Tags Posts tagged with "Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan"

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan

Vanderbilt Museum Stoll Wing Diorama. Vanderbilt Museum photo

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road Centerport has announced the upcoming revitalization of its Stoll Wing, a natural-history exhibit space dedicated to the spirit of exploration and learning.

The Stoll Wing project is made possible by generous support from the Roy M. Speer Foundation, which donated funds to honor the legacy of Charles H. Stoll.

The Museum has closed the Stoll Wing and Habitat Hall through mid-October. The renewal of the natural history exhibits represents the deepening of the Museum’s commitment to excellence in public education and stewardship.

This project will include updated signage, improved lighting, and elevated finishings. As part of the architect Ecodepot’s design, the renovation will also create additional vitrines to display ethnographic materials collected on the American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH) famous 1928 Stoll-McCracken Expedition to the Siberian Arctic.

The eight Stoll Wing dioramas display fifteen animals brought home by Charles H. Stoll (1887-1988) and his wife, Merle, between 1922 and 1969. Charles H. Stoll was a noted explorer, big-game hunter, and jurist who joined the Vanderbilt Museum Board of Trustees in 1969. He funded the Stoll-McCracken Expedition under the auspices of the AMNH, and the donation of his personal collection to the VanderbiltMuseum reflected his belief in the organization’s mission of informal education and enjoyment for the people of Long Island.

“We thank you for your understanding while this project is underway. We look forward to sharing the revitalized Stoll Wing with you soon,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director at the Vanderbilt Museum in a press release.

The renovation of the Stoll Wing is made possible by the generosity of the Roy M. Speer Foundation. Additional support for the conservation projects at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum comes from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, the Gerry Charitable Trust, the Pritchard Charitable Trust, and committed members of the Long Island community.

For more information on how to support the Suffolk County VanderbiltMuseum and its programs, please visit: www.vanderbiltmuseum.org/joinsupport/

Northport Scout Joseph Luft on the trail and steps he rebuilt on the Vanderbilt Estate. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum
Project enhanced beauty of estate and safety for visitor-hikers

Joseph Luft rebuilt the steps on a steep trail at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum as part of his project to become an Eagle Scout.

Luft, a junior at Northport High School and member of Troop 41, reconstructed the hill and the steps leading from the Wishing Well Garden at the Vanderbilt Mansion down to the Boathouse on the waterfront. Jim Munson, the Vanderbilt’s operations supervisor, said the old steps had begun to fail and became a safety concern. On a Troop 41 trip to the Museum in 2020, Luft noticed the deterioration and decided he wanted to make the trail his Eagle project, Munson said.

Above right: Kyle Roelofs, Michael Monda, Connor Jorgensen, James Posillico, Joe Luft, Ryan Edebohls, Will Ponder, David Luft. Photo by Virginia Luft.

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Museum, said, “We’re grateful to Joe for his important contribution to the Vanderbilt. The rebuilt hill, steps, and trail are crucial not only to the beauty and accessibility of the estate grounds, but also to the enjoyment and safety of visitors who hike the trail.”

Luft, who chose the project because he loves hiking, started planning it a year ago. He began working on the trail in August and with help from his family, troop, and friends completed work on October 2. He thanked “14 incredible scouts” for helping him raise $1,324 by holding a car wash and for working with him to complete the trail.

“The most surprising aspect of the project,” Luft said, “was how willing people were to lend a hand whenever I needed help or volunteers. Whether it was purchasing supplies or scrubbing down cars, someone was always there with me to help make sure it was done right. The people at the Vanderbilt were incredibly flexible with timing and with occasionally lending us one of their golf carts to haul tools.”

Luft, who is about to complete the Eagle Scout requirements, said it felt “amazing” to finish the project. “It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, a lot of stress and work. But the project was finally done and all I could do was sit back and look at everything accomplished with a smile.”

He said he learned a lot about how to organize fundraisers and how to write emails in a professional manner. “I also learned something about time management and how strong a community Northport is when it comes to people supporting each other.”

From left: Dave Bush; trustees Elizabeth Cambria and James Kelly; Christine Berardi of National Grid Foundation; trustees Laura Gerde, Gretchen Oldrin Mones, and Jack DeMasi; and Elizabeth-Wayland Morgan. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum
Century-old estate trail reclaimed, enhanced

William K. Vanderbilt II built a hiking trail in the 1920s on his Eagle’s Nest waterfront estate in Centerport that became overgrown and disappeared into the forest. The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, located at Eagle’s Nest, has reclaimed the trail, and held a grand opening in November. Major project donors and museum trustees attended the event in the Rose Garden, which is also the trailhead.

Now called the Solar System Hiking Trail, the course includes a scale model of the Solar System, which complements STEM and astronomy-education programs offered by the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium.

“This is a long-awaited day. We are grateful to Christine Berardi and the National Grid Foundation for 10 years of outstanding, unwavering support and to Vanderbilt trustee Laura Gerde and her husband, Eric Gerde. Their ongoing contributions to our STEM programming include the exhibits in the Planetarium lobby. Their steadfast support makes it possible for the Museum to expand its work as a leader in astronomy and science education,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum.

Other project donors are Marilyn and Russell Albanese, BAE Systems, Farrell Fritz Attorneys, Northwell Health, People’s United Bank, and PFM Asset Management.

Wayland-Morgan said Dave Bush, the director of the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium, “single-handedly created the Solar System trail — I don’t think there’s a program like this anywhere else.” She also thanked Jim Munson, the museum’s operations supervisor. “Jim noticed portions of the original trail and saw its potential. He said let’s do this.” 

Bush said that scale models of the solar system have been created before at museums, science centers, and universities. “But the Vanderbilt’s trail is likely the only one that traverses a one-mile hiking trail with hundreds of feet in elevation changes,” he said. “It is an opportunity for visitors to learn about the bodies in our solar system and its vast scale, and to see and experience parts of the museum property that have never been seen before by the public.”

By Tara Mae

Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s new exhibit, Alva Belmont: Socialite to Suffragist, traces Alva Vanderbilt Belmont’s evolution from Alabama belle to New York suffragist. 

Originally planned for 2020 as a centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it is on display in the Vanderbilt Mansion’s Lancaster Room on the first floor and offers an overview of Alva’s life while highlighting her fervent support for the women’s suffrage movement. 

“Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was the mother of William K. Vanderbilt II, who built the estate, mansion, and museum,” said Executive Director Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan. Alva’s first husband, William II’s father, was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a business tycoon who amassed his wealth through railroads and shipping. 

From a prominent Southern family, Alva brought her own money and social standing into the marriage and later used her position to fight for women’s rights. 

“As a Southern socialite, she became an unexpected champion of women’s rights. Alva gave important support and funding to the National American Woman Suffrage Association and several women’s suffrage groups in the U.S. and the United Kingdom,” Wayland-Morgan added. “Alva was in a position of considerable power, influence, and social connections. For such a woman in any era to take up the fight for the rights of all women was startling. I wanted to know more about her extraordinary life.”

The exhibit is set up in five sections: Early Life, First Foray, Marble House, The National Woman’s Party, and Later Life. 

“Each section represents a pivotal moment in Alva’s life that shows how she became involved in the suffragist movement over time,” explained Archives and Records Manager Killian Taylor during a recent tour.

Primary sources and artifacts, including newspaper articles and “Votes for Women” plates commissioned by Alva, are on display and the Estate of Nan Guzzetta loaned 13 replicas of historic suffragist outfits to set the stage. The focal point of the exhibit is the photographs that adorn the walls. 

Images are included from the museum’s collection, the Library of Congress, and the National Woman’s Party, as well as loaned from the Southampton History Museum. Port Jefferson Village historian Chris Ryon also provided prints. A video installation, sponsored by Bank of America, chronicles her life.

“It is primarily a photo-based exhibit; Alva’s life through photos. Alva was savvy about using the media to her advantage” said Taylor.

Featuring pictures of Alva’s private and public lives, photos depict Alva with her children, at her homes, such as Marble House in Rhode Island (site of her “Conference of Great Women”), and with her fellow suffragists, among them Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.  

Taylor’s favorite images pertain to Alva’s work with the suffrage movement. 

“The first is a photo of Alva, Alice Paul, and a number of members of the National Woman’s Party; everyone is centered around Alva, who is sitting at a desk that belonged to Susan B. Anthony. The second is a photo of Alva’s funeral in 1933; the mausoleum is a replica of one designed by da Vinci. Alva’s pallbearers were all women and her casket flanked by members of National Woman’s Party,” he said.  

Recognizing the influence of her social capital, Alva leveraged it for promoting women’s suffrage. Any event, even her own funeral, could be used for publicity. 

“One of Alva’s strong points was that she was very, very good at using the press, so when she became heavily involved in the movement she made sure that she got in the papers,” Taylor said.  

Alva joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association circa 1909, following the death of her second husband, Oliver Belmont, and quickly put to good use the connections she had initially fostered while married to her first husband, William Kissam Vanderbilt.  

Alva networked, hosted events, organized, founded the Political Equality Union of New York to elect candidates who supported women’s suffrage, created a new national press bureau, worked the press, and with Paul even arranged the first picket protest to be held outside the White House. 

As a leader of women’s suffrage, Alva was advocating for women to have power beyond what was allocated to them by the men in their lives. Before women had the right to vote, their primary access to power was through their husbands (or fathers.) 

And so, prior to her participation in the women’s suffrage movement, Alva sought authority through the means most available to her: making a socially and economically suitable marriage for herself. Alva understood the importance of a “good match,” as Taylor noted, and with William K. Vanderbilt, she made one.

“Their marriage was pragmatic; it was not a love match,” he added. “For an American woman who wanted independence during the 19th century, the option was to marry rich.” 

William was certainly rich; he was part of the wealthiest family in the country. He and Alva had three children: Consuelo, William, and Harold. 

Alva divorced William Sr. for having an affair, at the time an uncommon response to such behavior. 

“She is the one who suffered the backlash,” Taylor said. Still, she emerged with several of their estates and a financial settlement reportedly in the range of $10 million. 

Her second marriage, to Oliver Belmont, was by all accounts a happier union. In 1908, her husband died of appendicitis and Alva fell into a depression. To cope, she immersed herself in charitable works and causes, which led her to the women’s suffrage movement. 

“At Consuelo’s urging, she attended a suffrage event in the United Kingdom and that lit the spark,” Taylor said. 

Consuelo was involved in the women’s suffrage movement in England, and the two pooled their resources and clout for women’s suffrage in the United States. They had reconciled after a rift caused years earlier by Alva’s machinations in arranging Consuelo’s marriage.

She selected Charles Spencer-Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, as Consuelo’s husband. Alva apparently saw the union as an opportunity for further upward mobility and international social standing. Consuelo refused to wed him, wanting instead to elope with her secret fiancé, Winthrop Rutherford. 

In retaliation, Alva had her locked in her room and threatened to shoot Rutherford. “Alva was very strong-willed,” Taylor said. Consuelo continued to resist until Alva emotionally blackmailed her into compliance, feigning she was dying of a heart ailment to get her then seventeen year old daughter to acquiesce. On the day of the wedding, while Consuelo reputedly wept behind her veil, Alva appeared to have made an immediate and full recovery. 

A little over a decade into the marriage, Consuelo and Charles separated. They later divorced and sought an annulment, with Alva’s full support. During the process, Alva told an investigator “I forced my daughter to marry the duke.”

The common goal of women’s suffrage helped heal the once frayed relationship between the two women, and as Consuelo worked abroad, Alva, with the National Woman’s Party, sought a constitutional amendment to guarantee women the right to vote in the United States. 

Victory came in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Alva then moved to France to be near Consuelo. She died there in 1933 and is interred in the Belmont Mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. 

“The museum is proud of Alva’s national leadership role as a champion of women’s rights, as was her family. Her success in the suffrage movement and in securing the right of women to vote is a significant, pivotal chapter in American history,” Wayland-Morgan said. 

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport presents Alva Belmont: Socialite to Suffragist through mid-January 2022. Tickets to the museum are $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $9 for students with ID, and $7 for children age 12 and younger) Children under the age of two are free. Current hours for the museum, mansion and planetarium are Friday to Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum Jennifer Vacca/Zoot Shoot Photographers

By Melissa Arnold

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan is no stranger to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport. She’s been on staff at the museum for 11 years now in a variety of roles before being named executive director last year. The California native has spent time living on both coasts, all the while developing a deep love for the arts and culture. Those passions ultimately led her to Long Island and the historic estate she is honored to care for. 

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum
Jennifer Vacca/Zoot Shoot Photographers

How did you get interested in museum work? 

I guess it started when I was a young child. My mother is an artist and we often visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. From that early age I was enthralled with the art of other cultures, which led me to study fine arts and anthropology in college.

What are your major responsibilities? 

Right now, my primary focus is to carefully steer the museum through this extraordinarily difficult time and to see that it thrives into the future. I am directly involved with managing the museum’s day-to-day functions, and work with our incredibly talented staff to develop our programming. Recently, that’s included virtual education, astronomy and natural-history programs, rotating exhibitions, and engaging outdoor events.

What attracted you to the museum and what are some of your favorite things about it now?

I was initially attracted to the cultural aspects and the beauty and history of the estate and the mansion. Those facets represent a unique opportunity to connect a wide range of educational themes and to bring history to life. 

The Vanderbilt is a living museum of a singular era in American history. From the late 19th century to the 1930s, more than 1,200 of the country’s richest and most powerful individuals built sprawling summer estates along the north shore of Long Island, known as the Gold Coast. William K. Vanderbilt II’s Eagle’s Nest is one of the few that remain. 

I love that we’ve become not only a regional destination but also an attraction for international visitors. During the last few years, we welcomed guests from more than 40 countries.

One of my favorite secluded spots on the property is the Wishing Well Garden. It’s a lovely, peaceful place to sit and reflect. My favorite building other than the mansion is the large, Tudor-style boathouse. Its covered porch offers striking panoramic views of the Northport Bay, where Mr. Vanderbilt anchored his yachts and began his voyages.  

Tell me a bit about the museum’s history and what it has to offer. 

Mr. Vanderbilt wanted a summer place far from the bustle of New York City. He found this property and bought it 1910. He told friends that on an early visit, he saw an eagle soaring over his property and decided to call his estate Eagle’s Nest. He built the mansion in stages and finished it in 1936.

He loved the natural world and the oceans, and explored them during voyages on his yacht. He created a marine museum on his estate and called it the Hall of Fishes. It was the first stage of what became his larger museum complex. He opened it to the public on a limited basis in 1922.  

Mr. Vanderbilt circumnavigated the world twice. Not just for pleasure, but also to build his museum. Eventually he amassed the largest collection of privately assembled marine specimens from the pre-atomic era. We have 22 wild-animal habitat dioramas and a collection of more than 40,000 objects. Two collection highlights are a 32-foot whale shark and a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy.

Do you have a favorite event at the museum that you look forward to? 

For years, my highlight of every summer has been Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra, who have performed for 13 years in the Mansion courtyard. The beautiful Spanish architecture makes guests feel as if they’ve been transported to a romantic evening in Latin America. I also really enjoyed our Halloween Wicked Walk and holiday Bright Lights events last year.

What do you feel you’ve brought to the table as director so far? Do you have goals for the museum?  

Steering the Vanderbilt through the pandemic-induced crisis has been a challenge of a lifetime. Safety has been paramount. Beyond that, I firmly believe that my most important job has been to empower and motivate the staff and to create a positive and collaborative environment. We are all protective of this special place. The pandemic shutdown allowed us additional time to concentrate on grant writing and fundraising and to uncover new opportunities. Financial stability is our most important goal, and we aim to build upon innovative programming that will produce essential income. 

A very exciting project is the reclamation of Mr. Vanderbilt’s original nature trails. Hikers can wander through forested sections of the estate and stop at vantage points that offer spectacular views of the bay.

Our virtual astronomy and natural-history education outreach to regional schools has been very successful, and we’re looking to expand that.

Another important goal is to digitize the collections. In doing so, we’ll be able to share more details of Mr. Vanderbilt’s fascinating life and global explorations. We’re starting with the Vanderbilt’s collection of 6,000 photos. 

We are renovating Mr. Vanderbilt’s large, four-bay garage to create an up-to-date version of the existing Vanderbilt Learning Center with enhanced technology.

What else is in the works?

Our restoration projects are moving forward. We’re working on the exterior of Normandy Manor, the mansion facades and bell tower, and Nursery Wing. 

Very important to the museum’s future is the Historic Waterfront Project. We are looking for donors to help us restore the boathouse, granite seawall, seaplane hangar, and esplanade. It has been closed to the public for a long time and is the museum’s greatest current challenge.

How did the museum function last year? Did you offer masked tours, virtual events, etc.? 

All staff that were able to work virtually began to do so immediately. Their support and dedication is how we’re getting through this time. Many are longtime colleagues who know and understand the museum and its operations well. News of a pandemic was certainly shocking, but we pulled together as a strong team and have been navigating these turbulent times very well. 

The museum-education and planetarium staffs began right away to create virtual programming. They made downloadable projects for children that presented intriguing facts about animals and birds in the natural-history collections. We posted the projects on our website so parents could print images for their children to read, color or paint. The planetarium produced astronomy learning videos on topics such as exploring Mars, rockets, black holes, and using a telescope. On June 12, the state allowed the museum to reopen its estate grounds safely. 

We built a large screen and held movie nights in our parking lot; offered exterior architectural tours of the mansion; and bird talks and owl prowls with an ornithologist. We offered mini-wedding ceremonies and elopements. We created a Halloween ‘Wicked Walk,’ and a December holiday ‘Bright Lights’ event with social distancing policies.

In the fall, when we were able to open the buildings at 25% capacity, we offered small-group mansion tours and planetarium shows before closing for the winter months.

What do you have planned this year?

The staff has many projects underway, including an installation in the newly restored Lancaster Room of the exhibition “Alva Belmont: Socialite to Suffragist,” which explores the women’s voting rights activism of Mr. Vanderbilt’s mother, Alva Belmont Vanderbilt. 

Our first big outdoor event for 2021 will be Vandy Land. It’s an outdoor game day for everyone It will open on March 27 and run through April 3. Actors will portray kid-friendly characters, and we’ll have vendors, crafts, musical entertainment, refreshments, and the Easter Bunny. 

As a special Vandy Land attraction, we will commemorate Mr. Vanderbilt’s original estate golf course by building an 18-hole mini-golf course. Everyone who plays in what we’re calling the William K. Vanderbilt Golf Classic will be entered into our big prize drawing. After school vacation is over, we’ll keep the golf course open every Saturday and Sunday during the day through the end of April, and on Thursday through Saturday evenings, too.

Why do you think the Vanderbilt Museum is such a special place? 

The atmosphere is magical. This is one of the only remaining Gold Coast mansions. We offer a glimpse into the past. The mansion has been kept exactly as it was when the Vanderbilts lived here. In particular, the rooms display personal effects — a teapot and cup on a side table next to Rosamond’s bed, books and papers on William’s desk, and open suitcases with clothes in the guest rooms. The impression this creates is that the family is living there, but has stepped out for the afternoon.

When you walk the grounds, the smell of salt air complements the view. You see hawks and osprey soaring overhead, and the striking Spanish architecture of the mansion. The experience is relaxing and soothing. It’s a visual and sensory trip back in time.

Why is it so important to keep this part of Long Island’s history alive? 

The Vanderbilt family and its vast railroad holdings were essential in the development of this country. When you walk through the mansion and museum, you are surrounded by rare fine and decorative art and furnishings, some of it centuries old. It’s a time-machine stroll through a storied era of elite, privileged lives on Long Island’s Gold Coast. 

We are an informal education institution, as Mr. Vanderbilt intended. The museum continues this mission through its education programs and offerings — to the public and to more than 25,000 schoolchildren each year. It’s important to keep this all but vanished history alive for future generations.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. For more information, including events, spring hours and admission rates, please visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.

Eagle’s Nest, the Mansion of William K. Vanderbilt II. Vanderbilt Museum photo

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum has received assistance from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation – a grant of $2,000 from its Reimbursement Operating Support (ROS) program.

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Vanderbilt, said the Gardiner grant helped with the cost of the Museum’s service contract for website and IT support.

“The pandemic created an immediate need for increased technical support for our Education Department,” Wayland-Morgan said. “Our educators needed to transition quickly from on-site educational programs to virtual learning. Their expertise in instruction and program creation allowed them to produce new videos and collections-based projects for learning in school and at home.”

“We were able to creatively increase our capacity to serve schoolchildren, families, and other constituents throughout Long Island and well beyond. The Gardiner grant gave us necessary support to make that happen,” she added.

Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Gardiner Foundation, said it created the ROS program to counter the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on “Long Island’s historic stewards.” The awards were for reimbursement for institutional expenses incurred in 2020.

The Gardiner Foundation, established in 1987 in Hampton Bays, supports the study of Long Island history, with an emphasis on Suffolk County.

The Mansion of William K. Vanderbilt II. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport is now closed for the winter months and will reopen in the spring. The announcement was made in a press release on Jan. 7.

“We made this decision for public-health reasons,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Vanderbilt. “The COVID-19 positivity rate is increasing rapidly. This brief pause gives us the opportunity to attend to needed upkeep and restoration in the Mansion and other Estate buildings.”

Educators are continuing to work remotely, creating virtual programs to enhance classroom learning, and the curatorial staff is producing new exhibitions to debut in the coming season.

“We’re also planning more family-friendly outdoor programs and events for 2021,” she said. “Looking forward to seeing you in the spring.”

For more information and updates, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

By Melissa Arnold

It’s been a long year of Netflix binges and Zoom meetings for all of us, and these days, nothing feels better than getting out a little. You don’t have to go far to find interesting places to explore, either.

Most Long Island locals are probably familiar with the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport, with its sprawling grounds, elaborate mansion and impressive collection of marine life. But be honest: When was your last visit? If it’s been a while — or even if it hasn’t — their 70th anniversary year is the perfect time to stop by.

“The Vanderbilt is unique, a don’t-miss slice of American history. When you take a guided tour of the mansion and its galleries, it’s a time machine trip to a remarkable era of privilege,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the museum. “At one point in the past, there were more than 1,200 mansions on Long Island’s Gold Coast. This is one of the few that remains.”

The Vanderbilt Mansion as we know it today had relatively modest beginnings. William K. Vanderbilt II, a son of the famed Vanderbilt family, had just separated from his first wife in the early 1900s. “Willie K.,” as he’s affectionately known, was looking for a place to get a fresh start, away from the public eye. So he came to Centerport and purchased land, where he built a 7-room, English-style cottage along with some outbuildings.

The cottage, called Eagle’s Nest, was eventually expanded into a sprawling 24-room mansion in the Spanish Revival style. From 1910 to 1944, Eagle’s Nest was Vanderbilt’s summer hideaway. He and his second wife Rosamond hosted intimate gatherings of Vanderbilt family members and close friends, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, legendary golfer Sam Snead, and the Tiffanys.

Of course, that was just the beginning. According to Killian Taylor, the museum’s curatorial associate, Vanderbilt developed a fascination with all kinds of animals, the sea and the natural world from a young age. He had the opportunity to travel the world on his father’s yachts as a child, and longed to see more as he reached adulthood.

“Later, Willie K. inherited $20 million from his late father. One of the first things he did was purchase a very large yacht and hire a team of scientists and a crew,” Taylor explained. “With them, he began to travel and collect marine life, and by 1930, he had amassed one of the world’s largest private marine collections.”

With the help of scientists and experts from the American Museum of Natural History, Vanderbilt created galleries at the Estate to showcase his collections which contains more than 13,000 different marine specimens of all kinds and sizes, from the tiniest fish to a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

After Vanderbilt died in 1944, Rosamond continued to live in their Centerport mansion until her death in 1947. The 43-acre estate and museum – which remain frozen in time, exactly as they were in the late 1940s – opened to the public on July 6, 1950, following instructions left in Vanderbilt’s will. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The museum also features a 3,000-year-old mummy, which Vanderbilt purchased from an antique shop in Cairo, Egypt, Taylor said. The mummy even had an X-ray taken at nearby Stony Brook University Hospital, where they determined the remains are of a female around 25 years old.

“She doesn’t have a name out of respect for the fact that she was once a living woman with her own identity,” Taylor added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of difficulties to every business, and while the museum has had to temporarily close some of its facilities, including the mansion’s living quarters and planetarium, they’ve also added new opportunities for visitors.

“Like many other museums, we had to get creative virtually very quickly,” said Wayland-Morgan. “Our Education Department created the ‘Explore’ series for children — fascinating facts about the lives of birds, butterflies, reptiles, and fish, with pictures to download and color. The Planetarium astronomy educators produced 11 videos on topics including How to Use a Telescope, Imagining Alien Life, Mars, Black Holes, and Fitness in Space. We’ve received very positive responses.” The planetarium also offers online astronomy classes.

The museum is also offering new outdoor programs on the grounds, including walking tours, sunset yoga, a popular series of bird talks by an ornithologist James MacDougall and are currently hosting the third annual Gardeners Showcase through September. On Fridays and Saturdays, movie-and-picnic nights are a popular draw at the outdoor, drive-in theater.

Even without a specific event to attend, the grounds are a perfect place to wander when cabin fever strikes.

“The best reason to visit right now is to stroll the grounds and gardens and visit the open galleries. We’ve also become a very popular picnic destination with a great view of Northport Bay,” Wayland-Morgan said. “We plan to reopen the mansion living quarters and planetarium later in the fall.”

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. As of Sept. 17, hours of operation are from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The mansion’s living quarters and the planetarium are currently closed. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children under 12, and $7 for students and seniors. Children under 2 are admitted free. For questions and information, including movie night passes, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.

Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum

Dear Friends,

Like you, we are adapting to the restrictions placed on everyone in the country. Every day we are learning more about how to deal with the crisis and how to care for each other’s health and safety.

This new “temporary” reality offers all of us time to rediscover the true value and importance of family and friends.

We are concerned for everyone’s well-being and doing our best to stay up-to-date and to comply with recommended guidelines from local and state health officials.

For these reasons we will remain closed until we can reopen safely. With what we learn this spring, we can assess what to do next.

By summer, we hope brighter days will prevail! Our plan is to welcome you back to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum to rediscover the beauty and magic of the historic Eagle’s Nest estate.

Upon reopening, we will feature new and engaging programs, as well as live concerts and new shows in the Reichert Planetarium. The annual Shakespeare Festival will return to the Vanderbilt Mansion courtyard stage for its 32nd summer and our fabulous suffragette-costumed guides will conduct Living History tours in the Mansion.

Restoration of Mr. Vanderbilt’s original hiking trails is underway — they will offer a great chance to inhale fresh air, enjoy water views, and experience outdoor learning while you get some exercise.

As always, your ongoing loyalty and support is our greatest gift.Looking forward to your return! Stay safe and well,

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan

Interim Executive Director

Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum


The Vanderbilts and Huntingtons, with the Sikorsky seaplane behind them, are greeted by press photographers at the airport in Mendoza, Argentina. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum
Update: This event is sold out!

By Sabrina Petroski

Dance the night away at the eighth annual Summer Fiesta at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport! The year’s most important fundraiser for the museum, the gala event will be held in the Vanderbilt Mansion’s Spanish Revival courtyard on Saturday, July 21 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. and feature an evening of wine, food, music and, of course, dancing. 

“We want it to be a wonderful evening for the attendees, and we also want to showcase the museum and have them see why it’s important to support the museum and the work that we’re doing here,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the museum, in a recent phone interview. “Thirdly, we want to raise funds for our programs and to be able to expand our education programs.”  

 According to the museum’s Director of Development Sue Madlinger, this year’s gala is a salute to William K. Vanderbilt II, his wife Rosamund and friends Edie and Robert Huntington who flew around the Caribbean, Central America and the perimeter of South America in Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43 seaplane, from Jan. 18 to Feb. 11, 1937, “which was a major feat in it’s day. Each year we try to bring Mr. Vanderbilt’s history into our events, and all the great things he did for [the museum], for Long Island, and all the adventures that he went on,” she said.

Entertainment for the gala includes Latin music by the world-renowned band, Los Cintron, with performances by flamenco dancer Juana Cala. The Cintron brothers are known as the greatest Gypsy Kings tribute band, and the group’s guitars, vocals and melodies evoke the traditional sounds of Andalusia and their beloved Spain. Food will be catered by Sangria 71 restaurant in Commack and feature hors d’oeuvres, a five-foot paella and dinner. On the menu will be chicken, salmon, fish and skirt steak plus margaritas, sangria, wine and beer. 

The funds raised from the gala will go toward expanding and modernizing the Vanderbilt Learning Center within the Carriage House. “We have an aggressive plan to upgrade [the Carriage House] architecturally, to maintain the historic features of the building but to bring in modern elements and flexibility so that we can continue the education program in a way that children are used to learning,” said Reinheimer. 

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, the associate director of the museum, says the museum is looking for more sponsors, as well as corporate support to continue working on making the educational programs more attractive for children of all ages. 

Tickets are $135 for nonmembers, $125 for members. In the event of rain, the Summer Fiesta will be moved to the Celebration Tent. Guests are asked to follow a formal dress code, with cobblestone-friendly shoes. For more information, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.