God Bless Us, Every One

You haven’t missed it! There is still time to attend the Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson on December 1st and 2nd. Don’t know about the Festival? Don’t know what it takes to bring the spirit of a Victorian-era Christmas to the north shore of Long Island?

We’ve brought in the experts on this episode: Linda Folk, George and Karen Overin, and Michael and Sheryl Freed. They’ve all devoted years of research, study, and practice to perfect their various roles as performers and administrators for the Festival. We also had them discuss what it’s like re-enacting a bygone age, whether the 1860s or even the Golden Age of Pirates. From the art of “sooting up” to the art of wearing a hoop skirt, it’s all here.

 

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The Local History of Ghosts and Spirits

Don’t call her a ghostbuster. Kerriann Flanagan Brosky approaches her investigations of the paranormal on Long Island with a photographer’s eye and a historian’s perspective. She has long been fascinated with the links between local history and ghostly sightings, weaving the two together in her books.  With her partner Joe Giaquinto, she has investigated and written about Long Island’s old buildings and homes and the spirits who inhabit them.

Kerriann Flanagan Brosky. Image courtesy of KFB.

On this episode, Kerriann describes her journey into the realm of mediums and supernatural investigations. Her latest book, Historic Crimes of Long Island (The History Press, 2017), broadens her scope into stories of violence on the Island across the centuries.

We discuss the most haunted region of Long Island, the spiritual leanings of William Sidney Mount, and more. For believers and non-believers alike, there is much to discuss.

EVPs courtesy of Kerriann Flanagan Brosky and Joe Giaquinto. Find out more here.

  • Katie’s Bar at 11:19  (“you win”)
  • Villa Paul Restaurant at 14:12  (“I am the photographer”)

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The Night That Dowling Burned

In honor of Labor Day, we return to the subject of Long Island volunteer firefighters. Last episode, Tom Rinelli and Connie brought up the infamous 1974 fire at Dowling College in Oakdale. By a nice piece of coincidence and as a gift from the podcasting gods, Chris recalled a 2009 oral history he had conducted with local firefighter Joe Mandanici, who had been present at that fire.

Here, with Joe’s permission, is an edited version of that conversation. Joe, then a rookie at the Oakdale firehouse (in the West Sayville Fire Department), got the call in the pre-dawn hours of a cold cold March morning. As only a volunteer firefigher can know, it was the start of a long day.

Fighting Fires, Saving History

Who knew that firehouses were such deep sources of local history? In the town of Islip, they are overflowing with trophies, photos, devices, and mechanisms going back to the 1800s. There was so much history, in fact, that a dedicated group of firefighters and volunteers spent over two decades making the Islip Town Fire & EMS Museum a reality.

Hear Tom Rinelli, the museum’s historian, describe that rich history and what it tells us about life (and fires) on Long Island, the evolution of firefighting, and the unique brotherhood of people who volunteer to run into burning buildings.

Islipl Town Fire & EMS Museum
4 Court House Drive
Central Islip, New York 11722
Phone: (631) 778-6621  Fax: (631) 778-6622

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Revisiting the 18th Century Alien Weasel Influx on Long Island


Matthew Montelione is back to discuss his new fantasy comic book series set in Revolutionary War-era Long Island. If you are a fan of history, JRR Tolkien, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you’ll want to check it out. We discuss what it takes to produce an independent comic as well as Matt’s on-going research into the Loyalist experience on Long Island. We also pitch a few ideas for new Long Island history comic series.

Spirit Guild by Matthew Montelione and Pedro Lajud

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Anna Smith Strong, Long Island Patriot

Margo Arceri grew up with history. A native of Strong’s Neck in Setauket, she learned early on the stories of Anna Smith Strong and the role she played in the Culper Spy Ring during the Revolution. She got to explore the very coves and inlets that sheltered Caleb Brewster and Abraham Woodhull.  And she heard it all from Anna’s great great granddaughter.

Strong’s Neck. NYPL Digital Collections.

This is a special cross-over episode featuring Margo and Danielle Campbell, newsanchor and journalist for News Channel 12.  Make sure you check out Danielle’s interview about her career in radio and New York journalism on episode 7 of the Radio Tower, the official podcast of the Long Island Radio & Television Historical Society.

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Long Island’s Notable Women

Behind every great woman is another great woman and Natalie Naylor is bringing them to light. Her book Women in Long Island’s Past (History Press, 2012), highlights the accomplished and acclaimed women who have been connected to Long Island over the centuries.

From early Algonquian sunksquaws to 20th century suffragists, from First Ladies to famous flyers, Natalie gives us a wide-ranging look at what women have accomplished on the Island. Just some of the notables include Julia Gardiner Tyler, Ethel Roosevelt Derby, Elinor Smith, and Barbara McClintock.

If you have Natalie’s book, make sure you download the special indexes in our show notes below. No copy is complete without them!

Natalie Naylor

 

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Postcards from Huntington

PJ Novak wrote the history of Huntington on a postcard. A librarian, archivist and dedicated deltiologist, she is also the author of Huntington from the Postcard History Series of Arcadia Press. In her book, she shows us the town of Huntington as it appeared at the turn of the last century: a thriving community of shipbuilders, shopowners, and wealthy resort-goers.

We walk through her book of postcards, all drawn from her private collection, and review the changing face of places like Northport, Jayne’s Hill, and Cold Spring Harbor. We also discuss the history of the postcard itself, those simple yet fascinating messages from the past that can still tell us many things today.

Huntington by PJ Novak. Arcadia Press, Postcard History Series

Special thanks to the South Huntington Public Library for giving us space to record!

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Ducks on Ice

The Long Island Ducks personified an era and a brand of hockey. From 1959 to 1973, they fought, checked, and slashed their way through the Eastern Hockey League and the Long Island Arena in Commack.

Photo courtesy Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame

If this sounds vaguely familiar, think back to the 1977 film Slap Shot with Paul Newman. Newman’s character, Reg Dunlop, was based on the Duck’s defensiveman John Brophy.

Chrs Vaccaro, head of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame, relates the story of this storied franchise. Connie Currie tells her own story of watching the Ducks play and what it was like inside that big drafty barn of a stadium when the pucks were flying.

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Washington’s Spy Letters

We’ve been tracking the history of the Culper Spy Ring for a while on the Project but today we go to the source – two primary sources to be exact. Kristen Nyitray, Director of Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook, and Chris Filstrup, former Dean of SBU Libraries, discuss their pursuit and acquisition of two letters by George Washington to Benjamin Tallmadge about the operations of the spy ring.

You’ll hear about Washington’s hands-on approach to spycraft and the dangers the Ring faced operating out of enemy territory. Kristen also describes the Culper Alliance that formed betwen Stony Brook, NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright, and local cultural heritage organizations from the Three Village Historical Society to Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay.

From the shores of Setauket to the auction room at Christie’s, this story reveals the continuing evolution of the Culper Spy Ring’s historical significance.

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Remembering Gil Bergen

On this episode, we honor the memory of Gil Bergen, superintendent of the Connetquot River State Park Preserve, and his long service to the Park and the memory of the South Side Sportsmen’s Club.

Gil was one of the last links to the history of the Club, which was founded in 1866 by a group of prominent New Yorkers who incorporated to preserve and maintain the landscape around their favorite tavern: Snedecor’s Inn.

This interview was recorded in 2007 and was previously featured on the Dowling Colege Library Omnibus podcast. The recording includes Sallie Kachell and Rhoda McManus of Oakdale.

Buildings of the South Side Sportsmen’s Club, now Connetquot River State Park Preserve

We Bought a Newspaper

Mary Lou Cohalan and her husband bought the Suffolk County News along with three other couples in the late 1960s. Her resulting career as the first woman editor of the paper saw her chasing fires, fighting prejudice, and winning awards.

Mary Lou (or “Scoop”) ran the editorial side of things while Joann O’Doherty handled the business end. Along with the Retaliattas and the Harts, the Cohalans shepherded their hometown paper through innovations and upheavals until 1985.

Hear about the changing world of Savyille, Bayshore, and the rest of the South Shore from the end of the Vietnam War era to the coming of the computer age.

The Facade that Wouldn’t Die. Suffolk County News building on Candee Ave.
New design for the paper’s 100th anniversary.

 

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Chris Bodkin’s Book of Sayville

Chris Bodkin is a man with a keen eye for detail and a deep love for his hometown of Sayville. We’ve published our interview with him in three parts  – three chapters that cover his life, career, and research into the past.

Chapter 1
In which the Bodkins move to Sayville from Brooklyn, Chris learns to sail, and an exotic food named pizza appears on Main Street.

Chapter 2
In which Chris becomes a captain on the Fire Island Ferries and later goes into politics. A look back at some of the stories behind Sayville’s war veterans.

Chapter 3
A number of stories, including life in Depression-era Sayville, Father Divine and the African American community, and the dashing figure of Dr. Bard – dentist to the stars and first ladies.

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The South Side Signal Newspaper

First masthead of the South Side Signal, July 7, 1869.

Henry Livingston came to Babylon in 1869 and founded the South Side Signal. He made an immediate splash advocating for Babylon to split from the town of Huntington and went on to lead the paper into the 20th century.

On this episode, Babylon Town Historian Mary Cascone relates the history of the paper: it’s influence, evolution, and style. We also trade stories of newspaper research, microfilm readers, and the glory of digitized collections. Luckily, the South Side Signal has gone to newspaper heaven and can now be fully searched through the New York State Historic Newspapers site.

As a little side experiment – help us document the noble yet forgotten microfilm machine. Send us a picture of a microfilm reader to longislandhistoryproject [at] gmail.com

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Time in a Bottle

Mark R. Smith saves time in a bottle, literally. His antique bottle collection preserves the memory of local dairies, pharmacies, hotels and more. It also tells the story of a time when milkmen roamed the earth, when an outhouse was a man’s castle, and when just about anything could be labeled “medicine.”

Listen as Mark walks us through the history of bottle making, the local businesses of Sayville and Oakdale, and his equally-obsessive love of ceramics.

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Mother Newsday

Bob Keeler wrote the book on Newsday, a candid history detailing the origin story of Long Island’s original tabloid. Started in 1940 as the “toy” of Alicia Patterson, the paper went on to influence the growth of Nassau and Suffolk counties in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Harry Guggenheim had his own views on how the paper should be run. Not a problem if he was just Alicia’s husband. He was also, however, Newsday‘s majority shareholder. Their relationship unfolded in a strange duet from the newsroom to their Sands Point estate: his gentleman’s conservatism matched against her shoot-for-the-knees liberalism.

Bob explains it all in a fascinating walk through Long Island’s growth in the second half of the 20th century.

 

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The Soldier City of Suffolk County

Imagine a city rising from the fields of Suffolk County in the early 20th cenutry, a wooden metropolis covering almost 20,000 acres. It has its own post office, theater, library and fire department. The place could fit close to 40,000 people with room for 15,000 horses. Imagine that and you’ve got Camp Upton.

Suzanne Johnson and David Clemens.

Today our guests Suzanne Johnson and David Clemens discuss the history of Camp Upton, the vast military training camp in Brookhaven that served the US Army in World War I and II. We focus on their new book, Camp Upton, from Arcadia Press which features images of the life of the camp throughout 1917-18 and beyond. Many of the images are drawn from the Longwood Public Library where both Suzanne and David were directors.

You’ll hear about the 77th Division, the Harlem Hellfighters, Irving Berlin, and the amazing feat of raising an army to fight The War to End All Wars.

[UPDATE 2/11/18] Suzanne and Dave are out on tour with their book but checked in with two updates:

  • More research has shown that Camp Upton did not double Suffolk’s  population but it did increase it by 50%
  • They will both be at the Suffolk County Historical Society on March 10th for a symposium on “Long Island and the Great War.” More here.
Yip Yip Yaphank.
From The New York Public Library

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Making Gatsby Great

Few authors are more synonymous with a place and point in time than F. Scott Fitzgerald. His Great Gatsby came to define the 1920s and cast a golden aura across Long Island’s North Shore for all time.

On today’s episode, Charles Riley guides us through the birth of The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s struggle to make it into a masterpiece. Charles is the director of the Nassau County Museum of Art and author of Free as Gods: How the Jazz Age Reinvented Modernism.

New York Times ad from April, 1925.

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Longwood Stories

Melanie Cardone-Leathers is the Local History Librarian at the Longwood Public Library. Today she regales us with tales covering three centuries and many locations. There is Benjamin Tallmadge burning the British hay at Coram during the Revolution. And the boot-strapping of Gordon Heights by African Americans from Harlem and beyond. How about Camps Siegfried and Upton, the former a 1930s, Nazi-inflected retreat and the latter a staging ground for troops during World War I and II?

To round it off, we experience the thrills of Fairy Town’s roadside attractions and Connie tells her monkey story.

Ad for Godon Heights. Photo courtesy Longwood Public Library, Thomas R. Bayles Local History Collection.

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In the Heart of Roosevelt

Carol Gilliam, Black Heritage Librarian at Roosevelt Public Library

Carol Gilliam is the Black Heritage Librarian at Roosevelt Public Library where she oversees a collection dedicated to black culture and history. On this episode we discuss the growth and use of the collection as well as the Harlem Renaissance, Chuck D and Julius Irving.

We also cover the history of Roosevelt, known as Rum Point for most of the 19th century, as well as the challenges and opportunities of preserving its past.

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Out of Bayville, Endlessly Rocking

Bill Bleyer has a knack for finding history – or maybe it finds him. He had front row seats for Woodstock, did battle with Robert Moses, and got tear-gassed at the 1972 Republican National Convention. Now, after a decades-long career in journalism at Newsday, he writes books about the history of Long Island.

Author and journalist Bill Bleyer.

Today’s interview covers Bill’s career, his love for rock and roll, and the interesting corners of the Island’s history that he’s found over the years.

The proposed end of Robert Moses’ Rye-Bayville bridge.

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The Cuban Giants of Long Island

It’s the summer of 1885 and an industrious and itinerant hotel man named Frank P. Thompson is making history on Long Island. Working for the season at the Argyle Hotel in Babylon, Frank forms a baseball team for exhibition games and barnstorming through the area. Some say they formed as the Black Panthers but they went on to become the Cuban Giants, the first professional African-American team in history.

On today’s episode, fellow librarian Fabio Montella relates the story of the Cuban Giants and the related history of the Negro Leagues and segregation in baseball up through Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

 

The Original Cuban Giants. By unattributed ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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The Hurricane of 1938

We’re looking back to the Hurricane of 1938 on this episode. Called “The Long Island Expresss” by some, “The Great New England Hurricane” by others, remembered by all who lived through it.

 

Today you’ll hear five people, recorded back in 2008, recalling their experiences from Brooklyn out to Orient and up into Massachusetts. Children at the time, they all remember that day as if it just happened.

Special thanks to Ken Strange, George and Rhea Mitchell, Priscilla Teisch, and John Kalinowski for sharing their memories with us.

If you’re on the Island, make sure to check out the new exhibit In Harm’s Way running at the Long Island Museum. It looks at natural disasters on Long Island, how the region has responded in the past, and how we can plan for the future. There’s a special symposium on October 28th at which our own Chris Kretz will be participating.

Front page of the Mattituck Watchman, Sep 22, 1938. From NYS Historic Newspapers

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SPLIA’s Endangered Historic Places 2017

Sarah Kautz, preservation director of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, joins us to discuss their new list of most endangered historic places on Long Island.

From the homes of African American and Native American workers to the grand estates of the Gilded Age, each site offers a window into the Island’s past and to the complex challenges of historic preservation.

Cedarmere Estate in Roslyn Harbor. Photo courtesy of SPLIA.

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Picturing the Past

Manitou Hill
Manitou Hill, now Manetto Hill in Plainview, NY. Image copyright Jeremy Dennis and used with his permission.

Jeremy Dennis is in pursuit of the past, intent on documenting the historical and sacred sites of indigenous people on Long Island. His project, On This Site, restores a map of an old heritage. Jeremy has walked forests, railroad tracks, and backyards to uncover and photograph the often overlooked and forgotten landscape of his Shinnecock ancestors and other Native Americans on Long Island.

On this episode, Jeremy discusses the physical evolution of the sites he has visited as well as his travels through the historical record trying to decode long-forgotten place names and often biased accounts. We also talk about the photography projects that inspired him and what he would like to pursue next.

 

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The Colored Girl from Long Island

Today we talk with Sandi Brewster-walker about her life and her family’s history. Not only do the Brewsters have deep ties to North Amityville and the Native American community on Long Island but their story is intertwined with American history on multiple levels.

You’ll hear about early slavery on Long Island, letters from John Brown, spying in West Africa for the OSS during World War II, the peculiar fad for Tom Thumb’s wedding and more.

Sandi is also a practiced genealogist and we go over some of the challenges of researching Native American and African American ancestors. Beyond family research, her current efforts are directed at establishing a North Amityville Historic District and a Long Island Indigenous People & Research Center.

For more details, you can check out her book, The Colored Girl From Long Island, and her columns in the Amityville Record.

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[Update: Photos added June 18, 2017]

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Sayville’s Gilded Age Boss Architect

Isaac H. Green, Jr. was the man to call if you needed a house built around the turn of the last century on the South Shore of Long Island. As witness, just observe how many of his buildings still stand on Main Street and Brook Street in Sayville., along Middle Road, down into Oakdale and beyond. He designed churches and carriage houses as well as summer estates and farm buildings. His client list included the Vanderbilts, the Bournes, and the Cuttings. His biggest fan, however, is Connie Currie.

On today’s episode, Connie describes her almost fifty year pursuit of the life and buildings of Isaac H. Green. She started with Meadow Croft, the summer home he designed for John Ellis Roosevelt. Her research odyssey took her to Oakdale, East Hampton and all the way up to Bar Harbor, Maine as she tracked the career of Sayville’s favorite son.

Old 88. Sayville Public Library Historic Image and Notes Collection
House for Mr. JC Tappin. Architecture and Building, 1890.
Isaac Green Sayville Buildings

All research is a journey and you’ll follow Connie as she crawls through attics, spools through rivers of microfilm, and uncovers fragments of the built landscape hiding in plain sight.

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Floyds Like Us

If you were to name the most famous Floyd on Long Island before the outbreak of the Revolution, chances are it would not have been William Floyd. His cousin, Richard Floyd IV, cut a more striking figure: generous, hospitable, refined – with a thriving Mastic estate and powerful connections. Yet today, William has a parkway named after him and his home is part of the National Park system while Richard is erased from history. Wonder why?

Join local historian Matthew Montelione as he relates the history of American Loyalist Richard IV and how the Revolution drove him apart from his family, his neighbors and his nation.

Richard’s story is part of our special series of episodes looking into Revolutionary War-era Long Island in honor of the final season of AMC’s Turn: Washington’s Spies. It turns out that Richard’s fate is woven into that of the Culper Spy Ring. Richard’s brother Benjamin lived in Seatauket and had some dubious ties to Abraham Woodhull. And not only did Brewster Caleb make it a point to raid Floyd’s estate, Benjamin Tallmadge led a party of dragoons right to his doorstep, besieging the neighboring British Fort St. George on the Mastic peninsula.

Hear all this and more, including our predictions on what the last scene in Turn will be.

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If Seeds Could Talk

Long Island was once known as “The Garden of the States.” Farms and nurseries and orchards filled the landscape from Queens to Quogue and everywhere in between. Many interesting questions surround this vanished world of agricultural history. How do you preserve the history of seeds? Can vegetables go extinct? ? And what does pumpkin beer taste like, anyway? All of this and more in our interview with the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium (LIRSC).

Today we talk with Steph Gaylor and Cheryl Frey Richards, two of the founders of LIRSC (along with Ken Ettlinger) about their work. Turns out it takes dedication, hard work, meticulous historical research and a devotion to craft beer.

You’ll hear about the success they’ve had bringing back the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, the challenges of finding and propagating long lost seeds, and the important role of seed swaps and seed libraries in public libraries like Patchogue Medford and Bayport. Make sure you check out their web site LIRSC.org for up-to-date info on all of their activities.

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Morton Pennypacker: Long Island Spy Hunter

Frank Knox Morton Pennypacker was many things: author, printer, collector, antiquarian, and…godfather of AMC’s hit Long Island historical drama Turn? It was, after all, Pennypacker’s diligent research into (and just as diligent promotion of) the Culper Spy Ring in the 1930s that led to a resurgence and new understanding of George Washington’s spy ring on Long Island and in New York City. To learn the true depth of the story, however, we need to visit the East Hampton Free Library.

East Hampton is where Morton Pennypacker deposited his vast Long Island history collection. He stayed to oversee the use of the collection in the library and to marry head librarian Ettie Hedges. Today that collection is overseen by Gina Piastuck along with archivists Steve Boerner and Andrea Meyer.

On this episode we take a closer look at Pennypacker, his methods, and his discoveries which include not only the unmasking of Robert Townsend as the spy code-named Culper, Jr., but also a potential pre-Betsy Ross American flag designed by Bridgehampton’s John Hulbert.

How does Pennypacker’s research hold up today? What effect has Turn had on interest in Long Island history? What other secrets does the East Hampton Library hold? And how did Andrea get in to see George Washington’s papers at the Library of Congress after being turned away as a child? All this and more on this episode of the Long Island History Project.

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep 28, 1930

 

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Jack Ellsworth, Long Island’s Big Band Man

Jack Ellsworth, born Ellsworth Shiebler, won acclaim and a loyal following over a 60-plus year career in broadcasting on stations from WHIM to WALK and WLIM. Just as importantly, he won the respect and support of some of the biggest names of the Big Band era. Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby (to name a few) toasted Jack’s efforts to keep the music and style of the 1930s and 40s alive.

On this episode, Susan and Elissa Shiebler (Jack’s daughter and granddaughter, respectively) relate the story of Jack’s life from his early days in Brooklyn to his work as a Marine war correspondent through his glory days at WALK-FM and WLIM. Fueled by his personal connections to top-name performers and a legendary record collection, Jack’s “Memories in Melody” show enthralled audiences of all ages.

Jack Ellsworth
WALK radio ad from the Long Island Advance, Jan 25, 1962.

Beyond stories of stars such as Dick Powell and Frank Sinatra, Susan and Elissa also reveal how strongly the legacy of Jack and his wife Dot guides the family today. Grandson Matt Taylor has taken on the mantle of host, along with his own career as a performer, bringing that Big Band sound to a new age. They are now on 103.9 FM (WRCN) and LongIslandNewsRadio.com Sunday mornings 7 – 9 am.

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Pirates of the Connetquot

George Munkenbeck, Islip Town Historian, discusses the history of the town from it’s possibly piratical origins to its surprising connections to WW I and the Suffragist movement.

And to all our listeners – we’re back! Apologies for the gap between episodes – life had other plans over the winter. But we’re gearing up for another great round of episodes. Stay tuned for big band era broadcasters, more Long Island power ballads, tales of mass digitization and a special  TURN-inspired mini-series!

Buried Treasure

From Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates (1921)Further Research

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Rocky Point, Einstein and Me

What’s a summer bungalow without a machine shop, a kiln and a working loom in the living room? Add in piles of beach stones waiting to be sculpted, framed pictures of Albert Einstein on the walls and various collections of insects and you’re starting to get an idea of life at Zvi and Temima Gezari’s home in Rocky Point.

Daniel Gezari
Daniel Gezari. Photo by Chris Kretz

On this episode we speak with retired NASA astrophysicist Daniel Gezari. Dan spent much of his childhood helping his father Zvi and brother Walter build their summer home in Rocky Point. Starting in the late 1940s with land purchased from Sylvester Hallock, they created a unique life for themselves that blended a keen interest in science with a passion for art.

Dan’s parents are the key and you’ll hear their stories. Zvi Gezari, the adventurous son of Hasidic farmers in Poland, Temima the Brooklyn girl (by way of Pinsk) who traveled the world whether it was ready for her or not. Temima’s artistic genius was matched by her husband’s talent for industrial design. For every etching and sculpture there was a homemade telescope and backyard railroad. And then there was that time Albert Einstein invited them over to his Princeton home.

Zvi and Temima Gezari
Zvi and Temima Gezari. Photo copyright Daniel Gezari

Daniel went on to his own acclaim as an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. We’ve added a bonus episode on the feed where Dan talks about his time at NASA, his research and what prized possession Einstein gave him at that fateful meeting. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast (in iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or your app of choice) to get the episode. [Updated Nov 24, 2016]

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La Salle Military Academy

Things were changing on the south shore of Long Island in the 1920s. In the area of Oakdale, a prototypical Gold Coast, the great mansions of the last century were struggling to find a new purpose after their original owners passed on. For Frederick Bourne’s Indian Neck Hall, the future arrived from Clason Point in the Bronx and its name was the La Salle Military Academy.

The Future La Salle in 1902
Frederick Bourne’s Indian Neck Hall from Architectural Record, 1902.

The De La Salle Christian Brothers moved their all-boy Christian military academy to Oakdale in 1926 and graduated their last class in 2001. On today’s episode we’ll here from alum Denis McGee about two decades in that storied history. Denis graduated in 1974 during the tail end of the Viet Nam War. His father, Arthur McGee, graduated in 1943 and went on to serve in World War II with the 94th Infantry Division.

This episode consists of a series of excerpts of a longer oral history Denis gave as part of a project being conducted by the Oakdale Historical Society and the Connetquot Public Library. If you are an alum of La Salle or worked or taught there and would like to be a part of this project, please contact Diane Haberstroh at the Connetquot Public Library: dhaberst[at]connetquotlibrary.org.

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Patchogue: Queen City of the South Shore

If you wanted something back in 19th-Century Long Island, chances are they made it in Patchogue: lace, twine, lumber, crinoline, wrapping paper, blankets, award-winning yachts. A sprawling arrangement of brick factories ran night and day, the mills kept turning by an abundance of rivers and streams. It was the hardest working village on Long Island.

On today’s episode we delve into Patchogue’s past with Mark Rothenberg of the Patchogue Medford Library. Mark oversees the Celia M. Hastings Local History Room, maintaining a collection of physical and virtual records that are a boon to anyone researching this area of Long Island.

Bailey's Mills, Patchogue
Bailey’s Mills, Patchogue. Image courtesy of Patchogue Medford Library.

We discuss Patchouge’s role throughout history, from a stop-over point on George Washington’s 1790 tour of Long Island to an infamous case of Civil War betrayal to early attempts at generating electricity.

Canaan Lake, Patchogue
Canaan Lake, Patchogue. Image courtesy of Patchogue Medford Library.

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The Coolest Field Trip You’ll Ever Take

When an athletic, thrill-seeking millionaire builds a mansion hideaway on the outskirts of the city, stocking it with a technologically advanced fleet of cars, boats and airplanes along with trophies of his exploits, there’s a good chance he’s either Batman or a Vanderbilt. Meet William K. Vanderbilt II circa 1910.

William K. Vanderbilt II
1903 photograph of William K. Vanderbilt II by Theodore C. Marceau. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Just after the turn of the last century, William (or Willie K.) was heir to the Vanderbilt fortune and all the pressures that went with it. Reeling from a public relations disaster in Lake Success, he diverted his attention to Centerport and created Eagle’s Nest, an idyllic private retreat with space for a public museum housing his collection of marine specimens and cultural artifacts.

On today’s episode we speak with Stephanie Gress, Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, the institution formed when Vanderbilt willed his estate be perpetuated as a museum.

Our discussion uncovers Willie K.’s scientific pursuits, his connections to the American Museum of Natural History, golfing with Sam Snead and the probabilities of Vanderbilts in space. We also talk about the challenges of preserving such a unique museum collection and how generations of school kids on Long Island have thrilled to the only Egyptian mummy between Brooklyn and Great Britain.

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Making Puppets Come Alive

If the Muppets are all you know of puppetry then this episode will be an eye opener. Beyond the antics of Kermit the Frog and earlier popular acts such as Kukla, Fran and Ollie lies a history of dedicated professionals intent on developing a distinct theater of puppetry. They have their own traditions and icons and yes, their own Stanislavski.

Rob Boehm, past president of the Puppet Guild of Long Island, walks us through the world of puppetry and puppet theater since the 1950s, including his early interests and later experiences as a puppeteer. Both he and our own Connie Currie studied with Carol Fijan, the Great Neck-based master puppeteer who greatly influenced the development of puppet theater. They discuss Carol’s teachings and writings, her early days with the WPA and the enduring challenges of bringing puppets to life.

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Bill and Pat Colson: The Art of Living

Bill Colson was a stand-out basketball player from Sayville High School (’47). In the Korean War he served as an Air Force cryptographer until, stricken by polio, he returned to the States paralyzed from the waist down. That’s where his story begins.

1947 Sayville Basketball Team
Suffolk County News, March 7, 1947

On this episode we talk with Pat Colson about Bill and his artwork as well as their lives, together and apart. Friends since high school, Pat and Bill followed a circuitous path to happiness. Along the way we discuss the Sayville of the 1940s, Bill’s paintings, his life in a wheelchair and the challenges of keeping lions as pets.

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The Long Island Suffrage Playbook

Women in most states could still not vote at the turn of the last century. The suffrage movement was stalled and icons such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were dead. So what turned things around? How did the movement revitalize itself to the point that, by 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed and women’s suffrage was the law of the land? Part of the answer lies with two women from Long Island.

Rosalie Jones and Hikers 1913. Library of Congress Prints and
Rosalie Jones and Hikers 1913. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

On this episode we talk with Jane Swersey about her research into the lives of Rosalie Gardiner Jones of Oyster Bay and Ida Bunce Sammis of Cold Spring Harbor. Each took a different path and tactic in supporting the suffrage movement. Jones created inspired marketing opportunities like the Suffrage Hike to Albany in 1912 while Sammis worked through local organizations, becoming one of the first women elected to the New York State Assembly in 1918.

Ida Sammis (l, Nov 7, 1918) and Rosalie Jones (Mar 1, 1913). Both from the NY Evening World.
Ida Sammis (l, Nov 7, 1918) and Rosalie Jones (Mar 1, 1913). Both from the NY Evening World.

You’ll also hear abut the influence of the British suffrage movement, the difference between suffragists and suffragettes, and other luminaries such as Elisabeth Freeman, Alice Paul, and Lucy Burns. Jane also reflects on her experience teaching history in Long Island high schools for thirty-four years. Are students today more aware of the role of women in history? Listen to find out.

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The Jewish Community on Long Island

Genealogist Rhoda Miller and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Long Island recently published Jewish Community of Long Island from Arcadia Press.  The book tracks the development of Jewish communities across Long Island from the late 19th century through the 1970s.

Throughout the book Rhoda not only documents the rise of specific communities but also uncovers many personal stories. On this episode you’ll hear about aviation pioneer Chalres A. Levine, Rabbi Lehrer and his work with Jewish patients in Long Island’s state hospitals and the threatening presence of the Ku Klux Klan on the Island along with the German American Bund’s Camp Siegfried in Yaphank.

Jewish Community of Long Island

PODCAST UPDATE: Just wanted to let everyone know that we have been moving behind the scenes at the Project. We’ve moved from WordPress.com to WordPress.org which gives us the subtly streamlined URL longislandhistoryproject.org. No need to adjust your sets. If you’ve subscribed to the WordPress site, we’ll be gently migrating you over.

If you’re new to the Project, now would be a great time to subscribe in iTunes and/or subscribe to the blog using the form in the  right-hand menu.

We’ve also changed our file hosting over to Libsyn and while there might be some tinkering going on in the background, new episodes will keep coming uninterrupted.

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Old Mansions Never Die

George Davies’ younger days would be the envy of any boy. During the Great Depression in Oakdale, he and his brothers had the run of Pepperidge Hall, a giant 19th-century mansion in walking distance of a swimming hole and the Great South Bay. Plus they had a pet duck.

PepperidgeHall
George with his father Jack Davies in the courtyard of Pepperidge Hall. Photo courtesy of the Dowling College Archives & Special Collections.

On this episode you’ll hear excerpts of a talk George gave on Sept. 15, 2015 sponsored by the Dowling College Library and the Oakdale Historical Society. He describes life in the 1930s, adventures in the mansion, and nearby neighbors like Arthur K. Bourne and Louise Ockers. We’ll also find out if Dutch Schultz was hiding nearby.

PHstory

Many thanks to George for sharing these invaluable memories. Most of us think of the glory days of these mansions as the Gilded Age but many of them lived on through various incarnations. George gives us a glimpse into one of those periods when the glory had passed but there was still fun to be had and living to do.

 

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5 Surprising Ways Historic Preservation Can Save Long Island

What better way to celebrate National Preservation Month than by interviewing Jason Crowley, Preservation Director of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquties (SPLIA)?

Jason comes to Long Island by way of Vermont, Charleston, Columbia University and years of work on the front lines of preservation. You’ll hear his take on the unique challenges and opportunities the Island represents, with our complicated map of towns, villages and hamlets accompanied by preservation laws of varying degrees of strength and effectiveness. We’ll also go over many of the local, state and national preservation agencies that you’ll want to tap when it comes time to fight for a historic site.

Founded during the post-World War II building boom on Long Island, SPLIA works to preserve all aspects of Long Island’s built environment in conjunction with partners from the East River to Montauk. Headquartered in Cold Spring Harbor, they own additional historic sites in Lloyd Harbor, East Setauket and Sag Harbor.

Finally, Jason and Connie compare notes on strategies to preserve historic landmarks, particularly religious buildings and the surviving works of noted Sayville architect Isaac H. Green.

And keep an eye out for SPLIA’s #MyLongIslandLandmarks exhibit opening in June.

 

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Treading Clams

National Poetry Month is almost over but we have time for one more power ballad. This time, we’re looking over the body of work of Paul Bailey. Bailey was a newspaperman from Amityville (founder of the Amityville Sun) as well as the publisher of the Long Island Forum. His dedication to Long Island history ran deep as he was also president of the Suffolk County Historical Society and Suffolk County Historian. He wrote a syndicated column on Long Island History and was a sought-after public speaker on the topic.

So it’s no surprise that his posthumous book of poetry, Treading Clams (1965) is filled with light verse on all aspects of Long Island. Today we read through excerpts of three of the poems, “The Midnight Rides of Austin Roe,” “Shoes from the Sea,” and “When Prohibition Came.”

Born in 1885, Bailey actually spent some time out west before settling down to his newspaper career. He worked on cattle ranches and possibly in the movies – enough experience, at least, to fuel a number of Western stories that he wrote for pulps like Argosy later on. He also struck up a friendship at home with nearby neighbors Will Rogers and Fred Stone. Stone was an actor and comedian and the first person to play the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz (in the 1902 Broadway version).

Our reader today is Dr. Josh Gidding, Professor of English at Dowling College. Thanks, Josh! And we hope you’ve enjoyed our spelunking through poetry history. Make sure you check out our other Long Island Power Ballads and leave a comment on what you thought.

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Writing the Rails

Back when men were men and railroads were railroads, Charles M. Murphy challenged a locomotive and lived to tell the tale. He rode behind a Long Island Railroad locomotive in 1899 and clocked a mile in under 58 seconds, earning him the immortal nickname Mile-a-Minute Murphy.

1899ad
Geneva Daily Times, Sept 2, 1899

 

On today’s episode we look back at Murphy’s accomplishment through the eyes of Si Tannhauser. Who was Si Tannhauser, you ask? Only the “poet laureate of Long Island” circa 1934. That’s when he published his ode to Murphy in the Leader Observer. Si was a ticket agent for the Long Island Railroad by day, poet by night.

The lives of both men brim with anecdote and pathos. Tannhauser survived the San Francisco earthquake as well as hardscrabble times that left him near blind, lame and half-deaf. Murphy went on to Vaudeville and the New York City Police department where, among other things, he wrestled down a runaway horse.

This episode is part of our celebration of National Poetry month and the reader of this particular Long Island power ballad is Rick Jackofsky of the Home Grown String Band. Many thanks, Rick! And check out our past ballads for more poetry/history mashups.

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“The Land of Rum and Romance”

We continue our celebration of National Poetry Month with our second Long Island power ballad from the past. This time out we are looking at “A Babylonish Ditty” by Frederick Swartwout Cozzens (writing as Richard Haywarde).

Frederick Swarthout Cozzzens. From The Knickerbocker Gallery, 1855.
Frederick Swartwout Cozzzens. From The Knickerbocker Gallery, 1855.

Few will remember New York wine merchant-turned poet Cozzens and his heyday as a humor writer in the mid 1800s (although you should try his Sparrowgrass Papers, something of a 19th-century prototype for the sticom Green Acres.) Fewer still will remember the Knickerbocker, the magazine where he cut his teeth. But that’s where, in 1850, he first published “A Babylonish Ditty,” a quick-trotting ode to a long gone summer romance.

Why Babylon? Well, the south shore of Long Island (“the merry old south side”) had a reputation that drew men out from New York City. Mostly they were merchants and lawyers, amateur sportsmen drawn to the abundant fish and game along the Great South Bay. They came by rail and stage coach and after a long day traipsing through the great outdoors, they retired to one of the many inns and taverns strung along the South Country Road (today’s Montauk Highway).

knick

Listen to Cozzens relive those hazy summer days and wonder to yourself how the “fickle” object of his affection viewed the whole affair. Many thanks to our guest reader, Steve Birkeland.

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Long Island Power Ballads

Monument
Monument to Woodhull in Cypress Hills (proposed but never built). From Marsh, L.R. (1848). General Woodhull and His Monument. New York: Leavit, Trow.

It’s National Poetry Month and we’re celebrating with a series of poetry/history mashups that we like to call Long Island Power Ballads. We’re dusting off some deserving yet obscure poems (and poets) dealing with Long Island history and giving them another look. Over the next few weeks you’ll hear stories of broken hearts, tragic deaths, and the indomitable human spirit. But when we say obscure, we mean obscure. If you’re looking for Walt Whitman, seek ye elsewhere.

Today’s episode deals with “The Death of Woodhull: An American Ballad” which tells one version of the death of Nathaniel Woodhull, American patriot, Brigadier General and brother-in-law of William Floyd. Learn the history of the man and the story of the legend that sprung up around his demise. His connection to AMC’s Turn is also explained.

Hear our fearless poetry reenactors bring this ballad back to life amid fanfare, galloping horses and flashing blades. Many thanks to Anne McCaffrey, Frances Schauss and Kristine Hanson.

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Stories of Storm and Sea

Folklorists would make good podcasters. They are used to finding interesting people and getting them to tell good stories. Take Nancy Solomon for example. As the executive director of Long Island Traditions, she has spent years collecting and studying the stories of baymen, offshore fishermen, boat builders and the like. Today we’ll talk to her about a number of those stories revolving around the subject of weather lore. Continue reading “Stories of Storm and Sea”

Some Would Even Say It Glows

We return to our conversation with investigative journalist Karl Grossman, picking up his career after the memorable fight against the Fire Island road in the 1960s. For a journalist, what story could top that?

Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. Photo courtesy of the Shoreham Wading River Media Center.
Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. Image courtesy of the Shoreham Wading River High School Media Center.

Cut to: Shoreham Nuclear Power Station #1. It’s the 1970s and the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) is building the first of up to eleven proposed nuclear power plants, poised to turn Long Island into a “nuclear park.” After working at the Long Island Press until its demise in 1977, Karl covers the LILCO story through local papers like the Long Island Advance, the Suffolk County News, the Southampton Press and the East Hampton Star.

Long Island Advance May 5, 1977. From NYS Historic Newspapers.
Long Island Advance May 5, 1977. From NYS Historic Newspapers.

In addition to Karl, the story is also being followed by Murray Barbash and Irving Like. Veterans of the Fire Island fight, Irv and Murray help form the Citizens Committee to Replace LILCO. Karl relates the various tactics they and others used to help thwart the completion of the Shoreham plant and bring about passage of the Long Island Power Act and the formation of the Long Island Power Authority.

Karl also shares his thoughts on the current state of journalism, electronic media, and what has and hasn’t changed on Long Island.

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“My Kind of Conservationist”

Murray, Susan and Cathy Barbash (l-r). Photo courtesy of the Barbash Family.
Murray, Susan and Cathy Barbash (l-r). Photo courtesy of the Barbash Family.

 

It’s 1962 and a Nor’easter has just torn through Long Island. In its wake is another storm, Long Island Parks Commissioner Robert Moses with his plan to build a road down the middle of Fire Island. It will stabilize the beach, he says. It will provide beauty and ease to the motorist, he says.

But local builder Murray Barbash notices that the road will run right through his new development of Dunewood, flattening it and pretty much anything else in its path (including Sunken Forest). Murray gets together with his brother-in-law Irving Like and the rest, if you don’t know already, is history.

Murray’s daughters Cathy and Susan knew the story but over the course of the last year they set about documenting that history. Sifting through a number of local and regional archives (including Dowling’s) they pieced together the saga of the road-that-never-was. On this episode you’ll hear from Cathy and Susan and their mother Lillian about how an unlikely coalition of Long Island “vigilantes” outwitted and outlasted the great Robert Moses.

You can soon see Cathy’s and Susan’s research for yourself when the exhibit they created is permanently installed with Seatuck at the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip. For now, use the handy scorecard below to keep track of who’s who in this gripping story of intrigue and power set against the natural beauty of Fire Island.

Many thanks to the Barbash family for sharing their time, memories and photos.

Scorecard for this Episode

The Long Island “Vigilantes”

  • Murray Barbash: builder with an eye for beauty, developer of Dunewood
  • Lillian Barbash: his wife
  • Irving Like: indomitable lawyer and Murray’s brother-in-law
  • Paul Townsend: “The Wizard,” publisher of the Long Island Business News
  • Robert Cushman Murphy: the tallest ornithologist in the world

The State

  • Robert Moses: New York’s [insert your own adjective] Master Builder
  • Nelson Rockefeller: the not-to-be-bullied Governor of New York
  • Laurance Rockefeller: Nelson’s brother and noted conservationist

Long Island’s Legislators

  • Stuyvesant Wainwright: Congressman from New York’s 1st District, proposed a Fire Island National Seashore when no one was looking
  • Otis Pike: wins Wainwright’s seat with Moses’ backing, becomes reluctant sponsor of the Fire Island National Seashore bill

The Feds

  • Stewart Udall – Secretary of the Interior, consummate insider and good guy
  • President John F. Kennedy: wanted National Parks in the East, dammit

The Media

  • Charles Collingwood: Saltaire resident and CBS newsman
  • Wolcott Gibbs: writer for the New Yorker and Fire Island playwright
  • Teddy White: Fair Harbor resident and chronicler of presidents
  • Julius Monk: New York cabaret impresario whom we have to thank for the classic “Slow Down Moses”

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Battling Robert Moses

Karl1Karl Grossman has been an investigative reporter on Long Island since the early 1960s. Barely in his twenties, he cut his journalistic teeth at the Babylon Town Leader taking on one of the most powerful men in New York State: Robert Moses.

Karl covered the developing story of Moses’ plan to build a highway down the middle of Fire Island. Although the plan horrified local residents, many on the Island and in the press supported it. Through the work of Karl and papers like the Suffolk County News and the Long Island Business News and most importantly people like Murray Barbash, Irving Like and Robert Cuhsman Murphy, the plan was washed away. In its place we have the Fire Island National Seashore.

Today is part 1 of our interview with Karl on his early career, the power of the press, and how he was almost an alum of Dowling College (then known as Adelphi Suffolk College). You’ll hear about his further battles in part 2 but first in two weeks we’ll revisit the Moses fight from the perspective of the Barbash family. Stay tuned!

 

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