WPA Gardens Feed Queens Residents In April 1936
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).
It was the Depression, and some Queens families on relief could cultivate some of the 5,000 “subsistence gardens” in the borough. The gardens were open to all on home relief, to those on work relief who did not receive supplemental home relief and to those on work relief receiving only the minimum security wage of $60.50 a month. The number of eligibles was about 1,500, and the plots were located at 164th Street and 73rd Avenue in Flushing and at 69th Street and Eliot Avenue in Maspeth.
The WPA plowed and seeded the gardens and provided tools, supplies and instruction on the care of the gardens and the harvesting of crops. It also did the canning of the families’ surplus. Sale of the produce was forbidden.
On April 6, a small crowd of the curious—no more than 35—gathered outside the Fresh Pond Crematory in Maspeth, where Bruno Richard Hauptmann was to be cremated after his execution in the New Jersey electric chair for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. (the Lindbergh baby). But by the time of the memorial service, a crowd of about 2,000, mostly women and children, had gathered. They were kept off the crematory grounds by 28 policemen and six detectives. Secrecy shrouded the services because New Jersey law did not permit a public funeral for an executed felon, and Mrs. Hauptmann had agreed not to hold a public funeral in order to get her husband’s body out of state. She hoped to return his ashes to his native Germany.
St John’s University in Brooklyn purchased a 100-acre tract of land bounded by the Grand Central Parkway, Union Turnpike, 168th Street and Utopia Parkway in the Flushing-Hillcrest section of North Jamaica. The school intended to build a new university there, but no date was set for the beginning of construction.
St. John’s was founded in 1870 and was ranked second among Catholic universities in the country and the largest educational institution on Long Island. Its School of Law had been the largest in the world since 1932. Its eight colleges could no longer be housed in its buildings in Brooklyn without severely restricting enrollment.
In Miami, Howard Thurston of Beechhurst, dean of American magicians, failed in his last and greatest trick (cheating death) by dying of pneumonia, he was 66. In a career of more than 45 years as one of the world’s great prestidigitators, Thurston reckoned he had mystified more than 60,000,000 persons. “About his theatrical shoulders hung the mantle of such notable magicians as the late Houdini, Harry Kellar and the inimitable Herrmann the Great,” declared the Star.
Colonel Paul Loeser, director of the Triborough Bridge Authority, announced that the Triborough Bridge would open as scheduled on July 10, in spite of WPA Director Tuttle’s refusal to extend the work week from 30 to 40 hours, which WPA rules did not allow.
William Friedman of the New York City Tunnel Authority announced that that body was ready to begin work on the Midtown Vehicular Tunnel within a few days. Manhattan Borough President Levy had proposed to build a bridge. In Queens, the borough president and Chamber of Commerce opposed this. The president of the New York World’s Fair Corporation, George McAneny, commented: “I hope that the tunnel is finished, whether it is finished for the World’s Fair or not. And, while I’m not sure it will be, I sincerely hope it will be finished eventually. It is necessary in the growth of Queens.”
On April 22, Grover Whalen was named Chairman of the World’s Fair Corporation. McAneny remained as president. The corporation awaited formal action by the city and state in making funds available for the preparation of the site and the passage of the enabling act by the legislature authorizing the city to lease the Fair tract in Flushing Meadows, to the corporation.
Parks Commissioner Robert Moses announced that the Grand Central Parkway would be extended according to plan despite the World’s Fair plans. Moses had demanded that the city inform him whether there was going to be a fair. After waiting for some time and receiving no conclusive reply, Moses served notice that bids would be received for construction of the parkway extension as originally planned through the Corona-Flushing Meadows, as if Fair plans had never been heard of. Moses commented to the Star: “I wasn’t bluffing. I never bluff.”
On Tuesday, April 28, nine men were arrested on gambling charges during a raid on the United Charity Ball of Jamaica held at the Hotel Commodore in Manhattan. They were held on $500 bail each for hearings on Saturday. Police Commissioner Valentine announced that henceforth his department would not tolerate gambling as an adjunct of charity benefits and would not permit bridge playing for cash prizes in establishments set up for that purpose. The proceeds of the ball were to go to Jamaica Hospital and Jamaica Day Nursery.
Before a summons in the case was even filed, Babe Ruth filed an “answer” to a lawsuit in the process of being instituted against him in connection with a Rego Park auto accident on November 14. The accident was well implanted in Ruth’s memory. After his car sideswiped another car, he kept going. Police were alerted to the license number of the fugitive car. When two policemen spotted the car on the Queensboro Bridge, they, being unaware of the identity of the occupant, drew ahead, leveled their long-range rifles and ordered the driver out. The Babe, with a slight tremble in front of the guns, claimed he had not known his car had figured in a collision at all.
Comedian Jimmy Durante had to travel from his home in Flushing to Municipal Court in Manhattan. He was accused of breaking a microphone and “kicking the stuffing out of the footlights” in a performance at the Hotel Lismore, Manhattan, on November 23, 1935. Durante claimed he had begun to sing and became “tangled up with the mike and somebody kicked the stuffing out of the footlights.” There was other testimony that Durante was justified in resenting the insinuation that his nose or “schnozzie” was too big to allow him to get close enough to the microphone to croon. The judge evidently thought so too, and Durante left the courtroom, the winner by a nose.
Playing at the movies were “Follow the Fleet” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “Wife versus Secretary” starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy and “Anything Goes,” starring Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman.
That’s the way it was in April 1936.
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.