Long Island Good Hearted Thespian Society
As of July 12, we are living with my parents in my hometown of Freeport, New York. (Our plan is to lounge here until we relocate to Pittsburgh in mid-August for a Warhol Curatorial Fellowship I was awarded at Carnegie Mellon University.) I was raised in Freeport, but I know surprisingly little about its history. I see this vacation as an opportunity to bone-up on all things Long Island, especially nautical history.
Growing up, I had heard tales of Freeport’s many famous thespians who took up waterfront residence here in the early part of the 20th Century. My parent’s house (the former “Windmill Inn”) was host to vaudeville era performers and operated as a speakeasy during prohibition. On a recent visit to my brother’s house (also in Freeport), I was delighted to find a newly minted historic plaque in the front yard, indicating my brother’s residence is built on the site of the L.I.G.H.T.S. Club (Long Island Good Hearted Thespian Society), whose members included Al Jolson, Victor Moore, Will Rogers, and John Philip Sousa. The Freeport Historical Museum has photos of the club in action, and I plan to make a visit there this Sunday (they’re only open one day per week).
One of the traditional Lights Club functions was the celebration of Christmas on the Fourth of July. Most of the vaudeville actors spent their Christmas days on trains, in dingy dressing rooms or in drab hotels. On July Fourth, though the temperature be in the 90s, the Lights’ Christmas tree was decorated and lighted, Santa Claus was dressed in his heavy suit with ermine trimmings, presents were placed under the tree and the members and their children arrived in their furs, mittens and earlaps, some even clattering into the club on snowshoes.
- Fred Allen, “Much Ado About Me,” 1956