Friday, March 19, 2010

Effects of Last Week's Storm and the Legend of the West End Flag Pole

Over the years, Long Island has certainly endured its share of damaging storms. The Long Island Express in 1938 and Hurricane Gloria in 1985 are just two that come to mind. Before that, on August 18, 1897, as reported in the Brooklyn Eagle, a tornado touched down in the West Hempstead vicinity, brushing by and causing much damage to the old Woodfield Road school building before continuing over the Hempstead Reservoir, where it generated a fifty foot high column of water.

The storm that visited our area last week doesn't quite compare to the devastation wrought by those events, but it certainly took us all by surprise to discover how much damage was actually done. A long period of heavy rains, followed by sustained gale force winds had the effect of toppling many trees whose roots were softened up by the soaked ground. Cars were crushed, power was lost, and the storm generally wreaked much havoc upon our neck of the woods.

One of the casualties of last week's storm was a beautiful eastern hemlock tree located on the traffic island at the corner of Fulton & Front Sts, which can be seen on the left side in the photo below, featured in a previous post.

Sadly, the tree is no longer there.
Judging from the number of rings, the tree was just over 50 years old -

I hope the Town (or Village?) of Hempstead will do the right thing and replant something there soon.

On a related note, there is an interesting story relating to the presence of the flag pole that rises over the traffic island. The pole was placed there in 1929 and was originally made from one of the legendary white cedars of Long Island that grew around the swamps and marshes of the south shore. (It has since been replaced by a metal pole). The LI white cedar was prized for its exceptional strength and sturdiness and was the wood of choice for shipbuilders to make masts for sailing ships of the 18th and 19th centuries. A plaque was placed at the base of this pole claiming that it was once the mast of a former America's Cup defender.

In the July 1960 edition of the Long Island Forum historical journal, a reader named Fred Ingraham revealed a dirty little secret about that claim. Ingraham grew up on an estate at the eastern end of Hempstead Village and, as a child, helped his father fell a cedar to make a flag pole as an expression of their patriotism during the Spanish American War. The pole and the flag stood proudly at the Ingraham estate until Fred's father died and the homestead went vacant. In 1929, Fred and his brother were convinced by Hempstead Village trustee Eugene Geer to donate the pole to the Village. Geer then faked the whole Americas Cup story in order to sensationalize the acquisition, pledging the Ingrahams to never tell otherwise, a secret that Fred Ingraham kept for the next 30+ years.

I'm not sure when the current metal pole replaced the old cedar pole, but now it is all that remains as a token remembrance of this legend, and, as Paul Harvey used to say - now you know...the rest of the story.

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