The removal of the scaffolds Wednesday served as an impromptu,...

The removal of the scaffolds Wednesday served as an impromptu, unofficial unveiling of the restored iconic Stony Brook eagle. Credit: Ward Melville Heritage Organization

The Stony Brook eagle is flapping its mechanical wings again. 

The ersatz raptor — which has adorned the facade of the hamlet's post office since 1941 — became visible to the public again Wednesday, just before Memorial Day, when scaffolding was removed following repairs to its wings and talons. The wings had been taken out of operation for nearly two months.

Now the big bird's wings are free to move again, once an hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

"It's a landmark," said Olivia Fischer, of Head of the Harbor, who with her husband, Harlan Fischer, helped raise money for the restoration. "Everyone knows the eagle."

Officials of the Stony Brook Village Center, the shopping mall in which the post office is located, became alarmed last year as the hand-carved wooden eagle and its 20-foot wingspan showed signs of deterioration.

Employees and shoppers sometimes found pieces of the carving in the parking area, including the heads of arrows the eagle carries in its talons. Residents sometimes reported the wings didn't flap on time.

The nonprofit Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which owns and operates the mall, raised $85,000 to repair the bird, including a $35,000 grant from the state Dormitory Authority and about $50,000 in donations.

Donors and local officials outside the Stony Brook post office...

Donors and local officials outside the Stony Brook post office on Wednesday when workers began dismantling the scaffolding after repairs to the eagle were completed. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The eagle was the brainchild of developer and philanthropist Ward Melville, who unveiled the sculpture when the mall was dedicated on July 4, 1941. Ward Melville officials believe the automated eagle is the only one of its kind.

"People come from all over the world" to see it, Ward Melville president Gloria Rocchio said, adding children were said to have cried if the eagle's wings didn't flap on schedule.

Tim Henry and Carl Reinke, co-owners of Henry Restoration in Nesconset, began fixing the eagle in early April and completed the job in seven weeks, they said.

"Luckily, it was in better shape than we thought," Henry said.

The mechanical eagle during its restoration project. 

The mechanical eagle during its restoration project.  Credit: Ward Melville Heritage Organization

The worst damage was to the eagle's extremities, including its talons and beak, and to the arrows, the co-owners said. The blue ribbon and 14 stars mounted beneath the eagle also were worn from eight decades of wind, rain and other corrosive weather, they said.

"The top of the ribbon was all rotted away," Reinke said.

Henry and Reinke, and Henry's son, Shane Henry, working with a three- to six-person crew, repainted the entire facade, including the eagle and the ribbon. The original stars, made from Masonite, which is essentially compressed sawdust, were replaced with new ones composed of sturdier mahogany, they said.

Now the eagle just needs to be repainted every seven to 10 years, they said.

They also discovered the flapping mechanism — built 83 years ago using automobile parts and other spare equipment — was working just fine and did not require any fine-tuning.

Ward Melville officials now believe people who reported the wings didn't flap were just impatient — adding that the wings are timed to move three minutes past the top of the hour, so that latecomers don't miss the show.

The removal of the scaffolds Wednesday served as an impromptu, unofficial unveiling of the restored eagle.

Residents and Ward Melville officials gazed at the facade, tilting their heads back and squinting through the afternoon sun to get a better look.

Jeannie Ringwald Watson, 65, of Smithtown, whose grandfather Wilhelm Ringwald helped carve the bird in 1941, said her grandfather would be "very pleased" with the work.

"I don't know about symbolism," she said, when asked whether the eagle's rebirth bore any larger meaning. "But I know it brings people together. For this little village, it's their eagle."

Stony Brook's iconic eagle

  • An $85,000 effort was completed Wednesday to restore the mechanical eagle on the facade of the Stony Brook post office.
  • The eagle's talons and arrows had rotted from more than eight decades of weather, and pieces of the hard-carved sculpture had fallen into the parking area below.
  • The eagle's wings flap once an hour — three minutes past the top of the hour — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
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