Bronx historian John McNamara passed away
October 15, 2004 at age 91.
He will be waked at the Schuyler Hill Funeral Home located at East Tremont Avenue and Sommer Place in Throggs Neck, the Bronx on Sunday, the 17th and Monday, the 18th. Visiting hours are 2 to 5 and 7 to 9 PM. Cremation will be private.
At NYCHS' request Oct. 15, John's friend and fellow Bronx historian Bill Twomey made available the following biographical outline he wrote about McNarama for use in the March 2000 journal issued in conjunction with the Throggs Neck St. Patrick's Day Parade and updated in June of 2002 at the request of Patricia Sullivan.
The images have been selected and inserted by the NYCHS webmaster.
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John McNamara was born on December 22, 1912 on East 156th Street in Melrose and attended Immaculate Conception Elementary School. His family obtained a summer bungalow in Edgewater Park in 1916 and John had the good fortune of growing up in two divergent areas of the Bronx.
It was while portaging a canoe over the small neck of land connecting Fort Schuyler to the mainland that John was approached by Captain Charles Ferreira, the lighthouse keeper, who told him how the Indians did the same thing.
This sparked his interest in the Indian history of the Bronx and when street signs began going up in the early 1920s, his curiosity was further piqued.
He began studying street names and eventually walked every street and byway in the borough and canoed or kayaked every waterway. He kept meticulous notes and in 1978 published his grand collection in a book entitled History in Asphalt. Most historians now consider that book as the most important contemporary work published on the Bronx.
John became one of the founding fathers of the Bronx County Historical Society and in 1956 began writing Bronx history in the Bronx Press-Review, and later in the The Bronx Times Reporter. He published a collection of his columns in a book entitled McNamara's Old Bronx.
He has since co-authored two additional books with Bill Twomey, Throggs Neck Memories in 1994 and Throggs Neck-Pelham Bay in 1998. He continued to write our borough's history on the pages of The Bronx Times Reporter until December of 2000.
John is an international traveler who has exciting experiences to recount of his adventures in South Africa, the outback of Australia, or walking over the Alps through Brenner's Pass. He's been to China, Russia and throughout South America and Europe and some of these adventures were once published in The Bronx Times Reporter.
One of his most extensive trips took him along the southwest coast of Ireland. Landing in Cobh, he went on to Cork and walked west through Kerry and then up the coast to Dingle Bay before continuing on to the birthplace of his grandparents in County Clare. Prior to the United States being involved in World War II, John traveled in Nazi Germany and, when our country entered the war, he fought with the lst Army in the Philippines.
He also traveled extensively around the United States, very often by "riding the rails." He has many exciting tales to tell but those that he is most often asked to recount have to do with the Bronx. He and Ron Schliessman once traveled the inland water route from the south end of the Hutchinson River across the Shore Road and railroad tracks to duplicate the manner used by the Siwanoy 250 years earlier. He repeated this feat about a week later with a reporter from the New York Times.
John married a local girl, Pauline Ungerer, and raised his two children in Edgewater Park while working for the New York City Housing Authority. It's all the adventures in between and after retirement that added the spice to his life, something that he also shared with his family.
Before the Throggs Neck Bridge opened in January of 1961, he woke up his son and greased his face and his own to protect them from the cold and wind, and they proceeded by bicycle to the Throggs Neck Bridge. They both now have a fascinating tale to tell about being the first people to cross the bridge by bicycle before it was opened to the public. His family not only absorbed the history of the Bronx from John, but they often became part of that history.
John has served his community in numerous capacities as a Cub Scout leader for seven years, a volunteer fireman, a United Nations tour guide and more. He was an active member of the Bronx Old Timers Association, the Bronx County Historical Society, the Kingsbridge Historical Society, and the American Name Society.
He has given numerous walking tours and lectures throughout New York at schools, libraries, and fraternal halls sharing his experiences with all that care to listen. He has been honored in many ways including having a square named after him in 1985 at the north service road of the Cross Bronx Expressway Extension at Randall and Calhoun Avenues in the Bronx. He was chosen as the Grand Marshal of the Throggs Neck St. Patrick's Day Parade held in March of 2000.
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