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Vanderbilt Museum

The Vanderbilt Mansion library is decked out for the holidays.

Each December, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport gives special evening tours of the decorated Mansion. This year, the Vanderbilt proudly introduces Sounds of the Seasons, a captivating new holiday program, planned for Saturday, December 9 and 16, from 5 to 9 p.m.

Transport yourself to the heyday of Eagle’s Nest, a time when radio was the heartbeat of everyday life.

Explore the festively adorned mansion and be serenaded by timeless Bing Crosby melodies, relive President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Christmas Eve commemorations, and be captivated by special holiday episodes of Suspense Radio.

This holiday celebration masterfully captures the essence of the Golden Age of Radio, blending festive cheer with nostalgic charm.

The Vanderbilt Mansion’s halls were decked by the Museum’s curators in collaboration with the Dix Hills, Centerport, Three Village, Asharoken, and Nathan Hale garden clubs.

Tickets, which are $15 per person, can be purchased on the Vanderbilt website, www.vanderbiltmuseum.org, for specific 30-minute tour times.


Chelsea Brownridge, co-founder of DogSpot, demonstrates the unit with her dog. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Travelers are used to parking their car, but few have likely thought about parking their dog.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport will be the first place on Long Island to host a DogSpot, a smart dog house where pet owners can make sure man’s best friend has a comfortable place to rest while they take in the museum’s exhibits.

“I’ve always felt bad turning away people who weren’t aware they couldn’t bring a dog onto the property even though we have 43 acres,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum.

In recent years, Reinheimer said he has seen a growing number of visitors who want to bring their canine companions with them while traveling. Unfortunately, this poses a number of issues for the museum, according to the executive director, due to the delicate nature of its exhibits, the Vanderbilt mansion and the potential issues that could arise between dogs and other guests.

A look inside DogSpot’s smart dog house. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Chelsea Brownridge, co-founder of DogSpot, said her smart dog house was designed to offer businesses an alternative to turning away potential customers, or guests, and their four-legged friends.

“We started this company with the mission of giving people a safe way to lead active lives with their dogs,” she said. “They now have a safe alternative to tying them up, as you see in walkable communities, or leaving them in the car.”

Brownridge said a DogSpot modular dog house is made of veterinarian-grade, nonporous plastic fully ventilated with air conditioning to control the temperature. Pet owners can call the museum in advance to reserve the kennel for up to 90 minutes at a time.

“The summer months are a great time to start doing this, as this time of year it gets more dangerous to leave your dog in the car,” she said.

The housing units also contain an ultraviolet sanitation light, built into the roof, that zaps the unit between uses to eliminate any germs or bacteria, according to Brownridge, to prevent the spread of communicable diseases like kennel cough. It is also serviced once per day, cleaned inside and out by hand to remove any muddy paw prints or dog hair.

Reinheimer said the smart dog house will be installed near the museum’s gatehouse, adjacent to the parking lot, as the building is manned round the clock by personnel. That way, if a dog needs help or is in distress,
museum staff will have a way to access the unit and help the animal.

I think it would probably do well in Northport and give people in town something to talk about.”
– Flemming Hansen

Pet owners can download the DogSpot app on their smartphone, allowing them to view their dog through the dog house’s webcam to check in. There is a 24/7 hotline where users can report any problems, such as a malfunctioning air conditioner or a lost key card.

“Each house is internet connected, so we can handle a number of issues remotely including checking the temperature and unlocking it if necessary,” Brownridge said.

There have been 50 DogSpot houses deployed across Brooklyn outside grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops as part of a pilot program for the last two years. The company’s co-founder said it went well, but they have temporarily been pulled as they work with city officials to figure out long-term rules and regulations.

“We are currently expanding on Long Island and other places on private properties,” Brownridge said.

One Northport business owner, Flemming Hansen of Copenhagen Bakery & Café, said he already has an interest in having a unit outside his shop. Hansen said he gets a lot of customers who come by with dogs, that cannot be allowed to enter the bakery.

“A lot of people are very protective of their dogs and treat them like a child, they are part of the family,” he said. “I think it would probably do well in Northport and give people in town something to talk about.”

More than 1,000 hours of community service put into gardens, mansion tours, live music and more

Members of the Centerport Garden Club volunteer their time to maintain the Vanderbilt's rose garden. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum.

One of Suffolk County’s museums leads by example in knowing the value of the proverb many hands make light work.

The Vanderbilt Museum, Mansion & Planetarium has been able to delight visitors with its scenic gardens and extensive programs thanks to the time put in by its roughly 135 year-round volunteers who have donated more than 1,000 hours in 2017.

“Volunteers are better than staff as they do work but don’t get paid,” Executive Director Lance Reinheimer said. “Their time is very valuable and it saves the museum a big expense each year.”

A visitor’s experience is shaped by the work of the museum’s volunteers from the minute they enter the estate. Volunteer gardeners designed and planted a garden near the property’s entrance at the request of the executive director. Master gardener Gloria Hall has taken over organizing a group formed by her late husband, Bill, that works on the property each Monday, during the growing season from May to October, helping in every aspect from planting and weeding to designing new features.

“Gloria has done a great job in carrying on the tradition of caring for our gardens,” Reinheimer said.

The gardening clubs involved have also helped design and create gardens that encircle the estate’s celebration tent on the Great Lawn, which overlooks the Long Island Sound. The director said it has added
visually to many of the weddings and special occasions happening on the grounds, anchoring the tent to make it feel like a permanent structure and blend into the property

Agnes Ward has spearheaded the Centerport Garden Club in donating its members time to  delicately handling  the Vanderbilt Estate rose garden outside of the planetarium.

“The gardeners really augment my ground staff,” the executive director said. “We’ve made great strides in beautifying the property in the last two years.”

Museum guests who take a tour of the historic Gold Coast mansion may be led around by a volunteer, as hundreds have by guide Ellen Mason who has volunteered at the Vanderbilt since May 2006. The retired school teacher said her passion for history keeps her coming back on Saturdays to share the experience with others.

“I’ve been asked over and over again to get on the payroll,” Mason said. “I refuse. I wanted to volunteer, I want to volunteer at something I love doing and it makes my spirit soar. I love the people who work there, it’s like a whole other family.”

It’s so welcoming that there’s even a former Vanderbilt employee who continues to come back and volunteer. The museum has several longtime volunteers who regularly give freely of their time including Rick Ellison, Mary McKell, Dale Spencer and Marianne Weeks, a
ccording to museum staff.

“There are so many people involved in that Suffolk institution — garden clubs, the living history program, all different types of work,” said Herb Mones, husband of museum trustee Gretchen Oldrin-Mones. “It’s really under the radar. I don’t think the larger community is fully aware of how much the volunteers impact the daily running of that institution that services tens of thousands of school kids each year.”

Once inside the mansion, visitors may be treated to live music played on the antique aeolian pipe organ played by volunteers Bill Caputi and Sheldon Cooper.

My feeling is that Long Island is a mecca for volunteerism,” Reinheimer said, in recognition how generous the museum’s volunteers have been. “Long Islanders give willingly to causes that are worthy.”

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Artist Sean Murtha restores a large painting. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

Twelve fish and five flamingos recently left their home in The Hall of Fishes at Centerport’s Vanderbilt Museum in the care of taxidermist George Dante, for a trip to his Wilderness Preservations studio in West Paterson, N.J., and some much-needed care and repair.

Dante’s work is part of the Marine Collections Conservation Project, and complements the extensive work being completed during the next few months by staff curators on nearly 1,500 of the Vanderbilt’s fluid-preserved ocean specimens. Over the past several years, significant gifts from the Roy M. Speer Foundation and the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation have allowed the Vanderbilt to undertake these much-needed conservation and restoration efforts.

Above, taxidermist George Dante (left) and artist Thomas Doncourt in the Vanderbilt Museum’s Hall of Fishes. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

Dante, an accomplished taxidermist, he has been working with the Vanderbilt over the past several years to conserve and preserve some of the animals in its Stoll Wing dioramas. Now he’s begun to work on some of the Museum’s critically damaged or decaying marine specimens, which Mr. Vanderbilt gathered during his global ocean voyages and collecting expeditions in the early 20th century. Collaborating with Dante are gifted artists Sean Murtha and Thomas Doncourt.

Murtha is repairing and restoring the background painting in a large Hall of Fishes diorama of flamingos and their clay pedestal nests along the coast of Cuba, Dante is cleaning and restoring the flamingos and Doncourt is restoring the clay flamingo nests and foreground vegetation.

“This phase of the project will address the dry mounted fish specimens that were originally prepared by Mr. Vanderbilt’s curator, William Belanske,” said Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt. “His original paintings of these fish, done at the time they were caught, served as a color reference for the mounted fish skins. A dozen have been removed from display and are being carefully conserved by George Dante. He will address not only the damage and loss to the hand-painted skins, but also restore missing fins and tails. As many of these specimens were prepared nearly a century ago, they are extremely fragile and difficult to work with.”

Sean Murtha said he is restoring the Flamingo diorama painting to its former appearance. “We’re not updating or changing it, but trying to erase the damage that has occurred to it over the past nearly 100 years,” he said. “The original was painted by William Belanske, and therefore has historic importance. Over the years, moisture has affected the background painting in a few different ways, discoloring it in many places and in a few areas causing the paint to crack and flake off.

“I am removing very loose chips of paint, stabilizing it with an acrylic polymer, and then painting in the missing areas, to match the color and style of the original. Meanwhile, George and Tom are conserving and restoring the birds and plants. When everything comes back together, it should have the impact that it did originally,” added Murtha.

Thomas Doncourt is consulting on foreground conditions and restoration, including ground surfaces and plant models, he said. “The challenge is to coordinate work between Sean and George,” he said. “I remove foreground objects and materials so they can have access to the specimens and the background painting.”

Doncourt’s restoration work will include repairing the clay nests, made of painted plaster, and the branches and leaves of the rhododendron, fashioned out of beeswax. “Then I will work with George to return the specimens, nests and foliage to their original places and make it look like nothing ever happened to disturb the scenic beauty.”

During his epic global journeys in the 1920s and 1930s, William K. Vanderbilt II (1878-1944) collected thousands of specimens of vertebrate and invertebrate sea life for the museum he was building on Long Island. His Hall of Fishes houses what is considered the world’s most extensive privately assembled collection of marine specimens from the pre-atomic era.

The Vanderbilt marine collection comprises 13,190 historic aquatic specimens housed in the two-story Hall of Fishes; in the Habitat, a natural-history diorama hall; and in an invertebrate gallery. The collection, in addition to the fluid-preserved marine life, includes vertebrate and invertebrate specimens, dried or preserved through taxidermy.

The Hall of Fishes constituted the beginning of today’s Vanderbilt Museum complex. Constructed in 1922, it began as a one-story structure open to the public each Wednesday during the years Mr. Vanderbilt lived on the estate.

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.

The Vanderbilt Bell Tower and courtyard. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum will once again turn back the clock when it offers Living History tours Saturday, Sept. 3 and Sunday, Sept. 4. For more than a decade, Living History tours have delighted visitors to the sprawling 24-room, Spanish-Revival waterfront mansion.

These special, time machine events feature some of the Vanderbilts and their servants, who are portrayed by museum tour guides. The year is 1937, and the news makes its way into the tour narrative: “The movie ‘Captains Courageous’ with Spencer Tracy is playing in the theaters, and Agatha Christie’s new novel ‘Dumb Witness’ is in the bookstores,” said Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs. “Amelia Earhart was lost at sea in July, and European leaders are faced with threats of German expansion.” Yachtsman Harold Vanderbilt, brother of William K. Vanderbilt II, won the America’s Cup in the summer of 1937, added Gress.

The Vanderbilt has been called a “museum of a museum” — the mansion, natural-history and marine collection galleries are exactly as they were when the Vanderbilts lived on the estate. The stories featured on the tours are based on the oral histories of people who worked on the mansion staff as teenagers and young adults. Some stories also come from Mr. Vanderbilt’s privately published books of his world travels and extensive sea journeys.

Tours will be given at 11:45 a.m. and at 12:30, 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. on both days. Tickets are $5 per person in addition to the regular admission fee of $7 adults, $6 students and seniors, $3 children 12 and under. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.