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Kerri Glynn

Above, Carl Zorn with two of the plaques overlooking Conscience Bay. Photo by Leah Chiappino

By Leah Chiappino

Visitors to Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket have Eagle Scout Carl Zorn to thank for the new informational plaques that have been installed among the tranquil scenery. They include a general welcome sign detailing the history of the park’s founding and species that occupy it and two additional signs detailing the ecology of estuaries and watersheds. The welcome sign is located at the entrance to the park, and the other two signs are located side by side near the second bridge overlooking Conscience Bay. 

A new plaque welcomes visitors to the park. Photo by Leah Chiappino

Zorn, who has been a Boy Scout since first grade, chose to design informational signage for the park as his Eagle Scout Leadership Project because he wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on the community. “I wanted something where if I moved to a different state and came back here to visit, I could look at it and say that I did that,” he said. The Scouting organization also fostered a love of nature in Zorn who described his childhood as “always being outdoors and camping with the Boy Scouts and my family.”

After getting the idea from a family friend in July, the Setauket resident began his project last September and completed it in early February.

As the Frank Melville Park Foundation, along with the Zorn family, donated the funds for the materials, most of Zorn’s time completing the project was spent researching the content for the plaques. He admits the start of the project was overwhelming. “At first, I had no idea what to do or how to learn about the wildlife here, ” he explained. 

Kerri Glynn, director of education for the park, stepped in to assist Zorn in gathering the information for the plaques with the hope they would help people become more environmentally aware. “I hope people come to understand the fragility of the ecosystem. Many people come to the park and think it is lovely, but they don’t understand the ecology of it,” she said.

Zorn consulted with Town of Brookhaven historian Barbara Russell in order to highlight the unique history of the park, which was built by Ward Melville and donated by his mother Jennie as a memorial to her husband Frank Melville in 1937. “Essentially it’s private land for public use,” she said. 

A community treasure, the 26-acre park features two ponds, an estuary and woodlands. On any given day, visitors can see swans, deer, songbirds, turtles, herons and wood ducks as they stroll along shaded paths past a simulated grist mill and a 20th-century barn. The park and its buildings are included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Local environmentalist and conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, John Turner, also assisted Zorn with his research, and highlighted the importance of education on watersheds, or land in which below-ground water feeds into a water source. 

“People live work and play above their water supply. The quality of the waters in the aquifers underneath the Long Island surface are affected directly and intimately by the activities that we conduct on the land surface, so a clean land policy means a clean water policy,” he explained. 

From left, Andrew Lily, Joe Pisciotta, Andrew Graf, Carl Zorn, Aiden Zorn (in forefront), Tim Petritsch and Mark Muratore at the installation in February. Photo by Steve Hintze

Turner called Zorn’s project “well-conceived and well-executed.” He also praised the park’s board of trustees, as well as the park’s president, Robert Reuter, for recognizing the value of the project. “You have a captive audience in the park, but up until now there was limited information. [These plaques] have taken advantage of that captive audience to try to instill a greater appreciation and awareness of the resources around them,” he said.

After gathering the information and submitting several drafts for approval by the board, Zorn then had the task of designing the signs, with pictures provided by the park. He found a sign company, Fossil Industries in Deer Park, to make the signs, a process that took about three months. He then focused on configuring the specific intricacies of the project, such as the location, and making sure the signs were low enough to be at eye level for children but still readable to adults. 

Weather also delayed the installation, as the ground would freeze. Once the signs were finished, Zorn along with eight other Boy Scouts joined together in order to install them. 

Reuter praised Zorn’s work ethic and the final result, calling the project “a long and thorough process and a real achievement.” Russell also added praise for the finished product. “He did a wonderful job. There’s a nice combination of the history and environmental facts affecting the park [on the signs],” she added. Zorn was equally pleased with the results. “This is exactly what I wanted in an Eagle Scout project and I got it,” he said.

The 18-year-old recently graduated from Ward Melville High School and will attend Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, in the fall as a music business major, combining his passion for music with his ambition to work for the Disney Corporation.

However, according to Reuter, as Zorn wished, the plaques will have a lasting impact on the community. “Frank Melville Memorial Park is now enriched with really useful and attractive interpretive signs that inform park visitors about the park’s history and environment. But, don’t take my word for it — go see for yourself.” 

Frank Melville Memorial Park is located at 1 Old Field Road in Setauket. For more information, call 631-689-6146 or visit www.frankmelvillepark.org.

The author poses with Tyler Christopher, aka Prince Nikolas Cassadine, of ‘General Hospital.’ Photo by Rebecca Budig

By Kerri Glynn

“5 … 4 … 3 …”

Time to move. Walk through the beaded curtain. Pause by the table. Chat with the bearded man. Exit downstage.

But wait! What’s my motivation?  Who is this man? My husband? Lover? Business partner? What was I doing here in Las Vegas — so far from Port Charles?

I was a cast member on “General Hospital.” Okay. I was an extra. But I’d dreamt about this for 39 years and it was finally happening.

Rewind to November 17, 1981. I was one of 30 million people who watched the wedding of “General Hospital’s”  Luke and Laura. I was directing a high school production of “Barefoot in the Park” and my stage manager brought in a small, portable TV — the kind with rabbit ears — and we halted our rehearsal to watch the nuptials. It was the highest rated hour in American soap opera history, and the super couple ended up on the cover of People and Newsweek magazines. They were credited with taking daytime out of the closet so people were no longer ashamed to say “I watch a soap opera.”

I was never ashamed.

I’ve been watching “General Hospital” on and off since 1967. Sometimes I didn’t see it for weeks, sometimes months, even years. But I’d catch up on holidays and summer vacations, and it was pretty easy to do. So many of the same characters remained; so many story lines were recapped script after script. And there was always the Soap Opera Digest magazine to grab and peruse while waiting for my turn at the supermarket counter.

As an English teacher and Vassar graduate, many of my colleagues were shocked to hear me admit my devotion to the show. Why, I wondered? What did Charles Dickens write that couldn’t be classified as soap opera? For that matter, how different is “Downtown Abbey”? The Crawleys just have a bigger house, better clothes and cooler accents.

But I never imagined the day would come when I would join the cast of my favorite show, and it was the star of that early production of “Barefoot in the Park” who made it happen. My former student is now a writer/actor and good friend of the executive producer of “General Hospital.” When he heard I was visiting LA, he asked if I could be an extra on the soap. The answer was yes and my adventure began.

A week before filming, I was contacted by the casting coordinator. Would I be a patient being wheeled down the hospital hall? Or a barfly at the Metrocourt Hotel, swilling a dirty martini? When I was told  I’d play a guest at an upscale Las Vegas hotel, I was intrigued. A Las Vegas hotel? “General Hospital” takes place in Port Charles, New York. Which characters would be visiting Las Vegas? And what would they be doing there?

I received a list of instructions — everything from a confidentiality clause (in other words, I couldn’t share any knowledge of the plot before the episode was aired) to my wardrobe instructions. Since I don’t tweet and still carry a flip phone, the first instruction was easy to follow. The second was a little harder, but it earned me a $10 wardrobe allowance.

I was due at Prospect Studios in Los Angeles at 2 in the afternoon. Most of the cast had arrived at 7 that morning and wouldn’t leave till 7 that night. After getting my ID badge from the guard, I proceeded to the stage manager’s desk to sign in. Then on to the Business Office with my passport to fill out a W-4. I was going to get paid for this? How cool was that!

The studio has seven sound stages and “Grey’s Anatomy” is another of the shows filmed there. The space was huge and held multiple sets. I could walk past the hospital chapel and the Floating Rib to the Quartermaine mansion. I recognized each one.

The other four extras were sitting in the Green Room where we’d wait for our call. Our names were Hotel Staffer and Guests 1-4. The others were professional actors, struggling to book commercials and dreaming of their big breaks. One of them had punched Luke out in an earlier episode, another had sat at Laura’s table at the Nutcracker Ball. Who would I be acting with? Fifty three scenes were being shot that day, and the characters included Scottie, Franco, Nina, Dante — you’ll recognize all these names if you, too, watch the show. (But don’t admit it.)

Then HE walked in — Tyler Christopher, “Prince Nikolas Cassadine,” the character I’d named my favorite cat after. He’s been on the show for 20 years and I’d long had a crush on him. There he was in the flesh … holding his script and getting a cup of coffee with the rest of us. I got up the courage to do it — to introduce myself and tell him about the cat and he laughed. We talked about his long lost love, “Emily” and how I longed to have her dug up and returned to him. It could happen. Characters have been revived even after they had been shot, drowned, frozen and had their major organs given to other characters. He was joined by his co-star, Rebecca Budig, aka “Hayden,” but formerly “Greenlee” from “All My Children.” She was just as nice and welcoming as Tyler. They promised me a picture after the taping.

So, it was sit and wait, and watch the monitors as other scenes were being filmed in the building. There were two directors working that day and multiple cast members. My 10 scenes would be set in the Las Vegas hotel where Nikolas and Hayden were getting married. I couldn’t have been more excited than if I’d won that Mega Powerball.

So many things surprised me that day — the size of the crew, the speed at which each scene was taped, the actors’ voices that seemed to whisper on set but be clear as a bell on video. People may mock soap opera scripts and actors, but everyone was a consummate professional. An average television series has 13 to 22 episodes, some a half hour, some a whole hour. “General Hospital” shoots about 286 one-hour episodes a year.

When my scene was called, the primary actors walked on set with their scripts in hand. The director told them where to stand and when to move. Then two of us extras were brought in. We were given our instructions. On the count of 3, we entered through the curtain. Chatted. Left. I’ll nail it next time, I thought. I’ll create my own back story. I’ll look for the cameras. I’ll …

“Taping scene 39.”

What?

“5, 4, 3 …”

We enter again. We chat. We leave.

“That’s a take.”

Four times I was called to the set. I sat and pretended to check my iPhone. I crossed the lobby with a blond girl. My daughter? Four hours later, we were thanked and asked to leave. The others did. But Rebecca Budig (bless her heart) remembered the promise and found “Nikolas” for my picture. She even took it.

As I left the studio, I looked at all the photos on the walls — pictures of cast members. The original cast — Dr. Hardy and Nurse Jessie Brewer, the Quartermaine family … and Luke and Laura’s wedding portrait. My life had come full circle. The boy I was directing would grow into a man who made my dream come true. Three weeks later I got to see myself on TV — on my favorite show — with my favorite soap star. And two weeks after that, I received a check in the mail for $260. I’d been paid for two days work because my fourth scene appeared the following day.

I’m not ashamed to say it. I LOVE that show. 

Kerri Glynn is a retired English teacher who has lived in Setauket with her husband Tim for many years. Today she is a writer and tutor as well as the director of education for the Frank Melville Memorial Park.