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History sets sail at local library

John Wahlberg, a member of the Long Island

John Wahlberg, a member of the Long Island Maritime Museum board of trustees and Fred J. Cupolo talk about the large wooden schooner models that Cupolo restored. (June 25, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

High above the first-floor stacks at Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library, a pair of 10-foot-long model boats appear to be breaking from their moorings, as they would have more than a century ago on the Great South Bay.

Held aloft by long planks jutting from the walls, the 1850s-era models, which were loaned to the library by the Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville and restored in the past two years, went on display earlier this month.

"We're trying to emphasize our heritage," said Eileen Kavanaugh, director of the library. "These days, people have less sense of place. Everything is the same. We are a Bay Shore community on the shore of the Great South Bay. That's why people settled here to begin with -- to fish, to boat, to visit seaside hotels."

The boats were donated to the West Sayville museum in recent years, but without space to display them, the badly damaged crafts languished in storage. Kavanaugh approached the museum about displaying some of its jewels soon after the library underwent an expansive renovation in 2008.

Stephen Jones, museum director, OK'd the permanent loan to the library; and John Wahlberg, a member of the museum's executive board, helped facilitate the work on the boats.

The model schooners, which were meticulously restored by part-time museum worker Fred Cupolo, show attention to detail: the rudders work, masts lower and rise, and Flemish coils dot the decks.

Not much is known about the model-makers nor the original vessels, said to be built circa-1850. The Eagle -- the larger of the two -- was originally built in Maine. Its replica spent years displayed at a now-shuttered restaurant in Port Jefferson, according to museum officials. It was on its last legs when it was donated to the museum, after someone ran it over with a car, crushing the hull and ripping apart the rigging.

The original Lewis A. King ran aground in an 1885 accident in Montauk.

"They're magnificent crafts," said Cupolo, a semiretired Islip resident, who used tweezers and a needle and thread to do the majority of his work. "Both of them are top-scale schooners. The rigging is just magnificent, the design work -- great craftsmen built these boats. They're humbling."

Mark Kenedy, a retiree from Brightwaters stopped to admire the boats as he perused the shelves at the library on a recent weekday morning.

"They just look great in this atmosphere," said Kenedy, 67. "They're really a piece of history."

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