The Summer Heats Up In 1912 Queens
Welcome to June 1912!
In the sleepy fishing port of Caimamera, Cuba, a contingent of some 570 U.S. Marines clambered ashore on June 5 to protect American citizens from unrest during the Little Race War of 1912. In several weeks, the Marines withdrew from the town near Guantanamo Bay after a massacre of Afro-Cubans quelled the violence. Far north in Alaska, the Mount Katmai volcano erupted the following day, blanketing neighboring villages in pumice and ash. Heard 750 miles away in Juneau, the explosion claimed the lives of hundreds and spread volcanic dust as far away as Algeria. Back in the lower 48, Democrats and Republicans were gearing up for election season. Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey emerged victorious from the Democratic National Convention which opened later in the month in Baltimore. Later that year he bested President Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt to become the nation’s 28th president.
Closer to home, Queens relinquished control of her own County Jail to the city Department of Correction (DOC). The venerable institution, under Queens control since 1683, changed hands at midnight on June 1. County Sheriff Thomas surrendered to DOC Commissioner Quinn numerous keys to the facility and weighty volumes of documentation on suppliers to the institution and its residents. The jail still kept a number of civil prisoners behind bars for failing to pay off debts or alimony payments.
Those not incarcerated that month were looking forward to a summer of fun. The coming months promised sun-drenched days of picnicking, beach-going and sport, free from the cares of the work-a-day world. Queens’ own North Beach [built by William Steinway near present-day LaGuardia Airport] lured many a family looking for a day’s recreation on a tight budget. Adventurous thrill-seekers could “shoot the chutes” and splash into a cooling water pool, and there were picture houses with the latest films for the more sedate. Gala Park featured a Noah’s Ark curio collection for those on the lookout for something a little different, and there was vaudeville and an outdoor circus to round out the attractions. Beachgoers from Manhattan could take a ferry to North Beach or a train over the new Queensboro Bridge.
On her south shore, Queens offered miles of sandy beaches and inexpensive rental bungalows for those in search of a summer retreat not too far from home. In early June, the Daily Star proudly reported that nearly all of the bungalows in the Rockaways as well as some of the pricier cottages set back from the beach were already rented out for the season. With tent encampments reporting no vacancies, plans were afoot to construct more vacation housing at the Ocean Breeze Camp and at Edgemere.
A unique group of visitors passed through that June. The baseball team from the Chinese University of Hawaii made its easternmost stop for a contest against the Long Island Athletics at Recreation Park (at that time on the east side of Steinway Street between 35th and 36th Avenues). Their epic road trip included victories over the state university squads in Nebraska and Wisconsin, but fatigue caught up with the Hawaii nine and they fell to the locals, 11-3. The team, coached in Chinese, had earlier shown signs of faltering when they fell to Georgetown University in 15 innings.
One late spring day that month, an afternoon excursion proved too much to handle for a group of fun seekers from Manhattan. After boarding the motorized yacht, Count, that morning for a jaunt to Oyster Bay, 13 members of an Upper East Side social club spilled into the chilly waters of Flushing Bay after the skipper became lost and ran the boat aground on a submerged jetty near East Elmhurst. Coming to the rescue in the motor boat,
Laura G., were actress Laura Guerite and tennis partner Rose Parnett, who witnessed the mishap while engaged in a lively match on the tennis court on Guerite’s front lawn. No stranger to treacherous waters, Guerite, fellow actress Edna Wallace Hopper and several others made a splash in The New York Times nearly two years to the day before the Count incident when the Laura G. ran aground in the Hell Gate on the East River and nearly sank. Guerite had recently appeared in The Girl behind the Counter, an Edwardian musical comedy which ran on Broadway.
Summer 1912 was not all fun and games for Queens. Progress came to the borough that summer, and it was here to stay. With the Queensboro Bridge bringing increased auto traffic and people to her rapidly expanding communities, the Harrolds Motor Car Company announced it would build a large service building for Pierce- Arrow automobiles on the “old crematory site” on the north side of Jackson and 7th Avenues. Among other moneyed clientele, Harrolds built a custom Pierce-Arrow for William Rockefeller, and also occupied an entire block on Broadway and 59th Street at Columbus Circle.
Progress of a different sort visited Queens in June, when a group of some 60 suffragists from Manhattan visited Whitestone for an afternoon outing. Events included picnics and stump speeches by activists fighting for women’s rights and equality. Their efforts bore fruit eight years later when final ratification of the 19th Amendment gave American women the right to vote.
A brighter future also came to all of New York’s boroughs that year in the dreams and aspirations of countless new Americans from across the world. One day that June, Justice Benedict of Brooklyn filled in for a busy Justice Kelly to interview 48 applicants for U.S. citizenship in the Queens County District Court. The newcomers from Austria, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Denmark and Greece were tested on their knowledge of American civics and history. One hopeful Italian immigrant asked by Judge Benedict if he had ever resided outside of the U.S., confidently responded “Yes, for six months I lived in Flushing.”
That’s the way it was in June 1912!
The Greater Astoria Historical Society is open to the public, Saturdays, noon until five at “Quinn’s Gallery,” 4th Floor, 35-20 Broadway, Long Island City. Additional hours Monday and Wednesday two to five! Visit our gift shop on line. For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our Web site at www.astorialic.org.