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Frank Turano

From left, Steve Healy (as Henry Smith Mount) and Steve Hintze (as William Sidney Mount) at last year’s Spirits Tour. Photo by Heidi Sutton

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.

The 2015 Spirits Tour focused on Culper Spies. Photo by Heidi Sutton

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.”

Brian Cea as Benedict Arnold during the 2015 Spirits Tour. Photo by Heidi Sutton

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.”

The Cast

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.

A view of the Setauket Presbyterian Cemetery. Photo by Susan Nolan

By Heidi Sutton

‘How glorious it is to paint in the open fields, to hear the birds singing around you, to draw in the fresh air – how thankful it makes one.’William Sidney Mount, May 1848

The cooler weather, shorter days and leaves of autumn reds, oranges and gold signal the arrival of the Three Village Historical Society’s annual Spirits Tour. Now in its 22nd year, this year’s event, with the theme “William Sidney Mount: Family, Friends & Ideas,” will be held on Saturday, Oct. 22 with tours starting at 5 p.m.

‘Self-Portrait,’ oil on canvas, 1832 by William Sidney Mount. File photo
‘Self-Portrait,’ oil on canvas, 1832 by William Sidney Mount. File photo

Born in Setauket in 1807, William Sidney Mount was an incredible artist best known for his genre paintings (portraits and scenes from everyday life) of Long Island, most notably “Dance of the Haymakers,” (1845) “Farmers Nooning” (1836) and “Dancing on the Barn Floor” (1831). His paintings often commented on American social and political issues and by the middle of the nineteenth century, he was one of the most renowned artists in America. He is buried at the Setauket Presbyterian Church across from the Village Green. The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook boasts the largest collection of Mount’s paintings, thanks to gifts by philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville, along with his diaries.

Guided walking tours will lead guests through the historic cemeteries of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and the Caroline Church of Brookhaven. The “spirit” of William Sidney Mount with his family and friends will greet visitors along the way. Actors in period costumes supplied by Antiques Costume & Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta will play the parts of Mount’s mother, brothers Henry and Shepard, his sister Ruth along with people who commissioned paintings from him, including Lumen Reed, his principal sponsor in New York. Reed would eventually donate his collection of the artist’s paintings to the New York Historical Society. Rachel Holland Hart, played by Bonnie Duvall, who is featured in Mount’s classic painting, “Eel Spearing at Setauket,” will also make an appearance. As a special treat, the tour will include a visit with members of the Setalcott Nation, Helen “Morningstar” Sells and Nellie Edwards, on the Village Green.

'Farmers Nooning' (1836) by William Sidney Mount. File photo
‘Farmers Nooning’ (1836) by William Sidney Mount. File photo

Frank Turano, co-chair of the committee and Historical Society Trustee, wrote the script for this year’s event. According to Turano, the Spirits Tour serves as both an educational event for the community and a fundraiser for the Three Village Historical Society. Previous tours have explored themes such as the Culper Spy Ring and Service to Country and Community as well as featuring prominent families in the area such as the Strongs.

The decision to celebrate William Sidney Mount this year was an easy one. “Mount is a significant artist from mid-19th century,” said Turano. “His work … leads into the Hudson River School … as a significant art movement. Long Island was used extensively by artists, both in [Mount’s] time and later times. We had all the big guns here at one point in the 19th century: the Moran Brothers, Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase — they all followed Mount.” Aside from having been born here, Turano said one of Mount’s attractions to the area was the high quality of the light. “He often commented on the high clarity of the atmosphere and true colors.”

“Mount painted the [local] community, the people he saw, the people he grew up with. The end result was that you have a good representation of the life of the people here,” said Turano, adding, “Mount also came from an enormously talented family. He was taught sign painting by his older brother Henry, his younger brother Shepard Alonzo was an unbelievable portrait painter and they were all musicians.”

“Mount was a man for all seasons in the 19th century,” said Turano. Along with being very influential in the art world, with sponsors in New York, “he invented a violin named the Cradle of Harmony, which was designed to be louder than the typical fiddle of the day.” Turano said Mount’s paintings also give us good insight into the manner and dress of the people in Setauket in the early 1800s as a rural farming settlement. “How did the common people dress? What did they look like? He’s a character bigger than the community and that’s why he’s the focal point here,” said Turano.

Tours will leave from the Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket every 15 minutes starting at 5 p.m. and last for approximately 1 1/2 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. Tickets in advance are $18 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets on the night of the event are $25 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. Copies of the Three Village Historical Society’s book, “William Sidney Mount: Family, Friends and Ideas” will be available for purchase for $3 on the night of the event. Rain date is Sunday, Oct. 23. To order tickets, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

In conjunction with the tour, the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook will showcase its current exhibit in the Art Museum on the hill: “Drawn from Life: Objects and Stories from William Sidney Mount’s Paintings” and Mora’s Fine Wines will host a wine and spirit tasting event with hors d’ouevres at Madiran the Wine Bar, 209 Main St., E. Setauket on Oct. 22 from 1 to 4 p.m. Tickets for the wine tasting are $39.99. To order, please visit www.moraswines.com.

The Chicken Hill community was located in the area of Route 25A and Main Street in Setauket. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) recently announced the winners of the 70th annual Leadership in History Awards, the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

Of 60 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, books and organizations, the Three Village Historical Society in Setauket was chosen to receive the 2015 Leadership in History Award of Merit for its current exhibit, “Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time.” The Award of Merit is presented for excellence in history programs, projects and people when compared with similar activities nationwide.

“The Leadership in History Awards is AASLH’s highest distinction and the winners represent the best in the field,” Trina Nelson Thomas, the awards chair and director of AASLH said in a statement.

The distinction is one Frank Turano, the curator of the exhibit, is very excited about.

“It’s an honor, a privilege,” he said. “It puts our organization in very elite company. The AASLH does not give out this award in every state every year, so it is a very, very selective award.”

“Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time” explores a particular neighborhood, formed in the mid-nineteenth century, that surrounded the Setauket United Methodist Church on Route 25A and Main Street in Setauket. At its height in the 1930s and 1940s, it was a community of workmen/laborers and businessmen comprised of immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Italy as well as African Americans and Native Americans.

According to Turano, the Chicken Hill community dispersed in the 1960s when the Three Village area became a suburban community.

Asked what the inspiration was for creating this display, Turano said, “This exhibit honors people who have been the backbone of this community for as long as this community existed and people [who] were largely overlooked. They helped build the community, they help maintain the community today, and they largely are taken for granted or overlooked.”

The Chicken Hill exhibit has been warmly received by the community but Turano noticed that the general public “simply did not know that this community existed.”

“If someone spoke of Chicken Hill [in the past], more often than not, it was in disparaging terms and what I wanted to do with this exhibit was have people recognize the significance of that community,” he said.

The exhibit is constantly evolving, as the society is always accepting more memorabilia, stories and photos from the community. Since its inception last June, the Chicken Hill exhibit has now almost three times as many photos in its archives, which have been scanned and placed on digital frames. “We’ve built flexibility into the exhibit,” explained Turano. In addition, the exhibit includes a video featuring stories from residents who grew up in the community and an 1860 Robert Nunns piano recently restored by Michael Costa of Costa Piano Shoppes in Port Jefferson Station.

The award will be presented at a special banquet during the 2015 AASLH annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 18.

“It’s been a privilege working with the people that called Chicken Hill home and I have to thank society Archivist Karen Martin, Carlton “Hub” Edwards and the members of the [Three Village Historical Society] Rhodes committee who provided the information used to put the exhibit together,” Turano said.

“Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time” is currently available for viewing at the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket, from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays and by appointment. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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Top row, from left, Isabella Eredita Johnson, Bruce Teifer, Jessica Stolte Bender, Danielle Davis, Arthur Lai; bottom row, from left, Bob Westcott, Charlotte Koons, Maddalena Harris, Cheryl Savitt Spielman, Lorraine Helvick, Lauren Murray, Kayla Dempsey. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

By Frank Turano

On Sunday, June 14, it was standing room only at the Bethel A.M.E. Church on Christian Avenue in Setauket. The Three Village Historical Society sponsored a concert featuring an 1860 Robert Nunns piano built in Setauket. A Robert Nunns piano has probably not been heard in concert for more than 100 years.

The concert was developed by the Three Village Historical Society Rhodes Committee. This committee was also responsible for the construction of the exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time, the community in which the piano was manufactured. Michael Costa of Costa Piano Shoppes has been working to restore the Nunns piano for more than six months.

The featured artist was Isabella Eredita-Johnson, a classically trained pianist living in Northport. Assisting Ms. Eredita-Johnson were Kayla Dempsey, cello and Lauren Murray, violin. The program featured classical music from the period of the piano’s manufacture.  Sopranos Cheryl Savitt Spielman, Jessica Stolte Bender and Danielle Davis performed, as did mezzo soprano Lorraine Helvick and tenor Arthur Lai.  The highlight of the concert was Ms. Eredita-Johnson playing Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the Nunns piano. A sprinkling of American classics from Stephen Foster were rendered by guitarist Bob Westcott and folk singer Maria Fairchild. The entire program was enhanced by visits from Clara Schumann, played by Carlotte Koons, and Robert Nunns, played by Bruce Teifer. The surprise of the day was the presence of Frederick Lorthioir of Connecticut, Robert Nunn’s great-great- great grandson. Since the restoration of the piano is not complete, funds will continue to be solicited to complete the restoration and it is anticipated that future concerts will make more complete use of this historic instrument.

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