Historic Setauket cemeteries will host an evening of mystery and suspense

By Heidi Sutton

The shorter days, falling leaves and cooler weather signal the arrival of the Three Village Historical Society’s annual Spirits Tour. The popular event, now in its 24th year, will be held at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemeteries on Saturday, Oct. 20. Guided tours will begin at 5 p.m. with the last tour of the evening heading out into the dark at 7:45 p.m. 

This year’s tour, titled Fickle Finger of Fate, will feature “Spirits” of the past, costumed actors who will portray unfortunate souls of the Three Village area that knocked on death’s door too soon. 

One of the stops during last year’s tour. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Frank Turano, co-chair of the committee and historical society trustee returned to write the script for the 15-member cast, a massive undertaking that took months of research. When asked how he came up with this year’s theme, Turano said, “Fate takes different turns in people’s lives and that’s what we’re highlighting. These are local people that made a decision in their lives that sometimes turned out good and sometimes not so good.”

All the people that the actors will be portraying lived in Setauket and Stony Brook. “The earliest one lived in the 18th century and the latest one is middle 20th,” said Turano. Those who currently live in the area will recognize the familiar last names like Bates, Parsons, Satterly, Davis and Jones. 

“Until [William] Levitt arrived in this community, this was very much a provincial area with the same people [living here] year after year and generation after generation,” explained Turano who will be portraying Henry Hackett Satterly who enlisted in the army and was shipped out to the Mexican War in the early 1840s. He wound up dying in a hospital in Mexico and was buried in an unmarked grave. His family erected a monument to him behind the Presbyterian Church.

Visitors will also meet the spirit of Captain George Child who perished along with 154 others when the Lexington Steamer caught fire and sank off Eaton’s Neck in 1840. Child was filling in for Captain Jake Vanderbilt, who had called in sick, which sealed his fate.

Artist William Sidney Mount, who is buried at the Presbyterian Church, will have his story told also, but in a different context. “In the late 1840s there was a national popularity with the occult with the Ouija board and cult activities and Mount was fascinated by it and one of the places he went for these séances  was [Thomas Haddaway’s house in Stony Brook] which is now the Country House Restaurant,” said Turano.

Stephanie Carsten will reprise her role of Maria Smith Williamson, whose son Jedidiah died after being run over by a wagon in the mid-1800s, and  Edward Pfeifer’s specter will tell how he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in the 1930s as a ground crewman and was stationed at Clark Field in the Phillipines, “which was considered a plum of an assignment because he was right near Manila” said Turano. 

“Unfortunately, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Pfeifer was transferred to the Infantry Division and was part of the defense of Corregidor.” Pfeifer wound up on the infamous Bataan Death March and died in the prison camp. Added Turano, “He had lots of things that twisted his fate.”

TVHS President Stephen Healy is proud to be able to offer this event to the community, which, along with the society’s annual Candlelight Tour, is one of the society’s biggest fundraisers of the year. “The churches are fantastic — they just are that perfect backdrop to having an event like this and to actually walk through an active graveyard is kind of neat and a little bit spooky as it is,” he said. 

One of the new additions to the tour this year will be roaming characters who will interact with visitors in both cemeteries. Healy will play the part of a turn-of-the-century detective investigating a disappearance, a role he is looking forward to playing at one of his favorite historical events.

“As a local historian group, we try to get the word on locally what happened here, pre and post Culper Spy. People live in this community because aesthetically it looks beautiful, but they don’t know a lot about the rich history and that’s where we come in.”

Tours will leave from the Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket every 15 minutes starting at 5 p.m. Each tour lasts approximately 1½ to 2 hours. The last tour departs at 7:45 p.m. It is advised to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes and bring a flashlight. 

In addition, a 1920s remastered silent film, “The Daughter of Dawn,” will be screened at the Setauket Presbyterian Church during the event.  Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” it features an all-Native American cast. Complimentary hot cider and donuts will be served in the Presbyterian Church during the event. 

Tickets in advance at www.tvhs.org are $18 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets on the night of the event, if available, are $25 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. Rain date is Oct. 27. For more information, call 631-751-3730.

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