By Cayla Rosenhagen
Passing through the elaborate iron gates leading into the Vanderbilt Eagle’s Nest estate, visitors are swept back through time to a decade long gone. Guests are immersed in the decadent Gold Coast era of Long Island’s history.
For many years, the Eagle’s Nest mansion and the rest of the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport have been one of my favorite locations to explore. My family and I are frequent visitors. On July 16th, we had the pleasure of returning to the Vanderbilt property to attend the 31st annual Shakespeare Festival.
Eagle’s Nest, a 24-room Spanish Revival mansion, was constructed by famed architects Warren and Wetmore by order of William K. Vanderbilt II, great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1910. In 1950, the estate and grounds were transformed into an education center, inviting the public to come visit and live like a Vanderbilt.
On the evening of our visit, Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” was being performed by the Carriage House Players in the grand, cobblestone courtyard situated in the middle of the manor. Arriving early to picnic on the back garden terrace, we indulged in delectable take-out from a local café. We set up our lawn chairs by the fountain, where we had a breathtaking vista. Across the well-manicured, grassy slopes, Northport Bay stretched calmly between us and the peninsula of Eaton’s Neck. It was a clear evening and the Sound with Connecticut beyond it was in perfect view. Robins foraged nearby and swallows practiced their aerial acrobatics overhead.
Shortly before the play began, we gathered in the courtyard with several dozen other audience members to take our seats. The courtyard, an ideal setting to watch one of the Bard’s most beloved plays, was illuminated by intricate iron lanterns and string lights overhead. Lined with garden beds of vibrant flora, the space radiated with Mediterranean splendor. The half-moon shone brightly over the terracotta-roofed belltower above the portcullis entrance.
The play itself was a joy to watch. The actors truly enraptured the wit, humor, and magic of Shakespeare. By the time the show ended with an extended applause, the sun had set, and the stars appeared above us in the twilight sky. As the other guests exited, I took a moment to myself on the back patio, soaking up the enchanting moment. In a dream-like state, I watched the glimmering fireflies over the lawn and gazed out upon the water. Sailboats, only visible in the night by their multihued lights, paraded by with chiming bells. A faint melody of whimsical, classical music filled the salty, sea air. As I left the fairytale-like setting, I knew I would be back there again soon.
Throughout the summer, the museum hosts live theatrical performances in the courtyard every Wednesday and Friday at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 7 p.m. This year, the featured plays are “As You Like It,” “Titus Andronicus,” and “Richard III.” Tickets for the shows are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and children. In addition to plays, the Vanderbilt grounds also host a variety of other events. These include tours of the mansion and museum exhibitions, magic shows, concerts, art workshops, yoga classes, and a wide array of planetarium shows at the Reichert Planetarium for the whole family’s enjoyment. Please see their website, vanderbiltmuseum.org, for more details.
Cayla Rosenhagen is a local high school student who enjoys capturing the unique charm of the community through photography and journalism. She serves on the board of directors for the Four Harbors Audubon Society and Brookhaven’s Youth Board, and is the founder and coordinator of Beach Bucket Brigade, a community outreach program dedicated to environmental awareness, engagement, and education. She is also an avid birder, hiker, and artist who is concurrently enrolled in college, pursuing a degree in teaching.