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Arcadia Publishing

The Coast Guard standing over some of the cargo from the Thelma Phoebe. Photo courtesy of the Henry L. Ferguson Museum Collection.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“The reality of the rumrunning business is a lot darker than local memory paints it.” In the fascinating book, Rumrunning in Suffolk County: Tales from Liquor Island (The History Press), author Amy Kasuga Folk resists the whimsy and nostalgia often employed when writing about the Prohibition era. Instead, she offers a focused, detailed account, thoroughly researched and rich in detail.

Folk opens with a concise history of nineteenth-century alcohol consumption, the rise of the temperance movement, and how it connected to anti-immigrant sentiment. She points to the bias against immigrants and addresses the “nativist prejudice link[ing] the new arrivals with drunkenness.” Citing this fearmongering tips the book from an exclusively historical perspective to a sociological angle. 

‘Rumrunning in Suffolk County: Tales from Liquor Island’

The creation of the Volstead Act banned the sale of alcohol, with Prohibition coming into force on January 17, 1920. Folk presents an informative overview of the history of drinking and liquor sources during the 1920s. Much of the book focuses on the change in the criminal element. Prohibition transformed street gangs dominating small areas into more dangerous organized crime. The time saw the rise of figures like Arnold Rothstein, Dutch Schultz, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel. 

Folk has a strong sense of the business elements of rumrunning:

To give you an idea of how a big of a business this was, the gang on average paid $200 a week to one hundred employees when the average store clerk took home $25 a week, and they paid $100,000 a week in graft to police, federal agents and city and court officials. Despite these expenses, the gang still took in an estimated net profit of $12 million a year from the business.

At a time when a consumer could purchase a dozen oranges for twenty-five cents, the figures are astronomical. 

Cargo ships would anchor just outside the territorial line of United States waters; then, small, fast boats would claim the liquor and take it back to shore. Thus, “rumrunning” was born. Shortwave radios were common—quoting coded messages and describing  inventory, orders, sales, and other details. Messages were even broadcast through commercial radio stations.

The book chronicles year-by-year, from 1921 through 1932. Violence on both sides of the law was commonplace. From fisherman hiding bottles in their catches to potato trucks concealing cases of illicit whiskey, Folk shows the intersection of day-to-day life with the precarious, dangerous business that made “Long Island, which is also termed Liquor Island … the wettest spot in the entire country.” (County Review, February 1, 1924)

Glass and liquid weigh a lot. One way police could spot an inexperienced bootlegger was to look for a car that had sagging suspension. Photo from Library of Congress.

In a detailed exploration, Folk mentions judges, attorneys, law enforcement agents, and a full range of transgressors. She has a complete command of the large cast of characters, the hundreds of boats, and other vehicles, along with the events surrounding them. Anecdotes include raids, trials, missteps, and hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of gallons of liquor. There are storms and drownings, shootouts, and collateral damage. From Southold to Huntington Harbor, the accounts tell of the clash of lawmen and gunmen. The author  complements the text with a wide range of period photos. 

The book is not without a touch of humor, as in this account of April 1927:

In an effort to move faster by lightening their load, a rumrunner being chased by the Coast Guard had thrown case after case of scotch overboard. The cases riding the waves were estimated to be fifteen to twenty miles out, but they were floating towards the shore. Guardsmen from the Quogue station spotted the first crate floating inland, and by two o’clock in the afternoon, it had become a race—all the locals turned out determined to get a slice of the bounty floating toward their community before the government swept it all up.

“One of the problems of enforcing Prohibition was the revolving door of justice. The rumrunners and bootleggers had the money and the ability to easily make bail and walk away from the charges against them.” Sometimes, they would move their cargo when agents were testifying in court. In addition, the book addresses widespread government corruption as agents were basically “untouchable.” 

Since 1797, Port Jefferson’s harbor had shipbuilding yards. The busy harbor allowed the ship Dragon to blend in for several weeks. Author’s collection

Case-in-point: the head of the industrial alcohol inspection section of the Prohibition office in New York, Major E.C. Schroeder, went to jail for blackmail. But the flip side was that the government agencies, especially the Coast Guard, were woefully understaffed to take on the mammoth problem. Most actions were based on well-grounded evidence and experience.

Great fear existed among civilians. Getting misidentified as a rumrunner or being caught in the crossfire between bootleggers and the Coast Guard was not uncommon. Hijackings of boats, people held prisoner, low-level criminals turned informants winding up with bullets in their foreheads, all composed elements of the time. The events and incidents were so complicated that even the newspapers gave conflicting reports.

For the casual reader or the historian, Rumrunning in Suffolk County provides an excellent introduction and a detailed account of the Prohibition era in the eastern Long Island community


Author Amy Kasuga Folk is the manager of collections for the Oysterponds Historical Society, as well as the manager of collections for the Southold Historical Society and the town historian for Southold. Folk is also the past president of the Long Island Museum Association and the Region 2 co-chair of the Association of Public Historians. She is the coauthor of several award-winning books focusing on the history of Southold. Pick up a copy of the book at Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com. 


Forensic expert delves into disappearance of Stony Brook heiress

Reviewed by Rita J. Egan

The only thing more intriguing than a mystery is a true story that happened practically in the reader’s back yard. That’s the case with author Steven C. Drielak’s book Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping recently released by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press.

Drielak tells the tale of the real-life kidnapping case of 38-year-old Alice McDonell Parsons, the heir to a vast fortune, who disappeared from Long Meadow Farm in Stony Brook on  June 9, 1937. The accounts of three witnesses — her husband, the housekeeper and the housekeeper’s son — were reported in newspapers across the United States. It was a case where the Federal Bureau of Investigation stepped in to help solve, but despite countless interviews, crews combing and revisiting beaches along the north and south shores of Long Island, and the careful excavation of the farm, a body was never discovered.

For Long Islanders, the story will have added appeal with the familiar backdrop of Stony Brook and other local areas mentioned such as Huntington, Bay Shore, Glen Cove and more. While many may be familiar with the case of Alice Parsons, who reportedly was last seen getting into a large black sedan with a couple to show them a family estate in Huntington, there is so much more to learn as Drielak takes the reader on a trip into the past using articles from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The New York Daily News, The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune as well as FBI case files.

Right from the beginning, the author shows immense attention to detail as he takes us step by step through the infamous day starting at  6:30 a.m. as Alice Parsons’ husband, William, starts the morning feeding the livestock. He also describes what the Parsons’ Russian housekeeper Anna Kupryanova was doing that morning as well as Anna’s 10-year-old son Roy. We also get to meet Alice before her disappearance.

Early chapters give some background on the main players in this unsolved case. The reader learns of Alice’s privileged past, how William Parsons became involved in agriculture and events that led to Anna’s arrival to the United States. Delving into everyone’s pasts and characters, as well as how they interacted, helps the reader in understanding the possible motives of all the suspects in this case.

What many will find interesting is a case such as this one in the 1930s relied more on interviews and interrogations than forensic science as it wasn’t as developed as it is today. As the story unfolds, so do the clues, confessions and lies.

Making the story even more compelling is a disappearing chloroform bottle, paper found in the house that matches the kidnapper’s ransom note, a near confession and, to add even more to the intrigue, an affair that cannot be ignored.

What will leave the reader even more suspicious of Alice’s husband and housekeeper is the marriage of William and Anna in 1940 before the heiress is declared legally dead. The new couple never waited for a body to be found before starting a life together in California as husband and wife. Their relationship definitely raised eyebrows, especially since Anna was the last to see Alice alive.

There are also transcripts of recorded interviews between William and Anna that were part of the investigation. The conversations are interesting in that it seems as if Anna was dominant in the relationship, telling William he didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to a chloroform bottle being found. She also mentions that Alice is still alive. The conversations are an example of how difficult it was to solve how the heiress disappeared or if she was kidnapped or murdered.

Last but not least, the photos used in the book, many from the author’s personal collection and the Three Village Historical Society, are interesting to see. Local history buffs especially will enjoy them as some of the photos depict Stony Brook in the 1930s with William addressing reporters outside of his home, and volunteers ready to search the area standing outside The Stony Brook School. The photos drive home that this unsolved mystery happened right here in our own back yard.

Author Steven C. Drielak is an internationally recognized expert in the area of Hot Zone Forensic Attribution. He received his master’s degrees from John Jay College of Criminal Justic and has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. He has authored six textbooks in the areas of environmental crimes, weapons of mass destruction and forensic attribution, as well as two historical fiction novels. Long Island’s Vanished Heiress is available at ArcadiaPublishing.com, Book Revue in Huntington, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“One of the things that attracted me so greatly to Masonry, that I hailed the chance of becoming a mason, was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to — of treating each man on his merits as a man.”

— Theodore Roosevelt to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Nov. 5, 1902

Author Ronald J. Seifried

Many of us have been intrigued by the society known as the Freemasons but most know little about its history. Huntington Station resident Ronald J. Seifried has written Long Island Freemasons to offer background and anecdotes of this organization while still respecting its privacy. Seifried, a Freemason for over seventeen years, succinctly defines the Order:

“Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal organization that is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.  Formally organized in London, England, in 1717, Freemasonry initiates men from various professional and social backgrounds, well recommended, with a shared belief of a supreme being without prejudice of religious affiliation. A society with secrets, but not a secretive society, Freemasons forbid the discussion of politics or religion in the lodge, creating an atmosphere of harmony and removing any conflictive or divisive nature. Charity has been an important aspect and virtue of Freemasonry since its foundation.”

The introduction provides a brief history before focusing on Long Island’s connection to the association, which traces its roots to George Washington. Seifried then gives a detailed timeline of Long Island’s various lodges, some of which still exist today. He cites the challenges faced by the earliest members, including the traveling of great distances and economic struggles. His presentation is well thought-out and his research is a wealth of detail.

Suffolk No. 60 Lodge in Port Jefferson

The book is rich with hundreds of photos. There are pictures of lodges and meeting halls, both interiors and exteriors. Seifried gives descriptions of the buildings’ histories and architecture as well as the costs of construction. Faith in the Freemasons’ goals has historically attracted generosity with many wealthy individuals and families donating money and land for lodges and their locations. There are explanations of lodge names, many of them obtained from Native American sources. Pictures of gathered lodge members give background on the individuals and their positions in the lodge. There is a mammoth amount of information in this slender volume.

The author acknowledges the enigmatic nature of the Freemasons:  “The secrecy of this group of men lent a certain level of mystery and respect when the members appeared in public. Schools were dismissed and locals turned out en masse to see the Masons parade.”  Often, this is the only time the community ever sees the members in their Masonic regalia. In addition, dedications were also public events and several images show these gatherings.

The book is divided into geographical sections: Central Suffolk; Western Suffolk; Oyster Bay; Town of Hempstead; North Hempstead; and Glen Cove.  Seifried finds what makes each area special to the group and offers a range of photos that pertain to the region. The final chapter touches on affiliated groups, including the Shriners, Eastern Star, and the Scottish Rite, among others.

There are intriguing accounts scattered throughout: “Part of a brother’s introduction into Freemasonry included a drama representing the building of King Solomon’s Temple, with chief architect Hiram Abiff as the central character, murdered for not revealing the secret word of a master mason; the lodges are often referred to as ‘temples,’ as an allegorical reference to King Solomon’s temples.”  

The Hawkins-Mount Homestead, in Stony Brook, was used several times in 1802 as a meeting place for the Suffolk Lodge; its owner, Major Jonas Hawkins, was a member of the Culper Spy Ring during the American Revolution. Chief Crazy Bull, grandson to the famous Sioux Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota Tripe, was a member of the Suffolk No. 60 Lodge, which is still located on Main Street in Port Jefferson. 

Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt was invited to speak at Huntington’s Jeptha No. 494 Lodge, in commemoration of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. He was late due to inclement weather and traffic and quipped that the island should be named “Longer Island.”

The color plates in the book’s center are striking. They have contemporary shots of existing lodges, explaining the various rooms. There are paintings that depict the three degrees of Freemasonry, offering a insight to the overall core of spirituality. The Long Beach No. 1048 Lodge’s stained glass window dome is photographed beautifully and the symbols are clearly explained.  

Today, there are 28 active lodges across Suffolk and Nassau counties. Ronald J. Seifried’s Long Island Freemasons is an excellent look into the local history of the world of Freemasonry as well as a tribute to its survival and contribution.  

Long Island Freemasons by Ronald J. Seifried, part of the Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing, is currently available online at www.arcadiapublishing.com, www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.

Historian pens new book on local amusement parks of yesteryear

Actors, including local resident Jane Owen playing the notorious outlaw Belle Starr, pose in front of the bank at Dodge City in Patchogue. Photo from the Eaton family

Living in Suffolk County, we’ve all heard of Splish Splash, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Dave and Buster’s, Boomers, Adventureland and the Long Island Game Farm. But how many of us have ever heard of Frontier City, Fairytown USA, Dodge City or Turner’s Amusement Park?

Photo from The History Press
Photo from The History Press

Historian Marisa L. Berman’s latest book, “Historic Amusement Parks of Long Island: 118 Miles of Memories” (The History Press) takes us on a nostalgic journey to explore the kiddie parks of Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk that are now just a distant memory. According to Berman, this book is “a celebration of the amusement parks that Long Islanders have loved and unfortunately have lost. … [It] will tell the story of Long Island through the memories of its children.”

Berman’s first book centered on Nunley’s Amusement Park in Baldwin, which she often visited as a child. At book signings, according to her second book’s introduction, many people would mention other parks on Long Island that they had fond memories of and she “quickly realized that there were many more stories that needed to be told.”

The author reached out to sources on Facebook and received many photographs, stories and memorabilia from people who had visited these parks. After much research and numerous interviews, the book finally came together.

All of the 33 amusement parks featured in the book opened in the 1940s and ‘50s, with the exception of Playland Park in Freeport, which opened in 1924 and closed in 1931. Berman attributes this to the many veterans who moved east from the city to Long Island to raise their families after World War II and the need to “entertain the masses.”

Each park is described in vivid detail, from inception to closing, from admission prices to rides, including what is in that location today — almost always a shopping mall or store. The wonderful black-and-white photographs, 80 in all, pull everything together.

Many of the kiddie parks featured a petting zoo, carnival rides and a train, but each had its own special niche. In our neck of the woods, there were western-themed parks like Dodge City in Patchogue, on the corner of Sunrise Highway and Waverly Avenue, and Frontier City in Amityville, on Route 110, complete with a bank, jail, cemetery, general store and sheriff’s office.

Children ride the miniature train at Lollipop Farm in 1952. Photo by Kathryn Abbe, courtesy of SPLIA
Children ride the miniature train at Lollipop Farm in 1952. Photo by Kathryn Abbe, courtesy of SPLIA

Fairytown USA in Middle Island, which was located across from Artist Lake on Middle Country Road, consisted of a storybook-inspired village and sections with themes like Planet Mars and Mother Goose. Farther west, Lollipop Farm in Syosset had a miniature train that carried children around the four-acre farm. The train miraculously survived, stored in pieces in a barn, and was recently lovingly restored by the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association.

The majority of the defunct parks’ artifacts, however, have been lost forever. Mostly family-owned and operated, Berman attributes the parks’ demise to the decline of the baby boom in the mid-1960s.

By the end of the book, Berman will have the reader yearning for a simpler and more innocent time, “a time when there was nothing better than your parents bringing you to your park so you could play and just enjoy being a kid.”

Todd Berkun, founder of the Facebook page “Long Island and NYC Places That Are No More,” sums it up perfectly in the foreword: “Whether you spent time in these parks growing up or live on the Island now and have wondered about their glorious past, this book is for you. As a testament to an era of great fun and enjoyment on the Island, this work describes a vibrant and important part of Long Island’s history.”

“Historic Amusement Parks of Long Island: 118 Miles of Memories,” $21.99, is available at local retailers and online bookstores. It is also available through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press by calling 888-313-2665 or by visiting www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Book launch to be held at annual members reception

The front cover of Stephanie Gress’s new book. Image from Vanderbilt Museum

Stephanie Gress knows more about the history of William K. Vanderbilt II than most people. As director of curatorial affairs for the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum for eight years¸ she is the steward of Mr. Vanderbilt’s legacy, his estate, mansion and museum collections.

Using that extensive knowledge and a trove of rare photographs from the Vanderbilt archives, Gress created a richly illustrated book, Eagle’s Nest: The William K. Vanderbilt II Estate. Its cover photo, from the Vanderbilt Museum archives, is by the noted New York City photographer Drix Duryea. The picture shows the bell tower and one wing of the mansion in the late 1920s, before the Memorial Wing enclosed the courtyard.

The book was published June 1, by Arcadia Publishing in South Carolina, the leading local-history publisher in the United States. The Vanderbilt will celebrate the book’s official launch at its annual Members Reception on Sunday, June 28.

Gress noted that the release of the book is well-timed, as the development of the Eagle’s Nest estate is in its centennial decade: “This book tells readers about the Vanderbilt family, why Mr. Vanderbilt came here and built the estate, how the place changed over the years based on changes in his life, and how we use it today.”

Vanderbilt, known as Willie K., purchased the first parcel of what would become 43 acres for his Northport Bay waterfront estate in 1910, and hired the eminent New York City architectural firm of Warren & Wetmore to design and build it. The firm had designed Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central Railroad. Cornelius was William’s great-grandfather.

Eagle’s Nest is the easternmost Gold Coast mansion on Long Island’s affluent North Shore. From 1910 to 1944, the palatial, 24-room, Spanish-Revival mansion was Willie K.’s summer hideaway. There he hosted intimate gatherings of Vanderbilt family members and close friends — including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, legendary golfer Sam Snead, and the Tiffanys.

“Mr. Vanderbilt embarked on many of his legendary world voyages from Eagle’s Nest,” Gress said, “along with a 50-person crew and a few, fortunate invited passengers.” During his travels, she said, he collected natural-history and marine specimens and ethnographic artifacts from around the globe.

With the help of scientists and experts from the America Museum of Natural History, he created exhibits in the galleries at the estate to showcase his collections.  Mr. Vanderbilt died in 1944. His wife Rosamund continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1947.  Vanderbilt’s will bequeathed his estate and museum to Suffolk County. In 1950, it was opened to the public as the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum. The estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Much to the credit of Willie K., Eagle’s Nest continues to fulfill his intended mission,” Gress wrote in the conclusion of the book. “Visitors from all over the world come to see one of the few remaining Long Island Gold Coast estates with its original furnishings. His collections remain on display and they continue to fascinate and entertain.”

Eagle’s Nest is available for purchase on the Arcadia Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, in the Vanderbilt Museum Gift Shop and in local bookstores.