By Annette Hinkle
Though it’s just a few minutes drive from Montauk Highway and the bustle of Southampton Village, up by the bay near Conscience Point there lies a vast property of great intrigue and mystery.
Welcome to the Port of Missing Men, a one-time (and sometimes still) hunting lodge built by Colonel H.H. Rogers Jr. of Rogers Mansion fame, whose father was the wealthiest man in the country in 1910. Today, it is one of the last surviving properties from the Gilded Age whose interior has remained intact since the Roaring Twenties.
Situated on the shores of Scallop Pond, the Port of Missing Men once encompassed 2,000 acres on both sides of the pond and was the largest privately owned estate on Long Island.
Though much of the property has been sold and is now preserved, at 600 acres, it’s still an impressive chunk of land. The home itself was designed by John Russell Pope after Stanford White declined the commission, and it’s still in the Rogers family.
Today, the property is owned by Willi Salm, aka Countess Wiltraud von Salm-Hoogstraeten, widow of the late Peter Salm, who inherited the “Port” from his mother, Millicent Rogers, a fabled style icon and the daughter of Col. Rogers.
While Ms. Salm allows the Port of Missing Men property to be used for occasional fundraising events for local nonprofit organizations like the Peconic Land Trust, rarely are guests permitted to gather in the home itself.
But this Saturday, October 19, will be an exception.
Ms. Salm will host a night of “sips and spirits” at Port of Missing Men to benefit the Southampton History Museum. The evening includes a special guided tour of the home by Ms. Salm at 5:30 p.m. In addition, a team from the Long Island Paranormal Investigators — including Connor Flanagan, Southampton History Museum’s director of education (and ghosts) — will set up their electronic equipment in the 1661 Scott Cottage of the home, which is adjacent to the main structure, where small groups of guests will be able to get a glimpse inside the world of active ghost hunting.
The Port of Missing Men is exactly the kind of setting where one might expect to find a ghost, and a recent visit confirmed that. Brick pillars mark the entrance to the estate on North Sea Road, and a long gravel drive leads to the main house beneath an allée of massive trees, which, during the midst of the recent nor’easter, were swaying and nodding overhead … perhaps warning visitors that day to stay away.
Inside the home, massive beams made from old-growth timber — the kind that disappeared from these parts hundreds of years ago — dominate the main living space, which is, indeed, the quintessential picture of a hunting lodge. Magnificent hooked rugs are placed throughout the home, and the long wooden dining table looks out through a wall of windows onto the pond itself, where duck hunting was once the principal pastime.
“Willi opened up her house 12 years ago for something similar for the museum,” explained Tom Edmonds, executive director of the Southampton History Museum, who gathered, along with Ms. Salm, for a cup of tea at the table. “A lot of patrons are curious. It has a mystique and reputation among those who care about history, and a lot of people don’t know about it.
“This is the location of a North Sea community that disappeared,” Mr. Edmonds added. “This area was called Feversham, and it was the third-most-successful port in the colonies, behind Philadelphia and Boston. It had a tavern, farmhouses, a custom house and a brick kiln. The brick kiln and the Scott Cottage are the only surviving structures.”
In fact, the Port of Missing Men was an adjunct property to Black Point, the grand Rogers family estate that sat on the ocean in Southampton at the end of Old Towne Road. A stucco wall still marks the location of that mansion, which has since been torn down and redeveloped.
“But this is the better place,” said Mr. Edmonds.
“Though it’s not fit for a family,” Ms. Salm added. “It was very difficult to bring up children in this house. They play everywhere, and there was no play room and no nursery.”
But it turns out that that may have been design by intention, as, at its heart, the Port of Missing Men was a place for the boys.
“There are many theories about the name,” Ms. Salm explained. “One of them was that a ship got lost in a hurricane, and all the sailors got lost, and the colonel found the rudder on the beach that’s now hanging on that wall.
“Another one is that he had duck blinds on the water — and they were wired directly to Wall Street,” she said. “The wives didn’t know where their husbands were — they were not reachable. But the men were connected to Wall Street, and the stock prices, in the duck blinds.”
As it turns out, in the 1920s, besides duck hunting, there were a lot of activities designed to tempt men to the Conscience Point area.
“North Sea Road ends at the bay, and there was a major liquor drop-off there during Prohibition,” Ms. Salm said. “There was a tower and a Morse code blinker. They blinked when the police were galloping down North Sea Road on horseback, and sank the barrels.
“When Prohibition was over, the man operating the blinking system turned it into a ‘cat house.’ He used the same blinking system for the ladies,” she added. “My husband’s grandmother paid him $40 a month, which was a lot of money then, to get rid of the girls.”
But the chief activity at the Port of Missing Men was male bonding and hunting, and the home has lots of bedrooms, no doubt to house those wayward husbands. Every bedroom was given a name by Col. Rogers, including a small cozy space upstairs in the 17th century Scott Cottage, which he christened “The Room of the Haunt.”
That’s where the ghost hunting will be centered on Saturday, and Ms. Salm attests to the presence of something ethereal that occupies the space there.
“All my guests have seen a ghost in there,” she said. “It’s a young person — a girl — with a long white dress. Sounds pretty standard ghost-y to me. She’s very friendly, apparently.
“That whole part of the house is from the 1600s,” Ms. Salm explained. “There was a kitchen, and then rooms were added. Every year, they had another child, and some of them didn’t make it … this was one of them who didn’t make it.”
When asked if she’s ever experienced anything personally in the house, Ms. Salm said, “I’ve had some paranormal activities going on.”
Specifically, Ms. Salm, who admits that she’s always running late for appointments, feels certain that after her husband’s death in 1994, he returned to nudge her along.
“After he died, his bathroom door slammed in the middle of the night for no reason,” she said. “He woke me up that way … he knew I had to be somewhere.”
Chalk it up to the resident spirits at the Port of Missing Men.
“An Evening of Specter” at the Port of Missing Men to benefit the Southampton History Museum is Saturday, October 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. with a special guided tour courtesy of the Countess von Salm-Hoogstraeten at 5:30 p.m. Admission is $500 ($900 for couples), and $1,000 with the guided tour. Call the museum at 631-283-2494 to purchase tickets.