Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

A little girl goes missing in 1960s Chelsea

July 14, 2014

EdithkiecoriusphotoIt was February 1961, Washington’s birthday. Four-year-old Edith Kiecorius had taken the subway from her Brooklyn home with her widowed mother and brother to visit her uncle in Manhattan.

Her uncle’s apartment was on Eighth Avenue near 18th Street, in the “deteriorating” neighborhood of Chelsea, as one newspaper described it at the time.

Edith spent the afternoon playing outside on the sidewalk. Her uncle left her alone for a few minutes to buy cigarettes, and by the time he came back around 4 pm, the little girl in a purple snowsuit had vanished.

In an era without Amber Alerts or even 911, police seemed to pull out all the stops to find her. Over the next week, they set up special hotlines for anyone who may have seen her; they searched rooftops, sewers, and the bottom of the Hudson.

Edithkiecoriuspolicegetty

“Detectives leafed through records of mental hospitals for women recently released and checked death lists,” reported the New York Times, as the police felt the person who took her might have “a frustrated mother instinct.”

Edithk307west20thstOn February 27, Edith’s body was found on a bed in a one-room flat at 307 West 20th Street (at left today), a “dingy Chelsea rooming house,” as a front-page Times piece put it. She’d been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.

The killer was captured a few days later. Fred Thompson, a 59-year-old drifter who had just rented the room in the West 20th Street house. He admitted to cops that while in a drunken stupor, he lured Edith to his room by telling her that he had his “own little girl” she could play with.

He assaulted and beat her, then left her in the room while he spent days drinking on the Bowery. When he learned that police had found Edith’s body and that he was the prime suspect, he fled to Philadelphia and then to a New Jersey chicken farm.

Edithkfredthompsonnyt“Assistant Chief Inspector James J. Walsh of the New York City police said after questioning Thompson he had said, ‘I know I deserve my full punishment for what I did,'” the Times wrote.

“Asked what he meant by ‘full punishment,’ Thompson was quoted as saying ‘life imprisonment or the electric chair.'”

Thompson was tried and found guilty later that year; the verdict carried a mandatory death sentence.

But according to one source, Thompson, above, was instead institutionalized for the rest of his life.

[Second photo: Getty Images; Fourth photo: NYTimes]

The “Jews’ Highway” crossing the East River

July 10, 2014

Williamsburgbridgepraying1909As the second (and some say much less attractive) bridge spanning the East River, the Williamsburg Bridge didn’t score the same adulation as the Brooklyn Bridge did.

Opened in 1903 and until the 1920s the longest suspension bridge in the world, the humble Williamsburg sparked the migration of thousands of Jewish immigrants from the cramped Lower East Side to slightly more spacious Brooklyn.

The bridge scored such heavy traffic from Jewish New Yorkers in the early 1900s, the tabloid-ish New York Tribune called it the “Jews’ Highway.'”

“In its early years, the walkway, which was wide enough for pushcarts, was so crowded with peddlers transporting their wares to and from Manhattan that one newspaper dubbed it the ‘Jews’ Highway,'” writes Victor Lederer in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Williamsburg.

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Watch a fantastic news clip of opening day on the bridge and the top-hatted dignitaries who ceremoniously walked across it first.

[Photo: Jews praying on the Williamsburg Bridge, New Year's Day, 1909, from the LOC]

A fading sign of Williamsburg’s industrial past

July 7, 2014

On Kent Avenue is this well-preserved reminder that Williamsburg was once known for its industry and factories.

And the bonus faded ad: a GE logo!

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Cleaners Sales & Equipment Corp was in Williamsburg at least into the 1990s. There’s an address for it in Orangeburg, New York now.

Frank Jump has a little more company background.

Explaining Coney Island to the rest of the world

June 30, 2014

Much has been written about Coney Island, once just a thread of sandy beach supposedly named for its rabbit population (konij is Dutch for rabbit).

By the 1880s, of course, this little outpost had become Sodom by the Sea—a tawdry playground of hotels, pavilions, dime museums, freak shows, amusement parks, exotic animals, and more, all bathed in thousands of colored lights.

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The phenomenon that was Coney Island attracted hordes of working class New Yorkers as well as foreign journalists, who wrote articles attempting to explain Coney to curious readers outside New York City.

Lunapark1906These articles serve as an illuminating look at the spectacle that rose out of the sand in just a few short post-Civil War decades.

“Coney Island, one of the great resorts for the million, is reached from the foot of 23rd Street in about an hour,” wrote English novelist Mary Duffus Hardy in her account of traveling through the United States in 1881.

“A few years ago it was a mere wide waste of sand, and was bought by a clever speculator for a mere song; it is now worth millions of dollars, and is covered on all sides by a miscellaneous mass of buildings of all descriptions.

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“The hotels are crowded, every nook and corner of the island filled to overflowing during the season; the beach is covered with a lively mass of holiday-makers, all bent on enjoying themselves; gay bunting is flaunting and flying everywhere; musicians are hard at work, beating drums, scraping fiddles, and blowing trumpets, as though their very life depended on the noise they are making.

Coneyislandpaddlingmcny1896“Altogether, it is a gay, stirring scene. Coney Island is not a place where the fashionable or aristocratic multitude most do congregate; it is a rather fast, jolly, rollicking place, and serves its purpose well, as the health-breathing lungs of a great city. . .  .”

In a 1905 issue of The Cosmopolitan, another English writer, Richard Le Gallienne, explained Coney Island this way:

“If you are too superior to have your fortune told by some peasant woman who knows nothing about it, and knows that you know that she doesn’t—don’t go to Coney Island.

Coneyislandsurfave1896mcny“Coney Island exists, and will go on existing, because into all men, gentle and simple, poor and rich—including women—by some mysterious corybantic instinct in their blood, has been born a tragic need of coarse excitement, a craving to be taken in by some illusion however palpable.

“So, following the example of those old nations, whose place she has so vigorously taken, America has builded for herself a Palace of Illusion, and filled it with every species of talented attractive monster, every misbegotten fancy of the frenzied nerves, every fantastic marvel of the moonstruck brain—and she has called it Coney Island.

NY3DBox“Ironic name—a place lonely with rabbits, a spit of sandy beach so near to the simple life of the sea and watched over by the summer night; strange Isle of Monsters, Preposterous Palace of Illusion, gigantic parody of pleasure—Coney Island.”

For more on Coney Island in the late 19th century, and all the other resorts and pleasure gardens where New Yorkers spent their leisure time, read New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age.

[Photos: Top, New-York Historical Society; two through five: MCNY/Byron Collection]

New York’s wonderful old-school pizza signs

May 3, 2014

With pizza gone high-end and foodie these days, it’s time to pay homage to the classic corner pizza parlor and pizzeria restaurant, where a slice of cheese generally costs the same as a subway ride and the store signage screams no-frills 1970s.

Royalpizzasign

Royal Pizza has been feeding pies on Third Avenue and 39th Street since 1973. This privilege sign looks like it hasn’t been changed in decades.

V&Tpizzeriasignneon

With its wonderful pink and blue neon sign (decorated with illustrations of Venetian gondoliers!), V&T Pizzeria has been slicing pies since 1945.

Stevespizzasign

I don’t know the age of Steve’s Pizza, in the Financial District. But this is classic New York corner pizza signage.

Samspizzasign

Sam’s, on Court Street in Brooklyn, goes all the way back to 1930. In an otherwise good review, New York describes it as looking like a set from The Sopranos and having “the faint smell of a 1970s basement.”

An abstract painter’s kaleidoscopic Brooklyn

April 28, 2014

Born in 1877 in Italy, Joseph Stella came to New York City to study medicine. Instead, he pursued art, earning notoriety in the teens for his Futurist works that show the icons of the modern city in fantastical, kaleidoscopic colors.

Frankstellalunapark

In 1913, Stella turned his eye toward Coney Island. Above is his rendering of Luna Park; below, “Battle of Lights, Coney Island.” Both were painted in 1913.

His style isn’t to everyone’s taste, but his increasingly geometric and abstract work depicts an energetic, industrialized 20th century city.

FrankstellabattleoflightsThis view of the Brooklyn Bridge, below, dates to 1920. “Stella’s depictions of the Brooklyn Bridge feature the diagonal cables that sweep downward forcefully, providing directional energy,” according to the Phillips Collection.

“While these dynamic renderings of the Bridge suggest the excitement and motion of modern life, in Stella’s hands the image of the Bridge also becomes a powerful icon of stability and solidarity.”

Frankstellabrooklynbridge

Moving to Brooklyn in 1917, he found the borough freeing and inspiring.

“Brooklyn gave me a sense of liberation,'” Stella explained. ‘The vast view of her sky in opposition to the narrow one of New York was a relief—and at night, in her solitude, I used to find, intact, the green freedom of my own self.”

Medicine ads targeting the city’s aches and pains

April 7, 2014

When these medicine trade cards were circulating around New York, surgery was in its infancy and antibiotics had yet to be invented. The average New Yorker wouldn’t have enjoyed easy access to a doctor.

Thelittlepetstradecard1

So when aches and pains and ailments struck, potions and remedies like these were there, ready to be picked up at the corner pharmacy.

Thelittlepetstradecard2

[Above: the front and back of an ad for "Scott's Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil With the Hyophosphites of Lime and Soda," for a cough]

Germantradecard1

Did they work? Without an ingredient list, it’s tough to know. But the cards are interesting to look at—a reminder that earlier generations dealt with the stomach issues, headaches, and colds that drive us to Duane Reade today.

Germantradecard2

[Above, the back and front of a trade card for a medicine sold by Charles Schneider of East 17th Street, then the upper reaches of Kleindeutschland, the city's German neighborhood. What is it for?]

Rosycheekstradecard

[Above: Alexander's Cholera Infantum Cure, made by the Alexander Medicine Co. in 14th Street and Sixth Avenue and sold by a druggist named Rosenzweig in Brooklyn, could help your kids get rosy cheeks, apparently.]

They’re part of the wonderful William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards in the New York Academy of Medicine Library—which has a recently renovated and reopened Rare Book Room, available to researchers by appointment at their headquarters on Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street.

New York’s high-school student strike of 1950

March 24, 2014

StudentstrikebrooklynpubliclibraryIt all started with a proposed teacher pay raise.

In 1950, New York City high school teachers called on Mayor William O’Dwyer to increase their 2-5K yearly salaries by $600.

O’Dwyer balked, offering no more than $200. In response, teachers stopped supervising extracurricular activities. So O’Dwyer’s administration suspended sport teams, clubs, and other school groups.

With their extracurriculars gone, students were angry.

To protest O’Dwyer, they staged a student strike over three days in late April, ditching their morning classes or not showing up at all.

SchoolstrikeheadlineInstead, thousands of high-school kids (mostly from Brooklyn) marched to City Hall in Lower Manhattan, with the number of strikers swelling on the third day.

“Carrying banners on which their pro-teacher sentiments were scrawled in lipstick, they held up subway trains, wrecked automobiles, and dared police to break them up and were prevented only by hasty police action from forcing their way into the office of Mayor O’Dwyer, who had refused to discuss higher salaries,” wrote Life on May 8.

Studentstrikelifemagazine

Of the strikers, The New York Times reported, “The vast majority of the youngsters were laughing and good-natured, and moved when they were asked. A few tried to stand their ground and spoke sharply to the police about ‘democracy’ and ‘people’s rights.'”

Studentstrikelifemagazine2By that third afternoon, the police had cleared out the students, and most returned to class the next morning.

School officials claimed the strikes were organized by “subversive elements,” according to Life. The teachers insisted they had nothing to do with it and denounced the striking students.

Was it worth it? Well, it took another 18 months for the city and the teachers to reach a pay compromise, and extracurriculars didn’t resume until September 1951, according to an excellent piece on the strike from Brooklynology.

[Top photo: Brooklynology/Brooklyn Public Library; Life magazine]

Old Brooklyn’s adorable schoolyard gardeners

March 22, 2014

The whole farm-to-table food movement? It’s not as new to affluent Brooklyn as you’d think.

In 1905, this group of young, sun-protected (look at those wide-brimmed hats and bonnets!) residents posed next to their wheelbarrows and watering cans in their backyard school garden.

Prattlittlefarmerskindergarten1905

They were enrolled in the kindergarten at Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill, which apparently had a little plot of land to help these city kids learn about dirt, seeds, and growing their own food.

Gorgeous neon signs illuminating the city

March 3, 2014

What’s more beautiful than block after block of glowing reds and blues and pinks and yellows, emanating light and heat?

Oldhomesteadsign

These food-oriented neon signs also make you hungry. The Old Homestead sign looks pretty old, though not as old as this steak house (two words!) itself, from 1868.

Donutpub14thstreet

The Donut Pub on 14th Street, a 50-year-old remnant of New York before cronuts and Starbucks, recently survived a competitive attack by an upstart Dunkin’ Donuts down the block, which quietly closed shop a few years ago.

DeRobertispastryshoppe

DeRobertis Caffe and Pasticceria has been baking sweets for 110 years on First Avenue near 14th Street, when this was an Sicilian immigrant micro-neighborhood featuring Russo Brothers, Veniero, and probably hundreds of small shops lost to history.

Queensign

Queen is an oddly named Italian restaurant (since 1958!) on Court Street in Brooklyn. You have to dig that crown.

Katzsign

And of course, Katz’s Deli, a treasure of New York neon and store signage—and sandwiches and Jewish soul food too.

More sublime neon beauty can be found here.


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