Annie Wilkinson

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Annie Wilkinson is an an award-winning former associate editor of the Long Island Press. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times have run her features and cover stories.

Robin Williams: Spark of Madness

Robin Williams at the 2011 BAFTA/LA Britannia Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Photo by Paul Smith / Featureflash)

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” —Robin Williams

In the summer of 1981 on Fishers Island, Robin Williams was on top of the world — literally.

Every Friday night, a plane piloted by his good friend swooped down, picked him up, and off they’d soar. The pilot was Christopher Reeve, famous as the superhero star of Superman films. Williams was a well-loved comedic master starring in The World According to Garp.

“Those were the heady days for them both,” said actress Glenn Close, Williams’ co-star. “They were living the kind of fast and crazy life that our business can hand to you if you become a wildly famous phenomenon.”

Fishers Island will never forget Williams. And the world will always remember the gales of emotional laughter he gave us before his untimely death.

FISHERS FUNNYMAN

Garp shot one scene outside the Roslyn movie theater, but the film’s centerpiece was the spectacular, massive Wilmerding hilltop estate near Plum Island that looked out over sweeping lawns and Hay Harbor. Many of the 250 Fishers locals said that Williams displayed no egotistical airs, and knew the names of everyone on the crew.

They witnessed rapid-fire ad libs: When Jeff Miller of The Suffolk Times asked Williams about Garp, Williams quipped, “It’s a fairy tale written on acid.” Williams could make sense one minute then erupt in nonsense, savaging the news, people, and events. Close described how he spontaneously “wove it all into a cohesive whole with no notes, nothing but his genius.”

But Garp’s Oscar-winning George Roy Hill, who had directed luminaries such as Paul Newman and Robert Redford, rejected improvisation, yelling “Cut!” and stopping filming. Williams cooperated, relying on his early drama lessons.

“STIMULUS JUNKIE”

Robin McLaurin Williams was born in Chicago in 1951. He recalled that his mother influenced his sense of humor; he tried getting attention by making her laugh.

Raised mostly by a maid, in a 40-room farmhouse near Detroit, the shy, quiet child had an uncanny ear for dialogue and recorded himself voicing different characters. After he moved to Northern California, high school drama courses revealed his explosive talent; he was voted “Most Likely Not to Succeed” and “Funniest.”

In 1973, Williams beat out 2,000 applicants to a Juilliard School full-scholarship advanced drama class. The only other student was Christoper Reeve, who remembered, “He was like an untied balloon that had been inflated and immediately released … he virtually caromed off the walls.” They studied conservative dramatic acting techniques and became lifelong friends.

Williams first stepped onstage in San Francisco in the mid-1970s. By 1977, he was wowing them at the L.A. Improv, and in 1978 he starred in Mork & Mindy. In 1981 Williams cracked up Johnny Carson, debuted on Saturday Night Live, and made Garp. He was so turned on by life — and by sold-out TV specials and major films — that his third wife Susan Schneider called him “a stimulus junkie.”

LOSING IT

Garp was just the second of many comedies, fantasies, and tragedies he would star in. He won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, Grammys, and a best supporting actor Academy Award for Good Will Hunting in 1997. But he battled depression and fueled his performances with cocaine and alcohol before getting sober in rehab.

In 2013, extreme depression, anxiety, and paranoia, along with stomach and vision problems, tremors, and insomnia, assailed him. He forgot his lines. He feared he couldn’t be funny. The diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease.

His wife said he was mad at himself for what his mind and body were doing. Unable to retaliate, on August 11, 2014, the 63-year-old committed suicide by hanging himself. An autopsy disproved the diagnosis: Williams actually had severe Lewy body disease, an incurable, aggressive dementia.

Close recalled that although his humor and insights came from a place of pain and uncertainty, they “connected us and reminded us of … how we are capable of moments of inspired transcendence and others of unspeakable despair.”

RFK: A Ripple of Hope

Robert F. Kennedy during the 1968 Indiana primary.

Fifty years ago, American soldiers were being slaughtered — nearly 17,000 by year’s end — in Vietnam. African Americans were hobbled by discrimination and the Black Power movement fueled riots. In April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated nonviolent protest against discrimination, was assassinated.

Enter Robert Francis Kennedy, campaigning for president in Indianapolis. He was shy, so nerve-ridden that when speaking in public his legs shook behind the podium. But he spoke calmly, without notes, telling King supporters that their leader was dead in Memphis:

“What we need in the United States is … compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

Dr. King’s murder caused protest everywhere except Indianapolis. Many said that Bobby Kennedy saved the city.

LIFE OF SERVICE

The seventh of nine fiercely competitive children, Bobby Kennedy (RFK) was born into Massachusetts wealth in November 1925, indulged by his mother, dubbed “the runt of the litter” by his father, and overshadowed by older brothers.

But quiet determination impelled him to graduate from Harvard and study law. He served his brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy by managing his successful 1952 U.S. Senate campaign and 1958 reelection bid. In 1960, JFK resigned as senator and won the presidency. He appointed his brother U.S. attorney general; RFK became a close confidant and enforced civil rights laws.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Despite the devastation, from under the cloak of sadness emerged a compassionate RFK. Championing change for the urban poor and disadvantaged, nine months after the assassination he announced his New York senator candidacy. When he spoke at Atlantic City’s Democratic Convention in August 1964, the delegates’ applause roared for 20 minutes.

SERENITY ON THE SOUND

Establishing residency, RFK rented Marymead, a woodsy, 25-room Colonial Glen Cove mansion. He appreciated suburbia, having spent time in Riverdale and Bronxville. He moved to Marymead in September, resigned as attorney general, and accepted the senator nomination.

Wherever he appeared, crowds besieged him. At Hicksville’s 36th annual Labor Day volunteer firemen’s parade, hundreds lined the route; the Nassau County Police Department added 20 men to the 40-man detail. Later RFK watched his children swim at Piping Rock Country Club in Locust Valley, returned home to nap, and held a cookout on the grounds.

That fall RFK lunched with his wife Ethel and campaigned in Long Beach, Central Islip, and across Long Island. A new neighbor moved in: widowed former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, his late brother’s wife. To avoid prying eyes, she chose Dosoris Island’s Creek House, a 10-room fieldstone structure accessible only by a stone bridge. Like RFK’s house, hers faced Long Island Sound.

They were supportive of each other and rumors of romance flew. Ignoring them, Bobby campaigned, smiling, waving, shaking people’s hands. The people voted, electing him with 720,000 votes.

He conveyed a ripple of hope as he advocated for the urban poor, took up La Causa of striking California farmworkers, and proposed suspending U.S. bombing over North Vietnam, while riots in Harlem, Watts, and most major U.S. cities continued.

In March 1968, the guest of honor at the Sky Island Club at the Garden City Hotel, not realizing the microphones were on, confirmed his presidential ambitions. His formal announcement came the next day, but national newspapers had already zeroed in on the slip. He could no longer ignore a country in crisis.

UNHEALED WOUNDS

He won the California primary on June 4, 1968 at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. In his victory speech, he said that despite the division, violence, and disenchantment of the last few years, “We can start to work together.”

He waved to the crowd, and as he moved slowly through the kitchen to shake hands with employees, he was shot by gunman Sirhan Sirhan.

Robert F. Kennedy, age 42, died the next day.

John Philip Sousa: Mr. Stars and Stripes

Left: John Phillip Sousa, who lived in Sands Point, composed the National March. Right: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University Rubenstein Library.

For many, summer celebrations would be nothing without hearing John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever. The 1896 march conveys images of flags waving, parades, and the sense that everything will be alright.

Bringing music to the masses, evoking nostalgia for a simpler time, the “Pied Piper of Patriotism” and self-proclaimed “salesman of Americanism” was so popular that a Liberty battleship, a Washington, D.C. bridge, and schools — including John Philip Sousa Elementary in Port Washington — bear his name.

TALENT AND TIMING

His childhood was as American as can be. He was born in Washington, D.C., next to the United States Marine Barracks, the first son of European immigrants. His father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band.

By 1861, the lad with perfect pitch was an award-winning multi-instrumentalist at a private conservatory. He studied harmony, composition, and violin as the sounds of military bands and Civil War battles echoed nearby.

When he was 13, a traveling circus offered him a bandleader position. He later wrote that he wanted “to follow the life of the circus, make money, and become the leader of a circus band myself.”

He tried running away but his father enrolled him as a Marine Band apprentice. At age 19, he published his first march. He became a solo violinist, conducted Broadway and vaudeville orchestras, and wrote operettas. Appointed the Marine Band’s leader, in 1888 he composed Semper Fidelis, which became the Corps’ official march.

He moved to Manhattan in 1892 and formed his own symphonic concert band. Neil Harris’ Library of Congress biography described how the “carefully groomed Sousa, clad in tight fitting uniform and spotless white gloves, acted out the maestro.”

Sousa mastered marketing his brand as public relations wizards worked the press. He had an instrument created, the Sousaphone. The newly invented phonograph had recorded the Marine Band marches, making the the world’s first recording stars. Among those marches was his famous 1896 Stars and Stripes Forever.

MORE THAN MARCHES

In the late 1800s, agricultural America was becoming an industrial powerhouse; German, Scandinavian, and other immigrants fled to America; the nation struggled for global domination after warring with Spain over Cuba in 1898.

Sousa faced criticism. Frederic D. Schwartz wrote in American Heritage that critics at the time remarked on The Stars and Stripes Forever’s “‘jingoistic’ or ‘martial’ character.”

In Lawyers, Guns, & Money, University of Rhode Island Professor Erik Loomis calls Sousa “the composer and conductor of America’s soundtrack for imperialism and colonization.”

During the Victorian era, many held that America was culturally inferior to Europe, an attitude that irritated Sousa. But on their first European tour in 1900, his musicians impressed audiences, mastering dynamics to include different levels, unlike other bands’ often bombastic sounds. The dapper mustachioed showman, a mason and member of the Sons of the Revolution, attracted a following by offering humor, perfection, and patriotism.

BAND PLAYED ON

In 1914 America joined World War I and Sousa, 62, enlisted in the Naval Reserve. His navy band was so popular that it raised $21 million for the war effort. As Howard Reich wrote in
the Chicago Tribune, “… And out of that noisy, cacophonist din came the measured, four square, reassuring beat of the ‘Sousa March.’”

In 1915, Sousa moved to Wild Bank at 14 Hicks Lane in Sands Point. His band continued performing, including 1923 and 1924 concerts at Ward & Glynne’s movie palace (today’s Patchogue Theatre), and he advocated for children’s music education and composers’ rights.

In 1932, he rehearsed The Stars and Stripes Forever with the Ringgold Band for a Philadelphia concert. The next day he died of heart disease at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel. Wild Bank is now a National Historic Land- mark; in 1987, Congress named his Stars and Stripes the National March.

Ironically, although “The March King” wrote more than 100 marches, his band marched in just eight parades.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: Long Island’s Romance of The Century

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.

It started in January 1962 on the set of Cleopatra. Two stars acted out their scene, sparks ignited, and all thoughts of marital fidelity vanished. As Vanity Fair reported, “There was more going on than just electricity.”

They were already famous. Elizabeth Taylor, she of the violet eyes and raven hair, the child actress who blossomed into the most beautiful woman in the world and won multiple Academy Awards and Golden Globes, played the seductive Egyptian queen. Cast as dashing Roman General Marc Antony, Richard Burton was a braggartly sexy Welshman and Shakespearean actor with perfect elocution and a philandering heart.

In 1962, divorce meant disgrace and affairs were taboo. The newly invented birth control pill was outlawed in many states, the media was not celebrity-obsessed, and the internet was science fiction. In that prudish atmosphere, the stars poked a hornet’s nest of public attitudes as cameras focused on their Manhattan, Europe, Africa, and Long Island romance.

HELL BREAKS LOOSE

Like the real Cleopatra and Antony, Taylor and Burton littered their path with broken alliances. Taylor, 29, many times married, was branded a homewrecker for stealing crooner Eddie Fisher away from her best friend, actress Debbie Reynolds, in 1958. Debbie and Eddie had the perfect marriage with two kids (including actress Carrie Fisher) and were dubbed “America’s Sweethearts.” Taylor persisted, though, marrying Eddie Fisher in 1959. They vacationed off Fire Island on their yacht, but things soured by 1961. Enter Burton.

“From those first moments in Rome we were always madly and powerfully in love,” Taylor said, in Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. After their scene, Burton boasted that he would bed Taylor within two days. It reportedly took five days. He bragged to others about his conquest.

Burton, 34, had won a Tony Award for his portrayal of King Arthur in Broadway’s Camelot. He had been married for 12 years to actress Sybil Williams but had casual affairs. Beguiled by Taylor, he fell into an un-casual romance.

All hell broke loose: The scandal was leaked in February 1962 and Fisher fled. Sybil Burton found out and fled. Twentieth-Century Fox halted production for days at a daily cost of $100,000.

Then-U.S. Rep. Michael A. Feighan (D-Ohio), calling the tryst “a public outrage,” lobbied to revoke Burton’s visa, saying Burton’s presence would be “detrimental to the morals of the youth of the nation.” An “open letter” from the Vatican accused Taylor of “erotic vagrancy.” Pursued by paparazzi, vilified by the Vatican, Taylor divorced Fisher and married Burton in Montreal in March 1964.

LONG ISLAND IDYLL

The couple retreated to LI. In 1964, she and Burton honeymooned for a weekend at a waterside guesthouse at Pembroke, a since-demolished Glen Cove estate.

They made 11 movies together including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966, for which Taylor won the Best Actress Oscar. They were observed dining at Rothmann’s in East Norwich and having a bite with a local liquor store owner while sitting on stools at the Quogue Fountain of Youth soda shop.

They stayed in a Quogue carriage house at the Shinnecock Road estate of Aaron Frosch, their attorney and business manager. They visited Hamptons galleries and played tennis at the Quogue Field Club during the summer of 1967. Taylor shopped at the A&P on Montauk Highway.

“Quogies were dazzled by the couple at the height of their stardom,” reported the Quogue Blogue.

THE BATTLING BURTONS

Neighbors heard the couple arguing, over Burton’s temper, or alcoholism, or cheating, or Taylor’s anger, drug addiction, alcoholism. They battered one another emotionally and physically.

They divorced in June 1974, then re-married in 1975. Their final divorce was in July 1976. In Quogue, Burton insisted they weren’t separated. Taylor partied at Calvin Klein’s Fire Island waterfront home, where she reportedly left towels stained with lipstick and makeup. In the late 1990s, she vacationed at Andy Warhol’s Montauk summer estate. Taylor and Burton married again—but not each other.

On Aug. 5, 1984, Burton died at age 58 of a cerebral hemorrhage; he rests in Wales. Taylor died 27 years later at age 79 in 2011. Many say that Burton’s love letter written three days before dying was buried with Taylor in Forest Lawn Cemetery in California. Burton’s last wife, Sally Hay Burton, disputes that, saying that her lawyer was told by other lawyers that there was no letter.

The truth rests with Taylor and Burton.

The Rise and Fall of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindburgh, wife of Chrles Lindburgh, during the period when she had accompanied him on a round-the-world survey flight in a Lockheed Sirius floatplane.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Charles Dickens’ 1859 words still ring true. Many people believe they control their lives: With luck or power, they soar and grow in stature. Others navigate the tightrope of survival, fearing a fall from grace.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh lived through the best of times, marrying wisely, raising five children, learning to fly, and becoming a best-selling author. Then, the times shifted, destiny intervened, and the sky fell.

THE BEST OF TIMES

Born in 1906, Anne Morrow was raised in a New Jersey mansion, the daughter of a successful diplomat and a feminist pioneer. At age 18, she declared her wish: “To marry a hero.”

And she did. In 1927, she met Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. The 25-year-old daredevil barnstorming pilot had made history at Roosevelt Field airfield (now the Source Mall), when his Spirit of St. Louis made the first nonstop solo transAtlantic flight. His  subsequent tour in his plane popularized flight and bolstered the Golden Age of Aviation.

The first date for the “Lone Eagle” and the Smith College senior was in an airplane over LI. Their 1929 marriage catapulted Anne into celebrity. She became the first woman to earn a glider pilot’s license, then practiced for her pilot’s license in a “Bird” at the Hicksville Long Island Aviation Country Club, the haven for the society and aviation elite.

She went “round and round the field alone…making one hideously bumpy landing after another.”

Anne often flew from Uniondale’s Mitchel Field in a Weaver Aircraft Company biplane, as “Willie K” Vanderbilt’s Motor Parkway snaked past potato fields below.

She was Charles’ co-pilot, navigator, and radio operator on global route surveys. When Charles set a transcontinental speed record, she was the seven-months-pregnant navigator.

Internationally adored, the handsome adventurer and the shy, attractive author/pilot could do no wrong.

THE WORST OF TIMES

The Lindberghs moved to a secluded New Jersey mansion in 1932 to avoid the press. Shortly after, their firstborn infant son was kidnapped. Ransom was paid, but after several months his dead body was found nearby. Newspapers dubbed it the “Crime of the Century.”

It was later revealed that Charles had locked the 18-month-old baby outside, encouraging independence. He forbade Anne to cry after the kidnapping and murder. He was lonely and stoic, perhaps because his parents had separated when he was 7 years old.

After the murder, the Lindberghs rejected the relentless media and fled to England. Anne’s first book was published in 1935, and a German carpenter was convicted of the murder and executed.

In 1936, the U.S. government asked Charles to tour German aircraft factories. Impressed by Hitler’s airpower, Charles deemed a war unwinnable. As the leading spokesman for the isolationist anti-Semitic, America First movement, Charles wrote in Reader’s Digest that Western countries should band together to preserve their inheritance of European blood.

Supporting Charles, in 1940 Anne published The Wave of the Future, advising America to reject foreign wars. Its defeatist tone was despised; she later labeled her work naive.

Furious Americans, having endured the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression, rejected their Golden Pair as Nazi apologists. In early 1940, the Lindberghs moved to Lloyds Neck; by late 1940, Charles was labeled a traitor.

In her diary, Anne wrote, “I am now the bubonic plague among writers and C. is the anti-Christ!” … “My marriage has stretched me out of my world, changed me so it is no longer possible to change back.”

In the early 1950s, Anne sought psychotherapy; Charles, displeased, vacated their bedroom. She later had an affair with her therapist. In 1955, her feminist manifesto Gift of the Sea was published.

CONTRADICTIONS AND COMPLIANCE

Charles died in 1974, Anne in 2001. Family skeletons surfaced: Charles had controlled his family with tedious checklists, lectures, and banned holiday celebrations. Anne kept quiet, valiantly keeping up with her husband’s travels.

One diary entry read, “Damn, damn, damn! I am sick of being this ‘handmaiden to the Lord.’”

In 2003, the news broke: From 1957 until his death, Charles had fathered seven children with three mistresses in Germany. Anne’s relatives said Anne had suspected something, but didn’t know what. Her stalwart silence preserved the myth till the end — because they had, after all, the best of times.

Seasonal Uptick in Lyme Disease Concerns on Long Island

Female deer ticks are found on Long Island.

They’re out there, crawling up grasses or low-growing bushes. They cling to perches, claws waving in the air, then snag an unsuspecting passerby. Latching on to shoes or  clothing, they climb to a cozy spot and bite the skin, using their curved teeth and mouths to transmit bacteria and viruses as they become engorged with blood.

Ticks are masters of this host-hunting called “questing.” Nationwide, deer ticks infect 300,000 people annually with Lyme disease, and transmit the rare but sometimes fatal babesiosis.

A bite can cause flu-like symptoms or hives two days or up to nine weeks later, plus facial swelling and trouble breathing. Untreated, the transmitted pathogens can cause paralysis, limb or joint amputation, and/or organ failure.

The spread of tick-borne diseases (TBDs) has been labeled an epidemic, with New York State having the nation’s highest number of confirmed Lyme cases. Suffolk County has at least 500 reported cases and boasts the state’s highest babesiosis rate.

TICKS’ BEST-KEPT SECRETS

Researchers have learned that ticks don’t fly, leap or jump. And their bite doesn’t always produce a bull’s-eye-shaped rash.

Only female ticks are bloodsuckers, swelling to 135 times their original size; sometimes, male ticks steal the blood. After a blood meal, she lays thousands of eggs, keeping them moist by painstakingly wrapping each one in wax from an organ on her head.

Genital secretions of people who had intimate contact have revealed Lyme bacteria, and the bacterium that causes Lyme and the bacterium that causes syphilis are cousins. Babesiosis can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy or delivery, or by transfusion.

These arachnids — not insects — are not a new problem, as proved by a 30-million-year-old amber-preserved tick engorged with monkey blood unearthed in the Dominican Republic. More recently, over the past 50 years, a dozen emerging TBDs have been discovered. Between 2001 and 2015, TBD rates doubled nationwide.

Hundreds of East Enders developed red meat allergies starting in 2010. The cause? Bites from lone star ticks, dubbed “reverse zombie” ticks because they make humans say “No” to red meat. Symptoms included itching, stomach cramps, flu-like symptoms, trouble breathing — and even death from anaphylactic shock. Doctors warn those with the allergy to avoid beef, pork, lamb, goat, rabbit, venison, and animal products like gelatin and milk.

THE HUMAN-TICK CONUNDRUM

Humans help increase ticks’ numbers. Some trace higher survival rates to climate change’s warmer weather. Others blame suburban development, forests decimated to become landscapes that not only invite people but provide paradises for deer mice. Ticks feed on LI’s white-footed mice; 90 percent of these mice carry Lyme, other bacteria and parasites. Development destroys fox, raptor, and other mouse predator habitats, so more mice survive to host ticks.

For de-ticking, people embrace natural solutions, keeping chickens, bats, and other predators. Just one opossum can vacuum 4,000 ticks in one week with its mouth.

THE INVISIBLE ILLNESS

After visiting an area with sea grass in Amagansett, 6-year-old Cate Higgins discovered two bulls-eye rashes and took antibiotics. Six months later, she was getting headaches, which later worsened. Neurologists and concussion specialists tried different medicines without success.

In 7th grade, she developed asthma with the headaches. She was missing one day of school a week, then several. She had a rash that spread and was extraordinarily fatigued and anxious.

Finally, an acupuncturist suggested looking at her bloodwork and diet. They did, and found a suppressed immune system.

Now age 15, the Oyster Bay resident dropped out of public school because of severe headaches. For her slow-growing, chronic Lyme disease, some remedies work, and some don’t.

Her mother Margaret Higgins says the 10 doctors they consulted treated only the migraines and didn’t look at the big picture.

“It’s a very polarizing disease. Some in the medical community don’t acknowledge chronic Lyme disease,” says Higgins. “It’s an invisible illness: She looks fine, but often can’t get out of bed, do sports, or see friends.”

Runaway Flu: Could A Century-old Enemy Return?

The trenches at Camp Upton were breeding grounds for the Spanish flu a century ago.

It was sociable, tenacious, and adaptable. When it tired of torture, it turned to murder.

The Spanish flu of 1918-1919 first targeted soldiers training to support America’s allies during World War I. At Suffolk’s Camp Upton Army base, 6,131 men were hospitalized. To prevent panic, the press, the military, and the government downplayed it. But the pandemic infected 500 million globally within 15 months.

A typical flu kills less than one percent of those infected. This one killed up to 100 million, including 675,000 Americans — 5 percent of the world’s population.

EXTRAORDINARY VIRUS

In January 1918, farmers in dusty, flat Haskell County, Kansas received wartime subsidies for hog backs. So, the farmers raised pigs. Flying above the pigs, birds navigated major flyways. Avian viruses can infect hogs, especially in crowded conditions. When a bird virus and human virus infect a pig cell, they can produce a virus that’s lethal to humans.

Suddenly, pig farmers were falling down in the fields. Then, others sickened. America needed troops to fight in the “War to End All Wars,” including Haskell recruits exposed to the flu. Within weeks after entering nearby Camp Funston, 1,100 soldiers were hospitalized and thousands more sickened.

THE CAMP UPTON KILLER

Brookhaven National Laboratory now occupies the land where Yaphank’s Camp Upton opened in 1917. In spring 1918, the flu’s first non-fatal wave hit. Troops who survived the virus transported it to France and every European army. Soon, a deadlier mutation decimated upper respiratory systems and lungs with viral or bacterial pneumonia, sometimes suffocating victims in bodily fluids.

In September, Upton closed to check the virus’ spread. The New York Times reported, “There had been no deaths and no serious cases of influenza,” but by October 1918, Upton had 3,050 cases. The gauze masks everyone wore offered little protection: One sneeze broadcasted 500,000 virus particles, and viruses survived on hard surfaces for 24 hours.

MAKING IT WORSE

Every few weeks, new brigades joined the front, providing fresh bodies for the virus. Physicians’ requests for clean, uncrowded barracks were ignored.

Surgeon General William C. Gorgas admitted, “We can control pneumonia absolutely if we could avoid crowding the men, but it is not practicable in military life …”

The “Spanish Lady” devastating the European camps, trenches’ close quarters and international seaports hadn’t actually originated in Spain. Because Spain was neutral, its relatively uncensored press reported influenza statistics. That made infections seem worse than in France, Great Britain, and America, who suffered more deaths from influenza than war, but suppressed facts to avoid encouraging enemies.

With no effective vaccines or anti-viral treatments in that pre-antibiotic era, the runaway death toll likely ended the war earlier than predicted. While other viruses favored children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, the 1918 strain ravaged healthy victims like soldiers, turning their immune systems against their own bodies.

DISASTER-MOVIE SCENARIO

New York churches, businesses, and saloons closed. People starved, fearing shopping for food, and nobody would visit. “Healthy” people boarded the Coney Island subway and died before reaching Columbus Circle. In one 10-week siege, 20,000 died.

But officials held that battling on foreign soil trumped surviving in the homeland. President Woodrow Wilson rejected policies that might weaken America’s role in the conflict. U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue described “mild cases of influenza.”

If the 1918 flu recurred today, it would kill more Americans in a year than die annually from heart disease, cancers, strokes, chronic pulmonary disease, AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s possible: Type A avian flu influenza viruses that adapt best to vaccines spring from the 1918 virus. A severe strain could mutate this year (Northern Hemisphere pandemics usually hit in late spring or early summer). New cases may have peaked, but the season lasts through May.

Researchers recently found that simply breathing without coughing or sneezing spreads the virus. They advocate staying home, vaccination, and hand washing.

Jonathan Quick, M.D., Global Health Council chair, takes it a step further, saying, “We have inadvertently developed a powerful way of helping influenza to kill us, 100 years on,” citing the crowding of thousands of pigs or chickens in poor conditions, creating the ideal lethal virus environment.

Despite our 1918 influenza genome sequencing and global systems tracking emerging strains, a new pandemic could collapse global economies, disrupt food and medical supplies, and worse.

Quick says this “disaster-movie nightmare” is “waiting to come true, thanks to the most diabolical, hardest-to-control and fastest-spreading potential viral killer known to humankind.”

How Long Island’s Irene Corwin Davison Helped Win Women’s Right to Vote

Left: Womens suffrag paradein New York City, May, 6, 1912. Right: Suffrage Wagon heads to Long Island in the summer of 1913. L-R: Edna Kearns, Serena Kearns, Irene Davison. (Library of Congress photos)

In mid-1800s America, citizens were defined as male, not female; nonwhite men and freed slaves could vote, but women couldn’t; and married women could not own property in their own right or make legal contracts on their own behalf.

To protect her rights, Irene Corwin Davison never married, instead working to improve  unfair working conditions for women and children, inadequate public health programs, and discriminatory education practices.

Tall and intelligent, Davison was a dedicated reformer, organizer, marcher, poll-watcher, canvasser, and generous member of the community. She instigated change using her plucky personality, her financial freedom — and a sturdy old wagon.

WHO WILL DARN OUR SOCKS?

Her father, Oliver Davison, an area pioneer, ran the grist- and saw mill he inherited. One of the few free entry ports, the “Near Rockaway” business prospered.

His daughter, Irene, was born in 1871. After completing college preparatory courses at Brooklyn’s Packer Collegiate Institute and graduating from Pratt Institute, she taught art in Jericho schools, and was one of the first women to open her own insurance agency.

Years earlier, New York State had been dubbed the “Cradle of the Women’s Movement” after the organized women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848. At the convention’s heart was the quest for suffrage: the right to vote in political elections. Their Declaration of Sentiments outlined rights that women citizens should have, by adding to the Declaration of Independence “all men and women are created equal.”

The opposition reacted: One newspaper even ran editorials asking who would darn socks if women got the vote.

During the Civil War, suffragists concentrated on abolishing slavery. By the late 1890s, they regrouped, joining the Progressives. With social services struggling with industrialization, urbanization, and European immigration, suffragists fought to open health clinics, outlaw child labor, and improve factory conditions.

A BIGGER CROWD

In 1902, in her early 30s, Davison joined women from East Rockaway’s oldest families to exchange books. Drawing strength from reading, by 1906, they had built the new East Rockaway Free Library. Davison and her two older sisters worked for suffrage, which was making headway.

In March 1913, the day before U.S. President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, crowds were expected. But the Pennsylvania Avenue suffragists upstaged him.

“Where are the people?,” he reportedly asked, and was told, “On the Avenue watching the suffragists parade.”

Those 8,000 marchers called for a constitutional convention. Many were attacked by the mostly male spectators; police allegedly ignored the violence and 100 marchers were hospitalized. The event generated national attention and congressional hearings — but no legislation.

STILL, SHE PERSISTED

Several months later, Davison helped engineer a hugely successful publicity stunt. It was July 1, summer’s peak, when she left Manhattan, drawn by their horse “Suffragette” in a one-horse shay built in 1776. The wagon bore banners saying, “Votes for Women” and yellow knapsacks (the color of suffrage). Davison, then 42, rode with suffragist Edna Buckman Kearns, dressed in hot minutemen garb, and Kearns’ daughter, 8-year-old Serena.

They headed to Long Island for a month of speeches at meetings and rallies. Another “wagon woman,” Rosalie Jones of Cold Spring Harbor, often drove her yellow wagon next to them. They were among many activists crisscrossing the Island and major U.S. cities from 1913 to 1915.

The news-savvy Davison helped stage a September 1913 event that drew hundreds of women and men. For the Aerial Party encampment on the Hempstead Plains aviation field (now Roosevelt Field), 50 women slept in a hangar. Davison later worked as a poll watcher, asking Sayville voters to sign statements saying that the vote should be granted to New York women in 1915. The following year, Davison became president of the South Side Political Equality League of Lynbrook and East Rockaway. When her father died in 1916, the 45-year-old, considered an “old maid,” sold his farm to create one of the Island’s first housing developments.

DETERMINED AND DISTINGUISHED

In 1920, after decades of activism, women were granted the vote in national elections. The New York Times wrote that women succeeded “despite the fears of anti-suffragists that when a woman received the right to vote, ‘political gossip would cause her to neglect the home, forget to mend our clothes and burn the biscuits.’”

Davison continued educating women on the importance of voting. The League of Women Voters named her Nassau County outstanding suffragette and listed her name on a bronze plaque in Albany. She died on November 12, 1948, and was buried in Rockville Cemetery in Lynbrook.

Theodore Roosevelt: A Study in Contrast

Long Island's Teddy Roosevelt
Long Island's Teddy Roosevelt

He started life as a sickly, asthmatic child, confined to his bed. But illness didn’t stop him: Before reaching the age of 42, he had become the 26th president of the United States — the youngest person to hold that title.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was a strong-willed natural leader who embraced constant challenges. Dubbed the “conservation president,” he went up against timber barons to establish the U.S. Forest Service and hundreds of national forests, bird reserves, game preserves, and national parks, while protecting 230 million acres of public land. He signed into law the Antiquities Act to protect archaeological sites and monuments.

And yet, this nature worshipper was an obsessive hunter who tracked grizzly bears, stalked endangered white rhinos, and killed hundreds of animals — not all in the name of science.

THE STRENUOUS LIFE

Born in 1858 in a New York City brownstone, “Teedie” grew up thirsting for adventure. The bright 8-year-old preserved specimens and founded the “Roosevelt Natural History Museum” in his bedroom. He read obsessively, and by age 11 was writing essays on insects.

His merchant-philanthropist father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., helped found the American Museum of Natural History in 1869. Teedie later donated his childhood natural history cabinet, containing thousands of animal specimens, to the museum. Encouraged by his parents to exercise, Teedie improved his health through the “strenuous life.”

He hiked, rode horses, and swam during summers around Cove Neck and at Tranquility, his family’s summer home in Oyster Bay. He hoped to become a naturalist and studied natural history and zoology at Harvard University.

After graduating magna cum laude in 1880, TR purchased land in Cove Neck for a home for his new wife, Alice Hathaway Lee.

THE HUNTER-CONSERVATIONIST CONUNDRUM

Enrolling in Columbia Law School, he dropped out in 1882 to pursue public service as a Republican. But his ambitions were crushed in 1884, when his mother and his wife both died, on Valentine’s Day.

The political life could not ease his grief. He headed for the Dakota Badlands, a buckskin-clad, New York City tenderfoot who reined in his sorrow by living in the saddle and hunting big game.

Roosevelt’s hunting passion was shaped by Victorian attitudes. Feathers and dead bird parts adorned women’s hats and boas, while gentlemen hunters embodied “all the qualities of the idealized, rugged, independent American,” as described in Environment and Society. Big-game specimens were collected — killed — to become trophies. Despite poor eyesight, Roosevelt loved the chase; he later recalled a group safari that “made our veins thrill.”

In 1885, on one of the last Dakotas buffalo hunts, he shot a bison, but the injured creature was never found. After several years he came home to pursue politics, married Edith Carow, and settled at Sagamore Hill. By age 25, TR was a three-time New York State assemblyman. He served as a reformer — on the Civil Service Commission, as police commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy, governor of New York and vice president.

When President William McKinley was assassinated, Roosevelt assumed the office and curbed corporate power as a trust- buster. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1906 for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese War.

As President from 1901 to 1909, he fought for wilderness preservation — and he hunted. On one 1909 safari, the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition, more than 11,000 animals were donated for taxidermy. Roosevelt and his son Kermit shot 512 animals, from aardwolves to zebras, many at excessive ranges. Author Bartle Bull wrote in time.com that the safari outfitter described “the slaughter which [Roosevelt] and his party perpetrated.”

This was the Jekyll and Hyde duality of Theodore Roosevelt. Today, his many supporters flock to his sprawling North Shore estate Sagamore Hill, where he lived from 1885 until his death in 1919. They view original furnishings and mementos throughout the 23-room Queen Anne home surrounded by forests and salt marshes. They absorb stories about the international dignitaries who visited this Summer White House from 1902 to 1908.

And they stare at his abundant hunting souvenirs — once-majestic creatures on display, now stuffed and silent — trying to understand the figure who is both revered and reviled.

Besides Opulent Estates, Vanderbilts Left Scandalous Legacy

Willie K. Vanderbilt’s Eagle Nest mansion in Centerport.

Any fool can make a fortune; it takes a man of brains to hold onto it.
—Cornelius Vanderbilt

From the North Shore’s Gold Coast to the South Shore, they lived golden lives during the Gilded Age. But their scandal-ridden hijinks sullied their reputations and their fortunes nearly vanished, leaving only a dusty picture fading into history.

The dynasty began with Cornelius Vanderbilt. Born into poverty in Staten Island in 1794, he left school at age 11 to work with his father’s ferry business. At age 16 his mother loaned him $100 to start a Long Island Sound ferry; undercutting the competition, he made $1,000 that year, then expanded to the Hudson River and New England.

His character was despicable: One descendant said Cornelius was “Illiterate, bad-tempered and foul-mouthed,” and would “spit streams of tobacco juice and fondle the maids.” His philandering infected him and his wife, first cousin Sophia Johnson, with syphilis when he was 19. He ignored his daughters, insulted his sons, and committed family members to lunatic asylums.

He sold his shipping empire, bought New York Central and Long Island Rail Road, built Grand Central Station, and acquired ocean liners worth $100 million when he died at age 82, the richest American man disinherited all offspring except his eldest son, William Henry “Billy” Vanderbilt. Billy doubled his inheritance before dying in 1885, leaving much of his $200 million to his son, William Kissam Vanderbilt I.

Cornelius Vanderbilt

LET THE SPENDING BEGIN

Like banks deemed too big to fail, the Vanderbilts’ wealth seemed invincible. They collected fine art, donated millions, endowed a university, and endured legal battles—a $10 million divorce, a custody battle over a child worth $5 million—and other scandals. They outdid each other by “Vanderbuilding” palaces for worshipping late 19th-century opulence.

Near what is now Connetquot River State Park Preserve, William Kissam Vanderbilt I established his 900-acre Oakdale hunting retreat/holiday residence in 1876. The estate boasted a 110-room mansion, palm house, bowling alley, English maze, and game pen with deer and elk. The mansion burned down repeatedly—first in 1899, during the honeymoon of his son William Kissam Vanderbilt Jr.—but the couple escaped and the mansion was rebuilt. It served as part of Dowling College but was auctioned last year after Dowling declared bankruptcy. Preservationists are lobbying against demolition and redevelopment.

William Kissam Vanderbilt II (Willie K.), a Harvard dropout who pursued speed sports, travel, and natural history, started developing his park-like, 560-acre “Success Lake” Deepdale estate in 1902. Of the structures—a 17-room mansion, inner terrace, sculptured columns, two crystal conservatories, a stable, and terraced views—one remains: Deepdale Gate Lodge.

RACING AGAINST REALITY

Willie K. created the first major road racing competition, the Vanderbilt Cup, in 1904. But he lost a fortune in the 1907 stock market crash and even tried selling vacuum cleaners and jewelry. After his 1909 divorce, unable to acquire Lake Success land, he abandoned his Georgian Colonial home.

In 1910, he started building a “modest” bachelor getaway house in Centerport overlooking Long Island Sound. The 43-acre estate grew to 11 buildings – a 24-room-Spanish Revival mansion (“Eagle’s Nest”), museums, a golf course, boathouse, seaplane hangar, and a salt-water pool. He hosted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Tiffanys, and other notables, reportedly playing $50,000-per-hole golf with the Rockefellers. From Centerport, he sailed his yacht around the globe with a 50-person crew, collecting natural history and marine specimens.

Willie K. opened his home to the public in the 1930s; he died in 1944 and bequeathed the estate to the county with $2 million for upkeep. The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum has been open to the public since 1950, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Vanderbilts’ legacy includes mansions, summer palaces, farms, museums, golf courses, country estates, and fascinating stories to go with them. Some remain, but many have vanished. But that’s another history.