History Hidden in Plain Sight

The story of how a fledgling historical society got its famous emblem


Although the Valley Stream Historical Society was founded in June 1972, an emblem for the organization wasn’t realized until three years later. In 1975, the society, still in its infancy, held a contest: “Historians Pick an Emblem Winner,” stated the June 12, 1975, issue of the Maileader. “At the executive board meeting of June 3, the design submitted by Central High School student Barbara Carlson of Orchard Place was selected to be used by the Society.” Barbara was 17.

Forty-two years have passed since the emblem was designed — it was time to catch up with Carlson, a graduate of Queens College, who also studied Library Science at St. John’s University. Barbara works at the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, as the head of Materials Management and Automated Services. “Fausto Cimador was my art teacher, and he encouraged me to enter the contest. I came up with the Gateway to Long Island idea after looking at a map. Bert Keller (1915-2004), the assistant principal at Central High School, was the one to inform me that I had won fifty dollars for my design. I was thrilled!” Cimador (1930-2016), was recently mentioned in a Facebook post that was unrelated to this story. “A true gentleman and a great teacher … amazing … the reason for my love of art and painting.” An educator that made a difference; someone who also made an indirect, but lasting contribution to the historical society.

Some folks define “The Island,” as it is colloquially referred to, as encompassing only Nassau and Suffolk counties – which are generally suburban in character. Technically, however, Long Island is a geographic land mass that is comprised of Kings, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. And that is why Valley Stream cannot exclusively claim the “Gateway to Long Island,” catchphrase as theirs alone. The earliest known usage of “Gateway to Long Island” dates back to 1875, when the “Newtown Register” described the construction of rail transportation in Long Island City in their July 15 issue: “The project of securing the means of rapid transit should be kept steadily in view. Let the prize be secured by LIC, which to all intents whatsoever, is the natural Gateway to Long Island.” And from the April 9, 1928, “New York Times,” an ad for the new Williamsburg Savings Bank: “The Hub of Brooklyn – the Gateway to Long Island.” Additionally, our Nassau County neighbors to the north, communities that also border Queens, have also been known to use this popular slogan.

Carlson used three elements in her emblem design: an illustration of Long Island, a gate, and the sun’s rays. The symbolism of the island and the gate are easily understood. But, the sun, we weren’t sure of its meaning, so we asked Barbara. “Oh, the sun is for sunshine. I loved going to the beach back then.”