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East Main Street

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BiblioFlames and Breathe Inspiring Gifts are among the places in Port Jefferson Village cited by Village Center building manager Bob Hodum as hotbeds for paranormal activity. Photo by Kyle Barr

There are the old stories told only in whispers, and then there are the legends, which hide in the dark corners of local homes and shops. Port Jefferson has a long history, and such a village always has one foot in modern times with compelling ghost stories of days gone by constantly trailing in its wake.

Bob Hodum, the building manager of the Port Jefferson Village Center, annually takes willing participants on a ghost tour of the village to peer into its haunted past. Back in the days when Port Jeff was known as Drowned Meadow, a port settlement with a thriving shipbuilding industry and only a few shops to its name, spirits made their way into the woodwork of these lasting structures, according to Hodum. In the 19th century there was no Main Street as it’s known today, and instead East Main Street was considered the real commercial district.

BiblioFlames and Breathe Inspiring Gifts are among the places in Port Jefferson Village cited by Village Center building manager Bob Hodum as hotbeds for paranormal activity. Photo by Kyle Barr

All along East Main Street, stories abound about a haunted past. Jena Turner, the owner of Breathe Inspiring Gifts, which sells a number of spiritual items — such as crystals, minerals, tarot cards, incense and oils — said she has sensed a number of spirits who live in her store. One she and her friends named George or The Captain and another they named Charles. Another apparition once came into the store just a few months after Turner moved in 2009, a Mae West-looking woman they dubbed The Madam, she said.

“The day I came to look at the building I sensed it right away,” Turner said. “One day I felt like I was pushed, and I broke a mirror. Another day I was in a store with a customer, it sounded like somebody was trying to get out of the bathroom. The mirror came off the wall and landed on the floor. … There’s an office door next to cash register which opens at random times and freaks people out.”

During the 1930s, the space that Turner occupies was a bar, Hodum said, which gained the gruesome name The Bucket of Blood because of the number of fights started by sailors and shipwrights. Hodum added legends say the local village doctor was a regular attendant to those hurt in fights at The Bucket of Blood, and those who survived his treatment were offered a free drink.

“The place was a real dive — men fought all the time in it, and knives were their weapon of choice,” Hodum said.

The house across the street from Breathe was owned by a man named Capt. George Washington Brewster, a well-known mariner of the mid-19th century, Hodum said. Turner suspected his spirit must be the one making an appearance, perhaps among others who once visited the saloon. Despite the spirits being hosted in the building, she said she feels the ghosts aren’t malicious, and they add a little bit to the atmosphere of her shop.

Many other buildings on East Main Street belong to the late-19th and early 20th centuries. In the shop now occupied by BiblioFlames, a book-inspired candle shop on East Main Street, Hodum told another story of Lee Jong, an amiable laundryman and Chinese immigrant to Port Jefferson. Jong was known as a model citizen, and often gave refuge to people down on their luck. That is how he came into contact with John Rys, who was given space by Jong after the young man found himself homeless. Rys later went on a robbing spree, which Jong found out about and subsequently told the police. As Rys was being led away, he vowed revenge on his benefactor.

“One day I felt like I was pushed, and I broke a mirror. Another day I was in a store with a customer, it sounded like somebody was trying to get out of the bathroom. The mirror came off the wall and landed on the floor.”

— Jena Turner

The robber got his revenge in 1922 by murdering Jong in his own shop, according to Hodum. The crime was witnessed by a woman in the shop next door, and he was sentenced to death at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining. Both Rys and his accomplice John Emieleta were put to death in 1925 via the electric chair, gravely given the sobriquet “sparky.”

Sometimes Hodum said people can still hear Jong in his shop, continuing his lifelong profession by ironing shirts.

Hodum told another story of a lurid murder spree by Henry Walters of his wife Elizabeth Darling-Walters and her son-in-law over the family’s inheritance in 1857. The tragedy took place near the site of the Port Jefferson Power Station. Emmet Darling, the youngest member of the household, survived and managed to escape. Knowing that he would most likely be caught, Walters hung himself, according to Hodum. If you listen on a cold November day, some locals still say they hear the murderer’s voice.

“In November, when the murder took place, in the evening you can actually hear Walters moaning, where he’s crying about the fact that he would be discovered, and how sorry he was for it,” the building manager said.

Hodum hosted ghost tours to help promote the Port Jefferson Conservancy and the Village Center’s Haunted Mansion night Saturday, Oct. 27. The night will included fun and scares for all ages, mad scientists, ghosts, spooky fortune tellers and more. 

The funds raised by the event will go toward supporting the conservancy.

Patty Lutz, manager of Fetch Doggy Boutique & Bakery. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

As it does every day in the summer, the Bridgeport to Port Jefferson ferry lowers its huge drawbridge door to reveal a host of cars growling like they are about to stampede into the town. Instead, they file out one by one. Every car is greeted with Port Jefferson’s Main Street and its stores lined up on both sides of the road like a buffet.

Unknown to many tourists though, only a few yards from the ferry dock and Main Street, stores offer a whole host of out-of-the-ordinary services from spiritual crystals to handmade jewelry. Almost all the stores on East Main Street are owned or operated by women, and they have developed a communal sense of offbeat character. Most of the owners believe it’s what keeps them alive.

“If they want to be successful on East Main Street they have to be different and unique,” owner of Pattern Finders & Stacy’s Finds on East Main Street Stacy Davidson said during an interview. “I think at this point the stores we have now, I can’t see any of us having a problem.”

Anna Radzinsky, co-owner of The Barn. Photo by Kyle Barr

Davidson has owned Pattern Finders for 23 years, and in that time she had to reinvent herself to keep up with the times. Now her store is a boutique that sells different and unique sets of clothing, dresses, jewelry and other home items.

Many of the stores on East Main host classes inspired by what they sell. The Knitting Cove, owned by Toni Andersen and her partner Barry Burns, is one of those stores. Along with the specialty yarn offered in the shop, the store also hosts classes for experienced and beginner knitters or “knit-alongs” where customers all try to complete a design using whatever choices of yarn they want.

Breathe Inspiring Gifts sells a number of spiritual items, such as crystals, minerals, tarot cards, incense, oils and many others. A door in the shop empties into another large room where owner Jena Turner does meditation and yoga sessions every day of the week.

“Some people don’t even know this street exists — isn’t that crazy?” Turner said. “I love it, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. Main Street gets more foot traffic because there are more tourists who know of it, but there are a lot more Long Islanders aware of East Main Street.”

One consistent aspect of daily life East Main Street stores face is they do not depend nearly as much on tourists as they do on Long Islanders, specifically the regular customers that they come to know well.

Joann Maguire, the owner of Max & Millie Women’s Fashion boutique on East Main sees her store as dedicated to her regular customers. In the 13 years she’s owned the store, she said she has learned regulars keep her in business.

“Most of my customers are local residents and what I mean by that is from the Commack area or the Hamptons,” she said. “They come out here for dinner and then they find me. And then they become regulars. I’m a destination store, not a tourist store.”

In Fetch Doggy Boutique & Bakery, manager Patty Lutz is often there talking extensively with the customers she knows well.

Susan Rodgers, owner of Susan Rodgers Designs. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Last night, I was home and it was 8 [p.m.] and a customer called me regarding their dog; their dog wasn’t feeling good, and their vet had closed,” she said. “You know what I mean, like there’s no cut out. We have hours that the store is open; but, if someone needs to talk to me and they have my number, they’re always welcome to call.”

Some of the shop owners on East Main sell products produced by hand, often in their own studios. Anna Radzinsky, the co-owner of The Barn, sells custom woodwork and signs. She also takes old furniture like wardrobes and cabinets, refinishes them and puts her own designs on them. At the same time her partner, Shawn Keane, does landscaping and completed the small garden laid into the bricks just outside of her shop.

Susan Rodgers of Susan Rodgers Designs traveled the country for 15 years selling her artwork in art shows. When eventually it came time to settle down in order to sell her work and the work of her friends, she chose East Main Street because she said it feels like what she imagined a small town to be.

“I think people are tired of things being the same,” Rodgers said. “The cookie-cutter sacrificing quality, and I think people are beginning to realize, compared to big box stores, the link to an individual person.”

Business on East Main is rarely stagnant. Miranda Carfora, a young entrepreneur, said she soon plans to open a store on East Main Street called BiblioFlames that will sell books and candles inspired by books. 

“It’s really hard for independent bookstores, but I’m hoping that since I tied in my candles into the books I’ll have more customers that way,“ she said.

Carfora fits right into the scene that exists on East Main Street. Though the future for perspective small-business owners is always uncertain, Davidson’s advice for someone opening a shop on East Main Street is rather simple.

“Be unique,” she said. “You have to be unique and have what nobody else has.”

One of the three cars involved in the Centerport crash. Photo from Centerport Fire Department.
One of the three cars involved in the Centerport crash. Photo from Centerport Fire Department.

Members of the Centerport Fire Department responded to a three-vehicle crash on East Main Street and North Drive Jan. 25 at about 12:40 p.m.

Centerport firefighters and EMS volunteers were on the scene with a heavy rescue truck, engine, two ambulances and fire police, under the direction of First Assistant Chief Rich Miltner.  An additional ambulance was requested from the Greenlawn Fire Department.
Three injured patients were transported to Huntington Hospital by the Centerport and Greenlawn rescue squads.

 

Louise Brett explains a painting of a ship called the Enchantress. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Louise Brett often paints and draws scenes from the past — a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate, ships in Port Jefferson Harbor, a buggy on East Main Street and the cottages at West Meadow Beach.

The area “is changing so fast,” she said. “I wanted to show everyone what it looked like when I was here.”

Louise Brett does drawings of the area in the past, including this one of a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Louise Brett does drawings of the area in the past, including this one of a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Some of Brett’s works are on display in Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, in the same room the Board of Education uses for its meetings. At the last session, the district presented Brett, who attended the high school but did not graduate, with a certificate of recognition and she received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Brett said in an interview at her home that the acknowledgement was exciting.

It isn’t the first time her work has been displayed — her paintings of a Victorian Port Jefferson appeared on the covers of the Charles Dickens Festival guides for 2006 and 2007. Under sunset skies, she included characters found in both Dickens novels and the village.

Brett, 83, was born in Old Field and moved to Port Jefferson 10 years later. She said she has always been able to draw well, but didn’t always have the resources — including pencils and paper. When she was growing up during the Great Depression, if she saw her teacher throw away a piece of chalk, she would take it home and — with her twin sister, Gussie — draw on the sides of their piano.

Louise Brett, above, paints almost every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Louise Brett, above, paints almost every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz

She got some help when she was in her teens while working as a soda jerk, operating the soda fountain at a local shop. On paper bags in the shop, “I would sketch anybody that walked in,” she said. The owner bought her a paint set and she took art lessons in Mount Sinai. At the Board of Education meeting, while presenting the certificate of recognition, elementary school principal Tom Meehan said Brett would walk to the lessons with her brushes in her boots.

While she was learning, she got in trouble with her mother for keeping dead birds under her bed to draw. “I had to know what they looked like,” Brett explained.

Years later, she still paints almost every day, even with her cats, Bonnie and Clyde, wandering around the room that holds her easel and past works. She said art is an outlet for her. When her husband of 54 years, Nicholas, had health problems a few years ago, she painted the Roe House using descriptions in letters former village historian Rob Sisler collected. Brett used details such as the fact that the Roes owned two oxen and carts — which led her to paint a barn with a thatched roof — to determine how to illustrate the scene. “You have to use your imagination,” she said.

Louise Brett's first oil painting was of the house next door to her childhood Port Jefferson home.
Louise Brett’s first oil painting was of the house next door to her childhood Port Jefferson home.

Brett signs all her paintings “Lou Gnia,” for her maiden name Gniazdowski. Her father, who died when she was 3 years old, came to the United States from Poland just before World War I. Brett once took a trip to her family’s village in Stare Miasto, in Poland’s Leżajsk County, a few hours southeast of Warsaw. The village name means “old city,” and she took photographs of various scenes to paint once she got home. In her Reeves Road house she has a “Polish room,” in which there are paintings of houses, cattle drinking from the San River and wagons with rubber wheels, like those on cars.

Paintings also line the walls of the rest of her home, including depictions of ships and beaches and a mural of grazing horses on the far side of the living room.

The artist said painting calms her, to the point where she can forget she is in the middle of cooking dinner. “I just go into a different world,” she said. “I love to paint. It’s just like a sickness.”

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