Motorists Are Menace, Factories Grow In May 1913
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).
Two Pennsylvania Railroad cars arrived in New York with a most unusual cargo: a model of the Panama Canal. The model was the work of T. T. Curran, cost nearly $20,000 and took five months to build. It was to be exhibited at the Grand Central Palace during the Real Estate Show in May. The main part of the exhibit depicted the entire canal at a scale of 1 foot to the mile, making the model 50 feet long. Two other working models depicted locks on the canal.
The Star declared autoists (now motorists) to be a menace. Jackson Avenue was becoming a speedway for reckless drivers, who, among other things, sped past Public School No 1, endangering the lives of children crossing the avenue. During April, 24 people had been killed and 97 seriously injured by automobiles in New York City. Consequently, a new law, which set the speed limit at 20 miles/hour, was to take effect June 1. The ordinance further stipulated that speed exceeding 15 miles/hour “shall constitute prima facie evidence of a violation”. The penalty for a first offense was set at $25 to $100 or imprisonment for 15 days, or both. The McGrath motor vehicle bill, which required licensing of drivers, also passed the Assembly during the month.
Long Island City’s Chief Magistrate drew up some helpful “Don’ts” for motorists in the city. Among them were: “Don’t exceed 10 miles per hour when passing public schools on school days; Don’t pass or approach within eight feet of a streetcar stopped for receiving or discharging passengers; Don’t exceed four miles per hour in turning street corners; Don’t exceed ten miles an hour when approaching a bridge; and Don’t forget that the violation of any of these will subject you to heavy penalties, and that ignorance of the law will not enable the magistrate to excuse you.”
The Degnon Realty and Terminal Improvement Company was planning to spend the huge sum of more than $40,000,000 over the next five years in the development of its terminal tract in the neighborhood of Dutch Kills Creek with factory buildings, where 50,000 men and women were expected eventually to find employment. The plan called for laying 10 miles of railroad track to connect the Long Island Rail Road and New York Connecting Railroad, over which cars could be brought to any of 16 factory and loft buildings, each occupying a full city block. The first of the buildings was to be that of the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company. It was the largest factory building in the city, and was to employ about 2,000 workers. At the same time, it was expected that housing for 200,000 workers would be necessary near the factories.
Alterations to the Ford Motor Building at Honeywell Street and Jackson Avenue were nearing completion. The plant was to have 100,000 square feet of floor space to be used by the company for assembly of cars. Parts were to be shipped to Long Island City from the Detroit factory. The plant featured the use of electricity instead of boilers and engines. It was to be lighted by tungsten lamps and electric motors were to run the elevators, air compressors and machine tools. Also, at Freeman and Fifth Avenues, the steelwork for a new service building for the Harrolds Motor Car Company, distributors of Pierce-Arrow automobiles, was completed. At least 200 men were to be employed here when the building was completed in the middle of the summer.
A report presented to the National Civic Federation by representatives of the International Brotherhood of Stationary Firemen and the American Federation of Labor made several charges against the Standard Oil Company refineries in Long Island City and Greenpoint. According to the report, 2,000 firemen and stillmen were compelled to work 12 hours every day of the week, with no intermission allowed for meals or rest for an average pay of $15 per week. Once a week, the report said, shifts were changed and the men were then required to work for 24 hours. It went on to charge that the stills were not enclosed, as required by law, and that some were not even provided with an overhead shelter to protect the men from the elements.
Standard Oil spokesman R.L. Pratt responded by pointing out that: only 84 men were engaged in this sort of work for six days a week at an average pay of $17.55 per week; the men did work 12 hour days (but were never required to work 24 hours), but had ample time for meals and rest; and the stills did have overhead protection.
Friends of Antonio Laino, a well-known and well-to-do Italian resident of Corona Heights, believing that his quick transition from apparent health to death was due to Divine displeasure because he rented his vacant store to “Prof.” Guadagnino, “bishop” of the “Independent Catholic Church of Corona,” descended in a body upon the church headquarters at 66 Rapelye Avenue on Friday night, May 16, and carried all the church paraphernalia into the street. Laino’s friends regarded his death as having deep religious significance. In order to rid the house of the evil spell, which they believed the professor’s church had cast on it, they emptied it of everything pertaining to the religious organization. Benches and a portable altar were dragged into the street. Even the confessional booths were torn out and cast away, and the cross over the front door was deposited on top of the dispossessed furnishings. A delegation of the professor’s friends arrived. Fortunately, there was no open clash between the factions, and the furnishings were moved to new quarters so services could be held on Sunday as scheduled.
Timely police action probably prevented the lynching of a black man in Calvary Cemetery. For no apparent reason, the man attacked two women who were visiting a grave. One woman was stabbed on the nose and head by a long scissors blade. Since wailing was common in a cemetery, the women’s cries for help were ignored for a while. But, finally, a crowd, vowing to “deal with this man on the spot,” did come to the rescue, and one of them, having a grass sickle in hand, vowed to cut off the man’s head. The police arrived and arrested the man who was identified as Charles Watson, 29, from Manhattan. At his arraignment he said: “I plead guilty under the impulse. I was forced by a supernatural strategy.” Watson further described his job as “trafficking” in chewing gum. When asked by the magistrate what he meant, he was unable to answer, but did plead guilty to two counts of felonious assault and was held without bail pending the action of a Grand Jury.
The Health Department released statistics showing the population of the city would be 5,372,983 on July 1. The effect of the enormous immigration was evident in the reported fact that 45.4 percent of the white population was foreign born, while only 15.8 percent was native born.
Borough President Connolly arranged for the location of two big floating public baths. They were to be located at the foot of Tenth Street, College Point, and at Keeler’s Dock in Whitestone. They would be open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the June 15 to September 15 season. An application was made to the Board of Aldermen for the necessary funds to operate the baths.
That’s the way it was in May 1913!
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.