Sag Harbor’s Grandest Voices Guide Tours

John Jermain Mem Library after ’38 hurricane.
John Jermain Mem Library after ’38 hurricane.
John Jermain Mem Library after ’38 hurricane.

By Douglas Feiden

The voices of the actors are sonorous and splendid. Some are also comedic and child-friendly. At times, they are booming, resonant and orotund, the kind that delight theatergoers on the Broadway stage. Every once in a while, they even venture into the realm of the Shakespearean.

But they do have four things in common: Every voice imparts an education to listeners about the wonders and mysteries of Sag Harbor. Each can easily be downloaded to all smartphones and tablets directly from Google Play and the Apple App Store. Since the app is free, the voices can all be heard without charge.

Oh, and each and every one of them can be found, exclusively, on the newly expanded and upgraded Sag Harbor Walking Tour App.

Back in the summer of 2015, the Sag Harbor Partnership first unveiled its foray into walking tours, building its digital offerings around three existing and popular village tours put together by the Sag Harbor Historical Society, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities and the Sag Harbor Cultural District.

Fire mural in Firemen’s Museum depicting fires of 1915 & 1925 in Kids’ tour. April Gornik photo.
Fire mural in Firemen’s Museum depicting fires of 1915 & 1925 in Kids’ tour. April Gornik photo

At the time of the initial rollout, the app had no sound, and a tally of its tours could be counted on the fingers of one hand. But the mission of the app’s developers was always far more ambitious: Make it talk with the grandest voices ever heard on the East End, and dramatically boost its offerings to match the infinite breadth of the community it serves.

Sag Harbor is a magnificent and bounteous outdoor museum, the nonprofit Partnership believed, and as they brainstormed the future of the app, Nick Gazzolo, the group’s treasurer and one of the founders of the project, proposed creating an online audio guide that could be patterned after the hand-held guide offered patrons in the world’s venerable indoor museums.

After all, the subject matter in its host village was just as varied, colorful and infinite as the Louvre or the Met.

Flash-forward a year. Now, that day has arrived, those outsize ambitions have been largely fulfilled, and the app currently boasts a total of 16 walking tours, with more still on the drawing board. In fact, the most recent addition, “Sag Harbor — Take a Closer Look,” inspired by Bob Weinstein’s new photo exhibit at the Whaling Museum, was posted on Tuesday.

As the app speeds into its expansion phase, seven of the tours have already been outfitted with audio, and plans are afoot to usher in more distinctive voices to other tours, the Partnership says.

In the meantime, listeners can spend an hour and 15 minutes with the great character actor Harris Yulin, who appeared in films like “Scarface” and TV shows like “Frasier,” as he narrates the tales of “Sag Harbor in Wartime.”

A 10-stop tour, it begins with the story of the Old Burying Ground during the British Occupation in the Revolutionary War, includes the heroism of Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter in the Iraq War, and concludes with the history of the American Legion’s Chelberg-Battle Post # 388 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post # 9082, which the Legion hosts on Bay Street.

Mr. Yulin’s voice alone is an enormous treat for listeners, says April Gornik, the artist-activist and Partnership board member who lovingly authored, edited, aggregated, illustrated, researched and shepherded to posting roughly a dozen tours.

“It’s gravelly and ultra-manly,” she says.

“Like a shot of Wild Turkey in a dusty road house,” Mr. Gazzolo adds.

Kids’ rocking horse & pet squirrel cage from Custom House. April Gornik photo.
Kids’ rocking horse & pet squirrel cage from Custom House. April Gornik photo

With no exceptions, all of the narrators donated services that can often command big bucks, like the actor, comedian and “Saturday Night Live” standout Martin Short, the good-natured voice of the “Kids’ Walking Tour of Sag Harbor (Complete with Treasure Hunt!)”

“On this tour, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take photos of certain things at each stop, and after you’ve collected them, you will get a free prize at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum!” he begins.

And then Mr. Short proceeds to tell stories about the Hurricane of 1938, which “wiped out 57,000 homes, and nobody even predicted it, except for one weatherman, and on no one believed him.” He also describes a “really clever battle” called Meigs’ Raid in 1777 — otherwise known as “men with their pants down,” he says — in which a boozy band of British soldiers in various states of undress were ambushed and captured by upstart colonialists.

“Whimsical” is how Mr. Gazzolo describes Mr. Short’s voice. “Adorable,” says Ms. Gornik. “The most kid-friendly voice ever, with amazing tonal range, and he gave this tour his all and pulled out all the stops. Agrees Mr. Gazzolo, “He did not phone it in.”

And then there’s Emma Walton Hamilton, co-founder of the Bay Street Theater, who narrates the 3-hour, 3.5-mile, 43-stop “Sag Harbor Historical Society Tour,” a thoughtful walk among the village’s crown jewels that takes in historic homes, monuments, museums, churches, parks, factories and cemeteries, as well as a synagogue, a wharf and a breakwater.

“Dulcet tones,” said Mr. Gazzolo. Adds Ms. Gornik, “Emma’s voice is mellifluous and intelligent.”

Meanwhile, her husband, producer-director-actor-teacher Stephen Hamilton, is the voice of “Literary Sag Harbor,” which tells how a world-famous author was once approached on the street by a man who inquired, “Aren’t you John Steinbeck?” The novelist’s response: “I’m John, just call me John.”

Mr. Hamilton also describes how Hannibal Lecter was “born” on 66 Main Street, above the old Marty’s Barber Shop, now Salon 66, where author Thomas Harris penned his best-selling, “The Silence of the Lambs.” 

Another Sag Harbor original, Mr. Hamilton possesses a “bright, sunny fall-day voice,” said Ms. Gornik. Adds Mr. Gazzolo, “A nice Ken Burns kind of vibe.”

There’s more, much more: Alec Baldwin amiably guides visitors through the “Cultural District Walking Tour,” stopping at nine of the village’s premiere historic and cultural institutions, including Canio’s Cultural Café, the Eastville Community Historical Society and the Old Whalers’ Church.

“A smooth, jazzy baritone,” said Ms. Gornik, while Mr. Gazzolo cites, “A little touch of NPR.”

Actress Kristen Lowman, the wife of Mr. Yulin, narrates “Captains, Mates, and Widows,” which begins dramatically with the words, “Sag Harbor’s whaling barons were the oil barons and high-risk hedge fund moguls of their day.” She goes on to describe the life and times of characters like “Harpooner’s Wife B,” “Unknown Cabin Boy,” “Great Harpooner Dan” and “Sister Sailor, Whaling Wife.”

Ms. Gornik’s take: “Intimate, warm, quickening, and enlivening.”

Last but hardly least, actor-director Christian Scheider, the son of Roy Scheider, narrates “Vanished Sag Harbor,” a “largely virtual tour of things no longer with us, but of places and people of exceptional historical interest.” It takes in everything from an Underground Railroad stop believed to have been in Eastville to the long-gone steeple that once crowned the Old Whalers Church.

“Seductive,” says Ms. Gornik. “Classically trained, and you know he could do Shakespeare in a blink,” says Mr. Gazzolo.