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QueensLine: Flushing elected fought for prayer in public school in ‘46

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It was October 1946 and at the Loews Triboro, on stage in person, was Ed Sullivan, the famous Broadway columnist, with the Harvest Moon Dance Winners and extra added attraction Johnny Burke, “left over from the draft of 1917,” along with other big acts. Two big shows went on at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Over at RKO Keith’s in Flushing, one could see Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson in “Two Guys from Milwaukee.” Between shows, patrons sang with Bernie, who played the theater organ daily. The theater billed itself as “Long Island’s finest, most beautiful theater.”

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“Help wanted” ads at the time were strictly segregated by gender. Schrafft’s Restaurant ran ads for “women or girls” with no experience necessary for full time work — at 44 hours a week. Positions needed were waitresses, cooks, bakers, sales girls and hostesses. As an incentive, meals and uniforms were furnished and vacations paid.

The Loft Candy Factory, at 40th Avenue and 9th Street in Long Island City, advertised for girls or young women with no experience to start at $22 to $24 a week. Pay increased to $38 for more experienced packers and $42 for box makers. Again, paid vacations and uniforms were furnished. Lunch boasted pleasant cafeteria muzak.

The Long Island Employment Bureau advertised everything from $35 for a typist in Flushing to $40 for a dictaphone operator to $45 for a stenographer in Manhattan.

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The Boys of Summer played into the fall. Remember these local teams? The Ridgewood Farmers faced the Glendale Tigers at Arctic Oval in Brooklyn, Cedar Manor played the Kingswood Corsairs at Kingswood Oval, the Richmond Hill Robins challenged the McVay All-Stars at McVay Field in Jackson Heights and The Major League All-Stars battled the Bushwicks at Dexter Park in Woodhaven.

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The decision by the Board of Education to ban the Lord’s Prayer in Flushing High School unleashed a firestorm of protest by elected officials and church groups around the borough.

Said then-state Assemblyman William Bowe, “As a boy, I remember that at all assemblies the prayer was read and it was very inspiring. Everywhere parents complain that children neglect respect for the Almighty. Here we have an incident where authorities order the exclusion of a sacred prayer. What was good enough to the Founding Fathers should do equally as well for the present educators!”

Although he vowed to introduce a bill to bring back school prayers in the Assembly, this issue would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Michael Lyons, 72, of Woodhaven, celebrated 50 years of police work. Born in County Wexford, Ireland, he came to the United States at 7 weeks old. As a young man, he worked at various jobs until meeting then-Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, who personally invited him onto the force in 1896.

In an interview with a Star-Journal reporter, he reminisced, “I’ve served over 39 years as a cop in all ranks from patrolman to deputy chief inspector and I never had to draw my gun. The worst I had to contend with was the occasional drunkard. The East Side then consisted of a bunch of tough, fighting Irishman who meant no harm but would get drunk on pay nights and use up their energy in fistfights. The necessity arose from time to time to use my nightstick, but never the gun.”

He described nights when “the boys” would scramble to a roof, tear down a chimney and throw bricks at the police. But things changed after World War I and Prohibition. Today, he sighed, a cop comes up against a bunch of gun-toting, trigger-happy kids.

Inspector Lyons cautioned, “The policeman must now have his gun at hand and be ready to reach for it any minute. I don’t envy them but I wish them all the luck in the world.”

He finished with a sparkle in his eye: “They tell me the first 50 years are the toughest and if you survive them, you’re good for another 50!”

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

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