BY KULSOOM KHAN
Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the city is the quaint King Manor Museum in Jamaica, which is also known as the Rufus King Park and Museum.
The manor was the home of the famous abolitionist Rufus King and serves as a tribute to him and his contributions.
King was one of the framers and signers of the U.S. Constitution and, in 1789, he became one of New York’s first United States senators. He later served as ambassador to Great Britain.
These contributions are the very reason that Gerry Caliendo believes that there should be a statue of King in the park.
“There’s not too many other signers of the Constitution that lived in Queens,” he said. “There’s a statue of a dog in Central Park. There’s all kinds of statues in the city of New York. Why wouldn’t you have a statue of a framer and signer of the Constitution in front of his house—a historic-landmark house in Queens?”
Caliendo, who has served as the chairman on the board of directors for the museum for more than a decade, also believes that a statue would add to both the park and museum and attract more visitors.
“Many people, thousands of people, pass by this house every day, and nobody really knows that this is the house of a signer of the Constitution,” he said. “I think it would help the museum. I think it would make it better known that a signer of the Constitution lived there.”
Caliendo also said a statue would be beneficial to students who visit the museum on field trips.
He has pitched his idea to public officials. City Council members Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) have both expressed support for the project and given letters of recommendation to Caliendo.
Caliendo acknowledged that getting a statue in the park would be a long, drawn-out process as he would need to draw more local support— and then the proposal would have to be approved by the city Parks and Recreation Department as well as the city Landmarks Commission. He believes the proposal might be controversial since the park is designated as a landmark area.
“In my opinion, I think a statue would complement the landmark building, the landmark property,” Caliendo said.
The Parks Department has a set of guidelines that must be followed when donating works of art to local parks. For example, works will not be accepted unless the donor or sponsor can provide a means of perpetual care.
Caliendo has also written letters to senators, state representatives and former President Barack Obama on this issue. He wants members of Congress to petition the Department of Interior to fund the statue.
“I personally feel that this cost should be borne by the federal government since this is a national figure and a signer of the Constitution,” Caliendo said. “I don’t think that’s a far-fetched idea.”
Even though he has not received a response from anyone at the federal level, Caliendo said he will keep lobbying for the project.
“This is a landmark building, but there’s also a legacy,” he said. “[King] fought for something people don’t necessarily know about.”