Speak, Memory: Voices of the Past Echo at Library

Carrie Milliken de Graff’s note on the back of her husand’s calling card identifies the Tiffany’s clock as a wedding gift from her father.

The Long Island Collection at the East Hampton Library is a repository of some 100,000 historical treasures, including a cloth of gold once owned by Captain Kidd. Each year, Gina Piastuck, the librarian in charge, inventories the new acquisitions, recording what is known of their origin and deciding whether to add them to the 4,735 that can be seen online.

During a reporter’s recent visit to the Long Island Room at the library, Ms. Piastuck described four noteworthy recent acquisitions: a letter dated July 8, 1840, from the Rev. Robert D. Gardner about the death of his young wife a couple of weeks after giving birth; a calling card that explains the origin of the library’s colonial-revival mahogany clock; letters dating to the late 19th century from a husband to a wife who was living with their children in the East Hampton summer colony while he was elsewhere at work; an album of photographs showing East End Coast Guard stations after the 1938 Hurricane and during World War II, and three mid-1850s ledgers from a Sag Harbor store. Each one tells a story.

The letter from the Rev. Robert D. Gardner, which was sent to his brother Nicholas G. Gardner, was written after Phebe Miller Gardner died before her 25th birthday. Mr. Gardner had come from Connecticut to teach at Clinton Academy in East Hampton; Phebe was one of his older students.

In the letter, he says he had last written to tell his brother of the birth of their son but now had to “tell a tale of mourning. . . . My dear Phebe lives no more on earth. She was all to me that human being could be to another, and a dear object to her parents’ hearts, but all ties are sundered, and she is summoned, as I trust, to her everlasting rest.”

Documents in the library note that she was buried at the South End Burying Ground in East Hampton Village. Their son, Sam­u­el M. Gardner, grew up here, married Mary Frances Osborn, and moved to Connecticut. They had two sons, one of whom moved back to East Hampton, where he and his wife lived in an Osborn house on Main Street. Details like this provide families with information they may not otherwise know.

Something of a mystery surrounded the mahogany colonial-revival clock just outside the door into the Long Island Room, where Ms. Piastuck keeps watch. The memory of where it had come from had been relegated to files. One day not too long ago, Dennis Fabiszak, the library director, decided he wanted to hear the clock chime and asked Sheila Rogers, the president of the library’s board of managers, about it. She, in turn, called Stan Bitterman, an East Hampton expert on old clocks.

 It was Mr. Bitterman who solved the mystery. While cleaning and repairing the tall case clock he found a calling card inside it. The front of the card reads “Mr. James W. De Graff,” with an “s” inserted by hand after “Mr.” The back of the card reads: “My father’s wedding present to me in 1890 from Tiffany’s.”

Mrs. de Graff was the daughter of Samuel and Hettie Milliken of Brooklyn. Her daughter with James de Graff, Eleanor de Graff Carr, donated the clock, attributed to J.J. Elliott, to the library in the mid-1950s. They had been summer residents here, of Apaquogue Road and then Egypt Lane.

And Mr. Fabiszak got his wish: The clock chimes. Three heavy weights are for a quarter-hour chime, a half-hour and hour chime, and one runs the clock.

Every four days Mr. Fabiszak cranks the weights back up and adjusts the time since the clock seems to gain a minute every two days.

Late-19th-century photographs and five letters, dated June 25, 1891, through Sept. 3, 1891, were from Henry B. Wilson to his wife, Grace B.W. Wilson, who was looking after their two children at the James S. Satterthwaite house on Ocean Avenue in East Hampton. Mr. Wilson was a silent partner in Dexter, Lambert & Company of Paterson, N.J., a silk manufacturer. A descendant donated the letters and photographs.

The album of 20th-century black-and-white Coast Guard photographs are of the stations at Westhampton Beach, Quogue, and East Moriches, taken at a time when surfmen patrolled the beaches. A Coast Guardsman assigned to the Moriches Station created the album.

Finally, the three large ledgers were kept in the mid-1850s by H.L. Topping General Merchandise, a sort of one-stop shop in Sag Harbor. They recorded what was sold, what business, institutional, and personal clients had bought, and offer the names of hundreds of customers. Surely someone in Sag Harbor today would enjoy visiting Ms. Piastuck in the Long Island Room and taking some time to ferret out recognizable names of people living in Sag Harbor today.