Strawberry shortcake is one of my favorite desserts. So I thought what better way to celebrate the end of the strawbery season than to search for, and create one of the strawberry shortcake recipes from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. It seems that Brooklynites were such fans of all things strawberry that there were hundreds of articles about this fruit -- ranging from strawberry festivals to recipes for strawberry custard, strawberry sponge, iced strawberries and strawberries and claret. But I was searching for strawberry shortcake, and the one that caught my eye was from June 2, 1901, and titled simply, "This is the way to make Real Strawberry Shortcake"
The accompanying article lamented the scarcity of genuine shortcake. "Restaurants and domestic servants alike serve up a tasteless parody of the original, compounded of dry-as-dust sponge cake, associated on the most unfriendly terms with rows of distinct berries, the whole thinly veiled with whipped cream. Why this concoction shold be called "shortcake" remains one of the culinary mysteries." So here is the "real" recipe for your pleasure, illustrated by yours truly. Maybe you could give it a try and let us know how it turns out.
Old Fashioned New England Shortcake
My results -- well it wasn't bad at all. My colleagues here in the Brooklyn Collection liked it, although I did hear someone say that the shortcake was a little "chewy". But that could have been due to the fact that I was making it at 11:00 at night and was severely sleep-deprived. One last note -- I tried it one more time using Pillsbury biscuits instead. I know it's cheating but I needed another batch to illustrate. Some people said they liked the Pillsbury version better. Go figure!
If the serendipitous nature of alphabetical order has ever struck you as one of life's inexpensive pleasures, then the Eagle morgue is for you. Why should nudity and nugatory nestle so close to one another on the dictionary page? And there among the s's sedition and seduction rub shoulders, one misdemeanor inciting its neighbor to worse and worse behavior.
A file drawer full of photographs is much like a dictionary page in producing strange bedfellows. Leslie mentioned in her last post that we have been undertaking an inventory of some of our photograph collections. That is true. The Eagle morgue contained many thousands of photographs of Brooklyn people and places that are our stock in trade. We keep these near us, readily available in case of need, and have digitized 18,000 of them thanks to a grant from New York State via the LSTA some years ago. Many people who use our services know of these Brooklyn-related photographs. They are quite frequently used and they needed a good checking over.
Less well known are the remaining 200,000 or so photographs that are most likely not of Brooklyn subjects, stored in a newly renovated basement area of the library. These non-Brooklyn photographs are currently the subject of an ongoing re-foldering project that is allowing us slowly to create a list of subject headings. The project has been advancing through the alphabet for a couple of years and we are now somewhere in the Ls, which puts us about half way through. (This list will soon be available in PDF form via our web page.) In the meantime, I had occasion to descend to the morgue this morning in search of material for a research request. As so often happens, I did not find what I was looking for but instead found something much better.
Opening the drawer marked "Sondegaard, Gale, Actress--Stiskin, Henry, Disabled Veteran" I noticed a folder that was the wrong color. Good--Sports--Basketball, misfiled, will now go back to its proper home upstairs. Anyone who has been to the morgue will know that it requires a will of steel or an extremely pressing task upstairs to open a drawer and leave it immediately without spending at least a minute browsing. Today, I must confess, the weak will that some would say has been my downfall in life, drew me deep into the dusty files with the cryptic headings. "Stampler Sheila--Miss Christmas Seals of 1953." What could that be?
I opened the file and there among the pictures of the Flatbush-born Ms Stampler being crowned Queen of the Brooklyn Tuberculosis and Health Association, was a familiar face.
Evidently Ms Stampler (left) took a summer position in the Falmouth MA playhouse, where Marlon Brando was starring in "Arms and the Man." This photograph appeared in the Eagle on July 28th, 1953.
After a find like that, who could resist browsing a little further? Not long after Stampler came "Steinmetz, Charles P., Electrical Wizard." Naturally I had to see what an Electrical Wizard might look like.
Steinmetz (right) was the distinguished consulting engineer of the General Electric Company, while Albert Einstein standing to his left was, according to the Eagle, "famous as the proponent of Einstein's Theory of Relativity." I couldn't have said it any better. Another photograph shows Steinmetz in the company of William Marconi, wireless inventor, while a third bears on the verso this pencilled note: "Charles Steinmetz. I think this man is dead. Look it up in the morgue."
We are less than half way through the drawer but a blog post cannot ramble on forever, so let us skip quickly from Steinmetz to Stern, a different kind of wizard.
The occasion of this pleasantly unbuttoned photograph of violinist Isaac Stern was a 1953 performance of the Brahms "Double" Concerto with cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and the Stadium Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Schippers, at City College's Lewisohn Stadium. Five years earlier Stern had appeared in recital at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). In fact the Eagle seems to have been fond of this artist, gathering no less than twelve publicity photographs.
Famous people are all well and good, but they were not the bread and butter of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Eagle took bread, and butter, and other foodstuffs very seriously. "Elsa Steinberger, Eagle Food Editor," popped out at me as I was about to close the drawer. I couldn't resist. I learned that Steinberger became chairman of the food and nutrition service committee of the Brooklyn Red Cross in 1949. Before becoming a food writer she had worked for the Brooklyn Union Gas Company as home economist.
On September 30 1948 she was honored by the American Meat Institute for "best news writing on food in cities over 500,000 population." That must have been a real feather in her cap.
We've been working diligently on our photo inventory, and it's uncovered some new material to write about. Today, I found myself enchanted by a relatively unknown event in the Central Library's kitschier history: the Pet Show.
On May 21, 1955, Brooklyn Public Library and Abraham & Straus department store hosted the Storybook Pet Show, a costumed pet competition for children in first through seventh grades. Entrants were asked to create a costume or display that was, in true library form, inspired by a good book. One young man went all out, creating both a Sleeping Beauty costume for his rabbit and a Prince outfit for himself.
Not everyone seemed to enjoy the costume party as much as Sleeping Beauty. The Times reported that several animals appeared to be rather miserable. Beano the Circus Dog "yelped the afternoon away in his costume." And this Puss in Boots doesn't seem particularly happy either (although neither does her owner).
Inside, children were able to participate in story hours alongside their animals - a welcome treat for the usually pet-less building. Outside, a large stage hosted the official contest. Judges included John Tee-Van, Director of the Bronx Zoo and Robert Lawson, an award-winning children's author and illustrator.
The library invited Australian actor Cyril Ritchard to host the festivities.
Ritchard had recently won a Tony for his stint as a singing and dancing Captain Hook in Broadway's Peter Pan and he oblingingly attended in character. You may remember him from the 1960 televised version of the musical that also starred Mary Martin. Anyone who recalls his performance can imagine the piratical panache he must have brought to his hosting duties.
Ironically, on a day when children celebrated some of the greatest fictional characters of all time, the child who won referenced a factual person. Nine year-old Martha Jane Livingston of Fort Greene won the contest with her presentation of "Admiral 'Bird' at the South Pole." She created a diorama of the South Pole that fit around the bird cage - a clever reference to Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Little Martha Jane won a brand-new "fully-equipped" bicycle and everyone else received a consolation prize of a book. Not a bad reward for a day spent playing with your pet.
A search for luxury condos in Clinton Hill might bring you to 320 Washington Avenue, a lovely co-op surrounded by trees and situated on a comfortable street. And, if that weren't enough, it is an historic building, which seems to be a favorite factoid for realtors.
While doing some research into the building's history, it came to my attention that our colleagues over at the Brooklyn Historical Society had just blogged about this very building. It was particularly helpful because I never think to use annual reports as they did. I love a good story, so I decided to see what additional information I could find using our own materials. After all, I was still wondering, "Who were these old ladies and what happened to them?"
The building was constructed in 1851 by the Brooklyn Society for Relief of Respectable Aged and Indigent Females, established through a cohort of churches led by the charitible John Bell Graham. Graham believed "there was no provision for elderly women, accustomed through life to comforts and refinement." In 1899, the name was officially shortened to The Graham Home for Old Ladies. The original structure included rooms for 90 women, plus a chapel, hospital and meeting areas. Over time, more bedrooms, an elevator, library, reading room, and outdoor porch were added. So as to serve the local community, the Home had a residency requirement. In 1852 applicants had to have lived in the cities of Brooklyn or Williamsburg for at least 7 years. By 1951 residents of all New York City were considered.
The Graham Home quickly became a centerpiece of the neighborhood, offering comfortable living for older women. It relied heavily on small contributions, and Brooklynites seemed happy to attend benefit concerts or provide donations of cash or goods. But not everything was perfect. In 1887, a nurse resigned after accusing the matron and hospital nurse of mistreating the ladies. Over the course of several weeks, doctors, pastors and inmates and their family members wrote to the Eagle with their own perspectives. Even the Home's doctor admitted that a stern demeanor was needed because "old people are worse than children." But no evidence was found, and the Home's board dismissed the accusations -- allowing the incident to fade away.
Over the years, parties, thimble bees, and other activities kept the residents busy. Field trips to Coney Island, Central Park, and Long Island allowed them to escape the indoors. The Home stopped using the word "inmates" and described the women as "family members." In 1951, the Home celebrated its centennial with a party and the production of an illustrated commemorative journal that wished for another one hundred years of service. But funding was always a challenge, and the doors of the Home closed by the early 60s.
The building remained shuttered until the 1980s when the Bull Shippers Motor Lodge took over. The lodge found itself on a list of hotels that housed homeless families through the city welfare system. These "welfare hotels" were at the center of several public controversies. Many claimed that the hotels were a hazard for the tenants, while others believed that the tenants were a hazard to the community. The Bull Shippers was particularly notorious because neighbors reported an entirely new group of "ladies" had taken up residence -- and their nightly activities did not include thimble bees or card parties.
The lodge was thankfully short-lived, closing in 1986. The building remained unused, boarded up, and covered with graffiti for over 15 years. In 2001, renovations finally began, and today a lady could peacefully live out her years in this home once again -- at a price of around $800,000.
In my last post on the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, I mentioned two books. First, I wrote extensively on the fair as described in The Hand Book to the World's Columbian Exposition. Now I would like to share a scrapbook that documents one Brooklynite's journey from Brooklyn to Chicago and back in October 1893. Entitled Brooklyn Eagle World Fair Excursion, the scrapbook begins with the list of men and women who lodged at the Vermont Hotel in Chicago. The excursion, sponsored by the Eagle, lasted one week and included 250 people who traveled by train together. Among the list were some notable Brooklynites including Mr. and Mrs. James Lefferts, Mr. and Mrs. John Lott, and the man in charge of the excursion, Eagle reporter Herbert Gunnison. Each "excursionist" as they were called, received a booklet that contained tickets, itineraries, and other vital information about the Fair. The table of contents shows what they would find in their packet:
Sadly, a visit to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (one of the most popular attractions) was not included, but the Ferris Wheel was. This valuable little scrapbook contains itineraries for travel, tickets for the train, baggage, and meals, as well as menus that describe meals taken on the train.
Eagle Party ribbon
I guess this excursionist didn't make it to Lady Aberdeen's Irish Village. Thanks to his lack of interest in things Irish, we have to opportunity to see what the ticket looks like!
And what did the travellers eat in the dining car? The menus include mutton chops, sugar cured ham, Boston brown bread, puree of tomato with rice, sweetbread croquettes with French peas, lobster salad au mayonnaise--heavy fare for people confined to a railroad carriage.
The compiler of this scrapbook also included a program from a reception held exclusively for the Eagle excursion party in the New York State Building. Music was provided by Innes' Thirteenth Regiment Band of Brooklyn. As this article states, 'the excursionists are having a fine time.' For those lucky enough to make it, this must have been a once in a lifetime voyage--one that we can imagine through the small but fascinating pieces of paper left behind.