I Sit And Look Out: Roadblock from DOE hinders columnist’s search for answers

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These columns started out as an attempt to solve a mystery about the naming of a public school in the Crescents section of Rego Park. They will go beyond that because of the bureaucratic nonsense I encountered from the city Department of Education in my search for an answer.

A review of a small exhibition of the work of William Sidney Mount in one of the Stony Brook, L.I., museums reminded me of how I first learned of this fine 19th-century artist.

For an honors paper at City College, I wrote about Walt Whitman’s work as a newspaperman and his attitude toward the arts. I was fortunate enough, with permission, to expand this into my master’s thesis at Columbia: “Walt Whitman before 1855: His Attitude Toward the Arts,” which may still be moldering unread in the library stacks in Morningside Heights.

Whitman wrote for and edited a number of daily and weekly newspapers in and around New York City before he published “Leaves of Grass” out of a Brooklyn Heights print shop in 1855. He had a great interest in fostering all the arts in America. He appreciated the arts of Europe, but felt American artists should be encouraged.

Mount was one of Whitman’s favorite artists, a fine delineator of rural scenes, mainly in and around Setauket, where he was born and lived most of his life.

But, I wondered again, as I had years before, why was a school in the Crescents section of Rego Park, PS 174, named for him?

As I began to search for the answer, with the help of the principal and teachers of the school, I realized that there was even more to the story. PS 174 and an adjacent city playground take up an entire block between Alderton Street and 65th Drive and Elwell and Dieterle crescents. The playground is named “The Painter’s Playground.”

It got that name in 1999 after renovation. When it opened in 1946, it did not have a name, according to information from the city Parks Department. Some time before its renovation, it was named “Mount Playground.” The school opened in 1949.

In the course of my research, I learned about the great Arbor Day programs at the school, which have gone on for some years. It was a pleasure to write about those programs in one of my columns last spring.

The people at PS 174, at 65-10 Dieterle Crescent, did their best to help me find out why the school was named for Mount because there seemed to be no obvious connection between him and the area.

But they were unable to help much, to their and my regret.

That is when I turned to the DOE and that is when I ran into bureaucratic ineptitude and discourtesy. But the ultimate nonsense was when the DOE’s “communicat­ions” staff — what an oxymoron! — tried to give me misinformation and then fell back on silence when challenged.

How unlike the wonderful assistance I got from Parks!

More about this in the next column.

Updated 11:03 am, October 12, 2011
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