QueensLine: MidVil memorial service held for General Slocum victims

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William “Bill” Rafferty, born in Queens June 17, 1944, had an interesting résumé before his success as a comedian and game show host on television. Rafferty was a New York cab driver, butcher in California and military police officer in the U.S. Army.

His first exposure on national television was one episode on “Laugh-In” in the 1970s. Two years later he broke into the big time as a roving reporter for the NBC reality series “Real People,” which ran from 1979-84. He hosted three talk shows: “Every Second Counts” (1984), “Card Sharks” (1986) and “Blockbusters” (1987). Starting in the fall of 1986 and ending in the fall of 1987, he was the host of “Card Sharks,” which aired in syndication. He was in the movies “Above the Rim” (1994) and “Mad City” (1997) and the television show “Nash Bridges” (1999).

During his game show hosting stints, Rafferty coined several expressions, such as “dual implication” — either contestant can win the game or match with the next correct answer — and “the land of parting gifts” — meaning that the person who lost the game wins whatever prizes are mentioned by the announcer in the closing plug.

Rafferty is currently the host of a television show called “Retired and Wired,” which debuted in October 2007.

On June 15, 1913, victims of a fire were memorialized in Middle Village. The bells of the local Lutheran church tolled Sunday afternoon while a gathering of more than 2,000 people attended memorial services commemorating the ninth anniversary of the burning of the excursion boat General Slocum, which occurred June 15, 1904.

When the boat caught fire on the East River, more than 1,100 people died within a few hundred yards of the shores of North Brother Island. It was the largest civilian disaster in New York City before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As would be the case with the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, the burning of the Slocum spurred an investigation into fire safety conditions. A major improvement in steamboat safety and maritime regulations would be the result of the tragedy.

The news caused the papers to look back at previous infernos. The last “big fire” took place July 21, 1893, when St. Mary’s Church was burned. Old timers referred to that conflagration as the greatest thing in the way of fires that ever happened in Queens. Not only was the church burned, but also the rectory, parochial church and a dozen or two other buildings.

That neighborhood was then one of the finest in Long Island City. Across 49th Avenue were private residences and new flats that were considered posh back then. The local firemen were criticized for allowing the fire to spread to the other side of 5th Street. Brooklyn fire companies aided in preventing the fire from eating up a few more blocks of property.

For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit

Upcoming events at the Greater Astoria Historical Society

Where: 35-20 Broadway, 4th Floor, Astoria

History Roundtable — The American Revolution: The United States was born when we officially severed ties to the British Empire. Explore and discuss the events and personalities behind July 4th and the Declaration of Independence. Film viewing: Liberty: The American Revolution.

When: July 17, 1 p.m.

Lecture & Beer Tasting — Beer Gardens of Queens: In honor of the Centennial of Bohemian Hall join us for an armchair tour of the Beer Gardens in Queens! Learn about the history of beer gardens and how they became a favorite past time in the 1900s. This lecture will include a beer tasting with a discussion of what makes each brew unique and the harvesting of hops around the world. Must be 21 or older

When: July 21, 6 p.m.

Contact: Please call for reservations for this event at 718–278–0700.

Cost: $20 per person ($12 GAHS members)

Movie — The 1900 House: Vicariously experience a time-travel journey back to everyday, middle-class life in Victorian London as the adventurous Bowler Family spend three months living in a townhouse carefully restored to reproduce the ambiance and amenities of the year 1900. This film explores the radical changes in family and domestic life that have occurred over the past 100 years through scientific and technological innovations.

When: July 31 Aug. 7, 1 p.m.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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