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Secrets of Oyster Bay: Captain Kidd, Ghost Vortex, more

Just to set the record straight, Oyster Bay is both the name of a Long Island town that stretches from the North Shore all the way to the South Shore, and the name of a northern hamlet within that town. It's that hamlet -- the onetime home of President Theodore Roosevelt and part of the New Netherland colony -- that ultimately led to buccaneer Captain Kidd's downfall. Here are some more of Oyster Bay's little-known facts and secrets.

Buying Oyster Bay

According to a 1653 document titled
Credit: Ian J. Stark

According to a 1653 document titled "First Purchase," the land, which even then was known as Oyster Bay, was sold to European settlers for "six Indian Coates, sixe Ketles, sixe fathom of wampum, sixe Hoes, sixe Hatchetts; three pairs of stocking[s] thirty Auln-blades or Muxes (heads for eel spears), twenty Kniues, three shirts, & as much peage black wampum as will amount to ffoure pounds sterling."

Pictured: The waters off Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay on April 2, 2015.

Captain Kidd in Oyster Bay Harbor

The buccaneer Captain William Kidd (pictured, top) had
Credit: Handout

The buccaneer Captain William Kidd (pictured, top) had reportedly stopped to bury booty in Long Island areas we know today as Montauk, Gardiners Island, Setauket, Centre Island and Cove Neck -- the latter two spots located in the current Town of Oyster Bay -- but Kidd also came to what is now the hamlet of Oyster Bay; a stop that led to his eventual capture and death.

Kidd was high on the wanted list of English law enforcement at the end of the 17th century, but the pirate felt he could negotiate out of his legal problems. Anchoring his ship Antonio in Oyster Bay Harbor in June 1699, the pirate connected with a friend, attorney James Emmot, with confidence that a pardon from Richard Coote, earl of Bellomont, the colonial governor of the then-province of New York (and who at one time was a financial backer of Kidd before he turned to piracy) could be arranged. A deal was struck ... or so Kidd thought. Despite a message offering a likely escape from penalty, Kidd arrived in Boston to meet with Coote (a municipality also under the earl's jurisdiction) and was soon arrested, sent to London for trial, found guilty on several charges and subsequently executed in May 1701.

A Townsend rejects an appointment

The aforementioned Richard Coote, earl of Bellomont and
Credit: Ian J. Stark

The aforementioned Richard Coote, earl of Bellomont and colonial governor of the then-province of New York, had made it clear that he was no fan of Long Island in 1699 when he wrote a letter that brought up LI, then known as Nassau Island. The earl stated Long Island was a "great receptacle for Pirates," and that locals of the time "have many of them been pirates themselves, and naturally are not averse to the trade; besides that, they are so lawless and desperate a people that I can get no honest man that will venture to go and collect their excise among them and watch their trade."

Coote may have been referring to what happened a year earlier in Oyster Bay, a port where he felt duties owed to the king of England weren't being collected on goods coming through -- and he appointed Oyster Bay customs officer "Justice" John Townsend in March 1698 to also serve as the "Surveyor & Searcher of his Majesties Customs in the Towns of Oyster-bay, Huntington and Masketo Cove" (today known as Glen Cove).

Townsend, however, soon resigned the post, giving cause as that "he hath met with such Discouragement by the Abuses and Menaces of the Inhabitants of the said Oyster-bay, that he dares not execute the said Office," later expressing that his neighbors -- many of which were relatives as the Townsend family were among the earliest and most prolific settlers of Oyster Bay -- were going as far as to threaten his life.

Justice John Townsend is reported as interred at the Fort Hill Townsend Burying Ground (pictured), among his kin from various generations.

The Townsend legacy

The Townsend family played a major role in
Credit: Ian J. Stark

The Townsend family played a major role in Oyster Bay history as well as in the birth of the United States. Robert Townsend (1753-1838) was an active spy during the Revolutionary War as part of the Culper spy ring (his code name was Culper Jr.), helping to supply the forces of Gen. George Washington with critical information, working between New York City and (British-occupied) Long Island. Townsend nor Washington ever revealed his role; it wasn't until 1930 when a historian used research and handwriting samples to prove that Townsend and Culper Jr. were one and the same.

What you might not know is that Townsend is in fact buried in Oyster Bay (pictured), in the Fort Hill Townsend Burial Ground, along with several family members including his great-great-great grandfather John Townsend (1608-1668). Among other related Townsends interred in the lot are sister Sarah (1760-1842) and father Samuel (1717-1790), the original owner of their family home Raynham Hall, which is now a museum -- and according to paranormal experts, it's quite haunted.

The 'Ghost Vortex'

Raynham Hall staffers say that according to paranormal
Credit: Ian J. Stark

Raynham Hall staffers say that according to paranormal experts, this flue is the focus of otherworldly energy found in this ancient house, which has long been said to be home to a number of ghosts.

The apparitions that have been reported include a mysterious child, unrecognized servants, a ghost cat and Sarah Townsend, who lived to be 82, never to marry. (She did, however, receive a proposal--a poem believed to be the very first American Valentine...)

The first American Valentine

Although such tokens were already commonplace in Europe,
Credit: Ian J. Stark

Although such tokens were already commonplace in Europe, Raynham Hall lays claim to being the location of the first Valentine bestowed on American soil -- in this case from British Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe to Sarah Townsend.

The circumstances were probably not optimal for romance: the British, occupying Long Island, quartered the Townsend's house and placed 300 troops on the grounds. Simcoe lived on one side of the home, while Robert Townsend, his wife (Sarah) and children (Sally, Phoebe, Robert, David, William, Audrey and Sarah) remained on the other -- and the Townsend girls were pressed into serving Simcoe and his troops. Simcoe became smitten with the daughter Sarah, then 19. He gave her a lengthy poem on Feb. 14, 1779, that included the words: "To you my heart I must resign...O choose me for your Valentine!"

Not only did Sarah refuse, but there is speculation it was this amorous attempt that inspired the offended brother Robert to join the Culper spy ring in the first place.

Pictured: Harriet Gerard Clark, executive director of Raynham Hall Museum, holds a portrait of Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe.

Signs of slavery remain at Raynham Hall

The Townsends owned more slaves than anyone in
Credit: Ian J. Stark

The Townsends owned more slaves than anyone in town, possessing as many as eight to nine at a time. The slaves were granted a single room upstairs in which to stay -- and they couldn't use the main stairs to reach the space, either. Instead, they had to use these backstairs, which are barely large enough for an average-sized adult to move along.

The final resting place of slaves

Evidence of slavery can also be found at
Credit: Ian J. Stark

Evidence of slavery can also be found at Youngs Memorial Cemetery, not far from where the late President Theodore Roosevelt and his wife Edith are buried. The graves of slaves belonging to the Youngs family are marked with wooden crosses.

TR's final resting place

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United
Credit: Ian J. Stark

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, is buried in Oyster Bay. His final resting place is located atop the hill of Youngs Memorial Cemetery, alongside his wife, Edith Kermit Roosevelt.

Where a president would pray

Theodore Roosevelt lived in Oyster Bay (from 1885
Credit: Ian J. Stark

Theodore Roosevelt lived in Oyster Bay (from 1885 until his death in 1919), calling Sagamore Hill home -- a place that once even served as the "Summer White House" (from 1902 to 1908). As a resident, much of his daily life was connected to the hamlet, and he regularly attended worship services at Christ Church of Oyster Bay, which still serves parishioners today. His pew remains marked with a plaque, and other family members (including his sons Theodore Jr. and Quentin, both born in Oyster Bay) are also remembered by Christ Church with commemorations along its hall walls.

Words from Oyster Bay heard around the world

President Theodore Roosevelt's staff used the second floor
Credit: Ian J. Stark

President Theodore Roosevelt's staff used the second floor of this building -- The Moore Building -- in 1903, led by Secretary to the President William Loeb Jr. It is believed the first cable transmission to circle the globe was sent from this location on July 4 of that year, taking 8 to 9 minutes to come from and then go to Oyster Bay. His message wished "a happy Independence Day to the U.S., its territories and properties," and was sent via the lines of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company, which would eventually merge with American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T).

Asparagus Bay?

Following the Civil War, asparagus moved from a
Credit: Rebecca Cooney

Following the Civil War, asparagus moved from a secondary crop to an in-demand veggie by the 1870s, and New York City gourmands clamored for the greens. According to an article in the New York Times on May 9, 1887, the "Oyster Bay district of Long Island" monopolized production of asparagus, as the hamlet reportedly was home to beds that "could be counted by the hundreds." The Times further declared in a separate article that same day, "The best [asparagus] is received from Oyster Bay, and sells as 35 cents a bundle," compared with 30 cents for New Jersey asparagus and 25 cents for "that of the South."

Typhoid Mary

A wealthy New York City banker rented a

A wealthy New York City banker rented a summer home in Oyster Bay in 1906, and during their stay, six of the 11 people staying at the residence became sick with typhoid fever. After a lengthy investigation, it was determined that the woman hired to cook for the family, an Irish immigrant named Mary Mallon, was a carrier of the pathogen that causes typhoid fever, but remained physically healthy. She was held in the custody of the New York City Health Department for almost three years, but eventually released in 1910 upon the pledge she would no longer work as a cook.

However, Mallon returned to food preparation, employed under an assumed name -- at Manhattan's Sloane Maternity Hospital no less -- and after 25 new cases of typhoid fever (and two deaths) at the hospital were traced back to her, she was again quarantined. She spent the remaining 23 years of her life isolated on a small island in New York City's East River until her death at the age of 69 on Nov. 11, 1938.

Who's Audrey, anyway?

Streets in Oyster Bay have taken up the
Credit: Ian J. Stark

Streets in Oyster Bay have taken up the surnames of local families (such as Weeks Avenue, McCouns Lane, Hamilton Avenue, Larrabee Avenue) and even an invader (Simcoe Street), but is there a family who gave rise to Audrey Avenue? No, but it is named for Audrey Farley, who was born Audrey Townsend. For unknown reasons, her first name was used as the identity of a major road.

The 'B' and the 'G'

Not the biggest secret in town, but did
Credit: Ian J. Stark

Not the biggest secret in town, but did you ever wonder why there's a "B" over the east front doorway of Oyster Bay High School, and a "G" over the west front door? Dating to 1929, when the building first opened, boys ("B") and girls ("G") used different entrances.

Brangelina in OB?

Oyster Bay may have hosted presidents and American
Credit: AP

Oyster Bay may have hosted presidents and American heroes alike, but locals were still shocked back in 2009 when Hollywood power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were spotted in town -- and not on a red carpet, but in the supermarket, the drugstore and fast food stops. As it turned out, the couple had settled into nearby Centre Island for a stint while Jolie worked on the movie "Salt" (which filmed in part at Grumman Studios, during which time the Jolie-Pitt children were enrolled at East Woods School, a private faculty located in town.)

Pictured: Jolie and Pitt arrive at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2012.


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