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Winter Dreams: Respite From The Snow

At the same time Monica Randall was setting up the slides for her speech on Winter Dreams, on Sunday, March 2, there was real winter action at the Theodore Roosevelt Beach. To celebrate the 10th annual UCPN Polar Bear Plunge, Atlantic Steamer Fire Company ex-chief Frank Ozol and Jack Sullivan, event co-chairs dipped into the water wearing tuxedos.

Inside the warm and cozy Koenig Center of the Oyster Bay Historical Society, listeners learned about winters 100 years ago. Monica Randall introduced her talk on Winter Dreams with a quote from one of the listeners. “Of snow, the gentleman said, ‘I don’t want to see another snowflake.’”

“People are getting depressed with all the snowfall recently, but, they are not doing stuff like this,” she commented as she showed slides of the magic and enchantment of the winter season as it was celebrated during the last century. The Victorians regarded winter as a time for gala ice skating parties, winter carnivals and horse drawn sleigh rides.

Her program also featured her personal dreams of the Gold Coast era, garlanded in snow as she took “selfies” at Chelsea in Muttontown; at Old Westbury Gardens and at Lake Mahopac’s Hotel on the Mountain.

Costume Collection

Randall recently loaned many items from her collection of antique clothing, including winter furs, for an exhibit at the North Shore Historical Society building in Glen Cove: the old Courthouse. Clothes she rescued from oblivion.

She said in the 1950s and 60s, she and her little sister visited Gold Coast estates as they were being demolished. Once they saw the bulldozers shut down at 5 p.m. they knew they could freely explore the mansions. In the third floor of the houses they discovered steamer trunks with old gowns in them, and dresses that cost thousands, such as ones made by famous designer Charles Worth of Paris.

“We found three metal steamer trunks with winter clothes. It was like discovering King Tut’s Tomb. There were unusual furs like moose, Russian sable, ermine and Chinchilla.” The sisters “rescued” the clothing with the goal of starting a museum.

Randall showed a slide of a skating party in Central Park, and added that Louis Comfort Tiffany was known for having a skating rink on his estate in Laurel Hollow, where his friends wore costumes for parties.

She explained that for his skating parties Tiffany brought the New York Philharmonic Symphony to play Straus waltzes as women wearing hoop skirts ice skated. There was a hot air balloon from which “Old Man Winter wearing a crown with crystals, tossed snow balls down at the guests. That’s imagination,” she said.

She showed a slide of a young girl wearing an ermine hat and coat and explained that the $400 outfit was really for showing off by taking a studio photograph.

Gold Coast residents went snowshoeing in Westbury; they took their horses out in the snow for fox hunting; and in Suffolk County they “poured water on a hill to create an iced-over toboggan run for sleds.” She had a slide of ice tennis but she doubted it was a true event.

Push Sled

Randall discovered a push-sled in an outbuilding at Mal Maison on Cedar Swamp Road that she used to stage a skating party with friends that she photographed.

Another slide was of ice palaces created in Montreal in 1898. She pointed to a metal saw on the wall of the Koenig Center, part of their exhibit Snow Day In Oyster Bay, saying that it was the kind used to cut out blocks of ice to build the houses.

Creative Photography

The costumes Randall has rescued have not been left in their trunks. Dressed in a red silk opera cape she took photographs of herself at Westbury Gardens and later in another costume at Lake Mahopac’s Mohonk Mountain House. There they have horse drawn carriages and an ice sleigh that are available for guests to use she said.

Randall is the author of three books, including The Mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast: Revised and Expanded. The hardcover is currently selling on Amazon for $373.14. She also authored Winfield: Living in the Shadow of the Woodworths; and Phantoms of the Hudson Valley: The Glorious Estates of a Lost Era.

Philip Blocklyn, OBHS executive director, who previously was a bookseller of old and rare books said, “Her Mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast was out of print, and whenever I got a copy, it was bought right away. It was hard to find and someone recently paid $100 for a copy.”

For more information on the OBHS events please call 516-922-5032 or visit them on the web at oysterbayhistorical.org.