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.

Celebrating Woodhaven’s Sporting World Contributions

By Ed Wendell

 

American Eclipse painted by Alvan Fischer in 1823. Standing with Eclipse is Samuel Purdy, the jockey, and owner Cornelius Van Ranst.

The Union Course Racetrack operated from the 1820s through the early 1870s and Dexter Park ran from around the turn of the century to the mid-50s.

Combined they were only open for a little over 100 years but they left a lasting impact and a legacy that will be honored this year by the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society – and both are celebrating big milestone anniversaries this year!

First up is the Union Course Racetrack, which officially opened in October of 1821 but really hit the big time 200 years ago this month when 60,000 people came to see the matchup between American Eclipse (from the North) versus Sir Henry (representing the South).

These match races were a new phenomenon largely due to the recent availability of steamship travel.

Before their arrival, a horse from one region would need to walk a few hundred miles before reaching its destination where it would be expected to race. And races in those days could run anywhere from 12 to 20 miles in a single day!

This also resulted in more people traveling great distances to see these highly anticipated races. Previously, big races would attract crowds of six to eight thousand people.

The race that took place on Tuesday, May 27, 1823 brought 60,000 to our community (which wouldn’t be called Woodhaven for quite some time yet).

Just two decades after the demise of the Union Course, people began playing loosely organized games of baseball in a nearby park. Pretty soon, semi-professional teams from all over were brought here to play and in 1922 the local team, the Bushwicks, were purchased by Max Rosner, a former player/manager with the team. The next year, in 1923, a new expanded baseball stadium was opened.

Dexter Park made a few wonderful contributions to baseball. First up, it was the site of many contests featuring the greatest baseball players of all time.

Hall of Fame sluggers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were just a few among the many famous ballplayers that would come to Woodhaven for exhibitions.

Dexter Park also played host to many of the Negro League teams and some of the great players of that era including Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige, both of whom would end up in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

It was common for the Negro League teams to come into Woodhaven to face off against the Bushwicks and fans would flock to see these contests, decades before Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947.

Josh Gibson was reportedly the only player to smack a homerun over the centerfield fence which was 30 feet high and 418 feet away from home plate! Once known as “the Black Babe Ruth,” fans at Dexter Park became so impressed with his power that they began calling Ruth “the White Josh Gibson.”

And finally, Dexter Park introduced night baseball in 1930 (which wouldn’t be used in the major leagues for another half-decade).

The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will honor both sporting achievements this year starting next Monday, May 15, with a visual presentation on the famed race between Eclipse and Sir Henry.

This will take place at historic Neir’s Tavern (87-48 78th Street) and starts at 7 p.m.

Come out and hear all about the fascinating circumstances that led to this race. Please note that everyone who attends will receive a commemorative racing sheet featuring all of the main characters of this dramatic story.

Legendary Yankees Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig flank Max Rosner and his grandson here in Woodhaven, at Dexter Park. Many Hall of Famers played baseball here in Woodhaven during the off-season.

And on Saturday May 27, starting at 10 a.m., the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be leading a brief walking tour around the Union Course racetrack and telling the story of the great race that took place exactly 200 years ago that day.

And commemorative racing sheets will be given to the first 60,000 fans that show up for the walking tour!

And Max Rosner, owner of Dexter Park and the Bushwicks, will be honored with the unveiling of a street sign in his honor on Woodhaven’s birthday!

Come to Dexter Ct. and 86th Road on July 1 at noon to pay honor to this beloved figure in Woodhaven’s History and celebrate our community’s founding!

And please tell your neighbors and help spread the word about Woodhaven’s substantive contributions to the sporting world.

Woodhaven Remembers Fallen Soldiers

By Ed Wendell

 

Memorial Day, recognized on the last Monday in May, pays honor to the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the military. Woodhaven has always been a patriotic neighborhood and there are several monuments around Woodhaven dedicated to soldiers. The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be recounting all of these memorials and the history behind them in a special Zoom presentation this Tuesday, May 2nd at 8 p.m. If you are not already on our mailing list, email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com for a free invite to this presentation.

Let’s begin a quick review with the large granite monument sitting in the front yard of American Legion Post 118. The plaque contains names of young men who lost their lives in World War I. In front of it is a second monument dedicated to those who lost their lives in World War II.

American Legion Post 118 on 91st Street and 89th Avenue is one of seven memorials in Woodhaven to those who lost their lives defending our country. The large monument in front of Post 118 once sat in Forest Park where Memorial Day parades used to finish, but it was moved to the American Legion’s front yard when the new post building was built in the early 40s.

A second monument to the war dead is on 84th Street and 91st Avenue in Lieutenant Clinton L. Whiting Square, also known as “The Rock.”

Erected in the late 20s in memory of a local lad who died in World War I, the local VFW, which was just a few houses away on 91st Avenue, was also named after Lieutenant Whiting.

The third monument sits on Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue and was erected in the early 1950s to honor local youth killed in World War II. For many years, this was an important stop for Memorial Day parades, and they even used to perform 21-gun salutes at this location.

The GWDC and the American Legion have held Memorial Day observances at this monument for decades.

A fourth monument is the rediscovered Memorial Trees of Woodhaven, which run along Forest Park Drive from Park Lane South past Oak Ridge and towards the Forest Park Carousel. These trees were planted for local soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.

Family members and residents used to decorate the trees with wreaths and patriotic ribbons on Memorial Day, a tradition that faded away once the granite monument was moved and Memorial Day parades no longer ended in the park.

The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society and American Legion Post 118 Auxiliary revived the act of decorating the trees back in 2015 and it has remained a yearly tradition since then. If you would like to help decorate the trees this year, please email us.

A fifth monument sits just to the east of the trees along Forest Park Drive. Private First Class Lawrence Strack Memorial Pond was named after the first local youth killed in Vietnam. At the time it was dedicated, the pond had been converted to ballfields.

The Memorial Trees of Woodhaven, which run along Forest Park Drive from Park Lane South past Oak Ridge and towards the Forest Park Carousel. These trees were planted for local soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.

American Legion Post 118 adopted a resolution asking the city to dedicate the fields to the local young man who played for Rich Haven Little League and was only 18 years old when he was killed in 1967.

The ballfields never took; they were always prone to flooding. And so in 2004 the Parks Department finished a project converting the fields back to a pond and rededicated it to PFC Strack.

Private First Class Lawrence Strack Memorial Pond was named after the first local youth killed in Vietnam. At the time it was dedicated, the pond had been converted to ballfields but was converted back into a pond in 2004.

A sixth monument is a location we’re all familiar with, but might not realize it was dedicated to the war dead. Victory Field was built and dedicated to “the unknown soldier of World War I.”

And finally, a seventh monument sits inside St. Thomas the Apostle Church. Brass plaques with the names of young men from the parish who died in both World Wars used to be outside on the church wall, but when one of the plaques was stolen the other was moved inside.

The missing plaque was recreated through the efforts of Woodhaven resident and veteran Joe Virgona and returned to the church in 2009.

And there you have the seven Woodhaven monuments to soldiers that lost their lives serving their country. Did we miss any? Drop us a line at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com.

How Did We Get Here?

Saturday’s Smokeshop Murder Leaves Community in Shock

By Ed Wendell

It was the early 1980s when VCRs – video cassette recorders – became affordable and suddenly everyone had one.

Now you didn’t have to miss your favorite television programs, you could record them. At the same time it created a demand for renting movies to watch at home and as a result video stores began popping up all over.

The Video Connection. Captain Video. Video Maniacs. They were everywhere. It was a fun and exciting time and no one was hurt. For sure, no one was ever killed over a VHS tape.

Four decades later a new market has emerged with stores popping up all over the place. Smoke Palace. Kush Kings. Leaf Connection. As a result, because of the way New York mishandled it, a market for violent crime and mayhem was created.

This past Saturday afternoon, while most of us were out enjoying the day, a young man was shot and killed during a robbery of a smoke shop on Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill. He was just 20 years old, his entire life ahead of him, ended violently because of the gross stupidity of New York.

How did we get here?

After many years of debate, New York made it legal to possess and smoke and grow marijuana in your home. But they dragged their heels on rolling out licenses and as a result today there are only 3 places in New York where you can purchase pot legally, all within a few blocks of each other in Manhattan.

As a result, entrepreneurs across the city began opening up shops to capture a share of the market and the city made the decision to leave them be. As a result we have shops all over selling pot openly and illegally. And because they’re selling it illegally, it needs to remain a cash business.

To recap, because it’s really hard to believe how stupid New York handled this, they took an underground business that was connected to the criminal world; they dropped businesses flush with cash and drugs in our laps; and they told the police to stand down.

What did they expect would happen? Of course all of these stores would become rich targets for robbery. Thugs know these stores have drugs and cash and if they get robbed they can’t really go to the police. These robberies are becoming more frequent and brazen and violent and what happened Saturday is the result of stupid arrogant thinking on the part of New York State.

Last year, we took a wee trip to visit a friend in Massachusetts. As soon as we crossed the state line we saw a half-dozen shops open for business, but the difference was that they were all licensed and all operating legally.

We stopped into one of them on the way home and it was as safe an environment as you could ask for. Upon entering the store we were in a lobby where a receptionist asked to see some ID. We gave her our drivers licenses and they scanned them in.

We were buzzed through a door and entered a long hallway where we were buzzed in through another door. Once inside, we were greeted by name by a young man with an iPad who walked us around and answered any questions we had.

You would tell him what you wanted and he would enter it on the iPad and when you were done, you went to the counter and paid for it by credit card and walked out with a nice bag. It was all very well organized and very, very safe.

Compared to Massachusetts, our state is the wild, wild, west. We have created a rich environment for crime and violence and over time, the toll on our communities will surely mount.

This was so badly handled that I don’t think that any of us expect that New York will work out a solution to this massive problem that they’ve created any time soon.
There’s really only one explanation for why the State of New York decided to roll out this law this way – they must have been high. And being high and stupid is a deadly combination.

The Great Woodhaven Yard Sale Celebrates 10th Anniversary

By Ed Wendell

projectwoodhaven@gmail.com

 

WRBA President Martin Colberg made the rounds thanking all of the participants in last year’s Great Woodhaven Yard Sale, a community-wide yard sale that will take place this weekend on Saturday June 10th and Sunday June 11th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To register, email thegreatwoodhavenyardsale@gmail.com or call the WRBA at 718-296-3735 and leave your name and contact information.

The Great Woodhaven Yard Sale is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year and it looks like it will be the biggest one yet. Sponsored by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) since 2013, the Great Woodhaven Yard Sale (GWYS) is a coordinated effort to all have a community-wide yard sale on the same date.

So instead of you having your yard sale one weekend, your neighbors having theirs the next weekend, and the people across the street having theirs next month – the idea is to have all your yard sales on the same day. And since all your locations will be heavily advertised both inside and outside of Woodhaven, you will see a big increase in people visiting your sale

And for the first time, this year’s GWYS has been expanded to a 2-day event.

“There’s been a drumbeat the last few years of the event that setting up for just one day was kind of inefficient for participants,” says Vance Barbour, Director and Event Coordinator of the WRBA. And so, this year’s Great Woodhaven Yard Sale will take place on Saturday June 10th and Sunday June 11th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Barbour says that the WRBA is expanding their marketing of the GWYS to bring in more shoppers. “For the first event in 2013 we only had a tri-fold brochure that we handed out at WRBA Town Hall meetings and at the subway stations on Jamaica Avenue.”

“We now have social media presence on Facebook and Twitter, we place free and paid advertisements on places like Craig’s List New York and Facebook, and issue a press release to 32 local and regional news organizations. This year for the first time we will be listing the event on local and regional yard/garage sale websites,” he says.

To register for the 2023 Great Woodhaven Yard Sale email thegreatwoodhavenyardsale@gmail.com or call the WRBA at 718-296-3735 and leave your name and contact information. And for the first time ever, the WRBA is opening up participation to homes outside the 11421 Zip Code.

“Over the years we have had a number of calls from residents of Richmond Hill and Ozone Park who wanted to participate in the event, but we had to turn them away due to logistics,” Barbour explained.

“Placing them on The Map might make The Map illegible for participants who counted on it to find participating households. For the last two events we began attaching a list of household addresses to the map, which frees us up to accept households from our neighboring communities. While we will not be actively soliciting neighboring community households, we will not be turning them away either.”

One of the keys to making your yard sale successful is to get your neighbors involved. When the maps are distributed, people will tend to look for clusters so that when they visit one block they’ll have several yard sales to visit.

Once you sign up, give the information to your neighbors and ask them to pass along to their neighbors that they know. Even a few houses at the end of the block, or even around the corner, will help drive extra traffic to your doorstep.

Yard sales are a summer tradition around Woodhaven and it’s nice that there’s always a few here and there almost every weekend. But the Great Woodhaven Yard Sale is a terrific event, typically attracting more than 100 households and hundreds and hundreds of shoppers, from all around Queens

One year, we ran into a guy who had his arms full of stuff he’d bought at yard sales in Woodhaven. He was heading home to Glendale to drop off what he’d bought and rushing back to hit the rest of the houses on the map.

Make sure you get your household on the map so it’s a bunch of your stuff in people’s arms, taking it away to their home while leaving cash in the palm of your hand.

Now you know why they call the Woodhaven Yard Sale Great!

One Big Family, the FDNY Proves That It Never Forgets.

By Ed Wendell

The family of Lt. James Griffin gather in front of the Ozone Park firehouse 100 years after the accident that took his life and the lives of 2 other firefighters, John Dunne and Michael Hanley.

Sometimes when you’re doing research you don’t know what you’re going to find or where it will lead. In late December, I spent a few nights going through all of the Leader-Observers from early 1923, looking for headlines to share with our members 100 years later.

One headline, about a terrible crash on February 6th, 1923, really shook me. A truck carrying three firemen from Ozone Park was struck by a Long Island Railroad express train at the intersection of Atlantic and Rockaway.

I had never heard of this tragic accident and soon temporarily abandoned the search into all things 1923 and began to focus solely on this incident and the lives of the 3 firemen, Lt. James Griffin, and Firemen John Dunne and Michael Hanley.

The details were so very sad and tragic. Just before 6 p.m. on February 6th 1923, during a heavy snowstorm, Truck 142 in Ozone Park received a call about a fire on Crescent Street.

They made their way out into the storm and when they got to the intersection of Rockaway and Atlantic, they had to wait as the LIRR workers held the local train and then raised the gate for them to pass. Then out of the snowstorm came an express train roaring from Jamaica towards Brooklyn.

The crash was horrific, dragging the wreckage hundreds of yards down Atlantic Avenue. People came running from their homes to help. Two of the firefighters, John Dunne and Michael Hanley, had been killed instantly. Lt. Griffin had hit an electrified line and though he initially survived and put up a good fight, he would pass the next day.

Together, they left 3 wives and 11 children.

And that was that. Or so I thought. I gave a Zoom presentation and shared the details of the accident. But it seemed such a shame that no one had heard about this and no one knew the names of these three heroes.

So we decided to do a special presentation on the 100th anniversary of the crash, so we would be assured that they were remembered. We found pictures of 2 of the firefighters’ tombstones online and went to the cemetery to get pictures of the third.

And when I got home, the story changed dramatically. There was an email waiting for me from a man named Brian Fitzgerald, the great-grandson of Lt. James Griffin. He had read an article in this newspaper and reached out to tell me about a ceremony they had planned for over a year. In fact, they had ordered a plaque to commemorate the sacrifice that these 3 heroes made.

This had been in the works for quite a while and Mr. Fitzgerald had done the legwork and tracked down living descendants of Firefighter Dunne, who lived nearby and would be at the ceremony.

They hadn’t been forgotten at all. 100 years later, these men were still remembered, not only by their descendants, but by the FDNY.

I should have known better. The FDNY never forgets their heroes.

And so we found ourselves at a beautiful ceremony at Engine 285 / Ladder 142 on 98th Street in Ozone Park, in the very same station house where these left on their fateful last call 100 years before.

And there were a lot of members of the Griffin family, with grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even a few great-great grandchildren. Lt. Griffin’s son served in the FDNY and his many descendants have flourished and have made him proud.

Firefighter John Dunne’s 2 great-grandchildren were there and spoke about how they knew very little about this accident until Brian Fitzgerald called and how this has impacted their lives, and how it brought them closer to the hero in their family.

Sadly, firefighter Hanley had no living descendants but he was not without family in attendance on Sunday. That is because everyone was family at this gathering. And that’s what it is like to be a member of the FDNY; being part of one big giant family.

And they proved yet again that they always honor and never forget those that went before them. In the back of E285 / L142 there is a beautiful tribute to all the brave firefighters they have lost in the line of duty over the years, and that duty is to protect and watch over us.

From that fateful evening 100 years ago, right through today, that firehouse has never been empty. It’s been on call, just like every other firehouse in New York City, every second of every day and will continue to do so forever.

God bless the souls of Lt. James Griffin, and Firemen John Dunne and Michael Hanley and every other firefighter who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty; may they rest in eternal peace.

Three Years Later, Memories of Neir’s Salvation

The jubilant scene outside Neir’s after it had been announced that the historic tavern had received a reprieve.

By Ed Wendell
What if you went to a funeral but the corpse didn’t show up? That’s what it was like at Neir’s Tavern, three years ago last week, when it rose triumphantly from its deathbed to become the toast of the town.
In the hours and days after the news broke that Neir’s was closing after 190 years of service, people began suggesting ways that this historic location could be saved.
Ideas came forth ranging from calling Martin Scorsese, who directed “Goodfellas” or Robert De Niro, who starred in it, to pulling together a large pool of investors to donate $1,000 each to make a down payment on the building.
But the problem that could not be solved in 10 years now needed to be solved in just a few days, before Sunday.
And the way the eulogies were pouring in, it seemed like Sunday was going to come and go without a resolution. People were leaving heartfelt messages of grief. The closest nearby bar, Geordie’s, posted a beautiful message of support for Neir’s owner Loy Gordon.
But as it turned out, there was a solution in the works, and the ball had gotten rolling on that nearly a year earlier when Assemblyman Mike Miller began a dialogue with Tom Grech, Executive Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce (QCC).
With just days to go, Mike and Tom were able to pull together a meeting with the building’s owner and as Mr. Grech joked later, he locked the door to the meeting room and said no one was allowed to leave until they struck a deal.
The Mayor’s Office got involved after Loy called into a radio show and asked Mayor de Blasio for help. And Councilman Bob Holden was at the table, offering aid and support to this beloved historic location within his district.
And once everyone got together, a deal was reached and the next few hours were bedlam.
I was in the doctor’s office for a routine checkup. Even in the waiting room, the nurses were talking about the impending closure of Neir’s, I couldn’t get away from it. And while I was waiting in the doctor’s office, my phone rang.
It was Assemblyman Miller. The connection was bad and every time he started to tell me the good news, the connection would cut out. Finally, when we had a 10-second window of clear connection Mike gave me the good news, but told me to keep quiet, that it would be announced later.
We stopped by Neir’s which was solidly packed with revelers from around the city who had seen the news and came out to say farewell. For many, it was their first trip to this historic treasure.
Other people came from long distances to say farewell, including one gentleman who drove from Pennsylvania just to have a beer. And locals were wandering over all afternoon, many as they often do, to kick off the weekend at their favorite gathering spot.
We were surrounded by people who had come to see a funeral, and yet this good news was bursting to be let free.
It was the reporters who broke the news by asking those they were interviewing how they felt about it being saved. Quickly, word began to spread, tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. Hugs of comfort turned into hugs of relief and celebration.
Mayor de Blasio came out to Woodhaven and stood behind the bar and made it official. It was a remarkable night for this community.
There is a very old saying that success has a thousand parents but failure is an orphan. When it came to saving Neir’s, this old saying was very apt.
Every person who came to Neir’s, for lunch or for an evening out; each person who shared news stories about the place, who told friends or relatives about it, were all part of a 10-year campaign to get the city to stand up and recognize this historic location. And though it had been saved, it would soon face the same dangerous fight that doomed many bars and restaurants in New York City: Covid-19.
And yet it survived.
It survived thanks to every person who ordered out. It survived thanks to every person who sat outside in frigid temps to eat dinner.
Like a cat with many lives, Neir’s lives on, now just 6 years from what will be a remarkable 200th birthday party. Look forward to seeing you all there!

The scene from inside Neir’s while Mayor de Blasio came to announce the good news. We were way at the back and couldn’t see or hear anything, but word of the good news had already spread.

Believe in Christmas Magic

By Ed Wendell

projectwoodhaven@gmail.com

 

Back in 2015, the following message was sent to me via the Leader-Observer’s ‘Contact Us’ page. My mom had just passed away and it was my first Christmas without her.

“All my friends are telling me that Santa is not real and I don’t know what to believe. I saw the Virginia letter and it makes me think he is, but everyone says that it’s just my mom. Their moms even said straight to their faces that it is them! Please tell me! I want this to tell me if I should believe in Christmas magic or not. Is he real? From: Hannah, age 10.”

Dear Hannah,

Yes. Absolutely, positively, and unconditionally, you should believe in Christmas magic and don’t let your friends, or anyone else, tell you otherwise.

Santa’s smiling face has brought joy and happiness to hundreds of millions of children and adults alike for centuries. People love him so much that he’s been the subject of poems, songs, movies, cartoons, all translated in every language there is on Planet Earth.

Think about this, Hannah; you could walk up to a young girl like yourself in any remote corner of our planet, a total stranger that you have nothing in common with. You grew up in different countries, in different climates, speaking different languages, but if you handed this little girl a picture of Santa Claus she’d know who he is and what he represents. And she’d smile.

If that isn’t magic, Hannah, then magic doesn’t exist. Except that you and I both know that it does, and it is real.

If you walk down Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven on Christmas Eve, you’ll find that Christmas magic casts a powerful spell over people. Suddenly, people who are usually impatient and short with each other are patient and expansive. Quiet strangers with blank faces are, for a brief period of time, warm and friendly

There’s no other word for what Christmas does to people than magic, Hannah.  And yes, it is real.

But there’s one thing that your friends got right. Sort of. You see, moms are a lot like Santa. They watch over us, not just one day, but all year round. Moms know exactly what you need and they know the right thing to say when you’re feeling blue.

Moms can make a tummy ache disappear just by rubbing you gently with their hand. Moms can chase the bogeyman away if you’re having a bad dream. And moms can always tell you that everything’s going to be okay, and make you believe it.

Moms can turn the most ordinary thing into something extraordinarily special. When I was your age, I loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, made by my mom. There’s nothing complicated about making a PB&J, and as I grew older I could always make them myself.

But a PB&J made by mom always tasted special. And it was that way for years and years. And so, this wee boy found himself as a 50-year old man, still enjoying a mom-made PB&J every now and then, and enjoying it more than I would a gourmet dinner in a fancy restaurant.

That’s because moms have a special ingredient that they sprinkle over everything they do. Simply put, that special ingredient is love. And the wonderful thing about a mom’s love is that it isn’t confined to just one day or one season.

A mom’s love is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for your entire life. And it’s a Christmas gift that keeps on giving, Hannah, for as you grow up and have little kids of your own, you’ll love them the same way your mom loves you.

And so, as we get ready for another Christmas, you take care to notice how extra-nice everyone is treating each other. Take care to notice how friendly people are, how caring, and how generous they are to people who are less fortunate.

It’s the most wonderful time of year; a magical time that brings out the very best in people. And at the center of it all is Santa Claus and your mom. It’s really no surprise that your friends get the two of them confused for Christmas is a time of year where we all try to be a little bit more caring, just like our moms.

Merry Christmas, Hannah, and Merry Christmas to all.

Walker Funeral Home Recognized by New York State

By Ed Wendell

The original location of Walker Funeral Home, which moved to Woodhaven in 1912. In those days you could rent cars from Walker’s, kept in their garage on nearby Forest Parkway. Today, this is the Law Offices of James Rooney.

Many years ago, if you were looking through the pages of this paper you would see numerous ads for funeral homes in Woodhaven.

There was Brome Funeral Home (later Kaiser & Koos) on Woodhaven Boulevard; J.P. Eldridge on 78th Street; Kennedy Funeral Home on 86th Road; C.H. Thompson (later Walsh & LaBella) on 87th Street; Shalins Funeral Home on Jamaica Avenue near Forest Parkway; and N.F. Walker on Jamaica Avenue.

Today, Walker stands alone as the only remaining funeral home in Woodhaven. One by one, all of the rest of the funeral homes went out of business and shut their doors.

In recognition for their longevity, Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. recently notified Walker Funeral Home that they have been added to the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry. He presented Funeral Directors Paul and Annmarie Rudolph with this award at a recent WRBA meeting.

Walker Funeral Home’s story begins in Brooklyn in 1898 when Nathaniel Francis Walker opened on De Kalb Avenue. His business was so successful that he opened up a second location on Jamaica Avenue with his son N. F. Walker, Jr.

In Walker’s early days in Woodhaven it also doubled as an Auto Service where you could hire cars by the day from their garage near Forest Parkway. This was pretty common for funeral homes in those days as they would rent their vehicles out when not being used for funeral processions.

Walker was located at a location that all of you will recognize. With its distinctive marble front, the Law Office of James Rooney at 86-07 Jamaica Avenue stands out from every business around them and was Walker’s home in Woodhaven starting in 1912.

In the window of Rooney’s Law Office is probably one of the most well-known clocks in Woodhaven, one that hundreds of people pass by and glance at every morning on their way to work.

Walker Funeral Home was successful from the start and the director, N.F. Walker Jr., became a very active and beloved figure in Woodhaven for over half a century. For example, he was a founding member of the Woodhaven Patriotic League during World War 2.

He managed a Rest Center for the American Red Cross during WW2, a place where people could go in the event they were bombed out of their homes. Accommodations for over 150 people were set up under Walker’s direction at the Forest Park Reformed Church 86th Street and 86th Avenue.

N.F. Walker Jr. served on the Board of Directors of Columbia Savings Bank in Woodhaven and his face was featured in the pages on the Leader-Observer many times over the years.

Eventually, they needed larger quarters and in 1942, N.F. Walker Jr. built a brand new modern facility at 87-34 80th Street where they are still in business today – the last funeral home standing in Woodhaven.

Paul and Annmarie Rudolph holding a certificate given to them by Senator Joe Addabbo, noting that Walker’s Funeral Home has been added to the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry.

If you’ve been doing the math, it means that Walker’s (which opened in 1898) will celebrate its 125th year in 2023. It has been doing business in Woodhaven for 110 years. And it has been doing business at its new location on 80th Street for 80 years. And the Rudolph Family took over the funeral home nearly 40 years ago, in 1983.

That’s quite a history and well deserving of the recognition bestowed upon it by Sen. Addabbo and New York State. Congratulations to the Rudolph family, Paul Sr. and Jessie, Paul Jr. and Annmarie.

NF Walker Funeral Home’s services are affordable and you can also arrange direct cremations. They are also adept at handling funeral services from many different cultures and religions – Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. You can call Walker Funeral Home at (718) 296-4343 or email them with questions at cremationfuneral@gmail.com.

On a final note, on Friday, December 16th, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society is sponsoring “A Woodhaven Christmas Carol,” an evening candlelight walking tour of Old Woodhaven Village complete with Christmas Caroling at specially selected spots.

We start gathering at Neir’s Tavern (87-48 78th Street) between 5 and 6 p.m. with a departure scheduled for 6:30. We will make our way to Pop’s Cocina at 86th Street and Jamaica Avenue and end up at Geordie’s Joint at 80th Street and Jamaica.

But along the way we will be stopping at Walker’s Funeral Home for a moment of silence dedicated to all of the thousands of residents of Woodhaven whose families have bid farewell to them there. They are the true Ghosts of Woodhaven’s Christmas Past.

Remembering the Jamaica Avenue Trolley, 75 Years Gone From Woodhaven

By Ed Wendell

The Jamaica Avenue Trolley Line, now 75 years gone from Woodhaven. Trolley service (horse drawn) started in 1865 and the line was electrified in 1887.

It was 75 years ago this month that Woodhaven bid farewell to an old friend. Trolley cars, which had served Woodhaven along Jamaica Avenue for over 8 decades, trundled to a halt, replaced by a brand-new fleet of modern buses.

These days, there is a lot of nostalgia for the old trolley cars. However, the switch to bus lines was quite popular among residents of our community. “Woodhavenites Hail Bus Line as Jamaica Avenue Trams Go” read a headline in the Leader-Observer which praised the much faster service the buses offered.

“With the buses stopping at every other block instead of every other block as was the custom of trolley cars, a speed-up in transportation is already in evidence,” the article from December 1947 stated.

The Leader-Observer profiled trolley motorman John Horgan, who they described as being well-known in Woodhaven. He should have been well known as he was the oldest motorman on the Jamaica Avenue trolley line.

Over the 40 years that Horgan rode the rails on Jamaica Avenue, it was estimated that he traveled over 900,000 miles, or nearly 4 trips around the world!

Trolley service in Woodhaven started in October 1865 as horse-drawn coaches rode on tracks along Jamaica Avenue. The ride between East New York and 78th Street in the Union Course section of Woodhaven cost 10 cents, which was considered very high. 

The horses and cars were kept in an old barn that used to be a part of the Union Course racetrack on the southeast corner of 78th Street and Jamaica, where Domino’s Pizza sits today. When the trolley car reached that corner, the driver would get off and walk the horse around to the other side of the car for the return trip to Brooklyn.

Once a passenger reached Woodhaven, they could catch an old fashioned stage coach to Richmond Hill or Jamaica for an additional 10 cents. Within a few years, the horse drawn trolleys were so successful that single-fare service was extended all the way to Jamaica.

In 1887 the trolley line along Jamaica Avenue was electrified with large generators now housed in the old barns of the racetrack. This was so successful that within a few years, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit took over and modernized the entire line.

With brand new trolley cars and reliable power, the standard for local travel would be in place for the next 60 years. The elevated trains would be built above the trolley lines in 1916 and the two modes of transportation co-existed for several decades.

In 1947, the Leader-Observer described the last trolley ride through Woodhaven:

“On Woodhaven Boulevard, a street cleaner leaned wearily on the handle of his broom as he watched a passing phenomenon. A train overhead rumbled a farewell, for they had been friends for a long time, with no misgivings.”

They described the “lumbering” trolley’s last run, and how it was easily passed by a fast bus trailing a cloud of evaporating diesel fumes. And they wondered just how long the elevated train would remain before being replaced by a modern underground subway. 

75 years later, trolley cars have become a romanticized piece of nostalgia for those who never rode them, and a fond memory for those who were lucky enough to experience them.

The story of the old trolley line will be a part of “A Woodhaven Christmas Carol,” a candlelight historical walking tour of Woodhaven complete with Christmas caroling this Friday, December 16th. 

We will be meeting up at Neir’s Tavern between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. before heading to Jamaica Avenue, stopping to sing holiday songs along the way. Email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com for more information.

We will be making stops at Sal’s Pizza (for a song in honor of the late Dominic Brienza), Pop’s Cocina, the Tree at Forest Parkway before ending up at Geordie’s Joint at 80th and Jamaica. 

Come out and enjoy a night of song and local history, everyone is welcome. The trolleys of Jamaica Avenue will be just one of the Ghosts of Christmas Past we’ll be conjuring up!

 

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