By The Greater Astoria Historical Society
In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the TimesLedger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history
In December 1959, the Board of Education was re-evaluating its school fallout shelter program to determine whether better—or closer—shelter accommodations had become available to students. The Board reported that thousands of Queens students in 49 school buildings in Queens would be without adequate protection in the event of an atomic attack on the city.
About half of the students would have had to be transported to a suitable location not more than 20 minutes away.
Astorian John Martino faced 20 years in prison in Cuba on charges that he had plotted to smuggle refugees out of that nation. Martino was president of the Neptune Engine Company of 25-38 31st Ave., which manufactured generators and electronics equipment. He had gone to Havana to seek patents for an invention which he described as “the only brushless generator in the world.” The Cuban government’s charges against him were never made public. After hearing the evidence in a trial which lasted only five hours, the Cuban military court sentenced Martino to a 13-year prison term. His attorneys planned an appeal.
Mr. and Mrs. Norman Poulin returned from Saigon, Vietnam, to Forest Hills. Poulin was an official with the International Cooperation Administration. He was active in many American Aid programs and helped carry out the world-famous “Operation Exodus” in which almost a million refugees from North Vietnam were transported to the South. He was one of the last Americans to leave North Vietnam as he officially closed the ICA office there in May 1955.
The last veteran of the Civil War, Walter Washington Williams, died in Texas at the age of 117. His body, dressed in a Confederate general’s uniform lay in state in a blue and grey casket draped with the Confederate flag. Across the world, American flags flew at half staff, and President Eisenhower proclaimed a period of national mourning until Williams’ burial.
The first rabbi to volunteer as a Navy chaplain after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Captain Joshua L. Goldberg, rabbi-emeritus of the Astoria Center of Israel, was to retire from the Navy on Jan. 1, 1960. He had made over 87 crossings of the Atlantic and traveled throughout Asia and Africa. The rabbi thought that the main threat to America was “softness” of discipline at home—in the moral fiber of business, in human relations and in general attitude. His retirement was caused by the 64-year age limit. He didn’t bother to do so before the Nov. 1 deadline for “tombstone” promotions, where those retiring are boosted one rank, because he didn’t think “being called ‘Admiral’ was that important.” He was the first Jewish officer to achieve the rank of ‘Captain.’
The spirit of Christmas turned in a twinkle when Detective Edward Egan completed the transformation from Santa Claus to detective. Egan, who dressed in a standard Santa Claus costume, arrested 17 persons in four days. Most of the arrests were in Harlem for narcotics violations, including a 35-year-old man posing as a woman and having 30 bags of heroin in his possession. (And they claim the 1950s was a boring conformist decade!)
The Christmas season in Queens saw bright lights up in most shopping districts on the North Shore. Santa Claus made many appearances. Christmas lights lit trees in the yards of one- and two- family homes throughout the borough. A giant 35-foot Christmas tree in front of Borough Hall was lit by Borough President John T. Clancey on Dec. 15.
“Jaywalking is against the law,” boomed the voice of a talking traffic signal installed in Flushing at Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue. The talking signal, a tape recording synchronized with the visual traffic signal, announced the beginning of the flashing “Don’t Walk” period and cautioned pedestrians of the dangers of jaywalking during the steady “Don’t Walk” period. Traffic commissioner T. T. Wiley said the messages were well-heeded by pedestrians, and that the audio devices were being tried at crowded intersections before the decision to install them permanently.
Queens moviegoers could enjoy “Anatomy of a Murder,” starring James Stewart; “A Hole in the Head,” starring Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson and Eleanor Parker; “The Mummy,” starring Peter Cushing; “The Bat,” starring Vincent Price; and “Pillow Talk,” starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
That’s the way it was in December 1959!
For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their website at www.astor