The story of a death threat hanging outside the justice of the peace’s home on Main Street in Amagansett around the turn of the 20th century, is cause for a haunting, according to Scott Bluedorn, the owner and director of Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett. For Halloween this week, Mr. Bluedorn’s gallery will transform into a haunted house based on the account from 1906.
Benjamin Barnes, who served as the justice of the peace in Amagansett back then and owned and lived at the Shady Cottage boardinghouse—now Neoteric Fine Art—was targeted for prosecuting those who violated the town’s excise laws on liquor. Those whom he angered by enforcing the law were angry enough to threaten his life. The single poster, hung just outside his home, was simple: a black handprint, then known at the time as a common threat of death, was pictured along with the words, “We will do the rest.”
A New York Times article Dated May 9, 1906 said that a “large reward” was offered for the arrest of the men who had been threatening the life of Mr. Barnes, who has “aroused the resentment” of the liquor dealers who weren’t playing by the rules.
Shady Cottage used to play host to well-off boarders and visitors from Manhattan during summers who were largely against the sale of alcohol at that point in time, despite the country not yet hitting Prohibition, according to the Times article.
“The members of the Summer colony have been the strongest opponents of the liquor traffic here, and through Mr. Barnes have been waging relentless warfare against violators of the excise law.”
Mr. Bluedorn, inspired by the true story, said his idea to turn his art gallery—Mr. Barnes’s former home—into a haunted house has been in the back of his mind since he first heard the story from East Hampton Historian Hugh King, who had been leading a tour group past the gallery.
Although the haunted house will be based on the conflict between the alcohol traffickers and the law, Mr. Bluedorn is taking a little artistic license with it—as if the justice was murdered in cold blood in his own home by an unknown assailant.
“Shady Cottage is an awesome name for a haunted house,” he said, explaining that he decided to do a sort of mystery theater in the form of a haunted house. “People will be wandering through the house like a maze and will meet and interact with characters … include infamous Amagansett residents like Stephen Talkhouse, Captain John Edwards and other period people. This will continue to draw people into Amagansett history by bringing it into a contemporary setting and celebrating it.”
Shady Cottage opens on Thursday, Halloween night, at 7 p.m. and again on Friday at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 and all ages are welcome. Costumes are encouraged.