A team with an “odd” mission


Most people came to Montauk late last month to celebrate a belated St. Patrick’s Day and watch the annual parade.

The Long Island Oddities Historic Investigation Team, meanwhile, spent Sunday, March 30, hiking winding trails, visiting early native settlements and long abandoned military ruins, searching for remnants of bygone eras and lives long forgotten.

Founded through the regional website, Long Island Oddities—a cult favorite about the hidden history and lost relics of Long Island, as well as the weird and otherworldly—investigative team members have met biweekly since January to explore historic sites.

Based in western Suffolk County and beyond, the Long Island Oddities Historic Investigation Team, or HIT, has documented defunct highways in Bethpage and Ronkonkoma, a forgotten tunnel in Brooklyn and crumbling mansions along Nassau County’s Gold Coast, but the Montauk trip was the team’s first on the East End.

As Main Street prepared for its annual St. Paddy’s festivities and revelers began to gather on the sidewalk, five of the group’s eight regular members met for breakfast at John’s Pancake House. John Leita, the editor and creator of Long Island Oddities, and four friends and denizens of his web forums—Rich Vallance, Kristina Kortzke, Allan Caporuscio and Larry Schulz, the last of whom is affectionately called “Doc”—shared the morning meal and prepared for the day ahead.

HIT’s Montauk itinerary included the legendary and abandoned Camp Hero former Air Force facility, defunct World War II bunkers at Shadmoor, the Montauk Lighthouse, the remnants of a Montaukett Indian village and the burial ground where Montaukett Stephen “Talkhouse” Pharaoh was laid to rest more than a century ago.

Members work together to plan their trips, but Mr. Leita directed the team during its recent visit. He first brought them to Shadmoor State Park, the site of the open terrain where Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were quarantined after the Spanish American War. The five HIT members wore substantial cameras around their necks and snapped photos as they hiked along the bushy path, eventually coming upon imposing concrete observation bunkers that overlook the shore.

“This is our sixth mission,” Mr. Schulz said during the walk. Theodore Roosevelt County Park and Shadmoor held significance for him, he said, because his grandfather, Corporal Theodore E. Schulz, was a Rough Rider. Mr. Schulz brandished a worn paperback copy of “Rough Riders” by Teddy Roosevelt, which names his grandfather in the index. “It’s all in the family,” he quipped.

Mr. Leita said members of the investigative team feel a deep connection with Long Island and its history. “We go out every other Sunday, but there’s a lot we do in between,” he said, explaining that the team works on all facets of research before and after an outing. Using the slogan “History Cannot Hide,” HIT members visit historic archives and review maps to uncover forgotten places and stories. They post information and photos on the internet and each person has a specialty, Mr. Leita said.

Ms. Kortzke searches out new sites to visit, Mr. Vallance has a knack for research and Mr. Schulz, a freelance photographer, revisits destinations alone to take pictures and find things the group might have missed. Mr. Caporuscio is currently mapping and uncovering the remains of the Long Island Motor Parkway, built 1906-1908; only a remnant of it survives in use as Suffolk County Road 67. “I have this strange fascination with it,” he said, noting that he’s found ruins of a bridge, highway markers and actual chunks of the old thoroughfare in Bethpage.

Long Island Oddities features a strong community of “Urban Explorers,” who often trespass in abandoned buildings to satisfy curiosity, find adventure and examine history up close. Mr. Leita is passionate about “UE” and well known in its circles, but he created HIT to uncover the past legitimately, rather than sneaking through defunct psych wards and industrial leftovers. The broken and derelict structures the team visits typically retain the spirit of UE, but the approach is different. For example, the team is applying to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to gain permission for an upcoming outing in a restricted area.

Because of its massive radar tower and numerous bunkers and dwellings—as well as a rumored history of time travel experiments and all manner of conspiracy and cover up—the abandoned Camp Hero military base in Montauk is a favorite destination for urban explorers on Long Island. Shortly after arriving there last month, Mr. Leita and his cohorts found themselves standing before a hole in the fence, discussing illegally entering the radar tower.

After some deliberation and recalling their original goals, they resisted slipping through the fence and climbing inside the dark structure, instead opting to take photos of the old buildings and artifacts outside.

The team wound down with a stop at the Montauk Lighthouse around 4 p.m. They snapped photos and seemed at ease, satisfied with the day’s coverage. The downtown parade by then over, other visitors meandered about, enjoying the view.

Talk turned to team members perhaps visiting Sag Harbor next time they come east.

Mr. Leita said a member would post the photographs and an overview of Sunday’s mission on his website. Over the next two weeks, HIT continued to look at what was found in Montauk and began researching and planning the next mission. For that venture, team members planned to stay a bit closer to home and visit the Yaphank Historic District, Blydenburgh County Park and Connetquot River State Park.

To catch up with HIT and Long Island Oddities, go to LIoddities.com.

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