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Stephanie Gress has made a mark on the Vanderbilt Museum. Photo from Gress

By Victoria Espinoza

Stephanie Gress has made a mark on the Vanderbilt Museum. Photo from Gress
Stephanie Gress has made a mark on the Vanderbilt Museum. Photo from Gress

One employee at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum was a fan of the spot long before she started working there and improving many of the exhibits.

Stephanie Gress, director of the curatorial department, frequented the Vanderbilt as a kid growing up in St. James, and even went there on her second date with her future husband to see the Pink Floyd laser show at the museum’s planetarium.

“A lot of people have a fond memory from here,” Gress said in a phone interview. “My niece actually had her wedding here as well.”

Gress has been upgrading exhibits at the Vanderbilt for nearly 15 years. She said some of the collections in the museum were more than 100 years old when she stepped in and needed refurbishing, and she was able to find funding to make the renovations possible.

The first exhibit Gress focused on, the Habitat Gallery, had been closed to the public since 1996, but she reopened it in 2001. She received a Save America’s Treasures grant — through the National Park Service — to make the renovations possible, including cleaning and restoring taxidermied animals displayed inside the dioramas.

“There was a whole generation of people on Long Island who hadn’t seen the exhibit,” Gress said.

For two years, Gress has also been working on a project at the Hall of Fishes that involves working with dry and wet fish specimens. She said some of the fish are a century old, and they have to be treated with extreme care because they are so fragile.

Adult glasseye snappers, collected on Cocos Island, Costa Rica, in 1928. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum
Adult glasseye snappers, collected on Cocos Island, Costa Rica, in 1928. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

William K. Vanderbilt II, the museum’s founder, caught all of the fish himself, according to Gress, and some were the first of their kind ever caught, so “he had the fun task of naming them.”

She said she feels lucky to have found the money to finance these projects because that can be difficult, but is crucial to keep the displays in the museum in their best shape.

Gress likes many aspects of her job.

“I enjoy seeing the reactions of the kids and parents that come here,” Gress said. “There is nothing else like this on Long Island. You can’t see another polar bear or whale shark around here.”

She said aims to continue Vanderbilt’s intention when he created the museum, — to bring pieces of other countries and cultures to Long Island.

“You can choose to visit the planetarium, see the museum or even just take a picnic on the grounds.”

Gress wrote a book this year, “Eagle’s Nest: The William K. Vanderbilt II Estate,” which has details about why the museum founder built his estate in Centerport and “how the place changed over the years, based on changes in his life, and how we use it today,” she said when the book was being released over the summer.

In terms of future projects, Gress said in an interview this week that there is always something to work on, and she expects to soon digitize the collections online to bring them to people who can’t make the trip to the museum.

A view of the inside of Peter Nettesheim’s Huntington home. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Peter Nettesheim embodies the idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Step inside his Huntington Town home and it’s nothing like it seems from the outside.

Picture this: You walk through an ordinary front door, expecting a small foyer or hallway to meet you. But as your eyes adjust from the natural light, all you see are warm wood and soft lights reflecting off of dozens of different pieces of metal. No side table or closet for jackets. You become more confused before you begin to understand what you’re looking at. A second ago you were on a residential road, listening to someone’s leaf blower start up. The next second all you hear is a model train driving by overhead and The Jackson 5 playing softly in the background.

Nettesheim is the proud owner of more than 100 BMW vehicles. Although many are in storage, his home boasts an impressive portion of the collection. Motorcycles cover most of the floor space, along with trophies, antique gas dispensers and even a few vintage cars.

A view of the inside of Peter Nettesheim’s Huntington home. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
A view of the inside of Peter Nettesheim’s Huntington home. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Jay Leno and Billy Joel have visited Nettesheim’s home, as well as more than 100 other private visitors each year. He calls it “his little sanctuary.”

Hints of Germany linger everywhere. A German greeting hangs from the ceiling and a mannequin named Elka stands in traditional German clothing sporting a dirndl, which is like an apron. Nettesheim explained that according to German tradition, the cloth signifies whether a girl is single or spoken for, depending on whether it is tied with a knot to the left or right. Elka is currently single.

In one corner sits the oldest BMW motorcycle to date, with a confirmation from BMW hanging above it. Across from it is a fully stocked bar, with several glass bottles of Coca-Cola personalized with Nettesheim’s name.

“My wife found those for me,” Nettesheim said.

This space is intimate, so it fights the feeling one gets at famous places like the American Museum of Natural History. One can literally sit at the bar and have a drink while gazing at relics. In one corner stands the oldest BMW bike in history, in another, a couch sporting pillows adorned with phrases like “man cave.”

Still, there are touches that make it feel like an established museum. Several motorcycles have backdrops behind them that display information about the particular model standing in front of it. Historic black-and-white photos of people riding old BMW bikes are also featured on the walls.

Nettesheim said the American Motorcyclist Association asked him to curate a BMW exhibit for its Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Ohio in 2010. His backdrops are straight out of that exhibit. Nettesheim chose all of the information and photos on the backdrops when he designed the show.

A view of the inside of Peter Nettesheim’s Huntington home. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
A view of the inside of Peter Nettesheim’s Huntington home. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

He said he didn’t take any money for the curation.

“I do this for fun,” he said. “This is strictly my hobby.”

Nettesheim is driven about his pastime and expressed surprise that many who visited his museum didn’t share the same kind of enthusiasm for a hobby — especially the younger generation.

“I never really understood that,” Nettesheim said.

The bike collector said that in conversations with his visitors he was caught off guard to learn that many had no hobbies of their own.

“There’s nothing that engages them, there’s nothing that they see and want to know how this works and how it’s made.”

He said he worried that his own hobby, shared by mostly the older generation, would eventually die out. “Most people you meet at biker clubs are not young guys.”

Despite the future of motorcycle collecting, Nettesheim remains driven by his passion. His father, a Mercedes-Benz car collector, has greatly influenced him. Nettesheim purchased his first BMW motorcycle when he was about 20 years old and fell in love with bikes ever since.

“I wake up in the morning and I think about the collection,” Nettesheim said. “There’s something I want to do. Every day I want to get home and get next to the bike and take something off it or fix a tire. It’s in me. I have a passion for it.”

James Hazen Hyde’s 1899 station brougham carriage. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Mention the Gold Coast era on Long Island, and people immediately think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” and the great mansions built in the early 1900s. Some of those mansions are gone,  victims of housing developments. Others, such as Laurelton Hall and Villa Francesca were both lost to fires. Some are in the public trust, turned into museums or schools like the Vanderbilt Mansions in Centerport and Oakdale. And a few, a very few, are still privately owned, like Oheka Castle, now a luxury hotel and event venue, and the Woolworth mansion. Of the more than 1000 mansions built, less than one third are still in existence.

To highlight the architectural wonders of Long Island’s North and South shore mansions during the “Gatsby” era, the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages is currently presenting “Gilding the Coasts: Art and Design of Long Island’s Great Estates.”

“The subject of Long Island’s great country house era has been chronicled in numerous other exhibitions, books, and documentary films. We thought it would be interesting to focus on the design and construction aspect of the story more than the social history of the house owners and their servants, which tends to get a larger share of the attention,” said Joshua Ruff, exhibit curator and museum director of collections & interpretation.

From left, 1920s pink party dress with silk faux glass beading, gift of Timothy Smith; embroidered silk gown, 1908, gift of Mrs. B. Langdon and Mrs. William Floyd Nichols; embroidered silk velvet evening opera cape, 1912, gift of Grace Rumbough. Photo by Ellen Barcel
From left, 1920s pink party dress with silk faux glass beading, gift of Timothy Smith; embroidered silk gown, 1908, gift of Mrs. B. Langdon and Mrs. William Floyd Nichols; embroidered silk velvet evening opera cape, 1912, gift of Grace Rumbough. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Some of the mansion owners are well known, while others less so. Ruff continued, “We wanted to look at both the extremely well-known figures in this story, … like Stanford White, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and William Delano, as well as those people and their houses who have not received the same level of attention, such as William de Leftwich Dodge, who designed and lived in the fascinating and unique Villa Francesca, just a couple of miles away from the museum [in Setauket].”

The exhibit includes furniture from some of the estates, beautiful antique women’s clothing, estate plans, photos, paintings, Tiffany lamps, sculpture and even the very unique weather vane from Vanderbilt’s Eagle’s Nest.

“One of the most interesting stories that I learned much more about in the development of this exhibition was that of James Hazen Hyde (1876-1959), heir to Equitable Life Insurance and owner of a spectacular house and estate in Bay Shore, a place which he inherited from his father, redesigned and named The Oaks.

Hyde was a major figure in Gilded Age society who was forced to exile in France after a scandal in 1905. In the exhibition, we have a terrific close-to-life scale portrait of him located beside a brougham carriage that he owned, as well as a painting of his estate. The paintings came to us from New York Historical Society, the carriage is ours. It was terrific to pull all of this material together,” said Ruff.

While some of the items on display belong to the museum, Ruff noted that, “We were pleased to have received very significant loans from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, the Vanderbilt Museum, Planting Fields, the New-York Historical Society, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Huntington Historical Society.  We also received excellent important loans from a number of private collectors, especially Daniel and Betsy White of Box Hill, Leftwich Kimbrough, the grandson of William de Leftwich Dodge, and Gold Coast historian Paul Mateyunas.”

An important feature of the exhibit is the gigantic time line which encircles the gallery. It begins in 1866 with the formation of the Southside Sportsman’s Club, which catered to the wealthy residents of the South Shore. It ends in 2015, with the sad notation that a fire badly damaged the 25,000 square foot Woolworth mansion in Glen Cove.

Noted Ruff, “Adaptive reuse has been the saving grace for many historic Long Island estates. Thankfully, people can still visit and appreciate William Cutting Bayard’s Westbrook Estate — Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Otto Kahn’s Oheka, William Coe’s Coe Hall — Planting Fields Arboretum and State Park, The Phipps Estate — Old Westbury Gardens and many more. We really hope that the exhibition encourages visitors to seek out and explore the treasures that are available to them a short drive away and to appreciate how fragile and vulnerable these estates are, and worthy of our protection.”

“It is wonderful that Box Hill still exists in an excellent state of preservation and remains in family hands after all these generations. Sadly, Laurelton Hall and Villa Francesca were both lost to fires within several years of one another,” he added.

Julie Diamond, director of communications at the museum, said a bus trip is planned in November to the Culinary Institute and the Vanderbilt Estate upstate in Hyde Park, an interesting comparison to Long Island’s Vanderbilt Estate.

Dori Portes, the museum’s receptionist for the past 17 years, said, “This is one of the three top exhibits I’ve seen,” in all that time. “It’s stunning, just beautiful!”

An illustrated exhibit program, which not only includes information on the artifacts in the exhibit but the time line as well, is available from the museum.

The exhibit is open through Sunday, Oct. 25. Don’t miss this fascinating look at historic Long Island. The LIM, a Smithsonian affiliate, is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. It is open Thursday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. For further information, call 631-751-0066 or go to www.longislandmuseum.org.

The entrance to the new exhibit in Cold Spring Harbor, If I Were a Whaler. Photo by Judy Palumbo

By Rita J. Egan

The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor introduced its new interactive, hands-on exhibit, If I Were a Whaler, on Sunday, Sept. 27. The exhibit launched off with the opening day event SeaFaire featuring craft-makers, including a woodworker, quilter and spinner, demonstrating their old world skills. The day also gave visitors the opportunity to create historical maritime crafts such as ship models and scrimshaw carvings.

Judy Palumbo, community relations and development manager at the museum, said the committee designed the exhibit to give guests a strong sense of what life was like on a whaling boat for the whalers. She said exhibit goers will discover how simply the seamen lived and how minimal their supplies were. According to Palumbo, some would have only a tiny trunk for a three-year voyage, and on the boat, they would sleep in tight quarters that also doubled as a place to eat since there were no dining halls.

“We’re just trying to give people a picture of what life on the ship was like … a whaler’s life,” Palumbo said.

Items ‘for sale’ in the Jones General Store at the If I Were a Whaler exhibit. Photo by Judy Palumbo
Items ‘for sale’ in the Jones General Store at the If I Were a Whaler exhibit. Photo by Judy Palumbo

The community relations and development manager said the exhibit is extremely interactive and exhibit goers can experience each stage of a whaler’s journey. One interactive station is a general store where children are given coins to purchase items, and while deciding what to buy for their voyage, learn how limited the seamen’s budgets were.

Executive Director Nomi Dayan said the store is based on Jones General Store, which once operated in Cold Spring Harbor. She said children can decide things such as if they are going to get an extra warm pair of pants or two shirts.

“They really have to think critically about what it took to endure life at sea,” Dayan said.

At the second station, visitors will discover what life was like under the decks for the whalers. Children can try out a berth and view the limited food options the whalers had at sea.

“I think one of the most fun things about it is the bunk bed where you can climb in and realize how little personal space you had,” Dayan said.

Another interactive station will show visitors what it was like to raise the sails or swab the deck, which was also referred to as holystoning, where they actually cleaned the decks with stones, according to Palumbo. The community relations and development manager said the station demonstrates the whalers’ responsibilities during their voyages.

Children can learn how to plan a voyage as well at the navigation stage and, based on their choices, find out their fate. Destinies include being shipwrecked or catching a whale among other outcomes.

Exhibit goers will discover how the whalers spent their free time, too. Palumbo explained that catching whales only used a small percentage of the whalers’ time spent at sea since the mammals weren’t that easy to catch. Maps are also on display showing the seamen’s journeys that included expeditions to the Arctic, South America and the Hawaiian Islands.

Complementing the interactive stations will be nautical tools and artifacts on display from the museum’s collection, which totals 6,000 pieces. Palumbo said the museum owns one of the largest scrimshaw collections in the Northeast and one of the last fully equipped whaling boats.

Palumbo said construction of If I Were a Whaler began Labor Day weekend; however, the museum’s educators Cyndi Grimm, Liz Fusco, Gina Van Bell, Amanda Vengroff, as well as Dayan and carpenter Peter Schwind have been working on the exhibit for months.

Dayan said the plan right now is to display If I Were a Whaler for two years. She said she believes the interactive exhibit, which was inspired by the USS Constitution Museum in Boston’s A Sailor’s Life for Me: War of 1812 curriculum, will provide children an understanding of maritime history that they may not get from a textbook or by just looking at an artifact in a museum.

“We hope families will gain a much better appreciation and understanding of local history, and we hope that will happen through making history come to life,” Dayan said.

The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor is located at 301 Main Street, Cold Spring Harbor. Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for children. For more information, visit www.cshwhalingmuseum.org or call 631-367-3418.

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Mayor Margot Garant discusses the new historic letter mounted on the wall at the Drowned House Cottage museum in Port Jefferson. Photo by Giselle Barkley

It was such a well-kept secret, it took more than 200 years to come to light.

Port Jefferson Village officials unveiled the newest historic addition to the Drowned Meadow Cottage museum last week: a letter that links Port Jefferson’s Roe brothers to then-Gen. George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, which covertly worked to advance the rebel cause during the Revolutionary War.

Loyalist soldier Nehemiah Marks wrote the letter on Dec. 21, 1780, to inform his comrades that Phillips and Nathaniel Roe, among others, helped supply Setauket-based spy Caleb Brewster with information to pass on to the Patriots.

A historic letter detailing the involvement of Port Jefferson brothers in George Washington's Culper Spy Ring is on display at the Drowned Meadow Cottage. Photo by Giselle Barkley
A historic letter detailing the involvement of Port Jefferson brothers in George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring is on display at the Drowned Meadow Cottage. Photo by Giselle Barkley

According to Mayor Margot Garant, a former Port Jefferson high school student found the letter two years ago while researching the Revolutionary spy ring at the University of Michigan and contacted the mayor. The next step was getting the letter authenticated.

“The authentication for this letter is so critical,” Garant said in an interview before last week’s event at the cottage, the former home of Phillips Roe. Villagers had long had suspicions that he and his brother were important “not only to village history but to the history of the Revolutionary War, and instrumental in the spy ring. That was kicked around as a rumor for many years and never authenticated.”

The Roe brothers came from modest means, according to Georgette Grier-Key, a historical consultant who authenticated the letter and designed its exhibit at the cottage. Their father, John Roe, was a shoemaker, but Phillips was more successful: He owned a wood business, as well as a ship. He used those resources to help to discreetly pass along information in the Culper Spy Ring.

But before the letter, some people doubted the area’s extensive involvement.

“There was some … organizations that didn’t really believe Port Jefferson had a claim to being part of the spy ring,” Grier-Key said. “Now we have [a] primary document source that says otherwise from a Loyalist perspective.”

The letter also links another North Shore neighborhood to the spy ring: Mount Sinai. Old Man’s Road is among the locations listed in the message, after a Patriot informant named James Smith was spotted receiving information there.

Many attend the unveiling of a historic exhibit at the Drowned Meadow Cottage in Port Jefferson. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Many attend the unveiling of a historic exhibit at the Drowned Meadow Cottage in Port Jefferson. Photo by Giselle Barkley

During a ribbon cutting and open house ceremony at the museum last week, Grier-Key said it is possible that towns farther east of Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai could have been a part of the ring too. For now, Garant said, the letter officially puts Port Jefferson and hamlets like Mount Sinai “on the map” for their involvement in the ring and their contribution to the war.

That recognition is reaching across Long Island — Michael Goudket, a program instructor from Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay attended the event to show his support for the Drowned Meadow Cottage museum, saying there is a new sense of appreciation for the Island’s involvement in the Revolutionary War.

“People are starting to appreciate that even though Long Island doesn’t make the history books with big battles … we have the most interesting spy stories,” Goudket said.

The historic letter is on display at the museum alongside other documents, like Phillips Roe’s last will and testament and a list of individuals who still owed him money upon his death in 1792.

Those who were involved in the letter’s discovery and authentication hope to uncover more information about the spy ring.

This version corrects the exact date of Nehemiah Marks’ letter.

The dashboard of a 1937 Chrysler. Photo by Howard Kroplick

Walter P. Chrysler’s, custom-built, one-of-a-kind, 1937 Chrysler Imperial C-15 LeBaron Town Car – after an exquisite restoration that led to a major international award – will return to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport where it will be exhibited at a classic car show.

The Chrysler was a 1959 gift to the museum from collector Harry Gilbert of Huntington, New York. The car, since it was not part of the Vanderbilt family’s original collections and holdings, was de-accessioned from the museum collection decades ago.

The museum held an auction in January 2012 and the car was purchased by Howard Kroplick of East Hills, an author, historian and collector of vintage cars. With the proceeds, the museum established an endowment for the care and maintenance of the Vanderbilt archives, collections and exhibitions.

Kroplick first showed the unrestored Chrysler in June 2012, at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance in Connecticut, where it won the People’s Choice award for the “ultimate barn find.” He began restoring the car in November 2013. Most of the work was performed by Steve Babinsky, who runs Automotive Restorations in Lebanon, New Jersey.

After a comprehensive, 17-month restoration, Kroplick entered the Chrysler in the world’s pre-eminent classic car show, the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance held in Monterey, California. “Only 281 of the 750 cars that applied were accepted,” he said. The Chrysler won the First in Class award in the American Classic Closed category. One month later, Gwynne McDevitt, granddaughter of Walter P. Chrysler, and her son, Frank Rhodes Jr., sat in the car at the Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

The masterpiece of Art Deco automotive design with coachwork by LeBaron is made of hand-worked aluminum. No factory-produced body panels were used. Details includes leather interior, upholstered seats, and custom console cabinetry. The 6,300-pound, seven-passenger limousine is 19 feet long and has a 130-horsepower, eight-cylinder in-line engine, and a three-speed manual transmission. When Kroplick bought the car, the odometer read 25,501 miles.

Originally, Kroplick said, he hoped to preserve the car as is. “After I bought the Chrysler, it started right away,” he said. “But when we opened it up, we found that the wooden frame, made of ash, was in bad condition. That’s when I decided to do a complete restoration. That ash frame was one of the project’s biggest challenges.”

The dashboard gauge faces were in good condition and required no work, he said. The snap-on black-canvas cover for the chauffeur’s compartment was replaced. The light-gray, camel-hair wool upholstery also was replaced in the chauffeur’s and passenger compartments.

The passenger-area console cabinetry, made of solid tiger maple, also needed restoration. The console includes a storage space and two glass-fronted cosmetic compartments. Below the console are two pull-down jump seats, and the passenger seats have upholstered foot rests. Kroplick said the clock, mounted in the center of the console, worked from the day he bought the car.

Kroplick said the car is believed to be the first to be equipped with spring-loaded, power-assisted rear windows and door locks, which are operated with cables. “The cables needed reworking so both windows and locks would work with a flip of the front passenger door handle,” he said.

The bumpers, door handles, dashboard knobs, horn ring and hood ornament were re-chromed in Ohio. The finishing touch was five coats of gleaming, hand-rubbed black lacquer. “The experts won’t share trade secrets on how they achieve that stunning mirror finish,” Kroplick said.

The Pebble Beach Concours is more than just an exhibition of classic cars. “One of part of the judging is that the cars should be roadworthy,” Kroplick said. “As part of the Tour d’Elegance, many of the entrants were driven 85 miles, along the famous 17-mile drive and on the Pacific Coast Highway.” Although the restoration had been completed just days before the event, he said the Chrysler finished the tour without a problem.

The rare automobile – built for Chrysler’s wife Della – will be the centerpiece of the annual Jaguar Concours d’Elegance and All Marque Concours Sanitaire, a show of classic automobiles presented at the Vanderbilt by the Jaguar Drivers Club of Long Island and the MG Car Club-Long Island Centre on Sept. 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rain date will be Sept. 20.

In the Concours portion, Jaguars in the Championship, Driven and Special Division classes are be judged under Jaguar Club of North America Concours rules, which emphasize excellence of appearance. The Concours Sanitaire portion is open to vehicles of all years, makes, models and countries of origin. Cars are judged solely on appearance, cleanliness and general condition, not originality.

More than 100 cars will be on display on the Vanderbilt Estate grounds overlooking scenic Northport Bay. Included will be vintage and new Jaguar and MG models and a wide range of international and domestic spots cars and sedans.

Proceeds from a raffle will benefit the CAPS (Child Abuse Prevention Services), one of Long Island’s leading organizations dedicated to preventing bullying and child abuse.

Visitors pay only the museum’s general admission fee (adults $7, students with ID and seniors 62 and older $6, children 12 and under $3) – there is no additional charge for car show. Museum members enter the show free. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

A patrol wagon, c. 1905, used by the 145th Precinct in Brooklyn. Photo from LIM

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook recently welcomed a terrific new addition to its carriage collection: a police wagon used by the 145th Police Precinct to patrol the waterfront areas of Gowanus, Brooklyn, in the early 1900s.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, urban police departments used a variety of different types of vehicles: Black Marias and Paddy Wagons were used to transport prisoners, and had an enclosed space in the back, with padded interior walls. The New York City Police Department purchased its first such wagon in 1886 for $500.

This patrol wagon, c. 1905, was a little more versatile and facilitated the rapid movement of police officers to scenes of disorder or disaster. The wagon has two benches for patrolmen to sit in back and rides lower and faster for pursuit and quick response. Such wagons were used right into the early automobile era.

The wagon is a gift from the Museum of the City of New York, on view on MCNY’s first floor for many years, but has been off display for more than a decade. A transfer of ownership was made to the Long Island Museum due to storage space limitations. It will now be featured in the Long Island Museum’s Streets of New York gallery in the carriage museum, a great complement to the museum’s firefighting vehicles and other urban public-use vehicles in that space.

Located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook, the Long Island Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate, dedicated to American history and art with a Long Island connection. Along with the 40,000-square-foot carriage museum, the museum also features an art museum, Blacksmith Shop, Nassakeag Schoolhouse, c. 1877, Ploch-Williamson Barn, c. 1794,  a decoy gallery in the Visitors Center and an herb garden.

The museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Regular admission is $10 per person, $7 for seniors and $5 for students ages 6 to 17. Children under 6 and museum members are free. For more information call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

Northport Historical Society’s latest exhibit gets personal

Eight of Northport’s Civil War veterans, from left, Roy Ackerly, Gus Gerard, Charlie Smith, Bill Mulfort, unidentified man, unidentified man, A.G. Tillotson and Barney Fox.

By Rita J. Egan

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War, and to commemorate the sesquicentennial, the Northport Historical Society is hosting the exhibit Northport and the Civil War: A Few Good Men. Visitors to the historical society’s museum can follow the lives of 12 Northport men from when they mustered in until the war ended for them.

The historical society joins other organizations in the township of Huntington hosting Civil War events. Both historical society Director Heather Johnson and Terry Reid, consultant to the collections and member of the exhibit’s committee, said when town representatives first approached the organization about hosting an exhibit they were a bit hesitant. They admitted they weren’t confident if they could pull together a full exhibit since they weren’t aware of many Civil War artifacts in their collection. However, Reid said once the committee started culling through items, they found muster rolls with very detailed information about young men from Northport who fought in the war.

The consultant said the muster rolls not only include information about what battles the young men fought in but also if they were injured, their eye color and hair color, names of their parents and occupations. With the discovery of the muster rolls, Reid said the exhibit became a possibility as the committee began writing the stories of each man.

“I thought that here are these men we can focus on, telling their specific stories. So we did it as more of a storybook as opposed to here’s a bullet,” Reid said.

Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Rita Egan
Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Rita Egan

The committee, which in addition to Reid includes Candy Hamilton, Christine Doll-Wagner, Rhoda Wright and Darcy Little, then set out to find the artifacts to complement the stories. An email was sent out to members of the historical society asking if anyone owned memorabilia. Chris Cierski and Ben Meyburg, Civil War enthusiasts, stepped forward to lend some of the pieces from their collections, including a uniform Meyburg has used in reenactments.

Reid said once the society had artifacts to illustrate the men’s stories the exhibit really came together. Visitors to the museum will not only find photos and letters but also equipment the soldiers would have received such as canteens, belt buckles and guns.

Once the artifacts were in place, knowing that the men belonged to the 48th and 127th infantries, the consultant said the committee members were able to create maps for each cabinet to show the troops’ movements.

“One of our main goals in this whole exhibit was to get people to really stop and think what these men, these boys, did at their young age of 18, 19. They all enlisted and ran off to war immediately to help the cause. Unfortunately it didn’t end well for most of them,” Reid said.   

The consultant said there are arrows on the floor to help visitors view the cases in order so that they can follow each soldiers’ journey in chronological order, and at the end, find out their fate.

“It was a very bloody, awful war, and the things they went through. . . . So, my heart was just breaking when I would read what happened to each one of them. I got emotionally attached to these boys. It was heartbreaking really to imagine what they must have gone through,” Reid said.

The exhibit also touches on the contributions the survivors made to Northport after their discharges such as Alfred C. Tillotson who owned a dry goods store on Main Street in the village.

The subject of whether a soldier will return from war is one that Johnson said she believes still strongly resonates with people.

“The idea of coming home, or unfortunately not coming home, it’s been going on since war began and continues to go on, unfortunately. I think because of that though it’s a universal theme. It’s something that  we can all relate to even if you haven’t anyone really close to you or in your family who has fought in a war, you probably know someone who has or at least feel for those who are currently fighting,” Johnson said.

The director said visitors will find many interesting items on display including a metal heel plate with a shamrock cutout that Irish soldiers would use on their boots. Johnson said when she saw it she was touched by the fact that despite the horrors they faced, the soldiers still enjoyed some whimsy.

Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Heather Johnson
Some of the Civil War items on display at the Northport Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit. Photo by Heather Johnson

Johnson said visitors will also find letters from Francis Sammis to a friend in Northport. The solider wrote about his memories of the girls in Northport and the get-togethers the young people would have.

“He’s still a young man. He may be a soldier and he may be fighting in a horrible, horrible war, but he’s still thinking about those good times. Similar to what a young man might do today,” the director said.   

Both Johnson and Reid hope visitors will take the time out to experience each of the soldiers’ stories and that it will have the same impact on guests as it did on them. Johnson said while everyone at the historical society learned a lot, she said she noticed the biggest impact on Reid.

“Terry in particular became very connected to those soldiers. She had read enough about them and it took on a different meaning for her,” Johnson said.

Reid said she found herself feeling protective in a motherly way of the young men as the committee discovered more about each of them.

“I hope that other people will come away the same way, will have the same sort of change as well. How could you not after you see these men’s faces,” she said.

Northport and the Civil War: A Few Good Men will be on view at the Northport Historical Society, 215 Main Street, until the end of the year. For more information, visit www.northporthistorical.org or call 631-757-9859.

William Belanske sketches while waiting with his luggage to embark on a journey with William K. Vanderbilt II. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum archives

William E. Belanske already had an enviable job as an artist and taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) when he got a call from William K. Vanderbilt II.

The year was 1926 and Vanderbilt was preparing for an expedition on his yacht Ara to collect animal and marine life. The voyage would take him to one of the most scientifically diverse and remote places on earth — the Galápagos Islands, on the Equator off the coast of Ecuador. He needed an artist to record the live specimens he would bring back to his private museum in Centerport. To Belanske, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which marked the 65th anniversary of its official opening on July 6, has created a new exhibit honoring Belanske’s work.

On display in the Memorial Wing of the museum, the installation features a recreation of Belanske’s studio on the Vanderbilt Estate and includes some of the detailed paintings of the numerous marine specimens Vanderbilt collected from the oceans of the world. Large illustrated panels detail Belanske’s work, on the expeditions and at the museum.

Kirsten Amundsen and Brandon Williams of the curatorial staff came up with the exhibit concept and design.

“The ship’s artist, Mr. William E. Belanske, has been with me since 1926,” Vanderbilt wrote in 1932. “He makes accurate paintings of rare fish. With every scale carefully drawn, every shade, every nuance of color exactly portrayed, his reproductions are true, lifelike, and of value to science.”

In 1927, following the Ara expedition, Vanderbilt requested Belanske’s services full time at his museum, and Belanske chose to resign from the AMNH. He served as Vanderbilt’s curator and lived in a cottage on the estate from 1928 to 1945. His work included taking part in around-the-world cruises on the Ara in 1928-1929 and on the Alva in 1931-1932.

Notably, Belanske collaborated with the renowned painter Henry Hobart Nichols (also of the AMNH) to create the Vanderbilt Habitat in 1930, nine stunning dioramas that depict animal life from several continents. The centerpiece of the room is a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “On the Ara, they placed fish in holding tanks with saltwater to keep them alive. Belanske would paint the catches immediately in order to record the colors accurately.”

Before color photography, Gress said, the beauty and vibrant hues of the collected marine specimens could only be captured with an artist’s hand. Belanske’s perfect color images of the specimens were displayed in the Marine Museum next to the faded, fluid-preserved specimens.

When he returned to his studio, the artist began the time-consuming task of creating his final images. He used his notes, measurements and rough sketches to create fully accurate, detailed fish prints worthy of scientific publication, she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Through Sept. 6, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Rosamund and Willie Vanderbilt aboard their 264-foot yacht Alva during a 1931 cruise around the world. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum archives

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum will celebrate the 65th anniversary of its official opening on July 6.

William K. Vanderbilt II — great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad and shipping magnate — died in 1944.  His wife Rosamund continued to live in the Vanderbilt Mansion in Centerport until her death in 1947.

He realized the potential for his sprawling estate to become a museum for what he called “the use, education and enjoyment of the general public.” That wish prompted him to leave his estate, and a trust fund to finance its operation, to Suffolk County. The county opened the museum to the public on July 6, 1950.

The anniversary coincides with Arcadia Publishing’s release of “Eagle’s Nest: The William K. Vanderbilt II Estate” by Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial services for the museum. The book is available on the Arcadia Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, in the Vanderbilt Museum Gift Shop and at local bookstores.

Today, the Vanderbilt estate and museum are an important part of Long Island history. It is a destination for regional visitors interested in natural history, the life of the oceans, armchair journeys through space, and the history of the privileged life on the Gold Coast from the Jazz Age through World War II.

The Vanderbilt’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium is another magnet for visitors. The museum decided to add a planetarium in the late 1960s. Trustees knew a planetarium would enhance the museum’s ability to carry out the science education aspect of its mission and to honor Vanderbilt’s love of science and astronomy and his interest in celestial navigation.

A planetarium also would augment the original Vanderbilt trust fund and help to ensure financial sustainability. The planetarium was opened to the public on June 28, 1971.

Vanderbilt — known to family and friends as Willie K. — loved the sea and the natural world. In his global oceanic travels, he collected fish and other marine life, birds, invertebrates and cultural artifacts for the personal museum he planned to build on his Long Island estate.

Willie Vanderbilt exhibited thousands of the marine specimens he had gathered ­— one of the world’s most extensive, privately assembled collections from the preatomic era ­— in his own marine museum, the Hall of Fishes, which he opened to the public in 1922. Wings of the mansion contain galleries of his natural-history and cultural-artifact collections, including the Habitat with its nine wild-animal and marine-life dioramas and eight more in the adjacent Stoll Wing, all created by artisans from the American Museum of Natural History.

The 43-acre waterfront museum complex counts among its extensive collections (which total more than 30,000 objects) the mansion, curator’s cottage, a seaplane hangar and boathouse, centuries-old household furnishings, rare decorative and fine art, the archives and photographic record of Vanderbilt’s circumnavigations of the globe and published books of his travels. The estate, mansion and museum are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.