Queens Chronicle 42nd Anniversary 2020

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Congratulations to The Queens Chronicle on 42 years of serving the Queens Community. Thank you for all you do for our wonderful borough!

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TRIUMPH OVER TRAGEDY CONTENTS • Superstorm Sandy saw neighbor helping neighbor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 • The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 changed everything . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

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• The LIRR’s deadliest crash helped spur rail reform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 • Gen. Slocum tragedy pointed toward a safer world . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 • Woodhaven cyclone turned into a fast fundraiser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 • Beloved Mets went from worst to best in seven years. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 • Tragedy averted: Miracle on the Hudson Flight 1549 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 • Catastrophe of Flight 587 was overshadowed by 9/11 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 • AIDS crisis eventually yielded more understanding. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 • The chapter on COVID’s impact is still being written . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Supplement editor: Peter C. Mastrosimone Editorial layout: Gregg Cohen Cover design by Jan Schulman Photos courtesy Greater Astoria Historical Society, above; and, cover, by Jan Schulman, top; file, left; by Adriana Lopetrone; file; by Riyad Hasan; courtesy David Keller Archive

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C M ANN page 4 Y K 2012


Sandy brought out the best in people Communities came together in wake of devastating storm by Anthony O’Reilly Chronicle Contributor

t’s hard for people who lived through Superstorm Sandy not to remember the post-apocalyptic scenes witnessed throughout South Queens and the Rockaway peninsula on Oct. 29, 2012. Homes in Hamilton Beach were left under 10 feet of water; the National Guard was directing people on both sides of Howard Beach to relief centers; and those in Breezy Point returned to piles of ashes where their living rooms once stood. Of course, the painful memories are brought up in politicians’ press releases — and at an annual vigil held at the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department — every year, but they’re not the main focus. Instead, they choose to remember the acts of kindness that helped them get back on their feet in the days, weeks and months after the historic storm. “When things looked their bleakest, we all came together the way a true community does and helped each other rebuild through that extremely difficult time,” state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said in a prepared statement, reflecting on the eight-year anniversary of the storm that lef t much of his dist r ict unrecognizable. In a social media post, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) echoed those sentiments, saying, “I’ll never forget the damage and destruction I witnessed that night and the morning after. But I also remember acts of heroism, charity & neighbors helping neighbors. Slowly but surely we rebuilt and came out stronger than ever.” The help poured in from nearly every direction — from those just a few miles down the road to residents of Chicago who made an hours-long


trek just to cook up some hot meals for those who had been impacted. Some helped with the biggest tasks. The Retail, Wholesalers and Department Store Union — in conjunction with the Hunter College School of Occupational Safety — brought dozens of volunteers to the Rockaway Peninsula to clear out mold-infested drywall and other materials. “This experience has made me believe in humanity again,” Far Rockaway resident Melinda Santiago said of the union’s help in a press release. “After this is over, I’m going to volunteer and I’m going to pay it forward. So, I think it has enriched our lives in that way. It’s a blessing in disguise.” The Laborers International Union of North America launched similar efforts, helping people clear the rubble left behind by the storm. Supplies — such as clothes, tools, diapers, food and bottled water — arrived from all over the country and the world. More help arrived from the Asia-based Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist disaster relief organization that donated $10 million in Visa gift cards to affected residents. Those groups are still remembered by South Queens residents, even eight years after the storm. There are also memories of those who helped uplift the survivors’ moods. Several South Ozone Park residents packed their grills into trucks and brought burgers and dogs to those less fortunate than them. A then-unknown Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing), not yet elected to office, left northeast Queens and brought pizzas to the people of Hamilton Beach, an act of kindness that earned her the nickname “Pizza Patrol,” a moniker that has stuck ever since. In Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, which escaped with minimal damage,

Sights such as this boat up against a house on Noel Road in Broad Channel FILE PHOTO BY VON were nothing unusual after Superstorm Sandy.

Superstorm Sandy’s devastation was near total in Breezy Point on the far western edge of the Rockaways, where FILE PHOTO BY RIYAD HASAN flooding led to fire that burned scores of homes to the ground. people dropped off clothes and supplies to the offices of Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association that were donated to those south of the Belt Parkway. Even in nearby Lindenwood, where apartment buildings still had power, people opened their homes. “We had strangers coming into buildings and showering and using laundry services,” Joann Ariola-Shanks, then president of the Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic Association, said. Their selflessness did not go unnoticed by those who had their lives forever changed by the storm. “It was the surest sign to all of us that God exists and he loves every single one of us,” Ulrich said on the third anniversary of the storm at the annual Hamilton Beach vigil. “Immediately after the storm, groups such as the Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Resorts World came here, they fed us and put clothes on our back,” Roger Gendron, president of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, said at the same event a year later. “Sometimes they were here just to be a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen to us, but they were here for us.” But residents never had to look that far for help. More often than not, most people could find that helping hand right next door — within people who were trying to rebuild their own lives. People whose own homes were destroyed by the waters and wind would stop their own cleanup to go across the street, or a few blocks down to help someone else clear the rubble or bag up trash. Those who had more supplies on hand — be that

clothes or a spare flashlight — didn’t hesitate to give them to someone on their block, even if they had never talked to them before. Pat McCabe, Addabbo’s former chief of staff, said many wouldn’t have been able to get back on their feet without such help. “So while we suffered a great tragedy and disaster, we were shown God’s love on the days that followed and that love was shown by our neighbors and people across the country and across the world,” she said. “And that’s who we are. We were just people in a very difficult situation, who came together.” Those kind deeds not only provided emotional support for many residents, but material help that they were not getting from organizations and agencies that were supposed to be helping in the first place. From New York City to the American Red Cross, government and humanitarian executives were criticized in the days following Sandy for leaving those most in need without help. The Red Cross received widespread criticism after its vehicles sat in the Resorts World parking lot for days without making their way into communities like Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and Breezy Point more than a week after the storm. “When it came to helping people, they just weren’t here,” then-Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder said. “Until they came, it was neighbor helping neighbor,” he said. “We’re not waiting for anyone else to save us.” The federal government, specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency, faced backlash for not getting emergency equipment on the

ground quick enough to clear roads. National Grid and the Long Island Power Authority are still fighting a lawsuit that alleges the partner companies, which provide electricity to Long Island and parts of Queens, were to blame for the fire that burned down more than 100 Breezy Point homes. The utilities left power on for the Rockaway peninsula, which resulted in fires when water flooded people’s homes. When people remember the officials’ response to Sandy, it’s often with anger or even laughter. It was not the government or any well-established group that had put them back on their feet and gave them a sense of normalcy again. The residents of Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and Rockaway are back on their feet today because of the everyday person. Their kindness is what warms the survivors’ hearts, even on cold, rainy days Q like this past Oct. 29.

Private organizations, both large and small, were there for people in South Queens after Superstorm Sandy hit the area, New Hamilton Beach Civic Association President Roger Gendron FILE PHOTO BY ANTHONY O’REILLY said.

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C M ANN page 6 Y K 2001


The day that changed a city and the world Nearly 20 years later, those who remember look back at 9/11 by Michael Gannon Editor

eptember will mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Like many people who will commemorate the anniversary, the 9-11 Candlelight Vigil Committee of Queens is planning a few special features for its annual ceremony in Juniper Valley Park. Frank De Biase of Middle Village, now president of the group, remembers visiting the first observance as if it was yesterday. “It was a few days after the attack,” he told the Chronicle. “Someone hired a DJ. We listened to music and said prayers. Then at some point we all turned — you could still see smoke coming from the site.” The world changed drastically in the aftermath. Passenger jets to and from JFK, LaGuardia The annual 9/11 memorial ceremony in Juniper and all other airports have been modified to largest one in the city outside of Manhattan. make their cockpits unassailable. It is not uncommon to see heavily armed police and they’re going,” Concannon said. His own tour of all the schools, churches, National Guard troops at large gatherings or transportation hubs. Training and equipment for libraries and other polling sites began in the middle of the command and worked outward in first responders have evolved. The Juniper Park gathering became the larg- small circles. He hadn’t gotten far before he was coming to est in the city outside of Manhattan. And New York City now has its first genera- back up officers being confronted by an elected tion of adults who were not alive to have memo- official who was practically wallpapering the school and even its flag pole with ries of the two mammoth towers posters in blatant violation of electhat for decades commanded the tion laws. New York City skyline. “I was telling him, ‘You know Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz better than that,’” ordering his men (D-Forest Hills) is just over a year to tear down every single one — away from being term-limited out and waving off the officer who had of office for the second time. On been assigned as his driver that day Sept. 11, 2001, she had 16 weeks and who had been trying to get his remaining in her first tour. attention for a several minutes. “I was standing outside of Rus“Suddenly he shouted out ‘Joe! sell Sage [JHS 190],” she said. FF Jonathan Ielpi Get over here!’” Concannon said. “Someone came out and said, ‘They bombed the World Trade FILE PHOTO COURTESY FDNY “We never use first names on the street. I knew if he was doing that, Center.’ I said, ‘No, no, that can’t be!’ Sure enough, it was true. I went home and it was something serious.” Back at the borough command, police tried to I don’t think we shut our television off for days. sort out what was coming from Downtown. The I just watched in disbelief.” Kozlowitz believes city government has taken impression was that a Piper Cub with an inexpethe proper steps. Returning to the Council again rienced or unfortunate pilot had struck the North in January 2014, she said she did not feel that Tower. “When they slowed it down on television, we there was anything it had left out of its response; nothing that required to her to introduce legisla- started saying, ‘That’s no Piper.’ Then the section to address anything she thought might have ond plane hit ... ” The towers had fallen by the time Concannon been neglected. was ordered to fill buses and secure the northern She still does have some general concerns. “As time goes on, I don’t think we’re as perimeter, allowing no one south of Canal guarded as we were the first five or six years,” Street. It was when his officers disembarked at she said. “We need to strive to not forget, to the Javits Center that he noticed it. “There were people standing 20 or 30 deep, keep what happened in people’s minds. It has to be passed on to future generations by those who cheering us, holding posters, waving flags,” he said. “And remember, we’re not exactly the witnessed it.” Queens resident Joe Concannon had reported beloved NYPD. It was overwhelming.” And since then? Concannon said he has no to work early on Sept. 11 — really early. It was an election primary day, and the now retired firsthand knowledge of the ever-evolving NYPD police captain was in charge of poll secu- training methods now being taught at the Police Academy, but he said the changes withrity for Manhattan North. “The polls open at 6 a.m., so I’m there at 4, in the NYPD after 9/11 have made a great making sure all the cops are there, that they department even better. “The training is intelligence-based and techknow their assignments, that they know where


Valley Park in Middle Village is traditionally the FILE PHOTO BY STEVE FISHER

few bone fragments or remnants of her brother’s turnout gear. “We were lucky,” Brengel told the Chronicle in an interview. “We held a memorial service. And then when they found him we were able to have a funeral.” Her oldest brother is more than just a photograph or old news clippings to Brengel’s children. “They never met their uncle, but they all know him,” she said. “Ask them and they’ll talk about him like they saw him last week.” Brengel said the FDNY still takes care of the families. “It’s easier for us because my brother is serving,” she said. “Firefighting is in your blood ... My father and brothers never felt like they’re going to work. You’re just leaving one family for your other family.” And she was never surprised that even in the immediate aftermath of losing 343 members, the FDNY has never had a problem finding people who want to pick up the mantle and serve. “I work at an ice rink, and the other day I heard a boy, a hockey player, talking about how he couldn’t wait until he was eligible to take the [FDNY] test,” she said. She gave him the same advice she would offer any young man or woman whose heart is set on becoming one of New York’s Bravest. “Take the test!” she said. “And if you don’t make it the first time, take it again.” De Biase was in his final year as a captain with the Department of Correction, and he like others was stationed at Ground Zero for five months. He lost friends. But upon retirement he took up teaching at Christ the King High School, where he made sure to teach about that day that changed the world. And he still does, having already passed the baton to new generations. “Now some of the kids I taught are teachers,” he said. “They call me up and ask if I’ll speak at Q their schools ...”

nology-based,” he said. Intelligence, he said, could be precinct commanders comparing notes to find patterns, technological wizardry or even a foot-patrol officer contributing a casual observation that turned out to be a huge missing piece in something. “Intelligence-based policing and technology are going to propel the NYPD into the next millennium,” Concannon said. One tragic problem on Sept. 11 was that in many cases it was difficult, if not impossible, for emergency personnel inside the WTC to know what was going on outside of their field of vision. Such may have been the case with members of FDNY Squad 288 and Hazmat 1, both stationed on 68th Street in Maspeth. Summoned to Manhattan along with scores of other units throughout the city, they were conducting rescue operations when the South Tower fell, killing 19 of them. It would be the largest loss of life at a single firehouse on a day that saw 343 firefighters and 60 police officers listed among the more than 3,000 who died. A nd for all that has changed singe 9/11, Melissa Brengel says firefighters, in the most important ways, have not. She would know. Her brother, Jonathan Ielpi of Squad 288, was 29 when he died while charging up a stairwell. His father, Lee, is a retired firefighter. His brother, Brendan, was in the academy at the time and now serves with his father’s old unit, Brooklyn’s elite Rescue 2. It would be three months before Jonathan’s body was recovered. Unlike most families, they did not have to con- The Maspeth 19 still accompany their brethren on every run sole themselves with finding a from the firehouse on 68th Street. FILE PHOTO BY MICHAEL GANNON

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C M ANN page 8 Y K 1950


Holiday horror topped a terrible year LIRR’s worst crash ever, in Kew Gardens, killed 78, helped fuel state takeover by Michael Shain Chronicle Contributor

n T h a n k s g i v i n g Eve , almost exactly 70 years ago, 78 people were killed and twice as many injured when a Long Island Rail Road express train slammed into the back of a stalled local in Kew Gardens. It was the worst disaster in the history of the LIRR, the nation’s oldest and busiest rail line, and the catastrophic capstone to perhaps its worst year ever. There was no shortage of people to blame. If you never heard of the Kew Gardens LIRR crash on Nov. 22, 1950, you are hardly alone. New Yorkers have notoriously short-term memories when it comes to tragedy and disaster. How many have heard of the sinking the steam ferry General Slocum in the East River that killed more than 1,000 people — most of them women and children — in 1904? Or the Malbone Steet wreck in 1918, when a BMT subway train derailed in Flatbush, killing 93 people — the deadliest subway accident in U.S. history? Even the events of 9/11 seem to be fading with every passing year. Nevertheless. the death toll from the 1950 LIRR crash was a shock wave that rolled through the city like deadly fog. It was the beginning of the end for private railroads in the Northeast and led to the first steps in the creation of the MTA. It was a tragic lesson in what happens when infrastructure is neglected and safety measures shrugged. Let’s start at the beginning. Because it was evening rush, both LIRR trains were packed, each carrying more than 1,000 passengers. Holiday travelers added to the load. Every seat was taken and a large-but-unknown number of people were standing in the aisles. Just before 6:30 p.m., the operator of a Hempstead-bound train heading into Jamaica station was directed by the trackside signal lights to slow down, then stop at a spot 2,000 feet outside the Kew Gardens station. When he tried to restart the train, the brakes would not release. The 12-car train was locked in place. Behind the Hempstead train, the operator of a train headed for Babylon was stopped as well. When the signals changed, it is theorized, the Babylon operator started up again after misreading a “proceed” light


half a mile ahead that had parkways and, later, the Long been intended for the stalled Island Expressway, was an train in front of him. easy alternative within reach By the time the Babylon of just about everyone. train passed under the LefThe disastrous events of ferts Avenue overpass, it was 1950 and the widespread fear traveling at 35 mph, not that the railroad was unsafe enough time to slow down only encouraged more people before slamming into the to take the car instead. Hempstead train stalled a In the wake of the Kew block from the trestle over Gardens disaster, New York Metropolitan Avenue. State started making its first The first car of the Babycontributions to the railroad’s lon t rain telescoped on operation. impact, crushing scores of “It was a fraction of what passengers to death. they get today,” said Penner. Police said the only way The subsidies were small, but they were able to identify the marked the start of what operator’s body was by the would eventually become the LIRR-issued work glove on MTA. his right hand. T h ree d ays af ter the Photos from that night crash, Gov. Thomas Dewey show the last car of the told reporters he estimated Hempstead train had been the railroad needed $50 miltossed in the air by the crash Looking west from the site of the crash toward the Lefferts Avenue Bridge. The Babylon train passed lion to get back on its feet. and come down on top of the under the overpass and could not stop in time to avoid the stalled train. As a result of the Kew PHOTO BY MICHAEL SHAIN lead car of the Babylon train. Gardens disaster, the Pennsy Newspaper accounts of the crash blamed the signalman aboard the crossing — and the elegant, elevated agreed to take the LIRR out of Hempstead train for failing to set out tracks on Rockaway Beach Boule- receivership and begin upgrading the were horrific. “Passengers standing in the aisles flares warning approaching trains vard originally built for the railroad line. In exchange, the state agreed the — ever since. didn’t have a chance,” a conductor they were stalled. railroad could stop paying taxes on It seems hardly a coincidence now its properties and revenues. Another faulted the operator of told the Daily News. Doctors climbed ladders up the the Babylon train who’d misread that the LIRR, then privately owned The necessity of paying local taxes by the Pennsylvania Railroad, filed for had “left the [LIRR] at a permanent steep embankment in the dark, the signal. The accident was not an isolated bankruptcy in 1949, the year before. then squeezed into the wreckage competitive disadvantage,” according Like the then-privately owned sub- to historian Joe DeMay’s account incident, however. to treat the injured. Amputations In fact, it was the ways, if the LIRR wanted to hike published by the Kew Gardens Hiswere performed on the second horrendous- fares, it had to ask the New York torical Society. “The Long Island s p o t , ly deadly crash on State Public Service Commission for Rail Road had to compete for the accord i ng t h e L I R R t h a t permission, said Larry Penner, a his- public’s transportation dollars with to reports. torian and retired official of the Fed- the various New York State authoriyear. Rescuers I n Febr u a r y, eral Transit Administration. with acetyties that owned and operated the “From 1918 to 1947, every time bridges, tunnels and highways.” The two trains had lene torches collided head on they asked for an increase, it was change bought the Pennsy a few had to cut free at the Rockville denied,” said Penner, of Great more years of private ownership but many of the Centre station. Neck, LI. survivors. the handwriting was on the wall. After nearly 30 years without a Thirty-two peoE v e r y Eventually, New York State took fare hike, “they had no capital money over the LIRR lock, stock and barrel ple were killed. Queens detecIn August, to invest in the system. That clearly in 1965. tive on duty that a passenger contributed to the crash.” night was “Gov. Rockefeller realized he had Tragically, it was the Pennsy that a constituency on Long Island and train missed a assigned to the sig n a l a nd had developed the best train signal he wanted to keep them happy,” crash site a nd sideswiped a safety system in the country, state of Penner explained. ever y patrol freight train the art for its time, which it deployed wagon was pressed It helped too that President Lynnear Hun- all around the Northeast. But it never don Johnson had pushed through into service as an tington sta- installed the system on the Long Congress in the mid-1960s the first ambulance, the tion. No one was killed, Island line because it was too expen- federal aid to local public transporNews reported. but 41 people went to the hospital. Homes near the tation systems. Money at last started sive, according to Penner. The calamities of 1950 didn’t stop site of the crash were commandeered Ridership on the railroad was to flow. there. by authorities to treat victims. The agency that oversaw the LIRR already beginning to spiral down and In May, a fire destroyed an 1,800- the LIRR was starved for cash. A temporary morgue was set up in was dubbed the MCTA, the Metrothe driveways of the private homes foot section of the train trestle over In the years after World War II, politan Commuter Transportation Jamaica Bay, cutting off service to more people were moving out of the Authority, to reflect its new stewardon 125th Street. I m mediately, investigations the Rockaways just before the start of city to the suburbs, no doubt. But ship of the line. began, including one by the Queens the busy summer season. It wasn’t until two years later, after along with the house in Levittown The LIRR never repaired it and, came an automobile. district attorney, who was looking for the state took over the New York City years later turned the bridge over to criminal liability. The car was king and the drive to subways too, that the name was Q One of the reports that followed the city. The A train has used the bay New York City via the new state changed to simply the MTA.

C M ANN page 9 Y K

Page 9 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, November 12, 2020

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C M ANN page 10 Y K 1904


Ship fire claimed 1,300 lives in 1904 General Slocum survivors relocated to Middle Village by Katherine Donlevy Associate Editor

efore the sinking of the Titanic on its way to the city or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the General Slocum disaster, though not as infamous, marked the greatest loss of life in New York City until Sept. 11, 2001. To this day, the June 15, 1904 disaster that claimed as many as 1,342 lives, remains the city’s greatest maritime disaster. The passenger steamboat had been chartered by St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Little


Germany district of Manhattan to take about 1,400 passengers up the East River and across the Long Island Sound to Locust Grove in Eaton’s Neck, LI, for a picnic. The group, made up of almost only women and children, made the trip each year for nearly two decades. Just 30 minutes after the ship began its Wednesday morning passage, a fire began in the Lamp Room. It only took an hour for the boat to burn and sink, stealing the victims’ lives rapidly. “There was just a number of worstcase scenarios,” Kara Schlichting, an assistant professor of history at Queens College, said on the conditions that led to the tragedy. Had the ship been properly equipped for emergencies, the loss of life would have been much less significant. First, the life preservers had rotted so severely that they had the consistency of wet cardboard, Schlichting said. The mothers who placed their children in the jackets and tossed them over the ship watched in horror as the kids were dragged straight below the surface. The women themselves, dressed in the customary garb of layered wool despite the summer heat, were also

dragged below the waves if they chose to jump overboard rather than take their chances with the flames. “There was no maintenance of life boats, canvas [fire] hoses were rotten; they split at the seam as soon as the water moved through them,” Schlichting said, adding that the crew had little emergency training and had possibly never practiced fire drills. To make matters worse, the tragedy occurred in the choppy Hell Gate waters off Astoria made dangerous by multiple converging tides and currents. “You couldn’t have had this happen in a worse place,” the professor said. The burned General Slocum sank into the shallow water at North Brother Island near the Bronx shore. There were only 321 survivors. “When you have a tragedy, sometimes good comes out of it,” said Bob Singleton, the executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society. “Every time we step on a boat or any public transportation, we are beneficiaries of this tragedy.” The disaster helped spur the push toward stronger public safety laws, enforcement by federal and state government and the holding of company owners accountable for maintaining property to regulation standards. Captain William Van Schaick was charged with criminal negligence and failing to maintain proper fire drills and fire extinguishers and sentenced to 10 years, though he only served three before he was pardoned by President William Howard Taft. The ship’s owners, the Knickerbocker Steamship Co., was slapped with a fine, though relatively small consider-

The General Slocum disaster of 1904 claimed approximately 1,300 lives, most of whom were women and children and all of whom were traveling to Long Island for a picnic. PHOTOS COURTESY GREATER ASTORIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY, ABOVE AND BELOW LEFT, BY KATHERINE DONLEVY; FILE PHOTO, RIGHT

ing there was evidence it had falsified inspection records. This General Slocum tragedy, combined with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and sinking of the Titanic, which killed 146 and up to 1,635, respectively, several years later, contributed to the strict guidelines that we have today, Schlitching said. Additionally, there were multiple accounts of heroism, including hospital workers on North Brother Island who jumped into the waters to try and save the drowning victims. Nearby boats pulled over to the burning ship without fear that their own craft would catch fire, but there was only so much the witnesses could do. “Another tragedy is how helpless people on shore were. There was nothing those people could do,” Schlitching said. Singleton, who knew a few survivors of the disaster toward the end of

their lifetimes, pointed to how the tragedy continued for years following the sinking of the General Slocum — almost every door in Little Germany displayed a black wreath signifying that they lost someone to the disaster. The residents couldn’t escape the trauma, so a great portion of the suffering families moved to Middle Village for a fresh start. In the early 20th century, Queens was relatively rural and allowed the mourners to switch to a slower pace of life. The German families, out of the tenement buildings and in homes w it h back ya rd s, rebu ilt t hei r community. “They were able to forget. That was the promise of Queens — it was a place people could restart their lives,” Singleton said. Survivors and the families of those who perished commemorated the loss with the Steamboat Fire

Mass Memorial in All Faiths Cemetery in their new home in Middle Village. The monument was erected in 1905 and, though the last survivor of the disaster died in 2004, mourners and the General Slocum Memorial Association gather on the anniversary every year — except in 2020 because of the pandemic. Other memorials have also been erected, including a fountain in Tompkins Square Park in the old Little Germany neighborhood, and a plaque in Astoria Park. “History teaches us many lessons about who we are as a people, how we got here,” Singleton said on why General Slocum is commemorated year after year. “History is not just celebrating a ritual of the past, it is to tap into the body of the past and to receive wisdom of the past so we don’t have to do the same over and Q over again.”

The General Slocum fire may have been started by a discarded cigarette or match and was fueled by the straw, oily rags and lamp oil in the Lamp Room. The disaster has been commemorated at the All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village each year since 1905, right.

C M ANN page 11 Y K Page 11 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, November 12, 2020

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C M ANN page 12 Y K 1895


125 years later: The Woodhaven cyclone A fatal extreme weather event turned nabe into a spectacle by Max Parrott Associate Editor

hen the power grid went out this summer for thousands of Woodhaven residents during Tropical Storm Isaias, it wasn’t the first time that neighborhood became the focal point of an extreme weather event. The area’s first known encounter with natural catastrophes dates back to 1895 when a fledgling community that consisted largely of farmland, with a hub of development built around the former Union Course racetrack, was hit by a deadly cyclone. The storm not only knocked down houses, overturned a trolley car and killed at least one Woodhaven resident — possibly two according to some historical accounts — it brought droves of Manhattan residents out to the village as a form of both disaster relief and voyeurism, and put the community in the media spotlight. The one uncontested fatality in Woodhaven that resulted from the storm befell a newly married and pregnant, 15-year-old girl named Louise Petroquien — spelled Petrogmen in some sources — who was struck by a beam after she walked outside her home to see what the commotion was about. Asked how the neighborhood has adapted its response to emergency weather situations, neighborhood historian Ed Wendell said that this summer’s storm shows that the many of the same vulnerabilities exist in 2020. “We’ve learned nothing,” said Wendell. “[Isaias] was no cyclone. That was no microburst, you know what I mean? And yet it did tremendous d a mage, w ith old uncared-for trees with weak roots getting ripped out.” Though it wasn’t in Woodhaven, a wind-related fatality like Petroquien’s also resulted in the summer’s storm


about 4 miles east of the neighborhood. A Bronx man died when the storm’s gusts blew a tree over on top of a car at 143rd Street and 84th Drive in Briarwood. It was the afternoon of July 13, 1895, when what newspapers described as a tornado first ripped though Cherry Hill, NJ, and made its way through Harlem, before traveling south to Woodhaven. Wendell clarified that most people refer to the storm as a cyclone rather than a tornado, but some argue that neither accurately categorizes the storm by current meteorological standards. Sometime after 4 p.m. the cyclone descended on the neighborhood, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake — the damages amounting to the equivalent of nearly half a million dollars in that period’s currency — over $15 million today. “It tore down trees, tore up light poles. It tossed over a trolley car, was ripping over tombstones. So it was no doubt, a very, very powerful storm,” Wendell said. In 1895 Woodhaven was in a transitional phase, where everything north of Jamaica Avenue was occupied almost exclusively by farms and the land south was in the process of development, said Wendell. Jamaica Avenue had just gotten an electric trolley to serve the bustling village center of Woodhaven, which contained a factory, a bank and a number of businesses built up during the early 19th century around the track, located between what is now Jamaica Avenue to the north and Atlantic Avenue to the south along 78th Street, which was sold to make housing in 1972. A lot of the damage was centralized in the area along Rockaway Boulevard in an area that now technically is in the northern part of Ozone Park. For instance, a brick schoolhouse at Rockaway and 84th Street, which lay

People gather at Rockaway Boulevard at 83rd Street, above. Rubble surrounds the ruins of the schoolhouse at Rockaway Boulevard and 84th Street, bottom left and center. The remains of houses and debris scattered by the cyclone PHOTOS COURTESY PROJECT WOODHAVEN fill the village, bottom right. directly in the cyclone’s path, was completely demolished. Luckily it was out of session for the summer. One significant difference between Isaias and the cyclone of 1895 is the amount of attention Woodhaven got as a result of the 19th century catastrophe. The New York Sun described the events of the storm like this: “The tornado on Saturday that killed one, wounded forty, demolished fifteen houses and partially wrecked thirty more, was followed by the largest crowd of sightseers that ever collected in town limits.” Crowds of people from New York and Brooklyn traveled on the new elevated trolley to see the destruction firsthand, and to donate to the affect-

ed families — some of whom suddenly found their houses in ruins, in an era long before FEMA. The Sun reported that around 100,000 people visited the village over the next day — an event that School Commissioner John B. Merrill took advantage of by collecting donations for the newly homeless residents of the village. Merrill reportedly picked a keg out of the ruins and set up a soapbox asking the sightseers to fill it with money for the needy. Fellow commissioners rushed to help the effort shouting “Give ’em what you can spare. Put it in the bar rel. Every little counts but don’t fill it with pennies.”

At the same time, Woodhaven’s surviving saloons, which were numerous around the racetrack, opened up even though it was illegal to do so on a Sunday, and began serving beer on tap to the crowds that appeared. Other villagers followed Merrill’s lead and began collecting money from the visitors in empty kegs around the community, the Sun reported. The relatives of Petroquien began selling roses to honor her memory, Wendell added. At the end of the day, when the money that Merrill collected was pooled and counted, it was found to be $738.50, which the Sun reported went directly to the sick and injured Q residents.

C M ANN page 13 Y K


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C M ANN page 14 Y K 1962


The ’62 Mets were baseball’s worst team But after losing 120 games in their first year, they became champs in ’69 by David Russell Associate Editor

he 1962 Mets were so bad that people joked man would walk on the moon before the National League club would win the pennant. It turned out that they were correct, but only by a few months. Miraculously, the team that went 40-120 in its first season of play would be champions of the world by the end of the decade. But there were growing pains for the team that came into existence following the departure of the California-bound Dodgers and Giants after the 1957 season. And though this particular Queens tragedy claimed no lives, and didn’t even take place here, as the team played in Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, many have never forgotten the disaster that was. Joan Payson, a minority owner of the Giants, became the first owner of the Mets. Former Yankees general manager George Weiss, who oversaw the championship teams of the 1950s, was named club president. Casey Stengel, the manager of the Bronx Bombers dynasty who had been unceremoniously dismissed by the team after losing the 1960 World Series, returned to New York to become the Mets skipper. The Giants and Dodgers fans who could not stomach cheering for the Yankees would have some familiar faces to root for, including Gil Hodges, Don Zimmer and Roger Craig. Other National League stars like Richie Ashburn and Frank Thomas were also brought in. Virtually all the players on the team were past their primes — if they had primes — but how bad could they really be? Sherman Jones was to be the first starting pitcher in team history but just before Opening Day, he lit a cigarette and the head of the match flew into his eye, sidelining him. Craig got the start instead, resulting in an 11-4 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis. Upon returning to New York, the city held a ticker tape parade for the new club, something usually reserved for championship teams. An estimated 40,000 people came out to cheer. Jones started the first home game, a 4-3 loss to the Pirates at the Polo Grounds. Jones would go 0-4 as a Met, though he would become a Kansas state senator. “New York was the greatest place on earth to play,” Jones told The New York Times in 1988. “A team knee-deep in money, a legend for a manager, great fans. All I had to do was win a percentage of my games. But the club was not put together to win games. It had to have names. Gil Hodges, bless his heart. Gus Bell. When these names couldn’t do it anymore, it was too big a job for us fringe players.” Saying the team was not put together to win was an understatement. The Mets lost their first nine games. The best stretch of the season came in mid-May when the team won nine of 12, which was followed by a 17-game losing streak. There was also an 11-game losing streak in July. And a 13-game losing streak in August. The player who personified the team was


Marvin Eugene Throneberry — initials MET — Washington Senators, where he became managwas acquired early in the season. He once hit a er but Mets fans would see him again. triple but was called out for not touching second The team also moved from the dilapidated base. Stengel went out to argue but was told not Polo Grounds to the state-of-the-art Shea Stadito bother because Throneberry hadn’t touched um in Queens for the 1964 season. first base either. So what if the Mets lost 109 games, the most The Mets continued to lose and set a modern in the majors? The team drew more than 1.7 milMajor League record with 120 defeats. lion fans to the park, the second-most in the “The games were so uninteresting we looked league. The Mets even outdrew the Yankees, for avenues to escape the reality,” broadcaster who won their fifth straight American League Ralph Kiner told The New York Times in 1993. pennant in the Bronx. “One of those was the banners. And we also had The losses — 112 of them — kept coming in Casey Stengel.” 1965 and Stengel retired after breaking his hip Mets fans became known as the new breed, in late July. But things were slowly coming and the banners they brought to the Polo together. Rookie Ron Swoboda hit 19 home Grounds, in unusual numruns, including 15 in the bers, were sometimes as first half of the year. entertaining as the on-field “[Stengel] said, ‘You’re product. not going to hit these guys And the manager’s lansitting on the bench,’” Swoguage of Stengelese gave boda told the Chronicle last plenty of copy for scribes. Friday. “If you were a writer T he out f ielder wa s and he went on one of his intimidated facing Dodgers verbal jaunts he could lose star Don Dr ysdale on you because he didn’t seem Opening Day. to have an out cue,” Ron “I thought I was going to Swoboda, a Mets outfielder have a heart attack,” he from 1965 through 1970, said. “You’re trying your told the Chronicle, adding, ass off to be cool about it “When you got back you but you ain’t cool.” weren’t sure what you Continuing to build, the asked him but you didn’t Mets called up Cleon Jones get your answer.” and Bud Harrelson from the Swoboda called the minors. And the team manager “endlessly fasciacquired catcher Jer r y nating,” saying, “There Grote from Houston after was a point to all his stothe season. ries. When I hear him Gil Hodges hit the first home run in Sometimes a team needs talking to players and I Mets history and returned to lead the a little luck too. hear him talking about team to a title. USC star Tom Seaver NEW YORK METS PHOTO guys that he had played VIA TRADING CARD DB.COM / WIKIPEDIA signed a contract with the with and managed, the Braves but it was voided story might get a little lengthy but it always by MLB commissioner William Ecker t had a point to it.” because the school had played two exhibition The 1962 season had a few bright spots. games. And Seaver was ineligible to finish the Thomas hit 34 home runs, leading the city, as college season because he had signed the pro Yankees stars Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle contract. So Eckert ruled other teams could hit 33 and 31, respectively. Relief pitcher Ken match the Braves’ offer and the Mets, Phillies MacKenzie went 5-4, the only pitcher with a and Indians did. Eckert put the three teams’ winning record. Ed Kranepool, 17, made his names into a hat and pulled out the slip of debut late in the year. Signed from James Mon- paper with “Mets” on it. roe High School in the Bronx, he hit .301 in the “The Franchise,” as he would come to be minors and made it to the majors in his first sea- known, would be in Flushing. And the Mets son of pro ball. even climbed out of the cellar in 1966, finishing Ashburn hit .306 and was the first Mets All- in ninth place for the first time. Star. He was also named team MVP. But though Seaver won 16 games and the NL “To be voted the most valuable player on the Rookie of the Year award in 1967, the team lost worst team in the history of Major League Base- 101 games and fell to last place. ball is a dubious honor, to be sure,” Ashburn “There’s a lot of ways to lose 100 games and later said. “But I was awarded a 24-foot boat we probably figured out all of ’em in ’67,” Swoequipped with a gallery and sleeping facilities boda said. for six. After the season ended, I docked the It had been three losing seasons for the young boat in Ocean City, NJ, and it sank.” outfielder. “You could accept it for a while The next year saw more of the same. The because it was Major League Baseball and Mets lost 111 games with the return of Brooklyn you’re playing against all these names that you Dodgers legend Duke Snider being one of the had followed as a kid,” Swoboda said. “Once bright spots. Hodges soon was traded to the that wore off you felt like, ‘Hey, it’s time for this

organization to make a move.’” Then an original Met returned to turn the franchise into winners. The team sent the Washington Senators $100,000 and right-hander Bill Denehy for Hodges, who would return as skipper. “Hodges had a seriousness about him and a competency,” Swoboda said. “He didn’t miss anything. You were expected to act like a big leaguer and work hard at improving yourself and if you played well you played.” The outfielder admitted that he didn’t always get along with Hodges. “I had a fractious relationship with Gil Hodges and that’s all on me,” he said, adding, “It wasn’t about lack of respect. It was about authority. I bristled under heavy authority.” The 1968 Mets finished ninth but set a teamrecord with 73 wins and even had a winning record on the road. Southpaw Jerry Koosman, who had pitched briefly in 1967, came on the scene and proved to be an excellent second starter behind Seaver. In the home opener, Koosman pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the first inning against the Giants and tossed a shutout. That is also the first baseball memory for Nick Giampietro, known to Mets fans as “Pin Man.” “The atmosphere at Shea, there was nothing like it,” the Howard Beach superfan said. “When I was young, everything just looked so nice. It was my second home, really.” With Seaver and Koosman in the rotation and a strong bullpen, the pieces were coming together. “You started feeling like you could win games,” Swoboda said. The Mets lost 37 games by just one run, a sign that they were close to breaking through. In 1969, man walked on the moon in July and the Mets won the pennant in October. The Miracle Mets, using strong pitching, solid defense and timely hitting, won 100 games. Kranepool, the original Met, delivered a gamewinning hit off Cubs star Ferguson Jenkins on July 8 to win one of the most critical games of the season. The following day, Seaver pitched a one-hit shutout against the Cubs, with Jimmy Qualls breaking up the perfect game with one out in the ninth inning. Giampietro was one of the 50,709 fans at Shea that day. “It was crazy,” he said. “It was phenomenal. But I felt the air come out when that ball fell in.” New York overtook the Cubs for the NL East title and then swept the Braves in the NL championship series to go to the World Series. The Mets were up against the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles, who won 109 games and were heavy favorites. After losing the first game, the Mets took four straight to defeat the Orioles. The lovable losers were No. 1. Giampietro came home from school in time to see the ending, with future Met manager Davey Johnson making the last out, which settled safely in Jones’ glove in left field. The reaction of Giampietro’s mother: “Now Q go do your homework.”

C M ANN page 15 Y K


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C M ANN page 16 Y K 2009


Flying in Sullenberger’s shadow How the aviation industry changed to avert another ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ by Max Parrott Associate Editor

t has been over a decade since the incident that came to be known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” and the aviation industry’s need for pilots like Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger waned. Sullenberger’s heroic emergency water landing in 2009, described as “the most successful ditching in aviation history” by a National Transportation Safety Board official, became a subject of nonstop media coverage that turned the captain, then a 57-year-old former U.S. Air Force f ighter pilot, into a national celebrity. While the national fervor around the incident died down, it still lives in the minds of New Yorkers, particularly those in Queens who live in the vicinity of New York City’s two international airports, where issues around the aviation industry play an important role in local


development and politics. The Miracle on the Hudson raised two big issues that require continuous attention from aviation authorities: the importance of preventing aircraft bird strikes as well as giving training to new pilots that rigorously prepares them for emergency scenarios. Shortly after the 155 passengers and crew on US Airways Flight 1549 took off from Laguardia Airport on January 15, 2009, the jetliner struck a flock of Canada geese — which were sucked into the plane’s two engines, causing both to lose power. As the plane lost its thrust, Sullenberger had to choose whether to try to make it to an airport or to do an emergency landing

on the Hudson River. As a New York Terminal Radar Approach Cont rol operator attempted to clear runways for him at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, it became clear to Sullenberger that the only option was for an emergency ditch. “We can’t do it... We’re gonna be in the Hudson,” Sullenberger told the operator. The passengers experienced about 90 seconds of descent, before the plane landed in the middle of the North River section of the Hudson. With water flooding into the plane through open doors and holes in the fuselage, the crew evacuated the passengers through window exits onto an inflatable slide and raft. Though there were a number of minor injuries during the ditching, and a few serious ones as well, all of the passengers survived. Sullenberger and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, pulled off something extraordinary. New York Waterway ferr ies and U.S. Coast Guard boats ar r ived quickly and were able to rescue the last passenger within thirty minutes of the landing. For the public, Flight 1549 transformed the risk of bird strikes from a hypothetical into a tangible reality. James Hall, chairman of the NTSB from 1994 to 2001, said that the risks had been clear to him for years, but the incident created the will to tackle the issue head on. “We at the board were trying to increase the awareness of birds and wildlife as an issue because they were coming up in our accident investigations,” he said. In the year after the accident Archie Dickey, a biology professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s College of Arts and Sciences, developed a guidebook for addressing wildlife hazards to airports in which he recommended studying and controlling the habitat around airports in order to manage species that could be dangerous to planes. But before t he repor t was released, the United States Department of Agriculture took some d rastic steps in New York to address the threat of Canada geese head on. In the summer of 2009, the agency rounded up 1,235 geese

Passengers escape from Flight 1549 after an emergency ditching left it floating in the middle of the Hudson River, above. A crane lifts the plane out of the frozen river, left. U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) presents Capt. Chesley Sullenberger with a framed flag, as part of a Jan. 24, 2009 celebration honoring the pilot in his hometown of DanFILE PHOTO, ABOVE; SPYROPK / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, LEFT; INGRID TAYLAR / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS ville, Calif. at 17 sites around the city and gassed them to death. By 2012, following the incident and an awareness campaign by the Feds that encouraged pilots and airport personnel to report bird strikes, the number of reported strikes had risen to 10,726 annually. In April 2012 U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced federal legislation that would remove some of the red tape around bird culling by giving the USDA more authority to round up geese on National Park Service land. That year an omnibus agricultural bill would have made it so that if the Federal Aviation Authority determines that a population of Canada geese in National Park Service land presents a threat, the USDA has to publish a geese management plan that would detail the removal of geese on all applicable land within a year. The bill passed the Senate, but failed to pass the House. Most recent reports leveled wildlife strikes off at 11,000 to 13,000, annually, according to a USDA report on the 10th anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson incident in 2019. In addition to bird culling procedures, technology is still in development that might help prevent bird strikes as well. The USDA recently reported that two areas of research involve the evaluation of birddetecting radar systems at airports and the use of lighting systems to

chase off birds. But under the reality of the COVID pandemic, a new threat has emerged to aviation safety. Hall said that in the current state of the aviation industry, the most important factor to preventing catastrophes like Flight 1549 in the coming years will be an increased emphasis on pilot training. Hall worries that when the aviation industry was forced to cut its flight capacity to a quarter of what it was pre-pandemic, it may have forced a generation of pilots with years of familiarity with specific airports and know-how on handling emergencies into early retirement. United Airlines said in October it was cutting about 22,000 jobs

through voluntary leaves and retirements, as well as layoffs and furloughs, according to Crain’s. American Airlines said it was cutting 19,000 jobs last month. “A lot of these pilots have been f u rlou g he d . A lot m ay h ave retired. As they add the f lights back, you’re not going to have the same type of experience. You’re going to have to compensate with training,” Hall said. For him, the lesson of the Miracle on the Hudson is the importance of investing in human capital. “I was looking back at some of [Sullenberger’s] comments and I thought one of the most important one is automation does not totally Q eliminate errors,” said Hall.

C M ANN page 17 Y K Page 17 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, November 12, 2020


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C M ANN page 18 Y K 2001


Another air disaster so soon after 9/11 Flight 587 killed 265, including five on the ground, in the Rockaways by David Russell Associate Editor

merican Airlines Flight 587 took off from runway 31L at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 9:14 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2001, bound for the Dominican Republic. It never got anywhere near it. The plane crashed in Belle Harbor minutes after takeoff, killing all 260 people on board and five more on the ground. Coming so soon after 9/11, the tragedy immediately caused fear that it was more than an accident. “People were looking more at a terrorist attack than an aviation accident at the time so there was a lot of confusion around when it occurred and what was going on,” former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall told the Chronicle. State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) was flying from JFK to Arizona that Monday morning with his wife. The then-city councilman-elect was looking for a break after a summer of campaigning. His flight arrived in Arizona 40 minutes ahead of schedule. “I was like, ‘Wow. The plane made great time,’” Addabbo said. In an era before social media, he turned on his flip phone and saw plenty of messages and missed calls from people who knew he was flying, asking him if he was safe. “As I’m talking to this individual on the phone, I’m looking at a bar screen in Arizona and I see Newport Avenue and I see f lames,” Addabbo said. “And I’m like, ‘What is going on?’” His first reaction was that he should go back immediately, though flights were grounded. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark International


airports were shut down before reopening later in the day. Major bridges and tunnels were closed for several hours. The Empire State Building was evacuated and the United Nations was sealed off as terrorism fears spread. “We’re not supposed to speculate at early stages of any investigation,” retired NTSB investigator Robert Benzon said during an episode of National Geographic’s “Mayday” in 2014. “It was very hard not to in this particular case.” Addabbo kept his Rockaway campaign office open so first responders could grab what food and drinks that were available. “It was such chaos because, again, on the heels of 9/11 my people in Rockaway who were already obviously affected emotionally ... now we’ve got Flight 587 ... It was traumatic,” Addabbo said. He said he has heard accounts from residents who saw the plane twisting and turning in the air, with the nose going up. “It’s a vision that many people will never forget,” Addabbo said. Some schools, which were closed in honor of Veterans Day, narrowly avoided being struck. One became a triage center but was abandoned because of a lack of survivors, according to The New York Times. The gym of one school served as a temporary morgue. “All scenes smell like the same mix of pungent, burned material: jet fuel, hydraulic fluid, and of course human smells always come from the wreckage,” Benzon said. “In this case, the fire was so bad that the deceased were barely recognizable as human beings.” Addabbo said the damage could have been even worse, as the plane landed near a gas station. “If that fuselage hits that gas tank on Beach 129th Street, God knows how much

Leila Delarosa places a rose at the Flight 587 memorial in Rockaway in remembrance of her mother’s two friends during a 10-year anniversary ceremony in 2011. FILE PHOTO BY ANNA GUSTAFSON

Just two months after 9/11, 265 people were killed when Flight 587 crashed in Belle Harbor, including all on board and five on the ground. FILE PHOTO / NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION more devastation,” the lawmaker said. The NTSB ruled the crash was caused by a co-pilot’s error in moving the plane’s rudder too rapidly as it was experiencing turbulence shortly after takeoff because of the plane in front of it. The board found that First Officer Sten Molin used “very aggressive” rudder movements to stabilize the plane as it encountered bad air in the wake of Japan Air Lines Flight 47, a 747 aircraft, which took off ahead of it. The rudder movement “essentially snapped the vertical stabilizer off and as a result the plane could not fly,” Hall said. During investigations a former colleague recalled Molin once aggressively using the rudder though there had been no apparent risk to the plane. Molin explained that he had been taught to use the rudder in that way by American Airlines. “One would assume that if many pilots go through the same training program with some flaws in it then a lot of pilots have wrong ideas about how to fly an airplane,” Benzon said. American Airlines revised its training manuals to show manipulating the rudder system at any speed could do damage to the plane. Hall said it’s lucky that this type of crash did not occur earlier. “It’s unfortunate that the severity wasn’t really detected before that,” he said. The crash was the second-deadliest in American history, behind only the 273 lives lost in 1979 when Flight 191 crashed just outside Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Despite the massive casualty count, Flight 587 has become a footnote to many. “All the information around 9/11 sort of blotted out the attention this accident would

have normally received,” Hall said. The Dominican community was stunned by the crash. The three-and-a-half-hour flight to Santo Domingo had been a regular occurrence for many and was the basis of the 1997 song “El Vuelo 587” by merengue singer Kinito Méndez. In 2017, 181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Washington Heights was co-named “Flight 587 Way” in honor of the victims and their loved ones. A memorial at 116th Street in Rockaway Park was constructed by Freddy Rodriguez in 2006. “I felt responsible as a Dominican artist to participate,” he told the Chronicle. Rodriguez came to America in 1963 in fear for his life amidst political turmoil. He had no relatives in the country and didn’t know the language. “The first few years were very, very complicated for me,” Rodriguez said. The gateway of the memorial is oriented toward the Dominican Republic. “The gate. Here and there,” Rodriguez said. “But in religion they also talk about the gate of paradise.” The main element of the design is a 72-foot-long, 16-inch-thick, curved granite wall set on a round platform. The wall is 11 feet high on the south end and slopes to 6 feet high on the north end. The wall has several openings along its length to allow light to filter in to the inner space. On the wall in Spanish and English is a line from “Afterwards I Want Only Peace” by Dominican poet Pedro Mir: “If the only prayer you say in life is thank you, that would Q suffice.”

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AIDS crisis helped foster acceptance Devastating disease led to changes in society, as well as healthcare practices by Mark Lord

of the Congo, according to the site. From there, it says, the disease spread t was 1979 when a young nurse to Haiti and the Caribbean, jumping from Forest Hills named Ellen to New York City around 1970. Today, “nobody’s talking about Matzer was confronted with what she recently described as “the first AIDS anymore,” Matzer said, but “it’s cluster of young men who died not by any means over.” In the early years, besides dealing suddenly.” At the time, she was employed at with the dangers of the disease itself, Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and those suffering from it had to contend she and some of her colleagues began with the stigma that came with it, and the potential to be outed as homosexto notice “some suspicious cases.” With no interhospital reporting uals, as AIDS was originally looked back then, everybody assumed the ill- upon as “the gay cancer.” Of course, that perspective has nesses were confined to that particuevolved over the ensuing decades. lar facility, she said. What they and countless others Matzer pointed out, though, that the were dealing with, it would be dis- disease “has not really been overcome covered, was a devastating epidemic everywhere in the world. AIDS is still that would eventually take hold underground in some countries.” As examples, she pointed to Malaysia, a around the world. Acquired immunodeficiency syn- country in southeast Asia where she drome, commonly referred to as said there remains a lack of awareness AIDS, was at first unidentified, and homophobia still runs rampant, unnamed and frequently left unmen- and to Chechnya in the southern part tioned. Despite its covert existence, it of Russia, where known homosexuals continue to face brutal persecution at evolved into a widespread killer. Forty years later, Matzer and a the hands of the government. In the United States, Matzer suglongtime colleague, Flushing native Valery Hughes, wrote a book on their gested that “most of the public persoexperiences dating to those early na of AIDS changed because of a man days, “Nurses on the Inside: Stories of named Larry Kramer.” Kramer, a playwright and activist the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC.” Writing the book led them to who died in May, was one of the “reflect back on a lot of cases,” Matzer founders of the Gay Men’s Health said. One of the earliest, she recalled, Crisis, an organization in support of was a French physician, who suffered people who test positive for HIV, from “such a strange presentation of which, according to Matzer, was first pneumonia,” which led to respiratory identified as the causative virus of failure, being hooked up to a ventilator AIDS in 1983. Two years later, the actor Rock and, in a short time, death. “We thought back on all these Hudson died of the disease, placing it other strange cases,” she said. front and center in the public’s eye. “Young men in respiratory failure Two years after that, in 1987, a march on Washington for lesbian and who died within days or hours.” According to history.com, health gay rights brought AIDS activists to officials first became aware of the the forefront and led many particidisease in 1981. American leaders pants to start their own lesbian and remained largely silent for four years gay rights organizations. After an extended silence, thenafter that, the site indicates. The disease originated in Kinsha- President Ronald Reagan finally sa, capital of the Democratic Republic addressed the AIDS issue that same year, after the disease had spread to more than 100 countries around the world and deaths among its victims were esti mated at 20,000. The 1970s were “a very Valery Hughes, left, and Ellen Matzer are joined by Gay f r i g h t e n i n g Men’s Health Crisis CEO Kelsey Louie at a signing event for t i m e ,” s a i d their 2019 book, “Nurses on the Inside: Stories of the C o u n c i l m a n PHOTO COURTESY ELLEN MATZER Danny Dromm HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC.” Chronicle Contributor


Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee Co-chairpersons Maritza Martinez and Danny Dromm, front, second and third from left, and other Pride Committee board members commemorate World AIDS Day at the AIDS Quilt Memorial display on Dec. 1, 2001. Though devastating, the AIDS crisis eventually helped PHOTO COURTESY DANNY DROMM gay people to be seen as individuals. (D-Jackson Heights), who came out to his mother at the age of 17. It was a time of sexual liberation, he recalled, when living styles were “more freestyle” than they are today. But “everything came to a crashing end” with the emergence of the disease that was referred to as the GRID (or gay-related immune deficiency) syndrome, he said. “No one knew how you got it or what to do,” he said. Because of the misnomer, there was “a lot of discrimination that went with it,” he said, adding that the disease was considered by some to be God’s punishment for being gay. The public’s widespread ignorance of the disease led Dromm to become the activist he remains today. He equated the reaction at the time to that accorded the emergence of COVID-19, leading to prejudice against the Asian community. “I survived one plague,” the HIVnegative Dromm said, “only now to live through a second one.” Flushing native John Brandes became a volunteer emergency medical technician at the age of 18, as the AIDS epidemic was beginning to rage. “Back then, nobody knew how you caught it. Nobody in our organization addressed how to handle AIDS patients,” he said. He recalled one particularly painful moment in time, one which continues to haunt him to this day. “A woman called our headquarters, saying her son had a high fever,” he recalled. But because of the lack of knowledge, “We were told that no fevers of unknown origin should be transferred by us. We told the woman

we couldn’t take the job, that she had to go through 911. She was distraught. “Looking back with what we know, I regret having turned down that call. I wish we had the understanding to have done better.” As information began to emerge, “Our hesitance at addressing AIDS patients began to ease,” he said. Former Long Islander Bart KoonCosgrove, who worked for the Department of Social Services before forging a career for himself as a much in-demand hairdresser, now lives in Nantucket, Mass., where he developed an unusual perspective on the emergence of the virus. “We were insulated from AIDS. We didn’t see any of the beginning of it,” he said, adding that “we heard about it from friends in New York. “Nantucket people don’t put up with prejudice very well. I have never had a truly overt homophobic experience. I’m sure we have our homophobes, but they have to be quiet about it, even more so today.” Heavily affected by the epidemic was professional actor and architect Tom Keeling, a native of Virginia who recalled being on tour in a show when he picked up a copy of a trade newspaper and discovered he had lost 14 friends to the disease in a single month. “It was devastating,” he said. Altogether, he lost “hundreds of friends.” He recalled one particularly tragic event. He was performing in the Los Angeles company of the musical “Cats,” and noticed that a fellow cast member had been losing an inordinate amount of weight. “He died between the matinee and

evening performances,” Keeling remembered. “You’re trying to keep people laughing and people are dying around you.” Jeffrey Piekarsky, a retired teacher from Forest Hills, was diagnosed as HIV-positive 25 years ago. “People were still dying” of the disease, he said. “I was lucky. Medications were first coming out. I went from being pretty sick to doing pretty well.” AIDS, he added, is no longer the automatic death sentence it once was. But he still recalls the stigma that often accompanied the illness. “Most of my friends were good” about it, he said. “A few cut me off. They couldn’t deal with it. I just have to accept that.” Piekarsky sees a bright side to the AIDS epidemic. “When I was a kid, I never came out. In high school, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to come out. Now, it’s very different. Gay marriage — go figure.” Society, in general, is “way more accepting of gay people,” he said. “It’s become socially unacceptable to be homophobic in normal society. When I was kid, that was the norm.” Keeling doesn’t quite see things the same way. “It still carries a stigma,” he said of the disease. “The gay community is not embracing.” He cited as a case in point a friend who tested positive for HIV. “All his gay friends disappeared,” he said. But he credits the disease with encouraging the medical world to do “a lot of work on the immune system.” Brandes noted that because of AIDS, “the definition of infection control became more refined.” And universal precautions, including the use of barrier protection when healthcare providers are engaged in patient contact, were first stressed during the rise of AIDS, he said. And Koon-Cosgrove said of his neighbors, “The majority of this community learned that it’s actually easier and better to be honest and compassionate than secretive and hateful. It brought out the best of our community.” He also believes that “a large number of people in the general population began to see gay people as we really are: very diverse, of every color, every class, every ethnicity. We’re not uniform, homogeneous. We began to be perceived as individuals.” What silver lining does Dromm see in the years that have followed the rise of the AIDS epidemic? “It helped gay people to realize our lives are Q valid,” he said.

C M ANN page 21 Y K Page 21 QUEENS CHRONICLE, Thursday, November 12, 2020

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C M ANN page 22 Y K 2020


The new normal: adapting to COVID Future of virus is uncertain; so are various gov’t mandates by Katherine Donlevy Associate Editor

potential COVID-19 vaccine in its final phase of testing was announced Nov. 9 as the pandemic rolled into its eighth month, but doctors warn that the overly cautious way of life we’ve grown accustomed to may last a good deal longer. “When the vaccine comes it might take awhile for things to go back to normal because it will require a lot of individuals to get vaccinated. In the early stages of the vaccine we should continue mask wearing, social distancing, proper hand hygiene and other measures,” said Dr. John Raimo, an internist and chairperson of medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills-Northwell Health. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer and partner BioNTech said Monday that their vaccine, the first to be tested in the U.S., had proved a 90 percent effectiveness rate so far, but is still in its third testing phase and results could change. Despite the uncertainty around when a vaccine could become widely available, Raimo said he hopes people understand the significant aid it would bring to the suffering populace, especially those weary and suspicious of vaccines. “It’s hard to say what’s going through peoples’ minds,” the doctor said of the anti-vaxxer population, which has grown in recent years despite authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirming vaccines do not cause autism or other suspected disabilities. “I think a lot are wondering in the healthcare community, but a vaccine is going to be part of the long-term solution.” The population’s faith in vaccines is just one hypothetical change Raimo


said could result from the pandemic, but another he hopes will arise is the public’s attentiveness to their own health. In the first months, Raimo noticed patients were nervous to come in for health screenings but are now enthusiastically monitoring changes to their bodies, due in part to the various precautions hospitals and healthcare facilities have implemented. LIJ Forest Hills and other New York hospitals operating under state Health Department guidelines are now stocked with hordes of personal protective equipment for visitors and staff alike — if you’re not wearing a hospital-issued mask you will be provided one and asked to remove your own — have clear, plastic barriers in waiting rooms and lobbies and have security and temperature checkpoints throughout their buildings. “Probably one of the biggest changes is the restriction on visiting hours that’s really going on statewide,” Raimo said. Each patient is only allowed one visitor and only between 2 and 6 p.m. COVID-19 patients, however, are not allowed any visitors at all. Staff are required to take additional, vigorous steps as well. Each time Raimo reports for a shift he is mandated to fill out a questionnaire outlining his symptoms, exposure and testing history, similar to the screening process visitors and patients must take. Staff, however, have the added burden of donning various PPE, such as gowns, gloves, masks and shields, hair caps and goggles. The strict regulations implemented by the state go much further than inside our hospitals, an approach not many other states have adopted, but one that has been working in our favor, said the doctor. New York was one of the hardest

Staff at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills-Northwell Health and other hospitals across the state are required to wear various articles of personal protective gear while on the job, such as gowns, masks, gloves and hair caps, in addition PHOTO COURTESY NORTHWELL to sanitizing and hand washing frequently. hit places in the U.S. in the early days of the pandemic, reaching its peak on April 4 when the state reported over 12,000 new cases in a single day. The Empire State reported its highest death toll, which was 1,028 lives in a single day, five days later. As of November, New York has the third-lowest positivity rate of any state, according to Johns Hopkins University. Cases across the state have seen a slight increase since the tail end of September, reaching as high as nearly 4,000 new single-day cases on Nov. 10, but are relatively under control compared to the rest of the country, which reported its apex of almost 140,000 cases that same day. Many of the rules have changed the way of life in New York, which Raimo said could remain in place for some time, especially because the expected vaccine is still so uncertain. Wearing masks, the doctor said, is one mainstay the population should continue to utilize for the long term, especially in the coming winter

months and during influenza season. New York State requires everyone over age 2 who can medically tolerate a face covering to wear one because that has proven to slow the spread of the airborne virus. Other mandates, such as Gov. Cuomo’s cluster initiative plan which threatens to shut down nonessential businesses and in-person learning if neighborhoods report above a 3 percent infection rate, has incentivised many to follow New York’s strict regulations. The plan outlines zones that correlate to certain restrictions made in an attempt to quell the COVID surge: Red is the cluster area itself, with the most limitations, orange is the surrounding warning zone and yellow is the precautionary sector. “Drop a pebble into the pond, the pebble goes in, then there’s one ring, two rings, three rings, and the rings continue across the pond. When you see the cluster, you have to stop it at that point,” Cuomo had

said in early October. Even neighborhoods that report solid case numbers are required to follow firm regulations to maintain low infection rates. Restaurants in New York City are still limited to a 25 percent indoor capacity and some have taken extra measures such as putting Plexiglas dividers between tables. Additionally, schools across the city have developed a part-time remote model that could change the way students learn forever — Chancellor Richard Carranza said on Oct. 29 there may “no longer be a need for snow days,” because lessons could be conducted remotely. Raimo said that while the future is uncertain and there’s no telling what the city or nation will look like in a few months, he’s hopeful the country can smoothly accept the change to come. “You have to learn to adapt to it ... The medical community, we’re getting used to adapting to what’s comQ ing our way,” he said.

Wearing face coverings anytime one is in public, left, could be a longstanding requirement in New York as the country awaits a COVID-19 vaccine as well as other precautions, like Plexiglas dividers FILE PHOTOS BY KATHERINE DONLEVY; FILE PHOTO, CENTER in restaurants, right, and continued reliance on remote learning for students.

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