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Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum

Members of the Living History cast, from left, Florence Lucker, Peter Reganato, Beverly Pokorny and Ellen Mason. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s popular Living History tours will return on Memorial Day weekend, on Saturday, May 25. Tours will be given every Saturday and Sunday at regular intervals between noon and 3:30 p.m. through Sunday, Sept. 1.

 This summer it’s 1939 in the Mansion. Guides in costume as family members and household staff tell stories of the Vanderbilt family and its famous guests.

 Among the characters portrayed by the Mansion guides will be Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia; Millicent Hearst (wife of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst); Whitney Warren of Warren & Wetmore Architects, who designed the Vanderbilt Mansion and Grand Central Terminal; the Duchess of Windsor; and William Vanderbilt’s siblings, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan and Harold Vanderbilt, an expert on contract bridge and winner of the America’s Cup.

 “The guides will highlight some of the major events of 1939, including the New York World’s Fair. NBC did its first television broadcast, of a Princeton-Columbia football game. Joe Louis won the first heavyweight boxing title, the first Superman comic book was published, and the movies that opened included “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” said Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs.

“Among the surprising economic facts of that year – a gallon of gas cost 10 cents; a loaf of bread was 8 cents; the average new house cost $3,800; and the average annual wage was $1,730,” she added.

Tickets for the tours, which can be purchased only at the door, are $18 adults, $17 seniors and students, $15 children ages 12 and under and include general admission to the museum grounds. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org

Above, Lance Reinheimer with a portrait of William K. Vanderbilt II Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum

The Public Relations Professionals of Long Island (PRPLI) will honor Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, at its 29th annual awards dinner on May 8, at Westbury Manor in Westbury. Reinheimer will receive the Long Island Achievement Award for communications.

Reinheimer, who has held his current post for more than eight years, has maintained an active, lifelong commitment to community service.

Continuing that commitment at the Vanderbilt, he instituted special, free museum events for families of first responders, active military personnel and veterans, children with special needs and for students in high-needs school districts. His background in budgeting, accounting and finance helped pave the way for the museum’s now-strong balance sheet.

“This award recognizes the success that the staff and trustees have had in communicating the cultural and historical significance of this singular American family, estate and museum – to our region and the wider world,” Reinheimer said. “Our greatly expanded social-media efforts have generated wider awareness of our public programming, children’s workshops, and special events. Other gratifying benefits are increased attendance and rising levels of membership and support.”

Other PRPLI honors to be given that evening include the Jack Rettaliata Lifetime Achievement Award to Julie Gross Gelfand, director of public relations and communications for Marcum LLP Accountants and Advisors; the Howard M. Blankman Outstanding Mentor Award to Kali Chan, director of medicine media relations for Stony Brook Medicine, Stony Brook University; the Outstanding Media Award to Elizabeth Hashagen, morning co-anchor for News 12 Long Island; and the Rising Star Award to Kevin Wilkinson of Zimmerman/Edelson Inc., advertising and public relations. 

The Easter Bunny and his friend Li’l Chick invite children of all ages to join them in the Vanderbilt Rose Garden at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport for an egg hunt, petting zoo, bubble machine and light fare (coffee, juice, goodies) on Saturday, April 20.

Three times are available: 9 a.m., which includes a special planetarium show, “One World, One Sky,” starring Big and Elmo (great for toddlers); and 10 or 11 a.m., which includes the planetarium show, “Earth, Moon, and Sun.” Children are encouraged to bring their Easter baskets and bonnets.

Tickets are $25 adults, $20 children. Adults $25; members $20; children nonmembers $20. Seating is limited. Preregistration is required at www.vanderbiltmuseum.org. For more information, please call 854-5579.

Canta Libre Chamber Ensemble. Tracey Elizabeth Photography

The critically acclaimed Canta Libre Chamber Ensemble will perform a spring equinox concert in the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium on Saturday, March 23, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The spring equinox repertoire includes music for septet: “Angels in Flight” by Marjan Mozetich; “Distant Light” by Joseph Russo; “Cherry Blossoms” by Gary Schocker; the world premiere of Abstract No. 1 by Joel Lambdin; and Maurice Ravel’s pivotal work, Introduction and Allegro. The performance will be accompanied by beautiful imagery on the planetarium dome. Tickets are $20 adults online at www.vanderbiltmuseum.org, $25 at the door; and $15 for children 15 and younger. The museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Call 631-854-5799.

CENTERPORT: The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum will host its second annual Gardeners Showcase, The Gardens of Eagle’s Nest, during spring and summer 2019. The museum invites local nurseries and garden designers to show off their skills and creativity in one of the gardens that grace the 43-acre waterfront estate, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Spots are still open for several showcases and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. In return for their effort and contribution, participants will receive signage that identifies their business at each garden showcase site; recognition on the Vanderbilt website and publicity on its social-media platforms; publicity through news releases sent to regional media; and a one-year Associate Membership to the Vanderbilt Museum.

To secure a spot in this year’s Gardeners Showcase, or to obtain more information, please contact Jim Munson, the Vanderbilt Museum’s operations supervisor, at 631-379-2237 or at jim@vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Photos from Vanderbilt Museum

Valentine’s Day at the Vanderbilt mansion. Photo by Maryann Zakshevsky/Vanderbilt

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to make plans for that special day. Why not treat your Valentine to a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at Eagle’s Nest, the elegant Vanderbilt mansion where Hollywood stars and European royalty dined with one of America’s most famous and powerful families?

On Saturday, Feb. 9, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport will hold its annual Valentine’s Day dinner (a major fundraiser for education programs) with limited seatings of 50 at 6 and at 8 p.m.

The grand, 24-room Spanish Revival mansion on Northport Bay — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is one of the most glamorous and romantic settings on Long Island.

Many rooms in the mansion will be decorated with Valentine themes, including the romances of Rosamond and William Vanderbilt, Romeo and Juliet and Napoleon and Josephine. Others feature the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (frequent mansion guests) and their beloved pugs, the legend of St. Valentine and Valentine cards and candy.

The evening is a rare opportunity to enjoy an intimate dining experience with a spouse, partner or special friend and to celebrate in Gold Coast style.

“Many people have used the storybook atmosphere of the Vanderbilt mansion as a romantic backdrop for first dates. Several people tell us they proposed marriage here. And each year many couples come to the Vanderbilt for their wedding ceremonies. This is a perfect place for a romantic dinner,” said Lance Reinheimer, the museum’s executive director.

As a guest, your evening will begin with passed hors d’oeuvres, prosecco, wine and beer in the Memorial Wing of the mansion, amid Vanderbilt’s exotic collections of ethnographic artifacts from Africa, Asia and South America.

After a brief tour through his private living quarters, you will dine in the Northport Dining Room Porch, where the Vanderbilts enjoyed leisurely dinners with their family and friends.

Dinner will be a choice of prime rib, balsamic glazed chicken stuffed with goat cheese, heart-shaped ravioli a la vodka or salmon stuffed with crabmeat. Viennese desserts follow in the Lancaster Room, with a side trip to the Vanderbilt Library and the Moroccan Court.

Tickets are $150 per person, $135 for members, by reservation only. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

The Vanderbilt Mansion's library is ready for the holidays

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s holiday centerpiece is the mansion of William and Rosamond Vanderbilt, decorated each year by local designers and garden clubs. Their creative touch brings additional charm and magic to the spectacular, 24-room, Spanish-Revival house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

An elegant dining room table setting

Visitors can see the captivating results during guided tours now through Dec. 30 as lighted trees, ornaments, wreaths, ribbons, poinsettias, garlands, toys and elegantly wrapped faux gifts fill the rooms.

Stephanie Gress, the Vanderbilt’s director of curatorial affairs, and her staff decorated the Windsor Guest Room, Lancaster Room, Breakfast Nook and Northport Porch.

“Most of these garden clubs and designers have been decorating the mansion for more than 20 seasons,” Gress, said. “We look forward to seeing them each year, and to how they use their creative skills to bring elegant holiday charm to the house.”

Designers Mary Schlotter and Krishtia McCord put finishing touches on their botanical dress

Centerport designers Mary Schlotter and her daughter Krishtia McCord — who operate Harbor Homestead & Co. — created a spectacular botanical dress that is displayed in Rosamond Vanderbilt’s bedroom. 

“The challenge was to use natural materials for the skirt,” McCord said. “We used dried birch-branch tips and wove in strings of tiny clear lights.” 

“We wanted to give the dress some sparkle,” Schlotter added. “So, we asked friends and family to share their grandmothers’ and mothers’ clip-on earrings and brooches and added them to the skirt. We made a botanical necklace using lamb’s ear leaves and hydrangea petals and accented it with pearls.” 

They also fashioned a long flowing sash with wide, white birch bark-print ribbon and combined the same ribbon design with greenery to decorate the nearby mantelpiece. 

The mother/daughter team made its first botanical dress for the Vanderbilt two years ago. “We like to use materials that will break down and not harm the Earth. We never use floral foam because it takes many years to break down. Instead, like many floral designers, we use chicken wire and thin tape.”

The library fireplace

The two designers used antique chandelier crystals and other glass objects to decorate the fireplace mantel in Rosamond Vanderbilt’s stunning mirrored dressing room, where their original botanical dress is displayed.

Lorri Toth, who made the velvet top of Schlotter and McCord’s first botanical dress, created the dove-gray velvet top for the new dress. Toth, who worked in New York City fashion houses, now has her own design business, Couture Creations, in Huntington Village, and makes lots of wedding dresses, Schlotter said. 

This year’s mansion decorators also include the Dix Hills Garden Club (dining room), Honey Hills Garden Club (Sonja Henie Guest Room), Nathan Hale Garden Club (Organ Room and Yellow Guest Room), Asharoken Garden Club (Portuguese Sitting Room), Three Village Garden Club (William Vanderbilt’s bedroom), Harbor Homestead & Co. (Rosamond Vanderbilt’s bedroom and dressing room), Centerport Garden Club (library), Hydrangea Home of Northport (holiday floral centerpiece) and volunteers from the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Program of Suffolk County. Museum guide Ellen Mason contributed her family’s vintage electric train set and accompanying buildings for display around the base of the tree in the library.

The Organ Room in the mansion is ready for visitors.

Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum, said “We’re grateful to these generous volunteers who give their time and talent to create an atmosphere of enchanting holiday grandeur and sophisticated living.”

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. General admission is $8 adults, $7 students and seniors and $5 for children 12 and under.  

Guided tours of the mansion are given on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday (and Wednesday to Sunday, Dec. 26 to 30 during school vacation) at regular intervals between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. for an additional $6. 

Special Twilight Tours will be given on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 27 and 28, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. This event is a treat for visitors, and the only time of the year the Vanderbilt family’s private living quarters can be seen at night. Hot chocolate and cookies will be served. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors and $5 for children 12 and under. 

For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

All photos from Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum

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William K. Vanderbilt’s superyacht, the Alva, before World War II. File photo

William K. Vanderbilt II (1878–1944) spent years dreaming of and designing his 264-foot yacht Alva. The luxurious ship, named after his mother, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, was custom built at the Krupp-Germaniawerft shipyard in Kiel, Germany, on a design by Cox & Stephens. It was powered by two diesel engines with an auxiliary electric motor. Top speed was 16 knots. 

 On Aug. 5, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum marked the 75th anniversary of the yacht’s wartime service and recalled its tragic sinking on Aug. 5, 1943.

Aboard the Alva, steaming out of Kiel on March 5, 1931, William and Rosamond Vanderbilt began the ship’s inaugural voyage from Europe to Miami and then New York. The trip was preparation for their epic seven-month circumnavigation of the globe that began in July of that year. During the voyage, Vanderbilt collected marine life, invertebrates and cultural artifacts for his Centerport museum.

Ten years, later, just before the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked yacht owners to donate their boats to the U.S. Navy. Vanderbilt answered the call.

The Alva after being converted to a Navy ship.
Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

On Nov. 4, 1941, a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he gave the Alva to the Navy, which converted it to a patrol gunboat. The ship was renamed the USS Plymouth (PG 57).

The Vanderbilt family had served in every major conflict since the War of 1812. In 1917, William Vanderbilt was commissioned as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. From May 9 to Oct. 1, 1917, he patrolled U.S. coastal waters in his ship Tarantula II.

The following details of the Alva’s life as the USS Plymouth are from the Vanderbilt Museum archives and from Uboat.net, a history website based in Iceland with contributing writers from Germany, the United States, Canada and Europe:

On April 20, 1942, the Plymouth was commissioned and based in Norfolk, Virginia. Assigned to the Inshore Patrol Squadron in the 5th Naval District, she made several convoy escort voyages between New York, Key West and Guantanamo, Cuba, during 1942-43.

On the evening of Aug. 5, 1943, the Plymouth was escorting a ship convoy 120 miles southeast of Cape Henry, Virginia. The ship’s sonar gear alerted the captain and crew of underwater movement in the vicinity. Moments later, the Plymouth was spotted in the periscope of U-566, a German submarine. The sub launched a torpedo at 9:37 p.m.

“The gunboat had made an underwater sound contact while escorting a coastal convoy,” the Uboat.net entry reported. “Just as the ship swung left to bear on the target, she was struck just abaft the bridge. The ship rolled first to starboard, then took a heavy list to port with the entire port side forward of amidships in flames and sank within two minutes.”

 Of the Plymouth’s 179 officers and men, only 84 survived. They were picked up in heavy seas by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Calypso and arrived in Norfolk on Aug. 6.

 The commander, Lt. Ormsby M. Mitchel Jr., was thrown violently against a bulkhead by the explosion. He sustained serious injuries, which later required amputation of his left leg. Despite his own condition, he directed abandon-ship operations and remained at his post until the ship went down. Mitchel was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism.

Learn more about the Alva and William K. Vanderbilt’s other yachts by visiting the mansion’s Ship Model Room at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. Fall hours through Nov. 4 are Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579.

The first floor of The Hall of Fishes. Photo courtesy of the Vanderbilt Museum

CENTERPORT: The first floor of The Hall of Fishes at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Marine Museum has reopened following the Marine Collections Conservation Project. The second floor remains closed temporarily while the nearly 1,500 wet specimens, recently conserved, are organized and returned to their exhibition cases.

Supported by a $135,000 grant from The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, the conservation project began in the summer of 2015. Work included conserving five taxidermied flamingos and a group of dry-mounted fish specimens, the repair of three shore bird dioramas and restoration of the diorama background paintings, and the creation of a new undersea painting for a large-scale exhibition case.

“We’re indeed fortunate to have some of the finest restoration experts from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to help us with the conservation and preservation of the collection,” said Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt. 

“Their exceptional skills allow us to be the careful stewards of Mr. Vanderbilt’s legacy, a marine and natural history museum for the education and enjoyment of the people of Long Island and beyond,” she said.

The first floor of The Hall of Fishes. Photo courtesy of the Vanderbilt Museum

The specimen conservation work was completed in New Jersey at Wildlife Preservations, the studio of taxidermist George Dante. He and his colleagues cleaned decades of dust from the specimens, touched up fins and feathers, and returned them to the Vanderbilt.

Sean Murtha, an artist who specializes in fine-art background paintings for museum dioramas, recreated an 8×10-foot painting of the ocean floor to replace the faded original created in 1924. Thomas Doncourt, a foreground artist, restored the habitat in the Caribbean shore bird dioramas, which included recreating a crumbled section of beach in one diorama. Murtha also restored sections of the paintings in those dioramas.

Murtha and Doncourt are both former staff members of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and Dante is a top AMNH taxidermy consultant. The three are part of the continuous, century-long Vanderbilt-AMNH collaboration that began when William K. Vanderbilt II (1878–1944) hired artisans and scientists from the museum to design the habitat dioramas in his own new museum in the 1920s. Vanderbilt also hired artist William Belanske, who accompanied him on his world voyages and became his resident artist and curator.

Over the past several years, the three artists also completed extensive work on the wild-animal dioramas in the museum’s Stoll Wing, funded by two $100,000 grants from the Roy M. Speer Foundation.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. Summer hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.   

General museum admission is $8 for adults, $7 for students with ID and seniors (62 and older), and $5 for children 12 and under, which includes estate-grounds access to the Marine Museum, Memorial Wing natural-history and ethnographic-artifact galleries, Nursery Wing, Habitat Room, Egyptian mummy and Stoll Wing animal-habitat dioramas. For a mansion tour, add $6 per ticket. 

For further information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

The Vanderbilts and Huntingtons, with the Sikorsky seaplane behind them, are greeted by press photographers at the airport in Mendoza, Argentina. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum
Update: This event is sold out!

By Sabrina Petroski

Dance the night away at the eighth annual Summer Fiesta at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport! The year’s most important fundraiser for the museum, the gala event will be held in the Vanderbilt Mansion’s Spanish Revival courtyard on Saturday, July 21 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. and feature an evening of wine, food, music and, of course, dancing. 

“We want it to be a wonderful evening for the attendees, and we also want to showcase the museum and have them see why it’s important to support the museum and the work that we’re doing here,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the museum, in a recent phone interview. “Thirdly, we want to raise funds for our programs and to be able to expand our education programs.”  

 According to the museum’s Director of Development Sue Madlinger, this year’s gala is a salute to William K. Vanderbilt II, his wife Rosamund and friends Edie and Robert Huntington who flew around the Caribbean, Central America and the perimeter of South America in Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43 seaplane, from Jan. 18 to Feb. 11, 1937, “which was a major feat in it’s day. Each year we try to bring Mr. Vanderbilt’s history into our events, and all the great things he did for [the museum], for Long Island, and all the adventures that he went on,” she said.

Entertainment for the gala includes Latin music by the world-renowned band, Los Cintron, with performances by flamenco dancer Juana Cala. The Cintron brothers are known as the greatest Gypsy Kings tribute band, and the group’s guitars, vocals and melodies evoke the traditional sounds of Andalusia and their beloved Spain. Food will be catered by Sangria 71 restaurant in Commack and feature hors d’oeuvres, a five-foot paella and dinner. On the menu will be chicken, salmon, fish and skirt steak plus margaritas, sangria, wine and beer. 

The funds raised from the gala will go toward expanding and modernizing the Vanderbilt Learning Center within the Carriage House. “We have an aggressive plan to upgrade [the Carriage House] architecturally, to maintain the historic features of the building but to bring in modern elements and flexibility so that we can continue the education program in a way that children are used to learning,” said Reinheimer. 

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, the associate director of the museum, says the museum is looking for more sponsors, as well as corporate support to continue working on making the educational programs more attractive for children of all ages. 

Tickets are $135 for nonmembers, $125 for members. In the event of rain, the Summer Fiesta will be moved to the Celebration Tent. Guests are asked to follow a formal dress code, with cobblestone-friendly shoes. For more information, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.

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