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The Saw-Book Quarterly

Jun 25, 2009 5:50 PM | 0 comments

It is my good fortune to purchase, when funds allow, new items for the Brooklyn Collection. Among our ever-growing sub-collections is a group of trade catalogues from Brooklyn businesses, and I was happy to find three of them in a recent offering from a well-known bookseller.

The Saw-Book Quarterly January 1903

The most striking was this booklet bearing the subtitle Saws--Their History, Manufacture and Use, Continued. The cover image of a phoenix rising from a flaming ruin clearly announces what must have befallen the company of Joshua Oldham and Sons.  Sure enough, the booklet tells the whole story of the disaster in vivid detail. On December 11, 1901, the factory's buildings on 26th Street in Brooklyn were completely destroyed by fire.  "The circular saws, from forty to seventy-four inches in diameter, were stored in a dozen different piles and on two sides of the square pillars fifteen feet apart, and resting on the heavy cross-girders.  These saws kept their places long after the roof had fallen; as the girders burned slowly away the saws fell one by one into the fiery abyss below, keeping up a constant chime."

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle confirms the story.  The company rebuilt, and by the end of 1902 they were able to write: "From the first day of March this year, to date, our output has been greater than in any previous year's full business."

A trade catalog this is not, but its unsigned cover art and gripping content make it a first-rate piece of business-related ephemera; at the same time it shines a spotlight on a little-known industry in an obscure corner of Sunset Park.

New Exhibit: Students Reflect On a Year of Research

Jun 24, 2009 3:53 PM | 0 comments

It's been another busy year for the students in our Brooklyn Connections program, and we are celebrating with an exhibit at the Central Library!

Exhibit - Left Side

This year we wanted to celebrate the diversity of topics and projects selected by our partner schools.  Each panel highlights one school's project and the thoughts of students who worked to complete it.  Students utilized photographs, newspapers and other documents to bring history alive in their classrooms.  We were thrilled to see that even 8th graders were able to truly appreciate all that the Brooklyn Collection has to offer.  One student humbly noted, "The primary sources from the Brooklyn Collection basically helped me prove my argument.  Without those sources, I wouldn't have been able to complete my project." 

Chris with an Historic Atlas

Equally exciting is that so many of this year's students discovered a new, intense pride for their borough, "I learned a lot about Brooklyn from this project.  I am proud to know that Brooklyn has a great history.  And I am proud to be a part of Brooklyn...a part of something big."


We are proud of all of our students' achievements this year and hope that their example will inspire you to come in and discover Brooklyn history for yourself.  The exhibit will be on display through August in the front exhibit cases, just beyond Central Library's main entrance.

Immigrant Panel

This year, Brooklyn Connections was funded by the New York Life Foundation. We are grateful to the Morris and Alma Schapiro fund for their generous support of the coming year of the program.

Brooklyn in Film: Gems from our 16mm Collection

Jun 23, 2009 1:27 PM | 0 comments

Aziz Rahman, director of the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival, will present highlights of our 16mm film collection in the Dweck Auditorium on Wednesday June 24th at 7 p.m.  Program: Trinidad in Brooklyn, 1985; Who Grows in Brooklyn, 1969; Incident on Wilson Street, 1964;  I remember Barbara, 1981. Free.

Librarians showing 16 mm films

"The rain it raineth every day..."

Jun 22, 2009 3:32 PM | 0 comments

Since we've been deluged for the greater part of the month I thought it would be appropriate to find some rain-related entries from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle




The rain isn't bothering this woman on Cortelyou and Coney Island Avenue in 1948 



    In 1924 it was slow going on Clarendon Road. 


And where there is rain, there are umbrellas.  On March 13th 1896 an Eagle article reads:

While the sky lowered and threatened rain yesterday from thousands of homes in this town the cry went up: "Who's got my umbrella?'  Hard to tell, for anyone in reach of it feels at liberty to take it, for in such case stealing is not theft, let the courts say what they will.  One who would not touch your cane feels at [perfect] liberty to walk off with your umbrella.  The article goes on to state that the first Londoner to use an umbrella did so in 1786;  and that 1800 marked the beginning of American umbrella manufacuturing in Philadelphia, though it wasn't until 1808 that they began to show up in Brooklyn. 

 The April 25th, 1902 edition ran an editorial entitled, "Humors of the Umbrella".  The author proclaims:

"One of the greatest causes of distress and profanity is the umbrella. Umbrellas seem to have been designed especially by an all-wise Creator to tax our patience and disturb our peace of mind.  What man is there who possesses more than one umbrella and yet who has not bought at least a hundred? An umbrella is common property, and therefore not the subject of larceny.  It is now a well established custom and well setlled law that one man has as much right to any umbrella as any other man...To conclusively prove this argument, I cite the famouse case of the man who left an umbrella in a certain Brooklyn church, and who, upon leaving, found it missing. He thereupon advertised in the Eagle the next afternoon to the effect that the man who "stole" (which was libel, per se,) an umbrella from the lobby of the ____Methodist Church would be a very wise man if he left it in the front yard of the advertiser by 6 o'clock the following morning.  When the man awoke the next day he was surprised to find his front yard filled with umbrellas. 

On September 21, 1884 this essay captured the mood of rain-soaked Brooklyn.

A rainy day within the city, by no clever beguilings of imagination, can be made other than a pest.  Even our own Brooklyn streets are half deserted and the spectral skeleton of the Bruff road is shadowed with an added gloom.  The tinkling of the bells of the car horses have a muffled sounds, as though they heralded the march of ghosts, while everywhere there is a stickiness that irritates and a depression that crushes.  A rain in town seems to serve no higherness than to flush the sewers, and it takes a rare philiosophy to interpret it other than as a nuisance.  The tension perhaps of customary living is relaxed a little.  It is not a day for careful reading, but for the odds and ends of work.  The student patches up his scrap books on such days as these, or sorts his pamphlets for the binder or by the window sits and watches the rain come down upon the pavement of the street.  If I was a woman in the city now, I should sort my ribbons or work upon the crazy quilt, or clean the closets or the bureau drawers, do a little housecleaning in the halls or please myself with some other of the numerous vanities that afflict the sex. 

As we dry out for a few days, at least, (rain IS in the forecast for Friday) we can take a little comfort in knowing that it's been this bad before. I think I'll look for my ribbons. 

Build the Bridge: The Eagle Backs a Failing Venture

Jun 11, 2009 2:27 PM | 0 comments

If the Eagle had gotten its way, the New York skyline would look quite different. 

A tunnel from South Brooklyn to the Battery had been on the drawing table for at least a decade in 1939.  However, when federal funding started to dry up, it became unclear who would fund such an expensive venture. 

Enter Robert Moses, whose Triborough Bridge Authority had more than enough spare cash on hand.  Moses "graciously" agreed to help and he soon unveiled his proposal - not for a tunnel, but for a bridge. 

A bridge, he argued, would be cheaper and more effcient.  But a bridge, even an inexpensive one, was an unpopular idea; a bridge would block the skyline, destroy the Battery and cause disruption in the harbor.  Moses, not one to accept rejection, went to work immediately selling his idea.  He used the power of the Triborough Bridge Authority to create visual aids, press coverage, and pamphlets (several of which we have here in the collection.)  The pamphlets argued that a bridge was the only realistic option, citiing one alternative idea as a "Preposterous Scheme" and questioning the experience of tunnel advocates: "Is There Any Reason to Suppose They Are Right Now?"

As the only man in New York willing and able to fund the crossing, Moses made an unpopular idea successful.  He received approval from city council, and moved on to the "formalities" of federal approval.  However, Moses had an enemy in the federal government: President Roosevelt.  The two shared a mutual animosity that put a snag in Moses' plans.  Moses was shocked when the War Department rejected the bridge and hit harder with more publications and criticisms.  

Many historians have written about this famous scheme, and all of them describe the effort as Robert Moses versus everyone else.  Scanning the New York Times supports this.  Many articles and editorials questioned Moses' motivations and described the plan as "controversial."  But Moses had at least one supporter on his side: the Brooklyn Eagle.  The Eagle seemed to favor the bridge from the beginning.  Our Eagle collection includes many images of bridge diagrams and smiling members of Moses' team.  In an April photograph of traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, the caption indicates that such backups would continue until the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge was complete, as if the proposal had already been approved. 

In June of 1939, when many began to believe that Moses' plan was never going to succeed, the Eagle showed its support with a highly publicized "Build the Bridge Rally."  From Sunday, June 4 through Wednesday, June 7 of 1939, the rally made the front page of the Eagle.  Each day, the purpose was repeated: "To demonstrate Brooklyn's unanimous support of the span proposal."  Like Moses' publications, the Eagle showed no room for alternative solutions.  The articles and images repeatedly demanded that a new crossing be built, but they never considered that a tunnel might work just as well.  Articles, political cartoons, and images encouraged Brooklynites to attend, arguing that Brooklyn needed this bridge to happen.

The Eagle even paid to have a giant typewriter on exhibit at the World's Fair type an ad for the rally once every hour:

Over 100 civic groups across Brooklyn sent delegates to the event - an impressive show of support for an idea that was regarded as unpopular.  A series of speakers led the rally, with the most prominent speeches being broadcast live on WNYC.  (The New York Times listed the broadcast as a "leading event" in radio that week.)  Speakers asked "for an end to the War Department's 'red tape'" and they represented "a major segment of borough life."  Speakers included Borough President Robert Ingersoll and Robert Moses, as well as prominent citizens like banker George McLaughlin, postmaster Frank J Sinnott, towing magnate Eugene F. Moran and Miss Frances Woodward, a "Brooklyn Heights resident and prominent educator."  The rally was, according to the Eagle, "a stern warning that Brooklyn will not be turned aside."

Unfortunately, the rally did little to rouse interest in the proposal.  The Times had one article on the event, which focused on Moses' latest rants during his rally speech.  Six months later, almost one year after the idea began, the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge proposal was officially called off.  Moses could not strong-arm the federal government, and the city quickly began seeking a loan for a tunnel.

Moses wasted no time moving on to other projects that would permanently change the shape of the city.  And the Eagle moved on as well.  Over the next ten years, it chronicled the completion of the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, with little lament over Brooklyn's lost bridge.