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 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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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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Being Teddy Roosevelt

Jim Foote (l) and Theodore Roosevelt (r)
James Foote (l. Photo courtesy of James and Joni Foote). President Roosevelt (r. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

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.

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The Sage of Blue Point

Gene Horton and friend.
Gene Horton and friend.

“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.

 

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Racing the Island

Photo courtesy of the Marty Himes Collection.
Photo courtesy of the Marty Himes Collection.

Long Island at the turn of the last century was a dream come true for early racing enthusiasts: miles and miles of flat open roads. In this interview, Marty Himes relates the history of auto racing on Long Island, from the early days of the Vanderbilt Cup Races to the post-WWII boom in midget car and stock car racing. Marty is himself a racer, starting the day he rolled his home-made soapbox derby car onto the track at Freeport Stadium. Learn more about the museum he has created to preserve the history of this fascinating aspect of Long Island’s history.

The Himes Museum of Motor Racing Nostalgia

tickets
Tickets for the Freeport Speedway.

 

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