Our Favorite Bigot
The story of Archie Bunker began 35 years ago, when the hit television series “All in the Family” first aired on the ABC network.
Set in Queens, Bunker was known as the all-American bigot, who would regularly blurt racial epithets and pro Vietnam War opinions straight from his love seat sofa. His willful ignorance and devout belief in his beliefs always made for great arguments with his meathead son-in-law, possibly best portrayed in an episode that shows the first time Archie Bunker met Mike Stivic. Rather than continue to argue with his daughter’s war-protesting boyfriend, he begins singing “God Bless America,” throwing in at the end, “God Bless America, you dumb Polock, my home sweet home.”
The character represented the typical disgruntled blue collar worker of the time, who was fed up with the melting pot that surrounded him and easily blood boiled by the behavior of his family members, who fought to change his ways.
Still shown on the cable television station TV Land, “All in the Family,” although quite controversial, still remains one of the most popular sitcoms ever to be shown on television.
And the fictitious residents of Howser Street in Astoria still serve today as a mark to identify the people of Queens.
Returning Rap To Queens
Flip on Hot 97 and the Tribune will bet you that within five minutes you’ll hear a song by one of the country’s premier rappers, 50 Cent. Carrying the Queens hip hop torch with his 2003 debut album “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” the fashion line owner, movie star, producer, video game personality and, oh yeah, hip-hop sensation has been blazing up radio station charts nationwide ever since.
While some say it’s Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s beats and ill lyrics that have gotten him where he is, those from his neighborhood of Southside Jamaica know it’s the street credibility he gained on the bustling street corners that has made him a gangsta rap celebrity.
Living with the tragedy of his mother’s murder in a drug deal gone wrong, 50 soon became immersed in the drug trade, hustling around the old neighborhood by the name of Boo Boo with fellow Queens native Tony Yayo. The young hustler began writing down verses about his operations and day-to-day struggles, experimenting with some beats and the next thing he knew Jamaica luminary Jam Master Jay of Run- DMC fame gave the kid some notice, signing him to his label JMJ, a move that many say brought Hip-hop back to where it belongs.
At a time when hip-hop was beginning to lose its identity of place, 50 Cent was able to bring the focus back to the location where the street rhyming became an industry – Southeast Queens, restoring pride of ownership to the place that started it all.
Catherine of Braganza
The Queen Of Queens?
Catherine of Braganza
In the Eddie Murphy movie, “Coming to America,” a naïve African prince and his friend visit the United States with the hope of finding a fitting royal bride. But where to find a woman worthy of the throne? Obviously, they decide on Queens, NY.
The movie’s choice is actually meant as a small dig at the borough, establishing a comedic premise whereby royalty must live in urban squalor (Queens, in the 1980s, had seen better days). At one point in time, some historians believe, Murphy’s character might have had the right idea.
They contend that Queens County was named after Queen Catherine of Braganza, daughter of the Portuguese King. She was married to English Kind Charles II to force an alliance between the two countries (neighboring Kings County being named after him).
Charles was a constant philanderer who had multiple children with mistresses while shunning his wife for her inability to bear a male heir. Catherine took things in stride, though, and gained a reputation as a notable stateswoman.
Many scholars challenge the notion that the borough’s name comes from Catherine, however, because her name does not explicitly appear on any colonial documents. Borough leaders were considering erecting a 35-foot stature of her at Hunter’s Point, but the plan fell through after local ethnic groups contested the proposal.
It seems that old Catherine can’t catch a break, even 400 years after her death.
Our Grand Dame
Claire Shulman had a difficult job after taking the reins of the Queens Borough Presidency in 1986, after Donald Manes resigned his position. Over the next several years, scandals would be uncovered discrediting the city government, causing a political realignment – namely, the dismantling of the Board of Estimates – that would forever change the nature of the office.
But Shulman managed to jump those hurdles and become one of the most respected political figures in the borough if not the city. Not to mention, she holds the honor of being the first female Borough President in Queens.
Shulman served until 2001, when term limits eventually forced her to step down. During her tenure, Queens saw 35,000 new public schools seats and vast economic expansion, including the construction of the Citibank building and the expansion of the Queens Center Mall.
When asked by the Tribune what is her greatest pleasure in life, Shulman had this to say: “In this order: My children and watching a government program succeed. So many different ones and they’re of equal value. If you’re building schools or hospitals. It’s hard to prioritize it. They’re all important.”
Despite leaving her office, Shulman has remained active in the Queens community. She visits local civic groups to offer her advice and experience, and sits on the board of directors of Queens County Savings Bank. In the last election cycle, she was a major organizer in the Democrats for Bloomberg campaign, which helped contribute to the mayor’s lopsided victory.
Bring Us Your Dead
Massive cemeteries cover great swaths of Queens.
In the borough of Queens, we know the proper way of honoring and remembering those who have come before us. Queens has some of the most decorated and spread out burial grounds in the country, with some very influential people buried here.
Maple Grove Cemetery in Jamaica was created in 1875, and according to numerous historical societies, had direct influence on the development of Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill.
Montefiore Cemetery in Cambria Heights is also a point of interest for people all over the world because it is the burial place of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Hasidic Jewish movement. Schneerson died 11 years ago and each July, thousands of followers flock to Schneerson’s gravesite to pay their respects. Another person of note buried in Queens is big-cheeked trumpeter Louis Armstrong, who is laid to rest in Flushing Cemetery.
Traveling on Queens Boulevard, motorists can see the statue of Jesus at the front of Calvary Cemetery, one of the borough’s largest cemeteries. Other notable places of burial in Queens are Cedar Grove, Lutheran All Faiths, Mount Olivett and St. John’s Cemeteries.
At one point there were more people buried in Queens than living here, though that does not hold true today.
Our Patriotic Roots
An English native, Francis Lewis was born in 1713 and he eventually became one of the first signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Settling in Whitestone, Lewis entered politics just one year before the document was signed and was considered one of the more radical leaders. He was also among the first to join the Sons of Liberty.
Soon after signing the Declaration, a party of British soldiers destroyed his Whitestone home. Lewis’s extensive library and valuable papers were destroyed and British troops were not done. His wife was taken prisoner and was retained for several months. During her captivity, she was confined without the comfort of a bed or a change of clothes. She was later returned, but died within a year after her release.
Following the traumatic experience, Lewis confined himself and spent most of his fortune on the Revolutionary War effort. He died in 1802.
Following his death, a number of streets, parks and schools in Queens were named in honor of the patriot.
Almost Madame Vice President
If you’re a fan of the Law & Order Television Franchise (much of which is filmed in Queens), then you owe a special debt of gratitude to Geraldine Ferraro.
Why, you ask? As a member of the Queens DA’s office, she started the Special Victim’s Bureau, the prosecutorial branch of the SVU, which deals with the particularly heinous crimes that involve sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic violence.
Ferraro began her law career after being a mother for 13 years, putting herself through Fordham Law School at night. A daughter of immigrants, she had excelled academically earlier in life, skipping three grades in high school and winning a college scholarship.
But the pinnacle of her American Dream, or perhaps more aptly labeled, Queens Dream, came when she captured the 9th District Congressional seat. In Congress, Ferraro used her experience as a homemaker to successfully pass several equal rights bills that guaranteed better treatment for women and mothers in the workplace. Although her record was predominantly liberal, Ferraro had a knack for keeping a conservative touch that appealed to moderate voters.
That appeal landed her on the 1984 Democratic Presidential ticket, along with Walter Mondale, as the first woman to be nominated for vice-president on a national platform. The two lost badly to Ronald Regan but Ferraro will remain in the history books with her Queens heritage forever to show.
Silver Spoon To Gold Palace
He made his contacts, he made a few deals and the Jamaica Estates amateur businessman kept coming out ahead of his game. Sure Donald Trump could credit his fiscal accomplishments to his father’s footsteps, in which he followed, but onlookers from Queens knew it was the very streets he traveled each day, brushing elbows with people who had dreams like his that brought him to remarkable heights.
With German ancestry from his father and Scottish ancestry from his mother, the Trump household epitomized the American immigrant experience as a young Donald learned the real-estate business firsthand from his father who, himself, began in the family construction business at the age of 13 when his own father (Donald’s grandfather) died in the influenza epidemic of 1918.
Putting the family secrets into effect Donald constructed the biggest hotel In New York since the 1950s, the Grand Hyatt, and went onto build the Taj Mahal casino, Trump Tower and Trump Plaza. By the early 90s he saw most of his fortune vanish, but being a Queensite he pulled himself up, brushed off and gained more fame than ever doing it.
Now a TV star, the Queens kid born with a silver spoon has turned it into gold.
Still Awaiting His Final Escape
Houdini’s final resting place - for now.
Although he spent his childhood in Appleton, Wisconsin – a name that conjures images of a traditional, all-American family – Harry Houdini was actually born in Eastern Europe as Erich Weiss to Jewish parents before they emigrated. Perhaps it is fitting that he is buried in Queens, the home of immigrants, alongside much of his family.
Escaping from diabolical shackles and thick chains, which old photographs show literally bent him over with their weight, Houdini not only became the most famous magician of his day but also one of the country’s first entertainment celebrities. He performed before the country was swept up in motion pictures and radio, and many of his feats acquired an almost mythical status as rumor of his talent grew by word of mouth.
Houdini boasted that if one man could escape death, he could. His body rests in Machpelah Cemetery, buried in a coffin that he designed for an escape routine.
Every year the Society of American Magicians holds the “Broken Wand” ceremony, a tradition the grew out of a yearly séance Houdini’s wife performed for a decade after his death attempting to contact the master magician beyond the grave. Although Ms. Houdini eventually gave up, the Society carries on the practice to honor its most revered member.
Queens’ Adopted Comic
Able to turn life’s endless annoyances into biting, sarcastic and hilarious commentary on contemporary society, Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy had taken the attitude of the obsessive, complaint-ridden New York psyche and made it standup gold.
After being born in Brooklyn and spending his childhood in Massapequa, Seinfeld got his true start in comedy when he transferred to Queens College. A good student during his college years, Seinfeld majored in theatre and began acting in plays and doing standup routines. He ventured out into the competitive New York comic circuit at a young age, and garnered almost instant success.
Of course, Seinfeld gained superstar status from his self-titled show, which mirrors a wacky version of his real life. He has been seen wearing Queens College apparel during several episodes, and there are subtle references to Queens neighborhoods throughout the show, including when George’s parents are kicked out of their Bayside home.
Undoubtedly the college’s most famous alumni, Seinfeld appears proud of his Queens roots when talking in interviews. Or at least he gripes about a little less than everything else, which means something from a man who gets paid to complain about things.
Fly Our Friendly Skies
JetBlue is poised for incredible growth. Photo By Ira Cohen
JetBlue has become the most reliable and affordable airline in the country, and it began right here in the borough of Queens. Created by Queens resident David Neeleman in 2000, JetBlue now serves 32 cities around the country and was given the 2005 Business Travel award for Best Low-Cost Carrier.
JetBlue has revolutionized the airline industry, offering a number of original features that flight passengers have taken to in droves. With an individual television screen on the back of each seat, the airline has 24 live channels of satellite television and great in-flight movies. Currently, JetBlue has live broadcasts of the Olympic Games at every seat. The airline is also unique because it is the first ever “ticket-less” airline.
As airline travel increases with each coming year, JetBlue is constantly increasing its customer base and adding more travel routes. It continues to offer very affordable airfare for all walks of life in the borough of Queens, reliable service, and a slew of bargains and travel sales, and with a terminal planned for JFK airport, it is poised to become the biggest carrier on the East Coast.
LL Cool J
Queens’ First Rap Star
LL Cool J
Ladies Love Cool James – a simple concept wrapped in the ego and bravado of a 15-year-old who won over burgeoning entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who signed James Todd Smith, aka LL Cool J, to be the first artist on the Def Jam Records label.
This Hollis native released hi first single, “I Need A Beat,” and was quickly elevated to stardom thanks to his featured role in the film “Krush Groove,” which was all about the growing hip hop scene in Southeast Queens.
LL hasn’t missed a beat since, with a string of hit films and albums, he has reached a superstar level, but still stay true to his Queens roots, just last summer helping to organize – and participating in – a teen basketball tournament in Jamaica.
Like Queens comedian Jerry Seinfeld, LL can boast that other than a brief newspaper route, he has never held a job other than in entertainment.
A Legacy In Queens
Though no images of John Bowne can be found, his house and legacy remain. Photo By Ira Cohen
Following the guidelines of his strict Quaker religious beliefs, John Bowne, whose Flushing home still remains intact, was one of the Dutch colony’s first pioneers for religious freedom.
Arrested in 1662 for allowing a Quaker meeting to be held in his home, Bowne successfully appealed his bid to the Dutch West India Company in Holland and returned to Flushing two years later a free man.
The victory marked what later became part of the Bill of Rights and Bowne also served in New York’s provincial assembly. He died in Flushing in 1695.
Though he died well before the success of the colony, and later the country, his legacy continued on long past his days on earth.
His grandson, Robert Bowne, founded Bowne & Co., the oldest public company in the country, as well as the Bank of New York. A relative Walter Bowne was Mayor of New York for part of the 19th Century, and Robert’s niece, Mary Bowne, married Samuel Parsons, the noted arborist who developed the best gardens in Queens and planted the famous Weeping Beech (see Page 34).
King of Queens
Holding Up A Mirror
The King of Queens.
Doug and Carrie Heffernan, for the past seven years, have been giving America a look into a typical blue-collar home in Queens. And the couple, along with Carrie’s (Leah Remini) eccentric father Arthur (Jerry Stiller) has the country hooked.
Whether they’re stopping by the Lemon Ice King of Corona for some fruity ices or Doug (Kevin James) is battling his fixation with food or the Heffernans are trying to handle the financial strain of mold damage to their house, the family epitomizes what it means to be a Queens family.
After a long day of delivering packages and double parking for Doug, it’s the tough love, sass and attitude he comes home to boiling within the Heffernan household that assures us our family squabbles are simply another way of saying I love you.
Driving along Queens Boulevard or catching a game at Shea Stadium we’re put at ease with our lives knowing that Doug and Carrie are exploring the same everyday challenges of love, life, family and marriage that we face in this hectic borough we call home.
Queens Family Comedy
With his honking voice and a hefty bag of jokes, Forest Hills native Ray Romano has become a very successful comic and created the popular sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Romano graduated from Hillcrest High School in Jamaica and strengthened his comedy act enough to appear on the 1995 HBO Comedy Showcase. As his comedy matured, he made guest appearances for numerous late night talk show hosts, including Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Romano was classmates with Fran Drescher and even made guest appearances on her show, “The Nanny.”
In 1996, Romano was given the opportunity to create his sitcom, which he starred in for nine seasons. The show was a nationwide hit, and Romano was nominated for an Emmy Award for his role on the show.
Two MCs And One DJ
Trekking through the streets of Hollis in their shell top Adidas Run (Joseph Simmons), DMC (Darryl McDaniels) and Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell) made their way towards Jamaica Avenue to spit ill rhymes in the face of Queens as the 80s began.
Hip hop, which had busted onto the scene a few years earlier, was about to go through a transformation as it slipped off the tongues of Run DMC. Not holding back anything, not even their sense of humor, the gold chain and tracksuit wearing treacherous three unleashed their rhymes for the world to hear.
As the standard bearer of the second wave of hip-hop, Run-D.M.C. maintained the music’s minimalist street sound writing their own lyrics and beats. The trio put Queens hip hop on the map as the first rap act to hit the album charts and the first rap act to release a CD, not to mention they did launch rap and hip-hop into the public consciousness.
It’s Like That, and that’s the way it is.
A Civil Rights Icon
If Martin Luther King Jr. was the soul of the Civil Rights Movement, than Roy Wilkins was its mind.
As the president of the NAACP, Wilkins worked closely with legislators and activists to push for an organized political agenda of equality. He played a role in the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Born far away from Queens, he was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, a surprisingly integrated community for its time. Wilkins moved to Queens Village during the twilight of his life, passing away in 1981 at the age of 80.
Shortly after, city officials named a park after Wilkins in between 115th Avenue and Merrick and Baisley Boulevards. Four years later, the city renovated a building on the property to become the “Roy Wilkins Family Center,” which hosts a summer camp, medical aid for the elderly and other community events.
Perhaps fitting in a borough of such great diversity, the park pays homage to crusaders for equality with the African American Hall of Fame and the Black Spectrum Theatre Company. One would imagine Wilkins could only smile if he walked through his namesake park today.