Korean War Ends; Queens In Peacetime, 1953
Welcome to November 1953!
By November 1953 America had fought two wars in the past 13 years. The nation yearned for peace. On the Korean Peninsula, tens of thousands of POWs were repatriated in Operation Big Switch as war transitioned to uneasy, wary peace. Twenty-one American prisoners, however, refused to return, citing racial discrimination and other issues in America. All but four eventually came back. Closer to home, former Manhasset H.S. multi-sport star Jim Brown bided his time on the gridiron sidelines as a freshman at Syracuse University. The fullback was being groomed for a key role in the Orange offense. In New York City, Robert Wagner emerged victorious in the race for mayor, beginning the first of his three terms in City Hall.
The end of the Korean War marked a time of homecomings for many in Queens. Lt. Henry Buttlemann came home a fighter ace. The 24-year-old son of Bayside earned the Distinguished Flying Cross after downing seven MiGs in the skies over Korea. November was a bittersweet time for the family of Army Private Michael Restaino of Astoria. In a somber ceremony, a dogwood tree was planted in memory of the fallen soldier at J.H.S. 126, which he attended as a child. A homecoming of different sorts awaited one Korean boy orphaned by the war. Five-year-old Jimmy was found weeping by the roadside by an American soldier who later adopted him. Sergeant Werner Krenzer of Rego Park, who became active in social work in the war-torn country, accompanied the boy home to his new family in South Dakota.
With the holiday season fast approaching and the soldiers coming home, Queens was in a festive mood as preparations were in full swing. Advertisements in the Long Island Star Journal were full of unique gift ideas, with M.H. Lamston of Bayside offering parakeets “complete with beautiful cage” for $8.85 and canaries “guaranteed to sing” for $5.88. Not to be outdone, Siegel’s Toyland sold walking dolls “with real hair” for just $2.98.
Season’s greetings did little to lift the spirits of some locals who had fallen on hard times. As always, a dark criminal underworld preyed upon folks trying to make an honest living, and the holiday cheer was salt in the wounds for those without work or friendship. On November 15, the Orchid Restaurant on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights was the scene of a late night break-in by a group of safecracking thieves. Waiting until the nightclub closed, the burglars entered and tied up the remaining employee. After prying open the safe and emptying it of $4,000 in cash, the ringleader popped open a bottle of champagne and toasted the caper. “This is a cause for celebration,” he proclaimed as the group finished off the bubbly and made off with 21 cases of booze and the cash.
Rose Fulner of Newtown Avenue had confided in her niece that she was tired of life and just wanted to stop living. With her husband confined to a mental institution, she had moved in with a boyfriend and become despondent. Her partner returned home from work on November 16 to find her deceased of an apparent suicide.
After he called the police, Inspector Walter Henning reported to the apartment to investigate the scene and console her boyfriend.
Henning’s oldest son, John, was a hard-nosed, no nonsense Boston news anchor for 25 years before passing away in 2010. Another Henning boy, Dan, became head coach of the NFL Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers after a collegiate playing career at the College of William and Mary. He also earned two Super Bowl rings as a member of the Washington Redskins staff in the 1980s.
That November, residents of Queens past and present made their mark on the world. At the White House, Helen Keller, formerly of Forest Hills, met with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Running her hands over his face, she proclaimed, “He has a beautiful smile.”
Playwright Eugene O’Neill, who wrote some of his first plays in Douglaston and was born in a hotel room in present day Times Square, died in the Sheraton Hotel in Boston on November 27. From his deathbed, in a barely audible whisper, he lamented, “I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room and died in a hotel room.”
The month ended in a “smaze” for Queens and much of Long Island. With the area blanketed in a thick cover of smoke and haze, visibility was reduced to near zero and residents donned improvised masks to prevent respiratory problems. On the 22nd, the weather conditions proved fatal for five passengers in a single engine plane from East Hampton attempting a landing at LaGuardia Airport. Attempting to land in the thick fog, the pilot fell short of the runway and crashed into a watery ditch. The wreckage was found by construction workers later in the morning after skies partially cleared.
On November 18, the Flushing Historical Society celebrated its 50th anniversary with a dinner at the Pilgrim Inn. About 80 Flushing old-timers were in attendance to swap fond memories and listen attentively as the minutes of their first meeting in 1903 were read. John Bogert, 95, also took the occasion to proudly report that the U.S. Navy had finally recognized him for drawing up plans for the “baby flat-top airplane carrier” in 1917. To commemorate the society’s anniversary, all in attendance received yew tree saplings, freshly cut from the arboretum at Flushing Cemetery.
That’s the way it was in November 1953!
We are 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.