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November 1956 saw a rash of teens causing mischief

By The Greater Astoria Historical Society

November brings to mind crisp autumn breezes, weekend football games and Thanksgiving turkey. In 1956, the nation sent President Dwight Eisenhower back to the White House that month, with only seven mostly Southern states backing Democratic contender Adlai Stevenson.

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Television, still a bit of a novelty, showed the Ku Klux Klan marching through the streets of Birmingham, Ala., in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision banning bus segregation. On another channel, viewers could turn in to view light-hearted fare on Art Linkletter’s “People Are Funny” as they witnessed the romantic escapades of a young couple paired by Univac, one of the earliest computers.

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From a gritty, shattered steel mill in occupied Budapest, a note hastily scrawled in pencil and passed to an American news reporter brought hope to a Jackson Heights family.

“To Louis Menyhert, 30-54 89th Street, Jackson Heights,” the note read, “we are all living, Louis.”

The Menyhert family declined to reveal their nephew’s last name or exact whereabouts: “There is no telling what might happen to them if the Communists found out their names.”

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With fear of global conflict and nuclear holocaust present, on Nov. 28 civil defense forces in Queens staged a mock atomic bomb attack on the borough. With a cloud of imaginary radioactive dust settling over the area, emergency responders clad in surgical masks and helmets deployed to the streets to treat large numbers of casualties. Washington estimated that World War III would cost the nation $4 trillion.

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While area residents looked to the skies for signs of impending doom, others were occupied with more local issues. On the evening of Nov. 1, thousands of apartments across the borough were plunged into darkness in protest against a proposed Consolidated Edison rate hike.

Responding to calls of “put out the lights,” thousands of families fumbled about in near darkness and schoolchildren struggled to complete homework. A group of Queens women even gathered in a neighbor’s kitchen to play mah jong by the faint glow of candlelight.

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Not all area youngsters spent their evenings immersed in the finer points of algebra and the French Revolution, though. Teenagers ran wild in the streets of Queens and left police with their hands full and area courts with a full docket.

One favorite pastime of young delinquents was joyriding in stolen cars. On Nov. 9, three Queens boys, aged 15 to 17, were tried in local courts for their roles in a nine-month joyriding spree in which they stole as many as six cars.

In Flushing, a 21-year-old described by the local press as a “slip of a girl with dynamite in each fist,” expressed her displeasure at the service in a local bar by breaking the front window with her bare hands and flinging bottles of beer at the expensive liquor and whiskey behind the counter until “there was hardly a bottle standing intact on the back bar.”

The young “sparkplug” was arrested on a felony malicious mischief charge, but there was no note of what she did to the unfortunate bartender.

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Meanwhile, law-abiding locals escaped the pressures and anxieties of daily life by taking in a movie. Viewers could take in “Moby Dick” starring Gregory Peck at The Beacon in Long Island City, and Marilyn Monroe graced the screen in “Bus Stop” at the Plaza on Roosevelt Avenue.

Not to be outdone, the Skouras theater in Astoria lured moviegoers with James Cagney in “The Fighting 69th” and Gary Cooper in “Task Force.” The Skouras chain advertised “election results at all theatres tonight” in the Nov. 6 edition of the Long Island Star Journal.

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With the holiday season fast approaching, moms and dads across Queens got an early start on filling children’s wish lists. With Christmas advertisements appearing in area newspapers early in the month, shoppers flocked to area retailers in search of a good bargain and to beat the crowds.

W.T. Grant on Main Street in Flushing offered the Mousegetar Jr., which played the official Mouseketeer song, for $1.79, and stocked its shelves with the Western Holster Set for $4.98.

Would-be Santas and Hanukkah Harrys flocked to Gertz department stores, where $2.99 monoplane sleds, made from real ash wood, and remote control walking dogs brought smiles to many boys and girls.

For more information, call 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.

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