History

Photo by Patrick Keefe

You’re invited! Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport offers Walk and Talk Tours through Aug. 30. Come for an intriguing walking tour of the Vanderbilt Estate grounds and gardens with knowledgeable Vanderbilt Museum educators. Learn about Warren & Wetmore’s design and the exterior architectural details of the 24-room Spanish Revival mansion, and explore Mr. Vanderbilt’s passion for travel, marine biology, and auto racing.

William K. Vanderbilt II (1878-1944) spent summers at his Eagle’s Nest estate and mansion on Northport Bay between 1910 and 1944. He and his wife, Rosamond, hosted intimate gatherings and entertained well-known guests, such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Pierre Cartier, Conde Nast, Charles Lindbergh, and the Tiffanys. Eagle’s Nest is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At other times William and Rosamond invited a few fortunate friends to travel the world with them on their huge yachts, collecting marine and natural-history specimens and cultural artifacts for his growing private (and later public) museum.

These hour-long, rain-or-shine tours will be given at noon and 1:30 p.m. on August 1, 2, 8, 15, 22, 29 and 30. Tours will start from the ancient Carthaginian columns near the entrance to the Estate. Masks must be worn for the duration of the tour and social distancing is required. Please wear comfortable shoes as there will be considerable walking. For other possible tour dates, please check the Vanderbilt website.

A limited number of tickets for each tour are available online only. Admission is $8 adults, $7 seniors/students (age 62-plus), and $6 children 5 and older. Members and children under 5 are free.

Visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets online at www.vanderbiltmuseum.org. Some tickets also will be available for purchase at the entrance. Credit cards or exact-amount cash ONLY.  (No change can be given.) For more information, call 631-854-5579.

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Therese O’Connor turned 91 July 19, and the MPMS Historical Society came out in support. Photo by Kyle Barr

Turning 91 is a milestone in anyone’s book, but for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society’s oldest trustee, it was a chance for the membership to show respect for someone who has long been helping to bridge the community’s past with its present. 

Therese O’Connor was 91 July 19, and local residents and members of the MPMSHS drove past her home honking and cheering for the venerable community resident. She has been on the historical society board in some capacity since 1990, though she has been a dues-paying member of the Miller Place Historical Society since its founding in 1974 — the Mount Sinai name was added in 1982. Through the years, she has taken her hand to the spindle and has done spinning for the society’s annual fairs for the past 20 years. 

Joining in the parade were area residents Thomas and Tricia McCarthy, who brought with them a decommissioned fire truck the husband has been repairing all on his own. It’s one bought out from its retirement last August, and though repairs are ongoing, he and his wife have joined a Facebook community group to participate in many birthday car parades over the past several months. Tom drives, while Tricia stands up top in a Dalmatian costume they call Sparky.

“All these kids were having birthday parties, and I thought you know what, let’s be goofy and make a couple of kids laugh, next thing you know we were getting messages,” Tricia McCarthy said. “They were asking how much it costs, and I just said, ‘Everybody has to smile,’ that’s the way we roll.”

Celebrating the day with her large extended family, O’Connor said she was surprised and delighted to see the cars roll by. She added that such times as these require people to commemorate anything that deserves it.

“Years ago when I taught deaf children, we were trying to figure out what to do for one of the speech teachers, and we never had enough good things to say about her,” the birthday girl said. “That always stuck in my mind, we have to celebrate the good things, especially today with so much going on.”

The society has opened the circa 1720 William Miller House for private tours in Phase 4 of reopening for small groups by appointment at 631-476-5742. The MPMSHS is also developing virtual tours, and is looking to see if there are any volunteers who can offer guidance for such a project. 

“This is all new to us, and we want to create quality professional style videos for schools, libraries, general public and the BOCES catalog where teachers look for quality field trips,” said historical society vice president Antoinette Donato. 

Fundraising continues with opportunities to purchase an historic brick on the house’s walkway, vintage duplicated postcards, note cards of historic homes in the district and a keepsake coloring book. One can also donate to the restoration of the circa 1810 Daniel Hawkins House to be used for multiple community events.

The society is set to celebrate a special birthday of its own this year with the 300th anniversary of the William Miller House, and the society is composing a keepsake journal. Individuals have an opportunity to be included with an ad or personal friend inclusion at varying price levels. More info is available on the society’s website mpmshistoricalsociety.org.

Above, the Setauket Baseball Team. Hub Edwards is in the front row, center. Photo courtesy of TVHS
Photo from TVHS

The Three Village Historical Society had to make the difficult decision to cancel all of its in-person programs and events for the spring and summer. In light of the financial devastation caused by COVID-19, it recently launched a “Safe at Home” t-shirt campaign fundraiser in honor of Hub Edwards to help ensure that it can resume events this fall and continue to provide educational programs for years to come.

This limited run, made-in-the-USA t-shirt features the original 1950s Setauket Baseball Team logo with the words “Safe at Home,” a sentiment we can all relate to during the global pandemic. It is printed in a baseball diamond with Hub’s number on the community team, “24.” He has been riding out this quarantine, “safe at home,” and will be celebrating his 91st birthday later this year.

Hub Edwards: From Chicken Hill to the Three Villages, a man about community

The Three Village Historical Society works within the community to explore local history through education. Educational programs are developed by collecting and preserving artifacts, documents, and other materials of local significance. Ongoing research is conducted about the history of the people who have lived, from earliest habitation to modern times, in the Three Village area. 

A microcosm of the diversity of America, Chicken Hill was only one mile in diameter, but home to many different people, including Indigenous Persons, Eastern and Western European immigrants, and African Americans.  At its most robust, hundreds of people lived on Chicken Hill. Notable residents, such as Carlton “Hub” Edwards, called the neighborhood home. Chicken Hill and its residents continue to influence the Three Villages. 

Edwards was born in Stony Brook. When he was four years old, he and his family moved to Chicken Hill. A prolific baseball player, in eighth grade, he pitched for the varsity baseball team. In eleventh grade, he pitched for both the varsity team and the local semi-pro team. In 1950, his three no-hitters won him the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Shortly thereafter, he got two draft notices: one from the Brooklyn Dodgers and one from the government.

After his service in the Korean War, he returned home to Chicken Hill. He met and married Nellie Sands. They lived with Edwards’ widowed mother and extended family in an apartment complex in Chicken Hill; in 1958, they purchased a house in the area formerly known as West Setauket. They still live there today.

Edwards’ baseball talents were fostered and nurtured in Chicken Hill. His maternal uncles played ball; one of them could have gone pro if not for the “color barrier,” according to Edwards. Games were held in the fields near the former location of the rubber factory, as well as at Cardwell’s Corner, and the Setauket School, which was “the best field, because it was level,” says Edwards.

He and Nellie remain pillars of the Three Villages, socially and civically engaged in many causes. For 40 years, he worked as a custodian in the Three Village Central School District before retiring in 2000. He has been a member of the Irving Hart American Legion Post for 64 years, and in non-pandemic times, speaks every Sunday at Three Village Historical Society’s exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time.

To support the Society by buying a “Safe at Home” t-shirt, visit www.tvhs.org. T-shirts sell for $25 plus shipping. Shirts are available in 6 different colors, come in sizes Small to 4X and are proudly made in America. The fundraiser runs through Friday, July 31. 100% of the proceeds will be used to help support and fund the Three Village Historical Society’s education programs.

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General Montgomery, right, with generals George Patton, left and Omar Bradley (center). Public domain photo

By Rich Acritelli

Between the invasion of France and the fall of Paris in the summer of 1944, the Allies were not prepared for the vicious fighting that ensued directly after the D-Day landings in Normandy, France.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his planners prepared for every type of problem before Operation Overlord, but they were shocked at the brutality of the warfare that awaited their land forces against the well-hidden German military. As more men and materials were dispatched from England to this area that was known as the “Bocage,” Eisenhower and his key subordinate General Omar N. Bradley were dismayed over the extreme losses and puzzled over how to handle this costly opening offensive campaign in France. They did not fully know how to engage an enemy who was difficult to see and was eager to make the Allies pay for their successful landings.

At a time when Eisenhower looked to push his leaders like that of Bradley and Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery to gain military results against the enemy, progress was slow. The Germans dug in and they halted the advance of the Americans, British, and Canadians. Whereas General George S. Patton was a talented, but controversial leadership figure, he was absent from the Normandy landings.  Through the Slapping and Knutsford Incidents, Patton added to the immense pressures that was placed on Eisenhower. He was not dismissed from the service, but Eisenhower kept this feared tank commander in the dark as how he would be used within the future military campaign in France. It was not until well after D-Day that the Third Army became operational and Patton would be its commander.  He eventually directed this army that pushed the enemy across France and towards the Rhine River.  And through the historic Battle of the Bulge, Patton’s armor would eventually drive back this German surprise attack to the relief of Bastogne and the paratroopers that were surrounded by Hitler’s forces.

Before D-Day, General George C. Marshall, supported Eisenhower’s threat to send Patton home in disgrace, but he also informed this figure that nothing should be done to weaken his hand in fighting the difficult German military machine. Patton was not an easy general to guide and his mouth often put him in trouble, but he was the most talented armored leader that the United States had in its ranks. There were some points during the Normandy Campaign that Eisenhower openly stated that he wished that Patton’s unyielding presence was there to fight this difficult battle, but this was wishful thinking, as allied tanks played no pivotal role during this tenacious battle.  

With the huge amount of resources that Eisenhower had at his disposal in the hedgerows, the Germans extracted some 40,000 casualties against the Allies. Through a maze of vines, bushes, and trees that seemed to be connected, there was no telling if a German was hidden within the foliage of Normandy.  Several weeks after D-Day, Eisenhower and Bradley were frustrated at the lack of progress and the increase in casualties. As the Germans stymied the Allies, the Wehrmacht was unable to reinforce their own lines and they lost the immense leadership skills of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel who was seriously wounded by British fighter planes.

This was a hard time for the Allies as Montgomery was known for moving too cautiously and he lived up to this negative reputation when he failed to take the French city of Caen. Bradley lost his patience and he fired several generals through their inability to overrun the Germans. On July 4, 1944, as American soldiers celebrated Independence Day, an intense artillery barrage of fire hit the well covered Germans.  It was a strenuous campaign that tested Allied officers and soldiers to push the Germans out of their strategic defensive positions. Although the Allies were less than a year from winning the war, there were always strains on the military relationship between the Americans and British. Marshall believed that Montgomery received far too much credit for being an army commander that had to be prodded to move. The Army Chief of Staff wanted stability within the alliance, but not at the demise of American prestige. With our nation providing the bulk of men and materials on the Western Front and taking the recognizable direction against the Germans, Marshall was concerned that Eisenhower favored the British a little too much and he ordered him to leave England and set up his command in Normandy, where he would take over the direction of this intense fight.

At same time when some senior German military figures tried to assassinate Hitler in East Prussia on July 20, 1944, Patton arrived in France. He was told by Bradley that a massive carpet-bombing assault was to target the stubborn German positions and break open their lines to be exploited. It was the expectation that “Operation Cobra” would create a large enough corridor to allow American armored forces to penetrate deeply within the open lands east of Normandy. After 3,400 tons of bombs were dropped, this campaign successfully developed when four American armored divisions pushed through this opening in the lines.  This allowed the Americans operate south westward and take the French port of Cherbourg and to drive in a different direction to liberate the major prize of Paris.  

Once Patton’s tanks were employed, the German Higher Command in France never stood a chance in defeating the sheer pressure from air and land that Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton had at their disposal.  The summer of 1944 was a dangerous year for the Germans, as the immense amount of force that the Americans delivered against Hitler’s beleaguered armies.  And while Eisenhower had a difficult relationship with Patton, keeping him in command paid large dividends towards victory in Western Europe against the Nazi Regime.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Above, attendees at Juneteenth celebration, Eastwoods Park, Austin, Texas, June 19, 1900. Photo courtesy of The Austin History Center

This article originally appeared on the Three Village Historical Society website and is reprinted with permission. 

By Tara Ebrahimian

Juneteenth, first established by the Black community of Texas in 1866, is now getting in New York State the recognition it has long deserved. On June 17, 2020 Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he would, by Executive Order, recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, and put it before the New York legislature to make this mandate, law. Although Juneteenth began in the South, it is widely observed throughout the country. It is annually observed in New York, including on Long Island, through independent and collaborative celebrations. Juneteenth’s historic and cultural relevance impacts the entire nation and remains hugely significant for Black heritage and United States history. 

It commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved Blacks learned that they were legally free. Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived with his troops in Galveston, Texas, and made a profound announcement: the war and slavery were over. Technically the war ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, and the Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, freed enslaved persons in Confederate states, but the news had not been shared in Texas. It was the last stronghold of slavery. Since 1862, when New Orleans was captured, slave owners from Mississippi, Louisiana, and other southern states had moved with their slaves to Texas. There were approximately 250,000 enslaved people residing in Texas when the declaration was made. 

Granger’s delivery of the news did not result in an immediate end of slavery.  Blacks in Galveston initially celebrated the revelation, but the mayor contradicted the law and forced them to go back to work. It was largely left to the slave owners’ discretion whether they informed individuals that they were no longer enslaved. Many did not initially share the information and instead waited for the arrival of a government agent to tell them. Blacks were frequently not informed until after the harvest. A number of newly emancipated individuals ignored the censure to stay put and left for Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. They did so at their own risk; there were numerous reports of Blacks being lynched as they tried to leave. 

In 1866 freed people in Texas, in conjunction with the Freedmen’s Bureau, organized formal celebrations for “Jubilee Day.” During the years immediately after the war, Jubilee Day was sometimes celebrated on January 1st, a reference to the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. It also functioned as a rally for political and social advancement; Jubilee Day frequently offered instruction for voter registration and participation. The day became a mainstream event in Black communities and featured festivities, activities, and food. 

Segregation in cities prohibited Blacks from going to public parks. Church grounds were often used as sites for the events. And, freed individuals pooled money to purchase land on which to hold celebrations. For example, Black community leaders, led by Reverend Jack Yates, raised $1000 in 1872 to purchase land that is now Houston’s Emancipation Park. These annual celebrations began drawing thousands of participants throughout Texas and expanding beyond the state. By the end of the century, Jubilee Day was known primarily as Juneteenth.  

During this period, many southern states enacted punitive and punishing Jim Crow legislation that undermined or undid the economic and political progress Blacks had made during and after Reconstruction. These local and state laws were designed to subjugate and stymie Black social, economic, and political development. They disenfranchised Black people through segregation and policies such as the Grandfather Clause that limited or eliminated voting rights.

Many freed people left Texas and the South in search of greater opportunities in the North. Juneteenth was a still Southern celebration and attendance outside of Texas began to wane. Younger generations, more removed from the war and seeking to distance themselves from the legacy of slavery, also started to distance themselves from participating in the unofficial holiday. As the twentieth century progressed, and people moved from agricultural to industrial employment, it was increasingly unlikely that people would be granted time off work for Juneteenth. The Great Depression, in particular, caused a migration from the country to the cities. 

The Civil Rights movement caused a resurgence in awareness about Juneteenth. Black youth joined their elders in the fight for Civil Rights. There was increased interest in and engagement with history and how the past informs the present. The Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C. served as a catalyst for renewed interest in Juneteenth. Participants returned to their home states and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in locations that had never before experienced them. 

In 1980, Texas was the first state to formally recognize Juneteenth; it declared the date a “holiday of significance…” At the end of the decade, California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., were among the places that presented major events for Juneteenth. Although Congress has remembered Juneteenth in different ways over the years, it is not yet a national holiday. In New York, “Juneteenth Freedom Day” was first identified as a commemorative holiday in 2004, per a state law signed by Governor George Pataki.

Long Island hosts a growing number of events and programs dedicated to this occasion. Frequently celebrated on the third Sunday in June, modern events share certain traits with their predecessors, including picnics, cookouts, historical reenactments, street fairs, parades, etc. This year’s festivities are scaled back due to COVID-19, but certain celebrations, such as the Long Island Unity March on June 19, were still scheduled.  

Author Tara Ebrahimian is the Education Coordinator at the Three Village Historical Society in Setauket — www.tvhs.org.

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Korean War veteran Sal Scarlato in his mini-museum in his basement. Photo by Dave Paone

By Dave Paone

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. While many of the soldiers who fought in it are still alive today, the conflict has been dubbed “The Forgotten War,” because for some reason the media — and the populace in general — tend to give their attention to World War II and Vietnam, making Korea their redheaded stepchild.

Scarlato, left, with a South Korean counterpart. Photo from Scarlato

Sal Scarlato, of Hauppauge, has been working to change that.

On June 25, 1950, when Scarlato was 17, North Korean soldiers crossed the 38th parallel (the line separating North and South Korea) and the Korean War began. Three days later the first U.S. ground-combat troops arrived in Korea by order of President Harry S. Truman.

Scarlato had known of a few boys from his neighborhood in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn who were killed in combat early on in the war. This didn’t stop Scarlato and 16 of his pals from enlisting in the Marines after they turned 18.

“I was very gung-ho,” he said. “I was very anxious to be a Marine.”

Scarlato went from Parris Island, South Carolina, to Camp Pendleton, California, and then to Kobe, Japan. The next stop was Korea.

PFC Scarlato landed at Inchon April 10, 1952. He was 19 and in the infantry.

In the four months of training and traveling since he enlisted, Scarlato didn’t really understand the gravity of what was coming.

It wasn’t until he was on the landing barge, with his full pack of gear, seasick, heading for the shore, when the commanding officer yelled, “Land of departure, lock and load!” that he knew he was in a war.

Some guys on the landing barge actually soiled themselves they were so scared.

Scarlato spent his first three nights in Korea on a base with bombed-out buildings and then was sent to the front line.

“All of a sudden we got hit with small-arm fire and mortar fire,” he said. “So, we jumped out of the trucks, and we ran right for the rice paddies because that’s all the coverage you had.”

Scarlato found himself face-down in a pile of human waste, which was used as fertilizer.

“We were firing like crazy,” he said. “I had the runs, I urinated, I was crying,” he said. “A couple of guys got hit.”

One night Scarlato had outpost duty along the 38th parallel.

“That night the CCF [Chinese Communist Forces] really gave us a welcome,” he said. “When they came, I didn’t fire my weapon right away. I froze. So, the guy next to me — actually he was my squad leader — hit me in the helmet. He said, ‘You better start firing that weapon.’

“A couple of minutes later, he got hit in the belly. He fell right on top of me. And when the corpsman came, he said, ‘Give me your hand.’”

To help stop the bleeding, Scarlato applied pressure to the squad leader’s liver, which was protruding from his body. Right then and there the squad leader died.

“I cried like a baby,” Scarlato said.

It was at this moment he truly understood what he had volunteered for. He didn’t sleep for three days.

“After this I was very bitter,” Scarlato said. “I kept saying to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ And my officers always said, ‘You’ll find out. You’ll find out eventually what you’re doing here.’”

The war raged on. Scarlato witnessed countless casualties and then in July of 1952, he became one.

Once again, Scarlato’s unit came under attack by the CCF. With his peripheral vision, he could see an enemy combatant toss a hand grenade at him and the two other nearby Marines. The grenade exploded, killing one of them and wounding Scarlato and the third Marine. Scarlato rolled down a hill and suffered leg, neck and hand wounds and a concussion.

A corpsman gave him a shot of morphine, and with the help of two South Koreans, sent him via jeep to an aid station. (There was no MASH unit in the area.) From there he was flown via chopper with another patient to a hospital ship.

Scarlato recuperated from his wounds, although to this day he still has shrapnel in his neck, which sets off alarms at airports on occasion.

He thought this was his ticket home, but the Marines still needed him. He did receive a Purple Heart out of the experience, though.

Being sent back to his unit made Scarlato bitter.

“I hated everybody,” he said, even spitting on his South Korean allies when one came close. Prior, he was ready to make the Marines his career, but now he even hated the institution that he once loved so much.

However, soon after this, Scarlato discovered the officers were correct and he did indeed find out why he was there.

On patrol one day, Scarlato and his unit came upon a small village where several civilians had been killed, execution style.

“There were three little children,” he said. “Two little girls — they were full of blood — but they were not dead. There was a little boy, maybe five, six years old … he had his hand blown off.”

Scarlato immediately picked the boy up, who wrapped his arms tightly around Scarlato’s neck, strangling him. Scarlato picked up the child’s severed hand and put it in his pocket.

Scarlato bandaged the end of the boy’s arm and a corpsman arrived. They both tried to pry the child from Scarlato’s neck, but he wouldn’t let go. He screamed in pain the entire time.

The two soldiers flagged down a medical jeep and they drove to a nearby orphanage that had a medical staff.

The nurses were able to pry the child from Scarlato and placed him on a table. Scarlato and the corpsman turned and walked out, having done all they could.

While he was in the jeep, Scarlato remembered he still had the child’s hand in his pocket. He stepped back inside only to find the boy had died.

This was the defining moment for Scarlato. Out of all the death and carnage he saw, this was the worst. Now he knew the reason he was there was “to save these people’s lives. Before that, I didn’t understand.”

In 1985, the Korean War Veterans Association was chartered in Troy, New York, as a national veterans group. In 2010, Scarlato became president of the Central Long Island chapter. It’s through the KWVA that he works to preserve the memory of those who served in the war.

Part of his success in this endeavor is the $400,000 Korean War veterans’ monuments in Hauppauge, paid for by the County of Suffolk, and dedicated in 1991.

Additionally, Scarlato and his chapter raised $70,000 in donations to go toward the national monument in Washington, D.C.

Over the years, Scarlato has curated what he calls a “mini-museum” in his basement. On display are artifacts from his time in the service, including his Purple Heart, his .45 holster and his rain poncho.

At 87, Scarlato is still sharp as a tack and keeps up with the news, including the current US-North Korean relations. He feels President Donald Trump (R) is “in the ballpark” when it comes to dealing with North Korea and what he’s doing should have been done by previous presidents long ago.

“Trump has more ‘testicoli,’ if you know what I mean,” Scarlato said.

From left, Steve Henaghan is still active marching for LGBT rights; Leah Gustavson is a regular participant in Long Island’s historical martial arts scene; David Kilmnick is the president of the LGBT Network on LI.

For several weeks in a row people of all races have crowded the streets of Huntington, sidewalk to sidewalk, calling for an end to prejudice.

A 1991 front page of Newsday along with the one of the original tank tops for the first LGBT pride parade in Huntington. Photo by Kyle Barr

Those same streets in Huntington village have held other marches, but one started just under 30 years ago still holds unique significance today. Go back to June 9, 1991, the sky was open blue while the sun blazed down on people who also marched through Huntington against prejudice. It was a time of oversized glasses, poofy hair and tees tucked into jeans. Many marched with rainbow flags in their hands and pride on their faces, but some also reportedly marched with bags over their heads. It wasn’t a fashion statement, it was a way to hide their identities during a time when many people in the LGBT community would be retaliated against at the workplace or even at home. 

About 800 people stood between close to 3,000, according to what journalists wrote at the time. Most cheered for the marchers, but others screamed at them, warning of eternal damnation and holding signs reading, among other expletives, “Kill Yourself.” SWAT teams lined the surrounding roofs because there had been threats of violence toward the marchers.

It was June 10, 1991, when the first Long Island LGBT-led parade strode through Huntington. Marchers shouted “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” That parade would be a landmark day for the LGBTQ community on Long Island, but for the people who marched, it meant much more than that.

“It was the proudest day of my entire life,” said Leah Gustavson, a Rocky Point resident and one of the original members of the committee who established the parade. “I felt like we started something, stuck to it and got to an end goal.”

That parade took place 24 years before the U.S. Supreme Court gave gay people the right to marry. It was 29 years before the court confirmed it was unconstitutional for businesses to discriminate against people on the basis of sex, a huge boon to the LGBTQ community, which has long experienced discrimination when applying for jobs and in the workplace.

But getting it together would take months of backbreaking effort destroying barriers, including taking a Long Island town to federal court to win their right to assemble.

Today, as protests and marches have broken out at every corner of the U.S., the memories of the struggle to have voices heard three decades ago adds a new perspective for those advocating for an end to prejudice. It’s a glimpse of how far Long Island has come and how far it might still have to go.

Beginnings of the March

The Lesbian/Gay Pride and Freedom Committee was established after June, nominally known as pride month, in 1990. It was after the group had attended other major pride celebrations that year, including the New York City pride parade as well as one earlier in March on St. Patrick’s Day, where members of an Irish gay and lesbian protest group led a parade before the main parade could start.

A few members of the local gay and lesbian community were having meetings at a gathering place near Stony Brook University. The school had an active LGBT scene with a school club found in the basement of the old Union building on campus. It was in a space that was once a closet, something that became an oft-used joke in the small burgeoning community. 

No one who was there remembers who exactly brought up the idea, but everyone who was in that room one spring day remembers the conversation about pride parades and the simple question, why wasn’t there one on Long Island? Why didn’t they try to start one, because, after all, how hard could it be?

In that small group of likeminded people, what would become the 10-member Long Island Pride and Freedom Committee was born. Gustavson related that gung ho attitidue to a sense of ”ignorant optimism,” something that can be a powerful force, especially for people who know things need to change, and that now is the time to do it.

She, and other original members of the committee, said coming together to plan this march was a way for many of these people who have long felt marginalized on Long Island to finally show they have a voice. Even still, numerous people on the committee would only publicly go by their first name, knowing they could be retaliated against in the workplace.

“We knew we were not necessarily welcome by people, but the point wasn’t to be welcomed, we were demanding that we would have equality.”

— Steve Henaghan

Those who were there look back on it as a time that was not nearly as fraught and violent as previous decades, but there still was massive underlying prejudice toward the gay community. Steve Henaghan, of Mastic, was another of the original committee members trying to get the parade started. In the 1980s, he and other gay/lesbian rights activists helped create a political action committee called Citizens for Equal Rights PAC to raise money for candidates that would support issues of equality. 

“At that time very few would come forward and say they were supporting our issues,” Henaghan said. “In 1988 and ’91 we were making inroads politically especially within the Democratic Party.”

The committee approached several places throughout the Island to hold their march. In March of ’91 they received rejections from multiple towns and villages on the Island, including both the Village of Port Jefferson and Village of Northport. 

The Record, one of a few Port Jefferson area newspapers at that time, wrote about the village board rejecting the application, saying trustees felt the committee was not “locally based,” citing that it was based in Upton, though committee members argued that was simply their mailing address. 

The Port Jeff mayor at the time, Harold Sheprow, was cited as referencing the controversy of that year’s gay rights group in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Trustees argued a Sunday march would hurt businesses, create congestion and open up the village to having to host other marches. Trustee William Glass Jr. was quoted at the time as saying, “This is political with a ‘P.’”

Henaghan could not help but laugh at hearing that quote read to him again.

“It didn’t surprise us we were rejected, it angered us,” Henaghan said. “We knew we were not necessarily welcome by people, but the point wasn’t to be welcomed, we were demanding that we would have equality.”

Northport rejected the parade for similar reasons, especially citing it was policy to only permit “community based organizations” to schedule parades. 

David Kilmnick was one of the original members of the LGPF Committee who now is president of the nonprofit LGBT Network, an association of nonprofits that looks to support the LGBT community on Long Island. He said if the committee didn’t end up securing a march route and permit, they were willing to do one anyway somewhere on Long Island, even if it potentially meant being arrested.

“We were told we would be arrested, we didn’t care,” he said. “It was our right to be able to do this. We were being flat out discriminated against because of our sexual orientation.”

With a number of rejections under their belts. LGPFC members knew they had to settle on one place, and that place was going to be Huntington.

Taking a Town to Court

The committee worked with police on creating a route through the town. Their original path was longer, about 1½ miles, but in speaking with Inspector Alden Berry of the Suffolk County Police Department, the group determined on a newer, shorter route that reduced the overtime cost for officers, closed only one lane of traffic and offered more protection to those demonstrating. By April 12, 1991, that route was approved by police and sent to Huntington.The group had already sent a request to the Huntington Highway Department. While they had confirmation the request was received, they didn’t hear back until after they sent out the notice of the parade route. 

Huntington Highway Superintendent William Naughton, a Democrat, responded to the marchers with a letter the same day they sent in the revised route. The language used in the letter would become the basis for further legal action, one that would bring in the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.

From left, Steve Henaghan is still active marching for LGBT rights; Leah Gustavson is a regular participant in Long Island’s historical martial arts scene; David Kilmnick is the president of the LGBT Network on LI.

Along with citing overtime costs for the highway department and police, it said those looking to hold parades in the town should instead ask to be included in separate parades. It also read that, “Requests from several groups have been made in the past to hold additional parades, but my policy has always been to approve the traditional parades only.”

“We saw that as blatant discrimination, and we had the right just like every other group to have a march or parade,” said Kilmnick.

March planners got in contact with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which in turn picked out several attorneys to work on the issue. Two local attorneys were picked to lead the effort.

Mitchell Gittin, who is now an East Setauket resident and attorney with the Hauppauge-based Fitzgerald Law Firm, was then a volunteer on the legal committee of the NYCLU Suffolk Branch. He was tapped to lead the litigation effort alongside fellow attorney Joel Kupferman, who described himself as having been just recently out of law school back in early ’91.

“We tried to negotiate with them and asked them why they were so concerned and their reasons for denying the permit,” Kupferman said. At the time he was also a resident in Huntington. “[Huntington attorneys] said people get drunk and destroy property in these parades. I I told them we’ll concede that as soon as you stop having St. Patty’s Day parades — they were ridiculous concerns.”

The attorneys quickly noticed the language of the highway superintendent’s letter was not concurrent with basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution. Outright denying a march in line with the First Amendment because it was not one of those “traditional parades” did not stand up to scrutiny.

“That’s what was so gratifying with the case, because frankly the law was on our side,” Gittin said. “The other side didn’t have any kind of legal counterargument, you can put restrictions on gatherings … there was no reason from a logistical perspective the pride parade would have been more burdensome than any other parade — it really did come down really to discrimination.” 

The attorneys sent a letter to the town May 9, but did not receive a response. Both the committee and Town of Huntington would end up in court. 

The deadline of June 9 for the parade was fast approaching. In early June, both sides appeared in front of U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler. Instead of a protracted back and forth, after just a few hours in court, the town agreed to grant the group a permit for the march.

Though the group did experience pushback from local elected officials there were a few that showed support, even if in small ways. New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) was a Suffolk County legislator back in 1991. He said the LGPFC approached his office after being rejected by the Huntington highway superintendent. He told the assembled people that he was giving them approval to use his office’s parking lot as the end point for their parade.

“Back then there were a lot of officials who were afraid to take a stand,” he said. 

Gitten said that recalling the case gives him a unique sense of pride. 

“I look back on it, and not that it was a heroic thing, it was a lawyer job, I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “It feels nice as a lawyer to look and having been part of a movement and part of a wave that’s still going on.” 

The Day Of

The parade itself would be just three quarters of a mile, a short jaunt made by many pedestrians today in what is normally glowing nights on the town in historic Huntington village, or at least it was prepandemic. For the people at the march, it would be an experience none of them would ever forget.

The committee members took up positions at the head of the column. Moving up along Gerard Street, they marched down New York Avenue then turned east onto Main Street. Above them, marchers could see the hints of helmets and glint of rifles in the sunlight. SWAT snipers had been positioned on rooftops to watch over them, as there had been several threats of violence.

That was when the marchers saw the true extent of the crowds. Newsday reported at the time 3,000 people came out to see those in the parade. It was more than they expected, and surprisingly many were shouting support. Of course, there were many community members shouting at them, saying they would “go to hell” for what they were doing. Before it became well known thanks to the show “Game of Thrones,” those marching found use in shouting “shame, shame” at those heckling their procession.

“Our adrenaline was flowing so hard and strong and then we turned the corner, that’s where the protesters were,” Henaghan said. “It was like electricity was running through our bodies, we were so charged. You realize at that moment, you are not standing down, you are going to stand up. It was one of the greatest days of our lives,”

“In 30 years I will never forget that day, that day was a victory for all of Long Island.”

— David Kilmnick

There was a general sense of both exhilaration and apprehension. This was uncharted territory for them, despite participating in other pride parades. This one was theirs, and they had to own it.

“People would call it a parade, but it was a march,” Kilmnick said. “We didn’t have the pageantry, we marched down New York Avenue and had a rally in the back of Huntington Town Hall … In 30 years I will never forget that day, that day was a victory for all of Long Island.”

When they finally reached the end, the emotions of the day were overflowing. 

“The relief was palpable,” Gustavson said. “People were hugging each other and cheering … A lot of people came to celebrate with us. Some of them were not gay, but a lot of them were. It was a party in the best sense of the word, it was celebratory.”

Douglas Futuyma, Stony Brook professor emeritus of evolutionary biology,  was convinced to speak at the 1991 march in back of the town hall building. The professor has long been known on campus as an openly gay man, unafraid to talk about it in front of students when it came up. When it came time to speak at the rally, he wanted to talk about things beyond the biology of it, that gays and lesbians did not simply choose to be so, they were born that way. He spoke of Huntington’s native son Walt Whitman, and how that poet spoke to the quick of “humankind’s exploratory and vibrant spirit.” It was the fundamental question of human rights.

“It was certainly exhilarating, despite the heckling or harassment,” he said. “It was as it should have been, a celebration.”

Today and the Future

This month, the annual pride event was canceled due to the pandemic. Instead the LGBT Network held an online pride event June 14 featuring multiple celebrities and other local elected and civic leaders as speakers. 

It’s been a roller coaster ride for the past 30 years with the annual pride parade. Gustavson left the committee after the third year. Henaghan stood on for several years before leaving as well. He came back on in the early 2000s, but again left the committee to its own devices. 

The pride parade came under the auspices of the LGBT Network in its later years, and because of lagging participation a celebration was held instead of a parade in Huntington’s Heckscher Park. In 2017, the parade moved to Long Beach, and Kilmnick said the parade picked up steam once again. The LGBT Network president said last year an estimated 30,000 people participated. The biggest change from just a few decades ago, he said, is the number of young, school-age people coming out to march and support the annual parade. 

SBU evolutionary biology professor Douglas Futuyma spoke at the first LI pride parade in ‘91. Photo from SBU

“In ’93, so many kids were being bullied in school, afraid to come to the parade,” he said. “We didn’t have any student groups that marched in that parade. Now they make up more than 50 percent of that parade.”

This year, the parade was set to move to Jones Beach after a dispute with Long Beach over a $70,000 fee the LGBT Network said other organizations did not have to pay for similar events. Leaders of the parade are hoping for a renewed involvement come 2021, which will be the 31st pride parade and its true 30-year anniversary.

But the fight for equality is not one lane for just one group of people. Those who spoke about their experience with the first pride parade all identified with those marching against police brutality and racism today. 

Gustavson said things changed for the better in the past three decades, such as general awareness along with much more acceptance at the grade school level, but some things have not progressed nearly enough. For white gay people, she said things are “a lot better.” For gay people of color, trans people and especially trans people of color, there are way too many problems with prejudice both on the governmental and societal levels.

“It was as it should have been, a celebration.”

— Douglas Futuyma

“I don’t want to see violence, I never want to see violence,” she said. “But there are times when that’s what gets people talking and thinking and there are always people who will never understand why riots happen and why they destroy their own sh**. They will never understand that, and it’s passionate. When you’re passionate and you’re screaming because you’re afraid for your life, that it doesn’t really matter so much what gets ruined as far as ‘things’ go. Things are things. We’re fighting for our lives here, we’re fighting for our sanity, we’re fighting for our ability to walk in society without fear of being beaten to death because you’re a ‘fag,’ or because you’re Black.”

Henaghan, despite saying he has occasional bouts with pessimism, does believe the world is heading in the right direction. His partner for 23 years became his husband eight years ago, just a year after the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. For the people marching in the streets today, he said many of those who spoke out against that march in ’91 are the same people or the ideological descendants of those who verbally harassed them 30 years ago.

“Many people will not let go of that hate they have, whether it’s for people of color, gays or lesbians, trans people, there are many people in our society they will not let go of that hate,” Henagan said. “They will fight you to the end. We still won’t stand for it.”

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

We saw from a distance the open truck with children. Marta was standing next to me with her twin girls, who were five years old. The Gestapo was looking for more children. The girls screamed to Marta, “Mama, the takeaway men are coming, they’re going to take us away!” And they scooped up my little nieces, and the truck — loaded with children — drove off, and we never saw them again.

Author Meryl Ain

This vivid and disturbing description will come back to haunt Aron, a Holocaust survivor, in a very different way.  

Meryl Ain’s The Takeaway Men (SparkPress) is an exceptional and vibrant first novel. It is the story of Aron and Edyta Lubinsky and their twin daughters Bronka and Johanna. It is a tale of painful secrets and complicated histories. It shows the shift in the United States and in the free world from the desire to find justice for the victims of the Nazi’s genocide to the paranoia surrounding the Red Scare during the Cold War. But The Takeaway Men is also a portrait of the power of love and the ability of family to embrace and heal.

The prologue takes place in Poland, 1942, at the threshold of the Holocaust’s darkest hours. It then briefly jumps to the displaced persons camp outside of Munich, where the twins are born on July 4, 1947. Finally, the main portion of the book begins in 1951, settling into Bellerose, Queens, where it plays out for the next eleven years. Here the Lubinski family is taken in by their only living relatives, Izzy and Faye. In 1908, at age twenty, Izzy had left Poland to escape an arranged marriage and a religious life. In America, he found a new path, opening up two bakeries, and enjoying both a more relaxed existence than he would have found as an orthodox rabbi.

And while the issues of fascism versus communism are part of the book’s political core, The Takeaway Men is truly a celebration of America. There is a deep appreciation of the United States as a country that welcomes refugees and it shares the message without preaching. It embraces the wonder of a free democracy to give hope to those fleeing tyranny and seeking a new life:

“You know,” [Aron] told Izzy, “in Europe, people think the streets are paved with gold.”

“Yes, I heard that rumor before I came here too,” Izzy said with a laugh. “America accepts people like us and gives us the chance to get ahead on our own merit — that’s what’s golden about it …”

But even here in America, Aron continues to be haunted by his past. When the neighbor Lenore is arrested by men in suits, he sees the shadow of the Gestapo. Lenore’s daughter cries: “The take-away men took Mommy away.  When is she coming back?”

What is revealed is Lenore had a vague connection to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were arrested, convicted, and then executed for espionage. The plight of the Rosenbergs is one of the many historical elements that are subtly introduced throughout the story’s arc.

The Lubinskis remain with Izzy and Faye as the girls grow up. Aron has actively chosen not to reveal his nor Edyta’s history to the girls.  But several incidents, including a fascinating scene in which a Hebrew school teacher shares what she feels is necessary knowledge, the publication of The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as a suspected Nazi working in the neighborhood, force some painful and startling revelations.  

In addition to the central characters, the book is populated by characters richly drawn in all their human complexity. Izzy and Faye’s mentally troubled daughter, Becky, returns to the fold, introducing someone who has a capacity for great love but is chased by demons of her own. 

Jakob Zilberman, a gregarious friend, survived as a member of the Sonderkommando, the prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and the crematorium. Unlike Aron, he is compelled to speak out on his experience. He is another man plagued by not only what he witnessed but by his own actions: “I would prefer to tell you another story, one in which I look brave and fearless. I would prefer a story where I was a hero and saved people. But that wasn’t possible in those circumstances, and I wouldn’t be honest if I embellished what really happened to make myself look better.” Ain gives us more than a hero:  she gives us a human being.   

And, at the novel’s heart are the twins, Bronka and Johanna, as they grow up and grow apart but never lose their bond in this every changing world.

Many of the characters struggle with their religious and ethnic identities. Izzy and Faye’s son has married outside the faith and it is a fascinating study of conflict to see the parents try to find a way to accept this without losing their own cultural commitment. The issue of what it is to straddle the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds is addressed without judgment. The question of how to belong and yet not lose one’s sense of self is raised in all its contradictions.   “It was easier to be a Jew in America than in Poland, but it still wasn’t easy … when you’re a Jewish immigrant in Bellerose, you don’t quite fit in, no matter how many Christmas carols you know.”

There is a refrain in the book that references the biblical Ruth. Ruth, who was not Jewish but married an Israelite, in widowhood remains with her mother-in-law. The idea that “whither thou goest, I will go” resonates throughout.

Ultimately, The Takeaway Men is not just about family — it is about a neighborhood and a community. It is about the choice to survive even if you must make great sacrifices in the process. But finally, it is about finding that acceptance comes from understanding and understanding is what can make one whole. 

Available Aug. 4, The Takeaway Men may be pre-ordered at BookRevue.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com.

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The Miller's Place Academy. Photo by Kyle Barr

Evelyn Wheeler Cramer. The name now adorns a bench outside the Miller Place Academy Free Library in recognition of a woman who passed away in 2017 at the age of 93, who had long shown care for one of the few lingering historical institutions of the North Shore and Miller Place. It’s also significant, not just because of her passing, but because she had been a part of the two-story, white facade structure for close to a century.

Thomas Cramer, 66, Evelyn’s son, said that after his mother died they asked people to send e digital.donations to the library in lieu of flowers. He also inherited stock in the corporate nonprofit that runs it. Using donations, he bought the bench he said cost about $1,000 and laid bricks, which he had leftover at his own house, as a platform for the bench. 

“My mother went to school there when the school district rented it for a while,” Cramer said. “I have quite a history with it, but it’s pretty much the way it’s always been.”

The location is considered a free library, meaning membership does not depend on people paying municipal library taxes. In fact, the location and the people who run both the library and maintain the building reveal a much stronger sense of old-time spirit. There are no computers inside, and instead volunteer librarians run everything off the Dewey Decimal System along with a card catalogue. The inside smells of old wood and dusty tomes. The place is even heated during the cold months the old-fashioned way, with a large black iron stove in the center of the space. It is the only source of heat for the entire building.

It occupies a unique space in Miller Place history. Built in 1834, the building provided secondary education that was not yet provided by New York State. Funds were raised by subscription, and students came from all over Long Island. Both boys and girls participated.

Once New York began providing secondary education, the student numbers declined and the academy was closed in 1868. While in 1894 the academy was used as a public school because the original one-room schoolhouse was in disrepair, it would later be used as a Sunday school for the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, a polling location and a forum for people to speak on various topics. Several notable people spoke there, including Martha Wentworth Suffern, the city vice chair to the suffrage party, who spoke to 80 people on women’s suffrage before they got the right to vote in 1920.

In 1934, members of the academy held their centennial celebration, where two notable old families of the North Shore were present in Corinne M. (Davis) Tooker of Port Jefferson and Elihu S. Miller of Wading River.

The Miller Place Academy is still operated by the descendants of those venerable families who bought shares to construct the building in 1834. The free library currently occupies it as a separate entity and though it’s open on weekends and hosts school trips and children reading times, there are concerns of a decline in the number of patrons.

But for Cramer, and for the many trustees who run both the nonprofit that oversees the building and the library itself, modern challenges and a declining number of patrons and the constant need for volunteers means the stewards now have to think about the future in ways they may not have before.

Richard Gass, the president of the board of trustees for the academy and a member on the free library board, has been involved for over 30 years, longer if you consider him helping his parents when they were both actively involved. 

The free library was opened in 1938. Since then, it has been in continuous operation, and last year almost 4,000 books were circulated, according to the library. Volunteers do everything from preparing books to chopping wood for the iron stove. Books are replenished by subscriptions to book clubs and donation gifts from other libraries; but volunteers are all retired, and the academy board president said it has been hard to attract younger volunteers.

Gass’ mother and father Margaret and Richard Gass, had long been stewards of the place as well. They helped establish community events such as an art and craft show that lasted for nearly 20 years up until the early 1990s. Such an event occupied not just the academy’s front lawn but also neighboring lawns as well. Once Gass’ father grew too old to handle that event, it stopped, and other than biannual book sales, the lack of community participation has helped the library inch toward obscurity.  

But for the families that still live in the community and love the academy building, that simply cannot happen, if not for the sake of the community’s heritage but for the community at large. 

Cramer, who when he was 16 helped do an Eagle Scout project to beautify the front of the building with two large trees, now cut down, said there’s something special about the place.

“As kids, we always went up there to the library,” Cramer said. “It’s not quite Comsewogue or Port Jeff library. It’s just books, maybe not the newest books, but books. It’s unique.”

Gass said there are certainly issues with trying to modernize. While Cramer said he plans to create a website for the location, there comes a point when modernization eclipses the historical nature of a place. Should they look to install a new heating system or keep with the old? Should they find more uses for the building other than the library, or would that hurt its historical pedigree? Those are questions the academy trustees continue to ask.

“Some people love the idea of sitting in a chair, enjoying the smell of wood smoke and old books,” Gass said. “Other people complain about all those same elements. You have to really love it, but if you don’t it’s not the place for you.”

Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin poses beneath an oil portrait of her great-great grandfather, William K. Vanderbilt II, as a child. Hola magazine photo

Hola!, a popular, weekly celebrity-news magazine, recently published an eight-page feature article on the Vanderbilt Estate, home of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum. 

The story, which included stunning photos and aerial views, focused on Vanderbilt family history and the development of its railroad empire. (The magazine, based in Madrid, Spain, publishes 30 international editions in nine languages.)

The feature also concentrated on William K. Vanderbilt II’s great-great-granddaughter, Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin, and her husband, Rafael Feldman. The couple was photographed in several rooms of the mansion.

Eagle’s Nest, a 24-room, Spanish Revival mansion, was built in stages from 1910 through 1936, on 43 hilly acres above Northport Bay in Centerport. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.