March 10, 2012 By Christian Murray
Charles Bacon, gold; Johnny Hayes, gold; Harry Porter, gold; John Flanagan, gold.
These men were just four of the 56 Olympic medalists whose names were read on Saturday in commemoration of the Irish American Athletic Club. The names were read as part of the ceremony that marked the co-naming of “Winged Fist Way” (43rd Street and 48th Ave) – after the club’s emblem the Winged Fist. Martin Sheridan, who was deemed one of the greatest sports figures in US history after winning five Olympic gold medals, was a member of the club. Special praise was for him.
Winged Fist Way (43rd St and 48th Ave.) goes through the heart of the Celtic Apartment Complex. This was once the location of the Irish American Athletic Club, which was in existence from 1901 through 1930.
Ian McGowan, an historian and head of the Winged Fist Organization, had fought for years to get recognition for the club. He had hoped to get a plaque placed on a building within the Celtic Park complex, but was rejected by the coop board who had a problem that the club’s emblem—since it included a fist raised in the air. Local officials, however, stepped in and decided a street co-naming was one way of preserving the club’s—and Sunnyside/Woodside’s–history.
McGowan, at Saturday’s event, discussed how the club bought seven acres of land from George Thomson (as in Thomson Hill Park) in 1897 when the area was farmland. The club broke ground in March 1898 and over time, the club built an 8,000-person grandstand.
Many of the neighborhoods politicians turned out in support of the renaming. Jimmy Van Bramer, who said it was about time the club received the recognition it deserved, said: “I find it hard to believe that the City of New York could recognize the club but that the [Celtic Coop] board could not.” Van Bramer sponsored the co-naming of the street through the city council last year.
Meanwhile, Congressman Joseph Crowley, discussed how many of the club’s athletes were the children and grandchildren of Irish immigrants, who were victims of the Irish famine. He said that the club was open to all, including John Baxter Taylor, an African-American who won gold at the London Olympics in 1908, and Myer Prinstein, a Polish-Jew who won gold at the St. Louis Olympics.
“Don’t you think it [the club] deserves a nice plaque on the building,” Crowley said. “This is not just Irish history…no matter your race, this is great American history.”