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Spirits Tour

Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry talks about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft — during the spirits tour Oct. 21. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Spirits of the Prohibition: Setauket in the Roaring 20s provided the overall theme for the Three Village Historical Society’s 23rd Annual Spirits Tour in the graveyards of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and Caroline Episcopal Church Oct. 21.

“My family was traditionally Episcopalian but my father Melville Havens Bryant had become a rabid prohibitionist, and the Methodist Church embraced temperance so we changed affiliation,” George Overin, playing William Washington Bryant (1859-1937), said. “Father was so committed to the cause that he would cross the street rather than walk in front of a saloon.”

George Overin as William Washington Bryant talks about the Prohibition during the spirits tour. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

More than 300 attendees followed guides that took them on a walk to meet 14 colorful but deceased local residents who entertained them with stories of their lives and the people in the Three Village communities. Guided tours began at 5 p.m. and a new group stepped out from the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall every 15 minutes through 7:45 p.m.

In addition to the tours through the cemeteries, tour participants were treated to an exhibit on Prohibition with many artifacts and visuals from The Long Island Museum’s Prohibition exhibit, Midnight Rum, on view in the Setauket Presbyterian Church social hall. The exhibit featured a 1933 beer keg from Trommer’s Brewery, which Trommer’s rebranded and pressed this pre-Prohibition keg into service to help satisfy its large number of beer orders.

Tour groups were also treated to an evening of jazz in the hall by the Ward Melville Honors Jazztet with Andrew Cavese, Max Liueberman, Miles Bruno and Jared Gozinsky providing the delightful jazz on bass, sax, guitar and drums.

“It was a court room, meeting hall, lecture hall, but most notably what it was used for was square dancing and late at night, if the spirit got my papa, you would see some fancy footwork at the Stone Jug,” Holly Griesel as Etta Sherry (1855-1956) said, talking about the Old Stone Jug in Stony Brook — now The Jazz Loft.

Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong talks to tour participants about her “True Tales.” Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Stony Brook was also celebrated with stories about Robert Cushman Murphy. He and his wife Grace Barstow Murphy are buried in Rhode Island, but Robert Murphy was here as a visiting spirit along with lifelong Stony Brook resident Etta Sherry, who is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.

“Suffolk County, right here where you are, was the very first county in the entire world to have DDT banned in 1956, and Grace and I spearheaded that effort with some other people,” Art Billadello, playing Robert Cushman Murphy (1887-1973), said.

Setauket’s Kate Wheeler Strong (1879-1977), historian, teacher and storyteller, who is buried in the Smith-Strong cemetery on Strong’s Neck, wrote articles on Long Island local history for the Long Island Forum from 1938 until 1976. She also put her articles into a series of booklets she called “True Tales.”

“My love of history came from my father who knew every story about the family and the local people living here,” Donna Smith as Kate Wheeler Strong said. “He’s the one who inspired me to write about ‘True Tales.’”

Participants, especially those who took the early tours before dark, were treated to a view of the restored Caroline Church Carriage Shed adjacent to the church parking lot. Built in 1887, it is a unique example of a seven-bay carriage shed that was an important feature in the community during the era of the horse and buggy.

This year’s Spirits Tour was also special for the beautiful weather and starry skies that made for a pleasant, fun and informative event for everyone who participated.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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.

From left, Steve Healy and Tom Manuel during a recent tour of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton
An evening of booze, jazz and dance

By Kevin Redding

For one glorious evening, The Jazz Loft on Christian Avenue in Stony Brook will transport local guys and dolls back to the rip-roaring time when big bands reigned supreme, a sea of flapper dresses whirled around the dance floor and booze was in high demand.

Presented by the Three Village Historical Society in collaboration with The Jazz Loft, the Prohibition Night fundraiser is a 1920s-set event on Thursday, Sept. 14 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. that encourages residents to dress in period clothes, mingle and dance to the sounds of the era and get a sense of what it was like to live in this area during one of the most exciting decades of the century.

From left, Steve Healy and Tom Manuel during a recent tour of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton

But unlike folks of the time who had to smuggle illegal alcohol into speakeasies, it’s no secret that beer and wine will be flowing at the event all night long as it’s sponsored by Montauk Brewery Company, representatives from which will provide raffles and tastings of its beers, including the Watermelon Session Ale. All proceeds will benefit the historical society.

The fundraiser will serve as a prequel of sorts to the historical society’s 23rd annual Spirits Tour on Oct. 21, dubbed The Spirits of Prohibition: Setauket of the Roaring ’20s, which will guide residents through life in Setauket and Stony Brook as it was during that decade. Continuing with Spirits Tours tradition, actors will be situated in various parts of the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and Setauket Presbyterian cemetery and portray local figures from the past who were involved in the suffrage movement as well as the smuggling and secret storage of alcohol.

“It’s such a fascinating time in history. The jazz clubs during that period, between the flapper dresses, the jazz music, and the romance of everything, could rival any hip hop club today,” TVHS President Stephen Healy said. “It’s fascinating how people got alcohol during this time. They would smuggle it in coffins and rum-running boats and out here we had a lot of farmers growing potatoes, a key ingredient in vodka. So we were actually a pretty good source.”

Healy added that because the event tackles an era that jazz music helped define, it was a no-brainer to collaborate with The Jazz Loft, a nonprofit the society president had wanted to work with for a while now, and its director Tom Manuel. With an added connection with the president of Montauk Brewery, he said it was a perfect fit.

“Those three themes matched up perfectly — the alcohol, the prohibition history and the jazz music,” Healy said. “It will be fantastic. We’ll have beer tastings, raffles and probably a walk around that night. While you listen to jazz music, you can either sit at the table and watch the show or mingle and learn about prohibition history, our society and the loft.”

Tom Manuel and Steve Healy with Manuel’s dog Cindy Lou in front of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Manuel, who founded The Jazz Loft in May 2016 as a hub for jazz preservation, education and performance, is not only providing the venue for the event at no cost but the entertainment as well.

With trumpet in hand, he and his Firehouse Five band will be performing a program of music that spans the decade, including Louis Armstrong’s “Indiana,” “I’ve Found a New Baby,” and “I’m Confessin’” and early Duke Ellington and Django Reinhardt among others. The band, consisting of trumpet, guitar, bass, drums, cornet, saxophone and trombone, will even be performing on period instruments acquired from the loft.

“Jazz has always been the soundtrack to what was happening in our country, so I love that we could do something like this and transport people back in time for a night and provide a very clear picture of what was happening back in the day,” Manuel said.

Recalling an interaction he once had with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about the ’20s, Manuel said, “He was talking about this and said, ‘It’s interesting how anytime you tell people they can’t do something, everybody wants to do it and it immediately becomes popular.’ So in the ’20s, it was you can’t drink, you can’t wear that, you can’t listen to this music, and so of course what does everybody do? They go absolutely crazy over all this and all they want to do is hear jazz, dance, drink booze and have a great big party. I think the time’s extra special for that naughty factor.”

Manuel said the event was especially important to him because it gave his nonprofit the opportunity to collaborate with another, which is part of the loft’s overall mission. “It’s so essential that we nonprofits work together because we can’t do it on our own,” he said. “I don’t care how successful you are; we are all in the arts and the arts is all about collaboration. So we can’t just hide in our little corners. I’m so happy that the TVHS is growing. That, to me, is why we do this. Now, together, we’re stronger as a team.”

The Jazz Loft is located at 275 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook Village. Tickets to Prohibition Night are $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students. Period costumes are encouraged. To order, call 631-751-1895 or visit www.thejazzloft.org. Spirits Tour tickets will also be on sale during the event. For more information on the Spirits Tour, visit www.TVHS.org or call 631-751-3730.

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