For most, the Hamptons and the Twin Forks is all about beaches, beauty and our agricultural bounty, but Long Island Oddities authors John and Laura Leita aren’t your typical East End tourists.
For the last 10 years, the husband and wife duo have been chronicling the Island’s weirdest places—many of them East End locations—on their Long Island Oddities website, lioddities.com, but it was always Mr. Leita’s goal to publish a book about it.
“It’s been one of my dreams since I started the blog,” he said, explaining the site’s evolution from a “rough around the edges” blog to something more substantial, especially following their publishing deal with The History Press last year. “It had an underground look to it,” Mr. Leita said, crediting the site’s large cult-like following, at least in part, to this lo-fi aesthetic.
Both the Long Island Oddities website and book, subtitled “Curious Locales, Unusual Occurrences and Unlikely Urban Adventures,” feature a rich tapestry of regional folklore, history and stories of the things that go bump in the night. The Leitas have visited and photographed a long list of modern ruins, roadside attractions and abandoned places on Long Island—some of which are long gone and would likely be lost to history had the couple not endeavored to pick up a camera and notebook and share their passion with the world.
The Leitas may be best known for their exhaustive exploration and research of Long Island’s abandoned insane asylums—Kings Park, Pilgrim State and Central Islip—the Hamptons is quite well represented among the dozens of strange locations throughout Nassau and Suffolk.
Mr. Leita said his favorite South Fork spot is the decommissioned Camp Hero Air Force base, known by many as the “Montauk Project.” This sprawling, abandoned military installation near the tip of Montauk Point is now a state park, but it’s also the subject of countless websites and several books, which claim government experiments with aliens, time travel and mind control occurred there. Some even believe the crumbling buildings and gigantic, SAGE radar tower rest atop a fully operational underground facility.
The Leitas have been inside many of the boarded up buildings and claim only the radar tower showed evidence backing the conspiracy theorists. Mr. Leita notes in the book, that areas below the ground floor were flooded, as if covering up subterranean levels. “Sometimes it seemed like nonsense, but there was always something that made it seem genuine,” he says, recalling his visits to the site and meetings with those who share fantastical stories about it.
“There’s so much lore to it, so much legend,” Mr. Leita said. “You can see the radar tower looming over the highway, it gives you that anticipation.”
Long Island Oddities also recounts the haunted history of sites like Murf’s Backstreet Tavern in Sag Harbor (where the ghost of Addie is said to roam), the Montauk Lighthouse and the Montauk Manor hotel, which is supposedly haunted by the spirits of Native Americans who were killed on the land there. But not everything contained within its pages is so sinister.
The book describes some of the Leitas’ favorite “Roadside Oddities,” including “The Barrell House” at Nova’s Ark in Water Mill, the Big Duck in Flanders, Pine World castle in Westhampton, the giant “Mr. Millenium” [sic] snowman in Southampton, “Paradise” in Speonk, the Witch’s Hat vegetable stand in Aquebogue, the Riverhead Raceway Indian, the military tank in Wainscott and Linda Scott’s six-story “Stargazer” sculpture off Exit 62 in Manorville.
The Leitas also have a library of photos from inside the Bulova Watchcase Factory ruins before construction began on the condominium complex there. They describe it, as well as Cedar Point Lighthouse in the “Oddly Abandoned” section of the book.
Visits to the East End from their home in Bay Shore have always been a great pleasure for the Leitas. “I love road trips,” Mr. Leita said, explaining how each ride east feels like an adventure, and he’ll likely return soon. After all, several local spots didn’t make the book and would be excellent material for a sequel.
If you know of any weird, haunted or abandoned spots on the East End or anywhere else on Long Island, email John and Laura Leita at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long Island Oddities can be found at Barnes & Noble and wherever books are sold. Visit lioddities.com to learn more.