Widgets Magazine

The East End Seaport Museum's Arlene Klein on the Maritime Festival, Greenport and Boating

In honor of the Maritime Festival this weekend, we are re-running this interview from February. Q: What is the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation? 

A: The East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation started initially through the combination of two other organizations a few decades ago.

Our mission is to preserve, restore and keep alive the maritime history of Greenport and the East End. Nautical related activities have always been an important industry within the Village, and we want to help perpetuate that climate. Oystering and scalloping are thriving, and so is wooden boat building.

We take great pride in running the Seaport’s educational programs for children and adults, tours to Long Island Sound lighthouses as well as our own “Bug Light.” The EESM maintains a lovely museum crammed with interesting artifacts and a blacksmith shop located in Mitchell Park. Our past history is the road to our future.

Twenty-five years ago the museum rebuilt Bug Light, the Long Beach Bar lighthouse. On July 4, 1963, arsonist destroyed the original structure which had been erected in 1870. We own and maintain it, but it’s a recognized navigational aid and the Coast Guard inspects it yearly.

Q: What’s your connection to the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation? How did you get involved?

A: I’m Vice-Chairwoman of the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation and have the distinct pleasure of Chairing the Maritime Festival for 2015.

I became involved with the EESM three or four years ago; I was brought up in a boating family, and educated as a teacher so when we moved to Greenport, it was just a natural pull to get involved and start volunteering. The Seaport Museum was a comfortable fit. I had some ideas, presented them, and they were taken seriously.

I found myself at the next maritime festival coordinating the Information Booths, and just got more and more involved. I was invited to be on the Board as Secretary and now I’m Vice-Chair. Last year I co-chaired the festival, and this year I’m chairing the whole thing.

Q: When and what is the Maritime Festival?

A: The Maritime Festival is one of our biggest fundraisers, and this year will be held September 25, 26 and 27. It starts off Friday night with the Land and Sea Gala, a wonderful cocktail party. Last year’s was great—Mary Herrick, Sarah Phillips and others put in so much work. And it showed. Our hats are off in appreciation to all the restaurants, vineyards, breweries, merchants and sponsors who donated their edibles, goods and time.

I have a feeling this year’s Land & Sea Gala will be even better! 2014 was the festival’s 25th anniversary and also the 25th year of Bug Light’s resurrection, so the Maritime parade started by cutting a silver ribbon.

Q: Has the Maritime Festival changed much over the years?

A: Yes; at one point it had become relatively generic, with vendors featuring the same merchandise sold at street fairs everywhere. More recently our philosophy has been to bring the festival back to all the people of Greenport while acknowledging our nautical history.

We have activities that key into that, such as boat tours and sailaways, displays of classic and modern vessels and even a 100 year old ice boat. Otto Schoenstein, last year’s Grand Marshall, organizes a great kayak race every year. A team of two start with a pile of parts Otto has crafted, assemble the kayaks, then race them out and back, tag their partner, change paddlers and race out again. The derby ends with a free-for–all as the contestants attempt to sink their opponents and their kayaks.

Last year I brought in Dr. Mike Slade, a master craftsman, to demonstrate model ship building and repairing. I also produced a movie about Otto (made by Marla Milne and Tony Bettler) that was shown at the Greenport Theater during the Festival.

SPAT does a touch tank of local marine life that the kids love, and Lynn Summers runs Captain Kidd’s Craft Alley. We have a snapper fishing contest, and an Oyster Shucking contest—Ian Wile of Little Creek Oysters ran that. The historic fireboat docked in Greenport was open for tours and put on a water canon demonstration. FlyBoardLI did maneuvers in the harbor which the crowd loved. We were also visited by the Mystic Whaler who took passengers out for a scenic cruise.

Q: Wow, that sounds like a packed festival—but you said something about a parade too, right?

A: Yes. The 45 minute long parade along Front and Main Street is always held Saturday morning. Among those participating last year were classic cars, Greenport School’s band, ROTC, penny-farthing bicyclists, a unicyclist, the fire department, twirlers, dance troupes, costumed jailbirds, boats on trailers, and a float with assorted Merfolk. The Merfolk contest started out as a children’s event but now adults are encouraged to join in.

Sunday morning we had a fund raiser character breakfast with pirates and mermaids hosted by Front Street Station’s Paul Drum, who was selected honorary mayor for the day. This “fun” raiser helps support The Paul Drum Nautical Educational Fund dedicated to teaching kids respect, safety and enjoyment of our surrounding waters.

Of course there’s lots and lots of food, entertainment; wine and beer tastings with almost every one of our local restaurants participating. And so many vendors! We try to get artisanal vendors, not just importers/resellers. We have live music of all every ilk playing throughout the village and fun activities for the kids.

And then there’s the raffles. The EESM has its own 50-50 raffle, and the East End hospital has its Dream Green. The Camera Obscura, in Mitchell Park, is open for visits as is the Old Jail and Greenport’s Carousel.

This year we’ll hopefully remedy some past parking problems. We’ve got lots more ideas in the works with a great deal of planning still to be done. But we have super volunteers that help get those plans up and running.

Q: Sounds like a really fun, interesting time. I’ve marked my calendar for that last weekend in September. Tell me about the museum itself; what can visitors expect?

A: The museum itself is housed in an old Long Island Railroad Station next to the Shelter Island ferry dock. There is a minor charge for general admission and it is free for members. We have permanent displays supplemented by changing shows.

There is an 800 gallon salt water tank filled with local animals from the Peconic Bay. At the end of the season we return them to the sea—we haven’t lost one yet.

There is a small gift shop with some really lovely, interesting items, discounted for Seaport members.

In addition to the museum and “Bug Light”, we have a blacksmith shop. We own and run it, and John Folk, our blacksmith, does weekend demonstrations during the season. Otto reconstructed an old, donated potato barn into the blacksmith shop and had it moved to its present location in Mitchell Park.

Q: The Museum hosts lighthouse tours too, right?

A: We run a full schedule of lighthouse cruises, including ones to Bug Light. Trips to Bug Light include the tale of its ghost narrated by Bob Allen, the last lighthouse keeper’s great grandson. Others cruises involve several lighthouses in and around Long Island Sound. The day long Super Cruise, held on a donated luxurious Cross Sound Ferry boat, covers the lighthouses in three states. We also run tours to Plum Island, free for EESM’s new members.

Last year we had a Halloween party at the museum followed by a tour of Bug Light. We decorated the museum and lighthouse, had face painters, games and refreshments. The kids all got to take home pumpkins and jam-packed goodie bags. This year we’ll do it again, and maybe add a Halloween cruise for grownups.

Q: That’s a pretty full slate of events; do you have anything else scheduled?

A: Yes. We’re working on a lecture series for adults. For example, we’re hoping the Custer institute will develop one about celestial navigation. There are so many interesting, very knowledgeable people living here and we would like to get them involved. The people I’ve been working with have been generous with their time, spirit and knowledge, and they roll up their sleeves and share.

Our chairman, Ron Breuer, is tireless. As their terms come to completion, Trustees must step down and new people are asked to join. This year we’ve added six people from the community—Sarah Phillips, Ian Wile, Morgant Fiedler, Dave Abatelli, Wayne Sailor and David Gillispie. The other Board members are Lynn Summers, Mary Herrick, Robert Christiansen, Dan Creedon, Jeff Goubeaud, Bob Jester, Linda Kessler, Tracey Orlando and Kenny White. All have deep connections to the East End. Their bios are on our website.

Q: How did you come to Greenport?

A: Power boating was our family’s hobby and passion. When my father purchased his first boat I was very little. The story goes that he brought me down and measured me against the gunwale to make sure I wouldn’t fall overboard!

We did a lot of traveling on the boat during the summers. One of the ports of call was Greenport. In the mid-60s my parents and a group of their friends kept their boats in the Stirling Harbor Marina. By then I was married and having children of my own, so we came out to visit them quite frequently.

My son’s first pair of sneakers were purchased in Greenport at Brandi’s. I’ll never forget the image of seeing him walking down the dock, holding his grandpa and dad’s hands, proudly kicking his little blue sneakers in front of him.

Eventually my parents sold their home in Woodmere and bought a house out here in 1985. Unfortunately my father passed away a year later, but my mother stayed on.

My kids were older, and we came out all the time on our own boat, berthing at my mother’s dock. After she passed we bought the house from the estate. When my husband retired we moved to Greenport full time.

Q: And that was that?

A: Mostly. After a few years of retirement my husband. Artie, threw up his hands, said there was nothing left to repair and decided to find a local job. He has been the parts manager for Port of Egypt Marina for the past 2 ½ years.

So I said ‘my playmate’s gone to play elsewhere, now what I do?’ That’s when I started to redouble my volunteering. In addition to my position as Vice- Chairwoman of the East End Seaport, I’m on the Greenport Carousel Committee and a Director of the Gull Pond Yacht Club. I love the East End; the setting, the atmosphere and its wonderful, low key, interesting and caring people.

(Arlene is pictured front and center, next to her husband with her youngest grandchild on her lap.)