Daniel M. O'Connell Playground
This park is named after Daniel M. O’Connell (1900-1918), a native of New York City who gave his life for his country in World War I. At the age of seven he moved with his family to Rockaway Beach where he attended P.S. 44 and served as an altar boy at St. Rose of Lima’s Church. In June 1917, O’Connell enlisted in the army and served with the 23rd Regiment at the Mexican border. In October of that year, he sailed for France with the 69th Regiment, later called the 165th Regiment, of the Rainbow Division. He was killed in action during the Ourcq Offensive in France, on July 29, 1918. At the time, O’Connell was the youngest soldier to receive the Croix de Guerre, a French decoration for gallantry in war.
O’Connell Playground opened on July 15, 1934, and is one of nine playgrounds that were built by Parks through the War Memorial Fund. The Fund was established in 1921 with $250,000 collected by the Police Department. In 1934, the fund remained untouched and had grown in value to $350,000. Seeking additional open spaces for children, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses obtained a legal ruling that permitted the fund to be spent on several playground developments. The properties were intended to honor the memories of individual soldiers who had given their lives in combat.
The Fund was transferred to Parks on March 19, 1934. With additional funding from the Federal Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, nine playgrounds were constructed within four months. Each site was equipped with a play area, wading pool, brick field house and comfort station, flagpole, and commemorative tablet. Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia and Commissioner Moses dedicated all nine of the memorial playgrounds simultaneously in a ceremony held at William E. Sheridan Playground in Brooklyn. The program was broadcast to all of the other playgrounds by means of an elaborate public address system.
Parks acquired the land for O’Connell Playground on July 12, 1934—just three days before the official opening. A 1935 article in the Daily Press noted that WPA funding and contributions from the O’Connell Playground Mothers’ Club provided trained supervisors at the playground. Every morning, about fifty children between the ages of three and five assembled for two hours for nursery school and kindergarten instruction. Their daily routine included singing “America the Beautiful,” learning music and dance, and snacking on milk and crackers at noon. In the wintertime, the oval-shaped play area was flooded to be frozen for ice skating.
Today this park features handball and basketball courts, as well as play equipment, game tables, drinking fountains and benches. Two lion sculptures, reminiscent of the courage displayed by Daniel O’Connell, flank the entrance to this beloved St. Albans park.