Help us uncover Woodhaven's past
by Ed Wendell
Oct 21, 2014 | 2278 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Calling all historians! the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society is looking for history buffs who are interested in taking part in a long-term project to document the history of our community.

We’ll be kicking off this project with a meeting at the Avenue Diner, 91-06 Jamaica Avenue, on Tuesday, October 28, at 7 p.m. We will meet on the last Tuesday of each month after that.

It’s a funny thing about history, but the closer it gets to home, the less we tend to really know. Think about this for a moment: we are all taught in school about George Washington and the founding of our country. Even if you’re not a history buff, you are likely to be fairly well-versed in the history of our country.

But as you begin to bring it down a few notches – the history of our state, the history of our city – for many the details become a little fuzzier. And then you get to the history of your own neighborhood and it gets really out of focus.

What many people know of Woodhaven’s history they may have learned through Vincent Seyfried’s wonderful book “The Story of Woodhaven and Ozone Park.”

This well-researched book tells the story of how our community came to be, with a special emphasis on the housing and transportation booms that shaped our community and special attention on the impact of Florian Grosjean and the factory that employed so many residents of Woodhaven for decades.

What we hope to do is fill in the blanks a little bit by gathering information on what I like to call “hyper-local history.” The only way to do this is through teamwork, organization and thorough documentation.

It sounds boring when I put it that way, but we have to be clear that this is more than just sifting through old pictures.

This project will involve gathering and organizing information so that it can be more easily read. For example, we’d like for you to be able to look up a street address on Jamaica Avenue and see every known business that ever existed there.

We’d like to be able to compile a comprehensive listing of all the movies that played at the Willard, Roosevelt and Haven theaters, as well as the Parkway and Manor theaters, two Woodhaven movie houses I’d never even heard of until recently.

In particular, I am interested in the story of the murder of Professor Wilfred Kotkov, a Jewish professor who was beaten to death by four young men in 1921. It was a nationally known case, and two of the four young men who were convicted eventually got the electric chair.

One of them was the youngest person in New York State ever given the death penalty; just 17 when the sentence was handed down.

Residents of Ozone Park might be interested in this project because a large part of their community was once part of Woodhaven, meaning that we have a shared history and we hope they’ll join us.

Everyone is welcome to join this project, but if you aren’t familiar with using a computer you might have a little trouble with some of the research work we have in mind. But you are more than welcome to join us each month, even if only to hear the latest history we’ve been digging up, and to contribute whatever information it is that you know.

Apart from the research group, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society has a few other upcoming events. On Wednesday, October 29, we will host a free lecture by Robert L. Cohen entitled "Oh What a Charming City: NYC in Folk and Popular Song." Mr. Cohen was a guest last year and was very well received. The lecture begins at 1 p.m. at Emanuel United Church of Christ, 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.

And our cleanup of the colonial-era Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery on 96th Street and 86th Avenue (behind All Saints Church) continues on Saturday, November 8, at 9 a.m.

If you are interested in Woodhaven’s history there are no shortage of projects for you to get involved with. We hope to see you at one of them soon.

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