2015-05-20 / Star Journal

Ground Is Broken On Hell Gate Bridge

Welcome to May 1914!

In Veracruz, Mexico, US Marines and Navy sailors engaged in running street battles against Mexican forces fighting American occupation. The Marines and Navy Bluejackets took control of the port city the previous month as a result of the Tampico Affair, in which American sailors were arrested by Mexican authorities.

Meanwhile, north of the border, on the Saint Lawrence River, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank after colliding with another ship in the early morning hours of May 29. One thousand and twelve passengers perished in the tragedy, making it the worst peacetime maritime accident in Canadian history. Closer to home, New York City marked the passing of one of her own, as locals packed the pews of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to bid farewell to famed Civil War General and Medal of Honor recipient Dan Sickles, who died that month at age 94.

In May, 1914, with Americans battling their neighbors in the streets of Veracruz, and the Balkans a powder keg in search of a fuse, the world was on the verge of tearing itself apart. That May the casualties of war came home to New York with the Calvary Cemetery burial of a brave young sailor who fell fighting in Mexico. Sailor Dennis J. Lane of the battleship New Hampshire was laid to rest with full military honors in Queens following a parade in honor of the Veracruz fallen attended by President Woodrow Wilson and New York Governor Martin Glynn.

With her eyes riveted on the clouds of war gathering on foreign shores, Queens in 1914 was still a rapidly growing and developing patchwork of communities. Already linked to Manhattan by the Queensboro Bridge, in a few short years her shore would be linked to Randalls Island by the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge spanning the East River. That month, the American Bridge Company broke ground on its construction facility in Long Island City to house some of the machinery needed to handle the bridge girders weighing around 150 tons. The builders planned to start construction that summer, and in fact they finished what was then the longest steel-arch bridge in the world in 1916. Now known as Hell Gate Bridge, the elegant structure was the design inspiration for Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is currently painted in a deep shade of red called Hell Gate Red.

New York’s largest borough was developing the infrastructure to take it into the 20th century and beyond, and her population was also booming.

In May, 1914, Queens welcomed only the second woman to become a naturalized American citizen within her confines when Elizabeth Loughlin pledged her allegiance to the US before the Stars and Stripes at the Queens County Supreme Court. Born in Ireland in 1878, and residing in the US since 1893, Loughlin was sponsored for citizenship by one James McKenna, a former postmaster of Long Island City. Among the others who became proud citizens that spring day 101 years ago were eight Austrians, seven Russians and seven Germans, three each from Great Britain and Italy, and one immigrant from Norway. The Daily Star remembered Loughlin as a “suffragist, though not of the militant type.”

In 1914, many came to Queens from faraway lands with nothing but a change of clothes and a dream to prosper in a new homeland.

For Mrs. Henry Seebeck, however, great opportunity and prosperity came knocking that May as a long-forgotten link to a glorious family history in England came to life again. The Queens resident was informed by an English attorney that she was entitled to a $36,000 share of the estate of her great-great grandfather, Sir George Brydges Rodney. Her illustrious forebear was awarded the title of baronet after serving as a Vice Admiral in the Royal Navy in a career spent fighting the Spanish at Gibraltar and the French in the West Indies. At least five fighting ships were named for the Admiral, with the last battleship HMS Rodney playing a key role in the sinking of her German counterpart Bismarck in May 1941. Mrs. Seebeck’s royal inheritance is worth $845,000 today.

That’s the way it was in May 1914!

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 website, www.astorialic.org.

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