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Rocky Point Just One LI Location Dedicated to Protect NYC from Attack

The nuclear missile silo located in the Rocky Point pine barrens was one of 19 such bases meant to protect New York City from missile attack. Many locals living on the North Shore worked at this site over the decades.

By Rich Acritelli, Sean Hamilton, Carolyn Settepani and Madelyn Zarzycki

In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis came extremely close to pushing the superpowers of the United States and Soviet Union into a nuclear war. Closer to home, people went to church to light candles in the hope that a peaceful resolution would be found to prevent war. Little did our local citizens ever know about the history of Long Island, especially that of Rocky Point, in how close the Cold War was to our residents.  Within the sprawling acres of the conservation area that stretches from Miller Place, Rocky Point, Ridge, and Shoreham, was a nuclear missile silo.  

Gary Wladyka, front, and Tony Kuczewski bike through the Rocky Point Mountain Bike Trail. If one follows certain paths they can find the site of the old nuclear missile silo. File photo by Kyle Barr

This was one of 19 missile bases that were built by the U.S. military and government to ensure the protection of New York City. While it is extremely unique to have this piece of history on the North Shore, these weapon sites were also in Oyster Bay, Lloyd Harbor, Lido Beach, and Amityville. Citizens in upstate New York and northern New Jersey had these weapons in their midst which were stationed near major population centers, in the suburbs, near schools, businesses, etc. From 1945 to 1990, hostile tensions were demonstrated by the U.S. and Soviet Union in every corner of the world, and the roots to protect against the prospects of a communist attack were based within the pine barrens of Rocky Point.  

Most people never realized how close they came to being near an operational missile that was designed to fire at a moment’s notice. Later, private homes were built on the missile sites in Oyster Bay and Lloyd Harbor. In Lido Beach, where missiles were a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean, it is now the headquarters of the Long Beach School District bus depot. If you were to hike around Camp Hero in Montauk, there are many reminders of the Cold War including a radar tower and a series of military bunkers. Within our local conservation area, thousands of local mountain bikers a year have surely ridden through these numerous trails, where one is able to see the silo protruding out of the ground.   Situated around this long-removed weapon is a fence that has signs to warn the people not to enter this once classified and dangerous area.

Today, it is possible to go to this location from trails that start at the Rocky Point Route 25A Bypass. Not too far from the Broadway light, there is a straight trail that leads for a half of a mile southward. If you’re mountain biking, running or walking, you will quickly reach an open field. It is easy to observe older military roads, cement, brick gate pillars, and barbed wire fencing. It is also possible to reach this spot by traveling down Rocky Point-Yaphank Road and about three quarters of a mile south of the condominiums, there is an access road that will take you southeastern to an old parking lot. At this spot, there is a noticeable black military road that will precisely lead to one of the 250 Nike Missile sites previously present were in America.

Underground is a bunker complex area that was built some 50 feet long and 60 feet wide. Although these missile bases were organized by the U.S. Army, these bases’ functions were later handed off to the National Guard that had a full-time garrison of soldiers and reservists. In the 1960s, the soldiers that manned these sensitive weapons were paid $85 a week, purchased nearby homes and said little to their families about this vital duty.  If these weapons were to be fired in response to an attack by the Soviet Union, it was estimated that they could fly 1,600 mph, reached altitudes of 70,000 feet and had a conventional warhead and a range of about 25 miles.

As with the advent of new technology, many of these weapons were quickly considered to be obsolete.  Eventually, these military bases that were located on Long Island were closed and only the Amityville and Rocky Point sites remained open during most of the Cold War. The Ajax missile was later replaced by the Hercules that allowed for a range of 90 miles and ten kilotons of explosives (three less than what was used on Hiroshima). From 1959 to 1964, there were 56 of these powerful weapons that were stored in metal sheds in Westhampton Beach that would target any Soviet aircraft that could attack the area.  Today, this is the location of a training firing and vehicle range for the Suffolk County Police and 106th Air National Guard.  

The Rocky Point Natural Resource Management Area includes trails that take one past the location of the old nuclear site.

Many of these weapons were created to attack long range Soviet bombers targeting the highly populated areas of Manhattan. Although they were placed near the North Shore, the base at Rocky Point was completely top secret with two fences (one being electric) and guard dogs. The codes were kept in safes, and at all times there had to be two military officials to concur over the status of the codes and firing. These bases were always the center of heightened military discipline and drills.  

To keep the soldiers sharp to their own attention to detail, many of these men and women had inspections, military scenarios and trips to New Mexico, where they received advanced annual training.  It was stated in earlier stories that the missile battery at Rocky Point excelled with national army awards for preparation and was rated as one of the five top bases for these weapons in America. Not too far from the summer bungalows, baseball fields, Joseph A. Edgar Imtermediate School and the older hamlet of Rocky Point was an unknown reminder of the threats of the Cold War. While the U.S. and Soviet Union competed for domination in Berlin, Cuba, Vietnam and Afghanistan, there were many local military residents that quietly ensured the national security of this country within the trails of the Rocky Point Conservation Area.

This article was a collaboration with students in the Rocky Point High School History Honors Society and its advisor, Rich Acritelli.

Steven Klipstein, who taught at Suffolk County Community College for 49 years, is also the academic lead for the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding. Photo from SCCC

Stony Brook resident Steven Klipstein may be retired from his college post, but it seems hard to stop him from teaching.

Klipstein spent one year shy of five decades at Suffolk County Community College, where he taught in the English department, though he is much more widely known for his course on the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany during World War II. 

Steven Klipstein continues as the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding at SCCC despite being retired. Photo from SCCC

He talks with a soft urgency about his passions, whether it’s teaching, his time as adviser to the college newspaper, or his work with the college’s Holocaust center, which is now called the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding. For those students who knew him, that demeanor bled into his lectures, especially in the Holocaust class. He has taught that course for well over 30 years, and even now after he is a professor emeritus at SCCC, he still tries to teach young people about the massacre of over 6 million Jews.

And as people of the Jewish faith reach the end of Hanukkah this year and looking back to last year where New York was the site of multiple anti-Semitic attacks at the end of the Jewish holiday, such understanding becomes ever more important.

“At least New York mandates a day in high school, a mention of the Holocaust, so at least most New York kids know that it happened,” he said. “But most of the country doesn’t, so they have no idea what it is.”

It’s because the point Klipstein makes is while too many people see the Holocaust as a distant event, a pothole in the historical timeline, the reality is that it was not some kind of aberration, but the culmination of years of anti-Semitism both in Europe and in America. The U.S., while touting its role in defeating the Third Reich, was also the home to much of the time’s leading anti-Semites, such as Henry Ford, who in 1938 received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner.

But even closer to home, Long Island was one of the few places to have a real Nazi element in its backyard. In 1935, Camp Siegfried, a Nazi youth camp, opened in Yaphank. Though back then it may have seemed more like a camp to celebrate German heritage, even with the young men in brown shirts marching down roads named Hitler Street with arms outstretched in the classic Nazi salute. Klipstein talked about that camp, among other topics, in a recent six-hour American Heroes Channel documentary, “Hitler’s Empire.”

Although it is common knowledge today, Klipstein said it took decades for a common understanding of those events to take root, both in Germany and in the U.S. But now, he said, he’s seeing some of that understanding slip away.

Though occasionally he received critical glances from students about some point in his lectures, he has never encountered a Holocaust denier in his academic history. Still they are out there. The professor emeritus cited a tale told by Ruth Minsky Senderowicz, a Holocaust survivor from Commack, who has said a denier called to get her to say her story — of her mother being taken from her at the Lodz Ghetto in Poland and the daughter being sent to Auschwitz — was a lie.

“It takes a lot of courage to fight them, because they’re not really scholars, they’re provocateurs,” Klipstein said.  

Though the issue is now in getting more students to volunteer to learn about those horrific events. He continues to teach the Holocaust class, but said his lecture is down to small numbers. He stressed how important it is for people to not only learn about those days in the death camps but come to see the world differently through that understanding.

“I think for a lot of students, it’s eye opening,” he said. “And if you’re in tune to it, you learn and you will think about it in different philosophical terms than what you’ve been thinking before about the nature of the world and humanity — the Holocaust can can’t help but make you face those realities.”

Legacy at SCCC

The venerable educator got started at 25 years old, back when academia was coming into its own in Suffolk. Stony Brook University was growing at a rapid rate, and places like SCCC were attracting new blood into its ranks. Klipstein had a good interview and “got lucky,” and was hired on the spot.

That hire would come to bite a few campus administrators in the proverbial butts later down the line. Years later, when he was assistant head of the English department, effectively also the head of the college’s journalism department, he said the campus newspaper, The Compass, was “moribund,” effectively on the brink of death. He came in after there was a reported brawl inside the paper’s office.

“I told the other administrators that something’s got to be done, and they said, ‘Well, OK, do it,’” Klipstein said.

Cutting out the rougher parts of the staff, and just with two or three young people, he revitalized the paper. With the help of new editorial staff, they were putting out a good-sized, 20-page campus newspaper that won awards from the likes of Newsday. The paper also did not shy from getting involved in campus controversy. They went after administrators for nepotism in hiring family members for dead-end jobs or highlighting discrepancies with the college budget.

“It was really kind of enervating and exciting being the troublemakers on campus,” he said. “And we embarrassed them more than once, you know, which I confess that I loved.”

While administration couldn’t fire Klipstein as a tenured professor, he said it would regularly threaten his position as adviser to the paper. He would hold that position at the paper for 13 years.

Of his near 50-years at Suffolk, there are several things that Klipstein said he takes pride in. The paper, for one, was an act of helping to build something from effectively nothing. Though now that he’s stepped back from a full-time role in academia, the professor can’t help but see what he called a decline of people’s appreciation for arts or culture, which breaks down into a decline in appreciation for history or even today’s current events.

“A lot of our problems come from the fact that we have completely denuded the liberal arts,” he said. “I said, so many times, it’s going to start creeping into our politics — we are going to elect someone who is just basically from image, no substance, just image. And that person is going to get us into a lot of trouble. I swear I said it so many times, it was coming out of my ears, and sure enough, there he is.”

Though Suffolk has not cut any of its liberal arts programs, he said there has been a steady decline in the number of students taking those kinds of classes. Less degrees are requiring liberal arts classes as well. He points to places like Stony Brook University which in 2018 suspended admission into its theater arts, comparative literature and cinema arts programs.. The backlash led to the then-College of Arts and Sciences Dean Sacha Kopp stepping down.

“A university can’t do that, that’s not thinking in the long run … that basically what students really need to learn, more than anything, is how to critically think,” Klipstein said. “I think without the ability to think, without the ability to understand the classic structure of your society, both politically and culturally, you lose what you have.”

Editor’s note: The author of this article was a student of Klipstein when the educator still taught full time at SCCC.

‘The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.’ — President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dec. 8, 1941

Ships and planes burn as the Japanese Imperial Navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

By Rich Acritelli

The above words were parts of the “Day in Infamy” speech that President Franklin Roosevelt presented to Americans directly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor some 79 years ago.  As the United States is currently battling COVID-19, many decades ago, our citizens were fighting for a different type of survival. On that Sunday morning, Americans woke up to one of the most startling pieces of news that ever struck this country. As our people listened to their radios, they quickly realized that our powerful military in Hawaii was devastated by the Empire of Japan. In a matter of moments, a nation that was once hesitant to fight the Axis powers was now immediately engaged in a massive war.

The tropical paradise of Hawaii had its skies marred by the first wave of 183 Japanese Zero fighter planes that aggressively responded to their orders of “Tora, Tora, Tora.” Large numbers of Japanese aircraft took off from their carriers as they were cheered on the decks by the crews.  In one of the largest national security blunders to ever harm the nation, the American intelligence system lost the Japanese fleet which sailed undetected from their home waters and emerged 230 miles off the coast of Oahu. While these waves were detected by radar, no alarm was issued due to the belief that these enemy aircraft were American B-17 Flying Fortresses that were traveling from San Diego. When military leaders in Washington D.C. feared that an attack was imminent, an American alert was finally issued to the senior military officers. Every Sunday morning, General George C. Marshall routinely rode his horse and this report sat at his home for almost two hours before he responded to this possible threat.

Within a short period, the beautiful skies overhead were darkened by the smoke of naval ships, aircraft, army equipment, and fuel dumps that were destroyed by bombs. Japanese planes accurately swarmed over “Battleship Row” to bomb the large American fighting ships. Again, another wave of Japanese organized 54 high level bombers and 78 dive-bombers, all of whom were escorted by 36 fighter planes. To make the strafing missions easier for the Japanese, many of the American military aircraft were situated extremely close together out of fears that Japanese agents would sabotage them. This same placement of planes was utilized by General Douglas R. MacArthur in the Philippines. Like in Hawaii, many of the planes and bombers were crippled on the ground, as the Japanese gained complete air superiority against American air, army and naval forces. The well-coordinated Japanese attack also presented the new fear that if they had landed their army forces in Hawaii, it was possible for them to take these islands.  

During this surprise attack, Secretary of State Cordell Hull spoke with representatives from the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C. As he spoke to his counterparts, Hull was informed by his aide’s that Pearl Harbor was being hit at that very moment. It was the task of these diplomats to give Hull a lengthy document of major grievances against the American government. They understood that the time to attack was near, and it was the goal of the Japanese officials to deliver this message to Hull before their planes struck Hawaii, but it took the Japanese Embassy longer to decipher and type this response and the delay caused them to hand Hull this response as their planes were devastating the headquarters of the American navy in the Pacific. For the rest of his life, Hull was bothered that as he was negotiating for peace, the Japanese deceived him through many phony meetings, where they were only interested in pursuing war.  

Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter C. Short were the army and naval senior commanders that were responsible for the defense of Pearl Harbor. Short had 40 years of service under his belt, where he served with Marshall and was promoted by him to command the Department of Hawaii. Directly after this attack where Short was caught off guard, he retired from the service. When Kimmel saw the attack unfolding, a stray bullet forced him to fall to the ground. He realized that the Japanese were in the process of destroying the American military presence that he held the responsibility for protecting. With Pearl Harbor virtually defenseless, Kimmel eerily stated about almost being shot, “It would have been merciful had it killed me.” Both men were the scapegoats for “dereliction of duty” and their careers were terminated. Some 60 years later, Congress cleared Short and Kimmel’s names and stated that they were not solely to blame for 2,400 losses on Dec. 7, 1941.

Less than two weeks later, Kimmel was relieved of his command and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz ascended to the position of Commander in Chief. This historic officer was at the helm of many naval successes in the Pacific and he was warmly greeted by his wife who was pleased about his promotion. However, on Dec. 7, there was no joy, the fleet barely survived, and instead of searching for the Japanese carriers that caused this chaotic assault, his men were attempting to rescue their comrades who were trapped in sunken ships in and around Pearl Harbor. Nimitz could only respond to his wife, “all of the vessels are at the bottom.” On the USS Arizona alone, there were twenty-three sets of brothers that were serving together on this ship that were killed by the Japanese.  

The U.S. Navy did not have time or manpower to go after the Japanese naval forces at Pearl Harbor as they were trying to rescue their comrades.

To make matters worse for the U.S., the Japanese attacked the American strongholds in the islands of the Philippines, Wake, and Guam. For years, the Japanese, as a growing military power, resented the deterrence of the United States navy held as they sought control the Pacific and Asia. The Japanese leadership understood that if they did not sink the aircraft carriers and battleships at Pearl Harbor, they were unable to match the military and economic might of the U.S. For a year, the Japanese lived up to their strength as the “Rising Sun” showed no signs of being halted. They controlled a tremendous land and sea empire that stretched north into China. They took two Aleutian Islands from Alaska, reached in opposite directions towards Australia and Burma, and they pushed towards the island of Midway.  

Roosevelt was determined that the U.S. would fight in both the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation before the end of 1942. Immediately, FDR sought vengeance against the sneak attack that nearly destroyed the naval force at Pearl Harbor. While the “Doolittle Raid” did not hurt the Japanese war effort, it managed to show to this warring nation that America was able to quickly strike back. An aircraft carrier strike force sailed within four hundred miles of Japan and launched its bombers to hit their mainland. Fifteen out of the 16 American B-25 bombers crashed landed in China with a minimal casualties. And while this was a minimal raid, it was a psychological blow to the Japanese and it showed resilience to American citizens. For his efforts in leading and carrying out this assault, Dolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor by Roosevelt. 

American boys from the inner cities, the rural areas, and communities like that of the North Shore were quickly trained and deployed for war. Both Americans and British landed in Morocco and Algeria to briefly fight the Vichy French troops and oppose the Germans. In the Pacific, American ground forces landed at Guadalcanal to prevent the Japanese from building an air strip that would attack the shipping lanes to Australia and New Zealand. Since this past March, our country has been severely hurt by the terror of COVID-19, but let the sacrifices and resolve that was shown by the United States during and after Pearl Harbor prove to our current citizens that there are no challenges that this nation is unable to overcome. May we always remember our past, present, and future veterans and those front-line workers today that are engaged within the “health defense” of this nation.

Thank you for members of the Rocky Point History Honors Society for contributing to this story.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Stony Brook Post Office

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will host a Holiday Secrets of Stony Brook Village Walking Tour on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 10:50 a.m. and again at 2:50 p.m.

Participants will experience the unheard stories of some of Stony Brook Village’s illustrious residents and customs through time. This includes “Astor Orphan” Alida Chanler Emmet and the extravagant parties that she hosted at her estate, the Mallows; the origins of the Stony Brook Village and its traditions of gift giving though the centuries; and the forgotten story of painter Ruth Hawkins Mount Seabury who was born on Christmas Day in 1808 and the only sister of the three Mount artists.

The holiday cheer can continue after the walking tour, as the Mirabelle Tavern at the Three Village Inn (c. 1751) and Pentimento Restaurant will be offering ticket holders drink or dessert specials with the purchase of food items.

Tours will leave from the Stony Brook Post Office, 111 Main St., Stony Brook. Tickets for this event are $15 per person and includes fresh hot chocolate from Stony Brook Chocolate Works. Reservations are required by calling 631-751-2244.

Photo from Library of Congress

By Rich Acritelli

The United States is still feeling the friction of the recent presidential election between President Donald J. Trump and President Elect Joseph R. Biden.  Since the founding of this republic, our major presidential leaders and their followers fiercely fought to attain the presidency.  As this is a period of division, unfortunately there have been many examples of resentment that has been seen by our leaders.

Eisenhower and Truman ride together on inauguration day 1953. Photo from Library of Congress

Years ago, the same tactics were used with the Election of 1800 between President John Adams, Vice President Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr.  While Adams and Jefferson were two key Founding Fathers that liked each other personally, they shared different views over the direction of the government.  Although they worked together in the first administration of President George Washington and when Adams became President in 1797 and Jefferson the Vice President, these leaders marked the earliest establishment of the political parties, especially during the election process.

During his presidency, Adams had a difficult time governing this young nation.  Always a respected figure, Adams was not an overly warm leader that was situated between the icons of the Father of the Nation in Washington and the writer of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson.  He desperately held onto the policy of neutrality and enforce the controversial laws of the Alien and Sedition Acts.  His Vice President Jefferson was completely opposed to any actions that limited the civil liberties of Americans.  Allied with James Madison, Jefferson sought the nullification of Adam’s legislation through the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.   Adams was a one term President that left the officer after Jefferson and Burr received more votes in this election.  At this point there were no running mates and Adams was forced out of the White House.  It did not help Adams that powerful members like that of Alexander Hamilton criticized his presidential actions and openly wondered about his mental stability.  Although Hamilton and Jefferson were competitive political opponents, Hamilton believed that Burr was unable to be trusted, and he pushed the election towards his rival in Jefferson.  On the day of the inauguration, Adams refused to attend this transfer of power, and instead, he went home in disgust.

By the early part of the 1820’s, there was a different sense of leadership that was taking root in America after the last of the Revolutionary Era Presidents in James Monroe left office.  By 1824, there was a major political battle that lasted more than four years between the ferocity of Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams to complete for the presidency.  These men could not have been any different with Adams being the son of a former President that was very well educated, worldly, and astute within politics and foreign affairs.  He opposed the iron will of Jackson who would be the first President that was born West of the Appalachian Mountains, served as a kid during the Revolutionary War, was a noted Indian fighter, plantation owner, self-educated lawyer, and a major general that secured the historic victory against the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.  For most of his life Jackson demonstrated little restraint within his resentment towards the Native-Americans, British, and the aristocratic power of the Northeast and leaders like that of Adams whom he believed were the privileged class of Americans that ruled this nation.

For many people, Adams was a known political figure, and many older leaders, including Jefferson, were worried that Jackson was a threat to the democratic practices of this nation.  They saw him as an erratic leader that partook in pistol duels and a man that was more than willing to carry out his physical threats. The Election of 1824 was led by Jackson, but he did not hold the majority of the popular vote, and this contest was pushed back to Congress to decide who be the next President.  While Jackson expected to gain an imminent victory, Speaker of the House Henry Clay sought to use his influence to make a political bargain with maneuvering the gain a secretary of state position within the next administration.

Clay told Jackson who was ahead in the polls that if he was given this powerful post, he held enough clout to ensure his victory in congress.  Jackson immediately refused this scheme, Clay offered the same deal to Adams who had far fewer votes.  Adams accepted Clay’s proposal, and this propelled him to take over the presidency from James Monroe.  For two elections in 1824 and again in 1828, both Adams and Jackson openly battled each other during this decade.  Like that of Trump and Biden, they were both from opposite backgrounds, and they publicly criticized each other.  As we most recently observed Trump calling Biden “Sleepy Joe” and Biden claiming that Trump was a “Clown,” this personal mudslinging has always been a negative tool for candidates to utilize.  Adams claimed that Jackson’s mother was a prostitute and Jackson stated as a foreign minister that Adams procured young girls to partake in sexual favors for Russian leaders.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was a promising local political figure from the state of Illinois.  He only served one term during the height of the US-Mexico War, where he opposed President James K. Polk’s rationale to go to war. Lincoln demanded proof that “American blood was shed on American soil” at the start of this war between America and Mexico.   After his brief stint as a representative, Lincoln was a savvy lawyer that served several terms in the Illinois Senate.  He gained national prominence in 1858 during his senate campaign against Stephen Douglas, where he became the face of the Republican Party, and a known threat against the institution of slavery in the South.

Lincoln openly suggested that there were far too many compromises over slavery and that it should not expand into the new western territories and states.   In a series of debates within Illinois, Lincoln showcased himself as a Republican leader that clearly expressed his will to oppose this southern form of labor.  Even as Lincoln lost this election, he rose to national prominence and was a dominant Republican to replace President Buchanan who refused to run for a second term in 1860.  There were written stories in the papers that Lincoln was motivated to intermingle the races and that he lacked intelligence through his country folk manner to lead this country.

By gaining a sectional victory that saw him win most of the populated states in the Northeast and Midwest, Lincoln won the presidency, and the South began to secede.  But President Elect Lincoln had no constitutional authority to oppose the divisive actions of the South and this crisis for more than five months were still left within the inept hands of Buchanan.  Always the lawyer, Lincoln must have surely bit his own tongue during his first meeting with Buchanan who did nothing to halt the Confederacy from being created by Jefferson Davis.  Like that of Franklin D. Roosevelt who had to wait to take over the presidency in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression, Lincoln watched southern states leave the country during an extremely perilous time.

When Lincoln finally left Springfield, Illinois in March of 1861, there were already death threats that were made against him, and Pinkerton detectives quickly moved him out of Baltimore under a disguise and into the capital.  During his first term, he had to endure the military failures of generals like that of George B. McClellan that was prodded to fight the Confederates.  He agonized over the severe casualties of Americans that were killed at Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg.  And personally, his own family’s death of his second son Willie from typhoid fever in 1862.

The North grew tired from the massive casualties of the fighting, the financial costs, and the unwillingness of the outnumbered and outgunned southerners to surrender.  Once Lincoln understood that General Ulysses S. Grant would not oppose him as President in 1864, he promoted this combat figure to command the northern armies.  It was a pivotal time for Lincoln who needed to gain major battlefield successes to prove to the northern public that his leadership would eventually defeat the South.  As Confederate General Jubal Early operated outside of Washington D.C., close enough to see the capital dome, and McClellan being nominated to lead the Democratic Party, the months leading to this election were bleak.  Even the South politically and financially opposed the re-election of Lincoln, by secretly sending money to northern Democrats in Congress that maneuvered to defeat the President.  Many of politicians that served in Lincoln’s cabinet were convinced that he was an outgoing figure.  But coupled with the tenacity of Grant, General William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan, Lincoln held on in 1864, to regain a second term, and persistently gain the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse some six months later.

And in 1953, as former Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower and outgoing President Harry S. Truman both drove together to the inauguration, these men had little fondness towards each other.  As they were both Mid-western men that came from poor families, these were the only two similarities between these powerful leaders.  While Eisenhower was the leader of the massive military forces against Hitler during World War II, Truman was a captain in the field artillery during World War I.  Eisenhower was educated at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, Truman never graduated from high school.  Whereas Eisenhower was an outstanding athlete that was well liked, Truman never shied away from expressing controversial views.  Truman ordered the dropping of two atomic bombs to end the war in the Pacific and Eisenhower was opposed to use of this weapon against a beaten enemy.  While it seemed that Eisenhower’s popularity had endless bounds, it was believed that Truman would lose his re-election to Thomas Dewey in 1948.  As Truman won this election, the newspapers did not bother to wait until all of votes for this contest was counted, as they incorrectly printed main titles “Dewey Defeat’s Truman.”

After many years of downplaying any suggestions that he would run for presidency, Eisenhower finally accepted the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson.  Always armed with his trademark grin “Ike” quickly realized that running for office was no easy task.  He openly opposed the last several years of Truman’s leadership that he deemed corrupt and weak against the communists.  But he had to answer questions about his running mate Richard M. Nixon’s own illegitimate use of campaign funds and his lack of support for General George C. Marshall who was vehemently attacked as being weak against communism by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  And while Truman was leaving the office, he refused to be quiet against the presence of Eisenhower.  Truman openly called Eisenhower a Republican “Stooge” who had no original views of his own and was a “Puppet” of this party’s political and business leaders.

Ike still had to deny the rumors that he was unfaithful towards his wife Mamie during World War II with his beautiful Irish driver Kay Summersby.  For a moment, it was believed that Eisenhower was going to bring this military member of his family back to the states after the war and divorce his wife over the extreme objections of Marshall.  When he finally won the presidency and he met with Truman during the transitional period, Eisenhower stated to the President that he could not believe that the media continued to write about his relationship with Summersby. Truman responded that he would be lucky if that was all the media covered about him as a leader of this nation. While Eisenhower led the greatest invasion that the world had ever known at Normandy in 1944, Truman told him that the presidency was not the army, and he wished him good luck in trying to get members of Congress and politicians to support his directives.  It did not take long for Eisenhower to understand the true magnitude of the presidency with dealing with the escalation of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the fears of Americans over the communist strength of launching Sputnik.  And there were the complexities of integration through the Brown vs. Board of Education Ruling in 1954 and the massive use of civil disobedience that was widely promoted by Martin Luther King during Eisenhower’s two terms.

President John F. Kennedy meets with outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1960, there was a noticeable division in the air through the rise of an extremely younger John F. Kennedy towards the presidency and the stepping down of Eisenhoer.  There was also the presence of Nixon, who was the Republican hope of defeating Kennedy.  While he was a two term Vice President, it took some time for Eisenhower to finally endorse his former running mate.  Eisenhower was always seen as a likeable figure that was able to communicate with others through politics, the military, and athletics. He openly wondered how Nixon was able to go through life without having one single friend.

This was an interesting time, as Eisenhower did not believe that Kennedy was prepared for the White House, whom he still considered a “boy” to replace him in office.   But he was not pleased in supporting Nixon to be his Republican replacement.  Eisenhower resented the claims by Kennedy that our country grew weaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War under his tenure.  He believed that Kennedy presented inaccurate estimates that the communists had an increasing “missile gap” against the United States.  This senior President also stated that Kennedy had virtually no experience and that he was politically being protected to enhance an untruthful image.  JFK openly battled against the questions of being too young at forty-three years old, his lack of time in Congress, and the hatred that he faced for being a Catholic.

Like that of Lincoln, Kennedy was able to utilize his considerable speaking talents within the 1960 presidential debates.  Television was a new way of personifying these two key leaders.  Nixon suffered from the flu, refused wear make-up, and the close-ups did not make him look appealing to Americans, as he did not shave and was openly sweating.  JFK was a capable speaker, showed charisma, and masterfully answered the questions that was presented to him.  Although Nixon did not look healthy compared to the tan of Kennedy, many people do not realize that JFK suffered from the severity of Addison’s Disease.   And he also had poor bone structure and the re-occurring back injuries that he sustained from PT-109 during World War II in the Pacific.   It was estimated that 90% of Americans owned televisions in the nation and that seventy million citizens sat down in their homes to watch these candidates verbally spar against each other.

There was an interesting dynamic that is noticed between the personalities of Kennedy, Nixon, and the outgoing Eisenhower.  Both Eisenhower and Nixon came from poor backgrounds, but they had no similarities within their personalities, and in eight years as President and Vice President they were never close.  Kennedy spoke of a newer generation taking the helm from older leaders like that of Eisenhower, but people were drawn to the attributes of both men.  Eisenhower was a trusted figure that led this nation during times of war and peace and while Kennedy was extremely wealthy, both him and his older brother Joseph served with distinction during World War II.  And JFK was envied by both men and women.  Male voters saw a presidential candidate that had a beautiful wife, a young family, and descended from immense wealth.  Female voters ascertained that JFK was one of the most handsome leaders to ever run for the presidency.  And there was Nixon with his minimal personality and outwardly cold demeanor that did not endear him to many Americans.

The victory of Kennedy over Nixon was the passing of a new torch from the trustfulness of Eisenhower to the different ideas of JFK.  On that cold January day in 1961, Kennedy addressed the abilities of the nation, the emergence of a new generation of leaders, and the vision of rapid economic, racial, political, and military changes that were in store for this nation and world during this decade.  But the concerns that Eisenhower presented over the judgment of Kennedy were apparent during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961.  After this debacle that embarrassed the leadership of Kennedy to both the American public and to the Soviet Union, Eisenhower met with him.  The pictures of these two leaders at Camp David presented the teacher in Eisenhower speaking with the younger pupil in Kennedy.  And while both men spoke out against each other during the Election of 1960, they cared deeply about this nation during times of crisis.

With Biden creating his cabinet, gaining the approval to see national security reports, and preparing to be the President of the United States, his poor relationship with Trump, is not unusual.  Hopefully, there will be some common ground between these two opposite leaders for the good of America.   And while this upcoming inauguration will surely be different due to the restraints of Covid-19, may this transition of power go smoothly, to ensure the vital national tradition of leadership changes that has been consistent since the days of President George Washington.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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By Beverly C. Tyler

Celebrating Thanksgiving Day as the end of the season of harvest was and still is an important milestone in people’s lives. Diaries, journals and letters provide some of the earliest records of seasonal activity and how people connected with each other to mark occasions. In America, before the telephone became a standard household item, family members and friends stayed in touch through the U.S. Postal Service.   

In 1873, a new phenomenon began when the United States Postal Service issued the first penny postcards. During the first six months, they sold 60 million. The post office department stated: “The object of the postal card is to facilitate letter correspondence and provide for the transmission through the mails, at a reduced rate of postage, of short communication, either printed or written in pencil or ink.”

With the postcard, brevity was essential due to the small space provided. Long descriptive phrases and lengthy expressions of affection, which then were commonly used in letter-writing, gave way to short greetings.

Soon after the first government postal cards were issued, American greeting card manufacturers began to print Christmas, Easter and other greetings on the back of the cards. By the 1890s, picture postcards were widely sold in many European countries, but in the United States, privately printed cards cost 2 cents to mail.

On May 19, 1898, an act of Congress was passed in the U.S. allowing privately published postcards the same message privileges and rates (1 cent) as the government-issued cards. These were to be inscribed, “Private mailing card – Authorized by Act of Congress May 19, 1898.”

Then in December 1901, new regulations were issued saying that private cards would have the word “Post Card” at the top of the address side and government-issued cards would say “Postal Cards.”

Before the telephone, the postcard was an easy and pleasant way to send a message. A postcard sent from one town in the morning usually would arrive in a nearby town that afternoon. A postcard sent from another state would not take much longer. Edward Griffin took the steamer “Priscilla” from New York to Boston, arriving at 8 a.m. on Aug. 27, 1902. He wrote a brief note on a postcard when he arrived, addressed it to his mother in Brooklyn, and dropped it in the mail. The postcard said: “Arrived ok this morning at 8 o’clock – Eddie.” The postcard was postmarked in Boston at 11:30 am and postmarked again in Brooklyn at 8:30 pm the same day.

In October of 1907, the United States, following the lead of other countries, changed the rules and began allowing messages to be written on half of the side reserved for the address. This left the whole of the other side for pictures or photographs. Postcards then became a major collecting craze, and for many, a profitable business. They were produced in such quantities that they were often given away with copies of popular magazines.

The feasting aspect of Thanksgiving has continued to be an essential part of the holiday and many of the postcards that were sent reflected that theme. In addition, the postcard helped to tie the family members together with those who were absent during the holiday.

As the telephone became more widely used, the postcard became less and less important as a means of daily communications. However, it provided us with a view of the early years of the twentieth century that became a permanent record of contacts between family members and friends.

Beverly C. Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

All images from Beverly C. Tyler’s postcard collection

Presidents Abraham Lincoln, left, and Franklin D. Roosevelt visit their troops during their respective wars. Photos from respective presidential libraries

By Rich Acritelli

“A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”

These words were stated by an American icon who guided this nation during one of the most tumultuous periods in our history. It was at this point on Veterans Day, 1864, that Lincoln won re-election against former commanding general of the Union military George B. McClellan.  For many months, Lincoln feared that he would not win a second term and that his military forces would have to gain a decisive victory against the South before he left office in March of 1865. The president agonized over his personal estimation that he would eventually lose to McClellan and that the nation would not be preserved. His eventual victory signaled a continuation of the major task of the Union government to defeat the Confederacy and have the country be united under one flag.  

Lincoln’s armies were led by the skill of General Ulysses S. Grant, who understood the importance of achieving military objectives towards the success of Lincoln being re-elected.  Unlike Robert E. Lee who did not connect the strategy of the Army of Northern Virginia towards leadership directives of Jefferson Davis, Grant directed that his forces had to win battles to persuade northern voters that Lincoln was making enough progress to win the war. Once Grant took over the authority of all Union forces in March of 1864, he directed the bloody fighting in Virginia that resulted in a deadly struggle between these two armies.

At the start of the Overland Campaign in May of 1864, Grant informed Lincoln that there was no going backward against the Confederates. Every effort was put forth to pressure the southern forces that precariously held onto fortifications that guarded Richmond and Petersburg. Although the southerners defeated many of the commanding leaders from the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln had a bulldog in Grant who was not intimidated by the multitude of southern victories that were won by Lee. 

Davis and Lee eagerly sought the political defeat of Lincoln, as they realized that if he gained a second term, this president would vigorously carry out the war until the North achieved victory. These key Confederate leaders worried about the lack of resources and the stretching of their own lines against the numerical strength of the northern soldiers.  And in Georgia, Sherman left behind Atlanta in his “March to the Sea,” where he captured Savannah by Christmas as a gift to Lincoln. With a vengeance, Sherman marched through the Carolina’s to link up with Grant’s army in Virginia. Grant’s unwillingness to bend against the Confederates and the political and military wisdom of Lincoln, signified the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in early November of 1864.

During World War II in Europe and at this moment in time (originally called Armistice Day), Allied armies quickly operated from Normandy to move eastward into the interior of France. That summer was an extremely hazardous moment for the Germans, as they were driven back into Poland on the Eastern Front, in the West, and when Paris was liberated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his coalition of armies. Even as Operation Market Garden was deemed a failure with a waste of resources and men, the Allies waged massive air drops into Belgium, the Netherlands, and near the German border. This pursuit from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea saw German military resistance almost collapse in this part of Europe that was held by the Nazis since the spring of 1940.  

Like that of Lincoln, President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced a re-election, but this was for his unprecedented fourth term. Many Americans counted on the smile of Roosevelt and his guidance during the harrowing moments of this war. Although Lincoln was a dominant Republican and Roosevelt was one of the most capable Democratic Presidents to hold office, these leaders shared many similarities. With six months left of fighting their respective wars, both men were exhausted from the daily rigors of leadership and they aged beyond their years. They asked their populations to keep sacrificing for the good of the war, grieved over losses, and they were determined to gain a victory that would change both the nation and the world.  

Both men are historic giants, but they were known for being major political figures within their states of Illinois and New York, respectively. They held secondary military positions, as Lincoln was a captain of his militia during the Black Hawk Indian War and Roosevelt was an Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I. To win their respective wars, Lincoln counted on the support of war time Democrats that served in the Union army as generals. When Roosevelt ran for re-election for his third term in 1940, he fully realized that America would eventually fight the Germans and Japanese. FDR asked for the support of noted Republicans Frank Knox as the Secretary of the Navy and Henry L. Stimson to command the War Department. 

These historic families sacrificed like others in this country as Lincoln’s son Robert was a captain within Grant’s headquarters staff. Jimmy Roosevelt, the eldest son of FDR, was decorated for dangerous combat operations against the Japanese, and he ended the war as a colonel. They were well-liked figures that saw Lincoln present colorful stories and Roosevelt always wore a smile on his face during tense moments. While they were busy running the war, both leaders saw the importance of visiting their soldiers. At the end of the Civil War, a tired Lincoln was urged by Grant to spend time with his headquarters and soldiers at City Point, Virginia. Lincoln rode his horse close to the front lines with Grant and enjoyed the company of his officers and soldiers. In North Africa, Roosevelt sat in a jeep with his brilliant smile and openly talked to Eisenhower and General George S. Patton. Even at the cusp of total victory, Lincoln was at the service of Grant in helping him at every turn to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery in this country. Roosevelt was driven to destroy fascism as his armies were poised to enter Germany and General Douglas MacArthur prepared to stage his return to the Philippines.  

When these leaders died, the American government, military, and civilians mourned over their loss. Citizens watched the trains that brought Lincoln to Springfield, Illinois and Roosevelt to Hyde Park, New York for their final burial. Americans from different walk’s life tried to gain a last glimpse of the coffins that were draped within an American flag.  May this nation always thank the men and women that served in the armed forces within every conflict and those historic political leaders that put our people first during exceedingly trying times.  

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Carol Butler with her dad, Bernard Mauer. Photo from Butler

Carol Butler, 63, a retired teacher in Ohio, knows the coarse beaches of Rocky Point. She had come there often in her childhood, visiting her grandparents with her family. Though now, after a months-long project spanning dozens of letters and postcards of her father, a sailor during World War II, she has come to understand so much more about who that man was and his connection to history.

A postcard Mauer sent his family when the young man joined the marine services. Photo from Carol Butler

In a self-published book Butler titled “With Love and Affection, Your Sailor, Ben,” she goes through dozens of letters and postcards her father, Bernard Mauer, sent out during his early training as a sailor for the Merchant Marines, followed by long months in the South Pacific during WWII, to create the image of her father she had not seen before: That of a young man striking out into the world looking for adventure. 

Letters detail an impressionable 20-something who experienced some momentous times in the war, including the torpedoing of a boat he was on and his experience during the liberation of the Philippines. It’s the image of a man who created lasting friendships with families from Australia to Manila, who endeared himself to his comrades and also struck out more than once with the ladies. It’s a look at a man who eventually becomes homesick for the scenic landscapes of his summer home in Rocky Point. 

Mauer died in 1998 at the age of 77, having already retired as a forester in 1988. Butler, already known as the family historian, said she ended up with the slew of boxes and folders. Those papers sat aside for many years when life got in the way. After she retired in 2014 and once COVID hit, she returned to her father’s old artifacts to discover so much that gave her a new perspective on a man she always knew as so kind.

“All the qualities that I had just loved about my father were on display already in this 20- to 23-year-old kid,” she said.

Mauer grew up in the Bronx. His father, Fred Mauer, a worker in a paper bag factory, had like many working and middle-class families from New York City, purchased a small bungalow in Rocky Point as a vacation home, back when a piece of vacant property in such a location went for $89. They joined a rapidly expanding community of summer residents on an island so much unlike it is today. In one of his postcards, Mauer even talked of riding his bike from his home in the Bronx the approximately 70 miles to his bungalow on the North Shore.

Mauer was a young man when he saw advertisements for the U.S. Maritime Service and decided to join up. He heard about becoming a cadet for the Merchant Marines, and later became an ensign aboard a Navy ship. He would see historical events as just another boot on the deck, witnessing firsthand the impact of torpedoes on merchant ships and Japanese kamikaze fighters on neighboring vessels. In one of his letters, the writing pauses, then returns when Mauer informs his parents of learning about the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Bernard Mauer writes home upon learning of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. Photo from Mauer

“It’s history reliving itself,” she said.

In his letters to his parents Marie and Fred, brother Arnie and sister-in-law Rosalyn, he would describe the white caps off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida, to the seas of the Long Island Sound and the heat of a summer here. To him, the roads between Subic Bay and Manila in the Philippines were “like those on Rocky Point after a washout.” In his letters, he constantly references the vacation home in the small North Shore hamlet and how the life of his family revolved around it, whether it was for catching flounder or his family’s yearly trips to the North Shore hamlet.

“He could not walk across a beach without saying, such as in the Philippines, ‘Oh, this reminds me of Rocky Point,’” Butler said. “It was his point of reference in his mind … it was his lodestar.”

In his later letters from aboard ship back in ‘45 and ‘46, lacking a girlfriend, Butler said it seemed his greatest wish was to return to his family.

“He just has a sense of getting back to his family, and getting back home which dominates the last year and a half of his letters,” she said. 

Butler has already done a small print run of 100 copies for her family and other history buffs interested near her. For anybody also interested in the book, she is only asking for enough to pay for the printing and shipping costs. She said people can contact her at her email:
[email protected] 

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.

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Tesla volunteers celebrate restored chimney is capped with an iron wellhead, finishing the first official renovation to the Nikola Tesla’s famed Shoreham laboritory. Plans are continuing to create a museum and science center in the space. Photo by Kyle Barr

Last Saturday was a day of firsts, both in the proverbial and the concrete. On a day which showed the first real touch of cool fall weather after an oftentimes blistering summer, so too did the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe put its finishing touches on what’s expected to eventually be a full museum and learning center for the North Shore.

Tesla Science Center capped off its chimney construction with the famous wellhead. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Sept. 19, the center unveiled its newly reconstructed chimney sitting atop the historic building constructed by the brilliant but notorious architect Stanford White in 1902. The small crowd of volunteers and local supporters cheered as the newly reworked 1,200-pound black-iron crown, also known as a wellhead, was lowered down onto the chimney via crane. The iron crown was originally repaired by a local blacksmith while a team of volunteers worked to give it a fresh sheen.

It was a touching moment for the several volunteers who came to watch the final piece laid on top. Many of those have been with the project since the local nonprofit Friends of Science East bought the property through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in 2013. They have helped clean the grounds, landscape the property and be there for the multiple fundraising events. If you asked the volunteers gathered there, they would tell you the chimney was originally used to vent heat and exhaust from a Westinghouse dynamo that famed scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla used to generate power for his experiments in wireless energy and communications.

As excited as those gathered were, the ceremony came just a little more than a week after Suffolk County police said an unknown person or persons broke into the science center earlier this month and graffitied the inside and smashed windows just underneath the now-reconstructed chimney.

Police said the vandals entered the science center, located at 5 Randall Road, Shoreham, sometime between Sept. 7 and 12. Whoever it was apparently spray-painted “WTF” on one of the walls and another acronym on a toilet. The damage was valued at approximately $3,000.

Kevin Cahill, a project manager for Skyline, stands in front of the new renovations. Photo by Kyle Barr

But by the weekend following the vandalism, all windows had been fixed, and there wasn’t one downcast face amongst the spectators.

Marc Alessi, executive director of the science center, said the chimney restoration in total cost around $230,000, and much was covered thanks to a grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. Original plans were just to reconstruct the top portion of the chimney, but structural issues quickly became apparent, and they ordered that the entire piece be remade. Work originally started in May, but the ongoing pandemic pushed back construction awhile.

The center tapped Long Island City-based building restoration company Skyline Restoration to perform the task. Kevin Cahill, a project manager for Skyline, said each brick was designed to match both the color and size of the original structure. Though the company is hired on other historic projects, this one, he said, is special. 

“It’s exciting bringing back something that’s so old and keeping it to what it was originally was,” he said. “We redid the windows exactly how they originally were — the brickwork, matching the mortar colors, bringing it back to the exact dimensions it originally was.”

Though in doing the reconstruction, Cahill said numerous other significant discoveries were made while doing construction June 5. Inside the building, beneath the chimney is an arched-brick opening in the base, something that connected several tunnels leading off in different directions. Finding those, Cahill said he crawled through in the dark, wondering what he would find. Unfortunately, the path was blocked by some collapsed brick, but that might have covered up another entryway.

Alessi said these tunnels could have had something to do with Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower, which the lab site was originally built for. It was designed to allow electricity to travel wirelessly, but so much is still unknown of how it would work. He added the site’s hired historic architect may make more details on that available in the near future

Tesla Science Center capped off its chimney construction with the famous wellhead. Photo by Kyle Barr

For Jane Alcorn, president of the science center’s board of directors, it was a stunning moment watching the iron cupola lowered down onto the chimney. She was at the head of Friends of Science East when it originally bought the property, and though it has been slow coming to this moment, she said this project was never something they wanted to rush.

“We said we were going to do this right, not fast,” Alcorn said. “This is really the first section of the lab that’s been restored, so we are well on our way.”

The center has raised around $10.2 million for its museum and science center project, about halfway toward its total $20 million goal. It’s enough to get started, Alessi said, and the next stage of the project is to remove the large metal-walled building abutting the historic lab, leaving the building looking like it was originally intended to. After that, it’s on to constructing a welcome center where an old house sits on the southwest end of property and developing its programs. 

The Tesla Science Center’s executive director added they are still in the process of getting demolition permits from the Town of Brookhaven, but hopes that part should be finished around the end of October.