Reflecting on Anniversaries, Love and ‘Jaws’

By Ed Wendell

It was June 22, 1975, my parent’s 12th wedding anniversary. I was 10 years old and very excited because we were going to see the movie Jaws, which had just opened in theaters a few days earlier.

It was already a huge sensation and all the kids at school were talking about it, though no one had seen it yet. I knew it was going to be a real scary movie and that was something to consider, you see, because my mom was a screamer.

She would get very excited when watching television shows, especially thrillers, shouting out warnings to the characters and yelling at them when they did something stupid, like going into a dark basement to investigate a creepy noise.

If she yelled at the television during programs as tame as Barnaby Jones or Cannon, how was she going to fare against a 25 foot shark, three tons of him?

So we drove out to a theater in Valley Stream and I was so excited the whole way there. All I knew about the story were a few little snippets I had read from my dad’s paperback copy of Peter Benchley’s novel. The opening of the book is pretty scary and goes into some real gory detail about what a shark’s teeth do to a young lady swimming alone at night.

I couldn’t wait to see it, but what about mom?

So the movie opens and the now iconic theme by John Williams starts and the audience breaks out in some nervous laughter. Pretty soon, a young woman ventures into the water where, alone in the dark, she is swimming peacefully.

“Oh, no,” Mom burst out loud. “Get out of the water!” The people around us laughed for a second – and then the shark struck. The poor girl was attacked from below and in the middle of all this my mom screamed again, even louder, and everyone around us jumped!

Ed Wendell with his mother.

The next 2 hours were a rollercoaster ride, switching between regular scenes of the town and the Sherriff and his family and scenes of bloody mayhem involving the shark.

There’s a scene where two guys are trying to catch the shark by throwing a roast into the water, attached to a pier by a chain and a hook. Well, when the shark took the bait and half the pier with him, my mom was screaming and pleading with the man to swim faster before the shark got him.

And when one character dives into the ocean to see what happened to the owner of a small boat drifting alone at night, my mom was shouting at him to stay in the bigger boat. And when the boat owner’s head floated out of a hole in the hull, she screamed so loud the whole theater jumped.

Me and my dad were used to this. But I wonder how the people around us felt. Not only did they have to worry about when the shark was going to jump up and scare them, they had to worry about this Scottish lunatic screaming.

Finally, at the end, when one of the characters climbs into a cage, and the cage is lowered into the water where our shark is swimming, she’d had enough. She got up and ran up the aisle, grabbing my shirt (and a handful of my chest), dragging me with her. The audience around us was cheering as we ran!

And so, the very first time I saw Jaws, I missed the ending. I sat in the lobby with my mom while the drama played out inside. She said she was sorry and told me to go back but I couldn’t leave her. I sat with her and pretty soon we were laughing about it.

When my dad came out he was all excited and told me about the (SPOILER ALERT) shark blowing up and I died a little inside. But at least the next day at school, when the kids talked about how cool the ending was, I enthusiastically agreed as if I had seen every second of it.

My parents had many happy anniversaries together, but I can’t ever get through the month of June without thinking of that one particular anniversary outing spent with my Dad, My Mom, and a giant man-eating shark.

Youth Celebrate 100th Birthday of Mary Whalen Playground + Summer Events

A wonderful time was had by the children of Woodhaven at the 100th Birthday Party for Mary Whalen Playground at 79th Street and Park Lane South, which opened on June 17th 1923.

By Ed Wendell

This past weekend, the kids of Woodhaven came out to celebrate the 100th birthday of Mary Whalen Playground, at 79th Street and Park Lane South. Children brought an amazing number of beautiful birthday cards for the playground and at 12 noon, 100 years to the moment that it opened, everyone joined together for a chorus of Happy Birthday.

Special thanks to Portia Dyrenforth, Administrator of Forest Park, and her amazing team who helped make this a spectacular party. And a big thank you to the Forest Park Golf Course, for loaning us a golf cart for the kids to take pictures on, and the Forest Park Carousel, for donating a birthday party package as the main raffle prize.

And a special word of thanks to Woodhaven’s Jennifer Lambert, our local artist who did an amazing job putting together this party and making sure all the local schools knew all about it. It was truly a special day in Woodhaven.

It was truly a significant day in Woodhaven history for this marked the anniversary of when the Forest park we all know and love began to take shape. Originally, almost all of what we know of Forest Park used to be the golf course.

Two of the many beautiful birthday cards created by the children of Woodhaven in honor of Mary Whalen Playground’s 100th Birthday this past Saturday.

But residents complained and the Parks Department and the City of New York redesigned the course to give lots of land back to the people of Woodhaven for recreation. Within a year of the playground opening, two other local icons would open for business: The Forest Park Carousel and the Seuffert Bandshell.

And so, plans are already underway to have a big party next year celebrating the 100th Birthday for these two places which are hard to imagine growing up in Woodhaven without.

How many rides have residents of Woodhaven taken on the Carousel? How many people have attended wonderful concerts over the last century at the bandshell? We look forward to paying tribute to both in 2024.

And speaking of the bandshell, here is the schedule of shows and concerts coming to you this summer courtesy of The Forest Park Trust and Maspeth Federal Savings:

  • Thursday June 29th, 7:30 p.m. Queens Symphony Orchestra. Celebrate Queens Symphony Orchestra’s 70th Anniversary with a concert of blockbuster, patriotic tunes paying tribute to the birth of our great nation.
  • Thursday July 6th, 7:30 p.m. Billy Joel Tribute. Captain Jack, the ultimate Billy Joel Tribute Band, returns to Forest Park. The last time they were here it was a great show that was unfortunately interrupted by a downpour. This year, we’re looking forward to seeing the entire show.
  • Thursday July 13th, 7:30 p.m. Rent. Plaza Theatrical Productions presents “Rent,” winner of the Tony Award for Best musical. What a wonderful opportunity to see live theater right here in Forest Park.
  • Thursday July 20th, 7:30 p.m. Elvis Presley Tribute. Jesse Garron’s tribute to Elvis Presley has been called “The Closest Thing to the King.” Come to the bandshell as he takes the audience on a musical journey covering hits through Elvis’ long and outstanding musical career.
  • Thursday July 27th, 7:30 p.m. Earth, Wind & Fire Tribute. Shining Star brings the legendary sounds of one of the best-selling bands of all time to Forest Park.
  • Thursday August 3rd, 7:30 p.m. Tina Turner Tribute. This is going to be a special night as we are treated to a high-energy tribute to the legendary Tina Turner, who recently passed away.
  • Thursday August 10th, 7:30 p.m. Paul McCartney Tribute. We’re in for a treat as we’re presented with a selection of Sir Paul’s solo work, his work with Wings and his work with a little band called The Beatles.
  • Thursday August 17th, 7:00 p.m. Queensboro Dance Festival. Celebrate the Queensboro Dance Festival’s 10th Anniversary showcasing an incredible diverse lineup of Queens-based dance companies. Please note the start time for this show is a bit earlier than the others, starting at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, August 18th, 7:30 p.m. Movies Under The Stars – School of Rock. Jack Black stars as a substitute teacher who turns his private school pupils into a classic-rock band in this entertaining comedy.

It’s going to be a great 2023 at the Forest Park Bandshell and a terrific year of centennial celebrations for Forest Park in 2024!

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