History

The Vietnam memorial in Bill Richards Park in Hauppauge. Photo from Town of Smithtown

By Daniel Dunaief

The first day Kevin O’Hare arrived in Vietnam, a bullet flew over his head during reverie. Vietcong fighters regularly targeted the assembled morning crowd of soldiers who stood in formation to honor the flag.

Kevin O’Hare
Wayne Johnson

“That was a shock,” recalled O’Hare, a resident of Kings Park who is a retired sales director for RJR Nabisco and who served in the army from 1966 to 1968. “I jumped in the bunker as fast as I could.”

O’Hare, who shared memories of his time in the military, wants to ensure that others have an opportunity to reflect and appreciate the soldiers who served during the war amid a time of civil discontent in the United States.

In 1966, the hamlet of Hauppauge created what O’Hare and others believe is one of the first tributes to those serving in Vietnam. The “Vietnam Era Hauppauge Honor Roll” memorial sits in Bill Richards Park near Suffolk County’s H. Lee Dennison Building off Veterans Memorial Highway and will soon add plaques with the names of O’Hare and navy veteran Wayne “Mickey” Johnson.

Officials have considered the possibility of moving the memorial, O’Hare said, although he would prefer that it remain in the park.

Close calls

O’Hare’s near miss during reverie was one of several other times he could have been severely injured or worse, including two incidents when mortar landed without exploding outside his tent. “They were duds,” he said. “If they had gone off,” said the 78-year old father of two and the grandfather of four, “I wouldn’t be here.”

In April of 1967, O’Hare was in a bunker with five other men. A mortar round came in and killed three of his fellow soldiers.

At another point, a man approached O’Hare with a bag. As he got closer, the man tried to strap the satchel around O’Hare. Two infantry men assigned to protect O’Hare saw the exchange and shot the man before he could plant explosives that would have killed O’Hare.

So, what made this American soldier worth an attempted assassination?

Boosting morale

Bob Hope with Joey Heatherton

Initially a mortar man, O’Hare’s experience with the Soupy Sales comedy show in New York prior to his tour of duty attracted the attention of army brass. Officials asked O’Hare to help run the shows for the United Service Organization, or USO.

Started in 1941, these shows entertained troops stationed overseas and gave them a taste of home half a world away. The entertainment “took them away from the war,” said O’Hare, “even for two hours. They looked forward to it.”

In some ways, the shows were the antidote to people like Hanoi Hannah, a radio broadcaster from North Korea who chided American troops, suggesting that their girlfriends back home were cheating on them or that they were fighting an unjust and unwelcome war.

The USO shows featured Hollywood stars, who were determined to bring their talents to members of the military who might otherwise feel disconnected from American life or who might be physically or emotionally wounded. Seats in the first 10 rows for these often crowded shows were reserved for the wounded.

O’Hare worked with celebrities including Bob Hope, an entertainer who hosted the Academy Awards 19 times.

Hope, who later became an honorary veteran for visiting the troops starting in World War II and ending with the Persian Gulf War, was eager to visit the wounded in the hospital after his show, O’Hare recalled.

Crazy hair and a helicopter ride

Comedienne Phyllis Diller, who was famous for her wild hair and self-deprecating stand up routines, also traveled to Vietnam. During Diller’s visit, O’Hare recalled, the army arranged to transport her in a Huey, a helicopter with a single blade. Nervous about flying in a small helicopter, Diller asked O’Hare if he could help her fly in the larger Chinook, which has two blades.

After receiving the approval of senior officers, O’Hare strapped a chair next to a pole in the Chinook. Sandwiched between the cue cars on one side of the helicopter and her clothing on the other, Diller rode in her preferred helicopter.

Before she returned to the United States, Diller drew a self-portrait, with spiky hair and a smile on her face and signed her name for O’Hare.  “That’s the craziest autograph I ever had,” O’Hare recalled. It wasn’t, however, the last.

Legendary actor and future head of the National Rifle Association, Charlton Heston, who played Moses in the 1956 film The Ten Commandments, also made the long trip to Vietnam to entertain the troops. On his last day before returning the states, Heston chatted with O’Hare. Heston, who autographed a program for O’Hare, asked him when he would return to the States. O’Hare recalled being nervous speaking with the intense and direct Heston.

Kevin O’Hare meets actor Charlton Heston during the actor’s visit to Vietnam in 1967.

“When you get back,” Heston urged, “you’re going to see my new movie.” When he returned to the States, O’Hare saw the film Heston mentioned: Planet of the Apes.

In addition to working with celebrities including five winners of the Miss America contest, O’Hare coordinated shows in between these high-profile visits. He kept a list of the people who could play instruments. When he found out about a drummer, a guitarist and others who could play instruments, he formed a band that provided live performances.

O’Hare also helped bring a show to the Black Virgin Mountain near Cambodia. For his work bringing that show to the troops, O’Hare won the Bronze Star.

Respect for others

While the Kings Park resident appreciates the recognition, he knows, despite escaping serious injury and death in Vietnam, that he had a considerably easier experience than many of other members of the military.

He recalled the terrible job of “tunnel rat” that the smallest and lightest men had to perform. Once the Americans found some of the tunnels built under their bases and scattered throughout the country, the tunnel rat had to try to flush out the enemy. The Vietcong left scorpions, tarantulas and snakes for the Americans. Seeing the disadvantage of fitting the profile for this job, some servicemen tried to gain weight quickly so they wouldn’t fit in small tunnels that often became death traps.

Since he left the army, O’Hare has continued to try to serve some of his fellow vets. He sits with vets and talks at a bagel store. He has also helped restore monuments like the one at Bill Richards Park, so people don’t forget the service and sacrifice of other Long Islanders. O’Hare is also the president of the Citizen’s Police Academy. 

For his consistent and enduring contributions to the community, O’Hare has won several admirers. “Nothing is too much work for him,” said Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset). “He does more than 20 or 30-year-olds. He’s a rocket.”

Proud of his service

Wayne Johnson on the amphibious ship USS Hermitage in 1970.

A navy veteran who served from 1968 to 1972 and a 1967 graduate of Hauppauge High School, Wayne “Mickey” Johnson is excited about the prospect of seeing his name alongside those of other members of the community who served during Vietnam.

Johnson would like his grown sons to see his name on the memorial along with those of some of his high school friends.

“I’m proud of my service,” said Johnson, who spent two years stationed in Puerto Rico and two years stationed on the amphibious ship USS Hermitage, which included a six month stint in the Mediterranean.

Johnson, who is a resident of Patchogue, said his father, Vandorn Johnson, served in the navy during World War II and the Korean conflict.

Johnson, whose brother shares a name with his father and is preparing the additional plaques, said he knows his father would be pleased with his service.

Johnson said he doesn’t mind if the memorial moves. “Wherever it is, I’ll find it,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier to be on it.”

METRO photo
Even modest exercise may impact your health outcomes

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Last week, I wrote about the challenges of relying on exercise for weight loss. That’s not to say that it’s not important to exercise. It has powerful effects in altering how our genes express themselves and can improve our outcomes with specific diseases, such as diabetes and a host of other health issues, including kidney stones, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease and breast, colorectal and endometrial cancers (1).

Despite all the positives, it’s sometime difficult to motivate yourself to exercise. However, there are some simple ways to motivate yourself during exercise. One study showed that those who repeated positive mantras to themselves during exercise were able to persist for longer periods (2).

Why is this so important now? Because we are too sedentary, and this is the time of the year when we are especially so. According to data from the 2015-2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the Northeast had among the highest levels of physical inactivity by U.S. region, at 25.6 percent of the population (3).

Can exercise alter your fat genes?

Exercise may have a significant impact on how our genes express themselves.

In a study, results showed that thousands upon thousands of genes in fat cells were affected when participants exercised for six months (4). The study involved sedentary men and had them exercise twice a week at a one-hour spin class. According to the researchers, the genes impacted were those involved most likely in storing fat and in risk for subsequent diabetes and obesity development. These participants also improved other important health metrics, including their cholesterol, blood-pressure, fat percent and, later, their waist circumferences.

The effect identified on the fat cells is referred to as epigenetics, where lifestyle modifications ultimately lead to changes in gene expression, turning them on and off. This has been shown with dietary changes, but this is one of the first studies to show that exercise also has significant impacts on our genes. It took only six months to see these numerous gene changes with modest amounts of cardiovascular exercise.

Do you need more encouragement? Another study showed substantial gene changes in muscle cells after one workout on a stationary bike (5). Yet another introduced six weeks of endurance exercise to healthy, but sedentary, young men and identified an abundance of genetic changes to skeletal muscle with broad impacts on physical and cognitive health (6).

Which is better: exercise or drug therapy?

What if we could forgo medications for cardiovascular disease by exercising? One meta-analysis, which examined 57 studies that involved drugs and exercise, showed similar benefits between statins and exercise in mortality with secondary prevention of coronary heart disease (7). This means that, in patients who already have heart disease, both statins and exercise reduce the risk of mortality by similar amounts. The same study also showed benefits for those with pre-diabetes and the use of metformin vs. exercise. It didn’t matter which one was used, the drug or the lifestyle change.

While these results are exciting, don’t change your medication without consulting your physician.

How does exercise help with kidney stones?

Anyone who has tried to pass a kidney stone knows it can be an excruciating experience. Most of the treatment involves pain medication, fluids and waiting for the stone to pass. However, the best way to treat kidney stones is to prevent them.

In the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, exercise reduced the risk of kidney stones by as much as 31 percent (8). Even better, the intensity of the exercise did not change its beneficial effect. What mattered more was exercise quantity. One hour of jogging or three hours of walking got the top results; however, lesser amounts of exercise also saw substantial reductions. This study involved 84,000 postmenopausal women, the population most likely to suffer from kidney stones.

Is sexual activity really exercise?

We have heard that sex may be thought of as exercise, but is this myth or is there actual evidence? According to research, this may be true. In a study, researchers found that young, healthy couples exert 6 METs — metabolic energy, or the amount of oxygen consumed per kilogram per minute — during sexual activity (9).

How does this compare to other activities? We exert about 1 MET while sitting and 8.5 METs while jogging. In terms of energy utilized, sexual activity falls between walking and jogging, therefore, it can be qualified as moderate activity. Men and women burned almost half as many calories with sex as with jogging, burning a mean of 85 calories over about 25 minutes. Who says exercise isn’t fun?

I can’t stress the importance of exercise enough. It not only helps you feel better, it may also influence gene expression and, ultimately, affect your development and prevention of disease. In certain circumstances, it may be as powerful as medications. Therefore, make exercise a priority — part of the fabric of your life. It may already be impacting the fabric of your body: your genes.

References:

(1) JAMA. 2009;301(19):2024. (2) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Oct 10. (3) cdc.gov. (4) PLoS Genet. 2013 Jun;9(6):e1003572. (5) Cell Metab. 2012 Mar 7;15(3):405-11. (6) Mol Metab. 2021 Nov;53:101290. (7) BMJ. 2013; 347. (8) JASN. 2013;24(3):p 487-497. (9) PLoS One 8(10): e79342.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Jazz Loft founder Tom Manuel puts the finishing touches on the new Louie Armstrong exhibit at the Jazz Loft.

The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Avenue in Stony Brook Village will be marking Black History Month in February with special exhibits in the Loft’s museum celebrating jazz greats Louis Armstrong (Corona), Lloyd Trotman (Huntington), Ernie Royal and Benny Powell (Both who lived in New York City). The Jazz Loft’s museum contains more than 10,000 pieces of jazz memorabiliaand is open Thursdays to Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.

“In many ways every month is Black History month at the Jazz Loft,” said Founder and President Tom Manuel. “Jazz is a music and tradition that was born from the Black experience and African roots. This February we will be adding several new exhibits that focus on local jazz greats who had a connection to Long Island and New York.”

“The contributions by Black musicians, singers and composers to the art of Jazz are infinite,” said Manuel. “We are proud to be highlighting some of the leading ladies of song in February with our ‘Here’s to the Ladies’ Young at Heart concert. The artistry and impact of vocalists like Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Ella Fitzgerald is everlasting.”

Mala Waldron

On February 9, Mala Waldron, daughter of jazz legend Mal Waldron, will kick off the Loft’s Acoustic in the Living Room series from 7 to 9:30 p.m. This jazz music series showcases small duos/trios in the Loft’s main performance room which will be set up to resemble an intimate living room, with spaced out seating. The concerts are conversational, engaging and intimate and a very special window into the heart and mind of the artists. The concert will feature Mala Waldron on piano and vocals; with Mike Hall on bass; and Tom Manuel on cornet. 

Tickets are $40 per person and can be purchased here: Tickets

Abraham Lincoln presenter Garry Rissman heads to the St. James Community Cultural Arts Center on Feb 12.

By Tara Mae

Legacy is where man and myth intertwine. More than a summation of his best ideals, the heritage of President Abraham Lincoln’s humanity takes the stage on his birthday, Sunday, Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. when he visits the St. James Community Cultural Arts Center in Celebrate St. James’ latest Living History event.

Garry Rissman, an Abraham Lincoln presenter, is the conduit for the 16th president. His interactive presentation will consist of scenes from three different plays in which Rissman inhabited the role, a monologue from the movie Lincoln, a game, and an audience Q&A session. 

Abraham Lincoln presenter Garry Rissman heads to the St. James Community Cultural Arts Center on Feb 12.

“Many attendees are history buffs and their questions display their knowledge of the historical figures. So far, the Living Historians have been great — they really assume their character — costumes, persona, mannerisms, etc. They are knowledgeable and able to answer audience questions. You would think you are actually in [the historical figure’s] presence,” said Celebrate St. James President Patricia Clark.

Historical re-enactors and living history interpreters showcase an amalgam of artistry, history, and theatricality. They make the past present, facilitating scenarios in which audiences are not simply observers but rather cooperative collaborators participating in the presenter’s paradigm. 

In this spirit, Rissman’s Lincoln interacts with his supporters, engaging with them throughout the program and creating an immersive experience. 

“The audience members who volunteer to read lines in the Civil War plays really feel more involved by being the characters. It is very fulfilling to see them enjoy a living history lecture,” said Rissman.

A member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters for nearly six years, Rissman, who also belongs to the Screen Actors Guild, has appeared as Honest Abe on stage and screen as well as in private and public occasions. 

Not unlike Lincoln, Rissman’s preferred profession is a second career. Whereas Lincoln was first a lawyer, Rissman was initially a working actor. Both roles benefit from a gift of oration.  “I decided that being a living historian was more fulfilling than being an actor in a play with little to no pay and usually no possibility of getting a copy of my performance. I can do things my way,” he said. 

Abraham Lincoln presenter Garry Rissman

Having found his path, Rissman had not yet selected the persona he would portray as he walked it. Initially, Rissman experimented with representing other prominent men of history, but they were not the right fit, so he sought inspiration from his previous occupation. 

Like the five o’clock shadow that eventually yields a full beard, Rissman’s association with President Lincoln grew from portraying him in a play at the Incarn Theatre in Brooklyn to embodying him as a full time job. 

“I was playing Lincoln in a Civil War play from [the] Incarn Theatre when I decided to go to the yearly Lincoln festival in his hometown of Hodgenville, Kentucky,” he said. “I believed that I needed to experience the Association of Lincoln Presenters first hand before deciding to spend the $200 for a lifetime membership.”

Finding resources and community to support his passion, Rissman, who is based out of New York City, embarked on his campaign of traveling Lincoln presenter. While he has been stumping, the staff and volunteers of Celebrate St. James have been organizing innovative programming to facilitate not only its mission of rejuvenating the town but buying the historic building in which it rents space.  

Celebrate St. James resides in the historic Calderone Theatre. Built in the early 1900s, the organization hopes to purchase the building and restore it as a functional theater and creative arts space. Fundraising efforts are in the early stages and the Living History series, highlighting speakers and living history presenters, is a means of spotlighting the town’s robust history and paying homage to its theatrical roots. 

These talks constitute Act One of the organization’s ongoing initiative to engage the public in local culture by invoking the past into the present. 

“Our goal is to bring attention to the history of St. James, which is a hamlet with a very rich past,” Clark said. “We want to revitalize St. James as the flourishing hamlet it once was by bringing the cultural arts to our community to drive economic growth.”     

Clark and members of her team have been inviting living history presenters to speak at their events following successful visits from Mark Twain, George Washington, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, President Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, among others. Rissman and Clark connected via the Association of Lincoln Presenters’ official website.

“The historical recreations have become a regular series of events … Living History: Abraham Lincoln is a very family friendly educational/entertaining event and we encourage attendance from families with school age children to see the Living Historians bringing these historical characters to life,” Clark said. 

Other Celebrate St. James endeavors include art exhibits, art classes, senior fitness classes, comedy shows, a virtual book club, various children’s events, a classic film series, and summer concerts at Celebrate Park this summer. 

St. James Community Cultural Arts Center is located at 176 Second Street, 2nd floor (no elevator), in St. James. Tickets to Living History: Abraham Lincoln are $25 per person, $20 for members, $10 children ages 10 and up. The event will be followed by a Q&A and refreshments will be served. For more information, visit www.celebratestjames.org or call 631-984-0201.

Residents at Gurwin Jewish ~ Fay J. Lindner Residences assisted living community in Commack remembered and commemorated the victims and survivors of the Holocaust with a candle lighting vigil and ceremony on Jan. 27.

“International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a time to honor the 6 million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust and those who survived of one of the darkest periods in history,” said Stuart B. Almer, President and CEO of Gurwin Healthcare System. “It is an especially important day of reflection for our Gurwin residents, many of whom experienced unspeakable atrocities firsthand and are compelled to share their stories.”

During the ceremony, 13 residents were called upon to each light a candle to honor the friends and family who died at the hands of the Nazis. Of the residents that were called up, two shared their personal stories of survival.

At 97 years old, Polish-born Cilia Borenstein vividly recalls the horrors the Nazis perpetrated against her at the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp.  She is the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust.  

Rose Ashkenazy was eleven years old out the outset of World War II.  She and her family fled Poland and lived in the woods near Ukraine to hide from the Nazis, surviving the outdoors on little food and with just the clothing on their backs. Neighboring houses provided small amounts of food for the refugees, helping to keep them alive until the war ended.

“We tell our stories of survival to keep the memories of our loved ones alive and to prevent this from happening again,” said Cilia Borenstein. “There are only a few of us left and it is important to remind others of our experiences during the Holocaust.”

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Few individuals in American history have made an impact as sizable as Martin Luther King, Jr. King wore many hats throughout his tragically short life, from minister to activist to scholar, leaving behind a legacy that is worthy of celebration. Though King was assassinated before he even reached his fortieth birthday, his life was filled with many notable events. Many of those events positively affected, and continue to affect, the lives of millions of others. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University notes that the following are some of the major events of King’s life.

• January 15, 1929: Now commemorated annually as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (in 2023, the holiday is observed on Monday, January 16), January 15 marks the day King was born in 1929. King was born in Atlanta, where his father was a pastor at the Ebenezer church.

• September 20, 1944: Despite being only 15 years old, King begins his freshman year at Morehouse College. King was only a high school junior in 1944, but he was admitted to Morehouse, where his father studied for his ministerial degree, after passing the school’s entrance exam.

• August 6, 1946: King’s letter to the editor of The Atlanta Constitution is published. The letter reflects King’s belief that Black Americans are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as White Americans. King’s father later admitted this letter was the first time he and his wife recognized their son’s “developing greatness.”

• February 25, 1948: Following in his father’s footsteps, King is ordained and appointed assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in his hometown of Atlanta.

• June 8, 1948: King earns his bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Morehouse College.

• May 6-8, 1951: King graduates from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He delivers the valedictory address during the graduation ceremony.

• June 18, 1953: King marries Coretta Scott near the bride’s family home in Marion, Alabama. Coretta Scott King would also become a vocal activist, advocating for peace and gay rights and expressing her opposition to apartheid in the 1980s. She would not remarry after her husband’s assassination.

• June 5, 1955: King ears his doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University.

• December 5, 1955: King becomes president of the Montgomery Improvement Association after the organization is formed at the Holt Street Baptist Church. MIA is formed in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks five days earlier after she refused to vacate her seat for a white passenger.

• January 27, 1956: A threatening phone call late in the evening inspires King to carry on with his activism.

• January 30, 1956: King’s home is bombed while he is elsewhere delivering a speech. His wife and daughter are not injured in the blast.

• January 10-11, 1957: King is named chairman of what becomes the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was an organization of southern black ministers working together to combat segregation.

• June 23, 1958: King and other leaders meet with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, D.C.

• September 17, 1958: Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story is published. It is King’s first book.

• September 20, 1958: King survives a stabbing during a book signing in Harlem, New York. During a surgery after the stabbing, doctors remove a seven-inch letter opener from King’s chest.

• April 16, 1963: King writes his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to criticisms of the Birmingham Campaign, a collective effort on the part of the SCLC and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) to combat segregation in the Alabama city. The letter becomes one of King’s most famous writings.

• August 28, 1963: King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

• January 3, 1964: King is named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine.

December 10, 1964: King receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

• March 17-25, 1965: King helps to lead civil rights marchers from Selma to Montgomery.

• June 7, 1966: King and other leaders resume James Meredith’s “March Against Fear” from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. Meredith was unable to continue after he was shot and wounded.

• April 3, 1968: King delivers his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” as he returns to Memphis to lead a peaceful march of striking sanitation workers.

• April 4, 1968: King is shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He is buried in Atlanta five days later.

Outside the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, Mark Sternberg, above, holds a copy of “New York Archives” magazine, which published his research this fall. Photo courtesy Sternberg

By Julianne Mosher

Living in Port Jefferson for more than half his life, Mark Sternberg always knew the village had a story. 

“I grew up here and I always wanted to know the absolute history of Port Jeff,” he said. “I wanted to get to the bottom of it.”

The North Shore of Long Island played a big role during the Revolutionary War. Books, movies, television shows and college courses have preached that the Culper Spy Ring — a network of American spies active during the British occupation of New York City and organized by Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge and Gen. George Washington — was based primarily on Port Jefferson’s next-door neighbor, Setauket.

Sternberg, a lawyer by trade and Port Jefferson high school graduate of the Class of 2001, first became interested in the history growing up and learning these stories and legends. Interested in his hometown, he began reading about its history, eventually getting his hands on “The Seven Hills of Port: A Documented History of the Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson” by Patricia Hansell Sisler and Robert Sisler. 

“I had a professor at New York University, a summer program for producing, and one of our projects was to pitch a show about something you love,” Sternberg said. “I thought that the Culper Spy Ring would be a great TV show.”

And that school project became a passion. 

Above, Mark Sternberg leading a tour of visitors through the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum on Culper Spy Day. File photo by Raymond Janis

In 2013, Sternberg found a letter that tied two Port Jefferson brothers to the ring. Retrieved from a chimney of what is now the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum years ago, the letter (dated Dec. 21, 1780) informed loyalist soldier Nehemiah Marks’ comrades that Phillips and Nathaniel Roe helped supply Setauket-based spy Caleb Brewster with information to pass on to the patriots. 

Sternberg located the letter archived at the University of Michigan. 

“I had a lot of people telling me the basis for the claim was a legend,” he said. “It was made up.”

But it was eventually authenticated and now hangs in the museum, which was originally Phillips Roe’s home, located at 141 W. Broadway.

“Mark has done the real hard research,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force. “I think he has certainly put Port Jeff village back into the mix. … People always used to call them the Setauket spies, but it’s pretty clear that the Roe brothers played a central role due to his research.”

Hoffman added that Sternberg has brought “fresh eyes to old history.”

Finding the letter sparked something in Sternberg making him want to discover more. 

After going away to school in Atlanta, Georgia, and then NYU, he left the quaint village he used to call home, moving to Manhattan for 12 years. 

Then, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sternberg and his now-wife decided to move back out to the Island, settling in East Patchogue.

“When I moved back to Long Island, I wanted to get involved more with the house,” he said. 

Working closely with Port Jefferson Village historian Chris Ryon, he began doing heavy, original research into the Roe family.

“Mark has been working, really concentrating, on this Culper spy history, and then delving into it more so than anybody else that I know,” Ryon said. “He has gone beyond what a lot of historians would look up.”

Ryon admired that, while working full-time, Sternberg spends most of his free time continuing to learn about the Roe family and how Port Jefferson was involved with the Revolutionary War. 

“He’s traveled all over the place, looking at the primary documents, and by doing that, he’s discovered many more things, and a lot of mistakes that people have repeated,” he said. “Mark is so saturated in his knowledge of this, he picks up on things that people don’t understand are important.”

‘He has changed the way people think about Culper Spy Ring.’ 

­— Chris Ryon

Since Sternberg’s initial find of the letter almost 10 years ago, he has continued to research and advise on the history of the brothers and how the home was part of a much bigger piece of history that was almost forgotten. 

“He has changed the way people think about Culper Spy Ring,” Ryon said. “He has enlightened us — he has raised the bar.”

Sternberg said that he is continuing to help with the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, setting up exhibits and preparing for its full opening to the public. He also is working alongside Len Carolan at Port Jeff-based Bayles Boat Shop to recreate a whaleboat from the American Revolution era. The boat shop is an offshoot of the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center — a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of maritime history on the Island. Sternberg will be acting as a historian on the project to get the boat as close as possible to what it was.

“Mark has been instrumental in tying up what we’re doing in building this boat and the history of [the whaleboats],” said Carolan, president of the Bayles Boat Shop. “And especially how the history is connected to Caleb Brewster.”

Sternberg also recently published new findings about the Strong family in “New York Archives” magazine this past fall. 

“People ask me, ‘Why are you so into history?’ and honestly, I’m more into solving mysteries,” he said. “There’s so much more to find and it’s that dopamine rush when you find out something about your hometown’s history you would have never found out before.”

Sternberg is happy to volunteer his time to find out what really happened up here almost 250 years ago.

“Why wouldn’t I volunteer? I love my hometown,” he said. “Any of my extra time I can spend here talking about the history, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

TBR News Media recognizes Sternberg’s valuable local historical research by making him a 2022 Person of the Year.

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My grandparents on my mother’s side, Guy Carlton and Margaret King, were born in Alna and neighboring Whitefield, Maine, in 1882 and 1887, respectively. They married and moved to Port Jefferson in 1909, where he worked as a carpenter building the original Belle Terre Club. 

My grandmother’s postcard album contains a visual representation of her life history. Many of the postcards are of trips my grandparents took. Others are from friends and relatives and tell stories of travels and daily life. However, the vast majority were holiday cards, sent from Whitefield, Maine, after my grandparents finished building their house on the west side of Port Jefferson Harbor. 

The first decade of the 20th century were peak years for sending and collecting postcards, attractive color cards for the various holidays as well as black and white commercially printed photographs or photos developed and printed on postcard stock. My grandmother, as so many others, saved the postcards in postcard albums that tell stories of absent relatives and friends.

All of the postcards featured here were sent to my grandmother between 1907 and 1911 and addressed to her in Whitefield and then Port Jefferson. One of the 1907 postcards, featuring the Port Jefferson railroad station, was sent to her by her brother Fred King who came to Port Jefferson in 1907 and convinced Guy Carlton to join him in 1909.

Beverly C. Tyler is a 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. 

Kris Kringle and the St. John's Ophan Asylum Band from Brooklyn lead Cheese Club down Port Jefferson's Main Street toward Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church; charitable organization; gifts for children at St. Charles

The Cheese Club was a charitable organization formed in 1915 and comprised of members of Brooklyn’s Knights of Columbus.

Considered among the leading citizens of Brooklyn, each a “big cheese,” the group’s influential founders self-mockingly referred to themselves as the Cheese Club, though other stories about the name’s origin abound.

The Cheese Club is best known in Port Jefferson for its Christmas pilgrimage to the village, which it made without interruption from 1916-58 despite stormy weather, world wars and the Great Depression.

During each annual holiday visit, the club members gave yuletide gifts to the youngsters at the Brooklyn Home for Blind, Crippled and Defective Children, known today as St. Charles Hospital, and donated money for the year-round comfort of the handicapped boys and girls and their caregivers.

The club members and their entourage typically traveled from Flatbush to Port Jefferson on a specially chartered LIRR train, the Santa Claus Express, made up of coaches and a freight car filled with Christmas presents.

After disembarking at the Port Jefferson railroad station, Kris Kringle and the St. John’s Orphan Asylum Band from Brooklyn led the group as it marched to Infant Jesus R.C. Church at Myrtle and Main to attend Mass.

Christmas postcard. Photo courtesy the Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive
Collection

Numbering 400 strong during peak years, the procession then continued to St. Charles Hospital, where the sisters of the Daughters of Wisdom, who operated the hospital and looked after its disabled charges, served a welcoming luncheon.

Following the reception, children at the hospital provided two hours of entertainment, performing as singers, dancers, musicians and actors.

When the talent show ended, Santa Claus and his helpers took the stage and gave each boy and girl a Christmas stocking stuffed with toys, candy, games, clothing and fruit.

The Daughters of Wisdom also received a check to fund various projects at the hospital and on its grounds. Over the years, the money was used to purchase radios, movie projectors and physical therapy equipment for the children, build a sun shelter, defray the costs of a memorial organ, improve the sisters’ living quarters and maintain outdoor Stations of the Cross. 

Following the establishment of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 1957 out of territory once within the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Cheese Club phased out its holiday visits to Port Jefferson and concentrated on charitable work closer to home.

The Cheese Club was a pioneer in bringing Christmas cheer to the handicapped children hospitalized in Port Jefferson and spurring other religious and nonsectarian organizations to support the disabled youngsters at St. Charles — not just at the holidays but throughout the year.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of the village.

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Pixabay photo

It’s easy for adults to experience a little nostalgia when holiday shopping for their children. The holiday season has long been considered a special time of year, and much of that magic can be traced to the joy kids feel when unwrapping gifts from mom, dad and, of course, Santa Claus. Many parents who now have youngsters at home grew up in the 1990s. When such moms and dads are shopping for holiday gifts this season, they might wonder what was the must-have item for them back when they anxiously awaited the arrival of Christmas morning? 

Tickle Me Elmo

According to Insider.com, who worked in conjunction with the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, 1996 was the year of “Tickle Me Elmo.” This ticklish toy was the most sought-after item of the 1996 holiday seasons, and it was so popular that retailers experienced shortage and the Tyco toy became the hardest to find toy since the Cabbage Patch Kids craze in 1983. 

Those shortages led to some surprising sales on the secondary market, with figures that will undoubtedly drop some jaws even now, a quarter century after the Tickle Me Elmo craze erupted. 

Though the Tickle Me Elmo doll retailed for around $30 in 1996, some parents intent on getting their youngsters the most in-demand gift that year reportedly spent more than $1,500 on a single doll. To put that latter figure into perspective, data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates that the average price of a new car in 1996 was $18,525. And according to Yahoo! Finance, drivers in the market for a used car in 1996 could have purchased a 1986 four-door Oldsmobile for just over $2,600.