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Long Island’s Secret History

Hidden in plain sight, from abandoned asylums to Einstein's couch

“This man was a genius. He worked on Long Island,” says Morano. “How could we destroy something like this? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

It was here that Tesla built an early wireless telecommunications tower intended for commercial trans-Atlantic broadcasting. The facility was never fully operational.

Burr cemetery


“You can tell it’s a mad scientist’s laboratory,” says Leita. “Old incandescent bulbs—you almost feel you would run into Tesla himself in there.”

Tesla’s lab is overgrown and there are beer cans in the brush. Leita, who follows two rules when urban exploring—don’t steal and don’t vandalize—is against people carelessly loitering in these places without respecting the history in their presence.

“You don’t feel like you’re in a sacred museum when beer cans are on the floor,” he says. “Some people don’t seem to understand that they are ruining it for everyone else who goes there after them.”

After all, urban explorers aren’t out to destroy, they want to capture lost moments in time. After finding old files in one asylum, Leita spent hours reading a patient’s history.

“This book would tell you what they had in their pocket when they were 17 and admitted, if they got into a fight, medical records, money orders,” he says. “As you turned the page you were seeing how they aged chronologically.”

Some of the pages had money orders attached and handwritten notes from family members during the Depression, some apologizing for not having enough money to send, but promising they would next time.

The last page was an autopsy report.

“I actually cried reading that,” says Leita. “I felt like I knew [the patient].”

Leita looks out the door. There are no security cars waiting at the exit, as there often are. Not this time anyway.

On the road ahead, a family of four passes by in a silver car, two kids laughing in the back seat. They are probably on their way to a movie, or maybe the mall, on this cold, windy day. None of them look at the hollow windows of the old hospital towering above them in the woods.

After all, it is just an old building.

MIDGETVILLE – OAKDALE Just past the gates of Dowling College, lies the so-called Midgetville. Contrary to folklore, this isn’t a community for little people. But its history is perhaps even more interesting. The legendary small houses were once the chicken coops and farm buildings of the Vanderbilt Mansion, and later, it was converted to an artist community.

BEACON TOWERS – SANDS POINT Medieval towers, part of a replica of an Irish castle constructed by August Belmont on the coastline, are all that are left of this castle by the sea that played host to parties attended by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Beacon Towers is believed to be the inspiration for Gatsby’s mansion in The Great Gatsby.

MARCONI’S RADIO STATION – ROCKY POINT Gugliemo Marconi’s 1902 wireless station and training school operated in Babylon for five years. Ownership was officially given to the Rocky Point School District in 1969. It now sits on the front lawn of Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School in Rocky Point.

Tiny Town

KNOLLWOOD ESTATE – MUTTONTOWN This Gold Coast-era estate built for Wall Street mogul Charles Hudson was demolished in 1959, but its massive stone gates and stairs still sit in the woods of the Muttontown Preserve. The former King of Albania, King Zog, fled his native land with national treasure before WWII. He bought the 60-room estate in 1951, but never moved in, and rumors of hidden treasures in the walls spread.

GHOST FOREST – FLANDERS BAY On the southern shore of Flanders Bay sits a forest of trees, cut down to their roots by erosion and salty tides. The trees have been dead for thousands of years. Back then, sea level was lower than it is today and the beach was hundreds of feet away.

MEUDON – LATTINGTOWN A grand replica of Meudon Palace in France built for Rockefeller lawyer William Guthrie, this massive stone mansion once sat atop terraced hills overlooking the Long Island Sound. At the top of the hill still sits a partial façade with Tuscan columns, iron fences and turrets scattered in the woods.

AUGUST BELMONT MANSION – BABYLON Two rows of pine trees forming a line down the center median of the Southern State Parkway mark the one-time approach to August Belmont’s mansion. The wealthy banker threw lavish parties here at the turn of the century and is believed to be the inspiration behind the character Julius Beaufort in Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.

STAGECOACH TRAIL – STONY BROOK Not far from the traffic of Route 25A lies the original path of North Country Road, laid out in the early 1700s on an Indian trail that runs through property at SUNY Stony Brook. It was one of three main roads that crossed LI.

BURR CEMETERY – COMMACK The Burr family arrived from England in 1630, where they purchased 166 acres of land and became prominent Long Islanders. The Burr family farm once stood near the intersection of Larkfield Road and Jericho Turnpike, where the family also established a cemetery, which now lies just outside the doors of Home Depot.

SUNKEN FOREST – FIRE ISLAND One of the few maritime forests left on the eastern seaboard, the 40-acre Sunken Forest is the oldest continuously growing forest on Long Island. Its trees have been twisted by the salty air and appear lower than the surrounding water. The forest is not actually below sea level; the high surrounding sand dunes create the illusion. Miles of boardwalks wind through the trees which are estimated to be more than 200 years old.

TINY TOWN – MERRICK Nestled in a corner of North Merrick is a circular neighborhood so small that it is commonly referred to as Tiny Town. Originally a campground for Methodists in the mid-1800s, the area is now one of the only standing representations of the history of religious communities on Long Island. Cottages are as small as 12 feet wide and 60 feet deep, with 2-foot-high railings and 2-foot wide hallways, giving them the appearance of doll houses.

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