Walt Whitman in Queens
"Did You Know I Was Your Neighbor?"
An Exhibit Presented by Queens College
December 1, 2005 - January 2, 2006
*** extended through January 12, 2006 ***
Flushing Library of the Queens Borough Public Library
Downstairs, outside the Auditorium
Click on any image on this page for a larger image. [Photos on this page by S. Lefkoe and E. Rondot]
The following words by the great American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) are very appropriate today to Queens College, to the Borough of Queens and to all of New York:
from I Hear America Singing
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear...
from The Preface to Leaves of Grass
...The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem... Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations...
from Democratic Vistas
...And, topping democracy, this most alluring record, that it alone can bind, and ever seeks to bind, all nations, all men, of however various and distant lands, into a brotherhood, a family. It is the old, yet ever-modern dream of earth, out of her eldest and her youngest, her fond philosophers and poets...
Those who know any local history related to Walt Whitman usually think only of his Manhattan, Brooklyn and Huntington, L.I. connections. Some also think of Camden, NJ.
A young Walt Whitman lived, taught, politicized and worked on newspapers here in Queens as well! The neighborhoods include Flushing, Jamaica, Little Bay Side and Whitestone. Many of Whitman's connections to the Borough of Queens in the late 1830s and early 1840s are highlighted in this exhibit presented by Queens College.
One of our exciting local "finds" is a copy of the page of the US Census for 1840 that documents that Walt Whitman lived in Jamaica as of the census date - June 1, 1840. His entry is just under the entry for his employer / landlord James J. Brenton. "Walter Whitman" is identified as a free white male, single, age 20 to under 30, employed in the learned professions / engineer.
Among Queens College's own connections to Walt Whitman are the following:
- Professor Emory Holloway came to Queens College as one of the original faculty in 1937, having already won a 1927 Pulitzer Prize for his work on Walt Whitman. He became Chair of Queens College's English Department. Holloway continued to publish books on Whitman, and was instrumental in many high-profile local commemorations of Whitman's works, including: 1) the naming by Queens College of Walt Whitman Hall, 2) the commissioning and placement of a statue of Whitman at the nearby 1939-40 Worlds Fair, and 3) the formal designation of the Walt Whitman Birthplace as a NYS Historic Site. Professor Holloway died in 1977 at age 92.
- Queens College renamed its "A' Building (also known at the time as The English Building) Walt Whitman Hall in 1939.
- One of the local schools where Walt Whitman taught was Jamaica Academy. Based on his research, Jeff Gottlieb (QC alum; President of the Central Queens Historical Association) believes that the site of that school is now part of the Queens College campus.
- Queens College's Professor Emeritus Stephen Stepanchev, first Poet Laureate of the Borough of Queens (1997-2000), has written "Whitmanesque" poetry about the College and Whitman's spirit here, and about the tearing down of Walt Whitman Hall.
We hope you enjoy our exhibit and celebrate with us the 150th anniversary of the publication of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
Following are the major categories illustrated in the exhibit:
- Walt Whitman in Queens (approximately 1839-1841)
- Images of Walt Whitman
- Leaves of Grass
- Maps of Queens (Mid-19th century, early 20th century, and current)
- Around the Same Time... (early 1840s and following)
- Selected Whitman Commemorative Events in Queens (1939 to present)
- Poetry is Alive and Well in Queens Today
[Expanded outline of the exhibit]
Contributors: Nancy Bareis, Steve Barto, Joe Brostek, Jeff Castellan, Regina DeRise, Ben Eichler, Jeff Gottlieb, Syd Lefkoe, Ellen Rondot, Bob Weller, Nancy Williams
Bette S. Weidman, Program Director of the American Studies Program, made the critical connections responsible for the scope of the July 14, 2005 exhibit on campus. It was then developed into the larger December 2005 exhibit at the Flushing Library.
The Flushing Library exhibition was arranged through the efforts of Queens College alums Joe Brostek (Events Office) and Tom Galante (Director, Queens Public Library System).
We also gratefully acknowledge:
- the cooperation of faculty and staff from the following Queens College offices and departments: Financial Aid Services, Rosenthal Library, Rosenthal Library / Archives, Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Friends of the Queens College Library, Design Services, Reprographics, Photo Services, the American Studies Program, the English Department, Office of Converging Technologies, and of course the Office of Special Events and Alumni Affairs;
- assistance from: the Municipal Archives, the Long Island Division of the Queens Borough Public Library, the Queens Historical Society, the Central Queens Historical Association, the New York Public Library - Maps Division, and the New York Historical Society.
Special thanks to our new friends in the Flushing Library of the Queens Borough Public Library who made this exhibit easy and enjoyable for us to arrange and accomplish.
This exhibit began as a much smaller exhibit that was part of the Walt Whitman Garden Dedication / Reception at Queens College, July 14, 2005
, as Queens College commemorated the 150th anniversary of the publication by Walt Whitman of Leaves of Grass.
This new exhibit includes photos and other publicity about that event.
More on that event on
the CUNY Web Site
Selected Walt Whitman Resources