By day, Chris Elabu is a groundskeeper for Hempstead Town, where he rakes leaves, trims hedges and plants flowers. By night, he is a tireless collector of historical artifacts, with a collection of antique furniture, maps and other curios that numbers more than 1,000.
Elabu’s two pursuits converged earlier this month, when the Franklin Square native, 33, donated a 19th-century map of Hempstead Village to the town, to hold in its archives in perpetuity.
“There are a few maps out like this, but a lot of them are in private hands. You don’t know where they’re going to end up,” he said on a recent afternoon in Town Hall as he looked at the framed print.
“That’s why I want it to be preserved, forever.”
Published in a bound atlas in 1873, the map depicts the village in an era when it was still crisscrossed by dirt roads, lit by gas lamps and ringed by farmland, said village historian Reine Bethany.
Lots are labeled on the map with their owner’s names, and present-day Denton Green park is described as “Old Town Burying Ground” for the cemetery that once occupied the site.
Bethany said reproductions of Elabu’s map are common, but originals such as his are not.
Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said she appreciated the donation, which makes a unique addition to the town archives.
“It was so thoughtful,” she said.“I love to see that goodwill” from town employees.
Elabu said he found the map in a historical art gallery in Manhattan about five years ago. He traded three European maps to acquire it — a fair deal, he said.
The print joined more than 100 others in his map collection, which itself is only a fraction of the historical objects crowding his Franklin Square home and a storage unit in West Hempstead, he said.
His holdings also include antique armoires, Civil War-era bullets, old pedal sewing machines and some 2,400 bottles, many of which he dug from the ground at the sites of former recycling plants, he said.
Elabu displays a selection of the objects in his basement “man cave,” he said.
The groundskeeper said he is motivated to collect by a desire to preserve the tangible traces of history in the age of the internet.
“Nobody really cares about these maps because you can Google it and get a picture,” he said.
“But a picture’s not going to give you the texture, the smell, the feeling of the map. You can only get that by actually seeing it physically.”
Gillen said the town will likely display the map in Town Hall.
Elabu’s collection includes:
- 119 maps
- 2,400 antique bottles
- Victorian-era armoires
- Civil War-era bullets and cavalry swords
- Helmets from World War II