What do Salem, Massachusetts and East Hampton, New York have in common? Aside from being home to some picturesque views, both served as settings to the witch trials of the 17th century. Perhaps more shocking, the East Hampton Witch Trial of 1658 took place more than three decades before the infamous Salem trials. This hidden slice of Long Island history is just one of the 20 crime stories covered in Keriann Flanagan Brosky’s latest book, Historic Crimes of Long Island: Misdeeds from the 1600s to the 1950s.
And on Thursday, November 30, Brosky will be talking about these crimes with a lecture and book signing at the Southampton Historical Museum. The lecture will begin at 11 a.m. and admission is free.
“There was a lot of research involved with figuring out what stories to use,” Brosky told Hamptons.com. “There were a few that I had written about and known about before such as the tarring and feathering of Charles Kelsey in Huntington.” Writing was a collaborative process between Brosky, who once served as vice president of the Huntington Historical Society, and other historical societies across the Island. Her connection with these organizations helped her to find different and unique crimes to include in the book.
Of the 20 stories, Brosky was most shocked to learn about the witch trial of Goody Garlick in East Hampton, an event of which she had not previously known. “A lot of people thought she was witch because she was single; she was a little older and did not quite fit in with society. I learned a lot about how trials worked and what the law was back in those days,” Brosky explained.
Brosky’s personal favorite is the story of Charles Kelsey. “It involved a love triangle and he really did not deserve his fate at all. He went missing after the tarring and feathering and his body was found in Cold Spring Harbor in the water by two fishermen, but it was the lower portion. To this day, the upper portion of Charles Kelsey has never been found, nor do they know who committed the murder,” said Brosky.
Other stories covered in the book involve the shooting of a dentist by his “vengeful” mother-in-law, the kidnapping of a young girl in Stony Brook, and many unsolved murders.
Brosky begins her lectures in the same way she begins her book. In the preface, and to her audience, she poses the question, “why are people fascinated with crimes?” From the innumerable crime dramas aired on television, to the sensationalism adopted by news networks when covering “unsolved mysteries,” to our love of board games like “Clue,” Brosky is convinced that this fascination can be explained by the inquisitive nature of humans. “We are also interested – or maybe nosy is a better choice of words – in what goes on in other people’s lives,” states Brosky in the preface, “we become obsessed with the why.”
Having written extensively about paranormal activity, ghosts, and historic haunts of Long Island, Brosky found the experience of working on this project to be a bit different. “The one thing that I missed doing in the crime book as opposed to the ghost books is that I wasn’t out in the field doing investigations, interviewing people, and seeing these historic places,” she said. “The crime book was more reclusive.”
Despite the different subject matter, public response has been just as strong with signings filled to capacity. “Long Island has an amazing history and I try to show the public that it’s important to understand this history; I try to make it that they will appreciate it and preserve it going forward after they read my books,” said Brosky. “I gave these victims a voice and if it wasn’t for me writing the book, their stories would have been lost.”
The event at Southampton Historical Museum will be her 22nd and final signing for 2017. The new year promises to be just as busy for Brosky. Recently, the story from her novel, The Medal, was picked up by a Hollywood actor. He and Brosky co-own the rights and will be developing the novel into a major motion picture.
Keriann Flanagan Brosky is an award-winning author and historian. Other works include The Medal, Historic Haunts of Long Island, Ghosts of Long Island, and Ghosts of Long Island II.
Southampton Historical Museum is located at 17 Meeting House Lane in Southampton. For more information about the event, please call 631-283-2494 or visit www.southamptonhistoricalmuseum.org. For more information about Keriann Flanagan Brosky, please visit kerriannflanaganbrosky.com.