The Long Island landscaper peeked out the door. It was another visitor arriving with a notebook, a press pass and the H-word on his lips, another journalist asking about his great-uncle Adolf.
The visitor asked the landscaper about his father, who was born William Patrick Hitler, son of Alois Hitler Jr., who was Adolf Hitler's half-brother (they shared the same father). Alois called his son Willy. The Führer called Willy "my loathsome nephew."
Willy Hitler was born in 1911 in Liverpool, and in his early years occasionally sought to take advantage of his last name, in England, Germany and then America, where he moved in 1939. After World War II, though, he decided to change the name and moved from New York City out to Patchogue on Long Island. He raised four sons -- Alexander, Louis, Howard and Brian -- before he died in 1987 at age 76.
Howard died in a car accident in 1989. The other brothers continued low-profile jobs, Alexander as a social worker, Louis and Brian with their own landscaping business. They are regular Long Island guys, middle-aged and middle class, two of them living together. They are also the last members of Adolf Hitler's paternal bloodline.
They have moved away from the two-story clapboard house where they grew up on Silver Street in Patchogue, where their father ran a diagnostic blood lab. To their former neighbors in Patchogue, much about them and their upbringing seemed all-American -- even aggressively so -- but some of those neighbors remember a family just a little bit apart from everyone else, speaking German at home, and a patriarch with the slightest, just the slightest, resemblance to a certain dark figure in history.
A new play, "Little Willy," based on their father's life is playing this month in Manhattan, and when a reporter went to the cabin shared by Louis and Brian to ask their reaction, Louis, as the other brothers had, declined to be interviewed. He said they would soon be telling their story themselves. "Why would we talk to someone else when we're writing our own book?" he said. "We have a lawyer and an agent."
Would the book address the intriguing stories that have circulated about them in this part of Long Island for decades? Did Willy really blackmail Uncle Adolf with information suggesting that the Führer could be half-Jewish? Did one of Willy's sons really have the middle name Adolf? Since all four brothers were childless, was it because of a pact to end the Hitler bloodline?
Louis didn't answer, saying he did not want to discuss his family.
Willy Hitler's family on Long Island is a fascinating family narrative, and scraps can be gleaned from the occasional news article. The cover of a 2001 book, "The Last of the Hitlers," displays each brother's high school yearbook picture over Hitler's face and suggests that the brothers made a pact not to have children.
The book and many articles withhold the brothers' last name and whereabouts; this article does the same, at their vehement and repeated request, because the brothers say they fear a media barrage and people misconstruing them as Nazis.
Willy, also known to neighbors as Patty, ran his blood lab out of their two-story clapboard house in Patchogue. The children on the block liked to imitate his elegant German-British-inflected English, which stood out in the working-class Long Island bay town. His wife, Phyllis, played German music in their home.
The boys romped in the backyard and on the block. They played pickup baseball at Falcon Field, drank sodas at Phannemiller's Pharmacy, swam in East Lake. They graduated from Patchogue High School.
"They were just these four wild kids running around that little house," recalled Teresa Ryther, 43, who grew up on the block playing with the brothers. "They were like any other kids on the block, American kids. It was almost as if they were rebelling against their German background and being intensely American."
Photographs of Willy as a young man show some likeness to Adolf Hitler, but most friends and neighbors in Patchogue remained unaware of the connection until Willy revealed it to them shortly before his death. Still, Ms. Ryther said her father noticed a resemblance.
"My father used to say to my mother, 'Doesn't Patty look a lot like Adolf Hitler?' " she recalled. "Once, my father told my mom, 'I just saw Patty mowing the lawn, and he turned around real quick and, my God, he looked exactly like Hitler.' And I remember thinking, 'Oh, Hitler -- he was that bad guy.' "
Ms. Ryther recalled playing army men with Brian, whose German troops would fight her Americans. Louis had a mop-top haircut like his beloved Beatles. Howard was outgoing and funny; he was the drum major in the high school marching band and a finalist in science competitions. The oldest, Alexander, had a distinguished demeanor, she said.
"Inside the house, it was very German, very European, and the parents spoke German," Ms. Ryther said. "I remember the boys had a toy battleship they called the Bismarck that they would float in their blow-up pool in the backyard. Once, they lit it on fire somehow, and I have this vivid memory of them all yelling, 'The Bismarck is sinking.' "
Gayle and Ronald Perry, who rented the small house next door in Patchogue for five years, and Kathy Jenner, who lived across the street, had no idea of the family's background.
A smattering of Patchogue's German population did know, said Gottfried Dulias, a former Luftwaffe pilot who survived three years in a Russian labor camp and has lived in Patchogue for 50 years. "I didn't know him personally, but I knew he lived here," he said. "It was something you just heard, living here."
Marilyn Banaszak, 75, who knew the family because her mother-in-law lived next door to them, handed on her baby clothes to the brothers' mother when Brian was born.
She said she learned the family's identity in a news article in 2002. "I was shocked," she said, "but honestly, it answered a lot of questions for me because they were secretive people. They were very private, everything was kind of like a secret. Pat wasn't all that friendly. He kind of stayed to himself. He'd say hello, but he kept very distant. Phyllis would never tell you anything personal. "
"You can't help who you're related to," she said. "Think of the repercussions for the children if the neighborhood kids knew those boys were related to Hitler. They would have been tortured."
Another young friend of the boys, Kevin Zegel, said that like other neighbors, he would come over to the house to have his blood work done.
"I can still hear him answering the phone: 'Hello, Brookhaven Laboratories,' " he said, mimicking Willy's German accent.
"Phyllis looked like a fraulein out of 'The Sound of Music,' " he said.
Mr. Zegel, now a chiropractor in Massachusetts, said of the brothers, "I just feel bad that they've just had this thing hanging around their neck."
Today, the two-story house on Silver Street is owned by Robert Parlamento, 48, a contractor who moved there in 1999. Before him, he said, "It was a crack house for a while and was also subdivided into a crowded boarding house" for day laborers.
During renovations, Mr. Parlamento said, he discovered family possessions, including blood lab equipment under the rear porch floorboards. In the attic, there was a box of business documents, and German newspapers behind the wallboard. He said that when he removed panels from the exterior to put up vinyl siding, he found the large lab sign still affixed to the facade, which he trashed.
"Some German filmmaker guy came by and told me a Hitler lived here with his family," he said. "I was like, 'A Hitler lived here and ran a blood lab? What is this, "The Boys From Brazil"?' "
Mr. Parlamento said he met the boys' mother before her death in 2002 and asked her to sign an affidavit so that town officials would issue him certain building permits.
"This guy was running a lab in a residential house, and I have the town on my back about extending my porch two feet," he said. Mr. Parlamento has left some of the original clapboard on the facade, for charm.
As for Louis, before he closed his door to the visitor, he was asked if he was concerned about the new play turning the media spotlight on them, and said: "Don't worry, we're used to it. You people knock on our door every week asking us about this."