Old Westbury Gardens kicks off WWI exhibit with historic Gymkhana party

Amelia Camurati
John S. Phipps, second from right, at the Gymkhana that he held on his polo fields in June 1918 to raise funds for Canadian and British war relief. (Photo courtesy of Old Westbury Gardens)

Old Westbury Gardens is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of World War I this weekend with an authentic gymkhana garden fair similar to those hosted by John S. Phipps.

New York’s Fighting 69th arriving at Camp Mills in Mineola. (Photo courtesy of Long Island National Archives)

Paul Hunchak, director of public programs, said the gymkhana, an equestrian event, will be held in the gardens with reenactments, equestrian exhibits, a British tea tent and a patriotic concert by The Band of Long Island on Saturday night with a collection of John Philip Sousa music.

Hunchak said in June 1918, Phipps held a gymkhana as a fundraiser for the Canadian and British military as the war was ending.

Though part of the exhibit opened in March with a special exhibition on loan from the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, a second portion focused on the contributions of Long Islanders to the war efforts opens on Saturday and will run through Oct. 7.

Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, in the 95th Aero Squadron, WWI in France. (Photo courtesy of Old Westbury Gardens)

“The unique aspect of that is the U.S. wasn’t really ready to go to war,” Old Westbury Gardens CEO Nancy Costopulos said. “They had fought hard to stay out of the war for a while, and people like the Astors and the Vanderbilts and the Phippses used their own personal resources and commitment in order to help the U.S. get ready to go to war.”

Though the United States officially entered World War I by declaring war against Germany in April 1917, many Long Islanders made contributions to other countries’ efforts including those by Phipps’ wife, Margarita, to the Belgium soldiers’ tobacco fund, Hunchak said.

Hunchak said the exhibit begins in the Westbury House’s West Porch with a series of panels featuring photos, maps and artifacts to introduce attendees to the war. Notable families mentioned in the exhibit include the Phippses, Vanderbilts, Astors and Roosevelts as well as F. Trubee Davison, who founded the First Yale Unit in 1916, which is considered the first naval air reserve unit, while studying at the university.

Many of the exhibit items come from Old Westbury Gardens archives, but others were donated by residents, including one who donated a collection of World War I posters, as well as the Library of Congress and the Long Island National Archives.

Reach reporter Amelia Camurati by email at acamurati@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 215, or follow her on Twitter @acamurati.

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