A Bumpy Ride for the Forest Park Carousel

Late Woodhaven community activist Maria Thomson, who fought for nearly three decades to get the carousel landmarked, on June 19, 2013, the day that the Forest Park Carousel was officially designated as a NYC Landmark.

By Ed Wendell | [email protected]

In last week’s column, we looked at the life of Master Carousel Carver Daniel C. Muller and the establishment of a carousel in Forest Park in 1924. For four decades, residents of Woodhaven and other communities surrounding Forest Park enjoyed old-fashioned fun at our carousel.

But on December 10, 1966, tragedy struck when the Forest Park Carousel was destroyed by a fire. It was reported at 8:40 p.m. and despite a quick and massive response from the Fire Department, it was not brought under control until 9:28 p.m. And in those 48 minutes, a great deal of rare and exquisite carousel artistry was lost forever.

No cause of the fire was ever determined though vandalism was suspected. The carousel was insured for $50,000 but it was estimated that it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to replace.

Over the next few years, residents and elected officials called for the city to replace the carousel but the news was all bad and it looked like something unique and special was lost forever.

However, in January 1972 they received the miracle they were hoping for. When it was announced that the Lakeview Amusement Park in Dracut, Massachusetts was closing permanently, the City of New York moved quickly, purchasing the carousel for just $30,000.

And it wasn’t just any old carousel. Amazingly, the carousel was a Muller. A few figures were missing so a few other figures (two by Dentzel and  one by Charles Carmel, another notable carousel artist of the same era) were purchased and added to the menagerie.

One of the surviving horses from the original Forest Park Carousel, which was destroyed by fire on December 10, 1966. This horse, the work of Master Carousel Carver Daniel C. Muller, can be seen in the lobby of Oak Ridge, the offices of the Forest Park Administration.

And so, the Forest Park Carousel was back, but the next few years were a bumpy ride. In 1984, the Forest Park Carousel closed indefinitely for repairs.

Four years later, the Queens-based Fabricon Design Group, led by carousel designer Marvin Sylvor restored the Forest Park Carousel, repairing and repainting figures and replacing missing pieces. Once again, the Forest Park Carousel was running and in 2004 it was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places.

But within a few years the city and the vendor chosen to maintain the carousel parted ways. When residents visited the park in Spring 2009, they found the Forest Park Carousel fenced in, padlocked and surrounded with barbed wire.

Concerned that the city would sell off this priceless gem, the community (led by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association) brought their concerns to the attention of local elected officials and the press. And then another miracle happened. After a three year wait, New York Carousel was chosen to reopen and operate the Forest Park Carousel, which it did, to great fanfare, in 2012.

And on June 19, 2013, the Forest Park Carousel was officially designated as a New York City Landmark. The community came out to celebrate and support the carousel and parents and grandparents (who were lifted onto the ride as children) lifted their children and grandchildren onto the ride. The community was comforted by the fact that, as a landmark, the Forest Park Carousel would be protected for many generations to come.

And so, the Forest Park Carousel was open and landmarked, but it was still a bumpy ride. Literally. Whenever the carousel reached full speed, it tended to sway and you could hear the gears grinding.

The caretakers of the carousel knew that an overhaul was long overdue. At the end of the 2014 season, the Forest Park Carousel was taken apart by employees of the carousel and a group from Carousels & Carvings, carousel specialists from Marion, Ohio. Many pieces that needed to be replaced were driven 555 miles to Carousels & Carvings’ headquarters where they were rebuilt over the winter.

49 horses (36 jumpers and 13 standers on the outer row), three menagerie figures (a Tiger, a Lion and a Deer) and two Chariots were carefully removed and stored away over the winter. Every single thing was stripped off of the carousel and the center stack was lifted and suspended all winter by an indoor crane to enable the team to remove the center bearings. The entire process took nearly three weeks.

In the spring, the team reunited and began the complicated process of putting a 100+ year old carousel back together. This is not an everyday occurrence and the members of that team appreciated that this was a unique opportunity.

And when it was all back together, the city’s safety chief came out to inspect the ride and after hearing the quiet whoosh as it ran at full speed, he smiled and said “That sounds like a smooth ride.”

With the carousel restored, repaired and landmarked we hope that it will be around for many years to come. We can all do our part to help keep the Forest Park Carousel healthy by stopping by for a ride on Woodhaven’s Historic Landmark!

Forest Park Carousel Connects Generations

For close to a century, the Carousel in Forest Park has been part of the rituals of growing up in Woodhaven, Glendale, Richmond Hill, and many of the other nearby neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. In many families, several generations have fond memories of riding on the carousel as children before passing along the tradition by taking their own children or grandchildren for their first ride.

By Ed Wendell | [email protected] 

In this two part series, we look at the Forest Park Carousel, which was designated as a New York City Landmark 10 years ago, in 2013.

For close to a century, the Carousel in Forest Park has been part of the rituals of growing up in Woodhaven, Glendale, Richmond Hill, and many of the other nearby neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn.

In many families, several generations have fond memories of riding on the carousel as children before passing along the tradition by taking their own children or grandchildren for their first ride. The Forest Park Carousel is not only a fun ride, but also a beautiful and historically significant piece of work.

Nearly all the figures were created by the hands of legendary Master Carver Daniel C. Muller, a crucial factor in the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision to designate the Forest Park Carousel a New York City Landmark in 2013.

To gain a better understanding of Muller, we need to start with Gustav Dentzel who had learned the craft of carousel-building from his father Michael in Germany and immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1864. Though he initially took up trade as a cabinetmaker, in 1867 he began the G.A. Dentzel Steam and Horsepower Carousel Builder Company.

Dentzel’s firm completed an average of four full carousels a year, some of the earliest carousels in the United States.

One of Dentzel’s carvers was also a close friend, John Heinrich Muller. When Mueller died suddenly, Dentzel raised his surviving two teenage sons as his own. The brothers, Daniel and Alfred, joined the Dentzel family business in 1890 and began carving carousel figures.

One of the many menagerie carvings by legendary Master Carver Daniel C. Muller on our Forest Park Carousel, which celebrates its 10th anniversary of being named a New York City Landmark this summer.

Although both brothers were talented carvers, it was Daniel C. Muller (born in 1872) who truly shone, honing his craft at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. D. C. Muller’s carvings were notable for being very beautiful and realistic. He was also known for militaristic carvings with horses sporting bugles, swords and canteens.

In 1903, the brothers left Dentzel and started their own company, D.C. Muller Brothers Carousel Manufacturing Company, a much smaller shop than Dentzel ran. The Mullers only managed to build 12 carousels over 14 years with much of the delays attributed to Muller’s attention to detail.

The Mullers closed the shop in 1917 and rejoined their former company, which had been run by William Dentzel since his father Gustav’s passing in 1909. They remained with the Dentzels until William passed away and the company folded in 1928 as the Golden Age of Carousels in America came to a close.

And that brings us to the Forest Park Carousel. In the early days of Forest Park, the golf course was much larger, covering all the land down to what is known today as Park Lane South. All the land that the Forest Park Carousel sits on today, plus all the area surrounding it, was originally part of the golf course.

The residents of Woodhaven complained and in 1923 the Parks Department reduced the size of the golf course and the land that was freed up was set aside as public park space. It was at that time that Forest Park began to more closely resemble the park we know today.

Plans for playgrounds, a concrete bandstand, tennis courts and a carousel were announced. It’s hard to imagine, but residents of Woodhaven were very opposed to the placement of a carousel so close to Woodhaven Boulevard, which was a sleepy one-lane road called Woodhaven Avenue at the time.

Construction on a building to contain the carousel finished in December 1922, in the woods, well off from Woodhaven Avenue. And by 1924, a carousel was spinning in Forest Park.

For over half a century, residents of Woodhaven and surrounding communities flocked to the Forest Park Carousel. Parents and grandparents put their children on the carousel, then sat and enjoyed the pipe organ music and the smell of hot dogs and popcorn.

Riders on the outside row of figures could try to win prizes by reaching out and grabbing rings that were suspended just out of reach. When children weren’t on the carousel, they had beautiful Forest Park to chase each other around in while their parents chatted with friends in the biergarten.

Next week, we’ll look at the next chapter in the life of our Forest Park Carousel, a story that contains tragedy as well as the tale of a Muller Carousel rising from the ashes of destruction.

History Club Remembers Beloved Horseman

Every month, a group of Woodhaven residents gather at neir’s Tavern to learn about our past and the people who lived here before us.

By Ed Wendell | [email protected] 

My dad loved to read about history. His area of special interest was the Civil War closely followed by the American Revolution. But it wasn’t just the dates and the description of events that really interested him; it was the stories about the people that lived that history that excited him.

Whenever he’d finish reading something of interest, he’d tell me about it, he’d tell me about the people involved, what they were like and what drove them. To him, the people were the main attraction, and the history was the interesting stories about what happened to them.

I found myself thinking about him last night right in the middle of a presentation I was giving at Neir’s Tavern. I was talking about the funeral of Hiram Woodruff, 156 years ago, and I knew he would have loved this story.

Hiram Woodruff was a beloved figure in Woodhaven, a famous horse trainer who had ridden and worked with all of the famous horses of that era. He was considered to be the most honest person in the horse racing business and had a circle of friends who loved and admired him.

A wicked snowstorm hit Woodhaven on the day he was to be buried atop a hill in Cypress Hills cemetery. Despite the bad weather, horsemen from all over came to Woodhaven to pay their respects to their friend whose sudden death at age 50 had taken them all by surprise.

The final resting place of Hiram Woodruff, overlooking Woodhaven. Woodruff’s friends had to carry his casket on a sled through a blizzard to get him to this spot where he had rested ever since, just one of the many interesting stories shared at meetings of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society.

His casket was being transported via horse and carriage but by the time they got to the cemetery, the wheels were getting stuck in the snow. His friends all tried pushing the carriage, and the horse was encouraged to pull harder, but Hiram Woodruff’s casket was not getting any closer to his final destination.

One of the men rode his horse back to Hiram Woodruff’s stables and came back with a large sled. His friends lifted the casket off of the carriage, lay it on the sled and they were able to bring him to the top of the hill where he still rests today, overlooking the stables and hotel and saloon that he owned on Jamaica Avenue.

Shortly after reading this account in an old newspaper, I paid a visit to that hill in Cypress Hills cemetery, to stand on that road and look up that hill towards the monument erected in his memory by his friends. I pictured the hill covered in deep snow, the men pushing the carriage and getting no further.

I imagined them waiting in the cold as one of them went for the sled. The longer I stood there, the more this story came to life for me. This wasn’t just about facts and dates, these were real people who were coming to life again on that hill, a century and a half after that cold snowy day.

I thought about my dad because he loved stories like this and he would have loved hearing all about it. He would have loved, as I did, seeing the kind words his friends had engraved into Woodruff’s monument.
“He was conspicuous for his genius, his unswerving integrity and his kindness of heart.”

That hill and that story and those words said a lot about how much Hiram Woodruff’s friends cared for him and I would love to sit down and tell my dad all about it. He’s been gone for 18 years now, but in his place I have been blessed by a wonderful group of people who also love these kinds of stories.

The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society meets twice a month, once in person at Neir’s Tavern and once online via Zoom. And together we look back on the history of this great community and the people that lived that history.

It’s an amazing feeling when you meet people who not only share the same interest, but whose passion matches yours for the stories you love to hear. To everyone who comes out to these meetings every month, I am grateful and so appreciative that we, the Woodhaven Historians, are taking this journey together.

Woodhaven Legend Honored

Max Rosner’s Great-great grandson – also named Max Rosner – was in attendance with over 25 other members of the Rosner family, making the day a true Woodhaven family reunion (photo courtesy of Eddie Gardiner).

By Ed Wendell | [email protected] 

Woodhaven recently honored the history of Dexter Park by hosting a sign dedication ceremony in honor of Max Rosner, the Hungarian immigrant who came to this country in search of the American Dream and ended up owning a baseball team and stadium.

Most importantly, he found a home right here in Woodhaven, where residents loved him so much that they referred to him as “Uncle Max.” And so it was a nice homecoming as over two dozen members of the Rosner family returned to Woodhaven for a ceremony.

“Street namings are very important,” said Councilmemer Joann Ariola, pinch hitting for Councilmember Robert Holden, who was feeling under the weather. “They help us remember our history. Max Rosner was a person who loved Woodhaven and he was a visionary who loved community.”

NY State Senator Joseph Addabbo noted that Rosner “was known affectionately in Woodhaven as Uncle Max because he gave back so much to the community,” noting that his fundraising was responsible for building a part of Jamaica Hospital.

Sherry Algredo, Chair of Community Board 9, said  ”As immigrants who came to this country with a dream, it’s great to hear and learn about the history of immigrants that came before us.”

Faiuze Ali, 1st Vice Chair of CB9 said it was an honor to work on this resolution, which actually hit close to home. Pointing to the school across the street from the sign, Ali said “I’m a graduate of Franklin K. Lane High School and I had no idea that I was in a neighborhood that was so historic.”

Friends and family of Max Rosner, owner of Dexter Park and the Buswicks, celebrate the unveiling of the Max Rosner Way street sign at the corner of Dexter Court and 86th Road (photo courtesy of Vance Barbour).

Jason Antos, Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society, noted that there was a “big increase in street co-namings” going on to say this is a good thing because “Queens County is very underserved” when it comes to street signs and historic markers.

Martin Colberg, President of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association was joined by WRBA VP Janet Forte and said “It’s important for us to remember the individuals that had an impact on our community.”

Loycent Gordon, owner of Neir’s Tavern noted a similarity between himself and Rosner, both immigrants to our country who wanted to give back to the community. “He wanted to do something for the country that gave him so much, and I try to do the same.”

And John Perricone, Executive Director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District noted that “as a Mets fan, it is nice to have a baseball related activity that is positive.”

And with that, the sign was unveiled and Max Rosner Way became official. Many thanks to everyone involved who brought this sign to fruition.

Max Rosner and Dexter Park were such an amazing part of Woodhaven’s history, with a beautiful stadium in our midst for three decades, the advent of night baseball, and the constant flow of great ballplayers from the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues that entertained and thrilled Woodhaven crowds.

But there is so much more history about Dexter Park that needs to be shared, in particular the early years. For instance, the site of Dexter Park was once owned by Hiram Woodruff, who is arguably the most famous person to ever have lived in Woodhaven. And most of us have never heard of him.

Come out next Monday night (July 17th) to Neir’s Tavern (87-48 78th Street) at 7 p.m. as we will introduce you to the amazing life and career of Mr. Woodruff, whose name is still very well-known in some circles, over 156 years after he passed away in the hotel he owned on Jamaica Avenue.

And in between the eras of Hiram Woodruff and Max Rosner, Dexter Park had a very dark and controversial period of history that left a stain on Woodhaven. If you think you know about Dexter Park, you probably don’t know half of it and will enjoy this free presentation.

If you can’t make it to Neir’s, we will be giving the same presentation via Zoom on Tuesday, August 1st at 8 p.m., email us at [email protected] for a free invite.

Thanks to everyone who came out to support the street sign unveiling and many thanks to the Rosner family who came home to celebrate with us. Mostly, thanks to Uncle Max Rosner for giving us such a splendid sporting history to be forever proud of.

Jamaica Street Renamed for FDNY Trailblazer

By Pamela Rider
[email protected]

The weather was gloomy at 11 a.m. on June 22, 2023. However the light of trailblazer, firefighter and community activist Cecelia Owens Cox was illuminating during the process of recognition for being the first female firefighter at Ladder Company 9 / Engine Company 33 in NoHo Manhattan. Owens-Cox was the first woman assigned to a ladder company, and the first to be a ladder company chauffeur.
At the intersection of the Van Wyck Expressway and Sutter Avenue in Jamaica, Owens Cox received a “Street Sign Unveiling” renaming that intersection in her name’s honor. Owens Cox was born in 1951 and due to health issues passed away in 2019. Not only was her celebration of life a big union of family, friends, and loved ones, but also this remarkable unveiling to commemorate her life’s work in the community and with the FDNY an equally acknowledged gesture of her importance to all of the individuals that she touched
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards expressed his love for Owens Cox and how much she was missed by him and the community.
“She was a brainchild who became a trailblazer for black women in 1982 as one of 41 female firefighters for the FDNY.” Richards laughed saying, “She put something in the water and explained how it’s a small world with their relationship.”
The Owens family lived in their home since 1956. Richards explained that they were childhood friends, went to the same church, played together and broke bread together with her family growing up. Richards found it to be amazing to be a part of this ground breaking ceremony and added, “I’m proud and honored to be a part of this.”
FDNY Fire Academy Chief Charles Downey spoke very fondly of Owens Cox, noting how much she was missed, and how she was an inspiration to all firefighters worldwide.
“While many of our team members were going through an emotional rollercoaster when the bell rang, Cox was the first to get on the truck,” Downing said. “She was a dedicated member of the team and loved her job.
Regina Wilson, a 24-year veteran of the FDNY and past president of the United Women Firefighters (UWF) group also spoke about the impact Owens-Cox had on her.When she joined the FDNY in 1999, she was only the 12th African American woman to do so. Today she is serving in her second term as president of the Vulcan Society, an organization that advocates for Black firefighters. She is also the first woman to hold the position in the organization’s history “[Owens-Cox] was not just a coworker, but a friend. An epiphany of what we as black women stand for,” Wilson said.
She’s also in her second term as president of the Vulcan Society, an organization that advocates for Black firefighters, and the first woman to hold that position in the organization’s 83 year history.
Owens-Cox did her best to remind the women that even though they were firefighters, they were to be recognized as not only females, but as ladies. Wilson added, “Owens-Cox taught [women] to be [their’ authentic self. Cox displayed a poised statuesque, always carrying and wearing her ruby red lipstick showing her femininity.”
Cox’s Husband and daughter were very emotional as they gave their thanks for the recognition of their beloved. The now retired Andre r shared the way his wife teased him about being a ‘probe.’ Cox became a firefighter two years after his wife. While in training she loved to tease him about being on probation. At that time Owens would say, “Remember you’re still on probation. I’m your boss.”
Cox said, “She teased me like that throughout our life together and I got a kick out of it. We worked so well together on and off the job.” Cox emotionally expressed his gratitude for the recognition of the Queens Council and the Community leaders for their acknowledgement of his wife’s accomplishments.

Happy Birthday: Woodhaven Turns 188

Woodhaven’s Permanent Residents. The Wyckoff-Snedicker cemetery on 96th Street in Woodhaven, behind All Saints Episcopal Church, where many of Woodhaven earliest settlers were laid to rest.

By Ed Wendell | [email protected]

This week, we will celebrate this great nation’s birthday. Let’s hope that your Fourth of July is full of good food and fun times with friends and neighbors. But did you know that this week also marks another birthday? One that’s a little closer to home.

For it was on July 1st, 1935 that the first papers were filed and the first piece of land was purchased in the Village of Woodville, which would later be renamed to Woodhaven. And so, while the rest of the nation celebrates America’s 247th birthday, closer to home we can also celebrate our own 188th birthday.

Can you imagine? Woodhaven is 12 years away from its bicentennial. We’d better start planning!

The area was well developed already by 1835, particularly around the Union Course Race Track. But the rest of Woodville was wide open. Before John R. Pitkin founded the Village of Woodville, this land was part of one giant farm, owned by Stephen Lott.

The Lott family was very prominent in our community’s early history, and many of them never left town, as they are resting peacefully in the northeast corner of the Wyckoff-Snedeker Cemetery on 96th Street, behind All Saints Church.

The community retained the name Woodville until the 1850s when, due to the growth in population, villagers applied for its own Post Office. However, this application was rejected due to the fact that there was already a Post Office for a Woodville in New York, some 325 miles north of here.

And so, we were forced to come up with a new name for our community. For a while, Edgewood was a popular suggestion for a new name. But John R. Pitkin suggested Woodhaven, and seeing as how he had gotten the whole thing off the ground, his opinion held a lot more sway.

John R. Pitkin left home at the age of 12 to seek his fortune and ended up establishing the neighborhood of Woodville on July 1st, 1835. Woodville would eventually be renamed Woodhaven and it celebrates its 188th birthday this month.

And so, in 1853, the Village of Woodhaven was officially established meaning that, if you want to get really technical, this year marks the 170th birthday or anniversary of the name Woodhaven.

Keep in mind that the map of Woodhaven back then was quite different than it is today. The village used to stretch far south, deep into what is known today as Ozone Park. Back in those days, the village of Woodhaven was partitioned into several sections, with names such as Columbia Park (near 91st Street and Jamaica) Eldert Park (near Eldert Lane), Equity Park (near PS 60 – in fact, the playground on 88th Avenue still retains that name).

These names were created for a few reasons, but mainly they were designed by real estate agents to help sell properties in this growing community. And one of the small sections of Woodhaven was a four-block parcel called Ozone Park.

Legend has it that the name Ozone was chosen to reflect the fresh breezes and healthy air that residents could expect to breathe in off the nearby water. And the name of Ozone Park may have faded into obscurity had it not been for the fact that the Long Island Railroad set up a station with that name on Broadway (now 101st Avenue).

Over time, as the section names faded, the name of Ozone Park remained and, in time, became a full community in its own right. So, not only is it Woodhaven’s birthday, it’s really Ozone Park’s birthday as well. We have a shared history, these two communities, so we might as well celebrate together.

The big celebration lays ahead, the bicentennial in 2035. Back in 1935, Woodhaven had a giant celebration. The highlight of Woodhaven’s Centennial was a procession from Dexter Court to the Willard Theater on 96th Street (later the Cordon Bleu and today the Woodhaven Manor).

Residents carried a gigantic cake down Jamaica Avenue and into the theater, which accommodated close to 3,000 people. On this night, according to news clippings at the time, the theater was overflowing with residents, with crowds waiting in the streets to get inside. During the celebration inside the Willard, a celebratory telegram from Mae West was read aloud to cheers from one and all.

And so, as you enjoy your hot dogs and your parties, please remind your friends and neighbors that it’s not just America’s birthday they are celebrating, they are celebrating our birthday as well.

Happy birthday Woodhaven and Ozone Park!

Dexter Park and Max Rosner to be Honored in Street Renaming

 

 

The stadium at Dexter Park was built in 1923 and played host to many of the greatest players in Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues, and was the site of the first night game in baseball, 5 years before the Major Leagues. It also played host to Boxing, Wrestling, Football, Soccer, Polo and in the 1950s it was home of Stock Car racing. 

By Ed Wendell
From playing host to many of the greatest players in Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues, to being the birthplace of the great innovation of Night Baseball, there is a lot for residents of Woodhaven in to be proud of when it comes to Max Rosner and Dexter Park.
Both will be remembered fondly this Saturday, July 1st, at 11 a.m. when the corner of Dexter Court and 86th Road, where the box office of the old stadium used to sit, will be renamed in Max Rosner’s honor, with the Rosner family in attendance.
In 1892, a young man named Max Rosner immigrated to the United States from Hungary. He eventually settled down in Woodhaven, opening a Cigar Store on Jamaica Avenue near Forest Parkway that would operate very profitably for many years. He also became a resident of Woodhaven when he bought a home on 76th Street.
If that was all that Max Rosner ever did, it would be an American success story. But Rosner was no ordinary man, and his success story was far from ordinary.
As a newcomer to this country, Rosner became enamored with baseball, which was a relatively new sport at the time. He watched the local teams and eventually tried out and played shortstop for a semi-pro team.
In time, Max Rosner took over as manager of the Bushwicks, a Brooklyn-based team that played frequently at Dexter Park in Woodhaven, Queens.

Shortly after immigrating from Hungary, Max Rosner became a fan of baseball, playing shortstop for a local team and then becoming a manager. Here he is (top center) with the Paramounts in 1903; they played at Morgan and Metropolitan Avenues in Brooklyn. He would soon become manager of the Bushwicks, who played at Dexter Park here in Woodhaven.

In October of 1922 Max Rosner and partner Nat Strong purchased Dexter Park and the Bushwicks from the Ulmer Brewery for $200,000. Ulmer Brewery had been forced to cease operations due to prohibition.
Dexter Park became the home field for the Bushwicks and for the Brooklyn Royal Giants, one of the top teams in the Negro Leagues.
They began immediately to improve the ballpark, building a new concrete grandstand which increased the capacity to 13,000 (6 thousand individual seats and bleachers which accommodated 7 thousand people).
The playing field itself was one of the largest in the United States. The distance from home plate to the centerfield fence was a whopping 450 feet and only the legendary Hall of Famer Josh Gibson was able to hit one over it.
The newly remodeled stadium opened nearly 100 years ago, on April 15, 1923.
Over the years, Rosner was also well known in Woodhaven for his charitable contributions.  Numerous times, Rosner donated the use of Dexter Park for benefit games to raise funds for charities, including a series of games which helped construct a new building for Jamaica Hospital.
Rosner was famous for being the first one at the ballpark every morning, often to the chagrin of his groundskeepers. He was such a beloved figure to the residents of Woodhaven that he soon became known, even in the press, as Uncle Max.
Under his ownership, Dexter Park was a prime source of entertainment for residents in Woodhaven and the neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens that surrounded it. Dexter Park wasn’t just a home for baseball; Dexter Park also hosted Boxing, Soccer, Football, Polo (with horses) and in later years, Stock Car racing.
Every year, once the Major League Baseball season was over, legendary ballplayers such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Dizzy Dean would come to Woodhaven to play ball.
And over the years, legendary players from the Negro Leagues like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige played right here in Woodhaven, years before the color barrier would be broken in Major League Baseball by Jackie Robinson.
Dexter Park was also famous for the introduction of night games, a full 8 years before it was adopted in the Major Leagues.
Although it was initially seen as a fad or a novelty, night baseball proved to be so popular with fans that in years to come, day games became far less frequent. Today, the majority of baseball games are played at night.
Major League baseball on television hurt many semi pro teams, the Bushwicks included. Rosner shifted gears and converted Dexter Park for Stock Car Racing. Eventually, the crowds dwindled and after Rosner passed away, the park was sold and demolished, and new homes were built on the land.
These days, many residents of Woodhaven (themselves immigrants to this country like Rosner himself) are unaware of the existence or history of Woodhaven’s stadium. We hope you will come out to honor this important piece of Woodhaven’s history.

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!

Throwing A Birthday Party for Mary Whalen Playground

By Ed Wendell

For 100 years, children have been having a great time at the playground at 79th Street and Park Lane South. On Saturday, June 17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – 100 years to the day it officially opened – the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society and Forest Park are throwing a Birthday Party for Mary Whalen Playground, and everyone’s invited.

There will be arts and crafts activities for the kids including the return of our very popular coloring table, where kids can color pages depicting local history. And there will be music and pizza and special guests to help celebrate this playground reaching its century milestone.

Every child that brings a handmade birthday card for the playground will be entered into our raffle for prizes and we will have plenty of other small prizes so that no kid walks away empty-handed.

And if a child doesn’t bring a birthday card, they can create one at our coloring table.

One of our wonderful local artists, Jennifer Lambert, will be creating works of art with kids by coloring golf balls. And kids can sit in a golf cart in front of a golf course backdrop to have their pictures taken on this historic day.

Why is there a golf theme at the 100th birthday for Mary Whalen Playground?

When Forest Park officially launched in 1895, an eighteen-hole golf course was opened to the public. The Forest Park Golf Course was massive, stretching south all the way to Ashland Avenue (Park Lane South), where residential homes marked the start of Woodhaven proper.

This means that many of the things you love in Forest Park – the Seuffert Bandshell, the Forest Park Carousel, Strack Pond, the Tennis Courts – all of that land used to be a part of the Golf Course.

The first four holes of the golf course ran along Park Lane South right to what is now Woodhaven Boulevard. The next time you are in that playground, remember that you are at the original first tee of the golf course. Look up at the golf clubhouse and picture golfers coming down those long steps to start their game.

After a few years of negotiation, the Parks Department agreed to shift four holes of the golf course directly off of Ashland and extend the course northward, picking up the land to build four replacement holes near the Myrtle Avenue side of the park.

Development of the playground was delayed by World War I, but finally opened at 12 Noon on June 17, 1923. Originally it was called the Lott Avenue Playground, named after a local prominent family who owned much of the land that Forest Park was built upon.

Today, Lott Avenue is 76th Street and the Lott Avenue Playground is named after Mary Whalen, a longtime community activist who was President of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and the Vice-President of Community Board 9.

Mary Whalen was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of American Legion Post 118, the Catholic Veterans Group and a member of the Woodhaven Women’s Democratic Club. One of Mary Whalen’s crowning achievements was the founding of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation. She not only founded the organization, she served as its first President.

“There wasn’t anything she couldn’t accomplish once she set her mind to it,” said Maryann Keller, daughter of Mary Whalen. “She was well known for her determination and her love for her community.”

Keller remembers fondly some of the traditions that her mother helped start in Woodhaven, many of them still part of the community’s fabric to this day. “I remember the Christmas Tree lighting and the parade and the street fair.”

“A lot of the improvements she brought to Woodhaven helped make it the community it is to this day,” she says.

And on June 17, 2023 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Woodhaven will celebrate this playground’s centennial with a fun celebration and we hope everyone can make it.

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