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QueensLine: Queens, Nassau ‘fought’ over ownership of Mets

On Feb. 2, 1962, the Long Island Star-Journal reported that the way had been cleared for Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who had died Jan. 26, to be buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village beside his parents in the family burial vault.

Born in Sicily in 1897, Luciano was considered one of the fathers of organized crime in America. He had played an integral role in the formation of the five Mafia crime families that established regional control of the greater New York City area’s rackets, as well as “The Commission,” a gangster equivalent of the Supreme Court that attempted to settle disputes between families and prevent them from “going to war.”

Luciano’s reign as a Mafia kingpin was relatively short-lived, however. In 1936, special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, a future Republican presidential candidate, succeeded in efforts to see Luciano convicted of heading one of the largest prostitution rings in the United States and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison. Despite this, Luciano considered himself to be a loyal American and during World War II his help was sought by the government in providing Mafia assistance to combat possible Axis Power infiltration and sabotage attempts on U.S. waterfronts and also to prevent strikes by dockworkers.

In 1946, as a reward for his presumed wartime cooperation, Luciano was paroled on the condition that he depart from the United States and return to Sicily, where he was living when he died.

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The Feb. 7 edition of the Star-Journal reported that St. John’s University had just announced a $10 million — about $70 million in today’s dollars — expansion program for its Hillcrest campus. The main campus had been relocated from Brooklyn to Queens beginning in the 1950s. St. John’s was founded by the order of the Vincentian Fathers in 1870 to provide the poor youth of the city with intellectual and moral education.

The immediate expansion called for the construction of three new structures: an administration building, classroom building and library, to be completed by 1970 along with an outdoor athletic stadium, seating up to 1,000, to be completed by September 1964. University President the Very Rev. Edward J. Burke said the expansion was necessary because of studies that showed “a minimum student body increase of 30 percent in the next 30 months.”

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With the relocation of both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to California in 1957, the largest city in the United States was left without a National League baseball team. But the threat of a possible third major league to include a team from New York led to the expansion of the National League to welcome the New York Mets as a new franchise for the 1962 season.

The new team took as its primary colors the blue of the Dodgers and orange of the Giants and their name from the New York Metropolitans, one of the first 19th-century professional baseball teams.

On Feb. 21, the Star-Journal reported that Queens and Nassau County were already engaged in a “feud” over which county “owned” the Mets before the team had even played its first game, scheduled for April 11. With tongue somewhat in cheek, the Star-Journal commented, “Out in right field from his office in Mineola, County Executive Eugene Nickerson said the Mets are ‘Nassau’s hometown team.’” But from the dugout — Queensborough Hall in Kew Gardens — Borough President John T. Clancy fired back, “We are happy to bask in the reflected glory of Queens.”

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

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