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Darren St. George

From left, Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Art Billadello) and Abraham Woodhull (Beverly C. Tyler) read a copy of The Royal Gazette dated July 21, 1780 on the grounds of the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket as Big Bill the Tory, aka William Jayne II (David Burt), looks on. Billadello is wearing a dragoon coat from the AMC television series ‘TURN’ that will be auctioned off at Gallery North’s Studio during Culper Spy Day. Photo by Heidi Sutton

 ‘Lucky is the child who listens to a story from an elder and treasures it for years.’

Barbara Russell, Town of Brookhaven Historian 

By Heidi Sutton

Margo Arceri first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. Arceri lights up when talking about her favorite spy, Anna Smith Strong. 

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said.

Five years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today, Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I wanted to target that 20- to 60-year-old active person,” she said.  “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries “TURN” because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show,” she laughs. 

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War.

The Brewster House, considered to be the oldest house in the Town of Brookhaven, will be open for tours on Culper Spy Day.

“Visiting places like the Brewster House, which is owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the grave site of genre artist William Sidney Mount at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery (whose paintings are at The Long Island Museum) and the Country House, which every one of the spies visited,” Arceri thought “there has to be a day designated to celebrating all these organizations in the Three Village and surrounding areas; where each of us can give our little piece of the story and that’s how Culper Spy Day developed.”

After a successful three-year run, the fourth annual Culper Spy Day will be held on Saturday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. offering self-guided tours of 24 locations including eight new spots for the ultimate Culper Spy Day experience. “The more the merrier,” laughs Arceri.

One new event you won’t want to miss is an interactive tour at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket where you’ll experience a different spin on George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring. Maintained by Preservation Long Island, the property boasts a 1700s saltbox home, apple orchard, barn, an ice house, corn crib, a pasture and nature trail.

According to Darren St. George, education and public programs director at Preservation Long Island, the farm was originally owned by the Jayne family.

“The property was purchased by Mathias Jayne in 1730 [who built a lean-to saltbox dwelling] which is eventually passed down to William Jayne II in 1768 who expands the house after his second marriage,” he said, continuing, “[William] was involved with local government, he was a constable, so he had some stature and clout in the community and it was nice to have a more substantial home.”

However, when the Revolutionary War broke out, Jayne chose to remain a Loyalist and a steadfast supporter of the crown.

Meet Big Bill the Tory at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket on Culper Spy Day and learn the TRUTH about George Washington’s pesky band of renegade spies! Photo by Darren St. George, Preservation Long Island

“William Jayne II was a known Tory in the neighborhood,” said St. George. “Long Island was occupied by many Tories, many people still supported the king and didn’t want to upset the status quo, but as the war concluded, most Torys moved to Canada or Connecticut or they turned their back on the king entirely, but Jayne doesn’t. He still stays a Tory, he has his reputation and still thrives in the community,” eventually acquiring the nickname Big Bill the Tory.

When Jayne passed away, the home remained in the family until it was sold in 1908 to Preservation Long Island’s founder, Howard C. Sherwood, who used the home to showcase his many antiques. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

During Culper Spy Day, ticketholders will be able to take part in a 20-minute guided tour of the first floor of the home, specifically the Jayne Parlor (which was added after the Revolutionary War), the Sherwood Living Room (which was the original 1730 home) and the Tap Room (kitchen/dining room).

One of the more interesting features of the home are the original late-18th-century hand-painted floral wall frescoes on the walls of the Jayne Parlor. Commissioned by William Jayne II, they were rediscovered underneath wallpaper by Sherwood in 1916 who had them restored by well-known artist Emil Gruppé. “One small panel was left untouched so that you can see how it’s weathered through the years,” St. George pointed out during a recent tour.

The home contains artifacts that specifically relate to the American Revolution, including paneling on the fireplace wall and shutters on a bar in the Tap Room that came from the Tallmadge House of Setauket, believed to be the birthplace of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, a founding member of the spy ring who would become George Washington’s chief intelligence officer.

As a special treat, Big Bill the Tory, portrayed by David Burt, will make a guest  appearance during each tour and share his views on the Culper Spy Ring and the noble intentions of King George III. “He’ll explain what life has been like for him as a Loyalist — the other side of the story that we’re really not hearing too much of,” explained St. George.

Parking will be in the field next to the property and visitors are asked to line up at the back door for the tour, which will be ongoing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Apple cider and donuts will be available for purchase.

Arceri’s favorite part of the day is “seeing all these different organizations coming together as a whole. It really is our Revolutionary story,” she said. “Everywhere you turn in the Three Villages you are looking at an artifact, and as the historical society believes, the community is our museum and that I would really love to put on the forefront of people’s minds.”

Admission is $25 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 12 and may be purchased in advance at the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS), 93 North Country Road, Setauket, by calling 631-751-3730 or by visiting www.tvhs.org. Veterans and children under the age of 6 are free. 

Tickets may be picked up at the TVHS from Sept. 11 to 15. At that time, participants will receive a bracelet and a copy of the Culper Spy Day map with all event listings and include access to 24 Culper Spy Ring locations. If available, tickets on the day of the event may be purchased at the historical society.

Participating organizations: 

The fourth annual Culper Spy Day is presented by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, the Long Island Museum and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in collaboration with the Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Boy Scouts; Campus Bicycle; Caroline Church of Brookhaven; Country House Restaurant; Custom House; Discover Long Island; Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum; East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection; Emma S. Clark Memorial Library; Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield Museum & History Center; Frank Melville Memorial Park; Fraunces Tavern® Museum; Gallery North; History Close at Hand; Huntington Historical Society; Huntington Militia; Joseph Lloyd Manor House; Ketcham Inn Foundation; Northport Historical Society; Old Methodist Church; Paumanok Tours; Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce; Port Jefferson Free Library; Preservation Long Island; Raynham Hall Museum; Rock Hall Museum; Setauket Elementary School; Setauket Harbor Task Force; Setauket Neighborhood House; Setauket Presbyterian Church; Sherwood-Jayne Farm; Stirring Up History; Stony Brook University Libraries, Special Collections; Stony Brookside Bed and Bike Inn; Three Village Community Trust; The Three Village Inn; Times Beacon Record News Media; and the Underhill Society of America Inc. 

Barbra Streisand in a scene from 'Hello Dolly'

By Heidi Sutton

I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven. — Barbra Streisand

What can one say about Barbra Streisand? In a career spanning six decades, the legendary singer, songwriter, actress, author and filmmaker has won multiple Academy Awards, Grammys, Emmys, Golden Globes, Tonys and a Peabody, proving that the incredible voice that launched her career was only one of her remarkable talents. 

So it was only natural for Sal St. George to pay tribute to the legendary star in his latest Living History Production, now playing at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village through June 14. 

Barbra Streisand at the 1969 Academy Awards with her best-actress Oscar for her role in ‘Funny Girl.’ Photo courtesy of Photofest

According to St. George, the show focuses on a specific turning point in Streisand’s career. “The story takes place in 1969. Barbra recently won the Oscar for “Funny Girl” and her latest movie, “Hello Dolly” has just been released,” he said, adding, “This was a pivotal time in young Barbra’s life. She was divorcing Elliot Gould at this time, as well.” 

Now the 27-year-old is a special guest on the fictitious sixties talk show, “The Dixie Carlyle Program.” Formatted as if the audience is coming to a live taping of the show, Streisand is interviewed about her life and career. 

The original script was written by St. George. “It takes approximately three months of research before the actual writing process begins,” he explained.

Gabrielle Lutz, who plays the role of talk show host Dixie Carlyle, said “I love creating a character from scratch. Dixie is fun and off-beat. You never know what she is going to do next.”

Sarah Franco tackles the role of Streisand in the show. “When Sarah auditioned and sang for us I immediately heard the sound of Barbra’s voice,” said St. George. “She is a disciplined and hard-working actor. I knew she would be able to personify the legendary singer.”

“How do you portray an icon like Barbra? I just try to master her mannerisms and vocalizations,” said Franco. “I also enjoyed the opportunity to portray the real Fanny Brice in this show. We recreate a Baby Snooks radio show.” Franco will sing many of Streisand’s hits from that time period during the 90-minute show.

Sarah Franco will portray Barbra Streisand in the show.

St. George’s son, Darren, who has been featured in numerous productions over the years, most notably as Tobias Brunt, the ruthless Bounty Hunter in “Running Scared, Running Free” and as Edgar Allan Poe, has the role of Danny DeLuca. “This is one of the most ambitious shows we have ever mounted. The finale will surprise and delight you. It was a challenge to produce, but it is all there onstage for the audience to enjoy,” said Darren.

After the performance, participants will be treated to a high tea luncheon featuring finger sandwiches (tuna, cucumber and chicken), assorted pastries, coffee and tea provided by Fratelli’s Italian Eatery of Stony Brook along with a meet and greet with the actors.

For Sal St. George, he’s already planning the next show. “This is our sixteenth year producing programs for the WMHO. Soon we will be preparing for our holiday program. The special guest has not yet been finalized. But we are looking to do the story of another successful female entertainer and icon — a very famous country western star.” Stay tuned.

Partially sponsored by Roosevelt Investments, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook will present a musical tribute to Barbra Streisand on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. Available dates at press time are May 17, 19, 23, 30, 31, June 2, 7, 9, 10, 13 and 14. Admission, which includes lunch, is $50 adults, $48 seniors and $43 for groups of 20 or more. To make reservations, call 631-689-5888. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.

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