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Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum

Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport presents its third annual holiday event, Bright Lights: Celebrate the Season, Saturdays and Sundays, December 3-18, and on Thursday, December 22.

Thousands of warm-white lights will create holiday magic inside and outside the Mansion and illuminate trees, wreaths, garlands, guest rooms, walkways, and the Vanderbilt Library.

The event will include Candlelight Tours of the decorated Vanderbilt Mansion, visits with Santa and friends in his workshop, a children’s scavenger hunt, and a 15-minute Holiday Laser show in the Reichert Planetarium. In addition, the Stoll Wing and Habitat wild-animal dioramas and the Hall of Fishes marine museum will be open for visitors. Also open: the Vanderbilt Café and Gift Shop, located in the Planetarium lobby.

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director of the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “We are thrilled to invite everyone to kick off the holiday season and celebrate with us. The decorated and lighted Mansion and Estate become a winter wonderland. Bright Lights offers evenings of family fun for all.”

Tickets are: Adults $25 | Members $20; children 12 and under $15 | Members $10; children 2 and under FREE. To order, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The rained-out October 2 show by the Porsche Club of America (Metropolitan New York) at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport has been rescheduled for Sunday, October 16. Tickets for the original date are valid.

The show is open from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Cars will be displayed on the estate grounds with a spectacular view of Northport Bay.

Visitors pay only general Museum admission.There is no extra charge to attend the car shows. Adults $10; seniors (62 plus) and students with ID $9; children 12 and under $7.

Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport will present its annual A Morning for Families event exclusively for people with special needs and their families on Saturday, Oct. 15 from 9 a.m. to noon. Spend the morning exploring the collections, grounds, gardens, architecture, and the Reichert Planetarium’s “Open Sky.” Activities include a preserved specimen touch table and crafts. Admission is free, but advance registration is required at www.vanderbiltmuseum.org. Call 631-854-5552 for further information.

Idle Hour, the mansion and estate of William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849-1920), which became Dowling College in 1968 Vanderbilt Museum Archives photo
Gift is Significant Part of Dowling College’s Special Collection

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum has received the largest donation of archival materials since its inception in 1950. The gift, donated by the Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve, includes materials from the former Dowling College and Vanderbilt Historical Society collections, comprising photographs, maps, and written correspondence. The donation marks a significant moment in the broader historical community’s efforts to preserve and promote the heritage of the region.

This donation will aid researchers and historians in forming an understanding of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Long Island, and it will greatly augment the kinds of programming that can be offered by the Vanderbilt, Suffolk County’s first museum and public park.

Paul Rubery, Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Vanderbilt Museum, and Janet Soley, President of the Friends of Connetquot, worked alongside New York State and Suffolk County officials to determine the best way to preserve the content of these archives for future generations. They established that, because the VanderbiltMuseum aims to interpret the totality of the Vanderbilt family’s contributions to the development of Long Island, Centerport would be the ideal resting place for the wide-ranging collections.

All items donated by the Friends of Connetquot are now being processed and digitized by staff at the Vanderbilt Museum. These measures put to rest what some once regarded as the uncertain fate and future of a vast collection of historical materials assembled in Oakdale by local historians and academic archivists.

Dowling College Materials

Dowling College was established in 1968 at Idle Hour, the former mansionand 900-acre estate built in 1900 for William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849-1920). Vanderbilt was the father of William K. Vanderbilt II (1878-1944), who created the Eagle’s Nest estate, home of the Suffolk County VanderbiltMuseum.

Dowling College’s paper records were in jeopardy when the school ceased operations in 2016. Nearly a year later, its administrative and collegiate archives were transferred to Adelphi College, the college’s former parent institution. This arrangement spoke to Adelphi’s mission and directly benefited the wide network of Dowling alumni in the region. However, certain items were not covered in the original agreement between Adelphi and RSR Consulting, LLC—the company charged with liquidating assets in the bankruptcy proceedings—and those materials were folded into the listing placed up for bankruptcy auction.

The bankruptcy sale of Dowling’s assets was complicated by false starts and unrealized transactions. After the initial deal with Princeton Educational Center failed to transpire, Mercury International, LLC, acquired the property in 2017 for $26.1 million. During Mercury’s ownership, a representative from that company offered boxed materials in good condition to the Friends of Connetquot. For Mercury, the campus property and outbuildings were the primary concern, not the papers still left in many areas of the campus. Mercury ceased ownership of the property in December 2021, when the Chinese state-owned enterprise China Orient Asset Management purchased a majority stake in their parent company for $42 million.

The items given to the Friends of Connetquot—and now, through their donation, to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum—include the Muriel Vanderbilt, National Dairy, and Peace Haven collections.

Additional Material

Additional sections of the archives donated by Friends of Connetquot were acquired by that organization at auction. The Friends of Connetquot is dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and history of the 3,473-acre State Park Preserve, with the legacy of the South Side Sportsmen’s Club as their primary focus. The Sportsmen’s Club was among the elite social clubs of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, claiming presidents and titans of business among its membership.

Below are brief descriptions of the collections donated to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum by the Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve. To increase access to public history and stimulate interest in Long Island’s heritage, the Vanderbilt Museum will make them available online in the coming months.

Muriel Vanderbilt Collection: Muriel Vanderbilt was the daughter of William Kissam Vanderbilt II and Virginia Graham Fair. She was an American socialite and an accomplished breeder of thoroughbred racehorses.

The Muriel Vanderbilt collection contains personal photographs and other materials that she donated to Dowling College in 1970. Some collection highlights include wedding and engagement photographs, in which Muriel wears the bridal veil of Marie Antoinette; extensive documentation of horse stables and rodeos; images of family members; and architectural photography of breathtaking estates.

Above, the stage at Peace Haven, one of the uses of the Idle Hour estate before it became Dowling College. Vanderbilt Museum Archives photo

Peace Haven Cult: The collection associated with the Peace Haven Cult is among the most unique archives on Long Island. In 1937, a group called the Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians purchased William Kissam Vanderbilt’s Idle Hour and renamed it “Peace Haven.” Founded by James Bernard Schafer, a doctor from North Dakota, the Master Metaphysicians integrated behaviorist psychology, Christian spiritualism, and mediative techniques to achieve certain personal goals. The cult caught the attention of the international press during the custody proceedings over “Baby Jean.”

“Baby Jean” was central to the cult’s ambitions. The Master Metaphysicians informally adopted “Baby Jean” from her mother, a local waitress, and placed her at the center of a grand metaphysical experiment. Schafer maintained that he could give the child eternal life with an exclusively plant-based diet and protection from negative stimuli. The Master Metaphysicians returned “Baby Jean” to her birth parents after less than a year, and her mother eventually filed a legal suit against the cult.

National Dairy Collection: After serving as the headquarters for the Royal Fraternity of Master Metaphysicians, the Idle Hour estate was acquired by National Dairy Research Labs. National Dairy, which would eventually become Kraft Foods, purchased the estate’s mansion, carriage house, and twenty-three acres of land in 1947. The collection features photographs of the interior and exterior of the buildings at the time of sale, extensive documentation of the newly created research laboratories, and some press materials.

Bronco Charlie’s Collection: Bronco Charlie’s was a family restaurant located in Oakdale. Its owner, “Bronco” Charlie Miller, was a revered storyteller who claimed that he was the youngest ever rider on the Pony Express. Although many of his stories were undoubtedly fanciful, his tremendous life was chronicled in a range of print media. Highlights from the Bronco Charlie Collection include plates, menus, photographs, and correspondence.

Artists’ Colony Collection: Founded in 1926 on the grounds of the William Kissam Vanderbilt I’s summer estate, the Idle Hour Artists’ Colony was inspired by other prominent cultural communities like Yaddo, McDowell, and the Barbizon. Lucy Thompson, a socialite and the wife of a wealthy oil merchant from Texas, purchased the property and renovated its stables and outbuildings to accommodate a theater, restaurant, and artist studios. Highlights from the Artists’ Colony Collection include a map of the colony, real estate listings from the 1920s, and a watercolor from one of the original artists.


Above, the Vanderbilt Marine Museum. Vanderbilt Museum Archives photo

Why should we care about historic houses that have been turned into museums? How can these inert structures speak to us and how, a century or two later, might their histories and the lives of their famous inhabitants be relevant to contemporary life, and to museum visitors?

These are a few of the questions raised by Preserving Eagle’s Nest: Labor and the Aesthetics of Stasis, the newest exhibition at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which opens to the public on Sunday, September 18, in the Lancaster Gallery. The presentation explores the preservation of Eagle’s Nest, the summer estate of William K. Vanderbilt II (1878-1944) one of the heirs to a powerful railroad and shipping empire.

Paul Rubery, the Vanderbilt Museum’s Director of Curatorial Affairs, created the exhibition after considering the purpose and future of historic house museums and examining hundreds of artifacts and documents, as well as the century-old buildings under his care.

Vanderbilt curator Santo Vitale, circa 1980. Vanderbilt Museum Archives photo

Preserving Eagle’s Nest explores the architectural significance of the estate and considers the skill, labor, expertise, and care invested in maintaining the appearance of the property and emphasizes the processes and outcomes of preservation initiatives.

“If historic house museums hope to communicate their value to contemporary society,” Rubery said, “they must develop a new language to describe their activities. 

“Specifically, these institutions must articulate how, in remaining static, the buildings under their stewardship convey something essential about the historical process. To do so, they must direct their attention to the basic unit of historical experience and understanding: time.”

Questions about temporality present conceptual issues for the interpretation of house museums. In the mid-twentieth century, many private estates were converted into museums when social historians popularized a historiographic method centered on the role places played in forming the biographies of “great individuals,” Rubery said.

These scholars believed that, if the public was presented with the life of a person at a specific moment in time, they would form an intimate connection with the past in a way that supports the development of character and virtue. Today, our fondness for explaining historic events through biography has largely waned — and with that, the school of social history — leaving behind countless mummified homes, farmsteads, and other structures that no longer serve their intended purpose.

Preserving Eagle’s Nest explores this theme through artifacts and documents. It examines the historic house museum’s language of time by concentrating on the broken, damaged, and decayed aspects of the Vanderbilt Museum’s collections and grounds. The exhibit also examines the time and labor invested in preserving the historic appearance of the Museum and finds value in the multigenerational care and expertise given to the project.

By focusing on the tension that develops between degradation and preservation, Preserving Eagle’s Nest directs our collective interest toward questions of temporality, effort, and historical stasis, Rubery said.

This exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Eric and Laura Gerde, Milcon Construction Corporation, Farrell Fritz, P.C.; People’s United Bank; PFM Asset Management; and H2M Architects + Engineers.

The Suffolk Cound Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport presents Preserving Eagle’s Nest  through Dec. 4. 

Viewing hours for the fall are Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

From left, 1970 Jaguar XKE, 1966 Jaguar XKE, 1952 Jaguar XK-120. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The Jaguar Drivers Club of Long Island will hold its annual Concours d’Elegance, a show of vintage and modern Jaguars and other British and international makes on the Great Lawn at the Vanderbilt Museum overlooking Northport Harbor on Sunday, September 11, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (rain date: September 18).

Charity raffle proceeds will benefit Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center (https://www.littleshelter.org/) and General Needs (https://generalneeds.org/), an organization based in East Northport, N.Y., that helps homeless veterans.

Visitors pay only the Vanderbilt’s general admission cost: adults $10; seniors (age 62 and up) $9; students (with ID) $9; children 12 and under $7; Members, active military, and children under 2 are FREE.

For additional information about the show visit the Jaguar Drivers Club of Long Island website at www.jdcli.com.

Pixabay photo

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport hosts Cactus Kids, a workshop for children ages 8 to 12 which introduces junior gardeners to the joys and challenges of raising cacti, on Thursday, July 28 at 1 p.m. Participants will plant a cactus pot, discover how to take care of their specimens, and explore the unique attributes that allow cacti to thrive in hot desert environments. Workshop will take place in the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s “Superintendent’s Cottage,” which is located across the street from the main campus. Plants and workshop materials are included in the price. $35 per child, $25 members. To register, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or click here.

Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

Music, dancing, and romance will fill the night when Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra return to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum on Friday, July 15, for their 15th annual show, Spicy Sounds for a Hot Night. The event is a major Vanderbilt fundraiser.

A perennial favorite, the orchestra performs annually to sold-out audiences at the Vanderbilt, playing their original blend of Afro-Caribbean rhythms – including salsa, merengue, cha-cha, bomba, plena and Latin jazz. This critically acclaimed 11-piece ensemble, which tours throughout North and South America, has performed in hundreds of festivals and leading performing-arts centers throughout the world.

The Vanderbilt Estate grounds open at 6:00 pm. The performance, for listening and dancing, will be from 7:00 to 10:00 in the Celebration Tent. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner and enjoy the evening under the stars as the music and dancing start.

Tickets: $65. Table of 10: $650. To purchase tickets, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or click below.

The orchestra, which has released 12 critically acclaimed CDs, has shared the stage and billings with such major acts as Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Andy Montañez, Los Hermanos Moreno, Arturo Sandoval, Ray Barretto, Jane Burnette & The Spirits of Havana, King Changó, Arrested Development, Branford Marsalis, and the Count Basie and Woody Herman orchestras.

Visit www.alextorres.com

Spring planting in the Vanderbilt Museum's Sensory Garden Photo courtesy of Pal-O-Mine Equestrian

Four years ago, Kimm Schmidt and Lauren Ferris of Pal-O-Mine Equestrian in Islandia, working with young adults with disabilities, created the Sensory Garden near the entrance to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s Reichert Planetarium in Centerport. They return each spring to replant, and this year their work was made possible by a generous gift from a private donor.

On a bright, recent spring morning, Schmidt and Ferris worked to revive the garden with a half-dozen adults with special needs in their twenties and thirties.

“We plant things that awaken the senses,” Schmidt said. The garden has more than two dozen herbs, including sage, mint, rosemary, basil, anise hyssop, chamomile, yarrow, citronella, rainbow Swiss chard, chives, lemon balm, strawberries, and five-leaf akebia, a vine with chocolate-scented flowers. 

In 2018, Operations Supervisor Jim Munson invited a small group of local gardeners and landscape designers to refresh various gardens around the Vanderbilt Mansion. Schmidt and Ferris responded.

J-STEP team members from Pal-O-Mine in front of the replanted sensory garden at the entrance to the Vanderbilt Planetarium.

“The idea of the Sensory Garden came to mind immediately,” Ferris said. “It is a place that not only looks beautiful, but also has benefits the public can use and learn from.” Ferris, who had recently earned a Certificate in Horticultural Therapy from the New York Botanical Garden, said she thought a sensory garden would be an excellent feature for visitors of all abilities.

“Plants that awaken the senses are a wonderful tool to use in so many ways,” Schmidt said. “They spark conversations, jog people’s memories, and can be very calming.”

“I loved the concept and wanted it to have a prime spot with lots of traffic,” Munson said. “I just knew the front of the Planetarium was the perfect location, accessible to all.”

Lisa Gatti, who founded Pal-O-Mine Equestrian in 1995 as a therapeutic horseback riding program for individuals with disabilities and other vulnerable populations, liked the idea immediately. Pal-O-Mine decided to make the design and installation of the garden part of its J-STEP (Job Security Through Equine Partnership) program. Each week, Pal-O-Mine serves 350 people, in their various programs ranging in age from 3 and up. Schmidt and Ferris are J-STEP job coaches.

“We use horticulture skills at J-STEP to teach vocational skills necessary to secure and maintain a job,” Ferris said. “Some students go on to work at nurseries, and others have jobs at local retail stores.

Caring for the garden teaches proper work habits, personal and domestic maintenance, as well as interpersonal communication and social skills. 

The J-STEP Team also maintains the gardens at Pal-O-Mine’s 13 acres in Islandia, Long Island. “Each student has a personal garden and decides which vegetables they want to plant,” “They keep records and research planting times and the needs of each plant.” The students maintain other gardens on the site, including pollinator and cutting gardens, and a medieval knot garden, a formal design planted with herbs and aromatic plants. J-STEP offers other programs including photography, cooking, and crafting.

J-STEP students who installed this year’s Vanderbilt plantings talked about the experience. 

Meredith said, “Being part of the of the planning and planting for the garden calms me down. I see with my hands, and it feels bumpy and smells good.” Rebecca said, “It feels great to plant the Sensory Garden for people to enjoy.” Tim added, “I love working in the garden and I love the view.”

The group will return throughout the growing season to prune and clean the garden and do a clean-up in the fall.

For Schmidt, who recently joined the Vanderbilt as a museum educator, the attraction of designing and maintaining gardens is captured in a favorite quote from naturalist John Muir: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum & Planetarium is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. Visit vanderbiltmuseum.org for more information.


Photo by Patrick Keeffe
‘Vineland’ by Christopher Tennant

Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport recently debuted Related Searches, the first solo museum exhibition by New York artist Christopher Tennant.

Tennant’s artwork—a mix of avian and aquatic dioramas and vitrines, handmade lamps, and collected specimens—reimagines natural history as an extension of commodity culture and the decorative arts. His brilliantly illuminated cases combine antique taxidermy with discarded consumer products to provide a stark visual representation of the beauty and terror of an ecology altered by human industry and the algorithmic marketplace.

Related Searches is on view in the Lancaster Room, a newly renovated gallery space in the mansion, through June 30.

For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.