By The Greater Astoria Historical Society
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1948, Pearl Harbor Day, the “Freedom Train” rolled into Queens and stopped in Flushing for a four-day stay before going on to Jamaica for another two days. It carried priceless documents: the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Emancipation Proclamation and other important historical papers and artifacts.
The train, officially known as “The Spirit of ’76,” was gleaming white with red and blue stripes. It had traveled 35,779 miles, the longest train tour in history. Since its first stop in Philadelphia, on Constitution Day 1947, it had been in every state in the union. Queens was the 318th stop on its journey. About 22,955 schoolchildren and adults visited the train during its stay in Flushing. In its entire journey, more than 3,255,000 Americans visited the train.
U.S. Marine Cpl. William S. Gerichten, of Forest Hills, and Henry J. Sperling, of Glendale, were among the 26 marines who had been assigned to guard the train. These men had to pass rigid requirements for the privilege. In addition to weight and height specifications, they were also investigated by the FBI.
The month began with some residents of Hallett’s Cove protesting eviction from their homes to make way for the Astoria Houses development. More than 150 tenants had received eviction notices. At the ceremonies laying the cornerstone of a new building, they stood quietly and bore placards calling attention to their plight. Borough President Burke assured tenants they would not be forced to leave without provision for adequate housing.
John Lane, director of the Hallett’s Cove Tenants League, summed up the tenants fears: “This is for poor people, and it seems we are not poor enough.”
Income restrictions on residents in public housing meant that only about 10 percent of those evicted would be eligible to move into the Houses once they were completed.
But on Nov. 29, the first six families moved into one of the first completed Astoria Houses buildings. The first family to move in was that of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene DeVeau, who had been evicted to make way for the Houses. They were returning to 302 Astoria Blvd., their old address, where their apartment had been a five-room, cold water walk-up in a six-family building, which was demolished. The new apartment was also five rooms, but the new six-story building housed 45 families “in a clean modern style.”
On Dec. 26 in Flushing, a reverent gathering at the Bowne House commemorated the 291st anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, dated Dec. 27, 1657, by reading the 23rd psalm from John Bowne’s Bible. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles S. Colden followed with a reading of the Remonstrance itself. The document protested religious persecution by the governor of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant.
Preserved in the State Capital in Albany, it is regarded by historians as one of the foundation stones of religious freedom in America. It was partially destroyed by fire in 1910.
In entertainment news, actor Errol Flynn was arrested for kicking a Queens policeman in the shins. The incident occurred shortly before 2 a.m. when Patrolman Joseph Birgeles, of Woodside, stopped the cab Flynn and a companion, Robert Wahn, were riding in to investigate the driver’s license of their cabby.
Flynn and Wahn attempted to intervene and were taken off to the East 51st Street police station. As Wahn was being booked for disorderly conduct, Flynn allegedly kicked the patrolman in the shins. Flynn was booked also, for third-degree assault, and he and Wahn were released on bail.
The next day, Wahn appeared for a court appearance, but Flynn failed to show, an act of contempt which caused the judge to revoke Flynn’s $500 bail and issue an arrest warrant. Flynn, who had been a contender for the light heavyweight boxing title in the 1928 Olympics, had “figured in several one-punch Hollywood brawls.”