Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

Who was crowned Miss Brooklyn in 1939?

March 2, 2015

All spring, the contest was heavily advertised in the Brooklyn Eagle. Any single woman born in New York City and currently living in the borough between the ages of 16 and 23 could enter.

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Interestingly for a beauty contest, beauty was not necessary, according to the Eagle. “Judging will be on the basis of poise, personality, and appearance,” the guidelines stated.

MissbrooklynrulesThe judges, a group of business leaders, were tasked with looking for someone who exemplified the “typical local girl.”

Hundreds of women entered the competition that year, with several deemed finalists (and getting their photos in the Eagle) before the winner was revealed during Brooklyn Week at the World’s Fair in May.

So who won? The crown went to Miss Elinore Bertrand, 16, of West 2nd Street, who attended Bay Ridge High School.

Missbrooklyn1939She was awarded $25 and the chance to compete for Miss New York later that summer.

Bertrand (at right) seemed to be a bit of a sore loser. After she failed to grab the Miss New York title, she was so upset, she ran away to Philadelphia!

Miss Brooklyn wasn’t the only beauty contest of the era. Miss Rheingold, running until 1964, may have been even more popular.

And Miss Subways, which existed from the 1940s to the 1970s, was huge citywide.

When New York winters were spent on the ice

February 16, 2015

One of the few activities open to both men and women in the 19th century city, ice skating was hugely popular.

“Skating in a moral and social point, is particularly suited to our republican ideas as a people,” stated the handbook published by the Brooklyn Skating Rink Association for the 1868-1869 season.

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Above, skating at Brooklyn’s Union Pond in 1863, once in the town of Williamsburgh on Marcy Avenue.

“The millionaire and the mechanic, the lady of fashion and those of humbler rank, all meet together to enjoy this fascinating and beautiful exercise.”

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How democratic ice skating was is not exactly clear. Ice was plentiful, but you needed the money to buy or rent skates.

And the fashionable attire worn by ladies on the ice, as seen in this Winslow Homer painting from 1861, was not cheap.

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These sleighs and the handsome teams that pulled them were costly as well, afforded by only the richest New Yorkers.

This Currier & Ives lithograph shows the skaters and the sleighs, sharing a snowy Central Park in what looks like the 1860s.

The Manhattan Bridge’s two lost lovely ladies

February 9, 2015

Look closely: in this 1920s postcard depicting the grand Manhattan Bridge approach from Brooklyn, you can make out two statues inside the granite pylons flanking the roadway.

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These heroic sculptures—created during the City Beautiful era, when art was meant to inspire and uplift—were known as “Manhattan” and “Brooklyn.”

Installed seven years after the bridge opened in 1909 and designed by Daniel Chester French, these 12-foot lovely ladies represented the attributes of each borough.

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Impressive, right? But by the 1960s, they were gone—victims of bridge reconstruction in the age of Robert Moses and the automobile.

Luckily, Manhattan and Brooklyn didn’t end up in pieces in a Meadowlands dump, the sad fate of parts of the original Penn Station.

ManhattanstatueInstead, they were brought to the Brooklyn Museum, where they’ve guarded the entrance since 1963.

Interestingly, the attributes of each statue represent the way we view the boroughs today.

For Manhattan, that means hubris. “The pose of the figure of Manhattan typifies splendor and pride, of which the peacock at her side is the emblem,” says a 1915 article.

Brooklynstatue“The right foot of the statue rests upon a treasure-box and a winged ball in the statue’s hand suggests the City’s domination in world affairs.”

Meanwhile, Brooklyn has a softer, more artistic and educational vibe.

“Beside the figure of Brooklyn stands a church and the arm of the statue rests upon a lyre, symbolizing music.”

“A Roman tablet which the figure holds on its knee indicates study, and a child at its feet reading from a book typifies the Borough’s well-filled schools.”

[Statue photos: Brooklyn Museum]

A tasty Christmas menu from 1885 Brooklyn

December 22, 2014

“The Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York was founded by Washington Irving and others, as an organization to commemorate the history and heritage of New York, and to promote good fellowship among the members,” reads the St. Nicholas website.

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Since its beginning in 1835, the Society has hosted dinners—and this menu, from the wonderful collection of the New York Public Library—gives us a peek into what was served to commemorate Christmas 1885.

Held in Brooklyn Heights, the dinner was hosted by the “Nassau Island” branch of the Society, an interesting distinction.

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The menu (or Spyskaardt, an homage to Brooklyn’s Dutch beginnings) seems very New Amsterdam: turtle soup, oyster pies, roast goose. And sweet breads with peas!

Five hero firehouse dogs of old New York City

December 15, 2014

FirehousedogsNew York has had firefighters since Dutch colonial days, first in the form of volunteers and then, beginning in 1865, a professional paid force.

And in the days of horse-drawn engines and a less-sophisticated alarm system, firehouse dogs played an important role.

Often a stray who found his way to the house or an unwanted pup given to the chief, many these canines served their companies heroically, explains 1897 New York Times piece.

FiredogjacknytimesThere was Jack (left), of Hook and Ladder Company 18, on Attorney Street. He’s described as a “large, sober-looking, brown-and-black shaggy full-bred shepherd dog” by the Times.

“When the alarm rings, Jack hurries the horses by biting at their hind legs,” stated the Times.

“He runs with the team, directly in front of the engine, and when the scene of the fire is reached is the first to investigate, dashing recklessly in amid the smoke and flames.”

FiredogbarneynytimesJack reportedly would use his teeth to drag the hose up the stairs of a burning building, and when pleased “will show his teeth and laugh in a perfectly Rooseveltian manner.”

At Engine 25 on Fifth Street, Barney (right) was the resident fire mutt.

“At a fire in Engel & Heller’s wine cellar recently one of the men was overcome by the smoke,” noted the Times.

“Barney saw his comrade’s danger, and, remaining by his side, barked furiously until the others investigated and found the unconscious fireman.”

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Spot, of Engine Company 21 on East 40th Street, also earned kudos. “She goes into all the fires, unless too hot, and has distinguished herself for her bravery a number of times,” wrote the Times.

Firedog1920mcny“At command she bounds on the shoulders of a fireman, or on the back of one of the horses. The latter she makes her special charges . . . barking when they chance to gnaw at the pole straps.”

In 1936, on something called Animal Hero Day (sponsored by the New York Anti-Vivisection Society), a 3-year-old dalmatian named Susie, from Engine Company 2 on Lafayette Street, scored top honors.

Susie “was sunning herself in front of the firehouse when she smelled smoke in a paper twine warehouse next door,” stated the Times. “Her frantic barks brought the firemen and the blaze was put out.”

Firedog1905mcnyBut perhaps no dog was honored for bravery more than Chief, a stray who hung around Engine Company 203 in Brooklyn in 1929 and stayed for 10 years.

While helping with firefighting duties, “’Chief’ received numerous injuries, such as: cuts from broken glass and falling debris, burns from scalding water, and bruises from falling off the fire engine,” states the website of the New York City Fire Museum.

“His hallmark rescue was in 1936, for which he won 4 medals of honor. On November 21, a fire broke out in the Bermudez home in Brooklyn.

Firedogchief“Sixteen year-old Johnny Bermudez escorted his family part way downstairs but went back to the fourth floor to get his cat. ‘Chief’ ran into the building and returned carrying the cat, with his teeth.”

After being killed by a car in 1939, firefighters had Chief stuffed and mounted in the firehouse. Today, he belongs to the Fire Museum (above).

[Top and bottom photos: NYC Fire Museum; photos 2 and 3: NYTimes; photos 4,5, and 6: MCNY digital collection]

Why Gotham stuck as New York’s nickname

November 24, 2014

Washingtonirving1820It may have started out as an insult.

In 1807, Washington Irving was a young writer who ran with a pack of literary-minded pals, frequenting writerly haunts like the Shakespeare Tavern and Park Theater.

That year, he and his friends launched a literary magazine called Salmagundi, which ran satirical essays chronicling the “thrice renowned and delectable city of Gotham.”

Salmagundireprint1869Why Gotham? It was the name of an English village made popular in a series of stories from the Middle Ages about a town whose residents were all fools or madmen.

Translating into “Goat’s Town” (with goats not exactly being the smartest of animals), “Irving’s nickname was intended to mock New York’s culture and politics as he called out the ‘fools’ who had helped the city earn its new name,” stated museumofthecity.org.

Poking fun at the behavior and attitudes of fellow citizens is a time-honored New York tradition. But why would a nickname that could be interpreted as insulting stick?

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“Many of the tales merely portray the simple-mindedness of the townsfolk, but some—and here perhaps is the reason Irving’s New York didn’t reject the nickname right away—cast their folly differently, as a kind of in-joke of their own,” writes Jesse Zuba in New York.

Gothamsheetmusic1899nyplNew Yorkers love to feel like they’re clever enough to be in on the gag, and that may be why Gotham has triumphed as a popular nickname to this day (helped along two centuries later, when Gotham City became Batman’s hometown.)

You can actually read an 1826 version of The Merry Tales of the Three Wise Men of Gotham, the book that started it all.

[Second image: Salmagundi reprint from 1869; third: Gotham Theatre, NYPL Digital Gallery; fourth: 1899 sheet music, NYPL Digital Gallery]

Halloween greetings from an older New York City

October 20, 2014

“The desire of young people to avail themselves of the Halloween idea with its funny and weird traditions has found many methods of expression in this city,” wrote the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1894.

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That year, Halloween parties were held in private homes, then dutifully written up, guest lists and all, in the Eagle.

SadiesmithhalloweenpartySocials featuring dancing and apple-diving, singing, and midnight flute-playing were organized, according to the Eagle.

Halloween fever had swept the city and become a commercialized venture, the holiday’s religious undertones long gone, this 1908 Eagle Halloween ad from Brooklyn department store Loeser’s makes clear—with masks, lanterns, candy, and nuts all on sale.

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Trick or treating and the annual Halloween parade in the Village hadn’t yet become a tradition, of course. But sending Halloween greeting cards seems to have been super popular by the turn of the century.

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These sweetly spooky early 1900s Halloween cards come from the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery. More cards can be found here.

A city library designed to look like an open book

October 20, 2014

BPLwikiWhen you view it at street level, the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library looks like an imposing literary fortress, with a magnificent front door lined with Art Deco motifs of famous characters from great books.

But the architects behind it also gave the building a whimsical touch: they designed it to be shaped like an open book. The spine is at Grand Army Plaza, with one cover along Eastern Parkway and the other on Flatbush Avenue.

BPLunderconstruction

“In the nearly thirty years that had passed since breaking ground on the Central Library building in 1912, the modernist aesthetic, with its clean lines and austere façades, had taken hold. . .  .

“The new library building would be briskly modern, and the very shape of the building—with two wings stretching out like the covers of an open book—would reflect the purpose of the institution itself,” states the Brooklyn Public Library website.

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The open-book design is probably best viewed from the air, but the second photo, taken during construction, offers a sense of it. Clever, right?

Centre Street at Park Row: five views, 150 years

September 29, 2014

You wouldn’t know it by this low-rise buildings and muddy road. But when this photo was taken in the early 1860s, the intersection at Centre Street and Park Row was the nexus of New York’s political and publishing worlds.

Centrestreetparkrow1860s

On the left out of view is City Hall. At right is Tammany Hall, until 1868 headquarters for the Democratic political party machine.

The spire of St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church rises above the Tryon Row Buildings, topped by a sign that says “printer.” North of St. Andrews at this time is Five Points, the city’s terrible and notorious slum.

Centrestreetparkrow1890

Here’s the same intersection (from a slightly different vantage point) in 1890. The Tryon Row Buildings have been replaced by the First Judicial District Civil Court, notes the caption to New York Then and Now, which published the photo.

“The horsecar of the Fourth and Madison Avenue line is on its way uptown to Harlem, having just come from Park Row,” states the caption. “Begun in 1832, it was the first streetcar railway in the world.” At right are the offices of a popular German-language newspaper called New Yorker Staats-Zeitung.

Centrestreetparkrow1920s

Fast forward to 1925, and things are very different in this Brown Brothers photograph. Gone are the telephone poles and horsecars, replaced by street lamps and street cars.

The newspaper business has long decamped uptown. The Staats-Zeitung building was bulldozed to make way for the New York Municipal Building, opened in 1909. On the left is the lovely New York City Hall of Records, constructed in 1902.

Centrestreetparkrow1974

By 1974, Edmund V. Gillon, Jr.’s image shows us a canyon of city, state, and federal buildings, contemporary street lamps and lots and lots of car traffic.

And Tryon Row, which lent its name to the buildings in the 1860s photo? It appears to have been demapped by now.

Centrestreetparkrow20132

The traffic in 2014 is mostly by foot and bicycle. On a warm early fall afternoon, Centre Street and Park Row is packed with tourists and city dwellers enjoying City Hall Park or crossing the street to take a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge.

And look, they brought back the old-style street lamps!

One painter’s dreamy scenes of New York at play

September 22, 2014

Though he spent much of his life in his beloved Paris, Alfred Henry Maurer was a New Yorker from beginning to end.

Maurerrockawaybeach1901

Born in the city in 1868, he was the son of a German immigrant who worked as a talented lithographer for Currier and Ives.

After studying with William Merritt Chase, Maurer took off for Paris, the center of the art world at the time, where he worked in a mostly realist style, depicting beautiful women and cafe life in the city of light.

Maurercarrousel19011902

Briefly, Maurer returned to New York at the turn of the century. He won acclaim and awards, and in 1901 and 1902 he painted these enchanting scenes of New York’s Gilded Age leisure class at play.

Two paintings depict Rockaway Beach, the popular amusement playground developed in the early 1900s.

Maurerrockawaybeachwithpier1901

Another painting shows us a carousel in Brooklyn, with mothers and children watching the painted wooden horses under darkening skies.

MaurerselfportraitMaurer (in a self-portrait, right) didn’t stay in New York long—nor did he stick to his usual realist style.

Back in Paris again, he abandoned realism in favor of Matisse-influenced Modernism, doing abstract portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. Examples of his later works can be seen here.

World War I forced him back to his family apartment in New York City, where he continued to paint and take part in exhibitions, but garnered little of the critical acclaim he’d had as a younger man.

He died in Manhattan in 1932, committing suicide by hanging in his father’s West 43rd Street home.


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