Displaying Objects From Sag Harbor’s Past At Historical Society’s Show and Tell

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Sag Harbor Historical Society co-president Jack Youngs with a framed advertisement for bitters that he retrieved before his family sold the American Hotel to Ted Conklin in the 1970s.
Sag Harbor Historical Society co-president Jack Youngs with a framed advertisement for bitters that he retrieved before his family sold the American Hotel to Ted Conklin in the 1970s.
Sag Harbor Historical Society co-president Jack Youngs with a framed advertisement for bitters that he retrieved before his family sold the American Hotel to Ted Conklin in the 1970s.

By Stephen J. Kotz

To the sound of amplified live music drifting up Main Street and a never-ending parade of traffic, members of the Sag Harbor Historical Society gathered at the Annie Cooper Boyd House for their annual “Show and Tell” and a chance to turn back the clock to a simpler time.

Participants brought everything from handmade iron tools and old bottles to jewelry and one very tiny — and peculiar — carving.

“Does anybody know what Javex is?” asked Robert Montgomery as he displayed a large brown bottle he found in his backyard. “My first thought was coffee, my second was a laxative,” he said. “It turns out this was a competitor to Clorox.”

Mr. Montgomery also produced a pale blue Hood’s Sarsaparilla bottle in excellent condition. The Lowell, Massachusetts, company, which was founded in 1876 by Charles Hood, sold the concoction as a patent medicine in the late 1800s. He also displayed a bottle from the long-gone Welz and Zerweck Brewery in Brooklyn, which closed its doors in 1920 when Prohibition became the law of the land.

Jean Held also showed an item that she dug up in her backyard. In her case it was an amulet, with a depiction of St. George and the Dragon, which she discovered years ago when she was putting in a garden. Ms. Held said she believed the piece, dating to the late 1700s or early 1800s, was from a country where the Russian Orthodox Church was established because of its markings.

She raised the possibility that it had a connection to the L’Hommedieu House on Main Street, which has been in the news lately because its current owner has proposed changes that to it that will require village approval.

Ms. Held recounted that she had discussed the piece with historian Dorothy Zaykowski and one day they were in the society’s office, “and her hand goes like a magnet into the bookshelf and she pulls out this book on ropemaking.”

It turns out that the best hemp for rope came from southern Russia, the Ukraine, and Bulgaria, where the Orthodox Church is predominant. Since the L’Hommedieus ran the village ropemaking business, she wondered if it could have been something brought back or traded for by them.

Joe Zaykowski Jr. of North Haven brought boards from the old workshop on his property that contained a pattern of regular spaced holes, which he surmised were for some type of netmaking or similar work, although he had no ready answer. He also produced an antique shutter holder, an old adze head, and a box of what looked like metal files, although they were mysteriously smooth.

Barbara Cronenberger showed another oddity, a small grinder that she had found mounted to a window frame of her house in the village. Most onlookers agreed it was too small to be used for grinding food, and everyone was perplexed that it was mounted in the attic.

Margaret Bromberg brought a piece of plaster with old wallpaper on it that Reverend Karen Campbell suggested dated from the 1840s when the house was first built, and Miles Anderson displayed a sawfish bill, painted with a landscape, that he said came from his great-grandfather. Jack Youngs had a framed advertisement for bitters that his family had removed before selling The American Hotel.

Fred Meyer showed off an ale cup shaped like a fox head that his mother had purchased years ago; his daughter. Andrea Meyer, who works as an archivist at the East Hampton Library, had bits of red ribbon, or “red tape,” that had been used to bind documents acquired by the library from the Gardiner family.

Reverend Campbell, the rector of Christ Episcopal Church, brought the church’s original embosser, its membership book from the late 1800s as well as a number of photographs from the 20th century.

George Held brought a more modern artifact, a whirley-gig that was made by a man who used to sell them at the foot of Long Wharf in the 1990s. When the wind blows, it turns a propeller and a figure appears to be sawing wood. “Does anybody remember this man, or know his name?” he asked. Although many remembered him, nobody could recall his name.

Julie Penny reported on a discovery she made several years ago by happenstance in a jewelry store in Rocky Point. In the 19th century “when the U.S. was embroiled in financial panic or war, communities created their own currency,” she said.

Sag Harbor whaleboat maker William Cooper, the father of Annie Cooper Boyd, was one local merchant who issued his own script, which was backed by the Suffolk County Bank and available in amounts ranging from pennies to several dollars.

“It was based on trust,” she said. “But everybody was able to get whatever necessities they needed.”

Perhaps the oddest artifact — a detailed carving of then-Senator John F. Kennedy rendered in a peach pit by her great uncle — was displayed by Diane Schiavoni. The carving was one of seven he did and one of them is now in the collection of the president’s library and museum.

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