A Woodhaven memorial tradition revived
by Ed Wendell
May 08, 2019 | 1402 views | 0 0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Residents gather once a year to decorate the trees in Forest Park.
Residents gather once a year to decorate the trees in Forest Park.
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This large granite monument, erected in Forest Park in 1920, now sits in front of American Legion Post 118 on 91st Street and 89th Avenue. The names of the local soldiers killed in WWI, who the trees were planted for, are inscribed on the monument.
This large granite monument, erected in Forest Park in 1920, now sits in front of American Legion Post 118 on 91st Street and 89th Avenue. The names of the local soldiers killed in WWI, who the trees were planted for, are inscribed on the monument.
slideshow
One-hundred years ago this Saturday, residents of Woodhaven gathered in Forest Park outside the golf course clubhouse to dedicate 53 trees to the memory of local boys who died in World War I.

It was May 11, 1919 and the community was still numb from the loss of so many bright young men. They had been looking for a way to remember these young lives that were cut so painfully short by war, and finally settled on a living memorial.

The trees were planted in April and the families came together in the park to officially dedicate them.

“Relatives of the departed soldiers had positions of honor in the front rows of seats placed on the wide lawn before the club house,” the Leader-Observer reported at the time.

Today, that “wide lawn” is the road we use to drive through the park to Glendale. Remember, in 1919 the golf course was much larger and extended right down to Park Lane South, so everything in that area of the park was part of the golf course.

New York Senator William Calder, famous for co-sponsoring the bill that introduced Daylight Savings Time, was scheduled to make the memorial address but canceled at the last minute and sent an aide.

Woodhaven’s James Pasta, who had recently been discharged from the service, presided at the exercises. Pasta would go on to become the first commander of American Legion Post 118 and, along with his brother John, ran a successful law practice in Woodhaven for the next six decades.

In fact, the next time you are on Jamaica Avenue near Forest Parkway, take a look at the doorway leading to the floors above the bank where The Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation is located. To this day, there is a brass plaque advertising the “Law Offices of John and James Pasta” on the wall.

Prayers were led by the Reverend H.E. Meyer of Christ Lutheran Church at 86th Street and 101st Avenue, currently known as Crossover Baptist Church. The benediction was delivered by Reverend George Sherman of St. Thomas the Apostle which, as most of you likely know, still exists today.

The community gathered at the site of the newly planted trees atop the hill known as Memorial Knoll overlooking Woodhaven for a roll call of the dead.

“Each name, as it was called, was the signal for the stepping forward of a boy or girl who placed a carnation in a large cross, which, when the roll call was completed, was placed in an upright position amid the setting of memorial trees,” the Leader-Observer recounted.

Over the years, the residents of Woodhaven have gathered for many Memorial Day ceremonies. This one must have been very emotional with all of those families, their mourning still fresh, in attendance. I’d wager this town has never seen anything quite like it in the century since.

The band played patriotic numbers and the assembled crowd sang along. Residents felt good about the living war memorial they had created, but then the crowd went home.

The families, meanwhile, were left with their pain, and many of them began decorating the trees dedicated to their lost loved ones. Thus, the Memorial Trees of Woodhaven became not only a public living, breathing memorial, it also had personal meaning to the families.

Within a year, a large granite monument would be erected on a spot directly across from the clubhouse and annual Memorial Day parades would end there. But in the 1940s that monument would be moved to the front yard of American Legion Post 118 on 91st Street and 89th Avenue.

Sadly, as the families moved or faded away, the tradition of decorating the trees also disappeared. As a result the trees and their true meaning was forgotten and never passed on to next generations.

The families may no longer be around to remember their loved ones at this unique memorial, but the residents of Woodhaven remember. For the past few years, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society and American Legion Post 118 have been reviving this old tradition of decorating the trees for Memorial Day.

We don’t have a date yet for this year, as we wait until it gets closer and pick a date based on the weather forecast, but if you are interested in participating in the family-friendly event, please email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com or call (718) 805-2002.

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