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Rita J. Egan

Debra Bauer at a recent Sachem Public Library Local Author Fair with husband Stephen and daughters, from left, Jennifer and Lisa. Photo from Debra Bauer

By Rita J. Egan

While working on her first book, “Through a Family’s Eyes: A True Story,” Debra Lindner Bauer from Ronkonkoma wrote her way out of the darkest period in her life. For years, the former stay-at-home mom now grandmother, was overcome by grief after the tragic death in 2007 of her 27-year-old son, Stephen J. Bauer Jr.

In the book, the author presents a raw and honest look at what family members, especially parents, endure after the loss of a young person. Bauer is frank about her experiences and feelings after the motor vehicle accident that took her son’s life, and in addition to her own writings, she included contributions from family members and friends, which provide a larger picture of the depth of loss.

Bauer, who admits she cried nonstop for three years, said in a recent interview, “There isn’t a day that goes by that my husband and I, and all of us, don’t miss him.”

The writer said she and her family will never know exactly what happened on that icy night, but from what emergency workers could decipher, Steve’s car slid on the ice and hit a mailbox and then a tree. The young man, who was on his way to meet his father to help him plow, hit the side glass of his vehicle and bled out, outside his truck.

Debra Bauer with her pooches, from left, Cody, Mustang Sally and Brandy.  Photo from Bauer
Debra Bauer with her pooches, from left, Cody, Mustang Sally and Brandy. Photo from Bauer

After receiving a call from her son’s girlfriend at 10:30 p.m. on the night of Feb. 25, 2007, Bauer and her husband, Stephen, raced to the scene of the accident. Emergency personnel couldn’t allow them to go near their son at the site of the accident, so Bauer followed them to the hospital. When she arrived, the nurse told her that they had just cleaned Steve up, and she could talk to him. After a few minutes, the nurse informed her that the doctors were ready to work on him, but the health professional checked his pulse and found he had none.

“There our journey began,” Bauer said. The accident devastated the writer, her husband and their two daughters, Jennifer and Lisa. “You’re never the same again,” she said.

After the passing of her son, Bauer was overwhelmed by the amount of people who offered their condolences and support. One subject the writer touches on in her book is some of the things people say to someone who has lost a loved one, both appropriate and inappropriate.

“I don’t take it personally, because they don’t know what to say to you,” Bauer said.

The author admitted that a few people said insensitive things, such as that she should be happy because at least she had her son for 27 years. She suggested that, when people don’t know what to say, to just hug the person, even though she said it brightens her day when someone mentions Stephen by name and a memory of him. She explained that the first few years, people would be a bit uncomfortable when she would bring up his name.

The author also suggested that a great way to help a grieving family is by dropping off some home-cooked food or picking up groceries instead of flowers. She said families receive so many flowers after a loved one passes that sometimes they go to waste. After her son’s funeral, Bauer brought the flowers home and set them on her lawn because she couldn’t bear to just throw them out.

The author said that even though it’s still difficult, the first few years were the hardest. Bauer said she couldn’t get off the couch, turned to alcohol and even prescription pills. While she’s been clean for 4 years now, she admits to being addicted to Percocet for 3 years.

“I have come a very long way, and I’m lucky to be alive to tell the story too,” Bauer said.

Writing the book provided a way of managing her pain that was even better than exercising or social activities, according to the author. Earlier in the writing process, Bauer didn’t even use a computer, because she said she never had the patience to learn how to use one.

She started recording her memories of her son’s life, and her feelings about his passing, a year-and-a-half after losing him, by writing them down on paper. When she completed her writings, her sister-in-law Kathy typed them up and edited them. After she sent the manuscript to the publisher, it was in their hands for two years and Bauer had to work on 13 revisions.

Now that the book is released, the author is proud that she realized she had to do more than sit around on the couch and has been able to share her son’s story.

“Everybody says you’re so happy, you glow now. I accomplished something huge in my life,” she said.

Even her 16-year-old grandson, who recently read the book about his father, said after he finished, “You’ve come a long way, Grandma.”

Bauer continues to keep herself busy promoting her book and is currently designing sympathy cards for those who have lost a child. The writer said that she and others who have lost children have found that there aren’t many suitable cards for parents.

While Bauer admits that things will never be the same for her and her family, she now knows that things can improve. The writer is feeling better than she has in a long time, and she hopes that parents who share her sorrow will read “Through a Family’s Eyes” so they know that they are not alone. She also hopes that parents who haven’t experienced such a tragedy will read the book so they can understand what a family goes through and have more empathy.

“People can learn things. Maybe they can be even more appreciative of their kids,” she said.

Bauer’s advice to other grieving parents is, “Find something that makes you happy. I think writing is great therapy. They could always use new books out there — true stories. There might be people that just want to hear your story, especially if it’s true.”

“Through a Family’s Eyes: A True Story” is available on Amazon.com and at www.debralindnerbauer.com for $23.

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From left, Dondi Rollins as Sebastian; Michelle Rubino as Ariel; and Zack Buscemi as Scuttle in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Rita Egan

The heartwarming tale “The Little Mermaid” opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend to the delight of fans both young and old. For almost two hours, the brilliant cast treated the audience to an enchanting and colorful show that floated smoothly from a magical world under the sea to a shore where dreams can come true.

Jordan Hue has skillfully directed a cast of talented actors who bring their characters to life with the right amount of tenderness and humor, and in the case of a few, even deviousness, needed for a production based on a Hans Christian Andersen classic and Disney film.

The musical, originally produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright, stays true to the movie version released in 1989, which when it comes to the finale, may be more fitting for younger audience members instead of Andersen’s sadder ending.

Our heroine Ariel, played by Michelle Rubino, lives under the sea with her father King Triton (Jahlil Burke) and her six sisters. The youngest of the king’s daughters, the little mermaid dreams of being a human and many times swims above water to see if she could catch a glimpse of these strange creatures. Her faithful companion Flounder (Caitlin Beirne/Erika Hinson) follows her on the adventures, where the seagull Scuttle (Zack Buscemi) joins them to educate them about life above sea level. Here the bird shows them items such as a fork that he believes is used to comb one’s hair, or a pipe that he thinks blows bubbles, and he cleverly names them to disguise his true lack of human knowledge. 

Mikey Marmann as Prince Eric and Michelle Rubino as Ariel in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo
Mikey Marmann as Prince Eric and Michelle Rubino as Ariel in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid’ at the SCPA. Photo by Samantha Cuomo

While Ariel is making waves in her world, the rambunctious Prince Eric (Mikey Marmann) chooses the life of a sailor over his royal duties and chases the beautiful voice he has heard while navigating the rough seas. Just like Eric has his advisor Grimsby (Mark DeCaterina/Ralph D’Ambrose) to keep an eye on him, King Triton soon assigns Sebastian the crab (Dondi Rollins) the responsibility of keeping Ariel away from the dreaded humans. However, in her quest to make her dreams come true, Ariel slips away from Sebastian, and when she meets the evil sea witch Ursula (Samantha Carroll), the mermaid finds herself making a big yet silent splash in the human world, and finding that even in your darkest moments, dreams can come true.

Rubino, who is making her debut on the SCPA stage, is stunning as Ariel, capturing both the sweetness and eagerness of the mermaid throughout the production, especially during the songs “Part of Your World” and “Beyond My Wildest Dreams.” The actress bears a striking resemblance to the character, which had many little ones on opening night excitedly pointing toward the stage thrilled to see their favorite character in the flesh.

Marmann as Prince Eric proves he possesses the charming qualities to reel in a sea princess as well as theatergoers with his beautiful and soothing vocals during the songs “Fathoms Below” where he sails troubled waters and “One Step Closer” where he patiently teaches Ariel to dance.

Carroll as Ursula nails the deviousness needed to play a villainess and delivers the sea witch with the gusto of Ethel Merman, especially when belting out the tunes “I Want the Good Times Back” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” From the loud applauses she received after her numbers as well as during the final bows, it looks like Carroll has a promising stage career in her future.

Kevin Burns playing Floatsam and Barbara Tiernan as Jetsam were devilishly entertaining as Ursula’s sidekicks as they slithered their way through numbers trying to sideline Ariel’s dreams. The duo also had their time to light up the stage during the number “Sweet Child,” which convincingly lures the little mermaid into Ursula’s tentacles.   

Rollins gets a chance to show off his singing and dancing talents during the numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.” Despite playing the stuffy, crusty crab, Rollins, joined by the ensemble, delivers “Under the Sea” as the fun, energetic number it is meant to be and has us holding our breath in anticipation as he slowly introduces the first few bars of “Kiss the Girl” and then uses his voice masterfully to build anticipation.

Along with Rollins, D’Ambrose playing Grimsby on Saturday night and Buscemi as Scuttle seamlessly provided the comedic moments expected of the characters. In addition, Beirne played Flounder on opening night with an endearing sweetness, and the youngster delivered the cute number “She’s in Love” like a professional.

Of course, the story would not be complete without King Triton and Ariel’s sisters. While Triton may be stern at times, Burke plays him with the tenderness that obviously overrules the king’s heart when it comes to his children. Alex Juliano, Erin Bonura, Jessica Donlon, Courtney Braun, Alexa Brin and Samantha Foti whether playing the sisters or later as princesses vying for Prince Eric’s heart, not only delivered great singing numbers but also cute comedic lines that elicited laughs from the audience.

Complementing the talents of the actors was a simple yet eye-catching set designed by Timothy Golebiewski. With a coral-like trimmed stage and faux rocks, the cast transformed easily from underwater life to sea level where the simple parting of a curtain revealed the bow of Prince Eric’s boat that seemed to be heading straight toward the audience.

Costumes designed in an array of colors by Ronald R. Green III also take center stage during the musical. The various hues were stunning, especially during the numbers where the whole ensemble was on stage. Sebastian’s costume was the most spectacular in a bright red, and Rollins dapperly sported a top hat and coattails. To take the place of fins, long skirts are cleverly used for the merfolk, even on King Triton’s costume, which Burke handled smoothly.

The exceptional cast, as well as the crew, of the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has created a production of “The Little Mermaid” that will float into the hearts of many and leave waves of delightfulness that will last long after they leave the theater.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present “The Little Mermaid” as its main stage production until Jan. 24, 2016. Tickets are $35 for those 12 and over and $20 for children under 12. For more information and show times, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

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George Liberman reprises role for 9th year

Alexander Yagud-Wolek and George Liberman in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.' Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions

By Rita J. Egan

In the classic tale “A Christmas Carol,” a glimpse of his younger years working for Mr. Fezziwig provides a delightful vision of Christmas past for Ebenezer Scrooge. This holiday season, for the 9th year in a row, actor George Liberman will take on the role of the miser’s former boss in Theatre Three’s adaptation of the holiday classic.

It’s a character the actor loves portraying and one whose kind-hearted spirit he captures perfectly, with great energy and a jovial laugh.

The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it. “Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here?”

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement: “Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s Fezziwig alive again!”

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice.

Excerpt from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” 1843

“Fezziwig was a good businessman, but he believed that a happy workplace is a prosperous workplace, exactly the opposite of the environment that Scrooge is working in. His workplace was miserable; he was miserable. The Fezziwig workplace was totally different. You kind of see that when you go into the whole Fezziwig sequence in the show. It’s just a happy place,” said Liberman, who has played this role more than 400 times.

“The Fezziwig party — he’s inviting all of his workers, regardless of their class. He’s inviting his neighbors in; he’s having a great time. He wants everyone to enjoy themselves,” the actor said. “He’s bubbly, he’s happy; he has a great relationship with his wife. That’s kind of the way I try to portray him — being very, very happy and very bubbly, very full of life — and that’s what I love about the role.”

Douglas Quattrock, director of development and marketing, and group sales and marketing coordinator, who has played Bob Cratchit in the production for the last 12 years, said Liberman has a great understanding of the Fezziwig role. Quattrock explained that the character adds that touch of humanity to the story, where the most important thing is love.

“I think George embodies that. I’ve noticed that tenderness grow over the years. Every year he’s brought that nuance to it that a lot of actors who might play the role once or twice might not capture,” Quattrock said.

Liberman’s relationship with Theatre Three began in 1991, when he attended a performance of “Sweeney Todd.” The actor enjoyed the show so much he began auditioning and through the years has appeared in “Man of La Mancha” (Captain of the Inquisition), “Guys and Dolls” (Rusty Charlie) “Fiddler on the Roof” (Lazar Wolf), as well as others.

Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s executive artistic director, describes Liberman as a go-to person who always has great chemistry with his castmates. “George is one of the easiest people to work with. I have never heard anybody say anything other than he’s wonderful,” Sanzel said, who also directs “A Christmas Carol” and stars as Scrooge.

Liberman’s interest in performing began during his days at Adelphi University. While a student there, he was a member of the Adelphi University Octet. The singing group would perform throughout New York State, and he appeared in one of the university’s musicals, “Little Mary Sunshine.” However, he said after graduating from college, due to working full-time and family responsibilities, he didn’t perform again until 1991, appearing in Theatre Three’s production of “Man of La Mancha”.

It wasn’t until the husband and father retired from working as an administrator for the New York State Office of Mental Health nine years ago that he approached Sanzel about participating in “A Christmas Carol.” He explained that the holiday production’s rehearsal and performance schedule would have been too demanding for him while working full-time.

Sanzel said he knew Liberman was perfect for the role of Fezziwig. “He’s very warm. There’s a real honesty about George, which comes across on stage because he’s that way in life,” the director said.

Liberman’s participation in “A Christmas Carol” keeps him, as well as the other actors, extremely busy the last few months of the year. Rehearsals this year began in the beginning of October, when the cast met downstairs to run through their lines, and on Oct. 26, they began rehearsing on stage, with a good percentage of the set constructed. Liberman, who loves to golf, said jokingly that he’s not quite sure what he would do this time of year if he weren’t rehearsing and performing on stage, especially with golf season being over.

Jenna Kavaler, George Liberman and Jeffrey Sanzel in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.' Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions
Jenna Kavaler, George Liberman and Jeffrey Sanzel in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions

Liberman said he enjoys working with his fellow “A Christmas Carol” actors, both those who have returned from previous years and newcomers. He said Michelle Cosentino will be playing Mrs. Fezziwig for the first time and is wonderful in the role.

Cosentino enjoys working with Liberman as well, and she said she appreciates how welcoming and patient he is. “He’s pretty much Christmas 24/7. It’s like happiness is bursting out of him,” Cosentino said.

Liberman said he continually learns more about the story and the role and has added some refinements over the years, and he said he has grown as an actor as well. The growth has occurred not only due to playing Fezziwig each year, but also by watching Sanzel take on the role of Scrooge every holiday season. Liberman said he has learned a lot by watching the director, especially with how he shades his character in different ways.

In addition to his appreciation for what Fezziwig stands for, Liberman said the theme of “A Christmas Carol” also brings him back each year. He said, for him, the classic holiday story shows that even when you are as mean as Scrooge is, a person can learn the errors of his way.

“The message of the show is a very uplifting, positive message, as it progresses through the show. So I really enjoy doing it,” the actor said.

Liberman hopes that theatergoers will enjoy the message of the holiday story as much as he does. “I would hope that when people walk away, they’re inspired, and they come away with the notion that even the meanest of characters, the meanest of people, can be redeemed and can change, can see the positive in people and can do something positive for those around them,” he said.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present its 32nd annual production of “A Christmas Carol” from Nov. 14 to Dec. 27. Ticket prices range from $15 to $30. For more information and show times, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

Mark your calendars for upcoming classic movies at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts Center. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Rita J. Egan

The year 2015 marked Smithtown’s 350th anniversary and the return of movies to the town. In addition to commemorative events, locals were able to stop by the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts and take in a feature film to enhance their trip down memory lane.

The movie theater that once operated in the building where SCPA stands today opened in 1933 and offered motion pictures until November of 2001. Toward the end of November 2014, the building, which has not been significantly altered aesthetically in over 80 years, once again became home to beloved movies to commemorate the town’s milestone. While the original lineup of films planned for the theater will wrap up on Oct. 30 with “The Sixth Sense” and “The Exorcist,” management has planned to offer more movies in the upcoming months. Tickets for this double feature are $10.00.

Nov. 27 — ‘The Wizard Of Oz’
Dec. 4 — ‘A Christmas Story’
Jan. 8 — ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956)
Jan. 9 — ‘Rocky’
Jan. 15 — ‘The Addams Family’
Jan. 16 — ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’
Jan. 22 — ‘Carrie’ (1976)
Jan. 23 — ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
Feb. 5 — ‘Network’
Feb. 6 — ‘Dirty Harry’
June 16 — ‘Hook’
June 24 — ‘Thelma & Louise’
*All movies start at 7 p.m. and are $8 per ticket.

Ian Washington, house manager, hosted numerous movie nights at the theater this year. Washington said while attendance varied, overall the movie nights were well received by local residents. During the year he heard comments such as “we’re so happy you’re doing this again” and “please keep doing it.”

Washington said in addition to theatergoers being pleased to see the films, they also requested that the performing arts center show others. “It was a great experience and a great test run of what we know we can do,” he said.

The house manager said among the over 60 films that the theater offered in 2015, he was excited to see movies such as “Rain Man,” the original “Batman,” “Spaceballs” and “Blazing Saddles.” He said the more popular movies with audiences were “Casablanca,” “Gone with the Wind,” “King Kong” and the most attended of all of them, “A Christmas Story.” Washington said “Jaws” and the “Back to the Future” trilogy also did well.

Like last season, the motion pictures will alternate with the performing arts center’s live stage presentations. After the double feature of thrillers on Oct. 30, the theater has a dozen movies scheduled until the end of June with the possibility of more being added for the last few months of 2016.    

“People love that we’re doing it again,” said Washington.

The new lineup of movies will kick off with “The Wizard of Oz” on Friday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m., and once again, back by popular demand, there will be a holiday showing of “A Christmas Story” on Friday, Dec. 4.

Last year management chose many of the movies based on local residents’ memories of their visits to the theater throughout the decades. This time around, films were selected based on whether they are hitting a milestone anniversary in 2016. Due to this selection process, theatergoers can once again enjoy classics such as “Rocky,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Carrie,” “Dirty Harry” and “Thelma & Louise” on the big screen in the upcoming year.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2 E. Main Street in Smithtown. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

A creepy graveyard will be on the tour during the Haunted Hayrides at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Giselle Barkley

By Rita J. Egan

Scaring up some Halloween fun isn’t tricky when you live on or near the North Shore of Suffolk County. However, beware; some activities are not for scaredy cats.

Those taking a hayride at Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, E. Setauket, will find that things will get a little spookier on Oct. 30 and 31. While visitors will find an array of static figures, including ogres, witches and ghosts, in the fields on any given day this month, the creatures will come alive on Halloween eve and day from 6 to 9 p.m. when the farm offers Haunted Hayrides.

Owner Bob Benner said the event is open to all ages, but he warns that the later the ride is, the scarier it gets. “We have had some people who have been really scared and other people who simply just enjoyed the ride a lot,” he said.

Mr. Benner said the farm staff, along with volunteers, play the creatures that can come out of nowhere and jump toward the hayride or unexpectedly scream. In addition, there are different tableaus, including the farm’s spooky cemetery, where visitors may witness a ghoulish figure up to something evil.

Mr. Benner said the creativity of those in the field always amazes him. “I never quite know what they are going to come up with in terms of scaring folks.” Rides, which cost $6 per person,  leave every 20 minutes. Visit with the animals and have a Halloween treat while you wait. For more information, visit www.bennersfarm.com or call 631-689-8172.

Over at F&W Schmitt’s Family Farm in Melville, 26 Pinelawn Road, a mad doctor who encountered a book of ancient texts has taken over. Visitors to The Haunted Mansion of Melville will encounter otherworldly creatures as well as various oddities during their spine-chilling visit.

Outside, those who dare can explore The Haunted Corn Maze where the physician dumps his patients who may or may not be dead. There’s also a high-intensity live stage show, “The Experiment,” that gives spectators the opportunity to witness some of the doctor’s experiments on his patients.

The show, which is enhanced with special effects, isn’t recommended for those with heart conditions or those who cannot handle intense situations. Tickets are $19 for the mansion, $11 for the corn maze, $5 for “The Experiment” and $30 for a combo ticket. Open Thursdays and Sundays 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays 7 p.m. to midnight through the end of October. Visit www.schmittshaunt.com or call 631-271-3276 for information, including hours for their less scary, daytime show for children.

For more hair-raising Halloween moments, head over to The Darkside Haunted House at 5184 Rt. 25A, Wading River. The indoor and outdoor attraction, which spans over 14,000 square feet, features movie-quality sets and bone-chilling special effects. While The Darkside Haunted House is not recommended for children under 12 years old, an early matinee from 1 to 5 p.m. on weekend days, with the lights on and no live actors, is available for the little ones as well as the weak of heart. The Darkside Haunted House is open weekdays and weekends until Nov. 1. Tickets start at $18. For more information and hours, visit www.darksideproductions.com or call 631-369-SCARE.

For a tamer treat, join the animals at Sweetbriar Nature Center, 62 Eckernkamp Dr., Smithtown, during their annual Halloween Spook-tacular. Children are encouraged to wear costumes as they spend the day walking through the ghostly garden, and participating in the scavenger hunt, story time, crafts and sensory activities. New this year, visitors can travel the Jack O’ Lantern trail decorated with hand-carved and glowing pumpkins. The Spook-tacular is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 23, and Saturday, Oct. 24, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and costs $7 per person. The center will also offer a Not-So-Spooky Spook-tacular on Oct. 24 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. For more information, or to contribute a carved or uncarved pumpkin, call Eric at 631-979-6344, ext. 302.

Spooky stories will fill the halls of the museum of the Hallock Homestead Farm, 6038 Sound Ave., Riverhead, during its Haunted Museum Tours on Friday, Oct. 30, at 4:30 p.m. More than 250 years of Hallockville Homestead dark secrets will be exposed, including the death of the Phantom British Officer.

During the tour, one may hear the hair-raising sobs of the broken-hearted Spectral Bride searching for her lost love, and guests may even encounter the ghost of the dishonest Regretful Rumrunner, doomed by his own poisoned drink. Based on historical fact, local folklore and urban legend, the tour was created by professional actress, costume designer and museum educator Colette Gilbert.

Beth Motschenbacher, assistant director, said this is the first year the museum is offering the tour. “I hope people enjoy seeing the historic homestead in a different light and learning a little bit more about the darker side of folklore,” she said.

Tours, which depart from the Hudson-Sydlowski house, last 50 to 60 minutes and run every 15 minutes until 7:45 p.m. Advance reservations are recommended. Geared for all ages, admission is $7 for adults and children age 10 and under are free. For more information, call 631-298-5292 or visit www.hallockville.com.

The entrance to the new exhibit in Cold Spring Harbor, If I Were a Whaler. Photo by Judy Palumbo

By Rita J. Egan

The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor introduced its new interactive, hands-on exhibit, If I Were a Whaler, on Sunday, Sept. 27. The exhibit launched off with the opening day event SeaFaire featuring craft-makers, including a woodworker, quilter and spinner, demonstrating their old world skills. The day also gave visitors the opportunity to create historical maritime crafts such as ship models and scrimshaw carvings.

Judy Palumbo, community relations and development manager at the museum, said the committee designed the exhibit to give guests a strong sense of what life was like on a whaling boat for the whalers. She said exhibit goers will discover how simply the seamen lived and how minimal their supplies were. According to Palumbo, some would have only a tiny trunk for a three-year voyage, and on the boat, they would sleep in tight quarters that also doubled as a place to eat since there were no dining halls.

“We’re just trying to give people a picture of what life on the ship was like … a whaler’s life,” Palumbo said.

Items ‘for sale’ in the Jones General Store at the If I Were a Whaler exhibit. Photo by Judy Palumbo
Items ‘for sale’ in the Jones General Store at the If I Were a Whaler exhibit. Photo by Judy Palumbo

The community relations and development manager said the exhibit is extremely interactive and exhibit goers can experience each stage of a whaler’s journey. One interactive station is a general store where children are given coins to purchase items, and while deciding what to buy for their voyage, learn how limited the seamen’s budgets were.

Executive Director Nomi Dayan said the store is based on Jones General Store, which once operated in Cold Spring Harbor. She said children can decide things such as if they are going to get an extra warm pair of pants or two shirts.

“They really have to think critically about what it took to endure life at sea,” Dayan said.

At the second station, visitors will discover what life was like under the decks for the whalers. Children can try out a berth and view the limited food options the whalers had at sea.

“I think one of the most fun things about it is the bunk bed where you can climb in and realize how little personal space you had,” Dayan said.

Another interactive station will show visitors what it was like to raise the sails or swab the deck, which was also referred to as holystoning, where they actually cleaned the decks with stones, according to Palumbo. The community relations and development manager said the station demonstrates the whalers’ responsibilities during their voyages.

Children can learn how to plan a voyage as well at the navigation stage and, based on their choices, find out their fate. Destinies include being shipwrecked or catching a whale among other outcomes.

Exhibit goers will discover how the whalers spent their free time, too. Palumbo explained that catching whales only used a small percentage of the whalers’ time spent at sea since the mammals weren’t that easy to catch. Maps are also on display showing the seamen’s journeys that included expeditions to the Arctic, South America and the Hawaiian Islands.

Complementing the interactive stations will be nautical tools and artifacts on display from the museum’s collection, which totals 6,000 pieces. Palumbo said the museum owns one of the largest scrimshaw collections in the Northeast and one of the last fully equipped whaling boats.

Palumbo said construction of If I Were a Whaler began Labor Day weekend; however, the museum’s educators Cyndi Grimm, Liz Fusco, Gina Van Bell, Amanda Vengroff, as well as Dayan and carpenter Peter Schwind have been working on the exhibit for months.

Dayan said the plan right now is to display If I Were a Whaler for two years. She said she believes the interactive exhibit, which was inspired by the USS Constitution Museum in Boston’s A Sailor’s Life for Me: War of 1812 curriculum, will provide children an understanding of maritime history that they may not get from a textbook or by just looking at an artifact in a museum.

“We hope families will gain a much better appreciation and understanding of local history, and we hope that will happen through making history come to life,” Dayan said.

The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor is located at 301 Main Street, Cold Spring Harbor. Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for children. For more information, visit www.cshwhalingmuseum.org or call 631-367-3418.

By Rita J. Egan

Wine lovers can enjoy a fun night out as well as a bit of history at the Huntington Historical Society’s 25th annual Evening of Wine Under the Stars on Friday, Sept. 18.

Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, executive director at the society, said the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year will honor the 100th anniversary of Huntington Hospital.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know your hometown a little bit more,” Fortunato-Napolitano said.

In addition to a selection of fine wines available for tasting, Blind Bat Brewery will be offering its craft beers. The historical society has also planned a night filled with gourmet food tasting from neighboring restaurants including Black & Blue, The Culinary Studio, Christopher’s Crew, Cinque Terre, IMC, Old Fields, Reinwalds and XO. With business owners from the local area participating, Fortunato-Napolitano said, “It’s always fun to try the new restaurants. It gives you a great idea of where you want to go and get dinner.”

The event, which takes place outside on the property of the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House at 434 Park Avenue, will give guests the opportunity to view the historical society’s museum. The director said, in the early part of the evening, attendees will be able to tour the house, which on an everyday basis is only open by appointment.

Maria DeLeo, public relations manager at the society, said there will be plenty of opportunities to dance under the stars, too. Local band The Modern Age will be on hand, and the society is planning to include a floor so partygoers won’t have to dance in the grass.

Rounding off the night will be a raffle with an array of items including restaurant and spa baskets and a silent auction that includes an item donated by Disney World.

The public relations manager said in prior years guests have traveled from out east, Nassau County and Queens, but the majority of the wine and gourmet food tasters are locals interested in preserving the history of the community.

“We’ve had people in the past who are new to Huntington so they want to meet other Huntonians. So it’s a great place for people to meet other people from the neighborhood,” DeLeo said.

Evening of Wine Under the Stars will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18. For more information, contact the Huntington Historical Society at 631-427-7045 or visit its website at www.huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org. Tickets are $70 for society members, $85 for nonmembers and $100 at the door.

 

Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano. Photo from HHS
Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano. Photo from HHS

Meet the new director!
This year’s Evening of Wine Under the Stars will be the first one Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano will be attending as the society’s executive director.

Fortunato-Napolitano stepped into her new position on June 1 of this year. The Huntington Station native is no stranger to the society having worked there as the special events coordinator from 2009 to 2010 and then taking on the role of director of operations from 2011 to 2012. She left the historical society for a couple of years to work for the Seamen’s Church Institute and in the past has worked as a former assistant historian for the town of Huntington and at The Long Island Children’s Museum, The Museum of the City of New York, the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce and the Huntington Rural Cemetery.

The director said growing up surrounded by Long Island’s rich history she cultivated an early appreciation for the subject. Her interest in history as well as preservation was solidified when she attended a summer program at the University of Oxford in England. She explained that while studying abroad after learning about history in the classroom, she was able to go outside the university and actually experience it. Something she recognized as being capable of doing in her own hometown.

Fortunato-Napolitano said she enjoys playing a part in educating residents about their community, and Huntington is a great example of how most people don’t even realize how much history is practically right in their own backyards. The director said there have been many times while leading the society’s pub crawl that many participants were surprised to learn historical facts about buildings that they passed every day.

The new executive director said she looks forward to increasing awareness of the town’s history, creating new exhibits and programs and having the historical society return as a mainstay in the community.

“My overall vision is to have the Society become the kind of integral part of the community that it was in the first half of the 20th century. Just to really increase awareness, to offer new public programs and try to get more people involved,” Fortunato-Napolitano said.  

Guest curator adds personal touch to exhibit at Long Island Museum

‘Portrait of Beth,’ 1999. Photo by Bruce Weber

By Rita J. Egan

When Beth Levine, designer of innovative footwear from the 50s to the 70s, passed away in 2006 at the age of 91, she left behind her unique footprints on the fashion world. To honor the former Patchogue resident’s accomplishments, the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook recently opened the exhibition Beth Levine: The First Lady of Shoes.

Helene Verin, an adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and guest curator of the exhibition and author of “Beth Levine Shoes,” was a young shoe designer when she arrived in New York City in the 1970s. After meeting Levine, she quickly found a mentor and friend in her. The curator said she looked up to the innovative designer who she described as funny and unique. 

“She was larger than life,” Verin said.

The ‘Cinderella’ shoe, 1961, clear vinyl with lucite heel, silver kidshin details and lining by Beth Levine from the collection of Helene Verin. Image from the LIM
The ‘Cinderella’ shoe, 1961, clear vinyl with lucite heel, silver kidshin details and lining by Beth Levine from the collection of Helene Verin. Image from the LIM

The curator said she holds one of the largest archives of Levine’s work. The shoe designer closed her factory, which she owned with her husband Henry Levine, in 1976, but kept a storage unit that contained her work as well as material. According to Verin, the two designers would often stop by the unit, and Levine would give her mentee random items such as buckles and plastic flowers. Verin said she sometimes wasn’t sure how Levine utilized the pieces in her designs, but in later years, as she researched the designer’s work, she would see pictures of shoes that once were adorned with the flower or other accessory pieces she was given.

Levine, who was born in 1914 and raised on a farm in Patchogue, arrived in New York City as a young woman with aspirations of becoming a social worker, according to Verin. However, when the Long Island native began working as a shoe model to earn money, she found a career that was a better fit for her. The future footwear designer wore a size 4 shoe, which at the time was considered the perfect sample size. Verin said Levine realized she had a knack for picking out comfortable shoes and compared her feet to a potter’s wheel.

“It’s such an amazing story. Most shoe designers are men, and they come from generations of cobblers,” Verin said.

Levine quickly realized she knew more about shoes than the men that were designing them at the time. When she went on to become a designer, she tried on every style to ensure a comfortable feel.

She quickly became a favorite among first ladies Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Pat Nixon who needed stylish yet comfortable shoes. “Everything she did was based on comfort,” Verin said.

In addition, Levine’s clients included Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Barbra Streisand, Lauren Bacall, Liza Minelli, and Cher. Levine also collaborated with designers including Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and designed all the footwear for Braniff airline’s flight attendants.

When creating her Cyrano shoe, which featured a pointed toe, Levine didn’t just narrow the toe. The designer added the pointed end to extend past where the toes would fall so they weren’t jammed into the tip. “She always used to say things like, ‘There’s no such thing as breaking in a pair of shoes. They’ll break you first,’” said the curator.

Verin said Levin also enjoyed many firsts during her career. Saks Fifth Avenue opened their first stand-alone boutique, Beth’s Bootery, which carried the designer’s footwear, and Levine was the one to figure out how to create a clear Cinderella shoe similar to other brands but with no visible screws. She also was the first to draw a picture of the footwear on the outside of the box to make it easier for shoe sellers to find a particular style for their customer.

The Patchwork Boot, 1967, cotton, silk, velvet and Lurex boot quilted by Adirondack artisans from the collection of Ron and Nancy Bush. Image from the LIM
The Patchwork Boot, 1967, cotton, silk, velvet and Lurex boot quilted by Adirondack artisans from the collection of Ron and Nancy Bush. Image from the LIM

The designer has been credited with introducing boots to haute couture as opposed to them just being worn for utility use, according to Verin. One of her most famous boots were worn by Nancy Sinatra while publicizing her 1966 hit song “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.”

Among her unique designs were a pair of shoes with AstroTurf as the insole called “Splendor in the Grass,” and a shoe with no upper that was secured to the foot with adhesive, according to Verin.

When it comes to the shoes included in the exhibition, Verin said, “When you look at them, even though they’re 60 years old, they’re so current. Today you would wear them.”

Besides pieces from her own collection, the curator has been able to borrow items from other collectors for the exhibition. One of the lenders is Levine’s nephew Ronnie Bush who inherited the family farm and has dedicated a corner of his barn to the designer and her work. Also, on display will be a photo of Levine by another one of her family members, professional photographer Bruce Weber.

In addition to Levine’s iconic footwear, visitors will find photos, paintings, illustrations, film footage and other artifacts on display. The curator said even those who aren’t footwear aficionados will appreciate Levine’s work.

“I think you can see these shoes as works of art,” Verin said. “You can really see a brilliant mind and talent at work.”

Beth Levine: The First Lady of Shoes will run at the Long Island Museum, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook, through Jan. 3, 2016. Sponsors include Astoria Bank, Bank of America, Nancy Burner & Associates and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Regular admission is $10 per person, $7 for seniors and $5 for students ages 6 to 17. Children under 6 and museum members are free. During the exhibition run, special events will be held including an opportunity for seniors 62 and older to visit the show for free on Sept. 8 from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information, visit www.longislandmuseum.org or call 631-751-0066.

Historic Hill Climb to be highlight of the weekend

Car 8, a 1909 Alco-6 racing car driven by Howard Kroplick of East Hills, followed by 1907 Fiat driven by Manny Dragone from Connecticut leads the pack at the last hill climb up West Broadway in 2010. Photo by Richard Solo

By Rita J. Egan

Port Jefferson Village will host its first Heritage Weekend Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23. The event will give residents the opportunity to visit over 15 locations in the village, as well as Belle Terre, to learn about the stories behind the participating venues as well as the history of the village.

Jill Russell, public relations and marketing consultant for the village, said each location involved in the weekend has planned a variety of activities that celebrate the local culture, traditions, history and achievements.

“You’ll be invited to come in and learn a little bit of history about Port Jefferson. It’s really a phenomenal thing for families to come and do,” Russell said. The consultant said one of the featured events will be the Port Jefferson Fire Department, 115 Maple Place, opening its museum to the public. She said most people don’t even realize the museum exists unless their children have visited the firehouse on a school field trip.

Charlie Russo, assistant chief of the Port Jefferson Fire Department said, “The fire department has great history with the village.” The assistant chief explained that many of the members have followed in the footsteps of relatives and can trace their family’s involvement in the department for decades.

Russo said the museum will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday 3 to 5 p.m. Among the items on display, visitors will find uniforms, helmets, tools and more equipment used by firefighters since Hook and Ladder Co. 1 was established in 1887. One of the featured items is a hand fire pump that once needed two firefighters to operate it.

Those heading over to the Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson Street, on Saturday will feel as if they are actually going back in time. Nikki Greenhalgh, who’s in charge of the library’s marketing and communications, said visitors will be able to enter the building through the original front doors, which are normally closed off. The former entrance leads into the front room, now known as the quiet room, which was the first library at the current location when it was built in 1925. Here library patrons will find no electronic devices and a historical reference desk.

The Port Jefferson Fire Deparment Museum will be open to the public this weekend. Photo by Richard Solo
The Port Jefferson Fire Deparment Museum will be open to the public this weekend. Photo by Richard Solo

“We just want to take everyone back in time and reiterate the history and how we still use that building as a quiet area,” Greenhalgh said.

The library is offering period-themed activities for kids such as paper dolls and hopscotch. While the children play, longtime employees, including Earlene O’Hare, who recently retired after 30 years, will be on hand to answer visitors’ questions about the history of the building.   

The library will also be exhibiting the work of Leon Foster Jones, a local artist of the early 1900s, in the front room. Greenhalgh said the library had acquired the artist’s sketchbook, and in addition to his original paintings scanned drawings of his will also be on display.

Nan Guzzetta, owner of Antique Costume & Prop Rental by Nan, 709 Main Street, encourages history buffs to stop by her store, which normally is open to potential customers by appointment only, and learn about the structure’s unique history. The store owner, who has been in business on Main Street for 20 years and 40 years in total, said the patio, garden and porch will be open and visitors can view the parlor. She said customers will get a peek at the historical Civil War era structure constructed by Captain Henry Hallock, who built many ships in Port Jefferson.   

The house known by many as the Chambers Mansion has not only sheltered those of local historical significance but also of musical importance. In the ‘70s the band Foghat took up residence there, and Guzzetta said the rock group transformed a stage that once existed in the home into an echo chamber. Not only did the band produce 12 gold records here, but they also would rent out rooms to other artists who would stay at the house and record. Musical greats such as Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen have been known to create albums at the mansion, and during Foghat’s heyday, the home was one of the foremost recording studios in the Northeast and became known as the Boogie Hotel in the area, according to Guzzetta.

The Drowned Meadow House, on the corner of West Broadway and Barnum Avenue, will also provide a look at interesting aspects of the village’s history. Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said a letter will be on display of historical importance at the Revolutionary War era “post and beam” constructed home, which once housed spy ring members.

“The significance of discovering the revolutionary letter directly ties other Roe family members, and Drowned Meadow then and present day Port Jefferson, to George Washington’s Spy Ring. In particular the letter was sent to Loyalist Oliver Delancey and states Nathaniel Roe and Phillips Roe supplied intelligence to Caleb Brewster, and the Roe family harbored supplies in our very own Drowned Meadow,” Garant said. 

Russell said the culmination of the weekend will be the Port Jefferson Hill Climb, which will begin at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. Spectators lined up on East Broadway can view 60 antique cars as they ascend a 2,000-foot climb to Belle Terre Road. After the climb, the automobiles will be part of a parade from Myrtle and Belle Terre Road down to Main Street, then to East Main and back to the Village Center.

This will be the sixth re-creation of the historic Hill Climb, which originally took place in 1910 and in the recent past has been recreated every five years on E. Broadway, according to the consultant. Russell said during the weekend, car and history buffs can stop by the Village Center, 101A East Broadway, where reproductions, as well as actual photographs of the original Hill Climb, on loan from the Detroit Public Library, are on display.

During Port Jefferson Heritage Weekend, residents will be able to utilize the Port Jefferson Jitney to travel from venue to venue if they wish. Most locations will be participating from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For a complete list of participating venues and more information, visit www.portjeff.com.

Northport Historical Society’s latest exhibit gets personal

Eight of Northport’s Civil War veterans, from left, Roy Ackerly, Gus Gerard, Charlie Smith, Bill Mulfort, unidentified man, unidentified man, A.G. Tillotson and Barney Fox.

By Rita J. Egan

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War, and to commemorate the sesquicentennial, the Northport Historical Society is hosting the exhibit Northport and the Civil War: A Few Good Men. Visitors to the historical society’s museum can follow the lives of 12 Northport men from when they mustered in until the war ended for them.

The historical society joins other organizations in the township of Huntington hosting Civil War events. Both historical society Director Heather Johnson and Terry Reid, consultant to the collections and member of the exhibit’s committee, said when town representatives first approached the organization about hosting an exhibit they were a bit hesitant. They admitted they weren’t confident if they could pull together a full exhibit since they weren’t aware of many Civil War artifacts in their collection. However, Reid said once the committee started culling through items, they found muster rolls with very detailed information about young men from Northport who fought in the war.

The consultant said the muster rolls not only include information about what battles the young men fought in but also if they were injured, their eye color and hair color, names of their parents and occupations. With the discovery of the muster rolls, Reid said the exhibit became a possibility as the committee began writing the stories of each man.

“I thought that here are these men we can focus on, telling their specific stories. So we did it as more of a storybook as opposed to here’s a bullet,” Reid said.

Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Rita Egan
Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Rita Egan

The committee, which in addition to Reid includes Candy Hamilton, Christine Doll-Wagner, Rhoda Wright and Darcy Little, then set out to find the artifacts to complement the stories. An email was sent out to members of the historical society asking if anyone owned memorabilia. Chris Cierski and Ben Meyburg, Civil War enthusiasts, stepped forward to lend some of the pieces from their collections, including a uniform Meyburg has used in reenactments.

Reid said once the society had artifacts to illustrate the men’s stories the exhibit really came together. Visitors to the museum will not only find photos and letters but also equipment the soldiers would have received such as canteens, belt buckles and guns.

Once the artifacts were in place, knowing that the men belonged to the 48th and 127th infantries, the consultant said the committee members were able to create maps for each cabinet to show the troops’ movements.

“One of our main goals in this whole exhibit was to get people to really stop and think what these men, these boys, did at their young age of 18, 19. They all enlisted and ran off to war immediately to help the cause. Unfortunately it didn’t end well for most of them,” Reid said.   

The consultant said there are arrows on the floor to help visitors view the cases in order so that they can follow each soldiers’ journey in chronological order, and at the end, find out their fate.

“It was a very bloody, awful war, and the things they went through. . . . So, my heart was just breaking when I would read what happened to each one of them. I got emotionally attached to these boys. It was heartbreaking really to imagine what they must have gone through,” Reid said.

The exhibit also touches on the contributions the survivors made to Northport after their discharges such as Alfred C. Tillotson who owned a dry goods store on Main Street in the village.

The subject of whether a soldier will return from war is one that Johnson said she believes still strongly resonates with people.

“The idea of coming home, or unfortunately not coming home, it’s been going on since war began and continues to go on, unfortunately. I think because of that though it’s a universal theme. It’s something that  we can all relate to even if you haven’t anyone really close to you or in your family who has fought in a war, you probably know someone who has or at least feel for those who are currently fighting,” Johnson said.

The director said visitors will find many interesting items on display including a metal heel plate with a shamrock cutout that Irish soldiers would use on their boots. Johnson said when she saw it she was touched by the fact that despite the horrors they faced, the soldiers still enjoyed some whimsy.

Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Heather Johnson
Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Heather Johnson

Johnson said visitors will also find letters from Francis Sammis to a friend in Northport. The solider wrote about his memories of the girls in Northport and the get-togethers the young people would have.

“He’s still a young man. He may be a soldier and he may be fighting in a horrible, horrible war, but he’s still thinking about those good times. Similar to what a young man might do today,” the director said.   

Both Johnson and Reid hope visitors will take the time out to experience each of the soldiers’ stories and that it will have the same impact on guests as it did on them. Johnson said while everyone at the historical society learned a lot, she said she noticed the biggest impact on Reid.

“Terry in particular became very connected to those soldiers. She had read enough about them and it took on a different meaning for her,” Johnson said.

Reid said she found herself feeling protective in a motherly way of the young men as the committee discovered more about each of them.

“I hope that other people will come away the same way, will have the same sort of change as well. How could you not after you see these men’s faces,” she said.

Northport and the Civil War: A Few Good Men will be on view at the Northport Historical Society, 215 Main Street, until the end of the year. For more information, visit www.northporthistorical.org or call 631-757-9859.

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