Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

Let the Brooklyn Bridge show you the way

June 8, 2020

The Brooklyn Bridge (or the East River Bridge, as this 1920 postcard charmingly calls it) is many things.

It’s a display of engineering might, a graceful web of wire over water, a symbol of New York’s unity, the embodiment of promise and possibility. Let it be a source of inspiration during this time when our city has been tested.

[MCNY F2011.33.1882]

The mystery manhole cover on Central Park West

June 1, 2020

The most interesting manhole covers are the ones that tell us who made it and when it was put in place: the name of an ironworks company, the initials of a city department, a date.

This cover, on Central Park West south of 86th Street, doesn’t offer much in the way of clues.

The two decorative stars feel very 19th century. “Water Supply” could certainly mean it was part of the Croton Aqueduct system; its location outside Central Park could be evidence that it had something to do with the receiving reservoir that existed in the park.

It looks like no other manhole cover I’ve encountered in Manhattan. But there is an identical one in Brooklyn (above). It’s on Eastern Parkway near Prospect Park.

How yellow fever rebranded a Brooklyn village

April 27, 2020

Epidemics have shaped the growth and geography of New York. And one 19th century epidemic changed a neighborhood’s name, too.

That’s what happened with the Brooklyn enclave formerly known as Yellow Hook. This farming village overlooking New York Bay was originally part of the town of New Utrecht. It was located south of Red Hook, that other hook-shaped piece of land jutting into the water.

Yellow Hook was named by 17th century Dutch settlers for the “peculiar yellowish tint of the land,” according to a 1930 article in the Brooklyn Times Union.

But the name became something of a problem two centuries later, when outbreaks of yellow fever hit Brooklyn in the decade before the Civil War.

The disease was possibly carried to Brooklyn shores by the ships quarantined at Staten Island, according to Mrs. Otto Heinigke, a lifelong resident who was interviewed by the Times Union in 1929 and remembers the epidemic and the “dying shore-dwellers.”

Hundreds of people from Yellow Hook and neighboring Fort Hamilton perished, she said. After the outbreak died down, the “leading men” met at the Yellow Hook schoolhouse, which stood at today’s Third Avenue and 73rd Street, according to the newspaper.

A name change, they felt, would get rid of the negative associations Yellow Hook could have with the deadly, dreaded disease.

The group liked the name Port Lafayette, explained  Mrs. Heinigke, who was described by the Times Union as an “alert little lady” descended from a prominent local family and still living in a gas-lit mansion.

Mrs. Heinigke’s father was the one who came up with the official new name: Bay Ridge. “And so it was that when my father suggested the name ‘Bay Ridge,’ because the section overlooked the bay from a wooded ridge, they all seized upon it at once,”  she explained. “That is how the section got its name.”

As far as I know, the only remnants of the Yellow Hook name in today’s Bay Ridge is a restaurant called the Yellow Hook Grille. And I also heard that the local library has a historical marker explaining the abrupt name change.

[Top image: NYPL Map of the Battle of Brooklyn, 1776; second and third images: NYPL; fourth image: MCNY 58.84.2; fifth image: Brooklyn Times Union, 1929]

A Brooklyn anti-spitting ad to bring back today

March 23, 2020

Public health messaging doesn’t get more straightforward than this ad, which in plain language told the people of Brooklyn to stop “careless” spitting. (Is there any other kind?)

The Brooklyn Tuberculosis Committee put out the ad, probably in the 1910s. Is it time to bring back this message and add “coronavirus” to the list of diseases that can be spread by spit?

The ad was part of a 2011 Ephemeral New York post on the anti-spitting law passed in New York in 1896, which called for a $500 fine for anyone caught hocking a loogie in public. The aim of the law was to reduce rates of illnesses transmitted by respiratory fluids, many of which were at epidemic levels in poor neighborhoods and often fatal…not unlike the disease New York is trying to get under control in 2020.

[Ad courtesy of J. Warren]

The men who took the Fulton Ferry in 1914

March 2, 2020

In 1814, Robert Fulton’s Fulton Ferry Company began regular steamboat ferry service between Brooklyn and Manhattan. A century later, artist Herbert Bolivar Tschudy depicted the ferry and some of its riders in “Fulton Street Ferry, Evening, 1914.”

Tschudy’s ferry riders are men painted like a monolith in dark colors, the Manhattan skyline like a fortress in the distance.

None of the riders look our way or even at one another. It’s the pose all commuters take, whether they’re on a ferry or subway or bus: don’t make eye contact, get lost in your thoughts or the view, and wait quietly until the ride is over.

Who is taking the steam ferry to Brooklyn in 1836

February 10, 2020

This was how you crossed the East River in the 1830s: by a steam-powered ferry sporting an American flag and a belching smokestack. Perhaps you’d be accompanied by some horses, one attached to a covered wagon.

That’s what this hand-colored 1836 engraving from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, by G.K. Richardson after William Henry Bartlett, tells us. It’s simply titled, “The Ferry at Brooklyn, New York.”

You might take this river crossing all in stride and not demonstrate any excitement about it, as the ladies talking in a circle on the left side of the ferry seem to be doing. Or the ferry ride might thrill you or make you ponder things, as you rest against the railing like the figures on the right.

Go to the Smithsonian site via the link above and use the zoom button to really see the ferry riders.

A grocery sign comes back into view in Brooklyn

January 20, 2020

Every summer for more than 40 years, 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst has hosted a festival honoring the patron saint of Palermo, Italy. It’s the kind of event that features all the good stuff you’d expect at an Italian-themed street fair, like carnival rides and zeppole stands.

Did the I & C Food Market get to be a part of it?

The sign for this little corner store recently reemerged on the corner of 18th Avenue and 70th Street, but it’s hard to date the signage and get a sense of how old it is.

“Groceries” it says on one side—such an old-fashioned word for the kind of establishment we call a deli or bodega today.

[Thanks to Eric V. for the pics!]

A Lower East Side artist who painted the city

January 6, 2020

You might not know of Samuel Halpert, who was born in Bialystok, Russia (now Poland) and moved with his family to live among other Eastern European immigrants on the Lower East Side in 1890 when he was five years old.

[“The Flatiron Building,” 1919]

But you’ll recognize the New York City he painted in the 1910s and 1920s. Some of his subjects—new skyscrapers, steel bridges—foretold that the 20th century would be big and bold.

Other subjects, such as the East River waterfront, downtown neighborhoods, and the poetic view from tenement rooftops, were more intimate glimpses of the moods of the modern city.

[“Sheridan Square, New York,” 1920]

Halpert’s art education consisted of classes at neighborhood settlement houses, then the National Academy of Design as well as the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

He exhibited at the famous 1913 Armory Show, and also painted figures, interior scenes, and murals (for the money, according to a biography from the Spellman Gallery).

[“Downtown,” 1922]

But perhaps the New York he came of age in was his main inspiration and most popular subject matter—which he took on in a style that blended Post-Impressionism and Fauvism (in the style of “wild beasts,” according to one source).

[“City View,” date unknown]

Halpert’s talent was immense, and he attracted attention. But his life was brief. He moved between New York and Paris in the teens, came back to New York for a spell, then took a teaching job at the Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit in 1926.

[“A View of the Brooklyn Bridge,” date unknown]

Halpert died in 1930. While his name is mostly forgotten, his colorful, sometimes dynamic and sometimes somber paintings remain…and deserve a wider audience.

How Edward Hopper sees the Manhattan Bridge

December 30, 2019

Edward Hopper has painted the Manhattan Bridge before; “Manhattan Bridge Loop,” from 1928, depicts this least-celebrated East River crossing with “eerie stillness” and a sense of solitude and isolation.

Two years earlier, he captured something similar in “Manhattan Bridge” (owned by the Whitney Museum). It’s a scene free of human beings and any clue about the time of day or season of the year.

The Manhattan Bridge span (only 17 years old in 1926) is flowy and graceful. The low-rise red building at the water’s edge is literally on its last legs; it leans away from the bridge like it’s afraid of it.

The scene seems so passive, it’s almost as if time is standing still…but time is rushing forth. The old city of wood shacks is bowing down to the modern metropolis of steel bridges that are supposed to connect people in an urban landscape that actually isolates.

Was the Brooklyn Bridge really painted green?

December 23, 2019

Vintage postcards of the Brooklyn Bridge get me every time—especially postcards like this one, which show the bridge not as a symbol of New York’s might but as a reflection of the solitary and personal.

As much as I like this postcard, which is actually a reproduction of an older version, one thing stands out to me: Was the Brooklyn Bridge’s web of steel beams and cables ever really painted green?

Apparently not. The original color was either red or something dubbed “Brooklyn Bridge Tan,” according to a 2010 New York Post article.

This postcard is undated, but I’d place it in the 1920s—and so far I haven’t found any evidence that the bridge underwent a green paint job during that decade. But it sure makes for an enchanting postcard!