Thursday, July 2, 2020

Patriotism Forest Hills Style, July 5, 1920

By Michael Perlman

Forest Hills Gardens town crier
Back in 1914, the annual Independence Day festival was launched in the Forest Hills Gardens. This set off a tradition where committees, residents, and friends participated in a day-long program for all generations and interests in an exquisitely decorated and uniquely illuminated Station Square, as well as the Forest Hills Inn and Tea Garden, Olivia Park, and along Greenway Terrace. A most historical Forest Hills event was on July 4, 1917, when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt delivered his “One Hundred Percent American” unification speech at the LIRR Station to address WWI. Today, patriotism and tradition continue to echo in a modified form through Children’s Day at Flagpole Green in June. Let’s turn back the clock to July 5, 1920, which marked the 144th anniversary of America’s independence.

The ceremony on Village Green now Flagpole Green
Keeping in mind that the 1919 celebration cost $3,057.90, Dr. Thompson Tyler Sweeny, who served as the Chair of the 1920 celebration, requested that every Gardens family contribute an average of $10. It was anticipated as the greatest of Independence Day celebrations yet! The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin published, “Not only were the birds singing cheerily to arouse the villagers from morning slumbers, but through the streets early on July 5 came the Town Crier calling lustily to all to come to the Green for the Flag-raising at 9:30.” The ceremony featured members of American Legion Post 630 and Boy Scouts Troop 2 under the direction of Harvey Warren, who served as Post president and scoutmaster. Uniformed servicemen and Boy Scouts assembled in Station Square and began marching to Village Green. After Warren played the part of a Colonial Town Crier, he changed into military garb. The flag was raised and a patriotic prayer was made. A chorus sang patriotic tunes under guidance of the famed Glee Clubs leader Bruno Huhn, with piano accompaniment by Mrs. Charles H. Scammell, who was considered “the foster mother of all good singing of Forest Hills Gardens.”

Children were ready to play games in Station Square at 10 AM, thanks to the direction of Dr. W. F. Seybolt.. The publication read, “There are between fifty and sixty very happy boys and girls who are wearing bronze and silver badges, won at the children’s games in canvas-covered Station Square between 10 and 12 o’clock.” It continued, “With kiddie car races, pillow fights, sack and relay races, a whole program of fun, speed, and skill was carried out.” The lineup also included games for adults such as a baby carriage race, football kicking and ball tossing, tilting matches, tug-of-war between easterners and westerners.

At 2 PM, Hawthorn Park became a baseball field where the “Inn Warriors” (the Inns) clashed with the “Station Square Cohorts” (the Outs). An umpire appeared in armor, while a batter wore petticoats. The Daily Star reported, “There will be no tennis this year, the committee having decided that tennis is so integral a part of the life of the community as to make a baseball game a greater diversion.” The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin stated, “The Outs came nobly from the rear and put the winning run over the plate to the accompaniment of the deafening plaudits of the assembled throng.” It later read, “It was a dashing game, and the narrow margin of one run by which the Outs won their victory shows how closely it was played.” The Inns’ captain was Ray Bell whereas Edmund O’Shea led the Outs. 

By 4 PM, attendees were in tune for opera at Olivia Park, a natural amphitheatre. Milton Aborn directed a company which performed “Pagliacci” by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1892) and “Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni (1889). The Metropolitan chorus featured 24 vocalists and the Metropolitan orchestra featured 17 members. Scenery was minimal to maximize on the park’s charming ambiance.

Between 5 and 7 PM, festivities included a home-cooked supper by the Women’s Guild of the Church-in-the-Gardens social room for $1, where the proceeds would benefit the Community House fund.

At 7:30 PM, they made their way back to Station Square for a band concert and the community Choral Club that performed several patriotic airs comprised of nearly 75 vocalists. Another highlight was music at twilight by the Regiment Band of the 22nd Corps of Engineers, a 40-piece band under Master George Briegel. The evening continued with dancing in Station Square at 9 PM, lasting until midnight. The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin read, “The dance on Station Square, lighted by myriads of red, white, and blue incandescents, will fittingly close a happy family and community patriotic day – the Independence Day of 1920, long to be remembered”… “The decorations will consist of myriads of American flags interspersed with those of the Allies, all placed to produce the best effect.” It also stated, “All the lads and lassies, maids and matrons and escorts danced on the canvas covering until – well, why tell the hour – for the music was the best and the night balmy.” Over 3,000 people were in the audience and among the dancers, and Chairman Henry W. Hirschberg was commended for this final feature.

The festival offered a humanitarian aspect. Proceeds from the refreshment booth, which served ice cream cones, lemonade, iced tea, sandwiches, and cake, benefited the Big Sisters of Queens Borough. Based on the prior year’s partnership, the Big Sisters received over $200 and assisted seven children who would have traditionally ended up in institutions, and ultimately helped them find suitable homes. 

Reflecting on the festival’s success, the publication stated, “Our friends and relatives were here in such numbers that it was apparent that our village is growing, and that everyone likes ‘our party,’ as Dr. Sweeny, the chairman, called it.” It continued, “The most impressive and appropriate part of the program, in the humble opinion of the editor, was in the Flag raising and the singing of the newly christened Choral Club.”

A similar version was featured in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: