Photo of the Week: The building of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge

[Verrazano Narrows], 1963, v1984.1.137; Brooklyn slide collection, v1984.001; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Verrazano Narrows], 1963, v1984.1.137; Brooklyn slide collection, v1984.001; Brooklyn Historical Society.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  The construction of the bridge began in 1959, the upper deck was finished and opened in November of 1964, and the lower deck was completed five years later in 1969.  It was named after the Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano and the body of water over which it spans, the Narrows.

The MTA website describes several interesting facts about the bridge, namely:
Its monumental 693 foot high towers are 1 5/8 inches farther apart at their tops than at their bases because the 4,260 foot distance between them made it necessary to compensate for the earth’s curvature.

The bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened and continues to be the prettiest drive in and out of Brooklyn in my opinion. The picture above is not the typical iconic photograph we are accustomed to seeing – if you look closely, you’ll see five (is that a sixth three rows down?) construction workers doing the dangerous work of this huge public works project overseen by Robert Moses.  The Brian Lehrer Show hosted Gay Talese this week to discuss his new book, The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and took calls from men who worked on it – fascinating listen.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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November Staff Pick from the BHS Gift Shop: A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick by Meryl Meisler

Welcome to the latest installment of Brooklyn Historical Society STAFF PICKS, a fun way to explore our awesome gift shop! The BHS Gift Shop features many items crafted right here in Brooklyn, as well as an array of fascinating books on the history and culture of New York City and our favorite borough. Once a month we feature a staff member and their favorite book from our gift shop because, let’s face it, who better than our Brooklyn-lovin’ staff to give great gift ideas?

This month we chat with Lindsay Palmer Vint, BHS’s Visitor Services and Retail Manager, whose favorite book in the BHS Gift Shop is A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick by Meryl Meisler. Lindsay recommends this book to anyone who is interested in the history and culture of Brooklyn.

Lindsay_DiscoEraBushwick

November Staff Pick!

Even more so than today, New York City in the late 1970s and early 80s was a place of extremes. While partiers danced the night away at Studio 54 and other disco-era clubs, an entire neighborhood crumbled under the strains of poverty, arson, and civic neglect. A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick captures this drastic division in stunning detail. Photographer Meryl Meisler had inside access to both worlds: after rubbing elbows with (and snapping pictures of) some of the most high-profile revelers of the era, she shifted her focus to a teaching position in the devastated neighborhood of Bushwick, taking her camera and her passion for photography with her.

This captivating book juxtaposes Meisler’s photos of these two strikingly different worlds, images that captured a New York of the past in all its grit and bacchanalian glory. The images are accompanied by writings from authors who experienced the devastation of Bushwick first hand, along with Bushwick historians and educators, disco divas, and more. Their writings provide a glimpse into life beyond the moments captured in Meisler’s photos and remind us that although times have changed in NYC, some of the same issues remain today.

Village People

The Village People Stepping Out, The Grand Ballroom, NY, NY, June 1978, By Meryl Meisler (merylmeisler.com)

Three Amigos

Three Amigos
Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY, 1983
By Meryl Meisler (merylmeisler.com)


Lindsay Palmer Vint/ Visitor Services and Retail Manager/ Lefferts Gardens/ Train Reader

“If you live in or are from Bushwick, this is a must have coffee table book! It is a great record of another era and an important piece of Brooklyn’s history. The photos tell a thousand tales.” – Lindsay

What is the last book you read? Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I think this book is more about what it feels like to be trapped in the modern mind as it wrestles with obsession, addiction and recovery, pleasure, pain, family relationships and cultural inheritance.  It also makes fun of the commercialization of every aspect of modern life, and in tone it is both wildly funny and terribly depressing.

Any favorite hobbies? Making art, design, photography, walking my dog in Prospect Park, yoga, thinking, and reading.

Why A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick? I used to live in Bushwick and I walked these same streets thousands of times with my dog.  Although I encountered Bushwick over thirty years later, I still experienced the incredible culture of the neighborhood: families and friends gathered on stoops at night, great food, street life, graffiti, “railroad” style housing, and many of the same store fronts and empty lots still exist today. The neighborhood hit hard times in the 1970’s, but Bushwick is in the throes of gentrification now and things are changing quickly.  Rents skyrocketed and so my husband and I, like many residents, had to move. It is hard to imagine that the same neighborhood could become so attractive to outsiders, and it is interesting to remember that in the 1970’s people and industry were rapidly retreating from Bushwick.  But beyond shedding light on the history of this great Brooklyn neighborhood, this book documents the people and landscape of Bushwick in the 1970’s, a time of great change.  I enjoyed comparing the photos to my own experience in the neighborhood.

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Pick up your copy of A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick ($40+tax) at the Brooklyn Historical Society Gift Shop. We’re open Monday through Sunday from 12pm to 5pm!

Gift Shop Photo

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Photo of the Week: In Honor of Our Veterans

[Survivors of the Fourteenth Regiment], ca. 1890, v1991.12.7; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Survivors of the Fourteenth Regiment], ca. 1890, v1991.12.7; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202; Brooklyn Historical Society.

In honor of Veterans Day yesterday, this week’s photograph highlights Brooklyn’s veterans.  The above photograph depicts veterans of the 14th Regiment, New York State Militia (also known as the 84th New York Infantry), at the dedication of their monument on the battlefield at Gettysburg. The regiment lost a total of 217 men over the course of the three-day battle.

The regiment, also known as Brooklyn’s “Fighting Fourteenth,” was created on July 4, 1847 through an act of the New York State Legislature. At the time of the Civil War, many of its members were abolitionists.  The Fighting Fourteenth they saw an enormous amount of combat during the war, fighting in the first and second Battles of Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Battle of the Wilderness, and of course, Gettysburg.  They were known for their fighting zeal as well as their red “Zouave” style trousers, prompting Confederate General Stonewall Jackson to dub them the “red-legged devils.”

In the decades after the war, pilgrimages to battle sites were common among veterans groups. Often, groups of Union and Confederate soldiers would meet and shake hands on the battlefield, signifying the symbolic reconciliation of the two regions.

Some of the members of the Fighting Fourteenth will be featured in BHS’s upcoming exhibition, Personal Correspondents: Photgoraphy and Letter-Writing in Civil War Brooklyn, which opens on April 9, 2015 – the date of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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Map of the Month–November 2014

November map of the month

Map showing the position of the main ground-water table on Long Island, New York, 1904. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

For the November Map of the Month, I have chosen a relative newcomer to the catalog, “Map showing the position of the main ground-water table on Long Island, New York,” published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1904. This map landed on my desk with 2 others, “Map of Long Island, New York showing location of wells” and “Map showing the waterworks systems of Long Island, New York.” All bore plate numbers from “Professional Paper No. 44.” A quick catalog check found this paper to be Underground Water Resources of Long Island, New York, weighing in at 385 pages with both a general index and an index of well data. The report is, as one would expect, quite detailed, and with 34 plates and 71 illustrations and maps, thoroughly documented. This map, at 16 x 31”, is by far the smallest of the three extracted for individual cataloging.

The City of Brooklyn had been increasingly dependent on the water resources of western Long Island throughout the 19th century. As the population grew, the Brooklyn system for water supply extended as far east as Massapequa to pump water to the Ridgewood Reservoir. These wells can be seen in the solid blue dots on the detail below:

November map of the month detail

Map showing the position of the main ground-water table on Long Island, New York, 1904, detail. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Other easily identified details on this map are the wells from perched water tables shown in red. (Perched water sits above the water table atop an impermeable layer.) The blue shading indicates areas of artesian flow, where water from the water table flows to the surface under its own pressure. The broad contour of Long Island’s geologic makeup can be easily seen in this contrast between the red-dotted north and the blue-shaded south. The map also shows contour lines indicating the depth of the water table over the entire island.

According to the Encyclopedia of New York, one reason Brooklyn consolidated with New York in 1895 was to gain access to the New York water supply and the Croton Reservoir system. The New York City Department of Water Supply was created in 1905, and after study, it chose the Catskill region for development of the New York City water supply. No doubt this map, and the report from which it came, helped inform that decision.

Interested in seeing more maps? You can view the BHS map collection anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. No appointment is necessary to view most maps.

This map was cataloged with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.

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Shop Talk with Brooklyn Makers: Brooklyn Rehab

Welcome to Shop Talk, our regular series highlighting some of the fantastic Brooklyn-made products (and their makers) available in the BHS Gift Shop, open daily from 12pm to 5pm!

Brooklyn Rehab

Alyssa Zygmunt, the creator of Brooklyn Rehab, uses her daily observations of NYC culture to create inspired and unique products that make the perfect souvenirs for out-of-towners and seasoned New Yorkers alike. From key chains and salt and pepper shakers, to glass bottles with labels of local bodies of water, such as the Gowanus Canal (because that water must be tasty!), and 100% authentic New York City pigeon feathers sealed in test tubes, Alyssa gives new life to existing objects while still managing to keep a timeless feel (and give a nod to those who know NYC best).

Join us as we get to know Alyssa and some of the great ways she reworks items and creates new NYC-inspired products …

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

I’m one part designer and one part anthropologist. I studied Industrial Design at Carnegie Mellon University and have done all kinds of design, from fashion to medical tool design. More recently I wanted to get my hands dirty, so to speak, so I left my full-time job, where my designs were mass produced, and traded it in for a studio in Greenpoint, where my designs are created and assembled by hand.

What do you make?
I create modern souvenirs with a timeless feel, like the laser cut building, as well vintage-inspired ones, such as the water bottles featuring local bodies of water. I also apply my artwork as a decal to both glass and ceramics.

How long have you been at it?
It started as a side business while I was working as an in-house professional designer, but I started doing it full-time four years ago.

What is the story behind how you develop your product?
I observe the local culture and then design objects that celebrate it. In the past I created fake bed bug specimens to acknowledge and poke fun at the paranoia that took over the city a while back. My work is like an insider’s nod or wink, like how I label water bottles after the Gowanus Canal for the store By Brooklyn. Locals know you would never want to drink that polluted water!

Walk us through a typical day…
I ride my bike to my studio in Greenpoint, picking up my favorite coffee, Blue Bottle, as I go. I work with a wonderful view of both the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and am surrounded by my collections of vintage souvenirs and endless supplies for making things.

What are you doing when you’re not working?
Exploring the city. Riding my bike.

Where do you live, and what do you love the most about your neighborhood?
I’ve lived in Williamsburg for the last 10 years, but I am now moving to Bedford-Stuyvesant. Williamsburg has lost its industrial roots and creative vibe so I am moving to a place where there is more breathing room and space for artists to create. It feels more authentic and it’s actually quite friendly in Bed-Stuy. Neighbors say hello to each other. There is a real sense of community that you lose when there are more tourists than residents, like what has happened in Williamsburg.

What type of art or design currently inspires you?
Scandinavian design. Natural materials and simple, yet bold designs.

What is your favorite NYC museum?
The City Reliquary. It’s an amazing space!

If not creating, what else would you be doing?
Traveling the world learning local handcrafts.

For more Brooklyn Rehab products, visit the BHS Gift Shop, open daily from 12pm to 5pm! You can also learn more on their website, brooklynrehabny.com.

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