Doughboy Park is bounded by Woodside Avenue, 52nd Street, and 39th Road in the Woodside section of Queens. The Town of Newtown acquired this land in 1893 as a play area for P.S. 11. It passed into the City’s ownership in 1898, when Newtown and other Queens municipalities merged with New York City. The land was eventually deemed too steep and overgrown for children’s use and was assigned to NYC Parks in 1957. The site was transformed from a children’s play area to a sitting area for adults, in keeping with the dignity of the park’s doughboy monument.
Although the park received its name by local law in 1971, its eponymous monument has stood on the site since 1923. During the First World War, British soldiers referred to their American counterparts as “doughboys” because of the large round buttons on the American uniforms; these buttons reminded the British soldiers of the cakes or biscuits known as doughboys. Statues of American infantry soldiers are similarly called doughboys, and there are bronze doughboys in each of the five boroughs of New York City.
Many Woodside residents know that even before the statue was erected, local soldiers gathered here at the “mustering ground” before departing to fight in World War I. Ten men who left from this site did not return as they made the supreme sacrifice and gave their lives for their nation. The Woodside Doughboy was erected by the Woodside Community Council in remembrance of the local men and women who served in World War I.
Funded by public subscription, the statue was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1923. The ceremony included music by St. Mary’s Military Band, a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the children of P.S. 11, an unveiling by Gold Star Relatives, and blessings by ministers from St. Paul’s and St. Sebastian’s Churches. Since the dedication event in 1923, community members have gathered at the monument every Memorial Day for patriotic ceremonies. In 1928 the American Federation of Arts selected the Woodside Doughboy as the best war memorial of its kind.
The sculptor, Burt W. Johnson (1890–1927) of Flushing, was a student and brother-in-law of renowned artist Augustus St. Gaudens. Johnson portrayed a somber World War I soldier holding his helmet in front and his gun to the side. The sculptor’s health was failing as the piece was being completed, and he supervised the final work from his wheelchair. The bronze statue stands upon a granite pedestal designed by architect C.N. Kent and is inscribed “LEST WE FORGET 1917-1918”. Although the work was originally titled The Returning Soldier, it is popularly known as the Woodside Doughboy. Johnson also created a doughboy for the Flanders Field Memorial in De Witt Clinton Park in Manhattan.
In 1990 the beloved monument received an extensive conservation treatment which included cleaning, repatinating, and a protective wax coating. The plaza around the monument was renovated in in 2001 with new benches, fences, and greenery. A stone panel was installed listing the names of eleven major First World War campaigns and seven major battles in which American servicemen fought. In 2014, the park’s dog run received funding for renovation, which is being conducted in partnership with the civic groups Woodside United Dog Society and Woodside on the Move.