Grit Blogs > You Won't Believe It

An Autobiography: Chapter 41, The Waiting Island

The Waiting Island gave Georgianna and me much satisfaction. We felt like we, with Reverend Chapin’s collaboration, had created something of historical significance that we would leave behind when we moved away.

The production brought two letters that made us realize why we came to Roosevelt Island.

Ruins 041 

Ruins of Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island. 

A letter dated March 18, 1977:  

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Moore, 

I saw “The Waiting Island” the other night and was impressed with the wealth of cultural history it encompassed. It occurred to me that, since you have a performing arts group, you might be interested in seeing what other community groups have done to link drama and history. It would seem you have an ideal situation to use your material this way, too, for the enjoyment of the local community and visitors as well. 


Nanine Bilski 

Project Director 

America the Beautiful Fund of New York 

Enclosure: History Plays 

(Honorary members of the Fund included Leonard Bernstein, James Cagney, Katherine Cornell, Mrs. Ernest Hemingway, Peter Hurd, Alfred A. Knopf, James Michener and Meredith Willson.)

A letter dated June 20, 1977:  

Dear Chaplin Chapin, 

May I, on behalf of the United Hospital Fund and the Medical Archivists of New York, thank you, your photographer and your narrators for your superb rendering of “The Waiting Island” at the Fund on June 16th. Your audience was profoundly moved and I heard professions of a desire, not only to visit the Island, but also to live there! 

You have made a great contribution to the legend of Roosevelt Island and the meaning of Bird S. Coler Memorial Hospital.                                                                       

With my deep appreciation, 

Sincerely yours,                                                        

Louise Heinze 

Archivist and Consultant on Library Affairs.  

Eighteen years later, I used this same concept, adding music to the narrative and slides for the acclaimed production I wrote and produced: Words of Albert Schweitzer and the Music of Bach. This is the centerpiece for my work in keeping alive the legacy of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

In May, Heather resigned from her ballet classes, and sadly we started making plans to move back to Colorado. She made every effort to fit in with her classes, and we tried to understand. She had gotten some work in commercials and a part in a John Ritter film, and we told her that perhaps we could come back some day and let her pursue theatre.

In June, Georgianna’s stepbrother, Johnny, came to visit from his home in New Orleans. He rented a car so he could visit the area around New York City. I asked him if he would like to take me to see George Gershwin’s tomb in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings on Hudson, about 25 miles away. It was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed the drive very much.

Johnny asked me about Gershwin’s life as we drove through Westchester County on the scenic Saw Mill River Parkway. I told him about Gershwin’s life and talked about his serious compositions and the countless songs he wrote for Broadway shows and the films. Johnny was greatly impressed and said, “He must have written night and day.” I said, “No, Cole Porter wrote Night and Day!” 

The Gershwin tomb was very impressive, and I was grateful that within a few days I stood where he was born and where he was buried. Near his tomb was that of another Broadway immortal songwriter and Broadway producer: Billy Rose.

Gershwin's Tomb 041 

One of my favorite New York stories is the sale of our Baldwin Baby Grand piano. We weren’t sure where we were moving; we asked Tracy to find us a house in Montrose where she was running our mail order business. It wasn’t practical to keep moving the piano, as much as I loved it. I had bought it around 1970 in Denver, and when we went to the showroom a salesman said they had a beautiful piano that would be coming back in a few days from the Aspen Music Festival. As was the custom, Baldwin loaned them a new piano for concerts. It was still considered “new,” but because it had been played, they lowered the price considerably. The asking price was $2,500 if I remember correctly, and we bought it “sight unseen.”

I priced the piano at $2,500 and ran an ad in The New York Times. I got several calls, and the buyer turned out to be a wonderful lady named Rita Fields.

The phone rang, and a businesslike voice said, “Mr. Moore, this is Rita Fields. I saw your ad in the paper for the Baldwin. Tell me about it and why you are selling it.” I explained everything to her, and as we got acquainted on the telephone, I believed the sale would happen. When I asked when she would like to come and see the piano, she said, “I don’t have to see it. I will send you a cashier’s check, and you can make arrangements with Baldwin in Manhattan to have them pick it up and deliver it.” I was dumbfounded, and she continued, “Mr. Moore, let me tell you something. When I buy a new car, I know exactly what I want. I don’t have to go and see it. I call the dealer, and he delivers it. I know from your voice you are honest and this is the only kind of person I deal with.”

When I hung up, Georgianna asked about the call, and I told her I sold the piano – maybe. I should have believed this beautiful lady, but it seemed so strange that I still had doubts. We said we would wait and see if a check came. In just a couple of days, it came. I took it to the bank and they verified its authenticity. I had thought on trips back to New York I would visit Mrs. Fields, to meet this woman who had such faith in her fellow man, and I am sorry I never got the opportunity.

A notice was mailed to residents:

Lila Gilbert Luda  

And a cast of fine characters 

Invite you to 

An evening of human interest and local color 


And other story readings. 

Time: 8:00 PM, Friday, June 17th 

Place: Meeting Room 

Chapel of the Good Shepherd 

The stories were written by our dear friend, Lila, and two were read by Georgianna. Following the program there was a “Farewell Coffee Party” in our honor, and what a send-off we were given!

A 45-inch scroll had been prepared with the Roosevelt Islands Association masthead at the top followed by these words:

To a Couple of Wonderful People: 

Thurston and Georgianna, you came into a new community, you felt its pulse and you quickened it. You felt its spirit and you raised it. You sensed an appreciative audience and you brought it culture. How can we say “Thank you?” These two words are really too inadequate an exchange for your dedication, your perseverance, photography shows, plays, historical presentations of our new home, your very presence and energy stimulated us and raised our community from just another neighborhood. You are an indelible part of Roosevelt Island and you will fondly be remembered for a long time. 

A community in Colorado is now going to be made all the richer by your presence there. They are fortunate. Go in peace. We wish you … 

The scroll was signed, with messages, by more than 200 residents. That document given to us in love is framed and hangs on my office wall.

Scroll 041 

Part of the 45-inch scroll presented to Thurston and Georgianna. 

A letter dated June 17, 1977: 

Dear Thurston, Georgianna and Heather: 

It is with a profound sense of loss that I write to wish you well as you leave Roosevelt Island. 

It seems like ages and several productions ago when you borrowed my couch for “Ten Little Indians.” Time has moved quite quickly because you have enriched each season on Roosevelt Island. You have brought such a sense of life to the community through all of your unselfish endeavors and I will truly miss seeing all of you. 

It is a great feeling to know that I have built a community that has attracted people like you willing to breath life into a series of buildings and turn it into a truly living place. 

You have given of your time, energy and talents for the enrichment of all the residents of Roosevelt Island. 

Thank you for all your many contributions and the best of everything as you return to Colorado. 


Diane M. Porter, Chief Planner 

Roosevelt Island Development Corporation                      

As we were leaving Roosevelt Island, my thoughts went back to another Island: Ellis Island, in which I had visited while in New York, and I thought about the restoration of that landmark honoring the more than 12 million immigrants who passed through their doors.

Ellis Island 041 

Immigrants at Ellis Island. 

I would like to see a fitting monument erected on Roosevelt Island to honor the thousands of people who died and suffered during its dark history.

Don’t miss the next chapter:  Expo ‘67