When the borough braced for World War II

By The Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history

It was 1939, and the sixth anniversary of German Fuehrer Adolf Hitler’s rise to power on Jan. 30, 1933 was at hand. The world was arming for war. In Washington, President Roosevelt proposed to Congress a $9,000,000,000 budget for 1940, to arm for defense and spend for recovery.

In Queens, Borough President George U. Harvey abandoned his duties in a rush to accompany the combined Atlantic and Pacific fleets on maneuvers in southern waters. Harvey, a lieutenant colonel in the 307th Infantry, would be gone six weeks or more, during which Borough Works Commissioner John J. Halleran would be acting borough president.

Dr. Kurt Rosenfeld, former minister of justice for Prussia, a former member of the Reichstag from 1919 to 1933 and a resident of Sunnyside, was to lecture at the Sunnyside Jewish Center, the topic being “It Can Happen Here.” Later in the month, this was followed by a debate on “Should Jews Be Active in Politics in America?” A committee was formed to distribute literature throughout Sunnyside and Astoria to aid in the fight against Fascism. An investigating committee reported that a German-American Bund meeting was held in Astoria and that the Jew was “belittled, disgraced and discriminated against.”

Mrs. Sarah E. Duffy, of Jackson Heights, became the first female city marshal, after being appointed by Mayor LaGuardia and sworn in immediately at City Hall. Mrs. Duffy was first made a marshal in Elmhurst in 1932 to fill an unexpired term. The appointment, coming as something of a surprise, was cheered by women’s organizations and political clubs alike. Although Mrs. Duffy had not taken a leading part in political affairs, she was well known to community leaders because of her tenure as clerk for her husband in the Elmhurst Municipal Court District.

Grover A. Whalen, Commissioner of the New York World’s Fair, announced that President Roosevelt would attend the opening of the fair April 30. This was to be Roosevelt’s first stop in Queens since he dedicated the Queens-Midtown Tunnel in Hunters Point in the summer of 1937.

Thousands of subway riders and sidewalk neck-craners got an eyeful when they looked up and saw the BMT’s “sample” World’s Fair train auguring the installation of a number of special train units painted in the deep blue and orange selected as the color scheme for Grover A. Whalen’s fantasy in Flushing Meadows

In Flushing, the funeral of James Stewart McGuinness, 86, was held. Serving under Mayor Patrick (“Battle Axe”) Gleason, Mr. McGuinness was the last police chief of Long Island City before consolidation. The death of McGuinness came less than two weeks after the passing of Charles M. Jensen, 74, chief of the old Long Island City Fire Department during Gleason’s regime.

It was announced that the College Point ferry to the Bronx would cease operations on April 25, because of the opening of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. The ferry had been one of the most profitable in the city, but its decline began with the opening of the Triborough Bridge and ended with this event.

A little known British actress, Vivien Leigh, signed a contract to portray Scarlett O’Hara in David O. Selznick’s film “Gone With the Wind.” Selznick interviewed more than 2,000 candidates over two years in his search for a leading lady. “When I saw Miss Leigh, I knew my search was at an end. As far as I was concerned, Miss Leigh was Miss O’Hara,” said Mr. Selznick.

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their website at www.astorialic.org.

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