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.
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.
Newsday: A Candid History of the Respectable Tabloid by Robert Keeler (find in a library)
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro (find in a library)
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.
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.
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.
Free as Gods: How the Jazz Age Reinvented Modernism by Charles Riley. (find in a library)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.