Fireworks And Criminal Mischief In September 1905
Welcome to September 1905!
On September 5, representatives from Russia and Japan gathered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to bring an end to the bloody Russo- Japanese War. The Russians agreed to cede the island of Sakhalin and access to ports and rails to the rising Pacific island nation. President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to mediate an end to the drawn out conflict. In far off Stockholm, Sweden, a proud family welcomed a baby girl named Greta Lovisa Gustafsson. She later became an award winning Hollywood star known to the world as Greta Garbo. Also that month, the world was introduced to the essential physics equation E=mc2 in a paper published by a young Swiss patent examiner named Albert Einstein.
Closer to home, fresh, crisp breezes and pleasantly cool evenings signaled to New Yorkers that the dog days of summer would soon give way to autumn. The people of Queens, however, bid farewell to the summer of 1905 in grand style. On the evening of September 7, the skies above North Beach erupted in a blaze of color and a riot of sound as spectators from the borough of Queens and beyond packed the boardwalk, beach, pavilions and hotels for the Grand Fireworks Carnival. Ferries stood by at 99th and 134th Streets in Manhattan to accommodate those wishing to see the spectacle, with trolleys ready to greet them near the Astoria waterfront.
In the world of sports, the milder temperatures of September were great for outdoor activities. Local teams including the Iona Colored Giants, St. Leo’s of Corona, the Winfield Warwicks and the Newtown Grays vied for baseball supremacy. The Warwicks, who announced a schedule including matches against Princeton, Yale and Columbia that year, sold reserved seat tickets to their games for 25 cents at Young’s Village Store on Grand Avenue.
Others, perhaps in search of more sedate, relaxing outdoor recreation, took to the roads for automobile excursions. A Mr. and Mrs. George Rey of Middle Village announced a four day driving tour of Long Island, venturing as far from Queens as Northport. Early car models available at the time included the Buffum Roadster, Cameron Roundabout and the Ford Model C. That year, there were some 78,000 registered cars in the United States, and the most popular song in the nation was the Gus Edwards hit, “In My Merry Oldsmobile”.
For musical lovers, the Folly Theatre in Ridgewood scored a big hit in September with the B.E. Forrester production Bankers and Brokers, a comedy about two ambitious, young New Yorkers trying to make it on Wall Street. Complete with catchy tunes such as “That Never Happened On Wall Street” and “Under the Palm Tree’s Shade”, the musical garnered a glowing review from the Daily Star, which proclaimed, “Unlike the average so-called musical comedy, Bankers and Brokers has a well-defined plot, there are a series of skillfully devised stage pictures and the chorus possesses more than the customary amount of good looks.”
Unfortunately, the only thrills to be had for some that month were on the wrong side of the law. One morning that September, butcher Charles Langhagen opened his shop on Perry Avenue in Maspeth to find his 1,000-pound safe missing. The night before, a group of enterprising thieves stole a neighbor’s clothesline, broke into the butcher shop and dragged away the strongbox on wheels. After a search of the surrounding area, the safe turned up in a vacant lot. The bandits used explosives to blow the coffers open, making off with valuable jewelry and $400 in cash, equal to more than $10,000 today. The robbers left Langhagen’s business papers neatly arranged on top of the depository for him to find, with not a single scrap missing.
As the lazy summer sun set on another season of excursion, fireworks and criminal mayhem, tragedy visited one Queens family. Young Louis Sincere of Winfield had been sick for some time, wasting away from tuberculosis, and he did not live to see the verdant hues of summer explode into a panoply of autumn reds and oranges. His widowed mother, Madame Sincere, approached neighbors in a panic one day in September, sobbing in French that her son had passed away. Those nearby rushed to her flat on Factory Row in Hogan Place to find bare cupboards and squalid, sparse living conditions. The neighbors took up a collection to pay for young Louis’ funeral and promised to help Madame Sincere find work. The bereaved mother was said to come from a wealthy, educated family in France.
Early that month, a tragedy of an entirely preventable sort befell another community in Queens. The venerable Leverich-Wiltie Homestead had stood near Broadway and Trains Meadow Road in Elmhurst since some time in the 18th century when it fell before the wrecking ball that September. Built in the old Dutch style with a long, sloping roof and a double piazza along the front, the home welcomed three centuries of visitors with an imposing lion’s head iron knocker complete with a ring in its mouth. The Daily Star lamented the passing of the stately residence, commenting, “The house, when erected, was one of the finest in this locality, and its demolition destroys one more of the old landmarks of Newtown, which are now so fast passing away.”
That’s the way it was in September 1905!
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.