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Queens Public Library hosts conversation with Astoria author on borough history

Mar. 24, 2023 By Bill Parry

Borough history geeks will want to mark Tuesday, April 4, on their calendars for the Queens Public Library’s Queens Memory Project online talk with Astoria author Rebecca Bratspies. The processor at CUNY Law in Long Island City will discuss her new book, “Naming Gotham: The Villains, Rogues and Heroes Behind New York’s Place Names,” and take a deep dive into the lives of the people for whom many Queens places are named, some of which have become synonymous with congestion, recreation or culture.

“Queens is the most diverse place on the planet. That diversity is our greatest strength. Our patchwork of unique neighborhoods has welcomed successive waves of immigrants, each adding incredible foods and traditions to our vibrant civic life,” Bratspies said. “Yet it is striking how few of the names that grace Queens’ major infrastructure actually reflect that diversity. By tracing the lives of the people whose names have become New York’s urban shorthand for congestion, recreation, and infrastructure, Naming Gotham offers readers an accessible way to understand the complexity of multiracial, multicultural New York City.”

She’ll talk about the people for whom Shea Stadium and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center were named and answer questions such as: What do we know about entrepreneur John Clews Jackson whom Jackson Heights was named after? What is the Rikers family’s connection to slavery? And while her book covers locations of interest across the city, she has a soft spot for her home borough.

“I am a long-time Astoria resident, so naturally Queens is well-represented in the book,” she said. “From the Pulaski Bridge to the Van Wyck Expressway to Shea Stadium (RIP), Naming Gotham introduces readers to the very human stories behind some of Queens’ most famous names.”

This author’s talk is presented as part of the Queens Name Explorer project, which seeks to document the biographical details of individuals whose names grace schools, parks, buildings, streets, and statues in Queens, including public servants, historic figures, and other people who contributed to their communities.

“This program is part of a series of talks organized to raise public awareness about an exciting new resource we’ve developed called the Queens Name Explorer, an interactive map of places in Queens named in honor of individual people,” Queens Memory Director Natalie Milbrodt said. “The map features nearly 1000 streets, parks, schools, and other public places named after local and national leaders across many areas of public life from elected officials to artists and musicians. So many of these places are named after people who are of vital importance to their local communities, but who are at risk of being forgotten by future generations.”

The conversation with Bratspies will be streamed live on the Queens Memory Facebook page from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.

“By tracing the lives of the people whose names have become New York’s urban shorthand for congestion, recreation, and infrastructure, Naming Gotham offers readers an accessible way to understand the complexity of multiracial, multicultural New York City,” Bratspies said. “I am very excited to be collaborating with the Queens Memory Project. I love that Queens Public Library is helping fill the gaps in public knowledge about our borough’s incredible diversity. The names we give things tell us a lot about who we think we are.”

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