“Saving Wentworth Hall” Launch Today

It is my great pleasure to announce the launching of my new historical novel, “Saving Wentworth Hall,” today. Peek behind those fancy gates into the life of the rich and famous of Long Island Gold Coast during the glory days of the Roaring Twenties.

“Saving Wentworth Hall” is about the coming-of-age of Spencer Wentworth, a young scion of a New York banking family, and his sister, Emma. Born into one of the old and privileged families of the Long Island Gold Coast, they enjoy the lavish lifestyle money can buy. Three years into Spencer’s European Grand Tour while living in London, he gets a telegram to come home to New York, which changes the direction of his carefree life. Is he up to the challenge of what lies ahead?

If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ll love this. If you are a real estate agent, home stager, or interior decorator, this is an excellent gift for your clients, especially those who love luxury homes.

Order your copy today at Amazon.

Mort Künstler’s exhibition at The Hecksher Museum of Art

Mort Kunstler is best known for his incomparable paintings of Civil War events. However, he earned his stripes as an illustrator for pulp fiction magazines with his illustrations for men’s pulp adventure magazines published in the 50s, 60s and 70s. For the first time, more than 80 of Mort Künstler’s remarkable original artworks, some shown in magazines and books but many of them never published before, are exhibited together in The Hecksher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington, NY. The exhibition titled “Mort Künstler: The Godfather of Pulp Fiction Illustrators” are now on view until Nov. 17, 2019.

To see and hear more about the exhibition in Mort Künstler’s own words, click here for the YouTube video preview

Mort Kunstler Video.png

 

A press release from his office says:

Long before blockbuster superhero movies, those looking for an adrenaline rush turned to adventure magazines featuring exciting stories and thrilling illustrations. As the go-to-artist and illustrator, Mort Künstler’s work graced hundreds of magazine covers, stories, and books, firmly establishing his prominence in the pulp fiction genre.

Originally featured in magazines such as Stag, Male, and For Men Only in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, the illustrations brought to life headlines that screamed adventure. The images of men in combat, women in distress, and nature threatening man immediately caught the reader’s attention. “You try to pick a moment that will entice the reader and catch their attention and make them want to read the whole text,” explains Künstler. “The whole goal is to make them stop and go, ‘what’s going on here?'”

 

Mort Kunstler 2

Jet-Sled Raid on Russia’s Ice Cap Pleasure Stockade

Kunstler was so good, that there were instances when his carefully detailed illustrations actually inspired a story, rather than the other way around. During his long career, Kunstler illustrated stories for many authors, including Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, who wrote in the same magazines under the pen name of Mario Cleri. Kunstler illustrated Puzo’s The Godfather long before the movie franchise. His vision came amazingly close to how the characters eventually appeared in the movies. 

Mort Kunstler 3

The word Künstler means artist in German. His father kept the original spelling, with the umlaut over the u. His father was an amateur artist himself and at the age of 2 ½, his parents knew Mort was an artist. By age 12, he was painting murals at his grade school PS 215 in Brooklyn. After high school, his main focus was not art. He was a good athlete and sport dominated his life at Brooklyn College. He played basketball, football, a diver on the swimming team and hurdler on the track team. After three years at Brooklyn college, he transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles on basketball scholarship. But came back home after one semester because his father got sick. Mort went on to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He graduated from Pratt after seven years of college with a Certificate in Illustration but never earned a college degree. Between commissioned painting, movie posters, magazine and book covers, Mort has never been out of work. Now at the age of 92 he is still painting.

Mort works in oils, but his favorite medium for illustrating is Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache. Back in the 60s and 70s, Mort was averaging 3 magazine covers a month, along with other illustrations that went inside each magazine. Mort also illustrated for Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, Readers Digest, National Geographic, and Mad magazine. Mort also did movie posters for The Poseidon Adventure and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. His career spans over 70 years with about 5,000 paintings to his credit.

The Heckscher Museum is producing a catalogue to accompany Mort Künstler: “The Godfather” of Pulp Fiction Illustrators, and publication of a companion book on Mort’s men’s adventure art will be released during the exhibit. A traveling exhibition is being organized as well. Artist appearances and signings to be announced.

Since I’m out of town and cannot possibly go see the exhibition, I purchased the companion book which arrived the other day. What a wonderful book with pages of bright photos in vibrant colors!

For more information, visit The Hecksher Museum of Art website or Contact Kunstler Enterprises, Ltd., 800-850-1776, email at info@mortkunstler.com, or visit their website: www.mkunstler.com.

 

 

A Cannon from the Civil War ship USS R.R. Cuyler in Oyster Bay

Cannon from RR Culyer

Photo Credit – ldoysterbay.com

At Derby-Hall Bandstand in Townsend Park in Oyster Bay, there are three cannons. One of them situated at the foot of the stairs of Derby-Hall Bandstand is a circa 1861 Civil War trophy gun from the ship USS R.R. Cuyler.

On June 26, 1903, in front of the Town Clerk’s office on Audrey Avenue, President Theodore Roosevelt unveiled a Civil War parrot gun from the cruiser USS R.R. Culyer. It is a 30-pound Parrott rifle and weighs 3,510 lb.

The gun was originally given by the Navy to the Oyster Bay High School to be placed in front of the school. The school was then on the corner of Weeks Avenue and Anstice Street, but the Board of Education felt that the gun would be more appropriate in front of the Town Clerk’s office. The Town Board and the Navy both agreed with the change. The gun is still in Oyster Bay but now faces to the north in Townsend Park, a few yards away from the Town Clerk’s office.

Roosevelt’s participation in the ceremonies had been very hastily arranged at the last minute to coincide with his planned arrival in Oyster Bay, and the President was reported to have made only the briefest of remarks before he left with Mrs. Roosevelt for Sagamore Hill.

The Cuyler was a 1202-ton screw sail cruiser and had been launched in 1861 in anticipation of the upcoming hostilities. She carried several guns of the type represented here in Oyster Bay, and she was among the fastest ships in the navy.

At the outbreak of the war, the Confederate Army was planning the capture of the Naval Academy at Annapolis and one of the treasured relics of the Navy, the USS Constitution. Admiral Robley Evans, who was the commander of the Atlantic Fleet at the time Roosevelt dedicated the gun, was then a young cadet at the Naval Academy in 1861. Evans recalled in later years how federal troops from the 1st Rhode Island, the 8th Massachusetts and the 7th New York were brought in to defend the Academy from the attacks by the Confederate from Baltimore. The Commandant of Midshipmen, Christopher Raymond Rodgers suggested to the War Department that the academy be moved along with the treasured “Old Ironsides”. Robley Evans and several other midshipmen climbed into small boats and made their way to the Constitution to begin the journey. The Constitution was towed all the way from Annapolis to Newport, Rhode Island by the Cuyler. The Constitution and the Naval Academy remained at Newport for the duration of the conflict.

Source: Oyster Bay Remembered by John E. Hammond

Early History of an Unspoiled Island Sheltered by Islands

Shelter Island Image

Shelter Island is a town and an island in Suffolk County at the eastern end of Long Island, NY between the North Fork and the South Fork. Shelter Island is around 8,000 acres. Vast tracts , nearly one-third of the island, are protected wetlands, a nature preserve marshland. In 1980, The Nature Conservancy purchased the Mashomack Peninsula’s 2039 acres as open space to be preserved in a wild state. The Mashomack Preserve, as it is called now, has four nature and bird-watching trails. Shelter Island has great beaches, golf courses, marinas and homes ranging from modest cottages to the grandest of mansions. There is a renovated manor house, scene of social events in the summer, and a variety of environmental programs for adults and children.

At the time of European encounter, it was occupied by the Manhanset tribe, an Algonquian-speaking people related to the Pequot and other Algonquians of New England. The original name of the island, used by the Manhanset Indians, is Manhansack-aha-quash-awamock, which literally translates to “Island sheltered by islands.”

Its recorded history dates back to the 17th century and the Caribbean sugar trade. Shelter Island was included in the original Plymouth Company land grant made by James I of England in 1620. On April 22, 1636, Charles I of England who was told that the colony had not made any settlements yet on Long Island, gave the island to William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling. The grant gave Alexander all of Long Island and adjacent islands. Alexander gave James Farret power to act as his agent and attorney in colonizing Long Island. In reward Farret was allowed to choose 12,000 acres for his personal use. Farret chose Shelter Island and Robin’s Island for his use. Farret in turn sold the islands to Stephen Goodyear, one of the founders of the New Haven Colony.

In 1651 Goodyear sold the island to a group of Barbados sugar merchants for 1,600 pounds of sugar. Nathaniel Sylvester (1610–1680), one of the merchants, was the island’s first white settler. He was among a number of English merchants who had lived and worked in Rotterdam (where he was born) before going to Barbados. On March 23, 1652, he made the purchase official by signing an agreement with Youghco (called Pogatticut), the sachem of the Manhanset tribe.

Nathaniel Sylvester, a young sugar merchant, married 16-year old Grissell Brinley in England in 1652 and sailed for America. Their marriage would start with a shipwreck off Connecticut on their honeymoon trip, where they stopped first before heading to Barbados to visit family there, then headed for Newport, R.I. to prepare for their move to Shelter Island.

After their arrival on the island in March 1652, Sylvester constructed a house for his bride, Grissell Brinley from London. The Sylvester estate was developed as a large provisioning plantation. It raised food crops, as well as livestock for slaughter, sending casks of preserved meats and other supplies to Barbados. They used the island’s white oak to make sugar barrels used in trade with Barbados. Labor was provided by a multicultural force of American Indians, enslaved Africans and English indentured servants. Sylvester and his associates were part of the Triangle Trade between the American colonies (including the Caribbean), Africa and England. His descendants continued to use slaves on the plantation into the 19th century. An estimated 200 blacks are buried at the Negro Burying Ground on the North Peninsula.

Nathaniel’s brother Constant, and two other sugar merchants, Thomas Middleton and Thomas Rouse, were co-founders but didn’t live on the island, and in 1673 Nathaniel became the sole owner. He also claimed ownership of Fishers Island and other parts of Long Island. By that time, the Manhansett tribe had declined in number and power.

As early eastern Suffolk pioneers, the Sylvesters prospered on their remote island, had 11 children, and gave shelter to many persecuted New England Quakers at a time when it was dangerous to do so. Their brave defense of religious freedom won the reverence of later generations in this country and in Great Britain.

Sylvester died in 1680, leaving the island equally to his five sons. In 1695 the family sold one-quarter of the island to William Nicoll, who controlled 90,000 acres of Islip via royal patent. Five years later, in 1700, 1000 acres of the 8,000-acre island were sold to George Havens of Newport, whose family was to become deeply entwined in the government and civic affairs of the island for more than two centuries.

Sylvester Manor stands today, just off New York State Route 114, and is controlled by Sylvester descendants. Over time these estates and parcels were split and divided by marriage and purchase. All but about 24 acres of the original thousands of acres have gone into other hands. The house that Nathaniel Sylvester built in 1652 was torn down and replaced a few feet away in 1733 by a Sylvester grandson who built a more elaborate manor house.

By the early 18th century, 20 farm families lived on Shelter Island. The Town of Shelter Island was established in 1730 by order of the Provincial Government. William Nicoll II was the first supervisor.

The community developed from there.

 

Sources:

Newsday Home Town Long Island

New York Times

 

 

 

Knollwood: The Estate and Its Owners

 

Knollwood 1

Knollwood with Garden Facade

“Knollwood”, one of architects ‘Hiss & Weekes’ most beautiful country-house commissions, was owned by a number of interesting personalities. It was built between 1906 and 1910 for Charles I. Hudson, a New York City stockbroker of the Gilded Age, at Muttontown on Long Island’s North Shore. The 60-room mansion had elements of Greek Revival, Italian Renaissance and Spanish styling with towering Ionic front columns with terraced garden and a dairy farm to satisfy his passion for raising Jersey cattle.

The house was palatially scaled and elegantly faced with smooth-dressed Indiana limestone, with design details borrowed from a variety of sources, including palaces and country estates by Palladio and Vignola built for Italian princes, and royal residences erected in France during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Inside, the house contained 30 rooms with paneling imported from England and marble fireplaces brought from Italy, as well as coffered Renaissance-style ceilings, much in evidence in the first-floor reception rooms.

Knollwood 2

Knollwood’s Interior

Viewed from the north, the most striking feature of “Knollwood” was its colossal entrance portico, balustraded across the top like the main block of the house and supported by four giant Ionic columns. In most other aspects, the north and south elevations were similar. At the ends of the two-and-a-half story main block of the house were single-story wings containing Palladian-style motifs such as arched French doors flanked by lower rectangular openings. Each of the wings, in turn, opened onto a deep loggia.

Knollwood 4

View from the North with Main Entrance Portico

Viewed from the south, the houses appeared to rest on a high basement, extending forward beneath the wide terrace at the back which overlooked the formal gardens. The terrace was reached from the gardens by grand staircases.

Knollwood 3

Landscape Design by Vitale & Geiffert

The formal gardens to the south of the house incorporated historical European precedents as well, especially in the grand scale and pronounced axiality. The landscape architect was Ferrucio Vitale. Like the great country houses of the British Isles and the villas of Northern Italy, the 150-acre estate devoted a large part of its land to commercial farming and pasturing. A stuccoed combination stable and garage building included space for 12 cars and apartments for chauffeurs, grooms, and gardeners. A poultry building and a hog house were also located on the estate, as well as an additional stable that housed farm horses, wagons, and implements. Accommodations included a boarding house for farm laborers, a cottage for the farm superintendent, and an additional cottage for agricultural workers. The presence in this farming complex of a large dairy barn for 140 head of cattle was not surprising in view of the fact that Charles Hudson took a lifelong interest in the breeding of fine Jersey cattle. A white-shingled guest cottage on the estate, designed in the Colonial Revival style, came with its own garage and stables.

Charles I. Hudson was successful and well-respected. He was elected to two terms as governor of the New York Stock Exchange. His tenure as head of C.I. Hudson & Company was not without its difficulties; the company was once sued by the brother of John D. Rockefeller and Hudson himself had his exchange seat suspended for a month following the assault of an exchange telephone operator.

Following Hudson’s death in 1921, Knollwood was sold to Gustavia Senff, widow of Charles H. Senff, director of the American Sugar Refining Company (later Domino Sugar). Mrs. Senff continued the philanthropy of her late husband, donating land in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills for Mount Tom State Park and erecting Senff Gate at the University of Virginia (she was a native Virginian).

Charles Senff McVeigh, an attorney and co-founder of the New York law firm of Morris and McVeigh, inherited Knollwood as trustee following the death of his aunt in 1927. Besides his law practice and philanthropic causes, McVeigh was an avid sportsman. He helped to establish the American Wildlife Institute which, in part, aired radio programs about land and wildlife conservation. McVeigh sold Knollwood to King Gustav S. Zog of Albania in 1951 for approximately $102.800.

Zog bought the estate to establish a kingdom-in-exile for himself, his family and 120 members of his royal entourage staffed by Albanian subjects. But the fact is that Zog never set foot on the estate and caused disdain among his Long Island neighbors by refusing to pay property taxes. Legend has it that the king bought the estate for a “bucket of diamonds and rubies” and Zog’s riches were hidden in the mansion. Vandals ravaged walls in the mansion searching for gems hidden by King Zog. The mansion fell into total ruin.

The estate’s final owner, Lansdell Christie, had a hand in many enterprises before World War II. Christie attended West Point and began his own marine transportation business. As a transportation office in North Africa during the war, he learned about extensive iron ore deposits in Liberia. Following the war, he made a fortune mining iron ore by securing concessions to mine ore in the region, seeing to it that Liberia benefited from the development as well. Progressive in terms of racial views, he befriended Liberia’s president William Tubman and helped to found the Afro-American Institute. Christie was also involved in Democratic politics. He was the largest single Democratic donor for the 1956 Stevenson campaign and a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.

By the time Lansdell Christie purchased Knollwood in 1955 from Zog’s parliament, the estate had suffered from years of neglect and vandalism. The terraced gardens were overgrown; the farm buildings were in disrepair. The local county works department of Oyster Bay pulled down the ruins of the home in 1959 for safety reasons. A garden pavillon remained for many years, progressively vandalized, until it was razed to its foundation, also for safety reasons. The most visible remains at the present time are the remnants of a double staircase to the old formal gardens, where traces of landscaping remain; some walkways disappearing under fallen litter and leaves, some columns, and the gate structure at the old entrance to the grounds. Seeing these remnants of this once magnificent mansions will certainly pique a hiker’s interest in the people who once lived there.

King Gustav S. Zog of the Albanians gets way too much credit and press for having owned the Knollwood Estate, the ruins of which are now part of the Muttontown Preserve in East Norwich with the gated entrance located on Jericho-Oyster Bay Road on Route 106.

All photos are from L.I. Country Houses and Their Architects, 1860-1940.

 

References:

Newsday Home Town

Wikipedia

The Freeholder, quarterly newsletter of the Oyster Bay Historical Society, Winter 2009

Long Island Country Houses and their Architects, 1860-1940