Astoria Welcomes 1925
Welcome to January 1925!
In Germany, imprisoned political agitator Adolf Hitler published the first volume of his manifesto, Mein Kampf. Back in the United States, a teacher in Tennessee was charged by authorities for teaching evolution to his class. Catalog retailer Sears Roebuck opened its first store in Chicago. On January 2, Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame bested Stanford University 27-10 to claim the national college gridiron title. In local news, owner Tex Rickard broke ground on the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden at a cost of $5.5 million. The building, touted as the “world’s biggest amphitheater”, was torn down in 1968.
In January 1925, New Yorkers welcomed the New Year in grand style. The January 2 headlines of The Daily Star reported on the festivity and timeless tradition: “1925 Ushered In By Long Island City Folk Right Noisily. Gay Parties In Homes, Clubs. Good-natured Revelry In Streets; No Disorder.”
With steam whistles, church bells and shouts of revelers punctuating the winter silence at midnight, residents of Astoria welcomed 1925. On Broadway, boys rode bicycles up and down the cobblestones trailing tin cans behind. Others, also venturing outdoors to spread the holiday joy, formed an impromptu parade throughout the neighborhood blowing horns and banging drums.
Queens rang in a New Year in which her people stepped boldly across the world stage. Bayside resident Gloria Swanson set sail for Paris, where she wed Marquis Henri Delafaise. The Marquis, her third husband, was her French translator while she acted in the lost film, Madame Sans-Gene. Not to be outdone, merchant sailor Joel Ekstrom of Corona returned from six years braving the world’s oceans. After dropping out of Bryant H.S., the mariner sailed the frigid waters of Cape Horn and was battered by a typhoon on the way to Yokohama, Japan, only to find the port closed following the devastating 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Returning home to complete his high school diploma, he advised his classmates to “stay in school”.
Also returning home in January, 12- year old Thomas Gulla of Howland Street in Astoria had his own story to share with friends. Young Thomas had been out in California, appearing in the 1923 film, Three Jumps Ahead with early Western star Tom Mix.
Friedrich Oswald Fink, of 212th Street, greeted 1925 in far less fortunate circumstances. While traveling in the Soviet Union on business, he was detained by the authorities and pressed into service in the Soviet Army after being unable to prove his American citizenship. With both parents deceased, his brother appealed to New York Supreme Court Justice James Van Siclen to be appointed his guardian and win brother Friedrich’s freedom. Fink’s ultimate fate is unknown.
1925 was also a year of progress and expanded opportunity for Queens women in areas from politics to athletic competition. The Daily Star noted “bobbedhaired officials” gaining ground in local and state public office. In Albany, Florence Knapp became the first female secretary of state of New York and the last elected official to hold the office (the office still exists but it is appointed by the governor). Closer to home, the Astoria Long Island Lassies took to the basketball hardwood at the Astoria Casino to face the Nonpareils starting five from Harrison, Upstate. The Long Island Lassies featured star Eva Skechman, billed as the “greatest girl player in the game”. Also in January, the Poppenhusen Institute in College Point began offering gym classes for girls and young women including dancing, calisthenics and workouts on the “lige apparatus”.
In his 80 years, Elmhurst resident Garret Kouwenhoven Burroughs had seen breathtaking progress and sweeping changes. The retired farmer, whose family came from England in 1637, recalled the days when Long Island was a vast wilderness broken merely by lonely farms and sparse settlements. With bridges and ferry service little more than a distant dream, the farmer drove his horses and wagon to the East River, where he loaded his produce onto a rowboat to sell in Manhattan. Burroughs passed away in January 1925, taking with him wistful memories of a vanished way of life.
January ended with a rare solar eclipse witnessed by enraptured viewers across Queens. The path of the moon totally eclipsed the sun in the northern parts of the borough and was almost complete in neighborhoods further south. The result was a once in a lifetime celestial performance, with the sun’s corona and surface flares framing the earth’s offending satellite. The January 24 Daily Star captured the event for posterity.
“Darkness, thicker than twilight, hung over Queens for the brief moment when the sun and moon met face to face. Street lights were turned on, rapid transit and trolley cars were lighted, but very few households preferred lighted rooms to the spectacle of ages in the heavens.”
Queens may not see its next complete solar eclipse for at least another 300 years.
That’s the way it was in January 1925!
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 online. For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278- 0700 or visit our Web site at www.astorialic.org.