QUEENS — The main road in Forest Park will be co-named “Forest Park Memorial Drive” this weekend in honor of local soldiers, primarily from Woodhaven, who died during the First World War.
The ceremony this Saturday will be the culmination of several years of research conducted by a group of local historians who discovered that in 1919, residents looking for ways to commemorate late soldiers from the area planted dozens of pin oaks in Forest Park and marked the trees with little plaques with their names.
“Our neighborhood had been hit very hard,” said Ed Wendell, executive director of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society. “So when the war was over, thoughts turned to how we can honor this loss.”
Locals also collected money for a granite monument placed in the park in 1921, near the original location of American Legion Post 118 on Woodhaven Boulevard, according to Wendell.
The historians first found out about the so-called Memorial Trees while looking through old newspaper clips about two years ago, which indicated they were planted near the park’s golf clubhouse.
They were later able to locate them thanks to aerial images of New York City from 1924, Wendell said.
Initially 53 Memorial Trees were planted in the park, with several more added later.
Today, more than 30 of the trees are still there, although the plaques with soldiers’ names are long gone, Wendell said.
The group also discovered that the monument containing 70 names was moved in 1941, when the city decided to widen Woodhaven Boulevard, and placed in front of the current location of the legion, on 91st Street and 89th Avenue.
“The monument was there right under our nose the whole time,” said Wendell.
He also said that decades ago, the Memorial Trees served as an important element of local Memorial Day observances.
“All the Memorial Day parades used to end there in Forest Park,” said Wendell, who since discovering their long-forgotten history has been decorating the trees with red, white and blue bows and American flags for Memorial Day.
Last year, the group approached local Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley who agreed to sponsor the street co-naming, which will take place shortly before this year's Memorial Day, and only several weeks after the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entering World War I.
“Forest Park Memorial Drive will serve as a reminder of not only WW I veterans, but all of our veterans who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom,” said Crowley in a statement.
“Now future generations will remember those who serve our great country," she added.
The co-naming ceremony will take place Saturday, May 20, at noon at 1 Forest Park Drive (Oak Ridge).