A Chance Encounter At Love, 35 Years Later

On our wedding day in August 1988, with Maid of Honor Cathy DeSalvo, Best Man Kimberly D. Lane, Ring Bearer Daniel DeSalvo and Flower Girl Julie English.

By Ed Wendell | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com

It was 35 years ago this month that my wife and I walked down the aisle at St. Thomas the Apostle, vowing to remain together forever and ever. Time has passed by so quickly that it’s hard to fathom that it was that long ago.

Long before I got married, I worked behind the counter at Phil’s Cheese and Cold Cuts, right next door to Jason’s Toy Store. I was about 16 at the time and this young lady came in and asked for a pound of liverwurst, with wax paper between each slice.

People asked for wax paper so the liverwurst wouldn’t stick together, making it difficult to use. But since it took extra time and since I had the patience of a 16-year old, I just sliced the liverwurst and said ‘the heck with the wax paper.’

Well, about twenty minutes later, Phil’s phone rang and shortly afterwards I was called into the back kitchen. The Liverwurst Girl’s mother was in a rage. Phil made me slice another pound and deliver it personally and took the cost of the liverwurst out of my pay.

I would have been quite happy if I never saw The Liverwurst Girl again. As an aside, later on I found out that the liverwurst with the paper in between was actually for their dog.

Phil’s Cheese and Cold Cuts closed for good about 15 years ago, but it is remembered by many residents of Woodhaven.

A few years later, in 1984, I was a young man in my first year of college. I was now driving, had my own car (a green 1967 Mercury Montego).

One day, I found a parking spot in front of my house, but couldn’t get the car to go into reverse; the transmission had gone. I drove around for a while looking for a spot I could just pull into without having to go into backwards.

I finally found a spot I could drive into just a few blocks away. I returned to the car the next day and looked under the hood. I put in some transmission fluid; I put in more oil, more windshield washer, etc. Basically, I did all the things that people who know nothing about cars do when something’s wrong.

I slammed the hood down and went home, totally discouraged. Nothing good was coming of this day, or so I thought. It turns out that I had parked my car in front of The Liverwurst Girl’s house.

In my frustration, I left my dipstick out and The Liverwurst Girl grabbed ahold of it. The next day she gave it back to me and we both saw stars. You ever see those scenes in cartoons where people fall in love and their eyes turn into hearts? That was us.

A few days later we went on our first date, to see Purple Rain, starring Prince. It was August 31st, 1984. And at the end of August four years later, The Liverwurst Girl and I made it official at St. Thomas, followed up with a reception at Le Cordon Bleu.

It was lucky that my car broke down where it did. It was towed away a few days later. My wife Josephine still has the dipstick, though. She never let go of that.

My wife Josephine with the dipstick that led to our meeting in August of 1984.

It’s hard to believe that the years have passed by so quickly. 35 years can pass by as quickly as a two-week vacation and in the meantime, your life can change immensely. On the eve of our anniversary, we brought out the old wedding album and looked back on that day so long ago.

We were 24 and 25 years old that day and surrounded by so many members of our family who are no longer with us. We’re older and slower these days, older now than our elders were on the day we got married.

Words of advice to any young readers out there – don’t squander any of it, don’t waste a single day. Because it will pass just as quickly for you as it did for everyone else that came before you.

The older you get, anniversaries and birthdays are subtle reminders that we have more days behind us than up ahead, and we better make every one of them count. And make sure when you get to our age, the memories you have to look back on are happy ones. This way, when you say Happy Anniversary to each other, you’ll really mean it.

This Retired Jockey Has Many Stories To Tell

Woodhaven native and longtime jockey Alfred J. “Rocky” Hanan (white shirt, center) and fans gathered at Neir’s Tavern this week for a celebration of the sport of horse racing. Rocky entertained the crowd with tales on and off the track, including a memorable encounter with the legendary Mae West.

By Ed Wendell | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com

Woodhaven has a wonderful pedigree in horse racing dating back to 1821, when the Union Course racetrack opened (after 2 decades of horse racing being illegal in New York State). Within 2 years, a crowd of over 60,000 people came to Woodhaven to view and bet on the outcome of the race between American Eclipse and Sir Henry.

The hero of that story was the jockey who rode Eclipse to victory, a man named Samuel Purdy. He took over the reins for the 2nd and 3rd heat that day and his maneuver during the last lap of the second heat to take the lead was discussed and praised by horse racing fans for decades.

This week, Woodhaven’s grand history of horse racing gained another chapter, and another character, when Alfred J. “Rocky” Hanan came to Neir’s Tavern for a “Night at the Races.” Hanan, a Woodhaven native who was a jockey for many decades, entertained the crowd with tales on and off the track.

Rocky was a small lad for 13 years old, just 80 pounds soaking wet. He was on the street with some pals, smoking, when two men told him to get rid of the cigarette. Rocky was a bit of a wiseguy and told them where to get off.

The two men, brothers as it turned out, sized the young man up and saw potential. They spoke to young Rocky’s mother and confirmed that he was only 13.

“We have connections with people at the race track,” they told her, “and we might be able to get him a spot with a good outfit.”

By the time Rocky was 14 he was riding for Greentree Stud and Stable, a very successful thoroughbred racing and breeding stable. And that was what Rocky did for decades, before retiring and becoming a horse trainer, something he still does now in his 80s.

Woodhaven native and longtime jockey Alfred J. “Rocky” Hanan (white shirt, center) and fans gathered at Neir’s Tavern this week for a celebration of the sport of horse racing. Rocky entertained the crowd with tales on and off the track, including a memorable encounter with the legendary Mae West.

Rocky spoke to the crowd at Neir’s about the thrill of riding a horse and his affection for the sport. “”It was a love that you can’t beat,” he said. “It was never a job, it was fun; it was wonderful!”

Rocky brought along a suitcase full of racing memories, including his racing cap, colors, a whip and goggles, which was a necessity when it rained.

“When it rained hard, you’d wear 4 or 5 pairs of goggles at once. And as you’re going round those turns, and the horses in front of you are kicking up that mud, you had to reach up with one finger and pull down one pair, leaving you with a few more clean pairs covering your eyes. And you’re doing this with your hands full, in the pouring rain, on a horse running at full speed!”
Rocky spoke lovingly of horses, but none more than Secretariat, who he never rode, but said was the nicest, classiest and smartest horse he’d ever witnessed.

“I’ve never seen a horse in my entire life like Secretariat. I would have given anything just to sit on him! And he was a smart horse; he watched everything around him. He’d be grazing and a plane would fly high overhead, and he’d pick his head up and follow the plane with his eyes!”

As a longtime resident of Woodhaven, Rocky had the pleasure of meeting one of its most famous residents, though he didn’t know it at the time.

“I was 8 years old and on Saturdays I’d go door to door collecting for the Long Island Press. One day, I’m at a house on 88th Street and a lady opens the door and tells me to come in. Turns out she had a house full of people and she brought me in and said to them ‘Ooh, isn’t he cute, look at the size of him!”

Alfred J. “Rocky” Hanan and Loycent Gordon, owner of Neir’s Tavern, celebrating the sport of horse racing in Woodhaven, right across the street from where the famed Union Course Racetrack used to sit (1821-1870).

As he was leaving the house, the woman paid the bill and gave him a dollar tip, which was a lot of money for a kid back then. “I thought I was a millionaire!” he said.

Only later on, did he find out whose house that was, and who gave him the dollar, it was none other than Mae West!

Life is like a horse race, you never know what’s going to happen. A chance encounter on the street led to a lifetime of love and thrills for a local boy from Woodhaven and he has no regrets.
“If I had to live ten more lifetimes I’d do it all over again!” Rocky said.

The Unconventional Boxing Instructor

Professor Yoerger with Trixie – “the dog with the mind of a child” and Skippy.

By Ed Wendell | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com 

George Yoerger’s future was set when a muscular stranger with a handlebar mustache walked on to his farm in East Norwalk, Connecticut and inquired about renting the family’s barn.

“I’m John L. Sullivan,” the man said, introducing himself. “I’m champion of the world.” The legendary Sullivan, aka The Boston Strong Boy, was the first heavyweight champ. He spent the next few months training on the Yoerger farm, and young George soon knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Inside the ring he was a tough fighter, but his true calling was outside the ring, where he became a well-respected boxing and self-defense instructor. At the turn of the century, he moved to Brooklyn with his wife Minnie and opened a gymnasium at Broadway and Myrtle which was an almost immediate success. Dubbing himself “Professor” Yoerger, he lured in customers with the promise:  “Six lessons free if you hit me on the nose!”

But while he was busy training pupils how to box, Minnie began to get cozy with one of his friends and the neighbors began to talk. One approached Yoerger with these suspicions and one night he and two private detectives burst into their apartment and found his friend hiding in the bedroom.

Yoerger sued his friend for $100,000 for alienation of affection and the trial made scandalous headlines for several months.

He returned to the headlines several years later when a small gang of thugs tried to rough him up for some money and a blue diamond he had in his possession. They failed to see the flaw in their plan and the Professor of boxing whipped the bunch of them and called the police. Another public trial followed, and Professor Yoerger was hailed a hero.

Professor Yoerger Ad for his services (with his picture).

Later in life he met a much younger woman and they fell in love. The woman was Florence Lott, whose family was among some of the earliest residents of Woodhaven, many of whom are still buried in the Colonial Era Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery (on 96th Street in Woodhaven).

They moved into Lott’s family home on Lott Avenue (named for the family, and today known as 76th Street), a few hundred feet south of Jamaica Avenue, where it still stands today.

Yoerger semi-retired from the boxing profession and closed the gym in Brooklyn (though he opened a small private gymnasium in the backyard of his home in Woodhaven). Since training was still in his blood, he embarked on a second career – training dogs. He started his training with his own dog, Trixie, who he would take out for paid exhibitions.

Trixie’s most popular trick was to sit at a table, open a menu, select a meal, go through the motions of eating and when finished, wiping her face with her paw.

Trixie was advertised as the dog “with the mind of a child,” and with each public appearance, his renown as a dog trainer grew, and this business flourished as well. He was commissioned to write several newspaper articles giving owners advice with their dogs and his fame was such that he and Trixie were asked to take part in a dog show at the Jamaica Arena to help raise funds for the Helen Keller Free Clinic.

Helen Keller herself attended the show and it was said that she affectionately pet many of the hundreds of children and their dogs that took part in the show. She told one reporter that if she was to be granted but a single split-second of sight that she would choose to see “a child and its dog.”

Florence Lott, the Professor’s 2nd wife and a member of one of Woodhaven’s most prominent early families.

In his later years, Yoerger added fencing, trick pistol shooting, and diamond appraising to his activities, also finding time to found the Long Island Society of Magicians. In 1949, Professor Yoerger (by now in his 80s) appeared on television, providing commentary for live bouts being broadcast from the boxing arena at Ridgewood Grove.

Professor George Yoerger would pass away in 1951 shortly after his 84th birthday (his young wife Florence would outlive him by over twenty years, passing away in late 1973).  He had a long, remarkable life, and it’s even more remarkable when you discover the fact that he was deaf his entire life.

Professor George Yoerger was a colorful character and you can learn more about him and other interesting people from our community’s rich history at twice monthly meetings of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society (at Neir’s Tavern, 78th Street and 88th Avenue, at 7 p.m. on the 3rd Monday of every month and on Zoom at 8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month. Email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com for more information and to get on our mailing list.

It’s Not Just An Ice Cream Truck

When 60s rock and roll star Brian Hyland visited Woodhaven, he was thrilled to see a Mister Softee truck, something he hadn’t seen since his childhood. The Mister Softee truck was just one of many things that adults today can bond over as it was part of their shared experience growing up in Woodhaven.

By Ed Wendell | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com

A city councilman in Brooklyn has introduced legislation that would require ice cream trucks to modify their trucks to power their soft-serve machines with solar or electric, instead of fuel. While the intent is good (it will benefit the environment) the estimated cost of upgrading each truck is so prohibitive (at least $5,000 each) that many vendors may just go out of business.

This could forever silence a welcome sound of summer, that being the Mister Softee jingle that let kids everywhere know that the ice cream man is coming.

Looking back at our own childhoods, I see so very little in common with the experiences that children grow up with today. We were so blessed to grow up in an era where kids were allowed to be kids.

We played outside from early in the morning until the light faded and our mothers called us in. We chased each other and played games like Tag and Ringolevio and Red Light, Green Light 1-2-3. And when we ran out of games to play, we made up new ones.

When was the last time you saw kids playing games in the streets? Last year, I was happy to see a Skully board on the street around the corner from me. A few days later I saw who was using it, a few middle-aged old-timers like me trying to relive their youth, not a kid in sight.

Whenever you do see kids in the street, their faces are glued to their phones, playing games online or looking at who knows what.

Years ago, we looked forward to Saturday mornings as the channels would be full of cartoons and shows geared towards children. We all loved Scooby Doo and Josie and the Pussycats and Bugs Bunny and dozens of other shows that were always entertaining.

When we saw each other we would talk about the latest episodes we had just all seen and we would imitate the characters and re-tell the jokes and share the laughter with each other.

These days, Saturday mornings are no longer known for cartoons; instead, you get infomercials and news programs. Sure, there are dozens of cable channels and shows for kids but the entertainment is so scattered and diffused that they’re often watching different shows from each other.

We all had plenty of local penny candy stores to visit and they brought us so much joy. I remember going into Reap’s on 95th Street and Jamaica Avenue and the owner, Tillie, helping us get the most value for our nickels. We’d run out of there with our candies and share them with each other.

Stores like that just don’t exist anymore. Jamaica Avenue is littered with stores that sell paraphernalia for smoking pot. Not only do we have all the illegal weed stores but even the newsstands and bodegas sell bongs. Heck, the one toy and game store in the neighborhood even has bongs in the front window.

What kind of childhoods are we creating for today’s young kids and future generations? They appear to be devoid of fun and imagination and any time I read about the rise of depression in young kids, I’m so unsurprised.

We’re raising them to be isolated from one another, to become more introverted than sociable and then we pump their brains full of ‘entertainment’ that is full of horrible violence. Can we really be surprised that young people are rioting over video games, like we saw in the city this past week?

There’s an old expression that says, Garbage In, Garbage Out. And if we keep giving our young people a steady diet of garbage we shouldn’t be surprised when they turn out badly. We shouldn’t be surprised when they turn out isolated, depressed and inclined to believe that violence is a solution.

And so, Mister Softee might seem like just an ice cream truck, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s another good piece of childhood being threatened with extinction, like playing games in the streets or Saturday morning cartoons or innocent penny candy stores.

As a result, we’re going to end up with a generation that we will have almost nothing in common with. And I don’t think anyone can save us from that fate. Not even Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse.

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 | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com

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 | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com 

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.

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 | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com 

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 projectwoodhaven@gmail.com 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.

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 | news@queensledger.com

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!

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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