Did you know Helen Keller once lived in Queens? Now, a mural depicting the blind and deaf author and activist was installed Friday in Forest Hills at the entrance to the LIRR’s Ascan Avenue underpass. The design, at 48 feet wide and 4 feet tall, features Keller, her former residence in Forest Hills, the dogs that lived there with her, and her famous quote “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
Photo by Linda Perlman
The mural was painted by two street artists, Australian Crisp and Colombian Praxis. During the week leading up to the opening, the artists worked on it at the location of Keller’s former house on Seminole Avenue, now the Reform Temple of Forest Hills. It will be the third work of street art by the painter pair to go up in Forest Hills, including the one opposite the Keller Mural, which is titled “A Tribute To Ascan Avenue & The Forest Hills Gardens” and features the faces of five different historical icons of the neighborhood. Both murals were initiated by Queens historian and chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Michael Perlman and funded $6,500 by Karen Koslowitz of the City Council.
Being stricken blind and deaf by an illness at 19 months did not stop Helen Keller from becoming the most well-known advocate for the disabled community of all time, as well as an ACLU founder, accomplished author, and lecturer. Keller first moved to the house at the corner of Seminole and Fife in 1917 with her teacher and mentor Anne Sullivan. For the 21 years that she lived there, she referred to it affectionately as her “Castle on the Marsh.” Unfortunately, the house burned down after Keller’s death, but the synagogue that stands there, at what is now 112th and 71st, is committed to preserving her memory.
Perlman’s hope is that the mural will serve as an artistic reminder of Forest Hills’ rich history to the community. He tells us, “Many Forest Hills residents and New Yorkers are unaware that Helen Keller once lived in a charming home not far away from the Ascan Avenue LIRR underpass. Her life in Forest Hills spanned three decades, and the extent of her national to international accomplishments is sometimes unrealized or forgotten. The mural will hopefully foster tourism, become the subject of walking tours, educate our youth among various generations, and beautify a banal underpass by transforming it into ‘an artistic and historic passage.’ The arts are a beneficial tool, where we can learn and celebrate our history, and preserve and enhance the character of our community. May the spirit of Helen Keller continue to illuminate our path.”