U.S., Germany, Japan Build Up Armament In January ’39
Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you're likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star-Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper's name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).
Welcome to January 1939!
The sixth anniversary of German Fuehrer Adolf Hitler’s rise to power on January 30, 1933 was at hand. Germany would not invade Poland until September 1, 1939, but the Nazis had been busy building a 1,900,000 man army, an air force of 10,000 planes and a navy, planning to revive the dreaded U-boat squadrons that came close to starving Europe during the World War (World War I), and also implementing an official anti-Semitic policy designed to bring about the economic ruin of 600,000 Jews and cause them to emigrate from Germany.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the Japanese army submitted a supplementary budget appropriation to the Diet for $1,362,000,000. The budget envisioned a possible two front war involving both China and the Soviet Union.
In Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed to Congress a $9,000,000,000 budget for 1940 to arm for defense and spend for recovery.
In Queens, Borough President George U. Harvey abandoned his duties in a rush to accompany the combined Atlantic and Pacific fleets on maneuvers in southern waters. Harvey, a lieutenant colonel in the 307th Infantry would be gone six weeks or more, during which Borough Works Commissioner J. Halleran would be Acting Borough President.
Dr. Kurt Rosenfeld, former Minister of Justice for Prussia and a former member of the Reichstag from 1919 to 1933 and a resident of Sunnyside, was to lecture at the Sunnyside Jewish Center, the topic being “It Can Happen Here.” Later in the month, this was followed by a debate on “Should Jews Be Active in Politics in America?” A committee was formed to distribute literature throughout Sunnyside and Astoria to aid in the fight against fascism. An investigating committee reported that a German-American Bund meeting was held in Astoria and that the Jew was “belittled, disgraced and discriminated against.”
In Flushing, every Jewish family was invited to attend a rally at Temple Gates of Prayer, where Dr. Joachim Prinz, refugee German rabbi, would speak. Dr. Prinz was known throughout Germany as an author and lecturer. Prior to his emigration to America, where he was a spokesman for German Jewry, he was imprisoned several times in Nazi concentration camps for expressing his views.
Mrs. Sarah E. Duffy of Jackson Heights, became the first female City Marshal, after being appointed by Mayor LaGuardia and sworn in immediately at City Hall. Duffy was first made a marshal in Elmhurst in 1932 to fill an unexpired term. The appointment, coming as somewhat of a surprise, was cheered by women’s organizations and political clubs alike. Although Duffy had not taken a leading part in political affairs, she was well known to community leaders because of her tenure as clerk for her husband in the Elmhurst Municipal Court District.
Grover Whalen, Commissioner of the New York World Fair announced that President Roosevelt would attend the opening of the Fair April 30. This was to be Roosevelt’s first stop in Queens since he dedicated the Queens-Midtown Tunnel in Hunters Point in the summer of 1937.
Thousands of subway riders and sidewalk neck-craners got an eyeful when they looked up and saw the BMT’s “sample” World Fair train, auguring the installation of a number of special train units painted in the deep blue and orange selected as the color scheme for Grover A. Whalen’s fantasy in Flushing Meadows. Its first run marked the beginning of service on the Flushing line from Bridge Plaza terminal in Long Island City. A total of 116 BMT cars with the gay garb were to eventually be put into operation.
Major Allen Smith was training thousands of Boy Scouts who had flocked to the Fair grounds for training courses both in safety and traffic drills. About 200 Scouts were to be used in “policing” the five-acre Children’s World of Tomorrow” at the fair. Grover Whalen declared: “When these young men appear in their safety demonstrations at ‘Children’s World’ or when they appear elsewhere at the Fair, we are going to demonstrate to some 60,000,000 visitors a new and efficient means of safety education.” Also a mass demonstration by 10,000 Scouts was planned before the Fair opened.
In Flushing, the funeral of James Stewart McGuinness, 86, was held. Serving under Mayor Patrick (“Battle Axe”) Gleason, McGuinness was the last police chief of Long Island City before consolidation. The death of McGuinness followed less than two weeks after the passing of Charles M. Jensen, 74, who was chief of the old Long Island City Fire Department during Gleason’s regime.
It was announced that the College Point ferry to The Bronx would cease operations on April 25 because of the opening of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. The ferry had been one of the most profitable in the city, but its decline began with the opening of the Triborough Bridge and ended with this event. The era of the ferry was replaced by that of automobiles and highways.
A little-known British actress, Vivian Leigh, signed a contract to portray Scarlett O’Hara in David O. Selznick’s film “Gone With the Wind.” Selznick was at his wits end after interviewing more than 2,000 candidates in over two years seeking a leading lady. “When I saw Miss Leigh, I knew my search was at an end. As far as I was concerned, Miss Leigh was Miss O’Hara,” said Mr. Selznick.
The government warned four radio and movie stars summoned to testify against the comedian Jack Benny at his trial for smuggling that it would tolerate no excuses for failing to appear. The four were George Burns, Gracie Allen, Jack Pearl, and Kenny Baker. Burns had already pleaded guilty to a similar indictment for smuggling jewelry, and was sentenced on January 31 to a fine of $8,000 and a year and a day probation.
Playing at the movies were “Angels With Dirty Faces,” starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Humphrey Bogart, and the Dead End Kids; “Brother Rat,” starring Pricilla Lane, Wayne Morris, Johnnie “Scat” Davis, Eddie Albert, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman; “Dawn Patrol,” starring Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and David Niven, and “Out West With the Hardys,” starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Rutherford.
That’s the way it was in January 1939.
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.
The Society’s exhibit “Look Up, Look Down, Look Around” is open to the public Saturdays Noon to 4 p.m. in the Quinn Building, 35-20 Broadway, Long Island City.