Friday, February 11, 2011

Queens Historical Society Set to Unveil New Exhibit on Being Raised in Borough by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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Marisa L. Berman (l.), Executive Director of the Queens Historical Society, and Danielle L. Hilkin, the museum's Outreach Coordinator, pose with some artifacts that they plan to use in an exhibit.
Stern faces outnumber smiles in the black-and-white photo of first-graders from a Queens public school in 1893 - when Grover Cleveland was President and financial fears rattled the United States.
Surely, the formative years of those children were shaped by the teachers and classmates they first met in Queens.
But did their home borough serve as merely the background of their upbringing or did it truly influence their lives?
The image raises many questions that will be explored in May when the Queens Historical Society in Flushing unveils a new exhibit on being raised in the borough.
"We want to show how growing up in Queens is unique from any other borough," said Marisa Berman, the society's executive director.
When asked how a Queens childhood is unique, though, she paused. Finally, she answered with a laugh, "We're going to find out."
Her hesitation stems in part from the society's ongoing efforts to obtain artifacts from residents who grew up in the borough.
The exhibit will carry items from the museum collection, but also depend on loaned and donated objects.
Defining a Queens childhood also is tricky because opinions vary about what - if anything - distinguishes being reared in Queens from elsewhere in the city.
Of course, the fondest memories of many Queens residents - like a favorite cartoon or playing with a Barbie or GI Joe - mirror those of Americans across the nation.
Within New York City, children of all boroughs experience the same rites of passage - that first field trip to the Bronx Zoo, or the first time their parents let them ride the subway alone.
But Berman identified memories that define a Queens youth more distinctly, such as roaming the World's Fair in 1939 or 1964, or rooting for the Mets.
Queens College graduate student Natalie Milbrodt, who has interviewed many longtime residents for a project to record their memories of Queens, said she was startled at the rate at which neighborhoods change.
That means the hangouts of one's youth - like bowling alleys, movie theaters, pizzerias and ice cream parlors - may not be around a generation later.
Indeed, residents often say they associate more with their neighborhood than their borough. In the Rockaways, for example, youngsters spend countless days on the beach.
"Every kid learned how to swim," said Catherine Gifford, 81, who grew up in Belle Harbor. "It was just a given."
Gifford, who now lives in Jamaica, has agreed to loan the society the white veil she wore for her First Communion at St. Francis de Sales Church in the mid-1930s. She also has pledged a century-old christening dress.
Gifford's treasures will join the mementos of others who grew up in Queens. Potential donors and lenders can call the society at (718) 939-0647, ext. 17.
The mix will also include society gems, such as a certificate awarded in 1874 to a student at Flushing Public School for "regular and punctual attendance and deportment and faithful study." Good deportment means good manners.
The artifacts combine to document the borough through the eyes of many boys and girls.
"I loved growing up in Queens," said Nilda Tirado, 67, who was raised in Woodside, Astoria and Flushing.
"Even though we didn't have very much, we were able to have a safe place to live. That was most important."