FEB 15, 2002

 

I woke up this morning thinking about what part of this story I should do next, as I still have a large amount of "stuff" I retrieved from New York to read, re read, file, scan etc. The last Long Island part I had added was "Greenlawn" and although I knew where Claire A. Knapp moved to next, just did not think I had that much new stuff to add to it. While making the coffee, I realized what day it was and if there was ever a day to work on this page, today was it! It was 43 years ago this afternoon, that I saw the smoke coming out of the upper east face windows.

 

Want to look right in the windows? Just Click On It

 

 

First a re cap: I mentioned that on the trip before this one, (Aug-Sept 2001) I had made contact with Claire A. Knapp's granddaughter on Long Island. (Up until that point, no one I had contacted knew of any living direct Knapp descendants. The male end of the Knapp line came to a halt with Claire's brother Dodi). I thought we hit it off on the phone pretty good and she was quite enthusiastic about helping me research this and was eager to tell her mother and sister about me. Although she had never known about this particular Knapp house, she told me of visiting her great grandfather Joseph P. Knapp's River House in New York City " I remember he had this great big desk."and his camp at Lew Beach, in the Catskill's. She thinks she was at her Uncle Dodi's homes in Ft. Lauderdale, and Hampton Bays. She is my age, so she would of been only been 3 and a half when Joseph Palmer passed away and 5 when her Uncle Dodi died.

 

Unfortunately it seems her mother did not share her enthusiasm for sharing any family information. My last phone call to the granddaughter in October of 2001, was met with polite but cautionary tones. " We have discussed your project and although it's ok to write about the non living members of the family, the rest of us wish to be kept out of it " Since my interests were on the non living members J. F. , J.P., Claire, Dodi etc. I didn't foresee any problems, except that it would be up to the living members of the Knapp Family, to supply me with the info, I obviously could not get from the deceased eg ( Oral History, Photo's etc.)

 

I supplied the granddaughter with some personal references of people I had written about in the past. Two of them (unbeknownst to me) she actually knew, and she commented on it via her e mail to me. As that incessant song that plays over and over at Disneyworld in Fla goes....It's A Small World After All. Well I just continued on in my research, not thinking there could be anything "wrong". Of course I was looking forward to hearing from her again as she did mention she had a photo or two of her grandmother on horseback, I could probably have a copy of and some information on the shotguns custom made for The Joe Knapp Club. (These guns were hidden behind paintings in the ballroom of the Mastic Beach Mansion and some were still there when it was abandoned) I had also learned of her mothers approaching October birthday and sent her a custom made (from an 1890's Knapp Lithograph) birthday card, thinking it would be a nice gesture.

Everything changed during Thanksgiving 2001 weekend, when I discovered and contacted the granddaughters aunt, Claire Knapp's eldest daughter. (What is it about Thanksgiving & Family being synonomous far too much with the word trouble?) I was told on the phone " I DO NOT WISH TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT ANYTHING " ....end of story? Not quite..... I apologized for bothering her and then sent a letter of apology to both the granddaughter and her mother, telling them I would no longer be "bothering them" but I still planned to pursue my story. The closing sentence of my letter was; "This will not be the first unauthorized bio ever written, but it will certainly be a respectful one" That letter was met with one from their attorney. I have since responded and that is the end of the story as far as any direct descendant family participation or aid. (You might notice the disclaimer on the title page) So for those of you Knapp researchers out there, who have been studying this family much longer than I have, now you know why I will not put you in contact with them.

 

THE DANA, KNAPP CONNECTION

 

That said, lets move on......I know that Dodi Knapp bought the Lawrence Estate on October 2nd 1916. and that he transferred it to his sister Claire on October 4th 1916. All public records. He only owned it for TWO DAYS the first time. I find that a little odd.... was the Lawrence Family having a fire sale and Dodi had to act fast to buy it? Not likely. The Lawrences were a wealthy family living then in Providence, R. I. and although it was remote property for them, I doubt they had to give it away to raise cash.

It is highly likely that Dodi Knapp became aware of the property being for sale from his pal, William Shepherd Dana. These two had a lot in common and spent a lot of time together in the wilds of Mastic, hunting, fishing, golfing, sailing and just doing wealthy guy stuff. Born a year apart, both had very wealthy publisher fathers, and both of them were not very interested in the family business, other than the fact that it provided them with some extreme creature comforts.

W. S. Dana, an adopted son of his grandfather, William B. Dana (that's right grandfather) inherited "Moss Lots" in Mastic (just a few estates away from the Lawrence Estate) in 1910 at the age of 18, along with his mother Ethel Dana Shepherd. Ethel died in 1914. W. S. was raised there and all the pleasures of country estate living on the water were well ingrained by then. This info was found in Dr. Douglas Steeples' newly published book, Advocate For American Enterprise William Buck Dana & The Commercial & Financial Chronicle 1865-1910. Dr. Steeples , former Dean at Mercer University, has been studying the Dana Family since 1965. ( I will of been studying The J. F. Knapp family 1 year in March 2002 ) Although it was his grandfather's wish that W. S. take over "The Chronicle" he opted for very early retirement and there is no documentation that he ever actually worked there (except perhaps when W. B. tried to show him the ropes?) As for Dodi, I have learned that he retired from the family business in 1929 at the age of 37 when his father sold American Lithographic. With Dodi's father being a very prominent capitalist by the late 19th century and Buck Dana being a publisher / journalist that reported exclusively on business, it's a good chance that this is how they were introduced. Then add in the " wealthy sportsman activities" they both participated in extensively out on Long Island and you have more than opportunity to meet.

Dana Estate 1965 photo by Dr. Douglas Steeples

 

The fact that Dodi signed over the Mastic Property to his older sister Claire, two days after he purchased it, leads one to believe that his father may of thought there might be too much risk involved with an estate of this size being in the hands of a young twenty four year old. It's pretty obvious that Joseph Palmer still controlled the purse strings at this point. Although in Dodi's 1952 obits in both The New York Herald Tribune, and The New York Daily News it lists him as being the retired President of American Lithographic. There is nothing in any American Lithographic Listings from 1916 -1920's that have him listed as president of anything. All formal company titles I have found from treasurer to president were assigned to all the people who followed Joseph Palmer Knapp onto his Publication Corp. and Crowell- Collier enterprises. J. P. sold American Litho in 1929, the year Dodi retired. I did find Dodi listed as the President Of The Knapp Foundation in 1933 but that is all. After that it was headed by C. E. Stouch (treasurer of Publication Corp) It appears more than likely Dodi's real title was The Big Bosses Son.

Perhaps not given much responsibility is the reason he opted out of all of it and spent the rest of his life as a gentleman of leisure. The 1920 Federal census taken at the Mastic estate shows Claire as Head Of Household and Dodi living there and having an office in New York City but "no occupation". The same census taken in NY City at the home of his father, where Dodi is also residing, lists his occupation as a "printing executive". But this is only conjecture and it could of been something entirely different as to why he transfered ownership of the estate so quickly.

I am getting help from others as to the research on when the Knapp Mansion was actually built. Again the facts that it is always refered to as The Knapp Mansion not The Lawrence Mansion leads me to believe the Knapp's built it. The architectural style also supports that assumption. New maps I have found show buildings on the Lawrence Estate, near it but not on that spot.

I have also learned that Dodi, Dana and one other character were like the Three Musketeers, in that they did a lot of activities together. The Third Musketeer is none other than Willis Oliver Penney.(Claire Knapp's future husband) He as you know was employed by the Dana's as a chauffeur. His brothers Clarence and Robert "Pete" also worked for The Danas as did his father Merrit Cash Penney who was the estate superintendent.

Clarence Penney was hired by the Knapps to construct their golf course and it could be through that connection that Willis met Claire.....OR......It could be that W. S. Dana was a lot Like J. F. "Dodi" Knapp, in that the money they had did not prevent them from socializing with those of lesser material means. Mrs. Schulz's father used comments like, " Look at me! an auto mechanic out drinking with Dodi Knapp! " Good times and colorful companionship seemed to weigh in much higher on their scale of what was important. In short they didn't care whether you had a lot of dough, because they had enough to cover the tab so to speak.

I initially reported that both Dodi and his Father were against Claire and Willis' courtship. It appears now that might not be entirely true and it certainly would not be the first time a Knapp went against their parents wishes. One fact that is public record is that Joseph Palmer's father, J. F. Knapp was DEAD SET against his son ever getting involved with publishing. Well he certainly did get involved. Had he not, there might not of been all the good things that came out of it, like The Knapp Foundation and a very comfortable lifestyle for his children. If Dodi was initially against his sister's romance with Willis, his position must of changed after they married and moved to Yaphank, then Stony Brook, John's Island in South Carolina and eventually Hampton Bays. For whatever time Willis was around at either Dodi's or Dana's estate, the three seemed to spend it together.

THE GREEN 5 MILES BETWEEN DODI & DANA

They could travel by land or sea and you know they did

 

After Claire moved off the estate and signed it over to her brother in 1925, he lived there on and off (most likely seasonally) for the next 15 years. I originally speculated that the growing development of Mastic Beach all around him may of been the main reason he sold the estate off in pieces to the Smadbeck's ( developer ) in 1938. He did however hold onto the house and a few remaining acres until 1940. I have since discovered another reason that may of compelled him to sell out completely.

 

With one pal dead and his other pal / brother in law now living some 25 miles east of Mastic, it might of been time for Dodi who was now married himself to move on. That he did to Hampton Bays. His sister and Willis had already been out there for close to ten years.

 

I also found a few tidbits that relate to the Willie & Honey Schluder, who were the last caretakers for Dodi Knapp and a small piece of info on George Sutter who as you know was the next owner of the mansion. I had always heard when Dodi sold the place he gave the Schluders the title to the superintendents cottage on the corner of Monroe & Neighborhood. A late 1930's phone book lists it as Aspen but back then Aspen curved south to Neighborhood or Birch as it was called then.

 

The 1937 Suffolk County Phone Book Had 3 Knapp's Listed . If you called Center Moriches 91-W-1

you would be speaking with Willie or Honey Schluder.

 

This weekly column that appeared in both The Center Moriches Record & after 1935 it's successor The Moriches Tribune, is a wealth of info on the area. It just takes hours to wade through the micro film. At one time in the '30's and '40's there were actually two reporters Helen Barnes & Ruth Hayes with separate columns just for Mastic Beach!

Here's an item from January 23, 1941

Moving Day for Willie & Honey

Note The Schluders used a "D" but were often misspelled with a T

It appears the Schluders resided right in the Mansion and why not ? With just Dodi & Marion there occasionally

there was plenty of room! Another item of interest is who was moving in the area.

"The Laskos of the Bronx spent The Weekend at their cottage on Jefferson drive. They expect to join the year-round residents in March"

The Lasko's were planning to move year round to Mastic Beach in March of 1941. Their son Dennis was not yet born. We went to school together. Twenty years later, like me, he would be accused of burning down the Knapp Place. Like me he didn't do it , although unlike me he did torch a few other places.

 

Also residing on Jefferson Dr not Ave as this phone book says was none other than

GEORGE SUTTER....

He is still very much the "mystery man" in all this.

This item appeared two months later March 30, 1941

The fact that Mr. Sutter purchased the place just a week after Dodi sold it to The Smadbeck's makes me wonder How did he learn of it being for sale in the winter? If he knew Dodi and he might of, why did he not buy it direct. Or perhaps he knew Warren & Arthur Smadbeck. Or was it just the work of an alert Real Estate Agent? Whatever happened it was a very fast turn over ( 8 days) , almost as fast as Dodi turned it over to his sister back in 1916. The actual sale of the house from Knapp's to Home Guardian took a lot longer.

ONE YEAR APART

Above 1940 Below 1941 : Just 1 Block Away But Definitely Not A Lateral Move For The Sutter Family

Call Center Moriches 766-R and you would be talking to a Sutter in The Knapp Mansion!

Of further interest is the name Sutter in Hampton Bays as a Real Estate Agent and Thom Sutters also on Jefferson Dr. just around the corner from the Knapp Mansion. Thom was a butcher at Fischer's Market, until it burned down in 1961. In the 1920 census he is listed in New York as a butcher and a "George Sutter" is also listed there with the same trade. Were they related? Possibly.... My grandfather, Walter Joseph would sometimes use an S on the end of his name. For example in the 1941 Mastic Beach Directory.

The Jordan's by the way lived next door to me.

IF ANYONE KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT THE GEORGE SUTTER FAMILY
PLEASE GET IN TOUCH, AS THEY PLAY A LARGE ROLE IN THIS STORY

LIVING THERE FOR NINE YEARS IT IS MORE THAN HIGHLY LIKELY
THEY HAVE MANY PHOTOS OF THEIR HOUSE

UPDATE APRIL 2002

I have just discovered a series of classified ads in the New York Times

That start as early as 1942 with Mr Sutter adverstising "Beautiful Rooms & Country Boarding in Mastic Beach "

then as early as 1943 this ad appears

 

I wonder if anyone rented it before Father Skelly did in 1949?

The Sutter's "Gave The Place Away" In May of 1950, As Soon As These People Listed Below ,

Became The Ones Who Would Answer The Phone On Monroe Drive, The Sutter's Disappear

 

SO ARE YOU CONFUSED? DONT FEEL ALONE,

LOOK IN THE GUEST BOOK SIGN IN TOO,PERHAPS YOU CAN FIND SOMEONE TO COMMISERATE WITH OR A LONG LOST FRIEND!

 

HOME