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.
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.
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.
Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball by Lawrance D. Hogan (Find in a library)
Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson by Bill Kirwin (Find in a library)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
From Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates (1921)Further Research
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.
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.
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]
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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
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
Stewart Udall – Secretary of the Interior, consummate insider and good guy
President John F. Kennedy: wanted National Parks in the East, dammit
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”
Karl 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!
Eastville endures. Through the rise and fall of the whaling industry, over the long slow death of slavery, past the rising tide of development on the East End of Long Island. From the early 19th-century this small collection of streets and houses east of Sag Harbor, anchored around the St. David AME Zion Church, has retained its character as a place that a vibrant mix of African Americans, Native Americans, and European immigrants called home.
On this episode of the Project, we speak with Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director and Curator of the Eastville Community Historical Society. She relates the history of the area, from the early 1830s into the late 20th century when the Society was founded.
You’ll hear about the prominence of Native Americans and African Americans in the whaling industry as well as the importance of Sag Harbor as the first port of entry in New York. Among the people we discuss are Nathan Cuffee, a Montaukett member of the community who co-wrote the novel Lords of the Soil in 1905, depicting life on the east end of Long Island. Georgette also tells the surprising story of Pyrrhus Concer from nearby Southampton, an African American who, on a whaling voyage in 1845, became one of the first Americans to visit Japan.
We also discuss the challenges of documenting and preserving the histories of marginalized people. How do you prove, for example, that one of the trapdoors in the Church was used to hide escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad? How do you protect an unassuming house that is actually made out of wood from recovered 19th century shipwrecks and may contain generations of important stories?
Sometimes you get lucky and discover a trove of tintype portraits nailed face-down into the floor of a cottage. Sometimes you fail, and structures get razed despite what they might be able to tell us about the past. Sometimes the results are mixed. Pyrrhus Concer’s house was demolished but only after significant parts had been salvaged.
You’ll hear Georgette talk about these cases and related issues along with the importance of understanding and enforcing the codes that should be helping inform decisions around such properties. You’ll also hear about ongoing projects to document African American burial sites throughout Long Island.
And if you enjoy these episodes, make sure to follow this site via email or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. Leave us a comment and let us know what aspects of Long Island history you’d like to hear discussed.
When something piques Thom Hoffman’s interest, he starts asking questions. Then he tries to work out the answers through film. The result has been an eclectic mix of documentaries (three to date) that share some common traits: his desire to educate and his love of Long Island history.
On today’s interview you’ll hear how Thom got his start working with Ray Adell on the “About Long Island” radio series and then expanded into documentaries. His first film featured the story of Brooklyn doo-wop stalwart Lenny Cocco and the Chimes. Next came his comparison of the Great Depression and the Great Recession. His latest, Shinnecock, explores the long history of the Shinnecock Nation in Southampton.
We also ask Thom about the challenges of producing and distributing documentaries on Long Island. How do you get them to a wider audience? How do you get the quality of production needed? His answers echo many of the things we’ve heard in our discussions with others involved in documentary filmmaking on Long Island.
On that note, if you’re interested in screening any of his movies or helping find a home for the “About Long Island” archive, you can contact Thom at hof565 [at] optonline.net
Suffolk County Historian Peter Fox Cohalan is back in session for part two of our interview. This week we get deeper into the history of Islip, traveling all the way from the bottom of the Bay (and who really owned it) back to Islip, England and the ancestral home of the Nicoll family.
We also get Peter Fox’s insight into historic preservation at the local and regional levels as well as the unique situations that can arise on Long Island.
Finally, we’ll hear about the work of the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation. As a board member, Peter Fox is involved in helping the Foundation support the study and preservation of New York history with a focus on Islip and Suffolk County.
Peter Fox Cohalan was named Suffolk County Historian in 2012 but in many ways he’s been preparing for the role his whole life. In fact, the Cohalans and history go way back. The first Cohalan in America arrived with Lafayette during the Revolution. One branch of the family led to a Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall, another to the first Catholic priest on Long Island. In his own storied career, Peter Fox has been Islip Town Supervisor, Suffolk County Executive, and State Supreme Court Judge (one of five Cohalans -including his father- to reach that position.)
With the historian’s eye for detail and the Irishman’s gift for storytelling, Peter Fox can discuss the Sayville of his youth as easily as the quarrels of the early Federalists. On this episode of the Project he recounts the Sayville of the 1930s and ’40s along with his father’s time as coach at the La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale. We’ll also hear about preservation efforts he spearheaded (like the Islip Grange in Sayville) as well as his family’s connections to the unforgettable Robert David Lion Gardiner.
Welcome back to our Native American Heritage Month discussion!
Today we bring you the rest of our conversation with members of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center & Museum in Southampton, Long Island. This time out we’ll hear from director and curator David Bunn Martine. David relates how he got interested in Shinnecock history and by telling his family’s story he uncovers much of the scope and sweep of the Native American experience.
By the end of the episode you’ll hear about Samson Occum, long whaling voyages, the Shinnecock connection to Teddy Roosevelt, Geronimo, the Boarding School Period and more. We also talk about the difference between Plains and Woodlands people and the enduring danger of stereotypes.
Thanks also to Eileen Dugan, Education Coordinator at the Museum, for arranging these interviews.
To honor Native American Heritage month here at the Project, we’ve got two interviews lined up regarding the Shinnecock Nation in Southanmpton. Connie and I sat down with David Bunn Martine (Director and Curator) and Cholena Smith (Education and Program Manager) from the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center & Museum to discuss the history of the tribe and the operations of the Museum. Located at 100 Montauk Highway in Southampton, this is the only Native American-owned and -operated museum on Long Island.
Today in Part 1 you’ll hear about the origins and development of the Museum including their efforts to propagate the Shinnecock language. We also discuss the Shinnecock Powwow, the persistent challenge of stereotypes and, as a bonus, I finally get to use my knowledge of popular 19th-century German fiction writers.
Thanks also to Eileen Dugan, Education Coordinator at the Museum, for arranging these interviews.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in two weeks in which David will tell us more about Shinnecock history and the Native American experience in this country.
Nikola Tesla was a bona fide Gilded Age celebrity, pulling front page headlines in the New York press and attracting the rich and famous to his late night laboratory demonstrations. You were nobody until Tesla shot you through with electricity.
And now Tesla’s time has come again. We conclude our special Tesla Month here at the Long island History Project talking to filmmaker Joe Sikorski about his documentary Tower to the People: Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues. Co-written with Michael Calomino, Tower to the People tells the story of Tesla and the successful fight to save his Wardenclyffe lab.
Bringing Tesla’s story to the screen has been a labor of love of Joe’s for some time and you’ll hear about his original dream: the full-length feature film Fragments from Olympus. We discuss the challenges of documentary film making and reveal more of Tesla’s fascinating life and why it lends itself so perfectly to film.
Are you in Los Angeles October 23-29th? Catch a special screening of Tower to the People at the Crest Theatre, 1262 Westwood Blvd. And tell them the Long Island History Project sent you!
The historic site you want to preserve is up for sale for $1.3 million dollars. The good news: New York State will give you $850,000. The bad news: you have to raise the same amount. And there are other interested buyers. And the clock is ticking.
That’s the position The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe (TSCW) found themselves in by the summer of 2012. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending. In this second of a two-part interview, Jane Alcorn (TSCW president) explains how they turned things around. The secret ingredient: enlist the aide of Matthew Inman, creator of the website The Oatmeal.
In the whirlwind of events that followed, offers of help poured in and TSCW was able to meet all their goals. And then the hard work began. Jane recounts it all and lays out future plans for the site and for Nikola Tesla’s legacy of scientific innovation. Remember to check the TSCW website for ways that you can get involved.
And stay tuned as our Tesla month continues. Next week on the podcast we interview filmmaker Joe Sikorski on his Tesla/Wardenclyffe documentary Tower to the People.
Jane Alcorn was hooked on science from an early age but it was not until a friend clued her in to the Wizard of Electricity that she became hooked on Nikola Tesla. A major scientific player at the turn of the last century, Tesla established a lab at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, Long Island to pursue his innovative experiments in electricity, radio, and broadcast energy.
Drawing inspiration from his story, Jane and a dedicated group founded The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. And eventually, they realized the dream of securing Tesla’s lab and have begun to restore it.
In the first of a two-part interview, Jane describes that journey and provides background on what made Tesla so inspiring. You’ll hear stories of his inventions and his interactions with the people of Shoreham as well as his connections to people like Mark Twain, Stanford White and George Westinghouse.
Look for part 2 next week when we discuss the long and surprising road to purchasing the Wardenclyffe site.
Ray Adell is a radio man, from his early days broadcasting down in Virginia to his arrival at WGSM (World’s Greatest Suburban Market!) in Huntington in the early 1950s. But perhaps you’ll remember him best as the voice (and mind) behind “About Long Island,” the long-running radio spot sponsored by the Grumman Corporation. For over twenty years Ray and his staff at Adell Media served up snippets of Long Island history in morning drive time to educate and entertain.
In this interview Ray looks back at the people he’s met (Jack Ellsworth and Edmund Hillary to name just two), stations he’s worked at (WCAP, WEST, WKBS, WGSM and WBAB to name just five), and answers the question: is radio dead?
Leave a comment if you have memories of Ray or any of the old Long Island stations. And special thanks to Thom Hoffman for arranging this interview.
BONUS: The Long Island History Project is now listed in iTunes! If you like what you hear, please leave a review or rate us. If you’re not sure how, read this first.
Many great interviews ahead so keep listening! You can bookmark us, use the “follow” button to get email updates, or subscribe in iTunes or your podcast reader of choice.
We’re back for part II of our interview with Dr. Gaynell Stone, executive director of the Suffolk County Archaeological Association and now accomplished filmmaker. Her connection to Stephen Mrozowski’s work at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island led to her first film, The Sugar Connection: Holland, Barbados, Shelter Island in 2012.
The story of manors on Long Island is a tale that grows in the telling, however, so Dr. Stone has mapped out an ambitious series of documentaries encompassing Gardiner’s Island, Eaton’s Neck, the Manor of St. George and more.
Today you’ll get a glimpse of the stories that were uncovered: alchemists on Fisher’s Island, what lies buried on Plum Island, the forgotten patriot John Sloss Hobart, and pirates sailing out of the Connetquot River. You’ll also hear about the struggles to get these documentaries off the ground and seen by the public.
Dr. Gaynell Stone was instrumental in the creation of Readings in Long Island Archaeology and Ethnohistory, the series of reference books that, starting in the 1970s, pulled together the foundational sources and background information on archaeology in the region.
In the first part of this two-part interview, Dr. Stone walks us through the fascinating history of Long Island archaeology, uncovering along the way: the myth of the 13 Indian tribes, the importance of Thomas Jefferson, the gravestones of Southampton, and much more. Look for part 2 in two weeks when we discuss the Manors of Long Island!
James Foote has some pretty big shoes to fill but he’s been pulling it off effortlessly for decades. Starting with a close resemblance to the 26th President of the United States and adding a passion for research, James has built a career as one of the most sought-after Theodore Roosevelt re-enactors in the country. He’s portrayed Teddy at corporate events, on river boats, at the White House, and most fittingly, at the christening of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
In this interview with Connie Currie and Chris Kretz, you’ll hear how James approaches his role, the research he’s undertaken, and how he’s learned to handle everything from hecklers to heart attacks. We also discuss Theodore Roosevelt’s life, his connections to Long Island, and his enduring place in the American memory. Running time 47:43.
And mark your calendars! On Sunday, July 12th, 2015, Sagamore Hill will reopen to the public after a major three-year renovation project. James Foote will be part of the celebration at “the Summer White House” in Oyster Bay.
Robert Lundquist was station engineer at the vast RCA transmitting station at Rocky Point known the world over as Radio Central. In this two-part interview he provides a crash course in the history, development, and technology of radio. You’ll also hear about the history of RCA, David Sarnoff, Guglielmo Marconi, and the role of Sputnik in the demise of Radio Central.
Among the memories Bob shares are the the day in 1978 when Governor Hugh Carey accepted the property (along with the RCA station in Riverhead) on behalf of New York State, along with the time he had to decide the fate of Marconi’s shack, an important relic of Long Island’s radio history.
Bev Tyler, historian with the Three Village Historical Society, walks us through the true story of the Culper Spy Ring that operated out of Setauket and Manhattan during the Revolutionary War. Made up of a small tight-knit group of friends and relatives, the Ring provided valuable information on British activities that helped George Washington outmaneuver and out-spy a much more powerful enemy. All of this was conducted in occupied territory, a Long Island beset by British troops with no love for the population they were meant to protect and raiders from the Sound who preyed on Loyalist and Patriot alike. We also discuss the AMC series Turn which depicts a fictionalized version of the Ring. Find out where the story strays from the history and which facts and characters stay true to the historical record. From Abraham Woodhull to Robert Townsend, Anna Strong, and Caleb Brewster, find out what they were really like and their fate after the war. Turn starts its second season in the spring of 2015.
“You are on the Merrick Road, not far from Blue Point, the place that made the oyster famous. You look to the right and to the left, and, tacked to a tree, you see a sign and you try to read it, but the top of it has been shot off by a quail hunter. However, on the lower part you decipher, between the birdshot: ‘An inn what is an inn.’ ”
Welcome to Ye Anchorage Inn, as described in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1908. Your host is Capt. Bill Graham: huckster, artist, impresario, and roadside entrepreneur. He and his wife Molly ran the Inn from 1897 to 1920, creating a unique amalgam of tavern, hotel, hunting lodge, picnic ground, and Bohemian hot spot on the northwest corner of Montauk Highway and Kennedy Ave.
Graham’s clientele ranged from vaudevillians and silent movie stars to politicians, philosophers, and artists. Winsor McCay and Montgomery Flagg left sketches on the walls while early motorists made Ye Anchorage a must-see destination on their Long Island jaunts. Graham kept up a constant parade of promotional events, from his famous Sphinx statue (now in Bayport) to faux bullfights and horse raffles. He chronicled it all in his own personal magazine, The Log, full of stories, poems, artwork, and anything else he could think of.
In this episode, Blue Point historian Gene Horton details the history of Will Graham, the Irish immigrant who became a part of the history of the Great South Bay. Drawing on his vast research and collection, Gene paints a vivid picture of the man and his times.
A self-confessed Nancy Drew aficionado, Addie Meyers has followed her passion and made writing an integral part of her life, finding inspiration for her books from the wide range of her experiences. Here she discusses how she went from raising children in Sayville to teaching poetry in schools (Alligators, Monsters & Cool School Poems), researching dyslexia (The Upside Down Kids written with Dr. Harold N. Levinson) and swimming with dolphins (Top Fin.) She also discusses the writing process – refining concepts, finding the right publisher, and ignoring trends in favor of your own ideas. You’ll hear her read some of her poems and the picture book I Don’t Want to Go, revealing at the same time the secret to Grandpa’s super special tomato sauce.
Retired from a life in radio and television, Stuart Chamberlain can look back on the long hours, overnight shifts, small town stations, and manic deadlines with a smile. In this interview he recounts his path from WMAJ in State College, PA to ABC where he wrote and produced “World News This Week.” One of the highlights, however, was his time working with Paul Harvey in Chicago. Stu discusses his forays into acting and reveals an old connection to the Sayville Musical Workshop. Throughout Stu delivers a thoughtful disquisition on the state of radio and the news media along with a look at the work of Long Island stations like WLIM and WLNG.
Tove Hasselriis Abrams was there at the beginning, four-and-a-half years old and watching her mother Karen perform in H.M.S. Pinafore at the old Sayville High School on Greene Avenue. That first group of performers went on to found the Sayville Musical Workshop. Tove soon joined in, starring as Gretel in Humperdinck’s opera of Hansel and Gretel. After a break for college and work, she returned to catch the eye of and marry Steve Abrams, the Workshop’s pianist.
One of the first community theaters in the country, the Sayville Musical Workshop produced musicals, dramas, and operettas until 1985. There’s a lot of theater lore in this interview, including the major impact Rodgers and Hammerstein had on community theater , Troy Donohue and Brian Dennehy’s time with the Workshop, and the role of community theaters in the post-World War II era.
The summer of 1977 brought Star Wars, blackouts, and the first appearance of The Fire Island Tide. From that first 24-page Memorial Day edition, Warren McDowell’s dream grew to a 140-page color news magazine with poetry, history and artwork along with community news. Here Warren recounts that growth and the work it took: delivering papers every Friday by boat from Kismet to Watch Hill, dealing with national advertisers warily marketing to the “alternative lifestyle”, and loving every minute of it. Although clearly aware of the dangers facing newspapers (and radio stations) today, his message to those dreaming of starting their own: go for it!