For the past 23 years, as the air gets chilly and colorful leaves decorate the ground, the Three Village Historical Society ushers in the spooky month of October with its annual Spirits Tour, a night of treks through local historic cemeteries guided by local historic figures. This year’s event, whose theme is The Spirits of Prohibition: Setauket of the Roaring 20s, will take place Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Setauket Presbyterian Cemetery, 5 Caroline Ave., and Carolina Church Cemetery, 1 Dyke Road in Setauket. The evening promises a rip-roaring night of jazz, artifacts and more for all guys and dolls in attendance.
Building on the themes of the historical society’s Prohibition Night fundraiser last month, this year’s Spirits Tour is a 1920s-set event exploring what it was like to live in Setauket in the decade that saw the rise of the women’s suffrage movement, gangsters and flappers, and, of course, illegal speakeasies and alcohol bootleggers. Fourteen actors, decked out in period-perfect costumes courtesy of Antiques Costume & Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta, will portray local figures from the past such as Annie Rensselaer Tinker, a prominent suffragette who had a summer cottage in Poquott, George Vingut, whose barn was used to bootleg liquor, Ward Melville, who famously redeveloped Stony Brook Village, and many more.
This year’s 2-hour tour will be a multisensational event, according to director Brian Cea, including period exhibits previously displayed at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, like Ford Model T cars, antique bottles, a live jazz band and even silent films projected on the side of the churches. Prohibition-era food and drinks will also be offered for sale.
“It’s not just going to be walking around in a circle listening to spirits,” Cea said. “It will entail smelling, feeling and tasting the era. I wanted to help bring this subject to life.”
Cea, who has been involved in the Spirits Tour for the past eight years, got the idea for the Prohibition-era concept when he was giving a private historic house tour on Bennetts Street in East Setauket once owned by a judge with ties to a tavern owner on Wall Street in New York City in the 1920s. Old whiskey bottles dating back to that time were eventually found underneath the flooring.
“We believe this guy was holding liquor that was being transported from over the Sound into Long Island and brought into the city,” Cea said. “I then found out bootlegging was very prosperous here on Long Island with illegal gin mills around our area and I thought, ‘Let’s look into that.’”
TVHS President Stephen Healy said he’s excited for a walk through that unexplored aspect of Long Island history. “A lot of times you see the bootlegging arrests that took place in the city, but you don’t see where the product was made and where it came from,” Healy said, explaining the local farmers grew the key ingredient in alcohol: potatoes. “It’s fascinating how people would get alcohol. They would smuggle it in coffins and rum-running boats. We were a pretty good source [for the alcohol].”
Historical society trustee Frank Turano returned to write the script for the event, a process that took up a majority of the summer due to the massive amounts of research. “In town, around Prohibition, there were bootleggers, there were people storing booze, people making moonshine — a representation of all things,” he said. “Each year we try to do something different and we’d never done that era before, so we took advantage.”
Kate Wheeler Strong (Donna Smith)
Ellsworth Buckingham (Steve Healy)
Eversley Childs (Max Golub)
Harry Golden (Mort Rosen)
Celia Hawkins (Karin Lynch)
Ward Melville (Michael O’Dwyer)
Robert Cushman Murphy (Art Billadello)
Sarry Ann Sells (Bonnie Duvall)
Etta Sherry (Holly Griesel)
Eugenio Goncalves de Teixeira (Michael Tessler)
Annie Rensselaer Tinker (Stephanie Carsten)
William Bryant (George Overin)
George Vingut (Robert Ogden)
Roaming Cop (Brian Cea)
The Three Village Historical Society will present its 23rd annual Spirits Tour on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. Rain date is Oct. 28. Tours, which begin at the Setauket Presbyterian Church parking lot at 5 p.m., leave every 15 minutes and can last from 1½ to 2 hours each. Last tour starts at 7:45 p.m. Participants are asked to arrive 15 minutes prior to your tour’s departure, to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes and bring a flashlight and umbrella.Tickets in advance are $18 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets at the door are $25 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.