The following information came from the archives of Lynbrook American Legion Post 335, and old newspaper clippings, including the Nassau Daily Review and Nassau Daily Star newspapers. The period of the newspaper articles is from 1931 to 1936.
In this day and age when some want to take down statues from past generations and wars, Lynbrook has its own statue that has stood for 100 years. as of this past October. However, the statue did cause some controversy in the 1930s, with one newspaper saying it caused a “village civil war.”
That statue is the veteran’s Doughboy Monument (also called the Soldiers and Sailors monument in the 1920s), a statue of a World War I soldier which stands on a small plot of an island in Saperstein Plaza behind Lynbrook’s Long Island Rail Road station. It is the centerpiece of the village’s war monuments. On the four-sided pedestal below the statue are the names of 15 local soldiers killed in action in World War I.
The inscription on the back of the statue reads, “Erected by the citizens of Lynbrook and vicinity, dedicated on 12th day of October A.D. 1920.”
The Doughboy did not always stand in Saperstein Plaza, and one of its past locations caused the controversy that pitted Lynbrook’s American Legion members against village fathers, and especially against the Lynbrook Library board of trustees.
Back in the mid-1930s, Lynbrook’s American Legion Post 335 numbered 270 members, with championship county and state baseball teams, a boy’s club, and even a 30-piece band. It also sponsored an annual weeklong village carnival at Sunrise Highway and Atlantic Avenue and highlighted an annual contest “to decide the most popular policemen, fireman, letter carrier, boy and girl in Lynbrook.” The post also hosted musical plays, and its former building on Union Avenue was a center of community activities, including parties, meetings, and other village events.
The Doughboy statue, which reportedly cost $5,000, was commissioned by Lynbrook’s Militia Unit, Company B, 23rd Regiment of the New York National Guard. Philip Stauderman, former Lynbrook village president, and a captain in the Regiment, told the Nassau Daily Star in 1936 that the statue was built through public subscription and “turned over to the Village of Lynbrook after its dedication by Gen. John F. O’Brien, on Presidents Day.”
The inscription on the bottom of the Doughboy said the that the general’s last name is O’Ryan.
The statue with its pedestal of names of those killed in action was originally placed on the corner of Merrick Road and Blake Avenue where an Esso gas station stood and where a village fountain now stands.
Not long after it was erected, a car hit the pedestal and knocked the statue off, breaking it. The veterans rebuilt it for $2,200 and it was put back up.
Present writings beneath the pedestal of the statue say it was “destroyed by a motorist June 6, 1924 ,reconstructed by popular subscription of the people of Lynbrook under the direction of ex-members of the above Militia unit November 24, 1924.”
According to another undated news article, the statue had been knocked off its base a number of times and always repaired by the veterans.
It was after these repeated repairs that Lynbrook’s American Legion, which hosted annual Armistice Day (Nov. 11, later named Veteran’s Day) ceremonies in front of the Doughboy, standing out in Merrick Road with cars speeding by, asked the Village of Lynbrook to move the statue. From the undated articles, it appears this request first occurred around 1934 or ‘35.
The American Legion proposed that the Doughboy be moved to the property of the Lynbrook Library. Specifically, the corner of the property at Eldert Street and Carpenter Avenue.
The Library boardbimmediately rejected that proposal. The trustees didn’t want it on the property as it “would mar the architecture of the building.” One trustee on the village board, Charles Guden, was also against the use of the library property, and “argued that an apartment house might sometime be located on that corner plot.” Another article said Mrs. Lillian E. Raeburn, vice president of the board said, “the statue would clutter up the library lawn.”
The board put their refusal in a letter addressed to the mayor and village board. The letter said in part, “The library site would ruin what is now generally considered as one of the most beautiful libraries.” It went further to say, “It (statue) would tend to clutter up the lawn,” and, “We don’t want the library grounds to be used as a resting place for everything that can’t be placed elsewhere.”
The American Legion responded and voted a “resolution censuring the library board for their attitude.”
“The resolution was not made public but it was made known that it criticized the library officials in no uncertain terms,” the papers read.
Lynbrook Mayor Harold G. Wilson then got involved and “appointed a committee to find a site, submitting at the same time a plan for a park on Sunrise Highway and Earle Avenue.”
The Legion immediately rejected that location due to the traffic on Sunrise Highway. It was the same reason they wanted the Doughboy moved from Merrick Road. One newspaper said, “The Legionnaires raised objection to this site on the grounds that traffic condition would threaten any gatherings.”
Even with the American Legion’s rejection of Sunrise Highway, the village went ahead and drew up plans for a statue site at that location. The plans were presented to the mayor’s committee, which included members from all the veteran’s organizations. The American Legion said no, again, to that location.
“Mayor Harold G. Wilson said that, in respect to the Legion’s action, the village board had nothing to say as it had appointed a committee to consider the question of a site for the memorial monument and that the board was awaiting its recommendation before doing anything definite.”
In an editorial, dated April 18, 1935, titled, “Who is the Boss?” the unknown newspaper stated, “This matter should not rest with the refusal of the library trustees, but should be threshed out and the village board know where they stand.”
“it was just a case of the veteran becoming another forgotten man,” said former Village Trustee James Schofield.
Another newspaper editorial called the controversy, a “village civil war.”
As even more articles appeared in the newspapers about the controversy, the East Rockaway American Legion post even got involved.
One article said, “East Rockaway Post, American Legion, going on record condemning the action of the library board in refusing to accept the monument. Interest of the East Rockaway post was inspired by the fact the names of eight East Rockaway men are inscribed on the monument.”
Finally, in an article in the Nassau Daily Star on Feb.n11, 1936, the headline read, “Board Surrenders; Doughboy Seizes Lynbrook Library.” Even though the library board was against the proposal, the village board adopted “a resolution authorizing the moving of the ‘Doughboy’ monument from Merrick Road and Blake Avenue to the Lynbrook Public Library grounds.”
“The action was taken following the receipt of a report from the monument committee,” which had unanimously recommended the library site. The American Legion, joined by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Spanish War veterans, voted for the library location. The other members also agreed.
The Doughboy was moved to the library site shortly after Armistice Day, Nov.11, 1936, but the writer has been unable to establish the date it was eventually moved from the library to its present location at Saperstein Plaza.
Lynbrook’s Doughboy statue has been honored by the United States World War One Centennial Commission and was chosen to receive a $2,000 grant from the “100 Cities/100 Memorials” committee, which helps restore and preserve World War I memorials.
“The Doughboy Monument is truly one of the iconic symbols of Lynbrook and it provides the perfect setting bringing the community and veterans together to commemorate all those who served in our countries armed forces and in particular those who never made it home,” said Bill Marinaccio, commander of Lynbrook American Legion Post 335.
Grogan is a veteran and member of American Legion Post 335, and a former Lynbrook Village Trustee.