Normally a joyous time, Christmas Eve in 1941 was a rather grim occasion for Ridgewood and the rest of America.
Weeks earlier, the United States had been hurled into World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on that infamous date of Dec. 7. The day after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan — and Nazi Germany and its Axis ally Italy declared war on America.
Americans scrambled to protect the country and contribute to the war effort in any way they could. The front page headlines of the Dec. 24, 1941 Ridgewood Times demonstrated what was being done in the Greater Ridgewood area to help the Armed Forces, but also guard against any possible attack from the enemies.
The top story, “Civilian Defense Talks Arranged for Clubs,” focused on the creation of a Queens Speakers Bureau, designed to inform the public about guarding their homes and businesses against possible enemy attack. The story also featured a general call for volunteers to register at Rego Park’s Lost Battalion Hall to help with “all types of defense work — air wardens, fire wardens, Red Cross, motor corps or anything else.”
Amid the grim environment that holiday season, there was one thing on the Ridgewood Times cover that day which provided a bit of joy to the readers.
Newspaper editors, publishers and reporters — this Old Timer included — would love to know tomorrow’s news today. Who wouldn’t want to know about a disaster that could be averted, or at least the winning numbers of the next Powerball jackpot beforehand? Alas, without a crystal ball or some other form of supernatural divinity, that task is impossible.
But as it happened, the Ridgewood Times wound up getting a press release dated for 1996, 55 years in the future. Of course, it wasn’t quite accurate.
Writer Nino Lo Bello’s front page article of the Dec. 24, 1941 Ridgewood Times focused on a fellow “newspaperman,” Harold Stroh, who wrote the press release on a dare from a close family friend.
The Kurtz family of Ridgewood consists of poppa Anthony, momma Mae Loretta and son Robert John.
Son Robert John will be a year old next Monday. Anthony and Mae Loretta, having planned a party for that day, are apparently proud of the blue-eyed newcomer and expect great things of him in the years to come.
So does Harold Stroh, the newspaperman who’s a good friend of the family.
So much so that Stroh threatened to write a biography of Robert John. Anthony laughed. Mae Loretta laughed. Everybody laughed.
But Stroh wasn’t fooling; he dashed for his typewriter and dished out a “press release” which he mailed to the Ridgewood Times.
In its 33 years of serving the public, the Ridgewood Times has never received a press release of this sort.
Thus Anthony can laugh. Mae Loretta can laugh. Everybody can laugh.
The press release follows: (Note this will make a great story about 55 years from now.)
“Release in 1996
A movement is now underway to have the building at 67-09 62nd Street, Ridgewood, made a national shrine.
The building, a two-family brick affair, is the boyhood home of Robert John Kurtz, who was recently elected as the 42nd President of the United States.
President-elect Kurtz was born in the Bethany Deaconess Hospital, St. Nicholas Avenue and Bleecker Street, on December 29, 1940. He attended public schools in the Ridgewood section and graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in 1955.
His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Anthony J. Kurtz, wanted him to study medicine, but Robert had other ideas and entered Columbia Law School, from which he was graduated with high honors in 1961.
Mr. Kurtz opened a law office in Ridgewood and immediately took an interest in local civic work. It was through his efforts that the elevated structure of the old B.M.T. was torn down from Wyckoff and Myrtle Avenues to Fresh Pond Road in 1963. He was also instrumental in having an airplane passenger station erected on Fresh Pond Road, just a short distance from the old Fresh Pond Road station of the Myrtle Avenue elevated line.
The future president became active in politics in 1969, and the following year was elected president of the Ridgewood Republican Club. He served in this capacity until 1978 when he was appointed Assistant District Attorney.
In 1984, Mr. Kurtz ran for the office of United States Senator and was elected by a wide margin. His accomplishments as a Senator won him national prominence, and last year he was designated as the Republicans’ choice for President. His recent landslide election proved his popularity.
In electing Mr. Kurtz to the Presidency, Long Island now has a unique boast. It gave the United States its two youngest Presidents — Theodore Roosevelt, who became President at the age of 54, and Mr. Kurtz, who will mark his 56th birthday Monday.”
Certainly, Stroh had plenty of high hopes for Kurtz as he approached one year of age. Obviously, history would play out quite differently from the fantastic vision of the press release published in that issue of the Ridgewood Times.
However, The Old Timer could use a little help from the public in finding out the story of Robert John Kurtz, formerly of 67-09 62nd St. in Ridgewood. You’re welcome to write to us if you know about him. We’ll be able to tell his story in a future column.
In the meantime, there are a few items in the press release worth a closer look.
Bethany Deaconess Hospital was, at one time, one of the prominent medical facilities serving Ridgewood and Bushwick. According to Brownstoner, the main hospital — founded by members of the Eastern German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church — opened its main building in 1902 and quickly outgrew it.
In the years to come, Bethany Deaconess grew into several buildings along St. Nicholas Avenue, with two main addresses: 237 St. Nicholas Ave. and 415 Bleecker St. In 1966, Wyckoff Heights Hospital purchased the site and continued operating it as the “Bethany Pavilion” before it finally closed in 1974.
The complex, according to Brownstoner, would remain vacant for 11 years before being acquired by Catholic Charities and razed to make way for senior citizen apartments.
The Myrtle Avenue Line, of course, remains in place to serve thousands of people in Our Neighborhood every day. After a nearly year-long modernization project, service was restored to the line in April of this year. It carries the M line from Metropolitan Avenue-Middle Village into Lower and Midtown Manhattan and then through northwest Queens to 71-Continental Avenues in Forest Hills.
As it happened, New York State did not elect a United States Senator in 1984; Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan easily won re-election to his Senate seat in 1982, and Republican Al D’Amato won his second Senate term in 1986. Each Senate term is six years.
Of course, a Queens resident did make an impact on the national political stage in 1984 — and her presence would prove historic.
Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro was nominated by the Democratic party as its vice presidential nominee, the first woman ever to have a place on a major party’s presidential ticket. Ferraro was the running mate to the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Walter Mondale.
While the Mondale-Ferraro ticket would lose in a colossal landslide to incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush (the Democrats carried only Mondale’s home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia), Ferraro became an inspiration to future generations of women in national politics.
The 42nd President of the United States, of course, was Bill Clinton, who defeated then-President Bush in the 1992 presidential election. At 46, Clinton was the third-youngest person ever to become President. Theodore Roosevelt remains the youngest president ever elected (he took the oath at age 42) and John F. Kennedy was the second-youngest (he was 43 when he became president in 1961).
If you have any memories and photos that you’d like to share about “Our Neighborhood:The Way it Was,” write to The Old Timer, c/o Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. All mailed pictures will be carefully returned upon request.