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Terry Reid

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A photo of Corporal Christopher Scherer of East Northport and some of his personal items on display in the Monuments Men exhibit.
Exhibit honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice

By Kevin Redding

For years, they were neglected. Passersby barely shot a second glance at the nearly 100 names of brave men and women from Northport and East Northport engraved on stone monuments on Main Street and in John Walsh Park — locals who lost their lives in service to their country in every conflict from the Civil War to the Iraq War.

But that all changed in recent months thanks to the efforts of Terry Reid and exhibit committee members of the Northport Historical Society.

Donated uniforms from the museum’s permanent collection, from left, World War II Army Air Force; Alan Salzman, Signal Corps, Vietnam War; and Peggy Zumbach, Navy Waves, World War II are in the exhibit.

“We don’t want people to just walk by these monuments anymore,” said Reid, curator of the historical society’s new and expansive Monuments Men exhibit, which opened Sept. 3. The exhibit showcases the stories behind these heroes with regiment and battle information, personal memorabilia, photographs, letters and mannequins draped in authentic uniforms and jackets — which Reid said is like “having our own troops standing guard.” World War II memorabilia includes a German hand grenade and a gas mask.

Items were pulled from military databases and museum records, while others were donated directly by family members of the fallen. “We wanted to put a face to every single name listed on each of those monuments so their memory would live on,” she said. “A lot of what we received must be priceless to these families but I think they knew the importance of this. Really, the whole gist of this exhibit for the veterans is: We won’t forget you.”

Reid, who was part of an exhibit put on by the historical society in 2015 marking the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, sought out any and all objects pertaining to the conflict at the time and began researching the names on the monuments. She was struck by photographs she found of soldiers and touched by their heartbreaking stories. It was then that she crafted the idea of shedding a light on all the local soldiers.

Once she got the green light from the historical society to helm the project, Reid reached out in search of anybody who had connections to the names, from members of the community on Facebook to the American Legion to Atria nursing home in East Northport. At the nursing home, she found and conducted a video interview with a Korean War veteran who detailed what he and his fellow troops went through during what’s been deemed “The Forgotten War,” which visitors can watch at a kiosk in front of the Korean War cabinet in the exhibit.

Multiple pieces of personal items belonging to Corporal Christopher Scherer, from East Northport who died in Iraq in 2007, is also highlighted, including the veteran’s lacrosse gloves from when he attended Northport High School, his Boy Scout lanyards, dog tags and even a photograph of his old bedroom — all provided by his family.

In mapping out a more personal exhibit, Reid also contacted Kevin O’Neill, a longtime friend of the museum and the co-owner of the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. The popular venue was named in honor of O’Neill’s brother-in-law, an Iraq War veteran and East Northport native who died in 2006 at 45. Engeman’s medals and awards, as well as other pieces of memorabilia, were donated by his widow.

A photo of Stephen Scudder who fought in the Civil War on display in the exhibit

“It stirs up a lot of emotions when you walk through something like this,” O’Neill said of the exhibit. “It was 11 years ago that John was killed but it feels like yesterday. I think the historical society and Terry did a first-class, wonderful job with this exhibit. It’s very impressive, powerful and beautiful display. I encourage people to go and learn about these men and women.”

Steven King, the chairman of the Exhibits and Collection Committee at the historical society, said the public so far has responded extremely well to Monuments Men.

“We’ve been getting a lot of compliments because of the nature of the exhibit,” King said. “It’s kind of a difficult subject to take on, as it represents a lot of pain for families that have lost soldiers in recent years, but they’ve all come forward and helped us with the exhibit to make sure the War on Terror period is well-represented. Including the most recent heroes has special poignancy for many of the visitors who have spoken to us about their appreciation for this.”

The entire exhibit takes up half the museum and is made up of 10 fully stocked cabinets of items. While no women from the area have lost their lives according to the monuments, the exhibit highlights the history of their roles within the military throughout the years, including the Women’s Army Corps and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, Reid said.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the society will host a special Veterans Weekend Trolley Tour on Nov. 12 (see below). In addition, a lecture by Ret. Col. Al Vitters, who served in Vietnam and was a powerful figure at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School in West Point, will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. at the society’s headquarters. Vitters will reflect on his military career, which will cover when women were first admitted to the school in 1976. Admission is $5 per person, free for members.

“I just want people to stop and take a pause and really reflect and feel some gratitude for what these people do for us,” Reid said. “It’s important to the families that they are not forgotten and that their sacrifices stay in our hearts and minds. We all should be a little more thankful for our freedoms, as they come at a price, and we’re hoping this exhibit illustrates just how lucky we are.”

The Northport Historical Society, located at 215 Main Street in Northport, will present Monuments Men through May, 2018. Admission is free. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-757-9859 or visit www.northporthistorical.org.

Photos above by Heidi Sutton

Veterans Day Weekend Trolley Tour

All aboard! Have you ever noticed the trolley tracks that run through Northport? They’re all that is left of the trolley that ran from Woodbine Avenue to the Northport Railroad Station from 1902 until 1924.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, thanks to its sponsor Nolan & Taylor-Howe, the Northport Historical Society will run a trolley tour giving Long Islanders a chance to relive this important part of Northport’s past. Guided tours of the monuments in town honoring the Northport area fallen will be offered aboard a replica trolley generously provided by Mark of Elegance Limousine Service.

The tour, led by Northport Historical Society curator, Terry Reid, is a great family-friendly way to celebrate Veterans Day and learn about local history. Reid will share the stories of many of the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and who are currently also honored in the society’s new Monuments Men exhibit. Tours, which are approximately 45 minutes long, will depart from the Northport Historical Society at 215 Main Street at 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers, and $10 for veterans and children under 15. Refreshments will be served. To purchase tickets please visit www.northporthporthistorical.org/events or call 631-757-9859. Proceeds from the tour support the society’s mission to preserve and promote the history of Northport and its surrounding communities.

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.