History

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Kate Strong sits on her front porch on Strong’s Neck in December 1899. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Kate Wheeler Strong was born in Setauket March 21, 1879. She was the daughter of Judge Selah Strong and a descendant of Revolutionary War spy Anna Smith Strong, as well as of Setauket settler William “Tangier” Smith. As Dr. Percy Bailey wrote in October, 1977, “As a historian, ‘Miss Kate’ has probably done more than any other in popularizing and humanizing the history of this beautiful Long Island which she loved.”

Kate Strong wrote local history articles for the Long Island Forum from 1939 through 1976. Most of these articles she had published in small booklets which she sold or gave away to friends over the years. These booklets, called “True Tales,” have provided a special look into the past for many generations of Three Village residents. Kate Strong died at her home The Cedars on Strong’s Neck July 22, 1977. In 1992, William B. Minuse (1908-2002) wrote about Kate Strong in the 1992 Three Village Historian:

A photo of Strong taken in May of 1897. Photo from Bev Tyler.

“Miss Kate Wheeler Strong was one of the most remarkable persons I have ever known … Miss Kate loved young people. For many years, she told stories to groups of children at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. When the Stony Brook School opened, she organized a stamp club there.

“Her chief interest over the years was local and family history … She wrote extensively, most of her articles being based on family papers and information gathered from older residents … Even after she lost her sight she persisted. We will always be in her debt for the wonderful anecdotes and the invaluable accounts she left us of our Long Island communities and people.

“From time to time she gave me artifacts for the Three Village Historical Society. Among them were a pair of snow shoes her father had used during the blizzard of ‘88.

“Toward the end of her life her neighbors celebrated each of her birthdays, and I was always invited. I shall always remember her most fondly. She was kind and generous.”

After Kate Strong’s death, her personal papers and her family papers going back to her second-great-grandfather were donated to the Three Village Historical Society. The Strong collection contains more than 3,000 papers of the Strong family of Setauket, dating from 1703 to 1977. Included in the collection are deeds, diaries, 224 handwritten pages of court cases by State Supreme Court Justice Selah Strong, letters about their daily lives, politics, travels, farm matters, business records, school records, payments, receipts, Setauket Presbyterian Church records and weather bureau records. There are approximately 2,250 photographs of families, friends, relatives, places
and scenes.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, I was the editor for yearly publications of The Three Village Historian: Journal of the Three Village Historical Society. The issue of 1992 included nine of Kate Wheeler Strong’s “True Tales,” and a complete listing of the 38 years of “True Tales” booklets she produced between 1940 and 1976. This 24-page publication is still available for $1 at the Three Village Historical Society History Center and Gift Shop.

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

Malcolm J. Bowman and R. Lawrence Swanson will receive The Robert Cushman Memorial Award at the TVHS award dinner. Photo by Heidi Sutton

On Wednesday, March 22, the Three Village Historical Society will host its 40th Annual Awards Dinner honoring volunteers and area residents who have made outstanding contributions to the Society and the local community.

Among the honorees will be R. Lawrence Swanson and Malcolm J. Bowman, who will receive The Robert Cushman Memorial Award in recognition of significant contribution to the preservation and conservation of our natural environment. Both are on the faculty of the Marine Science Department at Stony Brook University and are being recognized for their recently published book “Between Stony Brook Harbor Tides —The Natural History of a Long Island Pocket Bay.” This distinguished award has only been given eight times since 1987.

Carlton “Hub” Edwards will receive the  Kate Wheeler Strong Memorial Award  in recognition of significant contribution toward the fostering of interest in local history. Edwards is a lifelong resident of the Three Villages and his knowledge of the area is something to treasure, as are the memories he shares of his 85 years lived here and his work on the Three Village Society’s Chicken Hill, A Community Lost to Time exhibit.

Millie Mastrion a longtime member, past trustee and volunteer will receive The Maggie Gillie Memorial Award for contributions by a member of the society in recognition of overall dedicated service, and for significant contributions furthering the goals of the society.

From left, Katherine Johnson, Kristin Moller and Sean Mullen will be honored at the TVHS awards dinner. Photo courtesy of TVHS

Deep interest in history led Sean Mullen to the Three Village Historical Society.  Mullen has applied his knowledge by volunteering at the society’s archives while pursuing his degree in history at SUNY Stony Brook.  He has been working with the society’s collections, especially those relating to the Revolutionary era and the Culper Spy Ring. For that, Mullen will receive the Gayle Becher Memorial Award in recognition of volunteer efforts to help the society by performing those necessary tasks that facilitate its efficient operation. This award honors volunteers whose work consists of loyal support repeated on a regular basis.

Katherine Johnson and Kristin Moller, both students at Ward Melville High School, are this year’s honorees for the Sherman Mills Young Historian Award, a prestigious award presented for contributions to the society by a young person.  Kristen and Katherine have both volunteered many hours to society exhibits and events.

Three community award certificates will be handed out this year. The first, for enhancing or restoring a building used as a commercial structure in a way that contributes to the historic beauty of the area will be awarded to Michael and Anthony Butera of ATM Butera Mason Contractors & Landscaping for the reconstruction of the 1892 chimney on the Emma Clark Library. The second, for house restoration or renovation and ongoing maintenance and preservation in keeping with the original architectural integrity, will be awarded to John and Christine Negus for their home at 34 Old Post Road. The third award, for ornamental plantings or landscaping that enhances the beauty of the Three Village area, will be awarded to John and Randy Prinzivalli of 6 Old Field Road in Setauket.

The Awards Dinner will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Old Field Club located at 86 West Meadow Road in East Setauket. A three-course dinner, which will include cheese/fruit/crudité, North Fork Salad, choice of entree (sliced grilled sirloin steak, herb-crusted salmon or grilled vegetable lasagna) and dessert, will be served. There will be a cash bar and music will be provided by Dylan Maggio, Alex Attard and Hugh Ferguson from Ward Melville High School Jazz Band under the direction of Jason Chapman. Tickets are $65 per person, $55 members. To order, visit www.tvhs.org or call 631-751-3730.

Claire Belllerjeau presents a lecture at the Setauket Neighborhood House. Photo by Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Spies” Nest: Major John André’s Activities at Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay, was the featured program for the Three Village Historical Society’s free lecture series at the Setauket Neighborhood House Feb. 27.

Historian Claire Bellerjeau presented her famed lecture on the British Revolutionary War spymaster John André to an eager audience of historians, history buffs, society members and the general public. Bellerjeau began her dramatic presentation by reminding the audience that there has been a great deal of misinformation written and presented as fact about the people and events of the Revolutionary War over the past two-and-a-half centuries. Many of the stories and tales surrounding the activities of British officers and their relationships with the Townsend family in Oyster Bay have grown with the telling and were perpetuated by writer after writer using the same undocumented sources that became the justification around which a dramatic story was created.

Bellerjeau, presently an historian for the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, the ancestral home of General George Washington’s Culper Spy Robert Townsend, traveled to the archives of the New York Historical Society, the William L. Clements Library in Michigan and to Toronto, Canada to research the Revolutionary War era documents that tell a more accurate, and no less dramatic story of the events surrounding the life and death of Major John André, the chief of British intelligence in New York City who worked secretly to assist Continental Army General Benedict Arnold in his effort to turn the American fortress at West Point over to the British.

André visited the British headquarters of British Major John Graves Simcoe at the Townsend home, now Raynham Hall, in Oyster Bay a number of times as the two British officers were friends who corresponded with each other regularly. However, the story of Sally Townsend overhearing a conversation about General Benedict Arnold between the two officers and informing her brother Robert Townsend­­—­alias Samuel Culper Jr. of the Culper Spy Ring­—is just that, a story, as the facts uncovered by Bellerjeau definitely place them in other locations at that critical time.

Bellerjeau’s enthusiastic presentation featured the actual documentary evidence she uncovered which also included material by Long Island historian Benjamin Franklin Thompson of Setauket and other historians, as well as original documentary evidence in the archival collection of the East Hampton Library.

For additional information on the Setauket-based Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring and the role of British spy Major John André, visit the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay and the SPIES! Exhibit at the Three Village Historical Society History Center on North Country Road in Setauket.

The next Three Village Historical Society lecture series presentation will be a pot luck supper and lecture “The Witchcraft of Goody Garlick” presented by Tata Rider at the Setauket Neighborhood House Monday, April 17 at 7:00 p.m. The public is invited to this free program, just bring a covered-dish entree that serves six. A wine and cheese reception at 6:00 p.m. will precede the supper and program. Sponsored jointly by the society and the Setauket Neighborhood House Association.            

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

Museum collection artifact has mysterious provenance

Just after the start of the Civil War in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to Fernando Wood, then mayor of New York City, that is part of William K. Vanderbilt II’s extensive archives. Visitors to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport can see a facsimile of the letter on display in the Memorial Wing, outside the Sudan Trophy Room through Feb. 26 from noon to 4 p.m. They also can view an oil portrait of George Washington, originally thought to have been created by the renowned American portraitist Gilbert Stuart. It will be displayed in the Portuguese Sitting Room.

President Lincoln wrote the letter to Mayor Wood on May 4, 1861 — two months to the day following his inauguration as president and less than one month after the start of the Civil War, which began on April 12 with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Wood (1812-1881), who built a successful shipping enterprise in New York City, served several terms in Congress and was mayor of New York for two terms. (Wood’s brother, Benjamin Wood, publisher and editor of the New York Daily News, also served three terms in Congress.) Fernando Wood sent a letter to Lincoln shortly after the Fort Sumter attack, offering him whatever military services he, as mayor, could provide. Lincoln’s reply to Wood was in gratitude for his offer of assistance.

Excerpt:

In the midst of my various and numerous other duties I shall consider in what way I can make your services at once available to the country, and agreeable to you – Your Obt. [Obedient] Servant A. Lincoln

Stephanie Gress, the Vanderbilt Museum’s director of curatorial affairs, said, “We do not know how this letter came to be in Mr. Vanderbilt’s possession. Perhaps it was originally the property of his great-grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was an acquaintance of Mayor Wood, and it was passed down through the Vanderbilt family.” The value of the letter is unknown, Gress said.

In 2008, a representative of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a grant-funded project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, visited the Vanderbilt archives to scan the letter for inclusion in its database. At the time, the representative noted that few letters have the original envelope in Lincoln’s hand, which makes the Vanderbilt’s document an exceptional Lincoln artifact. The Vanderbilt Museum is listed as a repository on the project’s website, www.papersofabrahamlincoln.org.

The Vanderbilt’s framed oil portrait of George Washington is believed to have been painted by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), widely considered to be one of America’s foremost portrait artists. He produced portraits of more than 1,000 people, including the first six presidents of the United States. Stuart painted a number of Washington portraits. The most celebrated is known as the “Lansdowne” portrait (1796), and one large-scale version of it hangs in the East Room of the White House.

Stuart’s best-known work is an unfinished portrait of Washington begun in 1796 and sometimes called “The Athenaeum.” This image of Washington’s head and shoulders is a familiar one to Americans — it has appeared for more than a century on the U.S. one-dollar bill.

The Vanderbilt’s Washington portrait, found in the basement of the Suffolk County Welfare Department Home in Yaphank, was restored and presented to the Vanderbilt Museum in 1951. While the artist did not sign the work, a specialist reported that year that the painting was an authentic Gilbert Stuart.

In 1981, however, two curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art studied the portrait and advised the Board of Trustees that the work was not created by Stuart. As a result, the portrait, oil on panel and measuring 21.25 by 33.5 inches, is described in the archival records as “After Gilbert Stuart.”

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. The museum and planetarium are open for Presidents’ Week daily from noon to 4 p.m. Guided tours of the mansion are conducted at 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. General admission is $7 adults, $6 students with ID and seniors (62 and older) and $3 for children 12 and under. For further information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio, left, guards then-Senator John Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy. Photo by Kevin Redding.

As soon as you set foot in the second-floor town hall office of Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R), you’re absorbed by the New York City cop-turned-public servant’s accomplished and historic career, on full display in frames and cases around the room. 

“You’ve got to take a look at these walls,” the 86-year-old says proudly, from behind his wooden desk.

Dozens of black-and-white photos of famous politicians, public figures and entertainers from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s decorate the walls, all of which feature a younger yet instantly recognizable Vecchio, side-by-side with everyone from astronaut John Glenn to Queen Sikrit of Thailand to Marlon Brando to Prince Charles to Sammy Davis Jr.

The photo that stands above the others, both in placement and impact, is the giant one that hangs on the wall behind his desk, which shows then-Senator John F. Kennedy (D) and Jackie Kennedy sitting on the back of a convertible waving to a Manhattan crowd while a 30-year-old Vecchio, serving in a special security squad that protected visiting dignitaries, stands alongside the vehicle patrolling his surroundings.

“That was October 1960, a week before he [Kennedy] was elected president, in the lower end of Broadway,” Vecchio recalled.

Vecchio works at his Smitthown office. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a member of the Bureau of Special Services from 1959 to 1966, the Smithtown supervisor said he was assigned to Kennedy on numerous occasions when he was senator, president-elect and president, as he visited New York often. Overall, Vecchio said he guarded Kennedy — whom he considers one of his favorite presidents — about 10 times.

“Occasionally, he would go to a play in Manhattan and so three or four Secret Service men, myself and others would go with him to the play,” he said. “He would come into the city, sometimes alone, and his plane would land at Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia and he would go directly to the Carlisle Hotel.”

While Kennedy and Vecchio never exchanged words, as the young New York City cop took his job providing security very seriously, he said he remembers Kennedy well.

“I could describe him as my mother once did: He looked like a Ken doll, Barbie’s boyfriend,” he said with a laugh. “I always remember he had a golden tan, he was slim and tapered, and he would smile and give a nod to all around him as he entered or left a room.”

Before Kennedy, Vecchio guarded President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) in late 1959 and early 1960, to whom he was introduced personally. The photo of them standing shoulder-to-shoulder hangs on the wall.

“I have a vivid memory of Ike coming down the elevator inside The Waldorf Astoria New York hotel in Manhattan,” Vecchio said. “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn and the Secret Service agent, a guy from Queens who headed the Secret Service at that time, said to the president, ‘Mr. President, this is detective Vecchio, he’s been on board with us for three days,’ and Eisenhower reached over and shook my hand.”

Vecchio said he couldn’t help but be elated.

“Let me tell you, for a young guy from Brooklyn never having seen a president, no less meet a president, for him to shake my hand was just … awesome,” he said. “I was [starstruck]. The only other person there was the general that accompanied him … so it’s just me, the president of the United States, the general and a few Secret Service men.”

It was in 1967 that Vecchio moved to Long Island and served as head security of former New York City Mayor John Lindsay, who would help steer him into politics. From there, Vecchio went on to make his own impact as a leader, starting in 1978 when he was appointed Smithtown supervisor.

Residents of Chicken Hill, Marjorie and Hub Edwards. Photo courtesy of TVHS

During the month of February, Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket, joins the nation in celebrating Black History Month, a commemoration of African American history and achievement, with its latest exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time.

Through photographs, artifacts and recorded interviews, the memory of this neighborhood, whose residents included African Americans, Native Americans, Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Rumanians, Irish and Italians, has been preserved.

The exhibit is a 2015 recipient of a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History and may be seen on Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $5 children and students. For more information, call 631-751-3730.

Barbara and Herman Lee with Barbara’s mother Ethel Lewis. Photos from Geral Lee.

By Geral Lee

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is unquestionably synonymous with Black History Month. He courageously confronted social inequities and racism in the midst of an adverse anti-black administration largely due to J. Edgar Hoover who had been appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation, renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. Few could compete with Hoover’s power and he went virtually unchallenged for half a century.

Hoover opposed making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. His smear campaign attempted to label Dr. King as a communist and a homosexual. He ordered illegal wire taps of Dr. King’s hotel room to try to justify his stance and used the power of government to satisfy his own bigotry toward blacks. Dr. King persevered.

Herman Lee in his Navy days (circa 1941). Photo from Geral Lee

There were many other individuals way before Dr. King who challenged the system in the name of justice. I am certain their actions helped define his political strategies. These people — and God bless them — were not just slaves, demonstrators or rioters.    

I must include Glenn Beck in this article. I am not suggesting he is an authority on black history. As the colorful conservative that he is, his question as to why the many contributions of black people continue to remain hidden from the mainstream is a legitimate one — and yet another reason to celebrate Black History Month.

In one of his tapings, “Glenn Beck Founders’ Fridays Black American Founders” (Fox News), that I listened to on YouTube, he mentioned Peter Salem, a hero in the Battle of Bunker Hill who saved scores of American lives. During the Battle of Lexington, white and black parishioners who worshiped together were commanded to fight. James Armistead served as a double spy. And is that Prince Whipple, the black crewman, in the painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware? I am not so sure because many blacks fought in the American Revolution. Freedom was not an automatic option.       

There have been unsung black heroes making all kinds of contributions throughout American history. The members of the 333rd Battalion, for example. The Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company of Baltimore, Maryland, which was one of the largest and most successful black businesses in America in the 1870s.   

“Dirty Little Secrets About Black History: Its Heroes & Other Troublemakers” by Claud Anderson reveals that in the late 1800s, blacks invented and filed for patents on a number of transportation-related devices. Andrew J. Beared invented an automatic train car coupler. Albert B. Blackburn invented a railway signal. R.A. Butler invented a train alarm. Although many inventors were fresh out of slavery and the literacy rate among slaves was 50 percent, black inventors filed hundreds of patents for transportation devices. The Safe Bus Company was a black-owned city-chartered bus line in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 1930 to the 1960s.   

Black history celebrates regular people engaged in positive activities. Here are some examples:

My father Herman Lee resided at 34 Christian Ave., Setauket, between 1956 and 2011. He was employed at the Setauket yard of the Brookhaven Highway Department in the 1960s and promoted to foreman in the 1970s. He did carpentry/home improvement projects for Three Village homeowners; among his regular clients, the Windrows and the Strongs. In World War II he served on the USS Hornet CV-12. After he became a chaplain for the VFW along with his wife Barbara Lewis Lee who was a practical nurse and historian in her own right. They sent all of their four children to college: Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter.

Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter Lee. Photo from Geral Lee

Uncle Sherwood Lewis was an employee of Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO). He came up with an idea that saved the company more than $100,000 a year according to a Newsday article dated April 23, 1977. He, too, was raised on Christian Avenue and now resides in Massachusetts.

Grandmother Ethel Lewis, valedictorian of her high school graduating class, resided at 32 Christian Ave. with her husband Howard Lewis. They subdivided their property so my parents could build their house on Christian Avenue.

Aunt Hazel Lewis, salutatorian of her graduating class, was employed at Peck & Peck in New York City back in the day — a high-end boutique clothing store for women.   

Aunt Pearl Lewis Hart received an associates degree in accounting in her 40s, was promoted to supervisor of the payroll department at SUNY Stony Brook and, until her death last month at age 92, was living in her own home on Christian Avenue.

Uncle Harry Hart, Pearl’s husband, owned his own excavation and contracting business from the 1940s to the 1980s. He acquired land on Christian Avenue and rented to many local folks.   

Remembering a few of Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence can help provide the foundation for a healthy society: “Nonviolence is a way of life for brave people; attack problems, not people; know and do what is right even when it is difficult.”     

I know there are many individuals who believe in these principles.

Black History Month means different things to different people, but if it can fill in the gaps, identify injustice, encourage positive dialogue and provide a platform for people to work toward understanding one another, it is a valuable ongoing process.

Geral Lee returned to her Setauket home in 2013 to be with her father after living in Rhode Island for 12 years. She taught physical education and health in Hempstead early in her career and received a personal invitation from her primary school coach Jack Foley, who later became athletic director for Three Village schools, to teach at Ward Melville. She served in the Peace Corps in Senegal, loves dogs and cats and currently relieves stress as a reflexologist.

Image by Mike Sheinkopf

By Rich Acritelli

“Your success is now our country’s success.”

George H.W. Bush (R) who lost a hotly contested election to Bill Clinton (D) in 1992, passed on this message to the incoming president. Bush lost a difficult campaign to Clinton, but wanted a smooth transition of power to the newly elected leader. Both men were opponents who were completely opposite from each other. Bush was a fighter pilot who flew off aircraft carriers in the Pacific during World War II, and Clinton was decisively against the United States involvement during the Vietnam War. Bush was a conservative president and vice president living in Texas who served under Ronald Reagan (R) for eight years, and Clinton was a liberal governor from Arkansas. While their political views often clashed, since both men left office, they have grown to become good friends. These one-time executive adversaries are immensely close, and Clinton now regards Bush’s wife, Barbara, as a second mother.

Little-known Vice President Harry S. Truman (D) from Missouri gained power after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) April 12, 1945. Right away Truman felt the immense burden of responsibility after learning about the tragic death of Roosevelt. When he asked the late president’s wife, Eleanor, what he could do to help her family, she asked, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

Truman presided over the end of World War II, the start of the Cold War, a fledgling postwar economy, and a difficult re-election against New York Gov. Thomas Dewey (R). Although Truman is remembered as an extremely capable president, he had the difficulties of serving after the trusted four-term leadership of Roosevelt and before the “General of the Armies” Dwight D. Eisenhower (R).

During World War II, Eisenhower was rapidly promoted and given an immense amount of authority by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, a highly regarded officer who became the architect of victory against Hitler in Europe. Outside of attaining a stellar record in the Army, Eisenhower’s only key blemish was his World War II affair with his driver Kay Summersby. After the war, he approached Marshall about the desire to divorce his wife and bring back his love interest to the U.S. Marshall took a heavy interest within Eisenhower’s career and he was seen as a second father to the future president. When the disciplinarian-minded Marshall learned that Eisenhower wanted to send for Summersby, he told his subordinate that he would run him “out of the Army” and make it impossible for him ever to “draw a peaceful breath.”

Marshall later wrote a scathing report about Eisenhower’s infidelities that was destroyed by Truman before he left office. Although Eisenhower and Truman did not have a warm relationship, Eisenhower stressed to Truman he could not believe how relentless the media was about his relationship with Summersby. Truman bluntly responded that if these were the only attacks against him by reporters, Eisenhower was immensely fortunate. Before he left office, Truman told the new leader he did not shred Marshall’s letter about Summersby to personally protect Eisenhower. His outgoing priority was to preserve the honor of the executive branch and its new leader, President-elect Eisenhower.

Currently, some of the cabinet nominations of President-elect Donald Trump (R) are facing scrutiny by Congress. Many previous presidents have endured political obstacles during this process. Clinton found it a chore to fulfill the attorney general position, as the first two candidates withdrew from being considered. George H.W. Bush watched as John Tower, his pick for secretary of defense in 1989 was not approved for the job. Personal allegations apart, the U.S. Senate did not like Tower’s connections to the national defense industry because they said it was a conflict of interest that could not be overlooked. It was the first time in 30 years the Senate refused to confirm a presidential cabinet appointment.

In 1980, Reagan faced scrutiny over Jackie Presser, later president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who was believed to have ties to organized crime. Presser was a labor adviser to Reagan’s transitional team, and the Democrats were outraged by possible connections of corruption. The choice of Jimmy Carter (D) for the Central Intelligence Agency, Theodore Sorensen, withdrew his own name in 1977 due to the onslaught of resentment waged against the former World War II conscientious objector. Many members of the intelligence and military communities were concerned that he was too much of an outsider who wanted to reform the CIA’s overall mission of gathering vital information during the height of the Cold War.

Historically speaking, the time between the election and inauguration, a period of uncertainty, has impacted every leader since the days of George Washington. These triumphs and failures are realistic issues that must be accepted by our leaders before they enter the Oval Office. This will be no different for Trump when he is sworn in Friday in front of the nation by Chief Justice John Roberts during an inauguration that will be watched by the world.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. Research for this story was contributed by the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society.

Edna White offers a section of clementine to her granddaughter, Alexandria McLaurin. Photo by Donna Newman

In today’s world, the loudest voices often preach a message of divisiveness and look to create an environment that excludes rather than accepts. This message runs contrary to the one preached by Martin Luther King Jr. and [his] vision for a just and peaceful future.

The invitation extended to community members was made in those words for an event titled We Thirst for Justice at the Bates House in Setauket Jan. 16 — the designated commemoration of the birth of the civil rights leader.

The event was organized by Michael Huffner, co-founder of the Community Growth Center with locations in Smithtown and Port Jefferson Station, in partnership with the All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. A newly formed service organization, The Spot — a new service group that provides resources, community and mentoring— and artist Alex Seel of the Center for Community Awareness facilitated a collaborative art project for the multifaith gathering. Each person was invited to record his/her vision of justice on a small square of colored paper. Seel, assisted by Vanessa Upegui worked to merge the squares into a colorful mosaic.

Huffner said he hoped the celebration would inspire people to work collaboratively for justice.

Vanessa Upegui and Alex Seel pause to display their art project. Photo by Donna Newman

“What seems like a small piece of paper can become a beautiful work of art when combined with others,” he said at the event. “What seems like a small voice becomes a sound capable of changing the world when combined with others … Dr. King’s message is simple. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must be the light; we must be the love that Dr. King spoke about.”

The Rev. Farrell Graves, spiritual leader of the All Souls Church, an associate chaplain at Stony Brook University and a founder of The Spot, added his take on the day’s significance.

“This is the joyful part of our work,” he said at the event. “We also have some more difficult work — to stand up for the common good. Freedom is for everyone, or it’s for no one. The cost of our freedom is constant vigilance, and by that I mean awareness, and I include in that self-awareness … If we don’t have the courage to look ourselves in the face, then fear and scapegoating take over. We start blaming others for our inadequacies … This is not yet the world that Martin Luther King envisioned. If we want to change the world, we must have the courage to change ourselves.”    

Seel stressed the importance of the fact that the civil rights movement of the ’60s was a collaborative effort and that such an endeavor is needed again to further the cause of justice in our country in our time.

“What we need now is leadership,” he said. “We need leaders who will bring different faith communities together. There needs to be a call to engage in a clear and effective goal.”

The event included live music and a diversity of foods. More than 65 people attended and, while the host organizations encouraged mixing and mingling, when approached, most people admitted they were sitting with people they already knew.

Far left, historian Georgette Grier-Key; second from left, teacher Monica Consalvo; second from right, alum Michael Tessler; and, far right, Mayor Margot Garant with seventh-grade students from the Port Jefferson Middle School. Photo from Monica Consalvo

MAKING HISTORY: On Dec. 22, seventh-grade students of the Port Jefferson Middle School attended an assembly that focused on how the village’s residents aided the efforts of the Patriots in winning the Revolutionary War. Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant, historian Georgette Grier-Key and alum Michael Tessler engaged the students in a fascinating display of how the Culper Spy Ring operated as well as having the opportunity to view Loyalist soldier Nehemiah Marks’ letter informing his comrades that Phillips and Nathaniel Roe, among others, helped supply Setauket-based spy Caleb Brewster with information to pass on to the Patriots.