Finding Fannie Holland

I’ve received the good news that Images of America: Rockaway Beach will be published on June 4, 2012.  I’m planning two upcoming slide show events in Belle Harbor to preview some photos from the book, one which will feature coffee and pastry on a Sunday afternoon at Ciro’s Bakery, and another tidbit party on a Tuesday evening at Rockaway Seafood (RSC) Restaurant.  Both establishments are located on Beach 129 Street.  If you’d like to learn more about the publisher, visit: www.arcadiapublishing.com.

My book tells the stories of several Rockaway families, including Dr. William Werner, star physician, lifeguard and basketball player, who practiced obstetrics at the Rockaway Beach Hospital and Dispensary.  William Auer’s Seaside tent colonies, bungalows, and amusements are also featured.  The many business and civic ventures of John Jamieson, devoted lay leader of First Congregational Church, are also highlighted in sepia.  A peep into the history of Rockaway Beach surfing is included, and the St. Camillus Marching Band was a late but prominent addition, after I received several fascinating vintage photos of the unit.

I’ve been wondering what it would have been like to live in America during the pre-bureaucratic era, when holiday parades were the pop culture equivalent of The Super Bowl, all firefighters were volunteers, and the largest employer in the United States was NOT the U.S. Postal Service. In those days, when you received a package, the postmaster  printed your name in the newspaper as notice to come in and pick it up.  Now THAT gave you a reason to buy the paper!

Over the past three years of research, however, one subject eluded me–Fannie Holland.   I looked high and low for anything, but the determined widow who made sure Rockaway Beach became a civilized place, remained a tantalizing mystery.  Once, I thought I had found an image of her online, but the young lady in the straw boater and ruffled shirt turned out to be her granddaughter, Fannie Rilla Holland Bamman, who lived a colorful life at Beach 130 and Beach Channel Drive, until her death in 1961.

I may not have found a photo of the woman I call the “Mother of Rockaway Beach,” but I did find some other interesting items.

A tour guide to 1880’s Rockaway Beach described the Holland Hotel, with 25 rooms for rent, as “strictly a family hotel, of the quietest, neatest, most comfortable character…Mrs. Holland, the matronly owner, manages everything personally, and every guest receives particular attention and good care.”  Too bad hoteliers like Fannie are in short supply today.  Instead, we have the infamous Jay Deutchman of Scarsdale and his ilk.

No, I never found a photo of the Holland family matriarch.  I ended up finding something better.  I actually found Fannie.  That is, I found the site of her remains.

I had parked my car in a York College lot one day last April, and walked off in the direction of the Jamaica branch of the Queens Borough Public Library.  I had been digging through their historical collection, trying to locate a photograph of Fannie Holland, her obituary, or even a single news article.   I had come up empty, time after time.   I don’t know why, but as I left the parking lot, I paused to look through a nearby fence at what seemed to be a disheveled clump of weeds.

What I saw took my breath away.  My search for Fannie Holland was at an end.  There, surrounded by chain link fence, festooned with weeds and vines, and littered with a discarded office chair and items of filthy clothing, were the headstones of Fannie and Michael Holland, and several of their children.  This serendipitous discovery stopped me in my tracks.

The Methodist Cemetery at Jamaica, Copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter

What was most shocking was my later discovery that the graveyard had truly been abandoned.  Someone had apparently locked it and discarded the key!  Nobody in the buildings and grounds department at York College had the slightest clue about the cemetery; the First Methodist Church of Jamaica, which had moved to Hillside Avenue at the turn of the century, absolutely denied having any connection to the plots.

Thanks to Quaker Josephine C. Frost, who transcribed each of the tombstones in August 1911, we can confirm the names of all 91 who are buried there.  Yet, none of the appropriate state, city, or nonprofit agencies appears to have any clue about the plot at Liberty Avenue and Guy R. Brewer Boulevard. This amazes me, since burial places are still considered important to people of most cultures and religious traditions.

My find on that cold spring day evolved into a dedicated pursuit of remembrance.  I began networking with Cate Ludlam, who had spearheaded restoration of nearby Prospect Cemetery.  Each time I went to the library, I would stop at the Holland gravesite for a few moments.  Now that my book is done, I’d like to be sure that the remains of the Holland family are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Key settlers of Rockaway Beach, they saw to it that the new village had a school, a church, a post office, a grocery store, and a nice family hotel.  Too bad that the guys who wielded power in twentieth century New York City messed it all up, in short order.

Fannie Holland’s contributions may have been overlooked by prior generations simply because she was a woman.  We should not do the same. Perhaps by the time the crocuses end their winter hibernation, something can be accomplished.  A group of church members, school children, and Scouts wielding rakes and trash bags would be a good start.  How about the first nice weekend in March?   Please send an email to VCARTER@nyc.rr.com, if you would like to help in this endeavor.

Photo of Fannie Holland Bamman, Courtesy of Marie Velardi.  Text and header photo of Prospect Cemetery’s Chapel of the Sisters, Copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter.

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About rockviv

You've entered the cyber-locale of Vivian Rattay Carter, a writer, teacher, advertising representative, and licensed sightseeing guide. I've lived and worked in the New York metro area since 1979, in diverse places like Astoria and Rockaway Beach (Queens), Kensington and Windsor Terrace (Brooklyn), Grand Street and Tribeca (Manhattan), and Norwood, Riverdale and Woodlawn (The Bronx). I treasure the amazing parks, civic architecture, and cultural institutions of our city, and love the inspiring stories of the outer borough pioneers. What an interesting apple this is!
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Religion and Philanthropy, The Arts and Entertainment, The Land We Share, The World of Human Beings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Finding Fannie Holland

  1. Desman says:

    Hello, My name is Desmond and have been a Rockaway Afficanado for many years. This past Tuesday my friend and I were lookng for Mrs. Holland’s gravesite and came up empty. Just curious but was the entrance to the site closed recently, and do you know the exact location or there about. Thank you in advance for your help,

    • rockviv says:

      Desman,
      Thanks for your interest in my blog and the cemetery. Since I posted this blog entry, I have confirmed that the site is owned by the First Methodist Church, and one of my fellow Wave columnists actually had written a story for the York College newspaper about the last cleanup in February, 1997. Another odd coincidence! I will forward the article or the link to you, and yes, the cemetery is across from the York College Athletic building, directly to the left of the parking kiosk on Guy R. Brewer, south of Liberty Ave.

  2. David H. says:

    Hi – I am very happy I stumbled on your post. My great-great grandparents are buried in the First Methodist Church Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens also. They are John and Maria Ploss, and are on both transcription lists of the cemetery made in 1911 and 1914, along with the Hollands. I went to the cemetery Feb 2013 and walked around inside but could not find the Ploss gravestone, many stones are weather-worn and unreadable or broken by fallen trees. I took a picture through the fence of some stones with a cement fence post leaning against a large Holland gravestone. That night, while searching for First Methodist Church Cemetery info, I found your picture of the same headstones! Your serendipitous finding became serendipity for me, too, because until I saw the picture you took, I was unsure if I had found the correct cemetery. I was going to look at the Prospect Cemetery for the Plosses since it is being restored. But now my search has ended. Although it would be nice if there was a restoration of the First Methodist Church Cemetery in the works.

    • rockviv says:

      Thanks for sharing these great details, David! Let’s stay in touch about spearheading a cleanup during the spring or summer. I am also in touch with Fannie Holland’s great-great granddaughter in New Hampshire.

  3. Thank you so much for all the information you provide. I just recently found out about having such a large family. Tonight I posted on facebook and so many people have kindly guided me so much information regarding my family history. I don’t know how Fannie is related to me but I can’t wait to figure it out. I only know of my father (Richard), his brother (deceased, Robert), their father (deceased, Walter) and their mother (deceased, Frederica). I am so excited. I feel like I have a family now

    • rockviv says:

      Kelly,
      Great to hear from you. Your grandfather, Walter E. Holland, was a great-grandson of Fannie Brush Holland. So, that would make you her great-great-great granddaughter. If you go on Ancestry.com, there’s a partial Holland family tree gathered by a cousin related through your grandfather’s younger sister, Fannie Rilla Holland Warner. You sure do have a big family, and a very prominent one in the history of Queens County. I will send you a private email to put you in contact with your cousin, and I am looking forward to finding more Holland family members to support our efforts to restore the cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, where Michael and Fannie are buried.
      Rock Viv

  4. Alice Nowak says:

    I’m so glad to find your article and I hope to try to “find Fannie” too. I am researching the Holland family in Jamaica, Queens and believe they are related to the Rockaway Holland family. My ancestor is Susan Holland born 1816 daughter of Richard and Elenore Holland.

    • rockviv says:

      Hello, Alice,
      Thanks for reaching out through my website. Your comment is correct that there is a direct connection between the Holland family of Rockaway Beach and their ancestors who lived in Jamaica, Queens. I am continually fascinated by Fannie Brush Holland (sometimes spelled ‘Fanny,’ as in her 1842 wedding notice in the Long Island Farmer). Before she and her husband, Michael P. Holland, helped found the community of Rockaway Beach, they resided on Flushing Avenue in Jamaica, where Michael owned a wholesale and retail liquor store, and was very active in politics. He died soon after they moved to Rockaway Beach, in January 1859. Fannie and Michael had a daughter named ‘Susan’ born in about 1845, but oddly, given their large brood of children, they did not use the name ‘Richard.’ Someone once told me there were two branches of the Holland family. I know that there was a Richard Holland involved with the Dutch Reformed Church of Jamaica, but Michael and Fannie belonged to Grace Episcopal Church of Jamaica. Even more oddly, Michael, Fannie and their children are buried at the Methodist Cemetery at Jamaica. An intriguing group! Stay in touch as your research proceeds (I will send you my email address privately, and will put you in touch with two other Brush/Holland ancestors, if you’d like).

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