Saturday, June 1, 2019

Helen Keller Mural Painting Event on June 12 & June 13 / Mural Installation Day on Ascan Ave, June 14

Helen Keller in 1913, Bain News Service, publisher, Library of Congress 
"Helen Keller Comes Home" - You are invited to the Helen Keller tribute mural painting event at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills at 71-11 112th St, which was the site of her house from 1917 to 1938.

Guests will be escorted in a group, so please arrive on time & specify which date you will attend. RSVP required via messenger or email

**June 12 at 3 PM 

**June 13 at 11 AM

Event page:

The much-anticipated mural will be painted by international muralists Crisp (Australia) & Praxis (Columbia), & you will have a chance to watch the 48 ft x 4 ft mural being painted on preservation-friendly panels. An informative plaque with Helen Keller's signature & photos will also be unveiled. Historian & mural developer Michael Perlman will be on site.

On June 14 at 9 AM for an approximate 5 hours, the LIRR will install the Helen Keller mural panels on the west wall of the Ascan Avenue underpass. This project is funded by lead sponsor CM Karen Koslowitz & local residents & organizations. This is history-in-the-making!

Helen Keller's life & local to international accomplishments: By Michael Perlman

Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan Macy, & Polly Thomson's House, 93 Seminole Ave later renumbered 71-11 112th St
A most courageous 20th century figure, Helen Keller (1880 – 1968), was an advocate, author, and lecturer. From 1917 to 1938, she resided in a brick-gabled and limestone 7-room house at 93 Seminole Avenue, later renumbered 71-11 112th Street, which she nicknamed “our castle on the marsh.” Today the site is The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, which annually hosts the “Helen Keller Shabbat of Inclusion” featuring a guest speaker, who despite facing a challenge, lives their life to the fullest.

After Keller contracted Scarlet Fever, she became blind and deaf at 19 months. She was examined by Alexander Graham Bell, telephone inventor and pioneer speech teacher for the deaf, who referred her to Perkins School for the Blind. At 7, she met Anne Sullivan Macy (1866 – 1936), who was partially blind. “Miracle Worker” Macy lived with her in Forest Hills, becoming her teacher and closest companion, and she later lived with secretary Polly Thomson (1885 – 1960). She had 8 dogs, mostly Great Danes, including Sieglinde and Hans. Keller and Macy would attend Sunday services at First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills.

Keller mastered the manual alphabet and learned to read Braille and print block letters. At 9, she began to read lips and communicate. As a graduate of Radcliffe College in 1904 at age 24, she became the first deaf and blind individual to earn a Bachelor of Arts.

In 1913, she began lecturing on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind, and her objective of removing stigmas associated with sight and hearing disorders took her worldwide. Traditionally, such conditions resulted in placing the blind and deaf in asylums. Braille became the international standard in 1932. She also advocated for labor rights and women’s suffrage. Keller’s published works include “The Story of My Life” (1902), “The World I Live In” (1908), “Out of the Dark” (1913), “Midstream” (1929), and “Helen Keller’s Journal” (1938). She wrote "Into The Light," a popular column for The Daily Star, a Queens newspaper. 

Helen Keller inside her home, Courtesy of Susanna & Robert Hof
On her home’s lawn, she celebrated birthdays by coordinating large parties for the blind, and held fundraising tours to benefit the American Foundation for the Blind. Her home’s guests ranged from journalists to scientists to social workers. 

In 1917, she welcomed members of the Rainbow Division of Camp Mills, which consisted of 1,200 soldiers from 27 states, who came in through Station Square. She explained, “The Star-Spangled Banner was more than 100 years ago dedicated as a symbol of freedom. We have since that time lived for that flag and for freedom, and I am proud to meet you, who are now ready to die, if need be, for it, that there might be equal rights for all men and women alike. That flag stands for a nation that obeys laws that honor women and protects virtue, and may you soldiers teach that lesson, so that it will be observed in every nation.” 

From 1920 to 1924, Keller and Macy partnered for an educational vaudeville act. At the 1925 Lions Club International Convention, Keller stated, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much” and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” In 1926, Keller and Macy lectured at the Forest Hills Theatre to over 1,000 guests, to aid in the relief and education of the blind through the American Foundation for the Blind, as part of a national campaign. Edwin Grasse, a blind organist, violinist, and composer accompanied Keller, as organist Samuel Pearce of The Church-in-the-Gardens played.

In 1924, Keller delivered a Thanksgiving address to children of The Church-in-the-Gardens. An excerpt read, “What we think in our hearts, and do, first for the other fellow, and then for ourselves, is the thing that makes us happy, and life worth living. Because people care, the blind receive their sight, and the dumb find their tongue.” She also spoke at The Community House, becoming the first woman to address the Forest Hills Men’s Club in 1928, after being encouraged by its president Homer Croy, a local notable author, screenwriter, and humorist.

In 1931, with her Great Dane by her side, she presented “How Parents Can Help Their Children” at a Public School 3 Mothers Club meeting, and advised parents to encourage their child to discuss their studies, problems, and interests, but not to criticize and pretend an interest, since insincerity will refuse their confidence. Rather, sympathy will gain their confidence.

After the Continental Avenue subway opened in 1936, she wrote with excitement, “Polly and I went to town by the new subway just opened from New York to Forest Hills - that brings me into closer contact with people.” 

Helen Keller's quote & signature, February 24, 1920

Mark Twain called Keller “one of the two most interesting characters of the 19th century” alongside Napoleon. Between 1946 and 1957, she went on tour 7 times and visited 5 continents, totaling over 30 countries. She encountered world figures including John F. Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin, and Grover Cleveland. She worked with seven American presidents and was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. She was also the recipient of the Lions Humanitarian Award for her lifetime service in 1961, and was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame at the 1964 - 1965 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Keller once said, “The millions of blind eyes must be opened. Society is always creating too much trouble for philanthropy to patch. One must attack social problems at their roots.” Other inspirational words are “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” She also stated, "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision." 

Helen Keller & dog Sieglinde in bottom row, Anne Sullivan Macy & Polly Thomson in top row, Courtesy of the Hof family

Leads: Muralists Crisp & Praxis, Coordinator & Historian Michael Perlman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Sponsor Council Member Karen Koslowitz, Queens Economic Development Corporation, Long Island Railroad, Plaque design by Victor Kun & Sofia Monge of Continental Photo

Benefactors: Christopher Dukas, Cinemart Cinemas, Denise De Maria, Edwin & Katherine Wong, Elmhurst History & Cemeteries Preservation Society, Frank & Regina Carroll, Genesis Society, Gloria Piraino & Jim Bennett, Helen & John Day, John Beltzer, Knish Nosh, Oliloli Studio, Portofino Ristorante, Red Pipe Cafe, The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, Roast n Co, Rubi Gaddi Macaulay, Steven G. Schott, Terrace Sotheby’s International Realty; Susanna & Rob Hof, West Side Tennis Club 

~ Created June 2019

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