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Ghost

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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.

Steve Sacco’s character Matthew Moon captures a ghost in a scene from ‘Distiller.’ Photo from Andy Schroeder

There’s no genie in the Distiller’s bottles — only ghosts. The community can catch a glimpse of these ghosts in H.A.M. Studio’s spooky film “Distiller” at a free Long Island premiere screening at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket this Friday evening.

Filmed partially on Long Island, “Distiller” includes scenes shot locally along the North Shore and was produced by the husband and wife filmmaking team of Andy and Erin Schroeder, residents of Port Jefferson Station.

The film follows renowned ghost hunter Matthew Moon, who hunts and captures menacing ghosts in liquor bottles until his disappearance. Twenty years later, Moon’s niece Blue inherits his belongings and estate along with Moon’s collection of ghostly bottles. Moon’s niece and nephew Charlie discover what gives their uncle’s liquor bottles their kick when they open the bottles during their Fourth of July party.

Above, actress Amy Ciupek, left, and Andy Schroeder finalize audio for the film Distiller. Photo from Andy Schroeder
Above, actress Amy Ciupek, left, and Andy Schroeder finalize audio for the film Distiller. Photo from Andy Schroeder

Andy Schroeder, who also directs the film, came up with the idea for the film in the summer of 2012 with the help of Steve Sacco, who plays the part of Matthew Moon in the film.

Sacco and Schroeder teamed up to write the script, which took four months to complete. Filming followed shortly after and extended into 2013. Although less than two weeks was spent filming the actors’ scenes, Schroeder said more than 280 days was devoted to filming the movie’s numerous effect shots.

Schroeder wanted to take an “old school” approach to the film when it came to props and special effects. Puppets, real animals and other tangible props were used to add depth and authenticity to the film. This approach to special effects allowed the film to attract adults and kids alike. “We felt like there’s really not a lot of movies you can watch with kids that are under 13,” said Schroeder. “It’s definitely a movie for adults but we made it to be a family-friendly film … We didn’t want it to be a blood and guts kind of movie.”

Actor Dan Noonan, 31, who plays Charlie Moon, said people should look beyond the old school effects. “I think in this day and age in regards to just the tone of the movie, go in with an open mind expecting to have a good time,” Noonan said. “People get way too involved in how effects should look.”

Noonan lives in Albany but he met Schroeder in college more than 10 years ago. He said Schroeder reached out to him about playing Charlie for the film. Noonan added that filming was an eye-opening experience that left him wanting to make more movies. Noonan is waiting to pursue acting opportunities until after the film’s official release.

The film may not have many big name actors, but it does includes local actors and actresses like Ward Melville High School graduate Kerry Logan. Logan also appeared in the CW’s “Carrie Diaries” and played Piper’s cousin in “Orange Is the New Black.”

Members of the cast and crew of ‘Distiller,’ from left, Ritch Harrigan; Amy Ciupek; Erin and Andy Schroeder; Dan Noonan; and Steve Sacco. Photo from Andy Schroeder
Members of the cast and crew of ‘Distiller,’ from left, Ritch Harrigan; Amy Ciupek; Erin and Andy Schroeder; Dan Noonan; and Steve Sacco. Photo from Andy Schroeder

While the “Distiller” cast tackles their ghosts, the community can catch glimpses of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, Port Jefferson Village and the Berkshires in the film. Schroeder and his cast and crew utilized Emma S. Clark’s historic periodical reading room in several scenes, which was the original library building in 1892 according to Andy’s wife Erin who helped produce the film alongside her husband.

“It looks very rich and regal,” said  Erin, about the older section of the library. The couple thought filming scenes in these areas of the library would improve the look of the film and save money at the same time. As a library assistant at Emma S. Clark, Erin helped secure the location for the film.

While her husband majored in music engineering and producing at SUNY Oneonta, Erin wasn’t as familiar with producing a film. She chose to help the film behind the scenes by designing props and helping her husband with effects, saying, “It was the two of us, Andy and I, doing all the editing, music production, doing all the sound effects.”

Andy Schroeder once worked at the Setauket library as a page while he was attending Ward Melville High School. Now he produces the Town of Brookhaven’s TV Channel 18 on Cablevision as an audio-video production specialist and is also the artist of a weekly comic strip based on “Distiller,” which follows “Uncle Matt,” the film’s ghost hunter, on his supernatural misadventures. While he has produced other short films and music videos in the past, this is Schroeder’s first feature film.

While Schroeder doesn’t plan on creating a sequel to “Distiller,” the money earned from this production will go toward creating more films in the future. While he grew up in Setauket, Schroeder and his wife currently reside in Port Jefferson Station with their parakeets Doc, Cuddles, Quattro and Baby.

Residents can find out what happened to Moon and his ghosts at the film’s free screening on Friday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Emma S. Clark Library, 120 Main St., Setauket. Andy and Erin Schroeder will be in attendance to answer questions and the film crew will distribute free “Distiller” posters and comics based on the film’s characters during the premiere. The film will be available nationally on digital Video-On-Demand on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Google Play this Friday.

For more information on the film, to view the trailer or to see behind the scenes footage, visit www.distillerthemovie.com.

The Un-Living History cast, front row, from left, Jim Ryan, Carmen Collins, Rick Outcault and Ellen Mason. Back row, from left, Florence Lucker, Peter Reganato, Vincent Ilardi and Mary McKell. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

A terrifying, hooded figure sits in Mr. Vanderbilt’s bathtub. A skeleton stands behind an armchair in one of the elegant bedrooms. An eerie woman in a black robe with pasty-white skin and a frightful stare sits on a divan in Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. Near the fireplace in the grand, paneled library stands a tall mummy.

These are just a few of the ghostly, life-size props that will welcome you to Halloween at the Vanderbilt Mansion.

Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 24 and 25 and Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, are Haunted Weekends at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Festivities will include hourly Un-Living History Tours of the mansion beginning at noon, with the last tour starting at 4 p.m.   

Tours are interwoven with Vanderbilt family history and include ghost stories told by mansion guides dressed for the occasion. Visitors may meet Delia O’Rourke, the Irish cook, dressed in her bloody apron and carrying a meat cleaver, or one of the Vanderbilt family guests, aviator-industrialist Howard Hughes, dressed in the dirty, bloody clothing from his plane crash. Visitors also might run into the Phantom of the Opera or the occasional witch.

The Vanderbilt Mansion has a few ghost stories of its own — experienced by staff members from years ago. Those tales include hearing the laughter of young girls in the nursery wing of the mansion, in the evening after hours, and the nighttime sighting of the ghostly figure of a young boy in knickers and a cap running across the mansion lawn.

Recommended for children ages 8 and up. Tickets, sold at the gate, are $7 adults, $6 students and seniors, and $3 children ages 12 and under general admission plus $5 per person for a guided mansion tour. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.