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Queens Museum
Photograph: Melissa SinclairQueens Museum

10 things you didn't know about Queens

Written by
Tolly Wright

New Yorkers like to pride themselves on knowing it all: The fastest way to get cross town, the rush policies of every Broadway show, the meaning behind those weird, giant digital numbers in Union Square. But just because you already have all the Manhattan trivia down pat, it doesn't mean you know a thing about the bustling borough's big, friendly, deceptively cool counterpart across the East River. So the next time you're cheering on the Mets at Citi Field, frolicking in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park or chowing down on Queens’ best eats, unleash some hometown knowledge with these 10 lesser-known facts.

RECOMMENDED: Full Queens, NY, borough guide

1. Queens is named after an actual queen

Like many places in Colonial America, Queens is named after a lady monarch. While Maryland and Virginia are easy to connect to their namesakes (Queen Mary and the Virgin Queen, Queen Elizabeth I), non-English history scholars likely don't know much about this borough's honored woman, Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II. Catherine was born in Portugal, but she was married to Charles back when the British colony in New York was established.

2. The borough's most spooky cemetery is also the final resting place of a famed magician

Though the Machpaleh might seem like nothing more than a dilapidated, long forgotten graveyard, one gravesite is immaculately maintained and a mecca each year for Halloween revelers and aspiring magicians: the grave of Harry Houdini. Buried here after his death in 1926 and with a memorial bearing the seal of The Society of American Magicians, folks from the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, have long since taken over the care of the escape artist's final resting place.


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3. A whole island off the Rockaway Beach shore disappeared in a hurricane 

Since being hit by the devastating Superstorm Sandy, the beaches in Queens' Far Rockaways have been rebuilt and gained popularity, but back in the day, Hog Island wasn't so lucky. The estimated one-mile-wide island, which sat just 1,000 feet off the shores of the Rockaways parallel to the peninsula, was the home to plenty of resorts and bathing houses and was even a favorite of the corrupt Tammany Hall politicians in the 19th century. Then the 1893 New York hurricane, a category-two storm, completely submerged the land mass, which never again reemerged. 

4. Queens has its own version of Gramercy Park

While Sunnyside Gardens Park isn't quite as swanky as coveted Manhattan private gardens, this three-and-a-half acre beautiful corner of the city is only opened to those lucky enough to live within its neighborhood. In addition to having a lush, green open field, the park also boasts clay tennis courts, basketball courts and swings.


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5.Many of the finest pianos in the world are made in Astoria

Many industries have stopped manufacturing in New York with its high taxes and expensive real estate, but not Steinway & Sons. The first Steinway grand and upright pianos were crafted in Astoria back in 1853, and for the past one hundred years, the trusted company has kept its same factory for creating superior instruments. You can tour the factory grounds on certain days if you want to learn more.

6. There's an abandoned Civil War-era fort in the midst of a public park

Built in 1862 to watch over the ships entering and leaving the East River heading for New York Harbor, the Fort Trotten Park never saw any actual battle but served as a base and training station for the U.S. army for decades after the Civil War. Today, while part of the grounds are still used for training army reserves, the public park portion is a favorite for Bayside residents with its pool and nature walks. Keep your eyes out for the long abandoned former battery. 


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7. If Queens were to secede from the rest of New York, it'd be the fourth largest city in the U.S.
With a whomping 2.3 million residents, Queens has just 400,000 less people than all of Chicago. America's true fourth biggest city, Houston, would need to gain just a few thousand to challenge Queens' population size. It hasn't inspired a Brexit yet, though.

8. The world's first road made specifically for cars was paved in Queens

Back in 1908, cars were still quite the novelty, sharing the busy roads with horses, carriages, wagons and plenty of people on foot, until the Long Island Motor Parkway in Hollis Hills, Queens, opened to traffic. Originally conceived of as a privately owned race course (you had to pay a toll to use it), most of the narrow two-lane road is now a bike path.


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9. The Ramones got their start rehearsing in an art gallery on Queens Blvd

While it might be common knowledge that the Ramones came from Queens and rose to fame in the East Village, not everyone knows about their first rehearsal space. While most high schoolers in a band these days would find a garage to practice, the Ramones went to the basement of Joey's mom's art gallery, Art Space, in Flushing to strum out their first hits.

10. Speaking of music, many famous greats have called Queens home

Here's just a few of the legendary musicians who lived in Queens: film composer John Williams; Simon and Garfunkel; Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss; Cyndi Lauper; Daniel "Dee" Snider; and Tony Bennett. The list of rappers is also particularly impressive: Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Nas, Nicki Minaj, LL Cool J and Run DMC. Jazz all-star Louis Armstrong even left his house as a museum.  

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