Education at BHS: CASA/Young Curators at P.S. 276

The Young Curators is an after-school program led by Brooklyn Historical Society educators guiding students through a themed investigation of their school’s neighborhood using primary sources from BHS’s collection and other resources. Based upon their given theme, (i.e. Colonial Brooklyn or the Evolution of East New York), students create a three-panel exhibit that is eventually displayed at their school. Students write the text, recreate images through drawings, and choose images like maps and portraits to be included. They even work with a graphic designer for the colors, fonts, and design of each panel. This post is by BHS educator Rachel Serkin.

As an educator at Brooklyn Historical Society, I strongly believe that CASA/Yong Curators at PS 276my role is not only to educate young people about the history of Brooklyn, but also to instill a sense of awareness and pride in the communities in which they live and learn. The Young Curators program granted me the opportunity to explore this idea with a group of fourth and fifth graders at P.S. 276 in Canarsie, Brooklyn. During our first session of the program, my students discussed what they knew about Canarsie and what things mattered to them most, such as holidays, traditions, family, and friends. I discovered right away that my students were passionate and caring individuals who had an interest in telling the story of Canarsie from their perspective.

In the sessions that followed, my students and I worked together to understand how historians think. At the beginning, my students were not sure about primary sources and how historians used them. Using resources from Brooklyn Historical Society’s library and archives, we were able to dig in and have first-hand experience with primary sources.

For the first two weeks my students explored artifacts, maps, photographs, and diary entries to better understand the neighborhood of Canarsie and how it has changed over time. While my students have always known that Canarsie used to be farmland, we were surprised to learn that according to nineteenth-century newspapers, Canarsie was known as one of the best places for catching bluefish. Because it was such a popular destination for fishing, Canarsie became renowned as a place of entertainment and leisure with hotels, resorts, and even an amusement park!

CASA/Young Curators at PS 276 Winter/Spring 2014

We also had a special opportunity to learn more about the people living in Canarsie today. Many of my students’ parents emigrated from the West Indies and they wanted to know more about why their families came to Brooklyn. To help us better answer this question we invited Ranger Andrea Boney of Ellis Island to our classroom. Andrea’s grandparents had emigrated from the West Indies through Ellis Island at the beginning of the twentieth century, and like so many of my students and their families, they came to the New York area seeking better education and economic opportunities.  My students experienced a little bit of what it was like to go through Ellis Island by exploring health inspection cards and mental competency tests. The students were shocked to learn that children as young as ten could be sent back to their countries alone if they did not pass the inspections.

As the West Indian community came to New York they also brought the tradition of Carnival with them. Many of the students had either participated or knew of the West Indian Day Parade, but wanted to know more about its significance. Looking at photographs and newspaper articles, we learned that the parade originally began in Harlem, but by the 1960’s the parade had moved to Brooklyn. Today many neighborhoods are involved in the parade and millions of people participate. For the students, Carnival represents pride in their culture and heritage.

I feel proud and fortunate to have worked with the students of P.S. 276. It was a great pleasure to work with such inquisitive and dedicated students. It is my hope that these students will come away from the Young Curators program with new ideas about the role they play in the shaping of their community’s history.

Rachel Serkin, Educator

PS 276
Winter/Spring 2014

Brooklyn Historical Society thanks the City Council members who have funded this program through the CASA program in the past, present and future. 

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Shop Talk with Brooklyn Makers: Build Your Block

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!

Build Your Block

Brooklyn is an ever-changing borough, and whether you’ve been here your whole life or are just now calling it home, I think everyone can agree that it is a very special and exciting place to be. While new buildings are sprouting up around every corner, it is important that we take the time to appreciate and preserve the essence of classic Brooklyn. Our maker for this month, Patrick Chirico, found a unique way to pull this off: he creates pillows that allow people to have Brooklyn neighborhood blocks in the comfort of their own homes. From bodegas and pizza shops to the Brooklyn Bridge, thanks to Build Your Block you can construct your very own 3-D pillow street to show off to your friends! A very artistic and creative approach to history if you ask us.

We caught up with Patrick to find out more about his company and why he creates…

Tell us a little but about yourself…

I grew up in Watertown, NY, where they invented the safety pin and where they make those tree-shaped car fresheners. I have a beautiful wife, a dapple dachshund, and a munchkin cat. Soon to have a baby boy in October. I went to FIT for fashion design, and just took over from there.

What do you make?

We make building-shaped pillows so everyone can build a neighborhood block on their bed or couch. You can buy the neighborhood you want and then add commercial property, like bodegas and pizza shops. To help complete the 3-D pillow city, we have sets of mini ATMs, garbage cans, phone booths, etc., to build the foreground. We offer a set of pillowcases of the Brooklyn Bridge that make a 60-inch-long cityscape background to your set. Now you can lay your head in the streets of New York or be your own urban pillow planner.

How long have you been at it?

I have been running my own business, Wrecords By Monkey, since 2003, and I created Build Your Block in 2011.

What’s the story behind how you developed your product?

For the pillow sets, I was inspired by the buildings around us, including the bodegas and brownstones, the modern apartment complexes popping up all over Williamsburg, as well as the classic and abandoned buildings. We wanted people to be able to express their love of architecture and their city by creating their own personal blocks in their homes. People can pick and choose the colors and styles that most inspire them, and make a street on their bed or couch that is all their own.

Walk us through a typical day…

Wake up and walk the dog with my wife at McCarren Park, then grab a coffee from a local spot and skate or drive over to my studio/store in Bushwick. Then start the day with a touch-base sesh with my senior designer for both companies, Will Haude, and then cruise through emails, eat lunch, and get into the physical part of the day. Then begins micro-managing the team to work toward all of our daily goals. It always ends with a, “You’re awesome,” to everyone on the team so I can head home to have a late dinner with my wife and talk her ear off about the day and all my ideas until we watch a movie and fall sleep with some dessert.

What do you do when you’re not “working”?

I have adventures with my wife and dog and eat good food, as well as try to visit family and friends as much as possible.

What art or design currently inspires you?

Everything is constantly inspiring me, and most of it is from non art or outside inspiration. A great local artist is Bäst, and also the entire Justseeds crew is amazing: Chris stain, Kristine Virsis, Josh MacPhee. I do love handmade zines, and related art like Chris Uphues, Killer Acid, Wizard Skull, Noah Lyon, Matt Crabe. I’m also always following the millefiori/glass blowing movement and the 3-D printing movement, specifically 3DBrooklyn.

How has the city inspired what you make and how you make it?

If you have something to offer the city, it has something to offer you. My inspiration comes from the people and fashion, the buildings and architectural details, even the industrial parts, and from seeing everything constantly changing.

What is your favorite NYC museum and why?

American Museum of Natural History for sure! Endless amounts of information, amazing handcrafted art/objects/artifacts. The rock and meteorite sections are a must see every time, as well as the dioramas. Each visit is a whole new experience and it’s so easy to learn so much.

What is your favorite part of Brooklyn and why?

Carmine’s Pizzeria and the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, because you have access to everything!!

If not creating, what else would you be doing?

Teaching and inspiring.

For more Build Your Block products, visit the BHS Gift Shop, open daily from 12pm to 5pm! You can also learn more on their website,

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Photo of the Week: Ready or Not . . .


[Leaves changing in Prospect Park], 1977, V1990.49.26; Donald L. Nowlan collection, ARC 120; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Labor Day is behind us.  Schools in New York City are well underway.  The Jewish High Holidays are around the corner.  This can mean nothing else (at least to me) except that Autumn is also upon us.  Chilly nights and cool mornings only lead to moderately warm middays.  People have begun to wear jackets in Prospect Park or a scarf to ward off the goosebumps.  I even felt the need for a light pair of gloves while riding my bike, though not enough to go looking in the closet for them.  Next up is the leaves changing and we will soon be burrowing in our cozy apartments wishing for sledding opportunities.

I’ve come to realize that the only seasons that are unbearable long in this region of the country are Winter and August.  So get to the park, go for a drive upstate, go anywhere outside — but make sure you see the Fall Foliage – it makes the changing seasons worthwhile (at least to me).

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.


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September Staff Pick from the BHS Gift Shop – The New York Nobody Knows by William B. Helmreich

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 books on Brooklyn and New York City suitable for the whole family. Once a month we feature a staff member and their favorite item 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 the wonderful Lead Visitors Services and Events Associate, Kate Ludwig, whose favorite book is The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William B. Helmreich. Kate, who just received her MA in History from Brooklyn College, recommends this book to anyone who likes to explore and is interested in a little history from the back streets of NYC.

Kate Ludwig

Kate Ludwig / Visitors Services Manager / Long Island / Beach reader

“I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an easy read, especially if they live in NY. It’s a great contemporary insight into the streets of NY across all five boroughs and it provides great background information about each neighborhood as well. The author does a beautiful job at portraying each neighborhood as is and helps readers to understand how they have changed over time.” – Kate

 What is the last book you read? Hiroshima, by John Hersey

Any favorite hobbies? Boating, cars, fishing, reading, and traveling.

Why The New York Nobody Knows? Definitely because of the title and because I like exploring the city


Imagine walking 6,000 miles outside of New York City… if you walked east, you’d get to Iran, south would lead you to Argentina, west to Mongolia, and if you went north, you’d likely end up somewhere on an iceberg. Interestingly, this is the same distance as walking all of the streets in all five boroughs of New York City. William Helmreich walked 6,000 miles, and guess where he ended up? Right back in his apartment.

As a child, Helmreich used to play a game with his father called “Last Stop”, where they would pick a subway line, ride to the last stop, and then explore the new area. Now a professor and a writer, Helmreich expands upon this childhood pastime of exploring the city in a remarkable book on the diverse, rich and influential place that is New York City. Although he is a native New Yorker, Helmreich writes in a way that is easy for people who have never paid New York City a visit to explore the five boroughs through the pages of his book. From interviews with immigrants to our last three mayors (including the late Edward Koch), Helmreich takes the reader on a walk through NYC with some of the city’s influential contributors who do not always receive the recognition they deserve.

Book Excerpt:

Throughout the city, people of various ethnic and racial groups attend concerts, comedy shows, dance performances and the like, many which are geared toward their heritage and identification. It can be an Irish folk music trio, a Yiddish or Klezmer concert, a Polish polka troupe, an Iranian singer or a parade like the West Indian one in Brooklyn, or the Puerto Rican one in Manhattan….” P. 139 

Check out The New York Nobody Knows: 6,000 Miles in The City by William B.Helmreich, sold in the Brooklyn Historical Society Gift Shop for 29.95(+tax). We’re open Monday through Sunday from 12pm to 5pm!

Gift Shop Photo

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Brooklyn Bounty ’14: French Louie

In anticipation of Brooklyn Bounty, BHS’s premier fundraiser at 26 Bridge on October 22nd, we are profiling our participating restaurants and honorees of the Food & Heritage Awards. Below is a profile of French Louie, one of the delicious participants in our evening’s tasting menu.

French Louie: All Things French, American and Brooklyn


Chef Ryan Angulo of French Louie

Chef Ryan Angulo, of the recently opened French Louie in Ft. Greene, is at the stage of his career where he has some impressive laurels on which to rest. But after five years of success with his New American restaurant in Carroll Gardens, Buttermilk Channel, Ryan decided to take on a new culinary challenge. “I had visited Paris a few times and thought how great the food was. I thought, why not a French place with American influences?”

Ryan has this relaxed attitude towards most things in the kitchen, and this might be because it is truly his natural environment. When I asked how he became a chef, there wasn’t a long complex story, but he said simply that, “My first job was washing dishes, and I never left the kitchen.” Ryan will bring his natural gourmet hand to the Brooklyn Bounty festivities, and the possibilities of what to expect from him are endless.

When Ryan talked in mouthwatering detail about his dishes, it became clear why he opened the second restaurant. His creativity is the kind that can supply multiple outlets. He is the rare chef who spends a great deal of time in the kitchen cooking, even after a menu is set. “I am constantly reprinting menus,” Ryan explained. He relishes his time in the kitchen, sometimes staring at dishes waiting for the creative epiphany to hit for the perfect element the dish needs to become a classicsteak frites. Ryan also fosters a collaborative atmosphere in his kitchen, offering sous chefs a chance to work with him on designing menu items.

Perhaps French Louie’s signature dish, and one Brooklyn Bounty revelers will likely taste, is the Snails “Marchand de Vin.” A classic French dish, but with the New Orleans influence of the Marchand sauce, Ryan adds local grits to the plate, giving it the kick of the American South. Another fantastic dish, this one inspired by the soccas of the South of France, Ryan has created his own version with his Le Grand Socca, a chickpea flatbread featuring heirloom beans and smoky tomatoes. Of course, Ryan’s expert take on French staples such as Steak Frites and Duck Allard anchor the rotating menu.

French Louie's beautiful garden space.

French Louie’s beautiful garden space.

Most of the produce, meats, and fish Ryan uses are from local purveyors, and he has an especially strong relationship with Snug Harbor Farms on Long Island. “I’m a favorite customer. He knows I’ll take everything he’s got, so he usually stops at my door first.” Ryan enjoys cooking with these fresh ingredients, as well as the challenge of crafting with whatever may come his way. He notes that when he came to Brooklyn about six years ago, it was difficult to find quality local organic produce, as the demand was not large enough. Now, the thriving restaurant scene in Brooklyn supports a robust market and wide selection for such high quality food. This is exactly the food movement that Brooklyn Bounty is celebrating, and French Louie is sure to be a highlight for all tasters.

For his part, Ryan likes responsible, creative food when feeding himself and his family at their Bay Ridge home. “We don’t eat cereal,” he said wryly. Exactly, and neither shall we!

Don’t have your ticket to Brooklyn Bounty yet? Buy your ticket today!

Written by Avi Scher, Development Intern

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