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I think that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived. ... A thousand events we have known are called up, I say, by accident, and apart from accident, may be forgotten. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1884
These words of the famed justice at a time when we have just commemorated the brave deeds of fallen heroes reminded me of a particular memorial that should be of interest to our community and seems to be forgotten today.
In the past month everywhere around the world, people observed a time of remembering similar to ours, and we Americans have always continued a custom that is almost as old as time itself, honoring the dead.
In the past month we have celebrated Armed Forces Day, National Maritime Day, and Memorial Day, a time to pause, reflect and honor those who served our country well.
In particular, I am thinking of one site, or tiny park, in Bayside that has had a long history of traditional ceremonies to honor the deed of one of our early heroes. He has not been forgotten through the years, but the ceremony that had been a community tradition for more than 30 years has not been held for the past two years.
However, plans are already in order to reinstate this ceremony. The memorial of which I speak is a small triangular park at 48th Avenue (formerly Rocky Hill Road) and 216th Street, designated many years ago as Dermody Square.
Shortly after the Civil War, in 1866, Mrs. James ODonnell set aside that portion of her familys farm in honor of her brother, Capt. William Dermody. The Dermody family had emigrated from Nova Scotia, Canada in the early 1800s. Dermody operated a stage-coach line in Bayside.
An ardent abolitionist, he left his home in Bayside and his business to join the 67th Regiment, Long Island Volunteers. He attained the rank of captain on Nov. 21, 1862. His regiment was attached to the Army of the Potomac, which saw major action including Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and the Wilderness Campaign.
Unfortunately, Dermody was mortally wounded during the attack on the Bloody Angle on May 12, 1864 in the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va. He was the first Baysider to die in the war.
A small two-room schoolhouse stood on the plot that Dermodys sister wished to have set aside in his honor, and in 1866, soon after the war, a group of citizens met in the school and held a memorial ceremony. At the time, two trees were planted in the square: a maple to represent the North and a sycamore to represent the South, symbolizing the hope for a better union.
In later years, the little school was moved near Bell Boulevard and 46th Avenue. It was the predecessor of PS 31. As the years went by, the trees that had been planted for a better union failed to flourish, and their symbolism was soon forgotten.
The records of the park and its history were recovered by then Public Works Commissioner John Halleran, and in 1935 a group of public-spirited citizens of Bayside decided to rededicate the forgotten site and plant new trees.
The huge boulder that marked the spot was unveiled and inscribed, and the children of PS 31 took part in the pageant that preceded the ceremonies.
Years passed and the memorial was vandalized. In 1973, the Bayside Historical Society decided to restore it. The societys members purchased a bronze plaque in cooperation with the Dermody relatives, the Bayside Hills Civic Association and the Catholic War Veterans of St. Robert Bellarmines Church nearby.
A dedication ceremony was again held by the society with its founder and president, Joseph H. Brown, presiding. From that time on until the present the society held an annual ceremony at the site.
The legend on the Dermody Memorial Plaque read:
1830 Captain William C. Dermody, 1864.
Died in action at Spotsylvania, Va. during the Civil War. This plot, then part of the James ODonnell farm, was set aside in 1866 by Mrs. James ODonnell as a memorial to her brother, Capt. Dermody, and named Dermody Square in his honor. The boulder was unveiled during rededication in 1935.
(Plans are being made to replace the missing legend above.) Dermodys name also is engraved on the Civil War Monument on Northern Boulevard in Flushing. He is buried in his familys grave site at Mount St. Marys Cemetery in Flushing.
Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian, and free-lance writer.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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