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Secrets of Old Bethpage Village Restoration

In 1967, a piece of land in Old Bethpage was designated by Nassau County to become a haven for some of Long Island's 19th century real estate. A collection of historic houses from College Point to Manorville were chosen to populate the village, and furnished with period pieces meticulously researched to reflect the true nature of the time. The village opened to the public in 1970.

Now, Old Bethpage Village Restoration thrives as a piece of living history that has grown to adopt some more modern memories too. Newsday.com spent a day with Old Bethpage Village Restoration museum manager Gary Haglich and restoration supervisor Timothy Van Wickler to learn about some of the grounds' lesser-known facts and history. Here's what we found:

Old Bethpage origins

When Old Bethpage Village was under construction, selected
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

When Old Bethpage Village was under construction, selected houses were picked up from their places of origin and transported via truck. Sometimes the houses were carried across long distances all in one piece, but they were also broken down into sections and reassembled on the grounds.

Transport sometimes posed a problem when the homes traveled down busy city streets -- shown above is a worker lifts up a traffic light to let a house pass through a neighborhood.

The old ball game

Old Bethpage is recognized by the Smithsonian as
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Old Bethpage is recognized by the Smithsonian as the "birthplace of vintage baseball," with the first game of its kind played on the restoration grounds during a Civil War re-enactment in August 1979. Athletes who play vintage baseball follow historic rules and wear traditional baseball uniforms, similar to how the game was played in the mid-1800s.

By any other name

Meet Lucifer -- the biggest billy goat at
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Meet Lucifer -- the biggest billy goat at Old Bethpage. Contrary to his name, Lucifer is actually quite an angel -- he's really fond of a good nuzzle and is always happy to say hello.

At Old Bethpage, goats play a big role in landscaping. They're often let out to help groom overgrown grass on the grounds.

Miss Piggy

Old Bethpage is also home to Lulu, a
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Old Bethpage is also home to Lulu, a 900-pound pig that loves to spend her free time napping in the mud on hot summer days.

A different type of signature

It isn't hard to tell when the Benjamin
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

It isn't hard to tell when the Benjamin House was built -- if you look closely, the year of the home's completion is engraved right on the chimney -- 1829. This subtle detail was actually a common signature on 19th century architecture, according to OBVR supervisor Timothy Van Wickler.

"It's sort of like a business card," he said. "People would see those things and know it was your work. It would attract future business for builders."

Surviving Sandy

Long Island suffered major damage when superstorm Sandy
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Long Island suffered major damage when superstorm Sandy swept through in 2012. However, the historic houses of Old Bethpage remained unharmed -- according to Haglich, the restoration didn't suffer any major damage during the storm.

"These homes are made from first-growth wood, which is much stronger than the wood we typically use to build homes today," OBVR museum manager Gary Haglich said. First-growth wood comes from trees that were not planted, but grew naturally from seeds scattered in the forest.

The only real Sandy damage the restoration received was to the fence pictured above, which cracked and broke.

"We got really lucky," Haglich said.

Celebrity Sightings

Old Bethpage Restoration has seen its fair share
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Old Bethpage Village Restoration

Old Bethpage Restoration has seen its fair share of celebrities (like Matthew Broderick, pictured above) hanging out on the restoration grounds. You can also see the restoration's Schenck House featured on an episode of PBS' "This Old House."

And if you look closely, you can also catch glimpse's of Old Bethpage in Imagine Dragon's music video for their 2012 hit "Radioactive." Check out the video, and see if you can spot some of the iconic buildings on the restoration.

A fortunate find

Old Bethpage's photo archives are home to more
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Old Bethpage's photo archives are home to more than 200,000 historic images of Long Island. But did you know that one of Old Bethpage's most valuable collections was discovered by accident?

In the 1970s, a Nassau County historian uncovered more than 12,000 images -- the complete works -- of famed architecture photographer Mattie Edwards Hewitt sitting in a box on the side of the road in Nassau. Hewitt's stunning images of Long Island's Gold Coast brought her fame during the 1920s-30s.

"The images were in a box that was going to go out to the trash," OBVR museum manager Gary Haglich said. "It's truly an amazing find."

Ghost stories

Many of the houses at Old Bethpage once
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Many of the houses at Old Bethpage once belonged to families living on Long Island in the 1800s. And according to long-time employee Joanne Graves, some of those families never left -- haunting their former residences as spirits.

A few years ago, a medium was brought to the restoration to explore the supernatural presence on the grounds. At the Williams house, seen above, the medium described a family living there who still called the place "home."

Graves has had her own experiences too, most of which she described as 'friendly.'

"You definitely feel a presence at the Williams' house, and the Hewlett house down the road," Graves said.

For more Old Bethpage ghost stories, visit Long Island Oddities.

Head work

One of the stranger relics at Old Bethpage
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

One of the stranger relics at Old Bethpage is this numbered bust of a human head, which served as a tool of early 19th century pseudoscience. At that time, many doctors practiced phrenology -- studying the bumps on the human head to determine psychological traits and personality.

Presidential preference

Luyster's General Store was originally located in East
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Luyster's General Store was originally located in East Norwich during the 1800s, and was often frequented by President Theodore Roosevelt, who lived nearby at his Sagamore Hill estate. According to Haglich, Roosevelt even visited the store, which sold hardware at the time, during his presidency.

Living history

The staff at Old Bethpage is largely made
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

The staff at Old Bethpage is largely made up of volunteers who become a piece of living history by wearing traditional period clothing and immersing themselves in the lifestyle and culture of the times.

Volunteers at Old Bethpage are encouraged to learn trades that were embraced during the post-Revolutionary War era. The restoration offers training in leatherworking, broom weaving, clay work, blacksmithing and doll weaving, just to name a few. Volunteers ages 14 and up are welcome to sign up to volunteer.

Seen above are supervisor Timothy Van Wickler and volunteer Katie Haglich.

Under heat

According to supervisor Timothy Van Wickler, learning an
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

According to supervisor Timothy Van Wickler, learning an old-time trade is just like riding a bike.

"When you first pick up a new trade, it's really hard at first," he said. "You just have to practice, and with time, it just becomes natural."

Blacksmithing though, is definitely the hardest to master, Van Wickler admitted later.

Seen here is volunteer Fred Anderson of Hicksville working on a piece of leather and Ross Jones, 17, of Bellmore, who has been blacksmithing at Old Bethpage since he was 14.

Labors of love

Not only do volunteers at Old Bethpage make
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Not only do volunteers at Old Bethpage make their own goods, but they're also up for sale. Visitors can purchase handmade dolls, leather wallets and other items made there.

According to Van Wickler, the handmade yarn dolls, like the one shown above, are the Restoration's most popular keepsake. But he also recommends the root beer and pretzels if you're looking for a snack.

Catch the bus

This horse-drawn omnibus is a relic dating back
Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

This horse-drawn omnibus is a relic dating back to 1871, where it was used to cart passengers around New York City. It now resides on the grounds at Old Bethpage, but actually seeing it is tricky -- it's only on display to the public once a year.

You can only catch this bus during the Long Island Fair, typically held at the beginning of Fall. But why? According to museum manager Gary Haglich, the bus is kept in a barn on-site to protect it from damaging wind and rain.

"It's really heavy," Haglich added. "It usually takes a few of us to move it when we take it out. We become the horses then."

The Long Island Fair

Old Bethpage's Exhibition Hall dates back to the
Photo Credit: Old Bethpage Village Restoration/Amy Onorato

Old Bethpage's Exhibition Hall dates back to the mid-1800s, and was the central gathering place for the Long Island Fair, a 173-year-old celebration for local farmers and craftsmen. The hall originally stood in Mineola and was completely restored as part of the village restoration.

The Exhibition Hall is still the home of the Long Island Fair, which will be held on Sept. 25-27 and Oct. 2-4 this year. It's also known to host weddings, receptions and other large parties that can be booked in advance.

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