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Rebecca Muroff, a 17-year-old Girl Scout Gold Award recipient, shows off the archive of historical photos she created for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Aug. 11. Photo by Alex Petroski

A piece of history has been organized and preserved thanks to the hard work of a Mount Sinai teen.

Girl Scouts looking to achieve their Gold Award, the highest honor a scout can earn, are tasked with identifying an issue in their community, conducting research, pitching a project, and shepherding it to completion in a leadership role in the hopes of achieving some greater good for the community. Rebecca Muroff, a Mount Sinai High School student heading into her senior year, stood at the William Miller House, the headquarters of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society on North Country Road in Miller Place, Aug. 11 and shared the byproduct of months of hard work as the culmination of her Gold Award project.

Muroff and her family have long enjoyed events held by the historical society, from the annual Country Fair to the local Christmas tradition of passing letters to Santa off to Postman Pete, so exploring a project to help an organization close to her heart was a no-brainer, she said. The Gold Award recipient, beginning in October 2017, sifted through the historical society’s vast collection of old photos amassed since its inception in 1974 to create a pictorial archive, labeling the photos with numbers and a corresponding destination in a spreadsheet, including categories like location, date, names of the people in the photo and any other pertinent comments. The result is a detailed catalog available to visitors who can now quickly and easily find photos of specific people or events dating back decades. Muroff said plans are even in the works to digitize the archive in some manner.

From left, Troop 1090 leaders Tara Broome and Gretchen Lynch join Muroff’s parent Greg and Christine, right and third from right, as well as Edna Giffen of the society, second from right, in honoring the latest Gold Award recipient. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It shows people as we matured over the years and there are a lot of people — members — that, because we were founded in ’74, have passed or moved away,” said Edna Giffen, the society’s recording secretary and archivist, who Muroff said played a crucial role in working on the project. “I realized there are people in the pictures that I don’t even know. Members will be glad to see this.”

Muroff said she always liked going to events at the society as a kid and reflected on the idea that she’d created something that will enrich visits by future generations.

“It’s just nice I think to have tangible memories of the historical society,” she said. “Now people can look through the pictures and people can see themselves or their family members. It’s a nice feeling to know that I’m preserving history so other people can enjoy it.”

Tara Broome and Gretchen Lynch, Muroff’s leaders in Girl Scout Troop 1090, attended the Aug. 11 event set up to unveil the new photo archive.

“It’s really beautiful because we started with the whole troop when they were in second grade and now they’re seniors in high school,” Broome said.

Lynch added the troop had about 20 members when the girls were young, and Muroff was one of only five to earn the Gold Award.

“We’re almost like second mothers to them really,” she said. “They really persevered and did everything that was asked of them, and they’re like a family now.”

Muroff’s actual parents, Christine and Greg, also beamed with pride over their daughter’s accomplishment.

“It really hit me yesterday when we went to the Girl Scouts store to complete her sash,” her mom said. “I’m so happy she stuck with it.”

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The house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive

“Silent but smiling, Henry hit William again and again, leaving the young man lying senseless on the carpeted floor.”

It’s a story that unfolds like a dark novel. A member of a prominent family in a quiet, seaside village snaps one day and beats his relatives to death at the home they shared, splattering blood everywhere, before hanging himself in the backyard barn. A child who narrowly escapes the massacre grows up to be a successful businessman but will remain forever haunted by his memories.

The 1857 murder-suicide on Beach Street shocked the Port Jefferson community and would likely still shock residents today.

It could have all started with the reportedly turbulent relationship between Henry Walters and his wife of three years, Elizabeth Darling-Walters. Or perhaps it was the feud between Walters and his wife’s son-in-law William Sturtevant that was boiling into legal action despite the two living under the same roof.

According to a narrative written by former Port Jefferson historian Ken Brady and published in the Port Times Record 10 years ago, the gossip around the village was that Walters, 57, and Darling-Walters, 46, fought frequently, with things so bad that they did not share a bed. The husband, a carpenter and a farmer, felt ignored and was “worried that his wife would leave her substantial estate to Martha Jane and Emmet,” her children from her first marriage to the late Matthew Darling, one of the founders of the nearby Darling Shipyard on the west side of the harbor.

The Darling family was originally from Smithtown but built their Port Jefferson shipyard in 1832 and quickly became prolific, building 13 ships during that decade alone.

A house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Above, a view of the home in the distance, overlooking a frozen Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive
A house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Above, a view of the home in the distance, overlooking a frozen Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive

If the chatter is true, Walters showed warning signs of a violent outburst. Brady wrote, “In a creepy attempt to win back his wife’s affections, Henry bought a shroud from local coffin maker Ambrose King. Walters often wore the white burial sheet about the homestead, threatening to commit suicide if Elizabeth did not return his love.”

At the same time, the farmer’s feud with Sturtevant and his father, fellow ship carpenter Amasa Sturtevant, who also lived on Beach Street, had reached a climax the day before the son-in-law’s murder — according to Brady, Walters received a letter from William Sturtevant’s attorney, Thomas Strong, warning him to “retract statements he had made about young Sturtevant” by Nov. 21, the day of the bloodshed, “or to expect a slander suit.”

That Saturday morning in the white, one-and-a-half-story home, Darling-Walters was eating breakfast with the young Sturtevant couple when Walters, finished feeding the horses, grabbed an iron bar and rushed into the dining room. According to Brady, the son-in-law was bludgeoned to death first with blows to the head, “splattering brain matter on the walls and furniture.” Then Walters went after his wife and 20-year-old stepdaughter, who both fled outside.

“Elizabeth tried to shield herself from the savage blows, but soon fell to the ground mortally wounded, her skull fractured and dress soaked with blood.”

Martha Jane Sturtevant was spared when Matthew Darling’s younger brother, Beach Street resident John E. Darling, heard his seriously injured niece’s screams. Brady said when Walters caught sight of the man, he went back inside and looked for 11-year-old Emmet Brewster Darling. But the boy was hiding under a bed in the attic and, while his stepfather was in another room, ran down the stairs and escaped Walters’ pursuit.

“Her barn was haunted by the ghost of Henry Walters, whose terrifying screams supposedly echoed over the harbor.”

That’s when Walters went into the barn, put a white handkerchief over his face and hanged himself. According to Brady, the murderer had neatly folded his coat and vest and placed them on a bench.

Despite his traumatic experience, Emmet Darling, who also went by E.B. Darling and whose first name has sometimes been misspelled as “Emmett,” grew into a productive adult. According to former Cedar Hill Cemetery historian George Moraitis, Darling took over his family’s shipyard and married twice before his death almost 30 years after the murders.

His elder sister moved on to a degree — in his written history “Forevermore on Cedar Hill,” Moraitis noted that Martha Jane later remarried, to Capt. Oliver Davis. But Brady said the woman lived in the same house where her mother and first husband were murdered until her own death in 1906, “despite claims from some villagers that her barn was haunted by the ghost of Henry Walters, whose terrifying screams supposedly echoed over the harbor.”

No one else will live in the murder house, however — both the home and the shipyard property have been torn down and rebuilt. The Port Jefferson Village historical photo archive notes that the Port Jefferson Fire Department burned down the home during a drill 60 years ago, on Jan. 22, 1956, and a Suffolk County sewer facility took its place. The Darling shipyard, on the other hand, eventually became a power plant.

Darling-Walters is buried at Cedar Hill with her first husband and daughter, and William Sturtevant at his own family’s grave site there. Emmet Darling rests at Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook with his second wife, Julia A. Oakes.

According to Moraitis, the killer’s burial place is unknown.

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Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive

It was 44 years ago this week that a tank barge split in half in Port Jefferson Harbor, prompting a U.S. Coast Guard investigation.

The barge I.O.S. 3301 — which was connected to the towing vessel Martha R. Ingram and functioning as one with that vessel — had just finished off-loading more than 100,000 barrels of gasoline and almost 50,000 barrels of furnace oil in the incident on Monday, Jan. 10, 1972, according to a Coast Guard report. It went to turn around in the “shallow harbor” that morning but “as the last mooring line was being released, the vessel suddenly broke almost completely in half, and the two ends sank to the bottom. The barge was less than 1 year old.”

Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive
Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive

That crack in the middle of the ship went all the way across the main deck, down both the barge’s starboard and port sides and across almost half of its bottom. The forward and aft sections of the ship formed a 21-degree angle with the sea, the Coast Guard reported.

The vessel had arrived at the Consolidated Fuel Oil Company terminal in Port Jefferson Harbor the day before the sinking, after taking off from the Houston area on New Year’s Day and making a stop in Bridgeport, Conn. The Coast Guard reported that no one was injured in the sinking, but the barge was significantly damaged and the Martha R. Ingram, the adjacent pier and a tug on the scene sustained some damage.

In addition, “Residue of the ruptured tanks on the barge and piping on the pier caused some minor petroleum pollution to the harbor.”

Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive
Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive

The Coast Guard cited deficiencies in the barge’s steel as factors in the damage to the ship, but also said its primary cause was “uneven distribution of cargo and ballast at the extremities of the vessel.”

The crew members were able to get off the ship safely despite crew at the bow being cut off from lifesaving equipment, which was located at the stern.

Although the sea was calm that day, water temperatures were close to freezing — according to the Coast Guard, the air temperature was 46 degrees Fahrenheit but it was 40 degrees in the water.

The 584-foot barge “split in a manner which has occurred many times at ambient temperatures in structures fabricated from mild- and low-alloy steels.”