2017-07-26 / Star Journal

The Long Island Star Journal: Welcome To August 1884!

COMPILED BY DAN MCDONALD


Far left: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 1885, showing (clockwise from left) woodcuts of the completed statue in Paris, Bartholdi, and the statue's interior structure. Far left: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 1885, showing (clockwise from left) woodcuts of the completed statue in Paris, Bartholdi, and the statue's interior structure. The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal

Out on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor, at long last workers laid the cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty on August 5. Overcoming slow fundraising efforts for the pedestal in the United States, Lady Liberty was dedicated with great fanfare in October 1886. Standing as a symbol of hope and freedom from oppression, she has greeted generations of immigrants to the United States. Following an extensive renovation, she was rededicated on her 100th birthday in 1986, with President Reagan and French President Mitterand in attendance.

Over in Queens, summer was in full swing and locals weren’t about to miss out on the fun. That month, local saloon owner S.P. O’Hara began construction on a brewery behind his Jackson Avenue establishment to supply weiss beer to his patrons. Before Prohibition, New York City was a center of beer-making, with German immigrants and others building a thriving industry of breweries and beer halls. A recent resurgence has brought beer brewing back to Queens, but history is silent on the outcome of Mr. O’Hara’s venture.


A view of the cemetery showing Manhattan skyline in the background A view of the cemetery showing Manhattan skyline in the background While some looked to escape the summer heat with a refreshing brew, others sought the cool breezes and timeless summer fun of the beach. For a 50-cent round trip fare, excursion steamers brought fun seekers of all ages and walks of life to the pleasures of Rockaway Beach. Among the attractions were spectacular weekend fireworks displays at the Sea Side House. With a fiery display consisting of “set pieces and mid-air illuminations, …to conclude with a grand flight of rockets,” The Long Island Weekly Star assured beachgoers that “the heavens and earth will be aglow with lights from the different pieces.”

A spectacle of a much different sort appeared in the waters near the Rockaway shore that month. The sloop Ellsworth captured a leatherback turtle weighing some 2,500 pounds near the Queens beach. Measuring eight feet long and five feet wide, the turtle was sold to a local museum by the sloop captain. The ultimate fate of this giant turtle in captivity is lost to time.

Queens was stalked by reports of a ghost that month. For weeks, otherworldly plaintive cries in the vicinity of Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth had locals on edge and children awake at night. Although the “ghost” turned out to be a stray billy goat with a peculiar voice, the ghosts of history haunted another local cemetery that month.

Speaking with a reporter from the New York World, Calvary Cemetery gatekeeper John McCann recalled the first burial in the sprawling necropolis 36 years before, as well as its rapid expansion in the late 19th century.

“I remember [the first internment] well. It was the body of Esther Ennis, a handsome Irish girl, who died in New York [in 1848]. …Calvary Cemetery contained only ten acres then, and we thought Archbishop Hughes was crazy for purchasing such a large tract of land. Now there are over three hundred acres used for cemetery purposes and it is not enough. I dug all the graves then myself up until the cholera year, when I had to get assistance. …There was no road running to the cemetery and the funerals had to come up Newtown Creek from Thirty-Third Street, New York. There was not a house in Blissville then.”

That's the way it was in August 1884!

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their website at www.astorialic.org.

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