Woodhaven’s mobile museum delves into nabe’s rich history

Twenty large banners colorfully depict different moments in the neighborhood’s history.

Ed Wendell knows a lot about Woodhaven’s rich history, and he doesn’t want to keep it all to himself.

Wendell and members of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society have launched a pop-up museum they hope will help inspire the next generation of historians in Queens and beyond.

“I want them to grow up the same way I did, knowing the stories about the neighborhood so they are not forgotten,” said Wendell, 53, president of the group who works as an information technology director.

Wendell and his wife, Josephine, the group’s treasurer, recently unveiled 20 large banner stands that colorfully depict different moments in the neighborhood’s history: from the cyclone of 1895 to Dexter Park, where some of baseball’s all time greats played, to the priceless turn-of-the-century carousel in Forest Park, which was shuttered for years.

They moved ahead after piloting the project with a single banner at several community meetings.

“We noticed right away people were fascinated by it,” he said. “They were able to see pictures they hadn’t seen before in a shared experience with other people.”

Many Woodhaven residents have deep roots. Margie Schmidt, for example, is the third-generation owner of Schmidt’s Candy on Jamaica Avenue. The popular shop, known for its hand-dipped chocolates and other confections, is the subject of one of the movable museum’s banners.

“Every time I walk in the door, I am working in the same place where my father and grandfather made candy,” Schmidt said. “I use the same copper pot they did. People come here for years and then their children come. It’s something they pass down.”

Though Schmidt’s has endured, many other pieces of history have been lost over the years.

Wendell is still stunned that Dexter Park, which he said was home to the first lighted night baseball game in 1930, was replaced by houses. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Josh Gibson all played there.

“If I could go back in time, that would be my first stop, just to see it,” he said. “How did we lose that?”

The banners cost about $2,000 and were paid for by donations, City Council funds and a grant from Citizens Committee for New York City. Eventually, the group hopes to find a permanent site for a museum that would also contain historical items, documents and oral histories from residents.

Wendell said the group’s aim is to make history interesting and accessible to everyone – not just buffs.

“When you look back, it helps us put today’s events and topics in a very local context,” he said. “Back in the 1920s and 1930s the community fought against the widening of Woodhaven Boulevard. Now the fight has been against Select Bus Service.”

One of the banners is devoted to all of Woodhaven’s places and things that are over 100 years old — designed with children in mind. Wendell said the group hopes to engage school children through art projects and other hands-on activities.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Michelle Pascucci, executive director of the Parsons Preschool in Woodhaven, which plans to work on a history project focused on the carousel.

“This helps them realize they are a piece of something bigger,” she said. “ It’s also a way for families to work together. They can share their own experiences and make new memories.”

Lisa L. Colangelo