Historically, music has played a significant role in Forest Hills Gardens celebrations, so attendees can expect to rejoice to the sounds of John Philip Sousa, a late American composer, who is noted for his patriotic and military marches.
Stepping back in time, Forest Hills Gardens witnessed the light of very elaborate 4th of July commemorations on the actual date. The teens are nearly a century ago, so let’s place our modern minds into the shoes our ancestors walked, and stand in the footsteps of triumph in our country’s earliest planned garden community. Station Square, Village Green, and Olivia Park were classic sites of rich tradition, and exist in a pristine state to this very day.
July 4, 1914 marked the Gardens’ first annual Independence Day celebration. Since the population of the community was minimal, and Forest Hills at large was a small town, the first celebration was noted for its camaraderie.
Greenway Terrace became an al fresco dancing pavilion, which signified the first step of solidarity. A highlight of the second celebration in 1915 was the Pageant of Colonial Times in Station Square, the dedication of the Piping Pan bird fountain (cherub blowing a flute) in Olivia Park with Baroness von Rottenthall’s interpretative dancing, and the Fourth of July Committee’s acquisition of a silver cup for annual tennis matches, which began that year.
The Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin defined the success of teamwork through organizations and residents in 1916, which read, “The Fourth of July Celebration at the Gardens is primarily, yes wholly, a community affair. It is the people’s day – a memorial of the first great test of unity in this country, and it is interpreted here in the Gardens as an expression of organized community effort.”
That same year, attendees participated in the dedication of a 108-foot flagpole on Village Green, with an inscribed bronze collar at the base. The official flag of the Forest Hills Gardens was first to be raised on the 4th of July.
An allegory called The Happy Stranger was presented in the natural amphitheater-style Olivia Park. The Red Cross Society generated proceeds by selling ice cream, Cracker Jacks, lemonade, peanuts, popcorn, and lollipops under the Square’s archways.
In great anticipation, Gardens residents decorated their homes, and the Committee on Decorations and Illuminations applied their touch to Station Square and Village Green. The iconic Forest Hills Inn offered special menus and decorations. The Inn’s Tea Garden was boasted as a particular attraction, since children of the entire community were treated as guests to a party of their own.
One of Forest Hills’ most notable 4th of July moments took place atop the steps of Station Square’s Long Island Railroad Station in 1917, where onlookers heard Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s One-Hundred Percent American Speech. He pleaded for allegiance to the America of Washington and Lincoln, and thousands cheered in response.
A miniature Greek temple was erected in Olivia Park, which functioned as a stage setting for attendees witnessing the light of Ralph Renaud’s The Masque of Liberty.
A 1918 highlight was U.S. Senator Calder’s speech in Station Square. That year had a more sacred feel, since wounded soldiers and sailors of WWI were honored over dinner at the Church-In-The-Gardens. Students of Louis Chalif’s famed dance school performed in Olivia Park.
The success of the U.S. and her allies played a pivotal role in the 1919 commemoration. An excerpt from the Forest Hills Gardens Bulletin captured the spirit.
“Nothing was more impressive than the raising of the Flag by a member of the old Rifle Corps while the people assembled sang the Star-Spangled Banner, and nothing was more skillfully done than the reading of the Independence Day Proclamation of the Citizens by the Town Crier, Harvey Warren, in old New England costume. Captain Horace F. Pomeroy, chairman of the celebration committee, spoke of the history of the old Rifle Club – the first military organization of Forest Hills – and then introduced the Rev. Rowland S. Nichols, Chaplain of the Rifle Club who spoke briefly and offered prayer.”
The Forest Hills Rifle Club was the first case of loyalty locally, and its revival for the celebration was integral.
Beginning at 9:30 a.m., Village Green hosted flag-raising exercises, the Community Chorus sang patriotic airs, and the Rifle Club reunion took place. Station Square hosted political addresses at 11 a.m. Tennis matches took place at the Forest Hills Inn Courts at 12:30 p.m., which featured the Inns vs. the Outs. The Inns lived in the Forest Hills Inn, and the Outs lived throughout the Forest Hills Gardens.
At 1 p.m., attendees enjoyed children’s games, as well as the French Doll Dance, where female dancers were assisted by the Boy Scouts. Games included yard dashes for children, grand tilting matches for parents, a kiddie car race, a paper fight, a sack race, a baby carriage race for fathers, a pillow fight, an optic contest for adults, a half-mile relay, and dressing and obstacle races.
At 4:30 p.m., The Golden Day allegory by Ralph Renaud took stage at Olivia Park, where locals and talented students of the Chalif Normal School of Dancing performed in a sylvan setting. The play featured the harmonious Butterfly Dance, The Dances of The Summer Nocturne, and The Song of The Birds. The setting was complemented by an orchestra of strings and a vocal interlude.
At 7:30 p.m., under incandescent lights and electric streamers with flags and pennants, nearly 3,000 attendees would enjoy the 9th Coast Artillery Band Concert in Station Square, followed by the flamboyant Costume Dance at 8:30 p.m. Popular costumes were the Pierrot, Pierrette and Yama Yama.
Artists designed highly stylized 4th of July posters annually. Herman Rountree’s 1916 poster depicted a clown and a mule with astonished children in period clothing in the backdrop. It read, “Yes Mule – It’s The Greatest Show on Earth.”
B. Hooper’s “Coming July 4th” poster from 1916 depicted a clown-like child rejoicing on a circus elephant bearing a humanly expression of wisdom and holding high a 4th of July flag.
Rountree’s 1917 poster depicted the Forest Hills Inn and Station Square as the backdrop of Village Green, where bystanders witnessed the raising of the flag. That same year, another one of Rountree’s posters captured the masquerade feel of Station Square with the train station in the backdrop. On various levels of creativity, beauty was indeed in the detail!
A typical celebration called for glorious expression, as in the case of Gertrude Knevels’ Station Square – A Fourth Of July Impression, which read:
Old Glory from the Tower looks down.
To bless the folly of the town,
Lights, laughter, color everywhere –
Wise folks like happy children there,
At play in Station Square.
Far over all the clear night sky
Spreads tender hands – What hurries by? –
It is the train that grumbling goes,
Bearing the world and all its woes
Away from Station Square!