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Lake Ronkonkoma

SACRED GROUND

Jaysun Vodopija of Lake Grove trekked over to Lake Ronkonkoma in the snow on March 2 to get an up close look at the lake’s latest mural by local artist and woodcarver Todd Arnett. He writes, ‘This was the first time I saw this beautiful masterpiece in person.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

FIRE AND ICE

Jaysun Vodopija of Lake Grove captured these icy images on Jan. 26 at Lake Ronkonkoma, a source of inspiration for many of his photos. He writes, ‘[Saturday] morning the wind was as calm as can be and the air was crisp. Before heading to the lake, I looked out of my bedroom window about one hour before sunrise and noticed clouds overhead but none on the horizon and that was my sign to get moving. In these photos you will see a piece of ice in what appears to be the shape of a dragon. ‘

A swan lands in Lake Ronkonkoma. Photo by Artie Weingartner

By Melissa Arnold

Artie Weingartner

For as long as Artie Weingartner has taken photos, his focus has always been on others.

Weingartner, who lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, is a fixture at local high school sporting events. He has faithfully chronicled the work of the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society and is the official photographer for the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.

Now, for the month of July, the focus is on him as Sachem Public Library presents an exhibit featuring a wide array of Weingartner’s photos in a collection titled Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma.

It’s an odd feeling for 58-year-old Weingartner, who admits it took a serious push from friends and loved ones to move forward with the exhibit. But nothing makes him happier than bringing joy to the people who see his photos.

“I like seeing people’s reactions to pictures and hearing their feedback — it really makes me feel good, and it makes me want to do it more. I love the rush of satisfaction that comes with it. I guess you could say I’m addicted to it,” he laughed.

Lake Ronkonkoma on a fall day

While photography has piqued his interest for decades, it took a long time for Weingartner to really find his niche. His father bought him his first camera, a simple Kodak, when he was just 9 years old. But he admitted feeling frustrated over the process of shooting a roll of film, waiting to have it developed, and then discovering that many of the photos were duds. “I didn’t have the patience for [traditional photography],” he said. “Not being able to see what the result was right away was hard for me.”

When digital photography emerged in the early 2000s, Weingartner was thrilled. Finally, he had the instant gratification of seeing each photo, with no wasted film and the option to delete ones he didn’t like with the push of a button. His love for photography was rekindled, and he hasn’t looked back. 

He began casually taking photos of his kids’ sports matches, plays and concerts. Word spread quickly about his natural talent. “Parents stopped bringing their cameras around and my pictures were used more and more. It became a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Weingartner said.

A swan lands in Lake Ronkonkoma. Photo by Artie Weingartner

Now that his children are grown, the photographer is focusing more on chronicling the history of Lake Ronkonkoma. On a frigid day in January of 2016, he was invited by Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society member Matt Balkam to photograph the historic Fitz-Greene Hallock Homestead on Pond Road. The 14-room home was built in 1888 and contains all of the original furnishings of the Hallock family. In 2006, the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society took over the care of the home, and it is now the only historic home in the community that remains open for tours and other public programming.

That experience would lead Weingartner to become regularly involved with the historical society and the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.

In 2016, News12 contacted Evelyn Vollgraff, the president of the historical society, about filming in the area for a show covering historic places on Long Island. When reporter Danielle Campbell arrived at Long Island’s largest freshwater lake with Vollgraff, she was horrified to see how neglected and filthy the body of water was.

Fog encompasses Lake Ronkonkoma

Campbell, Vollgraff and several others put the word out on social media that they wanted to work on beautifying the area. The response was beyond anything Vollgraff anticipated. “We never asked for help. We just did it,” she recalled. “People got interested — legislators, councilmen. At the first meeting, 90 people were there asking what they could do and how they could help. The community came together in an amazing way. We have joined together as groups of friends that wanted to help our community. But now many of them are a part of the historical society as well, and most importantly, they’re my friends.”

In early 2017, the group held its first cleanup of the lake. Weingartner was there that day, too. They have since removed more than 300 tons of trash from the lake, and turned an old bookstore destroyed by fire into the historic Larry’s Landing, a popular hangout named for the bookstore’s late owner, Larry Holzapfel.

“Artie showed up with a camera at one of the cleanups and just started taking pictures — that’s just who he is,” Vollgraff said. “You have to record history. I can’t save every house in Ronkonkoma, but with Artie taking pictures, the history lives on forever.”

The community has also expressed its gratitude for Artie’s work through Facebook, where he frequently posts his photos on the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group and Sachem Sports pages.

“People were coming out of the woodwork from Florida or South Carolina who lived there 30 years ago to say how much it meant to them to see pictures of the place they grew up,” Weingartner said. “When I first moved to Long Island from Queens in 1970, we used to swim in the lake, but over a few years it got so dirty that we didn’t swim there anymore. Before that, people used to come out from Manhattan just to spend time at the lake. It’s always been an important, historic part of this community.”

While the exhibit is named Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma, Weingartner said it encompasses a range of subjects, including sports and landscapes from other parts of Long Island, including Port Jefferson and Belle Terre. More than 75 framed 8-by-10 prints are on display. His favorite photo features Lake Ronkonkoma at sunset, with two birds and sunlight streaming down to the shore. All the photos were taken with a Nikon D600.

The photography show also includes guest contributions from photographers Richard Cornell and Richard Yezdanian.“This exhibit will be interesting to people in our area because [the lake and other scenes] are literally in our backyard,” said Anne Marie Tognella who works in programming and public relations at Sachem Public Library. “It captures many of the scenes that we see and appreciate every day with natural and historic value.”

Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook will present Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma in its art gallery on the lower level through the month of July. Join them for an artist reception on Saturday, July 21 at 2 p.m. For more information, call 631-588-5024.

File photo by Rachel O'Brien

Join the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group in keeping Lake Ronkonkoma clean during the Great Brookhaven Cleanup on Saturday, June 16. Volunteers will meet at the Town of Brookhaven’s Michael P. Murphy Beach on Lake Shore Road from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and walk the shoreline of the lake picking up litter. Students are welcome to use this event for community service hours. Come spend an hour or two making the lake as beautiful as it should be! For further details, call Evelyn at 631-588-7599.

AMBASSADOR OF THE LAKE This friendly Canadian goose greeted all visitors to Lake Ronkonkoma on a recent Sunday afternoon. The lake and the surrounding beaches have undergone a dramatic resurgence over the last year, thanks to the efforts of the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

Lake Ronkonkoma. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group will present a program about the revitalization of the lake at Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook on Saturday, March 18 at 2 p.m. The program will include slides of the history of Lake Ronkonkoma provided by the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society and feature guest speakers County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) and Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden). All are welcome to attend this free event. For more information or to register, call 631-588-5024.

MELTology owners Nick Mauceri and Kevin Muller. Photo by Kevin Redding

With the newly opened MELTology in Mount Sinai, two young business partners and former Friendly’s employees bring their fresh, experimental take on a classic comfort food to the North Shore.

The cafe-style sandwich spot, serving variations of grilled cheese, among other standard items like burgers and chicken sandwiches, marks co-owner Kevin Muller’s fourth — and most ambitious — venture in the restaurant business.

Menu options at MELTology include various grilled cheese mash-ups. Photo from MELTology

After his first restaurant in Selden, Simple Smoothie Cafe, buckled under the pressures of surrounding competition in 2012 — with nearby Tropical Smoothies and Red Mangos making his “no-name brand” obsolete — the 30-year-old Patchogue resident drove up and down North Country Road to get a grasp of what foods were most popular among locals, while brainstorming what new flavors he could bring to the area.

“I was losing big time, and I had to figure something else out,” Muller recalled, saying he had to go back to his old job at Friendly’s just to pay rent month after month while his first business went under. “I was just thinking ‘what can I do differently?’”

Just a few months later, after crafting his own spin on his grandmother’s Italian crepes recipe, Muller found great success with Crazy Crepe Cafe, bringing all variations of the traditional treat to four different locations: Selden, Mount Sinai, Smithtown and Lake Ronkonkoma. In the midst of that, he also opened up an East End food truck business in 2016.

Alongside Crazy Crepe manager and former Friendly’s co-worker Nick Mauceri, 25, Muller recently decided to convert his Crazy Crepe in Mount Sinai into MELTology, to try and reach a different market and more of the general public.

“We paired up the grilled cheeses with the dessert crepes and it works really well together, and [in a few weeks] we’re going to bring our burgers from our food truck and combine that to make grilled cheese burgers … we love seeing the place packed and everyone enjoying the food,” Muller said.

MELTology is located at 5507 Suite 16 Nesconset Highway in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kevin Redding

Mauceri, who said the MELTology idea started back when they worked at Friendly’s and were experimenting with the food chain’s super melt sandwiches, can’t believe how quickly the community has taken to the new restaurant — even despite its Friday the 13th opening in January.

“Luckily, everything went off without a hitch [opening day],” he said. “It’s something that’s catching on really quickly, but we couldn’t have known that it was going to be this fast. We get a great sense of pride from it, especially when you get to talk to people who say they’re really enjoying what they just ate.”

According to the owners, such menu picks like the “Chicken Parm Melt” sandwich, made up of melted mozzarella, chicken strips and marinara sauce on parmesan-crusted sourdough bread, and the “Sweetness Melt,” which features applewood smoked bacon and maple syrup, sets MELTology apart from similar sandwich spots in the area.

Kevin put himself through college at SUNY Polytechnic Institute while working, climbing the ladder from employee to general manager, and saving money to start his own business, he said, and has utilized his business degree well. With Crazy Crepes, Muller did all his own training, made his own menus and even did all the marketing.

John Muller, Kevin’s father, called his son a “workaholic.”

MELTology will still have Crazy Crepe desert options on the menu. Photo from MELTology

“I’m very proud of him, obviously, and for someone who started with only a couple thousand dollars and is now running and owning four restaurants, he’s doing really well,” John Muller said. “He’s entrepreneurial — owning a business is something he’s always wanted to do.”

MELTology, located at 5507 Nesconset Highway Suite 16, is open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Menu items range frlom a classic grilled-cheese sandwich ($4.95); chicken parm melt ($6.95); and “Kitchen Cinque” sandwich, a multilayered melt of Parmesan-crusted sourdough, melted Cheddar, Gruyère, American, pepper jack and apple-wood smoked bacon with a slice of tomato ($6.95). Sides like mac & cheese ($2.50) and soup ($3.99/cup, $5.99/bread bowl) are coming soon. Crazy Crepe sweet crepes that have made the menu include the Dirty Banana, Oreo Crepe, S’mores Crepe, Peanute Butter Cup Crepe and Apple Pie Crepe. Prices Range from $6.95 to $7.95. Milkshakes in vanilla, chocolate, nutella, oreo and peanut butter cup are also available ($4.50).

Takeout can also be ordered online.

For more information, call (631) 509 0331 or visit www.meltology.

It may look very pretty all wrapped in a red holiday bow, but for all the believers out there, the Country House is said to be haunted. File photo

By Ernestine Franco

It’s the time of the year when children and adults alike will be out en masse on the lookout for ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. During the month of October, which culminates on Halloween, the North Shore of Long Island has many places to satisfy die-hard thrill seekers. However, if you want to experience “real” haunted places on the North Shore, check out the list below:

Kings Park Psychiatric Center, located on West Fourth Street in Kings Park has been closed for many years and is not open to the public. For many years, Long Islanders have broken into this historic location to see the eerie, condemned facilities. At its height, the psychiatric center was home to over 9,000 patients. They were subjected to overcrowding and deplorable conditions as well as dramatic procedures, such as lobotomies and electroshock therapy. From inside and outside the many buildings, people have reported yells and screams of deceased patients, and some say they can see ghosts in the windows. Although you cannot go into the buildings, you can drive through the grounds for a quick peek. The grounds are monitored by the police.

Country House Restaurant is located at 1175 Country House Road in Stony Brook. This building has a prerevolutionary story behind it. It is believed to be haunted by Annette Williamson, the daughter of a former owner. She had allowed British soldiers to stay in the home and was believed to be a spy. She was hung from the second-story rafters and her spirit haunts the kitchen and stairways. Visitors say they can hear her cries and light bulbs flicker. The restaurant also has a “Ghost Bar” where you can view pictures of Annette Williamson. Genre artist William Sidney Mount was said to have attended séances there when it was known as the Thomas Hadaway House.

Lake Ronkonkoma, Lake Shore Road, Lake Ronkonkoma: One of the most frequent tales you hear about Lake Ronkonkoma is one involving a Native American princess who died at the lake in the mid-1600s. The story goes that the Native American princess fell in love with an Englishman named Hugh Birdsall. He lived across the lake, but her father would not permit her to pursue a romance with the Englishman. Legends say that the heartbroken princess killed herself because she could not be with her true love.

Folklore then goes on to say that every year since, in a desperate search for a soulmate in death, the princess takes a young male’s life. Lake Ronkonkoma is rumored to have no bottom, just an endless abyss of darkness. The lake itself is the largest lake on Long Island and it would be impossible for a human being to reach the bottom without assistance since it is 100 feet (30 m) at its southeastern side. Something that feeds into this tale is how the water level of Lake Ronkonkoma seems to rise and fall with no relation to rainfall, something that adds to the mystery. Michael R. Ebert, author of “The Curse of Lake Ronkonkoma,” delved into these allegations and found that, “One study showed that over 7 years in the early 1900s, the rainfall on Long Island was below the usual average by about 52 inches, yet the lake rose 7 feet.”

Another eerie oddity about Lake Ronkonkoma is about the bodies of people who have drowned in the lake. Bodies have been found washed up in Connecticut and out in the Long Island Sound, fueling claims that Lake Ronkonkoma has many hidden caverns, passageways and tunnels leading to different locations. Other bodies have never been found.

Centereach High School, located at 14 43rd Street, has limited access for the public. Some believe that the bleachers of Centereach High School are haunted by James Halversen, a New York City firefighter who used to run at the track every day. At 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 5, 1997, Halversen and his dog were shot. Some people can feel his presence or even a man running on the fifth lane of the track. Some say they also have seen a glowing object in the northeast corner of the track.

Katie’s of Smithtown is located at 145 West Main Street. Katie’s is a popular bar in Smithtown and home to a ghost named Charlie, who is said to have been a bartender and bootlegger during the 1920s. After committing suicide, he is said to frequently visit the bar. Many patrons have felt or seen him. Some have seen people in 19th century dress in the bar, and the figure of a woman has been seen walking up and down the bar and down the basement stairs. Women have reported toilet seats jumping open and making banging sounds when no one else is in the bathroom, and footsteps have also been heard coming from the basement when it is unoccupied. Glasses have also been known to fly off the bar and tables.

And last, but not least, the Port Jefferson Ferries are believed by many that a ghost haunts the ferries as they travel the Sound. Many riders have seen the ghost of a former captain who wears a weathered uniform.

Good Haunting!

Grave markers and headstones at the Lake Ronkonkoma Cemetery have been desecrated. Photo from SCPD

Historical grave markers and headstones were damaged earlier this month and police are searching for whomever is responsible.

Grave markers and headstones at the Lake Ronkonkoma Cemetery have been desecrated. Photo from SCPD
Grave markers and headstones at the Lake Ronkonkoma Cemetery have been desecrated. Photo from SCPD

The desecrated graves were at Lake Ronkonkoma Cemetery on Hawkins Avenue, according to the Suffolk County Police Department, and include some grave stones dating back to the Civil War.

Police said Tuesday that the suspect or suspects did the damage between Jan. 4 and 8, desecrating 14 grave makers and headstones.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and detectives from the SCPD’s 4th Squad are looking for the public’s help to identify and locate the cemetery vandals. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 800-220-TIPS.

Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest.

The cemetery is located at the corner of Hawkins Avenue and Smith Street in Lake Ronkonkoma, behind the United Methodist Church.

Mathew McCauley mugshot from SCPD

A man arrested yesterday allegedly burglarized a bagel store and then biked away from the scene of the crime.

The Suffolk County Police Department said the man burgled Mayfair Bagels on Jericho Turnpike in Commack at about 4:45 a.m. on Monday before fleeing on a bicycle. Officers from the 4th Precinct responded to an alarm at the bagel business and found their suspect in the area shortly afterward.

Police arrested a Lake Ronkonkoma resident, Mathew McCauley, in connected with the incident. The 51-year-old was charged with third-degree burglary, as well as a parole violation.

Attorney information for McCauley was not immediately available. He was scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday.

According to police, detectives are investigating whether the suspect could have been involved in other recent burglaries in Commack.

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