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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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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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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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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