For nearly eight decades, Queens residents have taken pride in a 1.4-acre “backyard campus” known as MacDonald Park, bounded by Queens and Yellowstone boulevards and 70th Road.
On April 25, 1933, Thomas F. Harvey Square became MacDonald Park, which paid a most fitting tribute to Captain Gerald MacDonald (1882-1929), who was a highly regarded WWI veteran and Forest Hills resident. The name change was advocated for by Gerald MacDonald’s brother, Henry MacDonald, and American Legion Forest Hills Post 630. Gerald MacDonald did not die in battle, but in an auto accident.
A dedication ceremony was held on May 27, 1933. On May 28, 1933, the New York Times reported, “The ceremonies included a parade through Forest Hills by American Legion posts, Boy and Girl Scouts, and civic groups. Colonel F.W. Stopford of the U.S. Army, who was the principal speaker at the ceremonies, praised Mr. MacDonald’s war service as an officer of engineers at the battle of the Meuse Argonne.”
The Gerald MacDonald statue was unveiled on May 26, 1934. American Legion Post 630 allocated $1,500 at the request of member Henry MacDonald. It was sculpted by brother-in-law Frederic de Henwood, and designed by architect William Henry Deacy.
The granite base inscription reads: “Capt. Gerald MacDonald; Memorial Dedicated By Forest Hills Post No. 630 The American Legion; To Those Who Served In The World War; 1934.”
Forest Hills residents can trace a more extensive route of historic Memorial Day parades. On May 31, 1938, the New York Times reported, “In Forest Hills, a Memorial Day parade was headed by a detail from the Sixty-second Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft). The American Legion and other veteran organizations took part together with youth auxiliary units. The parade started at Austin Street and Ascan Avenue and proceeded to the Flagpole Green and thence to Jerry MacDonald Park, and to the Forest Hills Theatre where exercises were held.”
Another site with Memorial Day connections is Village Green, a landscaped central common area on Greenway Terrace in the Forest Hills Gardens. When a flag was dedicated, it was referred to as Flag Pole Green. Tributary events began at the site in the early 20th century.
This plot contains the Monument to Forest Hills Soldiers and Sailors of World War I, also known as the World War I Memorial, which was designed by the famed sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman.
This Neo-Classical bronze and granite monument symbolizes “the call to overseas,” and was dedicated in 1920. It depicts the names of 102 Forest Hills residents who served. At that time, Weinman was also credited for a WWI service button and his designs on the dime and half-dollar.
In June 1923, the heavily read publication, The Forest Hills Bulletin, greatly captured how our multi-generational community bonded and paid tribute. “On Memorial Day, the Forest Hills Post of the American Legion conducted services on the Green, in which they honored Rice Bassett, Whitney Bowles, Clarence O. Collins and Lewis Serlin from Forest Hills, who rendered the supreme sacrifice during the war. Commander Thomas B. Paton, Jr. was in charge.” A parade was led by a fifteen-piece Naval Reserve Band.
It then reads, “During the services, an aeroplane circled over the Green, and Comrade John von Hofe dropped a wreath, to which was attached a message from President Harding. The wreath was placed on the memorial tablet and the message, calling upon the people for renewed consecration to ‘the finest sentiments of national love, devotion and loyalty’ was read.
“The speakers were Robert W. McCleary, Major, Coast Artilley Corps, and Hon. Robert W. Bonynge, ex-Congressman from Colorado, who both made stirring appeals for national patriotism. The Choral Club led the singing: “Lead Kindly Light” was sung by the post quartette, and Dr. Latshaw led in prayer.”
A Memorial Day essay contest would engage the interest of neighborhood children, including those of Public School 3.
In 1922, red paper poppies were sold by a group of young ladies for 10 cents, and the proceeds benefited the veterans’ Mountain Camp. They hoped that everyone in Forest Hills would wear a poppy, which would pay tribute to wounded soldiers in the war. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was read, and the Forest Hills Choral Club led a rendition of “My Country Tis’ of Thee.”
The tour continues with Forest Hills’ earliest extant tributary site, known as Remsen Cemetery. Situated on a park-like setting between Trotting Course Lane and Alderton Street, the cemetery contains tombstones dating from 1790 through 1819.
The site earned landmark status in 1981, and a plaque from that year reads, “Within this park lies the remains of Revolutionary War Veteran Colonel Jeromus Remsen. Buried in the confines of this site were his cousins Major Abraham Remsen, Captain Luke Remsen, Lieutenant Aert Remsen and their families. The Remsen family were amongst the first settlers of this area, originally known as White Pot.”
Brownstone graves consist of two Jeromus Remsens and Anna Remsen, as well as Jerome Remsen, Ann Elizabeth Remsen, and Bridget Remsen.
Not long before the cemetery was landmarked, the Veterans Administration erected non-brownstone graves commemorating Col. Remsen, Major Abraham Remsen, and their two brothers Aert and Garrett Remsen, who were officers of the Revolutionary War. Remsen Cemetery has a World War I memorial, which contains two doughboy statues which flank a flagpole, and honors Forest Hills’ service.
In December 2011, I had the honor of leading Angie Remsen, a relative of the prominent Remsen family on a tour. She visited from Orlando, Florida, and was presumably the first descendant to visit in at least a quarter of a century, if not greater.
Upon approaching the graves, she stated, “I still can't believe that there is a cemetery named after my family,” she said upon approaching the graves. “I only learned about the cemetery last year, so when I made plans to visit New York, I definitely wanted to see it.”
Never cease to honor those who dedicated their soul to our country. We can dedicate our soul locally and beyond, as long as we keep our monuments and archives alive, to grasp a greater understanding of our morals and cultures, and convey continuity.