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Queens Chronicle

Historical Society looks at childhood in the boro

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Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:39 pm, Thu Jun 30, 2011.

A student notebook from 1884, in-house student publications, old yearbooks from Newtown and other area high schools, a photograph of the Flushing High School band circa 1923, a pencil dating back to 1814: they are all here.

If you wanted to know what it was like to be a child in our county in the past, “Growing Up Queens: A Study of Childhood In Our Unique Borough,”on display at the Queens Historical Society’s Kingsland Homestead in Flushing may provide some answers.

A printed explanation near the entrance says, “The memories of a person’s childhood hometown are often carried with them for life.” Depending upon their ages, visitors will either marvel at the simplicity of life as it used to be or be brought to a state of nostalgic bliss.

Most of the exhibit, divided into four segments, is housed in one fairly small room filled with a wide range of artifacts culled from the society’s own collection and combined with contributions from area residents who were willing to share their childhood treasures.

The first segment, “Playing,” offers a selection of games and musical instruments that were popular during the time period covered by the exhibit, 1870-1970.

Among the choice pieces on display is a forerunner of the View Master, called a stereoscope, which, in its day, was actually prescribed by doctors as an aid in strengthening eyes. Nearby is an early Monopoly set, complete with wooden board pieces. A toy Schoenhut piano, circa 1900, is another interesting memento of the period.

The next segment, “Learning,” deals primarily with school-related memorabilia. As summer vacation begins for students across the borough, it is a perfect time for them to learn about life in the classrooms of yore.

While some things change, others stay the same, evidenced by an absence excuse slip from 1916, complete with parental signature. On a serious note, one display offers insight into the grim realities of childhood, with air raid instruction posters, war ration books and the like.

In the “Living” segment, visitors will see a 100-year-old baptism gown, a menu from Jahn’s ice cream parlor and posters promoting a couple of “Miss Subways” winners. Enid Berkowitz, who held the title in 1946, was an art student at Hunter College who said she was “plugging for a B.A. but would settle for an M.R.S.” Helen Lee, who was honored in 1949, was considered “exotic” at the time, a tribute to her Asian background. Perhaps things do change with time, after all.

The exhibit ends with the “Coming Together” segment, highlighted by memorabilia from New York’s two World’s Fairs.

Marisa Berman, the society’s executive director, said the exhibit, which opened in June and will run through April, has been “getting a good response. We tried to cover all of Queens. It will really appeal to people who grew up anywhere in Queens.”

She said the display makes visitors “turn in and reflect on their own childhoods. It changes their perspectives. People realize they’re a part of history.”

Other rooms in the homestead that are open to the public include one dedicated to the borough’s landmarks and a fully furnished Victorian parlour on the upstairs level.

Kingsland Homestead, a two-and-a-half story farmhouse typical of the late 1700’s, is a city landmark located at 143-35 37 Ave. in Flushing. For further information, call (718) 939-0647 or visit queenshistoricalsociety.org

‘Growing Up In Queens’

When: Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.or by appointment.

Where: 143-35 37 Ave., Flushing.

Tickets: $3 admission for aduls, $2 for seniors and students.

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