Education and museum facilitator Emily Miranda holds star armbands from...

Education and museum facilitator Emily Miranda holds star armbands from 1938-1943 in the archives room at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Armbands worn by Nazi concentration camp prisoners. A hairless Edith Roosevelt doll. And a Colonial-era flintlock pistol that may have washed ashore from a shipwreck.

These are just a small sampling of the thousands of artifacts, documents and paintings preserved in the basements, attics and closets of Long Island’s museums and historic sites — many of which are never seen by the public due to lack of exhibition space.

“Most museums never have enough display or storage space,” said Betsy DeMaria, curator at Fire Island National Seashore. “It forces hard choices on what to display, what to retain and what to collect. Fortunately, today we have online options to share our collections with the public.”

For the national seashore and some other museums, the internet has been a blessing, allowing them to showcase the treasures often hidden away. Some have turned to social media, while in at least one case there are plans to expand the physical display space available so the public can view more of the items.

Here are the stories of five local museums and historic sites — what they have stored away, and their efforts to make their collections more accessible to the public:

The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County

Housed in a former Gold Coast mansion, the Glen Cove museum, which opened in 1994, has limited space for artifacts among the interpretive panels lining the walls of much of the first floor. So only nine of the 481 objects in its collection — including an accordion played by a boy at the Auschwitz concentration camp, whose talent allowed him to survive — are on permanent view. The remaining artifacts, all with connections to Long Island residents, are kept on racks or in a large wooden filing cabinet.

The items the public does not see include a striped prisoner’s jacket worn by a Polish girl, Regina Rosenblatt, at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 before she was freed. There is a collection of armbands that Jewish and other prisoners in the camps were forced to wear. And there is a clock purchased in Paris by the grandparents of museum board vice chair Ronald Fishman. The clock was buried in a neighbor’s yard before they were sent to Auschwitz and killed; their children, who had been sent to the south of France, survived and later reclaimed the clock before immigrating to America.

“Many of these items were donated after we built the existing exhibit,” museum spokesman Bernie Furshpan said.

Soon, the public may have a chance to view more of these artifacts: The center plans to expand its exhibition space, allowing about 50 items to be displayed.

A striped prisoner’s jacket worn by a Polish girl at...

A striped prisoner’s jacket worn by a Polish girl at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

Two buildings at Theodore Roosevelt’s Cove Neck estate have basements and closets filled with archival material, including half the documents belonging to the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in Manhattan.

One of the buildings is the 26th president’s Queen Anne mansion and the other is the Old Orchard Museum, the former home of Roosevelt’s son, Ted.

“We have over 90,000 objects and we currently store about 43,000 objects,” said Clare Connelly, the chief of cultural resources.

The two historic structures did not have dedicated archival storage space, so the site’s curators have had to improvise.

“We have the basement in the Theodore Roosevelt Home and at the Old Orchard Museum, where we have what was originally the kitchen for some object storage,” Connelly said. “Otherwise, we mostly have everything in closets on the second floor of Old Orchard.”

Sagamore Hill has no room for large temporary exhibits, so items must be rotated in a small exhibit case on the first floor of Old Orchard every four to six months, Connelly said. That is frustrating for the staff.

“We have really, really cool things in our storage that I would love to highlight,” Connelly said. “We try to let some things be seen through social media. We also have a partnership with the Theodore Roosevelt Center in Dickinson, North Dakota, and we scan images and they post it online so that researchers can have access.”

One of the objects in storage is an autographed book titled “The Long Trail,” written in 1921 by Roosevelt’s second-oldest son, Kermit, about a hunting safari in Africa he went on with his father.

Connelly also noted a doll that has separated into several pieces and lost its hair — “one of the stranger objects in our collection,” she said. “She is supposed to be [first lady] Edith [Roosevelt] in her [1901] inaugural ball dress,” Connelly said. “It was made in 1941. ... The feet have been carved and actually have words on them” noting when the doll was made.

Sagamore is also home to a flag created by the Roosevelt Memorial Association and the Boy Scouts in New York State after Theodore Roosevelt died. Initially made with a blank blue field, as Boy Scouts and soldiers carried the flag from upstate toward Sagamore Hill, they made 40 stops, where girls from local schools would each sew on one star. Their next-to-last stop was Roosevelt’s grave at Youngs Memorial Cemetery in Oyster Bay Cove on his birthday, Oct. 27, 1919. The flag was then presented to Edith Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill.

Among the curators’ favorite objects in the archives are two large maps of France and Virginia made with colored pencils on paperboard by Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin, as an elementary school project.

A doll that was made in 1941 depicts Edith Roosevelt’s...

A doll that was made in 1941 depicts Edith Roosevelt’s ball gown from the 1901 inauguration in the archival collection at Sagamore Hill. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Long Island Maritime Museum

“Somewhere between 80% to 90% of our collection is in storage,” said Jaime Karbowiak, who until recently was executive director of the West Sayville museum, which owns more than 20,000 artifacts. (She has since taken a job as executive director of the Roslyn Landmark Society.)

While the archives are spread among several buildings, Karbowiak said the museum never has enough storage. “So we have had to be more selective because of our space issues and wanting to be able to preserve everything to the best of our ability,” she said. “We have a curatorial committee that handles donations.”

Because of the limited space, she said, “We make a concerted effort to rotate pieces displayed in our permanent exhibits and also to create temporary exhibitions.”

The museum has also posted images of some of its artifacts online, said Karbowiak.

“Digitization projects like those funded through the Long Island Library Resources Council and the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation have also been fantastic resources for local historical organizations seeking to enable greater public access to their archives,” Karbowiak said, adding the library council recently digitized oral histories for the museum that will be available soon on its website.

The museum’s archives contain a large collection of scrimshaw, carvings made by sailors using sperm whale teeth or similar material. Some depicting whaling ships and tropical scenes were carved by Southold whalers, including captains Selah Youngs and Isaac Morris, in the mid-19th century. The most unusual scrimshaw work is an upper walrus jaw with carved tusks and teeth.

Also in the archives are curved printing plates used to make labels during World War I for cans of Sealshipt Oysters, which were distributed by the Bluepoints Company of West Sayville. Another unusual item is a World War II-era copper-encased distress flare, made by a Wyandanch company, that was designed to be thrown overboard and self-ignite.

Curator Jaime Karbowiak holds a sperm whale tooth with scrimshaw...

Curator Jaime Karbowiak holds a sperm whale tooth with scrimshaw at the Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Fire Island National Seashore

More than 150,000 artifacts and documents relating to the William Floyd Estate, the Fire Island Lighthouse and the rest of Fire Island National Seashore are housed at the Mastic Beach estate of Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

These include 27,000 objects, with about 10,000 in the Floyd house and the rest in a secure climate-controlled storage building on site, according to Betsy DeMaria, the curator. About 7,000 objects that have been stored in the house will move to the archival building or a planned National Park Service regional storage hub to better protect them, DeMaria said.

One of the most significant items in the archives is Floyd’s portable writing desk. The desk, made from poplar wood covered in mahogany veneer, was used by Floyd during the American Revolution when he traveled to Philadelphia to serve as a delegate in the Continental Congress.

The archives also contain a “flensing” knife, a sharp iron blade on a wooden handle used by whalers to strip the blubber from a whale carcass. The initials “NF” are carved into the blade and DeMaria believes they are the initials of Nicoll Floyd, William’s father, who had ships built on the shores of the Great South Bay and employed Unkechaug Indians to go whaling for him.

There is also a branding iron used to imprint “Floyd” on the estate’s cattle in the mid-1700s, and a triangular United States Lighthouse Establishment pennant that flew on a boat that carried supplies to the lighthouse in the 1930s.

And one of the more unusual items is a flintlock pistol found near Ocean Beach on Fire Island in the 1980s by a resident who donated it to the park service. DeMaria said that it may have washed ashore from a shipwreck in the 1770s.

Betsy DeMaria, cultural resources program manager at the Fire Island...

Betsy DeMaria, cultural resources program manager at the Fire Island National Seashore, with a flag that flew on a supply boat in the 1930s. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Long Island Museum

The Stony Brook museum, which features art, carriages and historical artifacts, has climate-controlled storage vaults for the 75,000 artifacts and documents in its collections. Because of the size of the collection and limited display space, less than 2% can be displayed at any time, co-executive director Joshua Ruff said.

For example, the museum owns 125 paintings by the Stony Brook artist William Sidney Mount that are sometimes displayed. But in the basement storage area, there is a daguerreotype photograph of Mount and 2,000 preparatory sketches he made before completing his oil paintings. These do not make it into exhibitions.

Also never seen is a program for the dedication ceremonies for the Queensboro Bridge in 1909 and a souvenir folder of postcards from 1883 of Long Island landmarks such as the Surf Hotel on Fire Island.

To share material from the archives, the museum posts information on Google Cultural Institute, an online forum that features works from more than 2,000 museums and archives across the world. In addition, Ruff said, “We have a database on our website that people can pull up collection records on upwards of 30,000 items. We’re working on a number of other online initiatives to get more material out there.”

The curators interviewed agreed that they are faced with the difficult task of determining not only what to preserve in their collections and highlight now, but also — as the culture shifts — what will be important to showcase in the years ahead.

“It’s a challenge to maintain these various collections,” Ruff said, “and also thinking about the future and what you want them to be and what kind of stories we want to be able to tell with them in 25 years.”

Postcards of Long Island from the 1800s inside the archives...

Postcards of Long Island from the 1800s inside the archives of the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Latest Videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months