “For years I had waited and toiled for the moment when, as captain of my own ship, I would be able to undertake a voyage rarely accomplished — the circumnavigation of the globe. Even as a youngster, I had a leaning toward the sea, and lost no opportunity to pass my hours of leisure near the water. As time went on, I gained experience and a certain amount of knowledge in the handling of small boats.”

Vanderbilt became an expert sailor and owned a series of increasingly larger boats. Just before the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the U.S, Naval Reserve and was commissioned a lieutenant, junior grade. After America entered the war, he began sea duty in command of the torpedo boat SP-124, originally his own 152-foot steam turbine-powered yacht, Tarantula 1.

“Strangely, in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the army rejected me, a freshman then at Harvard, because of a weak heart. Apparently, at thirty-nine, I had staged a comeback.”

In February 1918, Vanderbilt passed an exam and obtained his Master’s certificate. Later, advanced endorsements made his certificate “good for all oceans and unlimited tonnage.”

In 1928, he purchased the motor yacht Ara, a refitted French warship built originally for the British Navy.

From an article on the Ara voyage in The New York Sun in 1929: “Paris, April 12 — William K. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Vanderbilt are pausing here on one of the most interesting around-the-world cruises ever undertaken. Other yachtsmen have circled the globe in their own ships, but Mr. Vanderbilt is no mere passenger — he is the master of his 213-foot motor yacht Ara and employs no captain. He attends to all matters of navigation himself and takes all responsibility himself for the safety of his ship and complement of over forty persons.

“Mr. Vanderbilt has three watch officers to help work the ship, but in stormy weather it he is who remains on the bridge, and who performs the other fatiguing duties that go with command of a vessel.

“However, this is no novelty for him. For fifteen years, he has been a licensed master, qualified to sail any ocean, and he holds the rank of lieutenant-commander in the United States Naval Reserve. The Ara carries several guns, but her owner made it clear today these were used solely for saluting. He strongly believes in the efficacy of a friendly approach.”

Visit the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport through the holidays to view more photos of William K. Vanderbilt’s adventures including a photo of him as a child with his parents and grandparents on a ship on the Nile; of him at various ages with his cars and large marine specimens; and with the crew of the Alva, in the Ship Model Room of the Memorial Wing in the mansion. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or go to www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Events were held across the North Shore last week in honor of Veterans Day.

State and local officials gathered to remember all those who served, and celebrate those still serving at local parks and memorials.

Events included a Veterans Day service at Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park. Resident Debbie Goldhammer presented Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto and all of the veterans in attendance with a themed painting and three hand-painted rocks from her client David Weinstein, a quadriplegic who couldn’t be in attendance but wanted to thank his local veterans.

Heritage Park in Mount Sinai displayed its annual Parade of American Flags. Members of Mount Sinai Boy Scout Troop 390 — Brian McCrave, Trevor Satchell-Sabalja, John Lamparter, Kim DeBlasio, Joseph McDermott, Matthew Lamparter, Brandon McCrave, John DeBlasio and Jake DeBlasio — helped assemble the flags.

A speech and presentation of wreaths ceremony commemorated the day at East Setauket Memorial Park.

Huntington Town officials paid a special tribute to all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces in a Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 5 at 9 a.m. The ceremony placed special recognition to this year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I with a flowered wreath laid at the flagpole memorial.

In addition, Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) held a moment of silence for two Huntington veterans who have recently died.

Dominick Feeney Sr., a longtime Huntington Town highway supervisor and former organizer of the town’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade,  served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He died Oct. 15.

Northport resident Alice Early Fay, served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and Korean War and received many awards including the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the National Campaign Medal.  She was a member of the Huntington Veterans Advisory Board and was chairwoman of the committee that built the town’s Women Veterans Memorial in front of town hall. Fay died Nov. 2.

A cornucopia of crime and punishment

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Kerriann Flanagan Brosky

“Historic Crimes of Long Island” by Kerriann Flanagan Brosky is a highly readable journey through “Misdeeds from the 1600s to the 1950s.” The Huntington author has collected 20 tales of local mayhem, ranging from murder to kidnapping, crimes motivated by money, passion and, occasionally, insanity. Brosky’s tight, you-are-there prose propels the reader from one piece to another, covering a wide range of sinister and often heinous actions. As aptly stated in the Preface, the book includes “pirates, witches, jealousy, revenge, tar and feathering, beheadings, drownings, madmen eccentrics, axe murderers and more.”

Brosky never shies away from skin-crawling detail where appropriate; but what separates this work from many others like it is her compassion for the victims. More often than not, books that chronicle the darker side of history tend to celebrate the perpetrators. Brosky instead shows great sensitivity and understanding of the targets. She offers insight into the motivation of the offenders but never excuses or glamorizes their actions. She does not revel in evil but explores it from multiple angles. She is more interested in the “why.”

The book wisely eschews chronology but instead opts for contrast as the accounts venture back and forth throughout time, weaving a rich tapestry, no two stories identical. Incidents in Quogue, Huntington, Islip, Smithtown, Westhampton Beach and other well-known Long Island towns create an intense backdrop to the range of occurrences.

Brosky focuses on not just a variety of episodes but chooses to spotlight different aspects of the proceedings. The Corn Doctor Murder exams a tangled legal system whereas The Mad Killer of Suffolk County emphasizes a sociopathy that drives a man to thrill killing.

Kidnapping or Murder? The Alice Parsons Case shows the politics that can interfere with an investigation as the conflict between the FBI and local police left the case unsolved. The Murder of Captain James Craft stretches from Glen Cove to the Tenderloin and includes both deception and decapitation. The Samuel Jones Murder addresses capital punishment in light of a botched hanging in 1875. Buried treasure, a violated burial ground and obsessed gardener are examined in astute detail.

One of the most intriguing entries is East Hampton Witch Trial of 1658. Like all sagas of this era, it shows the power of a vindictive nature in a culture of suspicion. It clearly sites the hysteria and danger but what is unusual in this report is the surprising outcome.

Perhaps the strongest and certainly most heartbreaking is Starr Faithful: Drowning, Murder, or Suicide. Here is a devastating sketch of a tragically abused girl, ill-treated from a very young age. This is a detailed commentary, mired in deep unhappiness, promiscuity, alcoholism and blackmail. Above all, it is a dimensional portrait of the victim. (As an interesting side note, Starr Faithful was the inspiration for John O’Hara’s novel, “Butterfield 8,” and the Elizabeth Taylor movie that followed.)

The book is well illustrated with photos, period prints and newspaper clippings, supplemented by Penny Dreadful-style illustrations by author Joan Harrison (who also provided the Foreword). Some stories are solved; others are left open, haunted by doubts and conflicting evidence. A variety of characters sharply presented, flesh out this slender but consistently engaging composition, sure to please a wide range of readers this Halloween season.

“Historic Crimes of Long Island,” published by The History Press, is available online at www.amazon.com and local bookstores. Upcoming lectures and book signings in the area include Port Jefferson Free Library on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., Northport Historical Society on Oct. 29 at 2 p.m, and Half Hollow Hills Community Library in Dix Hills on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.kerriannflanaganbrosky.com.

The donation made by Eugene Sayan will help with plans to renovate the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Image from Marc Alessi

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe aims to be a major hub of exploration and innovation on Long Island, not only preserving Nikola Tesla’s legacy but actively helping to inspire the inventors of tomorrow. It is now another step closer to that thanks to the generosity of a local entrepreneur greatly inspired by the Serbian-American scientist.

During a celebration of the nonprofit’s long-term vision for its Shoreham site last month at the The Ward Melville Heritage Organization Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook, it was announced that
Eugene Sayan — the founder and CEO of Stony Brook-based health care efficiency company Softheon Inc., will donate $1 million in support of the future museum, business incubator for scientific research and student-geared education facility.

Eugene Sayan, CEO of Stony Brook-based Softheon Inc. made a $1 million donation to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Photo from LinkedIn

With the donation, the center currently has $5 million of a $20 million capital campaign goal set up in March of this year. The funding will allow the center to begin phase one of its construction projects on the grounds of Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. The starting plan is to turn two abandoned buildings on the property into visitor and exhibition spaces for science education programs by next year, and renovate the historic, Stanford White-designed laboratory. Maintenance of the buildings and staff is also part of the overall budget.

“It’s truly amazing,” said Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director, a driving force behind the center’s plans. “There’s certainly worldwide interest in this place, but Eugene’s donation is validation that there’s also an interest from local innovators in making sure this gets launched.”

Sayan, an Eastern European immigrant himself whose innovative company “strives to create simple solutions to complex problems,” has, unsurprisingly, always felt a strong connection to Tesla and looked to him as a source of inspiration while building his business. When he was made aware of Wardenclyffe during a meeting with the center’s national chair of fundraising Joe Campolo and learned of the plan to build something more than just a museum in Tesla’s name, he quickly involved himself in the effort. In the wake of Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s $1 million donation to the center in 2014, Sayan wanted to be the first entrepreneur in the local area to make a significant contribution, while inspiring others to follow his lead.

“It’s an honor to support the Tesla Science Center and its celebration of the important work of Nikola Tesla,”
Sayan said in a statement. “His work and innovation have made an impact on my life, and I’m very happy that Softheon is supporting such an important initiative on Long Island.”

“Having a capability as a science center helps with sustainability. People will keep coming back for family memberships, our new exhibits, to send their kids to robotics and coding classes.”

— Marc Alessi

Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn said Sayan’s benefaction, and others like it, will serve to successfully energize the legacy and impact of the inventor of alternating current electricity.

“Mr. Sayan is giving us support when we need it most,” Alcorn said. “We hope others will see the good that this can bring and consider giving a gift of this nature as well. Not everybody has the capacity to do something like this but when people who do have that ability act in a forward-thinking way like this, it benefits all of us. This contribution will make a real difference.”

The center’s board members estimate the entirety of their planned facility will be available to the public by 2022. Upon completion of the project, they said, not only will it include a museum and an immersive science center — including a STEM education program for students, TED Talk-style lectures and workshops for emerging scientists and entrepreneurs and traveling exhibits — it will house a Makerspace program offering lab rooms and classes in areas ranging from 3-D printing to synthetic fabrication and robotics. Incubator programs will also be set up to connect startup businesses from around the world to the site. If a company meets the center’s criteria, with Tesla-oriented focuses like electrical or mechanical engineering, its owners can apply for crowdsourcing and mentorships.

Plans are also in place to work with the Department of Education to implement Tesla into the K-12 science
curriculums of surrounding school districts.

Tesla Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi at the current Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

Alessi added that because the closest major regional science center, the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, is a hike for North Shore residents, he hopes the science center will provide a similar experience for them.

“Having a capability as a science center helps with sustainability,” he said. “People will keep coming back for family memberships, our new exhibits, to send their kids to robotics and coding classes. We eventually want to be the go-to source.”

He said it’s important the center become a place that would make its namesake proud.

“If Nikola Tesla walked onto this site after it’s opened and all we had was a museum dedicated to what he was doing 100 years ago, he would be ticked off,” Alessi said. “Just having a static museum here isn’t enough. On-site innovation really honors what Tesla was doing. [Tesla] was a futurist, he saw where things would go, and that’s what can inspire the Teslas of today and tomorrow. If you bring an 8-year-old child here who gets hands-on science experience, we’re going to inspire a future scientist. We want to help people see the value of science.”

Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry talks about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft — during the spirits tour Oct. 21. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Spirits of the Prohibition: Setauket in the Roaring 20s provided the overall theme for the Three Village Historical Society’s 23rd Annual Spirits Tour in the graveyards of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and Caroline Episcopal Church Oct. 21.

“My family was traditionally Episcopalian but my father Melville Havens Bryant had become a rabid prohibitionist, and the Methodist Church embraced temperance so we changed affiliation,” George Overin, playing William Washington Bryant (1859-1937), said. “Father was so committed to the cause that he would cross the street rather than walk in front of a saloon.”

George Overin as William Washington Bryant talks about the Prohibition during the spirits tour. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

More than 300 attendees followed guides that took them on a walk to meet 14 colorful but deceased local residents who entertained them with stories of their lives and the people in the Three Village communities. Guided tours began at 5 p.m. and a new group stepped out from the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall every 15 minutes through 7:45 p.m.

In addition to the tours through the cemeteries, tour participants were treated to an exhibit on Prohibition with many artifacts and visuals from The Long Island Museum’s Prohibition exhibit, Midnight Rum, on view in the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall. The exhibit featured a 1933 beer keg from Trommer’s Brewery, which Trommer’s rebranded and pressed this pre-Prohibition keg into service to help satisfy its large number of beer orders.

Tour groups were also treated to an evening of jazz in the hall by the Ward Melville Honors Jazztet with Andrew Cavese, Max Liueberman, Miles Bruno and Jared Gozinsky providing the delightful jazz on bass, sax, guitar and drums.

“It was a court room, meeting hall, lecture hall, but most notably what it was used for was square dancing and late at night, if the spirit got my papa, you would see some fancy footwork at the Stone Jug,” Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry (1855-1956) said, talking about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft.

Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong talks to tour participants about her “True Tales.” Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Stony Brook was also celebrated with stories about Robert Cushman Murphy. He and his wife Grace Barstow Murphy are buried in Rhode Island, but Robert Murphy was here as a visiting spirit along with lifelong Stony Brook resident Etta Sherry, who is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.

“Suffolk County, right here where you are, was the very first county in the entire world to have DDT banned in 1956, and Grace and I spearheaded that effort with some other people,” Art Billadello, playing Robert Cushman Murphy (1887-1973), said.

Setauket’s Kate Wheeler Strong (1879-1977), historian, teacher and storyteller, who is buried in the Smith-Strong cemetery on Strong’s Neck, wrote articles on Long Island local history for the Long Island Forum from 1938 until 1976. She also put her articles into a series of booklets she called “True Tales.”

“My love of history came from my father who knew every story about the family and the local people living here,” Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong said. “He’s the one who inspired me to write about ‘True Tales.’”

Participants, especially those who took the early tours before dark, were treated to a view of the restored Caroline Church Carriage Shed adjacent to the church parking lot. Built in 1887, it is a unique example of a seven-bay carriage shed that was an important feature in the community during the era of the horse and buggy.

This year’s Spirits Tour was also special for the beautiful weather and starry skies that made for a pleasant, fun and informative event for everyone who participated.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

By Desirée Keegan

The North Shore is losing one of its most powerful lobbyists.

The North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce announced its dismantling this month, as the result of president Jennifer Dzvonar stepping down. Currently no members or outside businesses leaders have stepped up to take her place.

North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Dzvonar, also owner of Bass Electric in Port Jefferson Station, with her husband William. File photo

Dzvonar did not return requests for comment, but Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who represents the territory that’s home to most of the area businesses involved in the chamber, said she was shocked, but not surprised, knowing the Port Jefferson Station’s Bass Electric owner has a family of young children.

“It’s very time consuming,” Bonner said of being a chamber leader. “I’m surprised no one else stepped up to the plate, but I understand the quandary they’re in. Volunteerism on any level really, really does cut into your personal life. It’s a lot of balls to juggle and I know, because I’m a serial volunteer. I have a lot of respect for people who put their family first.”

Losing the 17-year-old business network, a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses, means losing a go-to organization for new small businesses owners seeking help. The towns it covers also lose a local advocate fighting on behalf of the business community in the community it serves. It is not only a welcoming committee but it also helps promote business in the area. The dismembering of the chamber will result in less funding and support for tourism and trade, and the loss of a large scholarship program for local high school seniors — including those who reside in Wading River, Shoreham, Rocky Point, Sound Beach, Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson Station and Terryville.

“People will miss new business owners wanting to get involved with the chamber, not having a go-to person,” said Bonner, whose comments were also echoed by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “But as council people we will, as we always do, make our doors open to help with the process.”

The future of the train car

The breaking down of the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce leaves the future of the historic train car at Memorial American Flag Park on the corner of Route 112 and Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station in question, but executive director Mike Poveromo said residents needn’t worry.

Despite the dismantling of the chamber, Poveromo, although he refrained from providing specific details just yet, said a Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce will be emerging, and taking with it, the responsibility of using dues to pay for what was once the chamber of commerce’s office.

“The train is one of the first electric trains and one of the two remaining of its model on Long Island,” Poveromo said. “The train car is a 1914 baggage/passenger car, that was in use from Jamaica Station to Grand Central Station. In my opinion, it is not only a chamber office, it is a community landmark.”

At the park is also a 20-feet wide, by 30-feet long American flag. A remembrance piece from the World Trade Center is also encompassed into the foundation circle.

“The picnic tables provide visitors and residents the opportunity to enjoy the area when taking a break when shopping, driving and visiting our area,” he said. “I am not concerned when the north Brookhaven chamber closes, since a new chamber is being formed, and will continue its ongoing effort in this respect.”

Mike Poveromo, general manager of Family Times Event Rentals in Mount Sinai and executive director of the chamber, said he knows a thing or two about how demanding the position can be. He joined the then-Miller Place-Mount Sinai Chamber, a small group of 30 local merchants, and eventually moved from membership director to president in 1997. He then served as president of the Council of Dedicated Merchants Chamber of Commerce from 1998 to 2004, which is when the chamber grew to include Sound Beach and Rocky Point. His business was also active in the Port Jefferson Station and Shoreham/Wading River chambers.

“Some of the first local merchants who welcomed me, like Mike Allen of Janitorial Plus and Paul Houghton of Miller Place Sea Food made a lasting impression,” Poveromo said. “They convinced me to become the volunteer membership director. But being a volunteer officer or director of any chamber of commerce is a demanding undertaking, especially in this time in history when both residents and business owners feel they do not have enough time in their day for personal, meaningful and beneficial relationships.”

The executive director recalled what to him was the first significant program established to connect business owners with the community — the Music and Arts Festival at Mount Sinai’s Cedar Beach. It was also the place to raise funds to support the scholarship.

“The chamber membership grew quickly, the business and residential community grew rapidly once the four-lane highway was in place [on 25A],” Poveromo said.

Poveromo said he is worried about the future of the area businesses.

“The days of when your doctor knew you, your whole family, your pharmacist helped you personally, your local butcher, baker and dentist that had your family covered is gone,” he said. “Today it is all about fast food, cheap service and instant gratification.”

He said he feels the dismantling of the chamber is a huge mistake.

“I cannot answer the question of why no member business owner or director hasn’t stepped up to the plate to bring the NBCOC into the future, but it could be they feel they could not afford to volunteer their personal time and expertise away from their business and family,” he said. “With no serious candidate willing to take over, I understand and support the chamber’s decision to dismantle, and this will open up new opportunities for individual town business leaders to open a chamber of commerce and promote their community as a great place to live, work, raise a family and open a business.”

Currently, a Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce is in the works, but no merchants have stepped up to fill the void in the other hamlets.

“It is a loss to hometown recognition for small businesses embedded for years in the fabric of the community they serve,” Poveromo said. “Today’s new small business start-ups must find innovative ways and the means to become part of the community fabric. They are choosing to open and invest their time, money and talents in the American dream, and the chamber of commerce is a great resource. New chamber leaders must find solutions to show and prove to residents the value of shopping locally at small business locations where owners are making a direct investment in the towns they chose to open a business.”

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

Neither rain nor political pressure was going to stop proud Italian-Americans from marching along Huntington’s Main Street in honor of Christopher Columbus.

Huntington Town’s annual Columbus Day Parade was held Oct. 8 as spectators gathered in groups under storefront awnings, waving small red, white and green flags and some wearing “Save Columbus Day” t-shirts.

Paradegoers were treated to a series of floats, marching bands and vintage cars. Cries of “Viva Italia” filled the air. This year’s grand marshals featured Robert Fonti, legislative liasion for Suffolk County and a longtime parade committee member; and Sal “The Voice” Valentinett, of Bethpage, of “America’s Got Talent” fame.

Honored guests were Lou Kron, owner of Madison Steak House in Hauppauge, for his generous donations to the Sons of Italy over many years; and Lou Gallo, locally known for dressing up as Christopher Columbus and a strong supporter of Italian-American heritage, according to parade chairman Keith Wilson.

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