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Whitefish Triangle

Oliver Hazard Triangle

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This triangle, located in the Queens neighborhood of Maspeth in the shadow of the Long Island Expressway, is named in honor of American naval hero, Captain Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819). In the famous Battle of Lake Erie, Oliver Hazard Perry became the first man in history to defeat an entire British naval squadron and triumphantly bring home every ship as a war prize.

A Rhode Islander, Perry entered the Navy at age 13 as a midshipman. In 1805, he was promoted to lieutenant and given command of a schooner. During the War of 1812, he took a post on Lake Ontario in anticipation of a British attack. When none occurred, he was transferred to Erie, Pennsylvania. There he was responsible for building up a fleet with the purpose of taking Lake Erie from British hands. By September 1813, Perry had trained and prepared his fleet, leading an attack on the British squadron.

Perry began the Battle of Lake Erie aboard his flagship, the Lawrence. The Lawrence suffered heavy damage early in the battle, with 80% of the crew killed or wounded by enemy gunfire. Perry persisted and re-grouped on the ship Niagara, carrying with him the battle flag from the Lawrence. That flag was imprinted with the dying words: “Don’t give up the ship!” While Perry was forced to give up the Lawrence, he did not give up the battle, and after 15 minutes aboard the Niagara, Perry and his crew forced the British to surrender. Oliver Hazard Perry is perhaps best known for his famous words, “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” which he wrote to General William Henry Harrison in his report about the Battle of Lake Erie. At the early age of 28, Perry was regarded as an American hero.

After the War of 1812, Perry was promoted to captain. In 1819, while in command of the John Adams, Perry embarked on a diplomacy mission to Venezuela. There, he contracted his third case of yellow fever. On his 34th birthday, August 23, 1819, he died of the disease near Trinidad. His burial at Port of Spain, Trinidad included full military honors. In 1826, his remains were transferred to Newport, Rhode Island, his home state.

The City acquired this property in 1953 as part of the construction of the Queens-Midtown Expressway, now known as the Long Island Expressway, and assigned it to Parks. In the fall of 1953, plans were published for a six-lane “Central Motor Expressway” to run between Manhattan and the eastern end of Long Island. Proposed by Robert Moses (1888-1981), commissioner of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the highway was intended to save the City from choking traffic conditions caused by rapid suburbanization throughout Long Island. With the Long Island Expressway’s construction and subsequent widening, Robert Moses (1881-1981) also built several parks along the highway’s path. Originally known as Hamilton Place Triangle, the park was renamed in 1998 by Commissioner Stern, after the adjacent Perry Street and its namesake, Oliver Hazard Perry.

Between 1998 and 1999, Oliver Hazard Triangle underwent a large reconstruction with $529,000 funding from Council Member Walter L. McCaffrey. It is part of the Greenstreets program, a collaboration between Parks and the Department of Transportation which transforms paved street properties into miniature green spaces. The park now serves as a sitting area and playground for neighborhood residents. The fences encompassing the jungle gym are adorned with cutouts of geese. Also in the park are shaded benches and a drinking fountain. The flagpole with yardarm conjures up memories of Captain Perry’s naval legacy and the courage with which he sailed into the face of danger.

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