| THE KNAPPS LIVED HERE
It was with much anticipation that I finally got my hands on this book as I knew the author was working on it for the past 10 years or so. Let me say right up front that this review is neccessarily biased as I have known the author since the early 1950's, having grown up in Mastic Beach after my parents moved there in 1946. I became re-acquainted with the author after viewing his website 8 or 9 years ago and being simply amazed at how much this "Spooner guy" knows about the area's history. Then I found out that this was Kenny Joseph, Walter's younger brother who was my classmate at Wm Floyd school and who I palled around with a lot. Since then Ken has kept me in the loop of information on his research for the book and so I am glad to see it all come together after all his hard effort.
"The Knapps Lived Here" is a very comprehensive history of the prestigious and influential Knapp family, who arguably were one of the wealthiest families in America. Ken Spooner is a superlative detective investigator and I have no doubt that had he gone into law enforcement there would be many bad guys in jail today because of his investigative talent. His determination and drive to get to the truth of the matter is palpable as one reads through the book. No detail is left out that could be found out. The famous fictional character Colombo has nothing over Ken Spooner! The sheer amount of research, personnel interviews, and the way the author puts it all together is, in my humble opinion, beyond reproach. I predict that" The Knapps Lived Here" will become a staple at the local library.
The book is especially pleasurable to read for anyone who lived in Mastic Beach through the 50's and 60's because almost all of the persons and places referred to are very familiar. My brother and I played in the Knapp Mansion many times as kids and experienced being chased away by Mr. Almasy with a stick in his hand.
Anyone who either lives in the area today or had lived there during those bygone years will not only enjoy reading this book but will desire their own copy. There is so much information that it is difficult to absorb it all at the first reading.
Gary Messinetti Aug 19, 2010
I became acquainted with the author of this book a few years back after discovering his website and learned we grew up at the same time in the same area. Growing up in Mastic Beach all I knew of the name Knapp was Knapp Road, which I rode my bike on and drove my first car on. This book gave me a whole new perspective on where I grew up. This book is not just about a small town on Long Island, it is about an era and a family that made history that in some way has probably affected many of us, from the creation of trading cards, life insurance for the masses, better education, wildlife conservation, publishing, and art.
The author's descriptive style of writing brings the people and places to life, as you read you get the feeling you know these people and have been to the places written about. Not only is this book a major historical document, it is entertaining and most importantly interesting, the genealogy alone is a work of art.
I am sure the Knapp family ancestors will embrace this book as a tribute to their family legacy.
Phil Van Tassel Aug 23, 2010
As the president of friends of Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in 2000, I gave a presentation at the Mastic-Moriches-Shirley Library about the history of the Refuge and the Carmans River, which runs through it. The audience was clearly more interested in the history of the entire area, and afterward the librarian invited me back to do a broader history of the Mastic Peninsula, which I did in 2002.
By the early years of this century, the Internet had become a useful research tool. As I began the research for my next talk, lo and behold, I found Ken Spooner’s website, which was in its early stage. Most curious was that Spooner claimed to have been in my William Floyd High School class. of 1964. I didn’t remember anyone by that name and, after contacting him via the website, found out that he, was my former classmate Kenny Joseph, who had adopted his mother’s maiden name, Spooner.
Thousands of e-mails and dozens of hours of shared research followed, all of it exciting and great fun. After 2002, Ken Spooner was clearly the most knowledgeable historian of the Mastic Peninsula, a historically unsung area except for generalizations about the four Revolutionary War-era families who had lived there. Ken pursued his research with the fervor of a graduate student working to complete his/her dissertation on time, despite the fact there was no time limit.
Pursuing every lead and every clue he found, Ken made several visits to Long Island, including to a 40th reunion party for the William Floyd HS Class of 1964. By 2005, he had acquired more than 5,000 documents and photographs and was at a decision point as to which book to write first the story of his personal quest to discover who the Knapps were or a history of the Mastic Peninsula (working title: From Blueblood to Blue Collar).
To those of us who know Ken there was never any question as to which he would choose, and, by 2008, Ken had circulated a draft of the 39 chapters for us to review.
It’s been a long and winding road culminating in this fascinating history of the Joseph Knapp family. Their story is remarkable in its own right and especially for those of us who grew up in the shadow of their mansion without ever knowing that people of such stature and wealth had also called our working-class area “home.”
As a fellow historian, I also recognize that Ken has made an invaluable contribution to the body of existing knowledge about the Mastics and Shirley by writing the first well-researched, comprehensive and reliable look into the history of the Mastics. Congratulations, Ken, on an amazing achievement.
Martin Van Lith Aug 24 2010
Letter from Robert F. Muse who resides in one of the former Knapp homes built in 1850
Sept 16, 2010
Ken , Just to let you know that I just finished reading The Knapps Lived Here. I thoroughly enjoyed it ! I can not thank you enough for your determination, research, all the people you interviewed and time that you took to see this project through to a conclusion. I really could not be prouder of you.
I had a great time reading it, really good stuff,top-notch! My head is swimming with all the thing's you brought to the fore.You managed to weave together a complicated story nicely. Strange parallel, you mention in your book the three house's that were built at Dogwood and Monroe, Well back in '87? I sheetrocked the house that face's Monroe, long before I even thought of moving to Mastic Beach ! Anyway it's a fun and interesting story and to think it started as a question in a young boy's mind that just never went away. Regards-Ken Wersan
Sept 18, 2010
Oct 4. 2010
I finished your book one evening last week. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned so much, not just about the Mastic/Mastic Beach areas, other parts of Long Island, New York, Brooklyn, No. Carolina, etc, etc. It was not only a story about the Knapp Family, but also a lesson in the history of our country.
After finishing, I'm still not sure that I fully understand why the Knapp family heirs "circled the wagons" and refused to assist you in providing more information. It seemed as if they were concerned that you would uncover some deep, dark family secret and that if you found out about it, it might prove to be embarrassing to the family name.
Again Ken, thanks for writing the book. As I said the information you wrote certainly was enlightening to me.
Lt. Col Raymond Smith USA Ret. San Diego, Ca
I CAME FOR THE ART, BUT STAYED FOR THE STORIES
Like some other reviewers here, I too was introduced to Mr. Spooner's book via his multi subject, labyrinth of a website known as spoonercentral.com. I came there for the 19th century art prints and lithography history as the Knapps were one of the largest lithographers, art print and magazine publishers of all time, I soon found myself drawn into the author's wry storytelling about the days of his youth and the adventures he shared with his brother and their friends in the 1950s. Spooner and his buddies, all from middle class families, had the good fortune to play among the ruins of one of the grand private estates once owned by the Knapp family. He later became a prime suspect for burning down an abandoned Knapp mansion. The way the author takes his memoirs, interweaves them with one of the most complex biographies of an historical American family of great prominence is also art itself.
Using as a base, his small home town on Long Island's south shore and one of the Knapp's mansions located there, long before the town ever existed, the author takes the reader along with him. From the first page to the end, it's a roller coaster ride of discoveries through history. The sheer variety of interests and pursuits the Knapps had, supported by many historical figures from all walks of life, makes for a what should be a wide appeal for this book. Even when dealing with dry subjects, like the history and business of The Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. that the Knapps were once also sole owners of, the author through his aforementioned detective like tenacity, finds stories and anecdotes to keep things moving.
An example of his obsession to get the whole story wherever it led, is the Ernest Hemingway - Joe Knapp dockside brawl. A bare knuckle fight that occurred over who caught the biggest sailfish in Bimini in the 1930's. Hemingway himself fictionalized it in Islands In The Stream. That legendary fight, with it's mob of onlookers, was over in a wink, but is still written and sung about in an island folk song called The Big Fat Slob, complete with whopper sized errors that have been added in over the years by Hemingway, his family, journalists and yarn spinners, until now.
With tales of dead ends during his years of research, it soon becomes clear how the Knapps managed to stay off other biographers radar screens for centuries. When rebuffed by some ultra private Knapp heirs to his quest, the author found several living and quite cognizant octogenarians, who personally knew some of the main Knapp characters profiled. These witnesses vindicate some of his early impressions. He also tells compelling stories of when he assumed something that turned out to be quite different. The reader is gently reminded though, that at times it seems like the author was guided by and receiving messages from the WWI wireless equipment he and his friends found in the loft of a Knapp estate barn in the early 50s.
My only regret is the photo section has no color examples of some state of the art Knapp prints from the late 19th and early 20th century, as they are absolutely stunning. But then, I always have the website, for almost every time I visit, it seems to have something new about something very old, very colorful and very Knapp.
Ted Wisniewski October 11, 2010