BY TAMARA HARTMAN
The man who has spent the past 33 years of his life educating visitors about the officers who were stationed at Fort Totten was arrested last week on a charge that he sexually abused a 10-year-old boy.
Jack Fein, who will turn 83 this week, was charged with the following three misdemeanors: sexual abuse in the second degree, endangering the welfare of a child, and sexual abuse in the third degree. He was also charged with the lesser violation of harassment in the second degree. The most serious charge carries a possible maximum sentence of one year in jail.
Police sources said that the young boy claims Fein repeatedly hugged him, kissed him on the face, and rubbed his hands against the boy’s buttocks while they were alone in the Fort Totten Museum in the afternoon of Feb. 22. The boy’s father, who reportedly new Fein from Fort tours, was waiting outside for his son to return from talking to Fein when the alleged incident occurred.
Fein was taken into custody on Feb. 24 and arraigned before Judge Stephen Painter. Since he has no prior record and he does have strong ties to the Bayside community, Fein was released on his own recognizance and will have a hearing on March 22. He is currently being represented by Legal Aid Attorney Don Morrison.
Morrison did not return calls from the Tribune for comment and Fein told the Tribune that he would be issuing a statement “explaining everything” within a few days, but that he was prohibited from saying anything about the events at presstime. He did not deny nor explain the charges nor would he clarify what was prohibiting him from offering comment on the arrest, however officials from the District Attorney’s office said they were unaware of anything that would prohibit him from commenting. The officials also confirmed that an order of protection had been issued by the judge for the 10-year-old boy, which, the officials said, is standard procedure.
Following his arraignment, Fein was suspended from giving tours at the Fort and the Parks’ Department’s Urban Park Rangers will be taking up the tour giving as of this coming weekend.
But since 1967, Fein has walked visitors through the passageways, turrets, and beautifully constructed archways of the original section of the Fort, built in 1870. He also offered – for adults and school groups – tours of the museum building that has accumulated under his care, the winding rooms of which are filled with newspaper articles, memorabilia, and honors for the historian laying out on make-shift tables and covering the walls.
The Old Fort is currently in the process of being transferred to the ownership of the New York City Parks Department and over the past few months, Parks’ workers have been busy cutting back the overgrown trees and grassy areas which had turned the Fort into a near jungle area considered by some Fort officials as possibly dangerous.
In August of 1999, Fein, who had been a volunteer working at the Fort before it was put up for sale by the Army, became a City Seasonal Associate with the Parks Department – a position for which he was paid about $70 a day to offer tours and maintain the museum area.
He was known to practically live on the old Fort grounds – offering for groups to arrange tours for any day of the week. Within the basement area where he kept his desk there was an old army cot with a bare mattress squirrled away behind some cardboard dividers to create a make-shift bedroom, the Tribune has confirmed with Fort officials.
The Bayside Historical Society’s President Geraldine Spinella told the Tribune that at least one class a month would come to their building on the Fort grounds, receive a tour from one of the Society’s members, then be escorted by the member to Fein’s gate, where he would take over the tour and the class. She added that this has been the practice on the fort for at least the past two years, especially since the fourth grade curriculum has included the study of local history.
Local civic leaders and elected officials declined to comment on the charges, saying that they were “shocked,” and stressing that they were awaiting a full investigation. A Fort official commented on the condition of annonymity that “there was no indication that this guy was anything but a crusty curmudgeon, completely and totally committed to what he was doing here.”
Queens Parks Commissioner Estelle Cooper added that she was “saddened” by the charges and that “we don’t know till it comes to trial whether it happened or not.”
The Man Behind The History
According to the printed flyers piled high on the tables of the museum and often distributed at fort events, Fein is originally from Springfield, Mass. He entered the army in 1936 and was sent to Fort Totten and Fort Slocum with other enlistees, then sent to Panama to Fort Amador to a 16-inch gun battery.
He received various kinds of military training, including military intelligence, communications, chemical and small arms. While in the Army school in Fort Monroe, Va., Fein married his first wife, with whom he had one child, according to a recent article in the New York Times about the much-honored Fort Historian. In 1949, he met his second wife in Japan, the article stated.
In 1952, the Chief Warrant Officer returned to Fort Totten and spent the next 15 years as the adjunct to the post commander, learning the fort history. In 1967, he took over the old fort museum. When he retired from military life, he had served over 30 years in the Army with an additional five years in the Army Reserve during the Vietnam era.
Jim Driscoll, vice president for history of the Queens Historical Society, described Fein as “more than anyone else” being responsible for the old Fort being landmarked and said of his walking tours “he took you places you never even knew exisited.”
Fein was the grand marshall of the 1999 Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade, was honored in December by Borough President Claire Shulman for preservation of Queens history and in November by Comptroller Alan Hevesi for his service as a veteran. His list of honors also include honorary Captain in the Fire Department and certificates from Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor George Pataki.
A statement written by Fein for one of his numerous ceremonies said the following: “To this very day, for seven days a week, I still perform historical tours eight days a week, maintain the museum which is considered the heart and soul of this remarkable fort, that has served the country so very well, with tens of thousands and more that trained here and some who never come back.
“With over 60 years of acquaintance of Fort Totten, that I am willing to share with all, word has been passed on to me that no other fort can compare itself –in reference to the East End of tunnels and granite blocks, passages, etc. – let me prove it to you by your appearance. I loved my commanders, my officers, my enlisted men and civilians, they taught me many areas and events and it is in this zone that tours are made to memoralize them and the past history of the Fort. God bless all of us and teach us how to live and pray and let us know thy mercy and thy love. Each night before I fall asleep, I read both the Old Testament and the New Testament and always with an annoucement to bless the 77th Regional Support Command.”
— Dee Richard contributed to this story.
Sexual Abuse – Protecting Your Child
Because children cannot look out for themselves, it is our responsibility as parents to foresee problems they might encounter.
The most important key to child safety is an open, effective communication with your child.
Establish an atmosphere in your home in which your child feels truly comfortable in discussing sensitive matters and relating experiences in which someone may have approached the child in an inappropriate manner or in a way that would have made your child uncomfortable.
Children can be raised to be polite and friendly, but it’s OK to say NO to anyone who tries to touch him or her in a way that makes them feel frightened, uncomfortable, or confused. Have them get away and tell a trusted adult.
Allow your child to develop a sense of authority early on by not forcing him/her to kiss a grown-up or sit on a grown-up’s lap if they don’t want to. This gives the child control and teaches them that they have the right to refuse.
Children should not be asked to keep special secrets from their parents.
Children are naturally trusting, especially with adults. It’s difficult for parents to teach children to balance this trust with caution. Today, children need to learn how to react to dangerous situations using common sense to keep them safe. They should be reinforced in a gentle manner and be provided with effective rules to avoid some tough situations. This will build the self-confidence they need to handle emergencies.
It is important to realize that when developing personal safety skills in your child, they must be taught as you would teach other subjects.
- Tell – the basic rules.
- Show – how to do/say the rules you are teaching.
- Practice – how your child should react and what they should say.
Basics For Child Safety
- From an early age, children should be taught their full name, the name of their parents or guardian, their address, and telephone number with the area code.
- Teach them how to use the telephone to call 911 or “0” if an emergency occurs, and how a public phone works. Practice periodically on a disconnected telephone.
- Children learn best from good examples; lock doors and windows, always identify your caller before opening your door.
- Keep open communication with your children. Listen to their feelings and fears about people and places with which they feel uncomfortable. Help them to learn to trust their instincts.
Information courtesy of the New York Police Department.