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Lindbergh, livelihood and leisure in 1931 Queens

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In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the TimesLedger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Two planes carefully made several passes in the skies over North Beach on June 5, 1931. One aircraft, a Lockheed Sirius flown by Charles Lindbergh, broke away to make a landing at Flushing Airport.

Workers at the Edo Aircraft Corporation were waiting nearby to install pontoons on the colonel’s plane for his upcoming trip to Japan. His wife Anne, practicing her flying skills for the harrowing flight to the Orient, flew back to Hicksville where she touched down at the Long Island Country Aviation Club.

With the nation suffering from unemployment, uncertainty and despair in the midst of the Great Depression, many resorted to drastic measures to make ends meet.

On the evening of June 29, two machine gun-toting desperadoes approached the Murray Hill branch of the Manhattan Trust Company on 41st Avenue. After commanding the terrified employees to “stick ‘em up and hand over the bag with the dough in it!” the unidentified men made off with $11,000 in cash, equivalent to roughly $165,000 today. The two robbers sped away recklessly toward Manhattan, leaving behind the rush hour scene of the first-ever recorded bank robbery in that neighborhood.

That same month, others from the Flushing area encountered an even greater financial windfall merely by luck of birth or social connection. John Thomas Welch of Flushing left behind a considerable fortune with his passing in 1929. An appraisal filed in a local court in June valued the shoe manufacturer’s estate at $844,000, of which he left $23,000 to his wife, $236,000 to his sister Mary and $171,000 to a friend. In 2017 dollars, the deceased shoemaker left behind $12.7 million.

Outdoor sports were a great draw in the warm, breezy summer months, and Queens boasted some of the greatest athletic talent anywhere on the globe. At the fourth annual county track and field title meet in Ditmars, indoor world-record holder George Spitz from Whitestone cleared 6’5” in the high jump, just two inches short of his best performance. The following year, he bested his old record by one inch, but hampered by injury only finished ninth in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Tennis phenomenon Sidney B. Wood of Forest Hills fared somewhat better at Wimbledon that June, downing Englishman Pat Hughes in the semifinals in four sets. The up-and-coming star, who first competed in the 1927 Wimbledon Championships at age 15, went on to win the tournament that year and later was ranked as high as No. 5 in the world. The tennis great was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964 and died in 2009 at the age of 97.

In June 1931, Queens also bid farewell to a beloved link to its sporting past. That month the City and Suburban Homes Company drew up plans for the Celtic Park Apartments on the former site of the old Irish American Athletic Club in Sunnyside. Where the famed Winged Fists once performed athletic feats before cheering crowds of thousands, a new garden apartment block would soon rise to accommodate the throngs seeking a home in the booming community.

Compiled by Greater Astoria Historical Society. For further information, contact the Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

Posted 12:00 am, July 10, 2017
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