A crosswalk of kindness

Posted 12/31/69

LIBERTY, NY — “The Gem of the Town,” “the Spirit of Liberty” or “the Crazy Hat Lady”—Harriet Forshay has been called them all.

Forshay has had …

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A crosswalk of kindness


LIBERTY, NY — “The Gem of the Town,” “the Spirit of Liberty” or “the Crazy Hat Lady”—Harriet Forshay has been called them all.

Forshay has had many jobs throughout her life. She’s been a data collector for Shortline buses, a Burger King manager and an emergency call switchboard operator, but the one she most loves is her current position: the crossing guard at Liberty Elementary School.

“I’ve cleaned toilets and I’ve managed stores, but it’s this job I love the best,” says Forshay.

She not only keeps the parking lot safe, but she brings joy through a specific accessory—her collection of 720 hats. 

“I bring smiles to the town, and it makes me happy,” says Forshay, who is 81 years old.

Forshay was born in Patterson, NJ and raised in Franklin Lakes, but has made Liberty her home for the past 50 years.

“I’m 81 but you add the two numbers together and mentally I’m still nine,” she says.

For the past 15 years, Forshay has been guiding pedestrians and vehicles through the Liberty Elementary School parking lot. One of her favorite parts of the job is seeing the kids grow up.

“I see them come in in diapers and watch them graduate,” she says. “I think of the children as my quilt; they make up my quilt of love. The kids are my inspiration.”

Leading the crosswalk is not without its challenges. Forshay has faced aggressive drivers, nerve damage in her hands from being out in extensive cold, and has even been punched by an inebriated pedestrian.

“I used to think it was me, but I realized it’s not. They probably already had a bad day before they got in the car,” she says.

Forshay says 99 percent of her interactions are positive, and that she treasures working alongside the Liberty police, who also have a presence directing school traffic.

“We’re just trying to protect the kids, and I love my partners who I work with,” says Forshay.

Last year, when Forshay had a heart attack, she went back to work five days later.

“The kids sent me cards,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone paid attention. I wasn’t going to let my kids be there without me.”

As for Forshay’s famous hats, she plans to wear a different one each day, which often coordinates with a larger theme.

The hat inspiration started at a Thanksgiving dinner, where one attendee wore a festive turkey hat. Since then, Forshay has collected, been gifted and made her own hats to don while in the crosswalk.

“My hats all have a story behind them,” Forshay says.

Some weeks will have a sequence, where she will be Nemo, then Dory and then a shark, for example, following the Disney narrative. Once she dressed as a leprechaun who stole a pot of gold and was “arrested” by the Liberty police. She has a dinosaur hat, superhero hats, 10 Kentucky Derby hats, several turkey hats and an entire series of hats representing the alphabet. 

“My socks have capes on them,” Forshay says, for when she matches them with her Superman hat. “I try to come up with a complete outfit.”

In nice weather, Forshay adds chalk art to the crosswalk, writing inspirational quotes, the ABCs or “Good Luck.” On her Facebook page, she’ll give a report of the weather and a hint of what she plans to wear for the day.

Forshay makes many of these hats, buying a baseball cap from Dollar Tree and hand-sewing felt onto it. “It’s all about imagination,” when it comes to hat creation, she says.

Her hats bring joy not only to the elementary school, but also to Achieve Nursing Home in Liberty, where Forshay often heads between her morning and afternoon crosswalk shifts. 

“They need friends too,” she says of the residents, mentioning the smile on a 97-year-old’s face when she walks in the door.

Forshay has been recognized for her impact on the community via newspaper and television, and with several awards, such as the “Outstanding Friend to Education” honor in 2018. 

This June, she will be retiring from her crosswalk duties, with tentative plans to move to Florida, where her daughter lives. “I would love to stay here if I could find a place I could afford,” Forshay says.

Her husband, James Forshay, served in the Army and was on disability. Harriet proposed to James on their first date, after months of correspondence, and they were married two weeks later. Harriet’s aunt hand-sewed the wedding and bridesmaid dresses. The couple drove away in a gray Renault with crepe paper streaming off it, and were married nearly 60 years, with six kids, 15 grandkids and 15 great-grandchildren.

When a veteran is on disability for 10 years, their spouse is able to claim the $3,500 a month they are given. James passed away three months and one day shy of this 10-year deadline, meaning Harriet receives no funds. 

“I would have been able to retire and stay here,” says Forshay, if she could collect those funds. “I feel it’s not right that our spouses put in their time, and then they deny us the benefits when our spouse dies too early.”

Finding an affordable rental has proven difficult, and as Forshay’s current property is being sold, she plans to move south.

“It’s the people I met that have made me, and I’m grateful,” says Forshay. “I love when the kids tell me I’m their reason for being happy in the morning.” She says she will miss the students, the nursing home residents, her school resource officer (SRO) and her police friends.

“It’s their hugs I will miss; their hugs keep me going,” Forshay says of the Liberty police. Forshay said she was almost born under a red light, when her parents’ car ran out of gas. The police took her mother to the hospital. “I’ve loved cops ever since,” she says. “They almost delivered me.”

“If I had one word to describe her, it would definitely be feisty,” says Breann Jones, an SRO for the Liberty Central School District. Jones says in addition to her feistiness, Forshay is very sweet, and will be greatly missed.

“On the last day of school, I’ll be out in my birthday suit, because it’s the only outfit they’ve never seen,” jokes Forshay, “but the police said I’d need a permit for that.”

As for what will happen to Forshay’s vast collection of hats: she would like to raffle them off, or donate them to the school or police department to hand to children who might be having a tough day.

“I’m not ready to quit, I’m not old yet,” says Forshay, thinking of ways she can spread kindness and cheer to a school or nursing home where she moves to next.

“There’s always a plus to a minus,” she says, and quotes, “Life is a classroom, but love is the lesson.

Seniors, Forshay, Liberty Police,


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