Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Annual "Spirits Alive" Event Honors Our Ancestors

By Michael Perlman

An annual event, “Spirits Alive,” resurrects the memory of our notable ancestors at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens. In late September, it once again proved to be a successful tradition, where local residents venture on a self-guided tour and meet actors in period costumes who portray their roles.

Back in 2004, Immaculate Conception School of Jamaica Estates students paid tribute to noteworthy individuals buried at Maple Grove by recreating their roles. Their teacher, Carl Ballenas, launched the Historical Wax Museum project, a social studies program. “I wanted the youth of today to meet the challenges of the future by remembering the roots of the past, and sought to bring it to the entire community,” he said. With the help of Linda Mayo Perez, former Maple Grove president, “Celebrating the Living Spirit” was born, and in 2005 the name was changed.

Russell & Kyle Pfalzer alongside monument with pictorial tribute, Photo by Michael Perlman
 Pfalzer family monument, Photo by Michael Perlman
Russell Pfalzer, who has 26 family members buried at Maple Grove, spoke in front of his family plot alongside a large collection of ancestral photos. His son Kyle was also present. “My family’s history is rooted in Queens County, and only the last generation moved East on Long Island. They worked the land, were three generations of farmers, and were German immigrants. My grandfather, George Jr, grew up on a farm in Woodhaven. My great-grandfather, George, was the last to farm in Queens, on a Forest Hills farm that bordered the LIRR. He was a tenant farmer who lost everything in The Great Depression. My father John used to bring over bags of coal to heat his house in the wintertime and used his Model A Ford to sell his cut flowers and produce on the street to help his grandfather out.” Pfalzer feels that “living generations are connectors between the past and the future.” “If we don’t try to remember and pass on the information, it’s going to be lost. They are part of the history of Queens County. They weren’t famous like the Van Sicklens or the Wyckoffs (farming families), but made a living, raised kids, did their best during hard times, and that should be remembered.” 

George Pfalzer, Russell Pfalzer's great-grandfather, 1863 - 1936, Courtesy of Russell Pfalzer
John H Pfalzer, Russell Pfalzer's father's WWII portrait in 1944
John & Anna Elizabeth Pfalzer,1860s tin image, Courtesy of Russell Pfalzer
James Laws Hutton, Photo by Michael Perlman
James Laws Hutton was born on a farm in 1847 in Ohio and came to New York City to earn his fortune. He died at 38, but taught his sons about the stock market. “In 1904, Edward who was only 29 years old, and his younger brother Franklyn, started the American Stock Brokerage firm called E. F. Hutton & Company in San Francisco.” Edward’s second wife was Marjorie Merriweather Post, one of the wealthiest women in the 20th century. “She was a noted businesswoman and philanthropist. She owned General Foods which not only made cereal but owns Jell-O, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Log Cabin syrup, Birds Eye, and others.”

William Yepsen, Photo by Michael Perlman
William Yepsen was one of 27 servicemen on the Kew Gardens WWII Memorial plaque. He stated, “I was a Second Lieutenant. 504 Parachute Infantry, 1st Battalion, 82 Airborne Division, HQ Company. I stand at my father George’s grave at Maple Grove.” Yepsen enlisted on October 24, 1942 and became part of the Battle of the Bulge. “I became a casualty and was 32 years old. I was posthumously awarded the Silver Star,” he explained. 

Jane Heath, Photo by Michael Perlman
Jane Heath is buried with her distinguished husband, Henry Roswell Heath. She said, “I am a direct descendant of Roger Williams, founder of the colony of Rhode Island in America in 1636 and a pioneer of religious liberty.” Henry was born in 1845 in Massachusetts. He served in the Civil War, was wounded at Ball’s Bluff, and was taken as prisoner. In 1862, he was paroled by the Confederacy. “For the rest of his life, Henry would tell friends and family that upon returning to Washington, he was the first prisoner to shake hands with President Lincoln,” she said. 

James E. Ware, Photo by Michael Perlman
Maple Grove Cemetery Gatehouse, 1880
Architect James E. Ware’s spirit also came alive. He said, “I was famous for devising model tenements for the poor, as well as the first luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan. I created New York’s first armory, the world’s first fireproof warehouse, and my Osborne Apartments were the forerunner of the modern skyscraper. Its lobby is said to be the finest in all of the City of New York. My own parish was the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, which I also designed. In the 1870s and 1880s, my payment for designing the buildings here at Maple Grove was $100 for a plot of 12 for me and my family.”

Ione Vandever, Photo by Michael Perlman
Delaware native Ione Vandever relocated to New York and married Jacob Vandever, manager of the Nazareth Cement Company. She said, “He made a very good salary and we enjoyed a more privileged life and moved to a beautiful house in the newly formed town of Kew Gardens in 1913! We were one of the first families and lived at 226 Onslow Place.” She later explained, “Kew Gardens was developed by Alrick Platt Man. His father Albon founded Richmond Hill in 1868 in honor of the Man’s Family ancestral home in England. South of here, Richmond Hill can be found on a flat plain. Our land here is very hilly, and was created when the mile-high glaciers of ice from the great Ice Age melted and deposited soil and boulders creating the Terminal Moraine, what many call the ‘backbone’ of Long Island. The Man family used this beautiful land to create the Richmond Hill Golf Club and it had nine holes! One of the hazards on the golf course was a beautiful glacial pond called Crystal Lake. It was covered over in 1908, when they started preparing the land for the creation of our town.”

 Mary Ann Burkhardt, Photo by Michael Perlman
 Mary Ann Burkhardt, Photo by Michael Perlman
Born in Newtown, Queens was Mary Ann Burkhardt. She said, “One of my ancestors, Thomas Lawrence was the first Lawrence to come to America from England and landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1635. Thomas eventually moved to Long Island and he was one of the founding families of Hempstead and Flushing.”Referring to James Lawrence, she said, “I am also a direct descendant of a US naval hero, who became famous for the battle cry, ‘Don’t give up the Ship!’” 

Richard Smith, Photo by Michael Perlman
Richard Smith alongside lots of memorabilia, Photo by Michael Perlman
Private Richard Smith, who lived on Metropolitan Avenue and was a Richmond Hill High School graduate, also came to life. He joined the Naval Air Force in 1942, but was honorably discharged in 1943. America was involved in a global conflict with the Pacific and the Atlantic. He said, “With even more determination and resolved than ever, I enlisted again and joined the U.S Army. I was sent to Field Artillery Replacement Training Center, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I was part of “B” Battery, 309th Field Artillery, 78th Division. Tens of thousands of artillerymen were trained on the post’s extensive ranges.”

In 1944, he fought in Europe. “I gave the ultimate sacrifice and died in battle in Germany. Many from Kew Gardens joined the war effort, and 27 of us made that supreme sacrifice. At the intersection of Kew Gardens, where Lefferts Boulevard, Grenfell Street, and 83rd Avenue and Audley Street meet in a small garden by the Homestead Home, a WWII Memorial plaque was erected by Kew Gardens Post 1374. It honors the 27 who gave their lives during WWII.” 

 Adam Dove, Photo by Michael Perlman
Other notables who came to life include Ralph Rawdon, Walter Roth, Emily Huber, Adam Dove, and Virginia Smith. Ballenas said, “Spirits Alive has become a popular community event, and we are delighted to continue this annual tradition. I have written hundreds of scripts over the years, and I am already working on scripts for next year.”
A similar version of this feature appeared in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: