Samara Swanston woke up at seven o’clock on Thursday morning to the whine of leafblowers. Across the street, men were sprucing up the house and lawn that used to belong to Louis Armstrong.
She thought the noise was simply another annoyance perpetrated by the house’s custodian, Queens College. But the insult was bigger–nearly presidential, in fact.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was visiting the landmark house that morning, but her Queens College host had neglected to put the word out to anybody in Corona. “There are a lot of people in the neighborhood who would’ve stayed home from work to see the First Lady,” Swanston said.
The First Lady’s visit was part of her work preserving historical places and documents. But for Corona, it was just another example of how the city college has slighted the jazz trumpeter’s former community.
Since Queens College started managing Armstrong’s house in the mid-1980s, Swanston maintains, the neighborhood hasn’t had much access to his history. Swanston and others with Friends of the Louis Armstrong House have been pushing the college to open up for five years. Instead, the college has removed much of his instruments and papers to its library in Flushing, three bus rides away. And the house isn’t open to the public except by appointment.
This doesn’t fit in with Armstrong’s reputation and personality, says Swanston: For all his fame, Armstrong was also a regular Queens guy. Swanston says was he well-known in the neighborhood, and used to invite local kids over to watch him play. “Louis Armstrong wouldn’t have done it that way,” she said.
Queens College spokeswoman Maria Matteo didn’t offer much of an explanation for the college’s indifferent community PR. Her response: “It seemed to be the way it was handled.”