History

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The William Miller House in Miller Place has seen a face-lift to its windows thanks to local support. Photo from Edna Giffen

By Edna Giffen

For those who live in or visit Miller Place, when driving through our elegant historic district, stop and take a look at the notable changes in our showcase home, the William Miller House located at 75 North Country Road in Miller Place.  The façade of the 1920 flagship home shines with bright, newly painted restored windows.

One of the windows before restoration. Photo from Edna Giffen

On Dec. 5, Jeremiah McGiff of antique restorers Wild Boar Restoration, with the assistance of his cousin Mike McGiff, began this carefully rendered, crucial project. The sash was removed and taken back to the original wood.  Thankfully, the windows were in relatively good condition and only needed minor repairs.  Frames were also taken back to bare wood and repaired as needed (which again proved to be minimal). The sills sustained the most severe damage. As part of this contract the doors on the east end of the house and the first-floor window on the east side of the house were also restored.  Old glass was used for the window panes except for one pane in the east room that was old and had some indecipherable writing on it. Copper was added above the windows and doors to prevent water from getting behind them. The window in the east door was left crooked as it had been found.

The William Miller House was first restored in the early 1980s shortly after the Miller Place Historical Society had purchased it. The windows were part of the restoration and at that time they needed few repairs, but time and the weather were not kind to the windows. The panes face the south, thereby receiving sunlight for much of any day of the year. Trees, which once occupied the front lawn and had protected the house, had all been removed due to disease by the late 1990s. Rain and snow continually contributed to the deterioration of the windows over time.

In 2020, the William Miller house will be 300 years old. The historical society has been working on repairs to ready the home for this momentous event. A new roof replaced the old one in early 2018. The windows had been chosen as the next major project to be tackled. Through the years the windows lost putty around the glass and panes would fall out and need to be replaced. None of the front windows could be opened because it was feared they would fall apart.  

Windows after restoration. Photo from Edna Giffen

Fundraising commenced, including sending out information to the communities of Miller Place and Mount Sinai. The first job to tackle was the six main front windows. However, the cost for the restoration of these six was considerable at $16,800. It would be necessary to do two windows at a time. Then one day, current historical society Treasurer Gerard Mannarino received a phone call from a family in Miller Place who wished to donate the total cost of restoring the six front windows. The members of the board were stunned, ecstatic, and relieved.  Work could now begin.  

Additional funds from two donors, Jack Soldano, of Comics for a Cause fame, and fundraisers sponsored by the historical society were available to restore the remaining front windows, the east side window and the doors on the east end.

The change has been truly dramatic. All the windows but one date from the 1720s, 1730s or 1750s.  

Thirteen windows remain to be restored, and fundraising is ongoing. We remain hopeful that these too will be brought to their original luster.

Meanwhile, we invite you to enjoy a freshened view of history. Come and see how a labor of love and generosity has placed a new lens and stunning façade on a shining landmark in our community.

Edna Giffen is a 12th-generation Mount Sinai resident. She is a local historian, archivist and current record keeper and recording secretary of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society.

A scene from Theatre Three’s ‘From the Fires’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Sabrina Petroski

“Just another body for the ovens.” Haunting, isn’t it? This sentence comes from Theatre Three’s educational touring show “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust.” This play, the story of two young Jewish girls living through the reign of Hitler and the persecution of the Jewish people, has been presented in schools and community centers across the tristate area, going as far south as Washington and Virginia, and as far north as Richmond Hill, outside of Toronto, Canada. 

“From the Fires” was written by Jeffrey Sanzel, the executive artistic director of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and has been touring since 1996. According to Sanzel, he has always been passionate about the Holocaust and making sure the atrocious events of the past never disappear.

The cast

Nicole Bianco

Marci Bing

Michelle LaBozzetta

Douglas J. Quattrock

Jeffrey Sanzel

Steven Uihlein

Theatre Three was looking for a new show for its educational program, Sanzel began searching for a show within the topic of the Holocaust, but none of them seemed right. Eventually, he decided to write one, immersing himself in research, finding survivors to interview and spending three days at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. After five months of writing, the cast, including Sanzel, went into rehearsal with an unfinished script, which was edited and rewritten over the six weeks of rehearsal.

“‘From the Fires’ has had an amazing response,” said Sanzel in a recent interview. “If it hadn’t we wouldn’t still be touring it this many years later! There has been an incredibly positive reaction.” 

According to Sanzel, there are many schools, synagogues, churches and community centers all over Long Island that book the show every year or every other year. Michael Serif, a history teacher at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, first experienced “From the Fires” at Seaford High School in 2001. Since then, Serif has requested to bring the 40-minute play to every school he has worked in, including Locust Valley High School and Friends Academy. The theatrical piece is performed for grades 6 to 12.

“I’ve seen the play probably close to a dozen times in several different schools, and every time when the show is complete you can hear a pin drop in the audience,” said Serif in a phone interview. “The kids are so very deeply affected by the play.”

“From the Fires” depicts the Holocaust through the eyes of Rachel and Evy, two young girls from Berlin who grew up watching the world turn from a peaceful place to a place where people are ripped from their homes and murdered because of their religion. 

John S. D’Aquila served as a medic in the 11th Armored Division during World War II, under Gen. Patton and was a witness to the horrors of the death camp at Mauthausen as a member of the liberating force. File photo

It begins with the liberation of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in 1945 by a young soldier, then flashes back to 1937 where the audience sees Rachel, Rachel’s father and Evy go through all the changes in the laws and their lives; Rachel’s father losing his business, Rachel and her father going into hiding; Rachel, Evy and Rachel’s father being deported; Rachel’s father being killed in a gas chamber; and Rachel carrying Evy through the hardships they experience at the concentration camp. Sanzel says that having the story told by two young girls resonates more with younger viewers.

“One comment that a teacher made to their students was that part of the play’s power was that it reminds you that the people who went through this were just like you,” said Sanzel. 

“The kids in the audience can see themselves in Rachel and Evy. Any survivors they would have met would be in their eighties and nineties, and they don’t think of them as themselves. ‘From the Fires’ puts it in perspective; it follows two kids who could be any two kids, and it gives it that universal connection.” 

The play has a small cast, with each actor portraying up to half a dozen roles throughout the show, and keeps to a minimalistic set. A very important part of the show, according to Sanzel, is how the gradual change in the laws is shown. 

“From the Fires” is meant for young audiences so there is no graphic content shown on stage. “You get to see their day-to-day lives, the change in the laws, and then of course the concentration camp,” said Sanzel. “It’s all an emotional appeal. There’s nothing graphic in the play so it’s angled to be watched from that standpoint. On stage you can’t really re-create the horrors of the Holocaust, so we emphasize the personal — the personal losses, the personal survival.”

‘Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s why it’s so important to keep teaching it. ‘

­— Jeffrey Sanzel

“From the Fires” is a work of historical fiction, one character is based on a real person. In May of 1945, Army medic John D’Aquila aided in the liberation of the Nazi death camp in Mauthausen, Austria. D’Aquila, a Theatre Three board member at the time the play was being created, was the inspiration for the American soldier who provides the framing device. While Sanzel was researching and writing the play, D’Aquila shared his personal experience, voicing things he had never said before.

“It was the first time he had ever spoken about his experience of liberating the camp because they were told when they went home not to talk about it, just to go back to their lives” said Sanzel. “He became the basis for the American soldier that opens and closes the show, and over the years [D’Aquila] would come to many of the road performances and in-house shows to speak. It became a passion for him to be connected to this because it was cathartic.” A resident of Belle Terre, D’Aquila passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.

After every performance the cast holds a Q&A, where the audience can ask questions about the performance, about the cast or about the Holocaust in general. Sanzel said that the questions he hears the most are, “Are you Jewish?” and “Did this actually happen?” 

“From the Fires” opens doors to educating younger generations that reading from a textbook doesn’t. According to Serif, many of the history and English teachers within Friends Academy take the play and use it as a teaching opportunity, talking about it in class for days after and even referring back to it throughout the rest of the year. 

“The children often ask complicated questions, so we give them our best answer and then encourage them to go back to their classes and talk about it in more detail,” explained Sanzel. 

According to Sanzel, there are two main reasons he does the show. The first is to keep this event in history alive, so after those that experienced it firsthand are gone the stories don’t disappear with them. The second is to teach kids that they can stop things like the Holocaust from happening again. It all boils down to bullying, seeing someone being harassed and choosing to say something instead of sitting idly by while it happens, or even joining in. The Holocaust was made up of people joining in or ignoring the bad things because it didn’t personally affect them.  

“There’s a danger in people thinking of history as ‘back then,’ that’s how we begin to let go of things and we can’t,” said Sanzel. “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s why it’s so important to keep teaching it.”

For more information or to book a performance, contact Theatre Three’s touring coordinator Marci Bing at 631-928-9202 or Marci@theatrethree.com.

Eye-opening exhibit depicts the history of slavery on Long Island

'Sharpening the Saw,' 1867, oil on canvas, by William Moore Davis. Image courtesy of the LIM

By Heidi Sutton

After a brief hiatus, the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook reopened last weekend to showcase its latest exhibit, Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island, in honor of Black History Month.

Located in the Art Museum on the hill, the show is already receiving quite a lot of attention, evident by the many visitors who stopped by last Saturday. Jonathan Olly, who curated the exhibit, was pleased by the interest. “Part of the challenge of working behind the scenes is that we almost never spend time in the galleries so to see this is great,” he said as he fielded questions from guests.

The project, which took approximately five months of research, features more than 100 items, including paintings, photographs, artifacts, furniture and documents that are tied to Long Island’s slavery story. In addition to items culled from the LIM’s collection, many pieces from the exhibit are on loan from other museums, historical societies, libraries and private collectors.

‘Eel Spearing at Setauket,’ 1845, oil on canvas, by William Sidney Mount is showcased in the exhibit.

Brought from Africa to New York by the Dutch and later by the English in the 1600s, slaves had an impact on every community on Long Island for the next 200 years. Landowners like the Smith, Hawkins/Mount, Townsend, Blydenburgh, Hewlett, Mills, Lloyd and Strong families used enslaved Africans and their descendants to manage their estates until New York State formally abolished slavery in 1827. 

“If you were wealthy in the late 18th century on Long Island you were probably enslaving people,” said Olly. “Because that was what business was.”

“African-Americans have been part of the story of Long Island since the very beginning and they’re still here. Every historical society on Long Island has something that’s tied to their town’s story about slavery. This exhibit was an opportunity to bring all those pieces together and to see what kind of portrait it makes,” he said.

There’s a lot to take in.

As you enter the exhibit you are immediately greeted by William Sidney Mount’s most famous work, “Eel Spearing at Setauket,” on loan from the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown. Last seen at the LIM in 1998, “It’s come home for a brief visit,” said Olly during a tour.

Commissioned by George W. Strong, the 1845 genre painting, depicting a young white boy and female slave by the name of Rachel Holland Hart fishing for eels with the Strong family estate in the background, is a fitting starting point for this important lesson in Long Island’s history.

“It’s a painting of a memory that Strong had as a child,” explained Olly. “The story is the relationship between African-Americans and English-Americans but with a warm glow over it. So it is a slavery painting, but it is a pleasant memory of that time told through this family (pointing to the boy) as opposed to this family (pointing to the woman) which I’m sure would have a very different perspective on that.”

‘The Slaves Grave,’ undated, oil on canvas, by Shepard Alonzo Mount

Long Road to Freedom is told in sections, from when slavery began in New York in 1626 and follows its story for the next 200 years. In a stroke of brilliance, the exhibit is essentially split in half, with one side painted in a dark blue depicting the time of slavery, while the other is painted a light blue to represent freedom.

Visitors can view a door that came from the attic of the Joseph Blydenburgh home in Smithtown labeled “door to slave pen.” Notices from local newspapers offering rewards for runaway slaves line one wall, next to legal documents including bill of sales selling enslaved families and wills specifying what is to happen to the slave, who was part of the estate, after the owner’s death.

The exhibit also highlights the accomplishments of slaves, including poet Jupiter Hammon, whaler Pyrrhus Concer and author Venture Smith, and pays homage to the Quakers, the first group of people who decided that owning people was morally wrong. “The New York Quakers were really the first to question the institution of slavery and basically said, ‘If you want to be a Quaker in good standing you have to free your slaves,’” explained Olly, adding that they protested by not wearing cotton.

Two vignettes, located on either side of the room, reveal a full-size replica of the below-deck quarters of a slave ship complete with leg irons and a replica of what a typical African-American church would look like.

Two headstones retrieved from a former slave burial ground on the Mount property in Stony Brook are on display, engraved with loving epitaphs. 

The entire experience can get quite emotional. “This is very heavy stuff,” agreed Olly. 

Before leaving, visitors are invited to write down their thoughts. One card reads, “They were stripped of their name, their culture, their families, wholly opposite of any of our beliefs. This was an eye-opening exhibit.” It’s music to the curator’s ears. “That’s the best case scenario. The worst thing would be if people come through [this exhibit] and it doesn’t phase them at all,” said Olly. “You want it to touch people, to have something here resonate with them, and it looks like that is happening.”

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will present Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island through May 27. In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum will host a symposium on March 9 (see below) and a special screening of the documentary “Emanuel” on April 15 at 7 p.m.

Regular museum hours are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students 6 to 17 and college students with I.D. Children under 6 are admitted for free. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Accompanying Symposium

‘Portrait of Tamer,’ 1830, oil on panel, by Shepard Alonzo Mount. Image courtesy of LIM

Want to learn more? On Saturday, March 9 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the Long Island Museum will present Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island, an all-day symposium exploring the experiences of African-Americans on Long Island across two centuries – from the travails of slavery to the blossoming of free black communities. Scholars will discuss the integral role of slavery in our region’s history and how African-Americans navigated between slavery.

Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and topics of discussion include developing free black communities on Long Island; slavery, freedmen and the Quakers of Long Island; Setauket’s mixed heritage Native-American and African-American communities; gendered experiences in East End captivity and freedom; and lessons learned through Eastville, the Sag Harbor community formed largely by freed people of color. There will be a Q&A session immediately following the morning and afternoon sessions.

Presenters for the symposium include Jonathan Olly, curator of the museum’s Long Road to Freedom exhibition; Mary Elliot, museum specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; Jennifer L. Anderson, associate professor of history at Stony Brook University; Lynda Day, professor of Africana studies at Brooklyn College; Christopher Matthews, professor of anthropology at Montclair State University; Allison McGovern,  senior archaeologist at VHB Engineering, Survey, Landscape Architecture and Geology, P.C.; and Georgette Grier-Key, executive director and curator at the Eastville Community Historical Society and professor of Africana studies at Nassau Community College.

Those wishing to attend the symposium are asked to preregister by calling 631-751-0066, ext. 211 or email bchiarelli@longislandmuseum.org. Registration fee is $12 per person plus $10 (optional) for lunch. Lunch is also available off-site at Stony Brook area eateries at participant’s expense. 

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Three-quarter size Colonial whaleboat reproductions with a crew of reenactors. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

On Thursday morning, Aug. 17, 1780, fog covered the Connecticut coast and obscured any view of three whaleboats as they slid through the marsh grass and into the shallow water at the northeast corner of Black Rock Harbor. Six of the men in each boat quietly slid their oars into the water and together with each sweep, without a word spoken, the men’s oars began a rhythmic parallel stroke that moved the crafts quickly through the harbor and into Long Island Sound.

In the traditional whaleboat, to get leverage for speed, five oarsmen sat on opposite sides of the boat from their oarlocks, and their long oars propelled the whaleboat at up to 5 or 6 miles an hour. However, on these whaleboats, with as many as six additional soldiers, their arms and equipment, it was not practical to have long oars working across the boat so, especially for long distances, sailing rather than rowing, was the main means of propulsion.

A 1774 map of Long Island and Connecticut copied from “The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island and Connecticut” by Frederic Gregory Mather. 1913.

The three identical whaleboats were each 30 feet long, lapstrake-built and pointed at both ends. They were light, being constructed of a strong oak frame and planked with half-inch cedar, to form a relatively narrow and sleek vessel that was exceptionally seaworthy and highly maneuverable. These open boats, greyhounds of the Sound, were also easy to enter and exit, making them exceptional platforms from which to surprise and successfully attack slower and less maneuverable craft.

As the whaleboats moved away from the shore and headed south for Long Island, ripples and spray off the top of the swells ahead indicated a moderate northwest wind, and the men shipped their oars and raised the mast and sail on each whaleboat. They then sat lower in the boat on the starboard or windward side to add stability. Every soldier and sailor was usually equipped with a musket and/or a pistol, a short sword or saber and often a belt ax, as well as a powder horn, cartridge box and other equipment.

The man in charge of the three whaleboats, Caleb Brewster, sat in the bow of the lead whaleboat peering through his telescope to see what other activity was around him on Long Island Sound. Brewster was a seaman and a courier spy for Gen. George Washington, but he was also an artillery captain in the Continental Army, and his three crews of sailors were partly recruited from the ranks of the men he commanded. Brewster’s crews also contained a number of Long Island friends who were trusted associates such as Lt. George Smith of Smithtown and Capt. Abraham Cooper Woodhull, formerly of Old Mans on Long Island, now a resident of Fairfield, Connecticut, and captain of one of Brewster’s whaleboats.

In addition to the 12 men, each whaleboat had a small swivel gun on the bow powerful enough to put a hole in an enemy boat below the waterline or disable a mast with a lucky shot when close in. These three whaleboats were a potent fighting force, able to attack and capture the sloops, schooners and small British and Tory brigs that patrolled the Sound or the plunderers, both Whigs and Tories, who regularly attacked residents on Long Island and along the Connecticut shoreline.

On this day, Brewster was headed to Long Island to pick up intelligence from his friend and fellow Culper spy Abraham Woodhull. When he arrived, he found that Woodhull was in New York City and would be relaying his messages by way of Austin Roe by 2 p.m. on the following day. Brewster had to wait.

On Friday morning Brewster and his whaleboat crews were attacked by plunderers Glover and Hoyght —possibly Ezekiel Glover and Simon Hoyt, refugees from Long Island — and their crews. In Brewster’s report to Benjamin Tallmadge, Washington’s intelligence chief, he wrote, ”I came from Long Island this afternoon but have got no dispatches. Culper has been down to New York. I waited until this morning and he was to send them by two o’clock but before he sent them I was attacked by Glover and Hoyght and left one man taken and one wounded. We killed one on the spot … Austin told me that Sir Henry Clinton went down to the east end of the Island on the sixteenth. Don’t fail to let me have two crews if you can of Continental soldiers.”

In another letter to Tallmadge written on Monday, Aug. 21, Brewster reported, “I this morning came from the island & got three boats last Saturday night and went over in search of Glover and Hoyght but could hear nothing of them. They never stayed to bury their dead man, they carried another away with them mortally wounded. Setauket is full of troops. It is thought they are going eastward. Austin came to me yesterday and told me I had best not come on to the middle of next week as the troops is so thick in town and marching eastward.”

Brewster continued to patrol Long Island Sound and bring intelligence from Long Island to Fairfield, Connecticut, until Dec. 7, 1782, when he and several of his whaleboats chased and attacked three enemy boats about mid-Sound. They captured two boats but the third escaped. Brewster was wounded when a musket ball went through his chest. He reported that he continued to fight until the enemy was captured and then collapsed. Every man on the enemy’s boats was either killed or wounded as were the men on Brewster’s boats. Brewster spent many months recovering in the hospital in Black Rock.

Beverly C. 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.

Above and below, scenes from the film

By Heidi Sutton

Peter Jackson’s latest endeavor has been a labor of love. The award-winning director, best known for the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies was recently enlisted to create a unique documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” featuring many never-before-seen archive footage of the Great War, a four-year conflict that claimed the lives of over 16 million soldiers.

Produced by WingNut Films and released by Warner Brothers, the project, which took five months to complete, was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum and BBC, who gave Jackson access to over 100 hours of footage and 600 hours of audio, including interviews with hundreds of veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jackson chose to focus on the daily lives of British foot soldiers who had been sent to the Western Front – from their experience at boot camp to being shipped to France and living in the trenches, to a few days of rest and then off to the front lines where they are told to hand over any personal effects to their officers before heading off into no man’s land.

The documentary reveals many of the soldiers were mere children, volunteering at the age of 15 and 16 out of patriotic duty, and how many were excited to serve. By the end of the film, however, all romantic ideas of war have completely vanished. “History will decide in the end that this war was not worthwhile,” you hear a retired soldier say.

Every scene is accompanied by narration from army veterans who describe their uniforms and complain about their heavy boots; the food they ate; dealing with rats, lice and dysentery problems; coping with trench foot and mustard gas; capturing German soldiers; and the constant smell of death.

The genius that is Peter Jackson then goes two steps further, (revealed about 20 minutes into the film) when suddenly the black and white film comes to life in a myriad of colors and sounds. The soldiers’ personalities are revealed as they speak and laugh and you hear the shells being loaded into the cannons, artillery fire and the tanks rolling along the open fields. The sudden transformation takes one’s breath away.

The stunning effect was achieved using digital technology, researching uniforms and locations, recruiting forensic lip-readers who studied the original film, and actors who then voiced the parts in various dialects. “Smile! You’re in the pictures,” one man tells his mates as he points excitedly to the camera.

For Jackson, who has long been interested in World War I, (the film is dedicated to his paternal grandfather who was wounded in the Battle of the Somme) the spectacular documentary slowly evolved into capturing the human experience of war. 

He described his vision best in a recent interview with BBC-owned HistoryExtra magazine. “We let them tell their story, of what it was like as a soldier,” adding that these experiences would’ve been similar to those of many other troops. “And the men saw a war in color, they certainly didn’t see it in black and white,” Jackson explained. “I wanted to reach through the fog of time and pull these men into the modern world, so they can regain their humanity once more.”

Rated R, “They Shall Not Grow Old” is now playing in local theaters.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

Holocaust survivors at Gurwin Jewish/Fay J. Lindner Residences participate in World Jewish Congress’s 2019 #WeRemember campaign.
Survivors take to social media to ensure the world never forgets

COMMACK: Seven decades have passed since the end of the Holocaust, yet for the survivors, the horrors they witnessed remain vividly clear.  On the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, Holocaust survivors now living at Gurwin Jewish/Fay J. Lindner Residences assisted living community participated in the third annual WeRemember campaign to ensure the world never forgets the atrocities committed against humanity. 

Tina Kamin fled the Nazis in Poland and lived in the woods for a year.

Organized by the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the #WeRemember social media movement was created three years ago to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred, genocide and xenophobia. The initiative is considered to be the largest global event ever organized to commemorate the Holocaust.   

Survivors, family and friends, celebrities and world leaders representing a wide range of faiths were among the thousands of people from around the world who posted photos of themselves displaying “#WeRemember” signs on Facebook and Twitter. Photos were shared by WJC and then live-streamed on a jumbotron at the gates of Auschwitz, where more than one million people were murdered by the Nazis.

Sally Birnbaum survived four concentration camps.

Eight Holocaust survivors from Gurwin’s assisted living community as well as members of Gurwin’s administrative staff participated in this year’s social media movement.   Among them were survivors of Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Hidden Children and Kindertransport refugees, each with a unique, horrific story to tell.  

Recognizing the campaign’s powerful impact and its global reach through social media outlets, the survivors were eager to participate, holding signs and giving testimony to their own personal experience during the Holocaust, because, according to Kindertransport child Ruth Meador, “the whole world needs to know… and care.”

Photos from Gurwin Jewish

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The Thompson House in Setauket on North Country Road was once the home of Dr. Samuel Thompson who documented the winter of 1800 to 1801. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Our winter weather has been mostly mild so far this year, and we don’t expect any significant snowfall until later in the season. Nowadays we are also protected from the effects of the weather in our homes and in our cars as we travel from place to place.

During the winter of 1800 to 1801, Dr. Samuel Thompson noted the changes in the weather as he ran the operation of his extensive farm in Setauket and cared for the sick. He wrote in his diary, “Thursday, November 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at nine or ten o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by. Some rain — but breaks away and the weather is cool.”

“Thursday, November 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at 9 or 10 o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by.”

— Samuel Thompson

Later in the month the weather changed, and Thompson continued, “Friday, November 21, … [It] begins to snow long before day [light and] continues to snow all day — very cold storm.” On Saturday, the northeast wind continued to blow and on Sunday he wrote that the snow fell all day.

The life of the farmer and other residents of the Three Villages continued to be busy through the winter months. There were no crops to tend, as in the summer, but the animals had to be taken care of and the weather seemed to make little difference in the routine. The weather moderated after that early snow and the remainder of 1800 brought only occasional days of snow and rain.

Heat for the family homes in 1800 consisted of a wood fire in the fireplace. Large amounts of wood were cut and stacked each fall but had to be supplemented by trips into the woods to gather more firewood. Thompson’s house (the restored Thompson House on North Country Road in Setauket) has a great central chimney with four fireplaces that provided the only heat for the large saltbox-style farmhouse. The activity at the Thompson farm continued despite the weather as the doctor wrote Dec. 30, 1800. “… kill my cow and ten sheep. George Davis’ wife came here and bought eight pounds of flax. Mr. Green [Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church] came here [and] said [that] Mrs. Akerly was better … Snow this night.”

It was a normal part of the farm routine for local residents to come to the Thompson farm to buy flax to spin and weave into cloth or to buy hay for their animals or meat and other farm produce. Thompson and his wife would often have visitors who would spend the night at the farm and leave the next day.

On Dec. 31, 1800, Thompson wrote, “… Robbin and Franklin [his oldest son Benjamin Franklin] cut up the cow and the sheep. Sharper salts them. Salla (Sarah) Smith works here at taloring [sic]. Makes a coat and jacket for Killis [Robbin, Sharper and Killis were black slave farmhands], made a pair of trowsers [sic] for Franklin. Miss Lidda Mount and Miss Sissa Mount come here for a visit, dined here and drank tea here. Mrs Akerly remains much [sick] so I make her the third phial of antimonial solution [a medicine containing antimony].”

The daily routine of life at the Thompson farm continued much the same through the winter. Friends were entertained at tea or dinner, neighbors and relatives arrived to buy farm produce, and Thompson prescribed for the relief of the residents. Life in the wintertime was hard for these early residents, the cold was a constant companion, and the wood fireplaces could not provide the warmth that we consider to be regular part of our lives now.

“Tuesday 16th. West wind — pleasant sleighing — gone warm.”

— Henry Hudson

Winter weather did not prevent residents from maintaining their regular activities in spite of cold or snow. In 1819, Henry Hudson was teaching school in Stony Brook in the “Upper School” located on Main Street south of the mill pond. On Friday, Feb. 12, he wrote in his journal, “… I tend school [about 40 students] … snow at 4 this afternoon — grows cold — storms hard. I spend the evening at Benah Petty’s with company of young people. Go to Nath. Smith’s to lodge — severe storm. Saturday, February 13th 1819 … Snow storm — cold. I tend school — continues to storm. At 4 [in the] afternoon I go to Joseph Hawkins’ and stay. Sunday, February 14, 1819. Clears off, snow about 10 inches deep — drifted very much. I go to Mr. Green’s meeting [Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church] — return to Nath. Smith’s then go to Charles Hallock’s. He tends the meeting and [we were] much engaged [talking about the meeting] and time pleasingly spent. Go to Jedidiah Mills’ this evening.

“Tuesday 16th. West wind — pleasant sleighing — gone warm. I tend school — 42 schollars [sic] — I leave Nath. Smith’s, make 3 days board … I make a beginning to the Wido(w) Mount’s to board on the second quarter. Wedn. 17th … Comes on to snow at 9 this evening — sharp night — some sleighing though poor in the road, considerable snow. Thursday, February 18th … I tend school — 41 schollars [sic]. This cold day. This is the appointment for the bible class. Mr. Green (Zachariah) comes here at 5 O’clock with a missionary priest. I return to Mount’s.”

Hudson taught three of the Mount children, Robert Nelson, William Sidney and Ruth Hawkins. He boarded about three days with each family of his students while he taught in Stony Brook. His travels during the week included going, usually on foot, from the Widow Mount’s, known as the Hawkins-Mount house on Route 25A and Stony Brook Road, to the Setauket Presbyterian Church. As a school teacher on a limited income, Hudson did not have a horse and would often walk great distances. His home at the time, until 1846 when he moved to East Setauket, was at the family’s farm in Long Pond in the Wading River area. After the quarter was over, he walked back to his home and during the following years, he taught school in South Setauket (Nassakeag), Moriches and East Setauket often walking from home to school each week. In some years he would walk to Patchogue or Riverhead and back in the same day.

Beverly C. 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.

'Traitor'

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Last week, we took our first major film, “One Life to Give,” to an out-of-town showing. An audience of more than 100 history lovers and friends in Philadelphia watched the dramatic story of the friendship of Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge and the beginning of the Culper Spy Ring. We were impressed by how interested the Philadelphians were in a tale of George Washington’s intelligence service centered in Setauket, Long Island. This is, of course, an authentic narrative of the Revolutionary War and of the founding of America, so I guess we needn’t have been surprised at its broad appeal.

In addition, we screened for the first time the almost completed sequel, “Traitor.” This story picks up some five years later, in 1780, and tells of the capture of John André, British spymaster, by the Patriots, and his fate at the hands of, ironically, Tallmadge. He is now a major in the Continental Army and has been tortured with guilt during the past four years since his Yale buddy, Hale, was caught and hanged as a spy. It was Tallmadge who so earnestly persuaded Hale to join the war effort, and we know of Hale’s end at the hands of the British.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.

André has been caught with detailed maps of West Point, the fort that the British are lusting to capture so as to have free rein in the Hudson River, dividing New England from the rest of the colonies. The fort is under the command of Patriot general, Benedict Arnold, who is about to become a turncoat, hence his dealings with André. 

The sequel is, if anything, even better than the original film. And mine is not the only such verdict. Here are some comments emailed to us by the members of the audience after the screening of both films in succession:

• “Thank you so much for including me in the extraordinary film screening last night. … I was not expecting to see something so professional and polished on every level: script, acting, photography, sound, production and, yes, gory makeup! It is also wonderful to see what an incredible family [my grandson, Benji, is the director] and community production this has been — pulling in all sorts of expertise, including [Bev Tyler, historian of the Three Village Historical Society, who accompanied us to Philadelphia]. … Congratulations to Benji [Michael Tessler, Andrew Stavis and the rest of the team]. … Please let them know how much I enjoyed it. And we’ll all be able to say, ‘We knew [them] when … .’”

• “Wow, what a great night. The films were great, great turnout.”

• “What a joy to be there, we really learned from the movie.”

• “Wonderful event! You should be proud. The movies were great. I learned a lot. I’m excited to share new stuff with my students.”

• “What a treat to attend the viewing … last night. Thank you for including us.”

• “HUGE congratulations from me! Wow, I really enjoyed the movies.”

• “Thanks for including us in the movie viewing. An impressive undertaking with fantastic results!”

• “Had a great time at the movies. We were really impressed!”

And this from an old friend who has followed Benji’s development: 

• “Thanks for inviting me to witness [this] fabulous work. … [Benji’s] enthusiasm of his early years with a camera is super matched by his gifts of eye, mind and devotion to story and characters. It’s a little humbling to think that simply giving him a theater with a screen in his early years [he directed films as a teenager] encouraged him to continue creating worlds in film.”

• “I was so impressed with the level of sophistication given that [they] are young filmmaker[s].”

As you can tell, it was a successful and fun evening. We look forward to screening the two films, one right after the other, here in late spring. All will be welcome. Please stay tuned.

By Heidi Sutton

The Port Jefferson Conservancy hosted a reception for the Port Jefferson Village Center’s latest exhibit, GRUMMAN ON LONG ISLAND, A Photographic Tribute, on Jan. 10, an event that attracted over 250 visitors. Former Grumman employees, family, friends and the community came out to celebrate a reunion of sorts and to reminisce about the aerospace company that employed over 20,000 people on Long Island over the decades. 

A highlight of the reception was a six-member guest panel that included Grummanites Vinny DeStefano, vice president of manufacturing; Hank Janiesch, vice president (F-14 Program); Rodger Schafer, technical adviser; Joe “Ruggs” Ruggerio, director of electronic warfare; Harold Sheprow, a flight test manager and former mayor of Port Jefferson; Jim Reynolds Sr., an ILS engineer; and Cmdr. Jim Roth, a combat pilot and aviation test pilot who was an instructor for the first Grumman A-6 Intruder squadron.

They took turns speaking about their experience at Grumman and then fielded questions from a standing room only audience. Each guest speaker echoed the same sentiment; that they had loved working for Grumman, were very proud of their career and would do it all over again.

The exhibit, which was curated by Port Jefferson historian Chris Ryon and the Village of Belle Terre historian John Hiz, boasts over 100 photos, several scale models of planes and a special test pilot section.

Mayor Margot Garant kicked off the reception, saying, “I want to recognize the outstanding work, the collaborate effort, of Chris Ryon and John Hiz. They have collectively put in at least 300 man-hours putting this exhibit together.” 

“We had no idea what we were getting into a year ago when we decided to do a Grumman exhibit,’” said Ryon. “People have been coming into our office every day [to drop off photographs] and then we ended up going to the Grumman History Center and filling a 26-foot box truck [with more memorabilia]. It’s been great.”

“This [exhibit] is basically an idea of a  photo tribute to the Grumman Aerospace and Engineering Corporation between 1929 and 1994. That was the year they were acquired by Northrop,” said Hiz. “This evening we would like to reconnect through photographs, artifacts and mainly stories with individuals, families and friends who have contributed in making Grumman a household name on Long Island, a leader in aviation and space exploration and a very important part of our Long Island heritage.”

Visitors were treated to hors d’ouevres, wine and a special cake in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. 

The exhibit runs through February at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A East Main St., Port Jefferson. Admission is free. For further information, call 631-802-2160.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Beverly C. Tyler

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The Christmas party at the Setauket Neighborhood House was held every year through approximately 1957. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Whitman’s chocolates offered exclusively in the Three Villages by Meister’s Pharmacy, East Setauket — The Woodbox, Stony Brook,” was how the advertisement read in December 1957. Preparations for Christmas and the holiday season were much like today in many ways. The traditions and ceremonies have not changed much over the past 61 years, but many of the images are different.

In Stony Brook, Santa arrived at the post office on Saturday morning, Dec. 14, and set up his workshop in the firehouse from Wednesday through the following Monday, Dec. 23. A party was held for the children of the community on Saturday the 21, sponsored by the fire department and the Stony Brook Teenagers Club. Children’s parties were also held at the East Setauket Fire House on Friday, Dec. 20, and at the Setauket Neighborhood House on Monday the 23. For the adults, there was a Home Outside Decorating Contest with the judging on Dec. 30 conducted by members of the Three Village Garden Club.

Christmas shopping in 1957 often included a train trip to New York City to visit Macy’s Department Store or a drive to Garden City to shop in one of the many stores there. A shorter trip might have included shopping in Swezey’s Department Store or the Bee Hive in Patchogue or a drive to Smithtown with its many shops along Main Street.

There were, of course, stores closer to home such as Moffett’s Department Store in Port Jefferson, with branches in Setauket and Stony Brook. The Stony Brook Apothecary and Meister’s in East Setauket included a soda fountain and a variety of gift items and greeting cards.

The Redfern Shop in Port Jefferson was once the place to go for gift giving during the holiday season. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

For gift giving there was the Redfern Shop in Port Jefferson, which had a branch store in the shopping center in Stony Brook, and Woodfields, “For the best in Men’s Wear,” in Port Jefferson. The Redfern Shop, exclusively women’s wear, advertised, “P.S. to men … the Port Jefferson Redfern Shop (only) is setting aside Wednesday and Thursday evenings, December 18 and 19, as stag nights. Open each evening until 9 p.m. Let our sales girls help you in your selections. And everything will be beautifully gift wrapped.”

A purchase of jewelry, silverware, china, or watches could be made at Davis Jewelers in Port Jefferson or a piece of jewelry could be bought at Franz Kauffman and Co. also in Port Jefferson. In Stony Brook John Pastorelli advertised, “Village Barber — watch repairing — ship’s clocks — watches — jewelry.”

For a youngster, no Christmas season was complete without a trip to Port Jefferson to look around Oettinger’s Department Store with its table after table of toys, games, mittens, shoes and every imaginable gift for mother, sister or dad. In Port Jefferson, at the Gem Stores, you could see the Lionel and American Flyer trains and the new bicycles that were so much a part of Christmas. The Gem Stores always had a train set running and a large selection of new freight cars and accessories.

Remote-controlled toys were popular in 1957 as were dolls, stuffed animals, hobby kits and scale model airplanes, boats and cars. Popular children’s books that year included the new book by Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Bed-knob and Broomstick” by Mary Norton. Books on the bestseller list included “By Love Possessed” by James Cozzens, “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute and “Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious.

Not everything connected with the holidays required one leaving home to purchase it. Eggnog could be ordered from Randall Farms, Evans Amityville or Branglebrink Dairy and delivered to the doorstep along with milk, eggs, butter and cream. Grocery shopping was not as convenient as today except for “Community Grocer — Charles Wackenheim” and P.W. Smith and Son in Stony Brook, which advertised, “Choice meats of all kinds — Grocers — Fresh and frozen vegetables. Fresh fish on Friday — home-made sausage — orders delivered.” A fresh turkey could be picked up at Rudi Fischer’s Turkey Farm in Port Jefferson Station. To buy from a supermarket, residents had to travel to Port Jefferson for H.C. Bohack and Co. or A & P or to the National Food Market in Port Jefferson Station.

The images of the way we prepared for the holidays fade into the past especially as the landscape changes form. We tend to forget that where a solid area of asphalt now covers the ground alongside Route 25A between Old Town Road and Ridgeway Avenue were once open fields and woods. It seems as if there must always have been a road running past the East Setauket Post Office and down the hill to the west. Is Stony Brook University just another part of the landscape that was always there? Even the southern part of the Stony Brook Village Shopping Center must have always been there. Yet, decades ago none of these existed. Near where the Village Market stands in Stony Brook was a magnificent three-story Victorian home, the Whitford house. Where the state university rises through the trees were only woods and trails.

Some parts of our landscape have existed longer — 50 years, 100, some even over 200 — and they help us to remember our past and especially the traditions and ceremonies that are so important in our lives.

Beverly C. 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.

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