A Flashback to July 4, 1923: How Our Forest Hills Ancestors Celebrated

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Displaying Children's games circa late teens, Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation
Children’s games circa late teens, Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation.

Originating in 1914, the Forest Hills Gardens coordinated annual Fourth of July Festivals in an exquisitely decorated Station Square, often with activities at the Forest Hills Inn and Tea Garden, Olivia Park, and along Greenway Terrace and Flagpole Green, formerly Village Green. Among the most historic Forest Hills events transpired on July 4, 1917, when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt delivered his “One Hundred Percent American” unification speech from the LIRR Station in front of 5,000 guests, addressing WWI.

Today, patriotism and tradition continue to echo in a modified form, particularly through Children’s Day and Flag Day in June, although a century ago, no expense was spared when it came to approximately 15-hour Independence Day celebrations on the actual day. Now it is time to turn back the clock to July 4, 1923, which marked the 147th anniversary of America’s independence.

Displaying 4th of July circa 1921, The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin, Courtesy of Anne Seeler.jpg
4th of July circa 1921, The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin, Courtesy of Anne Seeler.

In anticipation of a festive day, residents picked up the June 30, 1923 edition of The Forest Hills Bulletin, a popular publication. “The residents of the Gardens are planning the tenth annual celebration of Independence Day in this community. It will be a patriotic, jolly day, with a program of interest from early morning until late at night,” it read.

The July 28 edition stated, “Leaden skies greeted the early rising and lusty voiced Town Criers in the Gardens. It was 9:30 before the goodly-sized crowd had heeded their summons and appeared on the Green for the flag-raising.” 

Displaying Notable artist Herman Rountree,  Masquerade near Forest Hills Station poster, 1919 .jpg
Notable artist Herman Rountree, Masquerade near Forest Hills Station poster, 1919.

After the Twenty-second Regiment Engineers’ Band performed, the American Legion’s local post paraded along the Green, and attendees witnessed the flag-raising, saluted, and sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Forest Hills Gardens’ Celebrations Association President S.W. Eckman delivered remarks, which was followed by an invocation by Church-in-the-Gardens Reverend C.E. Silcox. Then the Forest Hills Choral Club performed patriotic tunes.

Displaying Forest Hills Gardens residents in patriotic spirit circa teens, Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation.jpeg
Forest Hills Gardens residents in patriotic spirit circa teens, Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation.

In the days of many more private clubs citywide, the Seminole Avenue Clubhouse once stood on Seminole Avenue, later renamed 112th Street, and was the center of tennis and a social life. The American Legion post and the Engineers’ Band paraded to the clubhouse, and along the patriotic lawn, residents anticipated a flag-raising ceremony. Then the National Anthem was once again performed, as well as the United States Naval Band. Forest Hills Association President Virgil W. Miller, general chairman of the celebration, gave an introduction of the former Vice Governor of the Philippines, Hon. Newton W. Gilbert, who served from 1912 to 1913. 

Judge Gilbert explained the Declaration of Independence and emphasized supporting its principles not only during periods of peace, but at the time of war. He related the principles to immigration law and an initiative for a larger merchant marine. He also presented a tale in which the American fleet navigated the world.   

Displaying 1923 festivities in Station Square, The Forest Hills Bulletin, Courtesy of Anne Seeler.jpg
1923 festivities in Station Square, The Forest Hills Bulletin, Courtesy of Anne Seeler.

Station Square was the scene of children’s games under the direction of the Celebrations Association. Jovial children’s races paved the way for what was known as a “fat man’s race,” as well as a father and son relay race. As a storm progressed, Station Square was compared to a lake, and Harvey Warren, a prior year’s crier joined his crier comrades, and began to entertain attendees under the Forest Hills Inn’s colonnade by surprise. 

After the sun emerged at 2:30 PM, it was time for baseball games. In the Forest Hills Gardens playground, the Outs under the direction of Captain Karrick Collins, fell before the Inns 6 to 5. Meanwhile, on Seminole Avenue, the North Side was being overshadowed by the Legionaries at 17 to 6. The remainder of scheduled children’s games and a Forest Hills Association gold match were postponed until July 7. 

By 4 PM, Gardens residents made their way to the nature-inspired amphitheatre, Olivia Park, where the notable Chalif dancers entertained. The program included “Pierrette” performed by Marion Swords. Other routines subject to much admiration were “Music Hath Charms” by Margeret Montgomery and Edward Chalif and “Pastoral Symphony” by seven Chalif dancers. The presently landmarked Italian Renaissance style Louis H. Chalif Normal School of Dancing operated at 163 West 57th Street, which opened in 1916. Louis Chalif immigrated from Russia, and in a 1915 ad, he referenced “interpretative, aesthetic, racial, ballroom dancing.” This part of the program was administered by Dr. T. T. Sweeny and Louis P. McGahie. 

Displaying Col. Theodore Roosevelt delivers 100 Percent American speech, July 4, 1917, Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation
Col. Theodore Roosevelt delivers 100 Percent American speech, July 4, 1917, Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation.

Switching gears to the Seminole Avenue Clubhouse, at 7:30 PM, the North Siders attended an outdoor band concert and a four-reel educational film, where F. Hargreaves served as chairman. Its tennis courts were transformed into a dance setting with a special canvas. This coincided with the Gardeners dancing in a festive Station Square, which included an impromptu parade of children with sparklers. The dance was under the direction of Horace F. Pomeroy among a large committee. 

The Clubhouse grounds were open to members of the association, as well as their out-of-town guests, who wore badges. For admission to the activities, members were also required to wear badges. Throughout the day, refreshments were provided at a booth by The Big Sisters of Queens Borough. 

All events throughout Forest Hills Gardens and the Cord Meyer section north of Queens Boulevard were the product of a collective, neighborly effort, living up to The Village ambiance. James McGill oversaw printing, whereas H. A. Yates addressed lighting and police, Dr. V. N. Quinten perfected the decorations, and Rev. Sheppard addressed publicity.   

Displaying Patriotism & culture at its finest in Station Square circa July 4, 1917,  Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation
Patriotism & culture at its finest in Station Square circa July 4, 1917, Courtesy of Forest Hills Gardens Foundation.

Fast-forwarding to the November 1939 edition of the renamed publication, “News of Forest Hills Gardens Corporation,” Corporation President George H. Boyce reviewed the community’s continued development and pinpointed how it grew since 1923, when the members of the Sage Foundation Homes Company transferred the administration of Declaration No. 3 to the Gardens Corporation as property owner representatives. It read, “At that time, our numbers were fewer, we all nearly knew each other, and most neighbors heartily joined in the Fourth of July and Christmas celebrations.”  

Displaying 1923 festivities, The Forest Hills Bulletin, Courtesy of Anne Seeler.jpg
1923 festivities, The Forest Hills Bulletin, Courtesy of Anne Seeler.

A typical Forest Hills Gardens celebration called for glorious expression, as in the case of author Gertrude Knevels (1881 – 1962), who wrote “Station Square – A Fourth of July Impression,” which read:

Old Glory from the Tower looks down. 
To bless the folly of the town,
Lights, laughter, color everywhere –
Wise folks like happy children there,
At play in Station Square.
Far over all the clear night sky
Spreads tender hands – What hurries by? – 
It is the train that grumbling goes,
Bearing the world and all its woes
Away from Station Square!


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