Photo of the Week: July Fourth

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[View from Sheepshead Bay BMT Station], 1962/07/04, v1974.4.2073; John D. Morrell photographs, ARC.005; Brooklyn Historical Society.

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Ivanhoe Rifle Club, 1893/07/04, v1972.2.29; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, ARC.201; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Apparently, most people are too busy on July 4th to bother with photographs. In the Brooklyn Historical Society collections, there are only four photographs from this date: two photographs of an afternoon spent in a field in 1893 by the Ivanhoe Rifle Club, and two photographs taken seemingly randomly from the platform of the Sheepshead Bay train station in 1962. These two images belie the stereotype of July 4th as a day dedicated exclusively to barbecued meats and firework displays, although I am sure that many of you will be doing plenty of meat-eating while enjoying the fireworks over the East River.

Whether you decide to barbeque, or lay on the beach, or wander around the city, or watch Germany, France, Brazil and Colombia battle in the World Cup quarter finals, I hope you have an amazing, photo-worthy Fourth of July.

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 new 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. To leave a comment, contact: hchoiniere@brooklynhistory.org

Author: Halley Choiniere

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June Staff Pick from the BHS Gift Shop – Rats by Robert Sullivan

Introducing Brooklyn Historical Society STAFF PICKS, a new way to explore our awesome gift shop! Our gift shop has been open for a little over a year, featuring many items crafted right here in Brooklyn, as well as an array of books on Brooklyn and New York City suitable for the whole family. Once a month we will feature a staff member and their favorite item from our gift store because, let’s face it, who better than our Brooklyn lovin’ staff to give great gift ideas?

This month is all about Andy McCarthy, BHS Reference Librarian, and his favorite book from our gift shop: Rats: Observations on Oral History and Habitat of the City’s Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan.

Andy McCarthy / BHS Reference Librarian / Clinton Hill / Subway reader

What is the last book you read? Warlock by Oakley Hall about a western mining town having troubling holding on to a marshal because of psycho rustlers who keep killing them.

Any favorite hobbies? Talking too much.

Why Rats? The author Robert Sullivan wrote a book on the NY Meadowlands that is a classic. I have a thing for the subject on rats. That match was a literary gift.

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When strolling through NYC, there are certain things people notice regardless of who they are or where they’re from: a ton of people, a diverse palette of food, culture on every corner, and… rats! (New York City’s oldest mascot.) Rats can be spotted almost everywhere throughout the city, from the Lower East Side to the Upper West. Rats in New York City, much like their human neighbors, travel on the subway, engage in Manhattan’s nightlife, and hang out in Central Park. Although rats aren’t the most pleasant of little friends, they help make up the anatomy of New York City, so it is to no surprise that Robert Sullivan’s book, Rats, is Brooklyn Historical Society Reference Librarian, Andy McCarthy’s, favorite book in the shop.

Sullivan decided to write about rats while on a visit to a Native American conservation. Traditionally, Native Americans practice oneness with nature by not harming the earth or its animals. And although rats certainly qualify as animals, the Native Americans he visited did not consider rats “natural” animals. This sparked a thought in Sullivan’s mind about the rats in his city, how undesirable but natural they seem to be in New York. From rat fights to how they’re affected by the changing of seasons, Sullivan gives us a front row seat into the life of a distinctive kind of New Yorker.

Book Excerpt:

In the city, rats and men live in conflict, one side scurrying off from the other or perpetually destroying the others habitat or constantly attempting to destroy the other – an unending and brutish war. Rat stories are war stories, and they are told in conversation and on the news, in dispatches from the front that is all around us, though mostly underneath.” P.34

Don’t forget to stop by our shop and check us out! Even if you’re not into rats as much as Andy is, we’re sure we have something for you. We’re open Monday through Sunday from 12pm to 5pm.

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Mapping the first Red Scare: Ohman’s map of ‘racial colonies’

Map of the borough of Brooklyn : showing location and extent of racial colonies. Ohman Map Co. Inc. ca. 1921. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection

Map of the Borough of Brooklyn : Showing Location and Extent of Racial Colonies. Ohman Map Co. Inc. ca. 1920. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection

This “Map of the Borough of Brooklyn : Showing Location and Extent of Racial Colonies” (featured on the blog in March 2012) published by A. R. Ohman in the early 20th century has always piqued the interest of researchers and visitors here at Brooklyn Historical Society. There is in fact a pair of maps showing what the map terms ‘racial colonies’ in New York City: one shows Manhattan and the Bronx,  the one shown here depicts Brooklyn. Dating this map was a challenge, for the map itself has no date information on it. I had noticed NYPL had dated their map of Manhattan to 1920, although there was no indication of the origin of that date. I wondered if they surmised the information was based on 1920 census data and formulated a date based on that assumption.

I found the answer by searching Google Books, where I discovered that Angela M. Blake discusses these Ohman maps in her book, How New York Became American, 1890-1924 (Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). I quickly found the book at the public library, and learned that these Ohman maps are 1920 commercial versions of maps produced in 1919 by the New York State Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate Seditious Activities, popularly known as the Lusk Committee. In other words, they are the result of a dark period in American history: in 1919 the United States was in the grip of a Red Scare, the result of a confluence of national and international phenomena, including the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the rise of other international leftist movements, a fervent patriotism and xenophobia sparked by the war, the growing immigrant population in the U.S., a series of bombings and attempted bombings in the U.S. by followers of anarchist Luigi Galleani, and heightened labor unrest, including several national strikes.

Color key showing ethnicity for Map of the Borough of Brooklyn showing location and extenet of racial colonies, ca. 1920.

Detail, Map of the Borough of Brooklyn : Showing Location and Extent of Racial Colonies. Ohman Map Co. Inc. ca. 1920. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

The legend shows that immigrant Europeans are by far the most numerous ‘colonies’ tracked on this map. Blake notes that the color red—a great deal of it– is used for those grouped as Russian, Polish and other Jews, a color suggestive of danger as well as socialism and communism. She also notes how these highlighted, seemingly unassimilated colonies seem to encircle the unshaded, ‘native’ areas. This is especially evident in Manhattan and western Brooklyn.

The original maps created for the Lusk Committee contained much more information. According to the finding aid for the Lusk Committee papers in the New York State Archives, in addition to showing ethnic enclaves by color, the 1919 maps were indexed and numbered to show locations of suspected radical group meetings and publishers. The Manhattan map lists 63 meeting halls and 44 newspapers, while the Brooklyn map lists 23 such halls.

While the Committee was active, thousands of raids were conducted, thousands of people were arrested, and five Socialist members of the New York State Assembly were expelled. The Committee also produced a four-volume report, Revolutionary Radicalism: Its History, Purpose and Tactics with an Exposition and Discussion of the Steps being Taken and Required to Curb It, which makes for daunting reading, but is testimony to the Committee’s relentless thoroughness and zeal for their task.

Only a few dozen convictions were realized out of the thousands arrested. Despite the enormous disruption of individual lives and the effective suppression of radical points of view with the seizure of print runs and presses of raided newspapers, the influence of the Lusk Committee and its report on state government did not last. The Committee fell out of public favor with its excesses, particularly after the expulsion of 5 Socialist members of the New York State legislature in 1920.  Its legislative successes were the loyalty oaths and licensing requirements for educators enacted in in 1921, but even these measures were repealed by Alfred E. Smith when he returned to the governor’s office in 1923.

What could the commercial appeal of these color block maps have been? I imagine they would have been of use to people in business, real estate, law enforcement and government, and it is conceivable they informed institutions considering investments in housing, money, manpower and infrastructure. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we find these maps intrinsically interesting, for the racial diversity of our communities is a source of pride and interest. This was not the case a century ago. Interest and alarm over immigrant communities continued well beyond the worst of this scare. One visible result was the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed the immigration quotas which remained in place in the U.S. (with periodic adjustments) until 1965.

As often happens when I start to investigate a seemingly straightforward question—how do we know when was this map was published?—I find a story. I am far from alone, for Blake writes that the first three months of her archival research for this book was spent consulting the extensive map collection at New York Public Library from which she pieced together her basic narrative. This map led me to her book, and her book has led me to others on this period of radicalism and repression.

The story is fascinating, and not irrelevant to our own time. Although New York State may have weathered the consequences of the Lusk Commission investigation in the short term, the perceived threat posed by radicals—in this instance, outside agitators, labor organizers, anarchists, socialists, and communists–and government reaction to repress it crops up again and again throughout the twentieth century. The long-standing House Un-American Activities Committee and the FBI infiltration of student and civil rights organizations are two obvious instances. Even now, in the post-9/11 era of U.S. and global surveillance of political and religious radicals, I wonder how the twenty-first century will be different.

Additional sources:

Jaffe, Julian F. (1972) Crusade against Radicalism : New York during the Red Scare, 1914-1924. Port Washington, N.Y. : Kennikat Press.

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Photo of the Week: She said, She said exhibition

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It’s with great pleasure that I announce the opening of the exhibition She said, She said: Art and inspiration in the work of Nell Painter and Lucille Fornasieri Gold. 

If you weren’t already aware, Lucille Gold generously donated a set of 93 photographs to Brooklyn Historical Society in 2008.  They are all available for your viewing pleasure here.  She has been a favorite of ours for some time: we’ve offered her pictures as enhancements to fundraising events and gift prints to BHS staff; we’ve connected her to the documentarian of New York Street Games who used her photos in the film and to Barclays Arena to be incorporated into displays with other Brooklyn artists; and most recently, we worked with Brooklyn Industries to design t-shirts and also created our own postcard set to launch her photographs still further beyond the doors of the archive.  For a petite lady, Lucille’s work packs a punch to the viewfinder from which it is increasingly difficult to turn away the more pictures you see.

So it’s no surprise that when Nell Painter made a research visit to BHS, I pointed her to several photographers of note in our collection and she settled on Lucille’s photographs – or perhaps the photographs settled on her –  to create a series of paintings and digital abstractions from the images.  She’s now been working on the subjects in Lucille’s photographs for approximately three years with no end in sight.  While a respectable chunk of Lucille’s photographs are in color, her black and white work dominates.  Yet Nell must see color when she views these images, and she incorporates that color into her vibrant interpretations.  The result is a dynamic palette that is now splashed across the canvases and walls in our Brooklyn Community Foundation Gallery.

Nell is no stranger to the limelight herself.  Her work, along with Lucille’s, was first shown at the Aferro Gallery in Newark, NJ, and she has been the recipient of several artist residencies.  In contrast to Lucille’s photographs, Nell and her work are larger than life and envelop you as you find each piece’s lurking details.

I will leave it to every viewer to conclude what you may from the colors, tones, and personalities behind and within the work.  The exhibition will run through February 4, 2015.

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 new website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit the BHS Othmer Library Wednesday – Saturday, 1:00-5:00 p.m.

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Photo of the Week: Roller Skating

 

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[New Utrecht Reformed Church, 16th Avenue and 84th Street, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn], 1925, v1992.49.216; Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1992.49; Brooklyn Historical Society.

 Roller skating has experienced waves of popularity in New York City from its beginnings in the 1860s through the present day.

In 1863, James Plimpton patented a new roller skate design that allowed for a smoother motion while skating, making the sport something that people actually wanted to do. In the same year, Plimpton also opened the first roller rinks in the United States in New York City – naturally – and also in Newport, Rhode Island.[i] While not immediately popular in Brooklyn, in 1867 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that roller skating was the “feature of the season’s entertainment”[ii] and by 1877 there were roller rinks throughout the city.

From the late-19ththrough the mid-20th century, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle is filled with advertisements for roller rinks in the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Brighton Beach, Crown Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, and at the border of Bedford Stuyvesant and Bushwick. Roller skating also spilled out into the streets. In the early 1900s, people gathered to skate on the streets of Brooklyn at what were called skating “carnivals.”[iii] In one incident in 1908, four people were arrested after repeated complaints for skating on Stuyvesant Avenue near Putnam Avenue. It was reported that the smooth pavement at that location was attracting between 200 and 500 people each day, skating with “horn and whistle accompaniment.”[iv]

The image above of two women valiantly attempting to roller skate along a bumpy dirt road in Bensonhurst in 1925 illustrates Brooklynites’ enduring enthusiasm for the sport – an enthusiasm that continues, even today. True, the Empire in Crown Heights– touted as the “birthplace of roller disco” – closed its doors in 2007,[v] and Coney Island’s Dreamland Roller Rink survived for only two years, from 2008 to 2010.[vi] There are no longer hundreds of people roller skating in hordes on the streets. Still, roller skating in Brooklyn is not dead. Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 2 opened in May with a new roller rink,[vii] and the new LeFrak Center in Prospect Park offers roller skating, roller derby and roller hockey, attesting to Brooklyn’s continuing interest in all things roller related.[viii]

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 new 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. To leave a comment, email hchoiniere@brooklynhistory.org

Author: Halley Choiniere


[ii] “Sports and Pastimes: Skating,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 4, 1877

[iii] “Roller-Skating,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 27, 1911

[iv] “Of 500 Roller Skaters Just 4 Are Arrested,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 3, 1908

[v] Bernard, Sarah, “The Last Go-Round,” New York Magazine, October 25, 2007 (http://nymag.com/homedesign/greatrooms/29415/);  Bleyer, Jennifer, “The Last Lace-Up,” The New York Times, April 22, 2007 (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/nyregion/thecity/22empi.html?_r=0)

[vi] Durkin, Erin, “Coney Island Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink loses bid to renew lease at Child’s Restaurant,” New York Daily News, May 5, 2010 (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/coney-island-lola-staar-dreamland-roller-rink-loses-bid-renew-lease-child-restaurant-article-1.444866)

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