by Jeff Gottlieb, President of Central Queens Historical Society (c) 1999
Theodore Roosevelt in central Queens?
Danish immigrant/journalist Jacob Riis was
the reason for the first trip. A hard working, slightly-built newspaperman,
Riis was a reformer. Years of coverage of news in lower Manhattan had left
the Brooklyn advocate acutely concerned about inadequate schools, poor
children’s play facilities, overcrowded housing, fire and sanitation dangers
in the slums, and the use of child labor.
By 1890, Riis had taken his lectures, writings, and observations, and produced the seething “How the Other Half Lives.” This detail on slums was noticed by the, as usual, crusading Roosevelt. -
T.R. had married Edith Kermit Carout, the former New York State Assemblywoman.
A foe of tenant workshops, he was serving on the U.S. Civil Service Commission.
Roosevelt was succeeding in doubling
“I have read your book, and I have come to help,” was the notation on the card signed “Theodore Roosevelt.”
The men got to know and helped each other. “He and I,” said Roosevelt, “looked at life and problems from substantially the same standpoint. Our ideals and principles and purposes, and our beliefs as to the methods necessary to realize them, were alike.”
On the day in 1895 when he was chosen President of the Police Commission
of the City of New York, Roosevelt literally ran up the steps of police
headquarters (after an 18-block walk), saw Riis and the young Lincoln Steffans
of the Evening Post, and asked, “Where are our offices? Where is the board
room? What do we do first?”
Police Commissioner Roosevelt made a speech from the platform of the first train to stop at the site. Outside of a chance to visit Jacob Riis, he may have been thinking of the growing political importance of Queens. The legislation to create a greater New York (including the present five boroughs) was being studied in the State Legislature. Brooklyn was beginning to acquire 500 acres of woodland to be called Brooklyn Forest Park. While Cord Meyer, Newtown entrepreneur, was creating the village of Elmhurst, Richmond Hill was becoming a legal village in the town of Jamaica.
The Borough Grows
The Forest Hills Gardens Fourth of July Celebration Committee invited the war hawk to speak at Station Square. The ostensible reason was the dedication of a new concrete base and bronze collar for the flagpole on the Green.
Select here for rare images of Theodore Roosevelt in Forest Hills
The Reception Committee was all-star. It included Grosvenor Atterbury,
famed Manhattan architect and designer of early Gardens homes which became
standard; Queens Borough President Maurice Connelly, a Forest Hills Gardens
resident; John M. Demarest, General Manager of the Russell Sage Homes Foundation;
H. Man, builder of Kew Gardens and president of the Kew Gardens Corporation;
George & Meyer, President of the Cord Meyer Company, developers of
Forest Hills; and Lyman Beecher Stowe; grandson of the author of “Uncle
Tom’s Cabin” and later President of the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation.
American entrance in World War I in April 1917 brought happiness to
the 58-year-old Roosevelt. All four of his sons were soon on the way (Quentin
would die in July 1918), and any attempt to avoid responsibility for protecting
America was treasonous in Roosevelt’s eyes. He knew some of his opposition.
as far back as 1898. as the “ultra-pacifists, the so-called anti-imperialists
or anti-militarists or peace-at-any-price men.”
Roosevelt was a year-and-a-half away from his death, his body already suffering from recurrent malaria attacks. But his will carried him forward in his last appearance in central Queens.