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Culper Spies

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Bev Tyler stands behind his daughters and wife, Barbara, before a bicentennial celebration in 1976. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

Sometimes even a historian gets to enjoy a historic moment in his own life.

Historian Bev Tyler celebrates his 80th birthday at the Three Village Historical Society. Photo by Sandy White

Members of the Three Village Historical Society celebrated Beverly Tyler’s 80th birthday Aug. 15, a milestone the historian reached four days before. The society’s main office was fittingly the setting for the celebration as the organization has been a part of Tyler’s life for more than half of his 80 years.

In 1974, when he began to organize a local bicentennial committee in anticipation of July 4, 1976, Tyler said he joined the Three Village Historical Society. He asked Bill Minuse, the society’s president at the time, for seed money, and the members agreed to donate $1,000. During the two years of the committee’s existence, the members worked on projects that included planting Bradford pear trees along Route 25A from the Stony Brook train station to the memorial park in East Setauket and placing a memorial stone in front of St. James R.C. Church. The committee also published the “Three Village Guidebook” written by Howard Klein and illustrated by Patricia Windrow, which provided a summary of the historic neighborhoods in the area.

It was during this bicentennial year that Tyler first wrote for this newspaper, when it was known as The Village Times, to promote the committee. Later, he wrote biweekly history articles for once competitor The Three Village Herald, and after the two papers merged, he became the history columnist in 2002 for The Village Times Herald, as he is to this day.

During his decades with the historical society, Tyler said he has served in many capacities including president, chairman and newsletter editor. He became historian in 2003, when he began working with historical society education director Donna Smith.

“Bev has been instrumental in bringing local history to our students in Three Village through his program Founder’s Day and his field trips for students across Long Island about the Culper spies,” Smith said. “He relates so well to the students, from fourth grade to high school.”

A love for local history was instilled early in Tyler’s life — a passion he credits to his family and living in Setauket.

“This was always a community where history was right there in the forefront,” he said.

Bev Tyler in the early 1950s. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

While the historian’s family tree has deep roots in the Three Village area, Tyler was born in Brooklyn at Methodist Episcopal Hospital in 1938. He said his parents moved back to their family home in Setauket when he was a year old. His father, a violinist, had moved to the city in hopes of finding work as a musician. When his father couldn’t find enough work, the family moved back, and they lived with Tyler’s grandmother until he was 11.

The historian said they soon moved to the family’s house on Main Street across from the post office where his mother lived until her passing in 2016 at 102 years old. After graduating from Setauket Elementary School, when it was open to students from kindergarten through ninth grade, he attended Stony Brook Boys School. He said his grandmother had written a letter to the school administrators when he was 3 or 4 asking them to hold a spot open for him. However, he said he didn’t like the school and then attended Port Jefferson High School for a year. The historian, who has written a number of books, admitted he was a lousy student, who didn’t even like history class because he said it felt like it was just about wars and dates.

“I wasn’t interested in school because it was too easy,” he said. “So, I read. I read voraciously.”

During his brief stint at Port Jefferson High School, he played in the school band with his now wife, Barbara, but he said they didn’t know each other well.

“She played the saxophone, and I played trumpet,” he said. “She didn’t like trumpet players because we always sat behind the saxophones.”

Tyler said he eventually attended and graduated from the military school Admiral Farragut Academy in Pine Beach, New Jersey, on the banks of the Toms River in 1957. He started dating Barbara in 1960 after they met once again at the Port Jefferson Yacht Club, where Tyler was running the club’s launch.

Tyler’s military education came into play when he joined the Navy. He served for two years and was a reservist for eight. The quartermaster, who worked on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, said he fell in love with travel while in the armed forces.

 Bev Tyler with Donna Smith, left, and Lindsey Steward, right, in the Nassakeag Schoolhouse on the grounds of the Long Island Museum in 2016. Photo by Heidi Sutton

“I took advantage of every single chance I could get,” he said. “I went to Rome, Paris, Venice, Lake Como, Barcelona, Madrid, Greece.”

His time on the high seas though would soon be replaced with a career in the air. After he graduated from SUNY Farmingdale with an associate degree in photographic technology, and a short stint as a photo chemist for a photography manufacturing company, he decided to get his private and commercial pilot licenses. Tyler said he worked at MacArthur Airport for an air service, and about a year or two later he applied to the Federal Aviation Administration to be an air traffic controller — a job he held from 1968 until he retired Jan. 3, 2002.

Tyler and his wife have two daughters — Jen, who now lives in North Carolina with her husband, and Amy, who runs Amy Tyler School of Dance and Harbor Ballet Theater in Port Jefferson. They also have eight grandchildren.

The historian said he is currently focusing his research on the shipbuilding era, 1844–1880, and the Revolutionary War, especially the Setauket Culper spies. When it comes to his favorite spy, the historian said it’s Caleb Brewster, who carried messages from Benjamin Tallmadge in New York City to the spies on Long Island.

“[Brewster] is self-starting and a risk-taker, and he is fearless and a proven leader who takes care of his men and follows orders well,” Tyler said.

When it comes to reaching the milestone of 80, Tyler has simple advice for those who want to follow in his footsteps.

“Do things you enjoy and enjoy things you do,” he said.

By Beverly C. Tyler

Telling stories about the men and women of the Culper Spy Ring and portraying Setauket spy leader Abraham Woodhull has been one way for me to bring local history to life for both residents and visitors to this area. Reading about the Culper spies is also important, so I have written a number of articles and recommended books that tell the story. I have recently read and enthusiastically recommend “Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” for children of all ages.

The cover of Dana Lynn Zotter’s first children’s book.

Written and illustrated by Dana Lynn Zotter, this 174-page soft-cover book tells the story of two children, Kayleigh and Connor, who spend their last week of summer vacation visiting their great-grandparents in Stony Brook who live in a historic house that holds all kinds of secrets. 

When the children find a gravestone with the name KING engraved on it in the roots of an old tree, their great-grandfather tells them that there was once a legendary spy dog named King in the area who has appeared as a ghost. The siblings meet a local boy and, as detailed on the back cover, “Three children search for the truth about ghosts, legends, and Long Island’s Culper Spies.”

Zotter has woven a delightful tale of a family and their experiences in the Long Island communities of Stony Brook, Setauket and Port Jefferson together with an accurate portrayal of the men and women involved in the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring. This well-crafted story vividly transports the reader to the historic hamlet of Stony Brook where the children explore their great-grandparents’ Colonial-era home and the shoreline of this picturesque community.

As Kayleigh and Connor explore, they discover mysteries connected with the house and the community, including an appearing and disappearing black dog named King. Agreeing to become detectives and follow the clues, the children discover how the Culper spies operated and how King the spy dog became an important member of the Culper Spy Ring.

Their travels take them along West Meadow Creek and as far as the Village of Port Jefferson where they meet General Lafayette on a recreated 18th-century French warship, which actually visited Greenport in 2015. At one point the children are mysteriously transported back to the Revolutionary War and join the Culper spies and King the spy dog on a brief spy adventure.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” features 22 illustrations, including a recipe for invisible ink and a spy code, along with a list of historic places to visit. The drawings, including one of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery, help bring the story to life without taking away from the writing, allowing readers full use of their imaginations. I enjoyed the story and easily identified with the characters. 

Dana Lynn Zotter, who describes herself as a gardener, poet, artist and finder of four-leaf clovers, has crafted a wonderful story that will delight children and make historians smile.

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” is available at the Three Village Historical Society’s gift shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Author Beverly C. Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and pens a biweekly column in the Village Times Herald titled History Close at Hand. 

Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Art Billadello) gives visitors a brief history about the Culper Spy Ring at a previous event.

On Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., The Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook and the Three Village Historical Society and Tri-Spy Tours in Setauket will host a day of spy-related tours and activities for the 4th annual Culper Spy Day. 

The event is named for the Culper Spy Ring founded by Benjamin Tallmadge of Setauket, which provided Gen. George Washington with the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church will be open for tours during the event.

Visitors can learn what really happened while enjoying docent-led tours of historic homes, churches and cemeteries, Colonial cooking and blacksmithing demonstrations, reenactments, walking and bicycle tours, Anna Smith Strong’s famed clothesline, invisible ink demonstrations, a children’s book signing, time period music, military drills, a TURN memorabilia live auction and sale, mill grinding demonstrations and many more family-friendly activities in the Three Villages and along the North Shore.

In addition, Revolutionary War artifacts, including George Washington’s original letters to members of his spy ring will be on display in the Stony Brook University Library Special Collections. Ticket holders will have a chance to meet Benjamin Tallmadge, Abraham Woodhull, Samuel Culper Sr. and Anna Smith Strong as well.  

The Three Village Inn in Stony Brook will feature a spy breakfast (cost is $10 per person plus tax and tip and reservations are required)  and the Country House Restaurant, also in Stony Brook, will serve up a spy-themed lunch (not included in Spy Day ticket price). Call 631-751-0555 for breakfast and 631-751-3332 for lunch reservations. The Three Village Historical Society will also be offering snacks and lunch at its Tavern on the Field. 

Build your own Revolutionary War story and see history come to life at this fun-filled event. 

Tickets, which may be purchased at www.tvhs.org, are $25 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under the age of 6 and veterans will receive free admission. Wristbands for entry and maps with the event listings and a schedule of activities can be picked up at the Three Village Historical Society at 93 North Country Road in Setauket from Sept. 10 through Sept. 15. Tickets are good for admission to most participating organizations for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15 and 16, and at The Long Island Museum through Sept. 23.

For more information, please visit www.culperspyday.com.

By Heidi Sutton

The 1,000-seat theater at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center was filled to capacity last Sunday night as the community came out in droves to celebrate the first screening of TBR News Media’s feature-length film, “One Life to Give.” And what a celebration it was.

“I have to say this exceeds our highest expectations. We are so thrilled,” said TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, scanning the packed house as she welcomed the audience to “what has been a year’s adventure.”

“I am privileged to be the publisher of six hometown papers, a website, a Facebook page and, now, executive producer of a movie,” she beamed.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief addresses the audience.

Dunaief set the stage for what would be a wonderful evening. “I’m inviting you now to leave behind politics and current affairs and come with me back in time more than two centuries to the earliest days of the beginning of our country — the start of the American Revolution.”

“We live in the cradle of history and I hope that when you leave tonight you will feel an immense pride in coming from this area,” she continued. “The people who lived here some 240 years ago were people just like us. They were looking to have a good life, they were looking to raise their children.” Instead, according to Dunaief, they found themselves occupied by the British under King George III for the longest period of time.

Filmed entirely on location on the North Shore in 16 days, the film tells the story of schoolteacher turned spy Nathan Hale and how his capture and ultimate death by hanging in 1776 at the age of 21 led to the development of an elaborate spy ring in Setauket — the Culper spies — in an effort to help Gen. George Washington win the Revolutionary War.

Scenes were shot on location at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket, the William Miller House in Miller Place, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Thompson House and Caroline Church of Brookhaven  in Setauket and East Beach in Port Jefferson with many local actors and extras, period costumes by Nan Guzzetta, props from “TURN” and a wonderful score by Mark Orton.

The film screening was preceded by a short behind-the-scenes documentary and was followed by a Q&A with Dunaief, producer and writer Michael Tessler and director and writer Benji Dunaief along with several key actors in the film — Dave Morrissey Jr. (Benjamin Tallmadge), Hans Paul Hendrickson (Nathan Hale), Jonathan Rabeno (John Chester) and David Gianopoulos (Gen. George Washington).

“It says quite a bit about our community that we could pack the Staller Center for a story that took place over two hundred years ago,” said Tessler, who grew up in Port Jefferson. “I hope everyone leaves the theater today thinking about these heroes — these ordinary residents of our community who went on to do some extraordinary things and made it so that we all have the luxury to sit here today and enjoy this show and the many freedoms that come with being an American.”

Director Benji Dunaief thanked the cast, crew and entire community for all their support. “In the beginning of this project I did not think we would be able to do a feature film, let alone a period piece. They say it takes a village, but I guess it actually takes three.”

From left, Jonathan Rabeno, David Gianopoulos, Hans Paul Hendrickson and Dave Morrissey Jr. field questions from the audience at the Q&A.

“Our cast … threw themselves 100 percent into trying to embody these characters, they learned as much as they could and were open to everything that was thrown at them — I’m blown away by this cast. They are just incredible,” he added.

“The positivity that was brought to the set every day made you really want to be in that environment,” said Rabeno, who said he was humbled to be there, and he was quick to thank all of the reenactors who helped the actors with their roles.

One of the more famous actors on the stage, Gianopoulos (“Air Force One”) was so impressed with the way the production was handled and often stopped by on his day off just to observe the camera shots. “I really enjoyed just watching and being an observer,” he said, adding “It was just such an honor [to be a part of the film] and to come back to Stony Brook and Setauket where I used to run around as a little kid and then to bring this story to life is just amazing.”

According to the director, the film has been making the rounds and was recently nominated for three awards at Emerson College’s prestigious Film Festival, the EVVY Awards, including Best Editing, Best Writing and Best Single Camera Direction and won for the last category. 

Reached after the screening, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the film was the essence of a sense of place. “I thought it was spectacular. I thought that it was one of the highlights of all of the years that I have lived in this community.”

He continued, “It all came together with local people and local places talking about our local history that changed the world and the fact that it was on the Staller Stage here at a public university that was made possible by the heroics of the people who were in the film both as actors today and the people that they portrayed.”

For those who missed last Sunday’s screening, the film will be shown again at the Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore on July 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Filming for a sequel, tentatively titled “Traitor,” the story of John André who was a British Army officer hanged as a spy by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, will begin in two weeks.

Special thanks to Gold Coast Bank, Holiday Inn Express, Island Federal Savings Bank and Stony Brook University for making the evening’s screening possible.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Rita J. Egan

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