History

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Three Village Historical Society office manager Sandy White helps a customer at the society’s History Center & Gift Shop. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

There are plenty of places in the historic Three Village community and surrounding areas that give a sense of place. The upcoming Christmas and winter holiday are good times to purchase a few of the wonderful gifts and books about the local area and to pay a relaxing visit to a few not-for-profit shops that deserve special support.

Three Village Historical Society History Center & Gift Shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket

The society’s gift shop is expanded to complement the exhibit SPIES! How a Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution. There you will find gifts including many books, booklets and pamphlets on local history. A new children’s book “Kayleigh and Connor Detectives Inc. and King the Spy Dog” is written and illustrated by Dana Lynn Zotter. Two youngsters visiting their grandfather in Stony Brook discover an abandoned gravestone for a dog and learn about the Culper Spy Ring as they search for the black dog they think is a ghost. Another wonderful book for children is “I Survived the American Revolution, 1776” by Lauren Tarshis, illustrated by Scott Dawson and published by Scholastic Inc. This is the best book for youth I’ve ever read on the Battle of Brooklyn. Here we follow a young boy who is caught up in the battle. Both of these books are thoroughly researched, well-written and illustrated. The gift shop is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the gift shop and exhibits are open every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. (Closed from Dec. 20 to Jan. 2.) For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org.

Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket

Gallery North is diagonally across the street from the historical society. It is easy to park at one and walk across the street to the other. The entire gallery is a gift shop with many wonderful paintings and gift pieces by local artists for sale. The current exhibit is Deck the Halls. Local artists and artisans have created beautiful paintings, drawings, handmade jewelry, pottery, glass, decorations and much more. Gallery North also is showcasing a diverse range of Long Island art and has Holiday POP-UP Shopping. On Thursdays, Dec. 13 and 20, from 4 to 7 p.m., join them for a glass of wine and refreshment while you meet the artists and shop. Each Thursday evening a different selection of artists and artisans will be offering their handcrafted gifts, jewelry, art and more.

Gallery North is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Deck the Halls exhibit through Dec 22. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.gallerynorth.org.

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook

The gift shop in the Visitors Center includes books and prints on The Long Island Museum’s exhibits and permanent collections. There are also jewelry, pottery and hand-blown glass items made by local artists as well as hand-turned wood items by local artist Harry Wicks. The Visitors Center includes children’s Revolutionary War era gift items. The current exhibition, Elias Pelletreau: Long Island Silversmith & Entrepreneur, will close Dec. 30, along with the companion exhibition Shaping Silver: Contemporary Metalsmithing. The museum, Visitors Center and gift shop are open Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 pm. (Closed Dec. 24 and 25 and Jan.1.) Visit www. longislandmuseum.org for more information.

Reboli Center, 64 Main St., Stony Brook

The Reboli Center has a large collection of wonderful paintings by Joe Reboli. Around the Reboli Center are four sculptures by Long Island artist/sculptor David Haussler. The current exhibit The Gift of Art celebrates the amazing contribution to civilization that art gives, the wonderful gift to friends and family of a piece of art and the generous donors of this year’s gifts to the Reboli Center art collection. In the Reboli Center, wonderful art and crafts are available for visitors to enjoy; and in the Design Shop, paintings, folk art, craft and sculpture are available for purchase as gifts or to decorate your home for this or any season. The Reboli Center is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. (Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.) For more information, call 631-751-7707, or visit the Reboli website at www.rebolicenter.org.

St. James General Store, 516 Moriches Road, St. James

This “old-fashioned” general store is run by the Suffolk County Parks Department, Division of Historical Services. Here are two floors of 19th- and 20th-century goods and lots of homemade goodies. They have an extensive collection of old-style candies, many brands dating back to the 19th century. Be sure to try one of their delicious molasses pops. On the second floor are books on Long Island covering many local communities, as well as lots of wonderful children’s books. This is now one good, close, independent bookstore. The back room has an extensive collection of ornaments, some of which are reproductions of antique decorations. Back on the first floor, there is a large selection of toys, dolls and games for children that also harken back to the 19th century. The St. James General Store is open every day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 and open until 3 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.) For more information, call 631-854-3740 or visit www.facebook.com/St.JamesGeneralStore.

There are lots of unusual gifts at these five gift shops. If you are buying a gift for someone, you will almost certainly find something to suit every taste. There are many other wonderful local shops in the Stony Brook Village Shopping Center and in Setauket and East Setauket.

In the Village of Port Jefferson, along and around Main Street and East Main Street are many wonderful and unusual shops and restaurants. A special one in Port Jefferson is Secret Garden Tea Room on Main Street. Have a cup of tea, maybe a scone and jam or a delicious lunch and look over their selection of unusual and tea-based gifts. Open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. For more information or reservations, call 631-476-8327 or visit www.thesecretgardentearoom.com.

Finding a special or unusual gift is not only a good idea, it also supports our local businesses and brings us closer together as a community. And you never know who you will run into by shopping locally.

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.

The Three Village Historical Society hosted its annual Candlelight House Tour on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of this annual holiday event, the tour featured six locations, which included five residences, each individually decorated by a talented local interior designer, and a rare look inside the Setauket Grist Mill. Participants also had the option of attending an evening reception at the Old Field Club or breakfast at the Stony Brook Yacht Club,

Decked out in holiday splendor, every location welcomed an unprecedented number of visitors and was staffed by a rotation of dedicated volunteers. Though presented through a fresh vision, tours of yesteryear were acknowledged through the inclusion of certain houses that had been previously featured.

Additionally, Eva Glaser and Liz Tyler Carey, who were inaugural event chairs, returned as decorators for one of the homes, which also featured a pop-up holiday boutique consisting of unique gift items. All proceeds from those sales went to the planned restoration of the Dominic Crawford Barn.

The nearly sold out event raised a significant amount of money for the Three Village Historical Society’s Education Fund. Many people gave of their talents, time and services to create the festive fundraiser.

This beloved seasonal tradition would not exist without the generosity of the event chairs, Patty Cain and Patty Yantz, as well as the food and beverage sponsors, homeowners, Three Village Historical Society administrative staff, house chairs, decorators, volunteers, members, supporters and community at large.

All photos by Pam Botway

A Coast Guard Auxiliary boat. Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

On a cold evening in the fall of 2003 a few people got together in Port Jefferson to form a flotilla of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Fifteen years later, Flotilla 14-22-06, the Port Jefferson Flotilla, is still among the most active auxiliary groups in the country. Thousands of Americans volunteer as U.S. Coast Guard auxiliarists, many of whom are still actively engaged in various professions. Their common motives for joining are love of the water and wanting to participate in an activity that has great regional and national importance.

The Port Jefferson USCG Auxiliary Flotilla, 1st Southern District 14, Division 22, Flotilla 06, was founded in 2003 and now has 33 members. Since its founding, the flotilla has been active in boater education and in patrols within the Long Island Sound and in the Port Jefferson Harbor and Mount Sinai areas. Additionally, in this era of deep concern about terrorism, the flotilla engages in a program to inspect the marine-related facilities and the Port Jefferson Harbor infrastructure in order to discover and to report to the Coast Guard any vulnerability in the marine area. The Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry is of particular interest to the Coast Guard and to the auxiliary.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, created by an act of Congress in 1939, is an all-volunteer civilian branch of the Coast Guard, acting as a “force multiplier,” where auxiliary members, both men and women, frequently aid the Coast Guard in wide-ranging activities. At Coast Guard stations around the country, auxiliary members carry out watch standing, that is, they will engage in communication management for a Coast Guard station. Frequently, they work in the stations’ kitchens, helping in food preparation and service. Many auxiliary members are talented craftspeople and will frequently work to support and improve Coast Guard station facilities.

Some 28,000 auxiliary members contribute over 4.5 million hours of service each year and complete nearly 500,000 boating safety patrol missions to support the Coast Guard. Every year auxiliarists help to save some 500 lives, assist 15,000 distressed boaters, and provide boater safety instruction to over 500,000 students, adults and children alike. In total, the Coast Guard Auxiliary saves taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Auxiliary members commonly conduct safety patrols on local waterways, assist in search and rescue, teach boating safety classes, conduct free vessel safety checks for the public, as well as many other activities related to recreational boating safety. Appropriate training of our members is key to a dynamic and effective organization. Training enables auxiliary members to become valuable partners with the Coast Guard, helping them meet mission objectives. Also, we meet our commitment to be of service not only to the maritime community but the community as a whole.

In particular, the Vessel Examination Program is a major part of the Port Jefferson Flotilla activity. Nationally, the auxiliary annually performs over 150,000 safety inspections of recreational vessels. This program provides a free vessel safety check (VSC) service to boaters to educate them on boating safety and on the equipment they are required to carry in order to be compliant with federal, state and local regulations.

The auxiliary is prevented by statute from direct participation in the Coast Guard’s military or law enforcement activities. Other than that, the auxiliary has most of the positions of the active duty Coast Guard and trains for them using essentially the same materials and standards. There are some jobs that a new auxiliarist can begin after a few weeks while there are others, such as auxiliary boat crew, that will take a year or so to gather the training and experience to pass a qualification exam. During that time a new member can be out on active auxiliary boat patrols.

The Port Jefferson Flotilla, as well as the other six flotillas in Division 22 on Long Island, is actively recruiting men and women of all ages who want to serve their community and country in this unique way. Interested parties are invited to attend our meetings, which are held on the second Wednesday of each month at the Port Jefferson Yacht Club on Surf Road at Port Jefferson Harbor. Doors open at 7 p.m. and call to order is at 7:30 p.m. For more information on the activities of the Port Jefferson Flotilla visit www.cgapj.org, email info@cgapj.org or call  631-938-1705.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

Don Law has carved more than 5000 decoys over the years. Photo from LIM
Sarah Broadwell

Take a break from all the holiday preparations and come on down to Stony Brook for the Long Island Museum’s Open House and Decoy Day celebration on Sunday, Dec. 2 from 1 to 4 p.m!  The day includes decoy carving demonstrations, a discussion about fishing on Long Island and live music.  You’ll meet:

  • Captain Don Law a full-time charter boat captain from Hampton Bays who began carving decoys in the 8th grade!
  • George Rigby, Jr., a descendant of baymen who settled on LI in the early 1900s.
  • Don Bennet, whose family has worked the LI waters for more than 100 years.
  • Sarah Broadwell, a full-time fishing captain with the Viking Fleet based in Montauk, who works with students, teachers and recreational fishermen, lecturing about responsible fishing.
  • Stuart Markus, a fixture on Long Island’s folk and acoustic scene.
  • Traditional folk singer Larry Moser.
  • Max Rowland, banjo master and folk musician, who’s family history includes several sea captains.
DEMONSTRATIONS AND MUSIC FROM 1 – 4 P.M.
Free admission all day.
The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

The society’s Conklin House is decked out for the Historical Holiday House Tour on Dec. 2. Photo from Huntington Historical Society

By Heidi Sutton

A beloved tradition returns to the Town of Huntington as the Huntington Historical Society gears up for its 13th annual Historical Holiday House Tour this weekend. Five gracious homeowners from Huntington Village, Lloyd Neck, Cold Spring Harbor and Lloyd Harbor will open their festively decorated homes on Sunday, Dec. 2, from noon to 4 p.m.

The yearly fundraiser “helps us with our mission of preserving Huntington’s history for future generations,” said Huntington Historical Society’s Executive Director Tracy Pfaff Smith in a recent interview.

After visiting the private homes, Pfaff Smith encourages ticketholders to visit the historical society’s 1795 Dr. Daniel Kissam House Museum at 434 Park Ave., featuring a gorgeous lace exhibit titled Poetry in Thread, and the 1750 David Conklin Farmhouse Museum at 2 High St. Both properties will be decorated for the season.

“The Conklin Barn will have its usual scrumptious array of refreshments, and the much-loved Antiques and Collectibles Shop on the Kissam property will be open and fully stocked with unique gift items,” said Pfaff Smith, adding that the Arsenal (1740), located directly across the street from the Kissam property, will also be open for tours. Managed by the Town of Huntington, “The Arsenal is rarely open [to visitors] so this is a special occasion,” she said.

Advance tickets are $35 for members and $40 for nonmembers. A tour map with house locations will be available at the society’s Trade School building at 209 Main St. If available, remaining tickets will be sold the day of the event at the Conklin Barn for $40 for members and $45 for nonmembers.

For more information or to purchase tickets call 631-427-7045, ext. 401, or visit www.huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org.

Erase Racism is holding events across Long Island. Photo from Erase Racism website

A Syosset nonprofit and a Stony Brook University department are teaming up to open up a public dialogue pertaining to one of Long Island and America’s oldest societal problems.

ERASE Racism, a regional organization founded in 2001 that advocates for public policy to promote racial equality in housing, education and more, and SBU’s Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, a department founded in 2017 that provides a forum for the promotion of various forms of student and faculty engagement on the same issues, will co-host the first of a series of forums meant to jump start a community conversation on racial inequality.

The series of forums, entitled How Do We Build a Just Long Island? will kick off at the Hilton Garden Inn on the SBU campus Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.

“This whole thing is premised on the fact that everybody can educate themselves,” ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross said in an interview. “It’s not about anyone calling anyone a racist. It’s not a blame and shame kind of thing. Let’s make sure we have all the facts, let’s make sure we understand the context.”

Gross said so far about 400 people have registered to attend the event. She said from the organization’s inception its goal has been to identify institutional and structural racism and seek to educate the public about the history that has led to places like Long Island being so racially segregated today.

“It is embedded — it doesn’t require that all of the players be racist people, or bad people, it only requires that people go along with the business as usual,” she said.

Christopher Sellers, SBU history professor and director of the center, said part of the thinking behind the forums is to frame the conversation in a way for people not exposed to racial inequality or injustice on a daily basis to see barriers and exclusions they may not have viewed as such. He said the goal is to ultimately expand the discussion from the confines of the campus and into the community. He called Long Island the perfect place to begin this dialogue.

“Demographic change causes people to get more defensive and fall back on these racializing tool kits they may have picked up from their own past,” he said, adding that data suggests Long Island has become more racially diverse during recent decades, specifically seeing an increase in those of Hispanic descent.

Sellers said he feels a sense of urgency to begin a wide discussion on racial intolerance despite the perception from many that in the decades since the civil rights movement society has made sufficient progress in creating a just America for all. In “Hate Crime Statistics, 2017” released Nov. 13, the FBI reported a 17 percent increase in incidents identified as hate crimes from 2016 to 2017, with nearly 60 percent of those incidents being motivated by racial or ethnic bias. From 2015 to 2016 there was a roughly 5 percent increase in these incidents. From 2014 to 2015, hate crimes went up by about 7 percent.

“We need as a university to do something, we as academics can no longer sit on our hands,” Sellers said. “This is maybe a more urgent matter than we’ve considered before.”

Gross said the aim of the events is education.

“We didn’t plan to be doing this at a time when the country is so divided and there’s so much overtly biased comments, racist comments being said at the highest levels,” Gross said. “We planned this because we felt that even though with all of the work that we’ve done, we felt that was really needed was a regional public discussion and understanding of how things are connected.”

To register for the event and to get more information on the remainder of the forums — slated for Riverhead, Hempstead, Melville and Hauppauge — visit www.eraseracismny.org.

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A photo of a partly destroyed French church was taken by Lt. Marco C. Smith Jr. in 1918. Photo from the Smith family

By Beverly C. Tyler

On Nov. 15, 1918, Lt. Marco Carmelich Smith Jr. wrote to his grandmother Eliza Tyler from France: “To say the least, one can live somewhat in peace, now that the Armistice is signed. Beforehand we had had rumors of one but as old Lame Rumor is always present we passed it off as such until the official notice came. We all had our watches out at 11 a.m. on [Nov.] 11th and it was very noticeable that cannon that had been thundering away all morning ceased firing exactly on the hour. So now, as I say, we can live in peace. No more gas masks or helmets, and at night we can have all the light we want.”

A 1918 photo of Marco C. Smith in uniform. Photo from the Smith family

Smith was born Oct. 2, 1886, at his father’s family home, called Fairholme, which was built circa 1824 and expanded circa 1860, in what is now the Village of Old Field. His great-great-grandfather, Walter Smith, a descendant of one of Setauket’s original settlers, Arthur Smith, was the Old Field Point Lighthouse keeper from 1827 to 1830. Marco Smith’s father, the first Marco C. Smith married Mary Amelia Tyler, daughter of Charles and Eliza Tyler, this writer’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother.

Marco Smith Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army July 8, 1918, and was commissioned as 1st Lt. of Engineers, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Engineers. He was first assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison, near Indianapolis, Indiana, and then transferred to Camp Merritt in Bergen County, New Jersey, where troops boarded ships on their way to the war in Europe.

Smith was on leave briefly July 28, when he married in Mamaroneck, Marjorie Aldrich, daughter of Capt. Clarence Aldrich and Irene Hand of East Setauket. According to a newspaper clipping, “Military orders hastened the ceremony, and the groom is now supposed to be on his way to France.”

Smith sailed for France July 31. He was assigned to the 1st Army Aug. 28, as an engineer on light railway construction for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive until the end of the war Nov. 11. He spent most of his time in the area around the village of Montigny-sur-Meuse and continued to be stationed there until March 3, 1919.

On Dec. 16, 1918, Smith wrote: “My dear Grandma, Here it is past the middle of the month and I haven’t started my usual monthly letter to you so here goes for this evening.”

Smith noted that the mail was arriving more regularly since the Armistice and that he had just received a letter from his grandmother written Oct. 18 as well as one written by his mother and dad Nov. 27. He continued the letter: “Sometimes I marvel that I am not sick as we sure are subjected to some pretty severe conditions at times. One night I just slept on the wet ground in a pouring rain and felt fine the next day. … We are very historically located too being near to Dun [Dun-sur-Meuse], Stenay and Sedan. This was sure some hard earned ground as everywhere are evidences of many battles. I believe the part where we were tho’ is about as bad as any. We sure thought so at the time. … Lord, when you see some of the shells old ‘Fritz’ uses to amuse us with, it’s no wonder we were “alarmed” at times. But after all, most of my feelings go to the poor French people who are slowly returning to their destroyed homes. … How they are going to make a go of it this winter is beyond me. … and the tales they tell of the hardships endured while prisoners. They are barely believable. I cannot write of them; they are too sad. Loads & loads & loads of love for yourself and everyone, Your loving grandson Marco — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Marco C. Smith and his wife Marjorie in an undated photo. Photo from the Smith family

In his Jan. 22, 1919, letter, Smith writes: “Just now we are trying to arrange for some pleasure trips for the men. They have been my faithful workers ever since the drive began on Sept. 26th. And it has been rather tiresome and tedious to them to have seen nothing but shell torn areas since that date. The trip we are planning for them is to Sedan which is only about 25 miles from here.”

The three villages mentioned by Smith — Dun-sur-Meuse, Stenay and Sedan — are between 29 and 40 kilometers northeast of Verdun, site of the longest lasting battle of World War I. During 1916, there were more than 300,000 French and German casualties there.

Smith was reassigned to the engineers office, District of Paris, from March 10 to June 3, 1919. He returned from overseas July 11 and was discharged July 31, 1919. On Feb. 21, 1920, he was commissioned a captain in the Engineer Reserve Corps. He returned home to his wife Marjorie, with a house in Brooklyn and a job in Manhattan as an engineer with the New York Central Railroad. According to family information, Smith and his wife maintained the house in Old Field as a summer home until four months after their first child, Marco C. Smith III, was born April 25, 1927. Smith became a trustee of the Village of Old Field when it was incorporated in 1927, and he also served the village as mayor. The couple’s second and last child, Judith, was born Aug. 9, 1932. Marjorie died in 1953 and Smith died July 8, 1961.

The three letters Smith wrote to his grandmother Eliza, written between Nov. 15, 1918, and Jan. 22, 1919, and copies of the photographs he took in France will now be a part of the Three Village Historical Society archival collection.

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.

Members of the bus trip pose for a photo between the statues of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr with dueling pistols.

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

Twenty-seven enthusiastic day trippers boarded a chartered bus at the headquarters of the Three Village Historical Society at dawn on Nov. 3. Led by TVHS historian Bev Tyler, they arrived in comfort before 10 a.m. at Philadelphia’s newest tribute to the founding of our nation, the Museum of the American Revolution. There, the drama of the American Revolution and the ideas that inspired it came to life through the personal stories of the people who were there, from the early stirrings of unrest in Boston to the opening shots of the War of Independence and beyond, to the creation of the American Republic.

A must see was the recently opened exhibit, Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia, on display through March 17, 2019. While New York City, our nation’s first capital, is the focus of attention in the Broadway hit “Hamilton: An American Musical,” it was in Philadelphia, the second national capital, that many of the major events in the life and work of Alexander Hamilton took place.

Museum visitors prepare to load and fire a cannon

The exhibition highlights different aspects of Hamilton’s contributions: his role as an artillery officer in Washington’s army and, later, as adviser to President Washington; his writings that persuaded states to accept the United States Constitution; creator of the U.S. Coast Guard; and first Secretary of the Treasury who envisioned the financial future of the nation.

Through interactive displays, hands-on activities and wall texts, the museum presents the struggles by Hamilton, who favored a strong central government, with Jefferson and Madison, who believed that power should lie with each state. These are questions that we still struggle with today: How do we achieve a proper balance between the rights of each state to act independently and  the need for federal oversight?

Other permanent exhibits are exceptional as well. The museum proudly displays Washington’s war tent, in which he worked and slept alongside Continental Army battlefields. Another remarkably stirring exhibit is housed in a small amphitheater containing life-size, three-dimensional representations of members of the Oneida Indian Nation. Each one “speaks” in turn, presenting arguments for and against sending their warriors to take part in the Saratoga Campaign in the autumn of 1777. Should they support the Patriot cause and fight alongside the Americans, or should they side with the British Army? The Oneidas wrestle with their decision and decide to fight with the Continental Army. The Saratoga Campaign became a turning point of the war.  

A scene from the Oneida Indian Nation exhibit at the museum.

Is this an appropriate museum for children? Yes, bring a child to see Washington’s war tent, or follow the 10 steps it takes to load and fire a cannon, or design a coin or paper currency for the new nation, or dress up in reproduction 1790s clothing to attend one of Martha Washington’s “levees.” All can sit in comfort to see excellent, informative short films.

That said, the museum’s exhibits appear to be designed primarily for high school and college students and adults. They pose serious questions — questions that the nation still struggles to answer. At the end of the day I asked one of the knowledgeable participants among the group to share his impression. “It was good,” he said, “but not great.”  When asked why the lower rating, he said, “Too politically correct.”

Hmm. Yes, the museum has expanded upon the history many of us learned about our country’s origins, mostly told from the perspective of affluent white Protestant males. Little was said in most textbooks or high school class discussions about the impact of the American Revolution on Native Americans, enslaved Africans, women, Catholics and other religious minorities and French and Spanish occupants of the land. For them, the revolution offered promise and peril. Some chose the cause of independence and others sided with the British.

Storybook touch screens called Finding Freedom introduce the African-American London Pleasants, who ran away from slavery in Virginia in 1781 and joined the British Army as a trumpeter. We hear about Eve, owned by the Randolph family of Williamsburg, Virginia, who fled to the British when they occupied the city. She and her son George enjoyed a period of freedom, working under the British, until she was recaptured at Yorktown in 1781. We learn of Elizabeth Freeman, who sued her owner for freedom based on the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution — and won.

The museum focuses attention on the most revolutionary legacies — personal liberty, citizenship, the right to vote and social equality. Is the museum “Politically Correct,” or simply “Correct”?

On the bus ride back to Setauket, the participants from the Three Village Historical Society were treated to a screening of the TBR News Media film about Nathan Hale, “One Life to Give.” They also had time to think about what they’d learned at the Museum of the American Revolution. If that was the goal of its designers, they accomplished their purpose.

The author is the former director of education at the Three Village Historical Society and an educator, writer and lecturer on art, artists and American history.

All photos by Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

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Above, the Wiener family, Željko, Beruria, Frances and Julius circa 1941. Photo courtesy of Beruria Stroke

By Donna Newman

Most Holocaust survival stories, told by those still around to bear witness, describe boxcars and concentration camps, starvation and abuse, and the horrific separation of children from their parents.

In a recent program at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, titled Grazie Italia, local nonagenarian Beruria Stroke told her story of survival and it was quite different. She described a long and tortuous journey from Zagreb, Yugoslavia, to Campobasso, Italy, where advancing Allied forces liberated the Wiener family, who had been fleeing the Nazis — often day by day — for two and a half years.

Stroke’s life story had all the elements of a thriller and, in the discussion that ensued following her presentation, most of those in attendance encouraged her when she said she was thinking about writing a book. The general consensus: It is a story that should be shared.

Beruria Stroke answers questions after the library program on Nov. 2. Photo by Donna Newman

Speaking without notes, Stroke began her narrative in an idyllic-sounding childhood in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Her parents, Julius and Frances Wiener, were intellectuals — people of means — and very well read. She credits her father with the ability to foresee the events of the second World War after reading Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf.”

In 1939 her parents traveled to Palestine, then under British control, and applied for papers for their family to immigrate. As they waited for the papers, they established a plan to leave Yugoslavia. It was a long wait. When transit visas finally came through on April 4, 1941 Beruria, her parents and her younger brother Željko, fled to the east via the famous Orient Express. They only made it as far as Belgrade.

In Belgrade, the train was stopped and all passengers had to find overnight lodgings. They expected to board the train the following morning to continue their journey. But that night, while staying at the apartment of an uncle, young Beruria experienced the horrors of war firsthand. She described hearing sirens at 3 a.m. but then was told it was “just an exercise.” At 6 a.m. there were no sirens — just bombs falling. The next day, after realizing they could no longer go forward, they learned of a train that could take them back to Zagreb. They negotiated the rubble that Belgrade had become, walking past dead bodies in the street. As fate would have it, they missed the train, but were directed to a spot where another train would be forming. They waited there, inside a boxcar. By the time the train left, the boxcar was filled beyond capacity. In Stroke’s mother’s words, “Not a needle could come between one person and another.”

Back in Zagreb, things had changed over night. Jews were made to wear identifying cloth badges bearing the letter Z topped by an accent mark that looked like a V — the letter representing the word for “Jew” in the Croatian language. Heads of families were being arrested and incarcerated. In exchange for their large apartment, Julius Wiener negotiated travel papers and safe transit to a train headed toward the Italian border. Stroke said, “We left in the nick of time. That night the Nazis came [and would have taken us] to a concentration camp.”

Throughout her story Stroke made note of unexpected but lucky moments that allowed her family to survive intact. It was serendipity, she said, that got them through the German occupation — serendipity, and the help of many good people along the way.

After the family made it to Italy, they still had the difficult task of avoiding capture. Stroke told of their journey south along the eastern coast of Italy on bicycles — another of her father’s brilliant ideas — sheltering overnight wherever they could find space, so as not to be outdoors after curfew.

The Wieners were among those liberated by Canadian forces on Oct. 14, 1943 in the city of Campobasso in southern Italy. That event launched the next phase of her young life, which led to her emigration to Palestine in 1945. But that’s another story.

This was only the second time Stroke has shared her story publicly. The first time was this past April at the invitation of Rabbi Joseph Topek of Hillel, a Jewish student organization on the Stony Brook University campus. Israeli premed student Eilona Feder worked with Stroke to facilitate her talk.

Feder is the Israeli-American Council “Mishelanu” (Hebrew for “from ourselves”) intern on campus, tasked with connecting Israeli students as well as offering educational and cultural programs open to all. Feder has been involved in Holocaust education for years, ever since her middle school days in Israel. “I became so involved,” she said, “because my grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, and he was never willing to tell me his story.”

ON HALLOWED GROUND

Anthony Parlatore of Stony Brook captured this majestic image during a recent visit to Gettysburg. Sculpted by Ivan Schwartz, the life-sized bronze statue depicts President Lincoln sitting on a bench on the day of his famous speech at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in 1863.

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