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Loyd's Puzzles

Mar 13, 2010 1:19 PM | 2 comments


It’s nice to find some other visual specimen to rest the eyes upon in the ant nest that is late 19th century newspaper text—an illustration of crustacean jelly molds and cake tins, a diagram of celestial bodies in spring skies, the thoraxes of some silhouetted country home pitchers; anything to give a respite from that headachy, inky and—now—digitized type.


That's why when I came across these images on page 26 of an 1896 Sunday edition of the Eagle I felt as though I had found some uninhabited moon world, as though the editor of the Eagle had decided to throw in a sort of rest stop for the eyes between columns on steam mechanics, trans-Atlantic timetables, and advertisements for wicker rockers. These shapes, of course, are nothing special in and of themselves: just one chair shape and one bunny-eared shape. But after 25 pages of the Eagle they looked like minimal dress patterns designed for some mustachioed and mutton-chopped Victorian E.T.

I wanted to thank someone for these clean planes of pure and silent space. However, these were no mere meditative polygons but rather objects more confounding than any common string of typeset English: these were puzzles. And judging by the headline, these were Loyd’s Puzzles. But now, who was Loyd?

Aside from being a remarkable mathematical genius and champion of the New York Chess Club, we learn that Master Loyd began honing his extraordinary talents at an early age in Philadelphia, where he was born on January 20, 1841. We learn that his precocity knew no bounds: from sleight of hand tricks to ventriloquism even extending into the realm of uncanny mimicry. We also learn that as of 1896 Loyd had been living in Brooklyn for 12 years in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 153 Halsey Street--a regular old Brooklynite. When he came to the Eagle in 1896 as the paper’s contributing puzzler (for the paper already retained a puzzle editor proper who specialized in children’s riddles and enigmas) he was quite well known in puzzledom, even if for a somewhat dubious achievement. Here the Eagle explains: Sam Loyd “owns up to the great sin of having invented the '15 block puzzle,'  and to which he solemnly avows there is no answer."

At the time when it was playing havoc with the brains of the country it was freely stated that he made $1,000,000 out of it. He says nobody made a cent. One large dry goods firm in New York sold 100,000 puzzles at 3 cents apiece, and it cost more than that to make them. Millions of them were sold, however. Mr. Loyd says he served on a grand jury shortly after the "15 puzzle" became the rage, and it was necessary to visit the jails, almshouses and insane asylums, and on a day when he was at one of the latter institutions the doctor gravely told him, having previously been informed that he was the inventor, that there were 1,500 persons there who had become "violently and hopelessly insane through trying to solve that awful puzzle." A column called Questions Answered, from an 1884 issue of the Eagle attests to the distress this “15 block puzzle” caused one Brooklynite identified only as “An Old Reader.”


But Loyd was not just out to drive puzzlers mad, he was also responsible for a number of eminently solvable and hugely popular puzzles and games: the Get off The Earth puzzle, the pony puzzle, and Parcheesi, to name just a few. In addition to his puzzling, which he claims was only a diversion, he was also an inventor who had been granted a number of patents, including among them some for steam engines. As the Eagle sums it all up, “Mr. Loyd is a remarkable man, and puzzle concocting is only incidental to a mind possessed of a wonderful mechanical bent.”

And now I think I’ll leave you with the task of solving those two benign-looking puzzles that first drew me into Loyd’s world. But, unlike the Eagle of Loyd’s tenure, we here at the Brooklyn Collection will not be awarding a prize bicycle to the first correct respondent—only our admiration and untiring respect.

The rules are simple: these are two seperate puzzles, each of which must be cut into four pieces of equal shape and size. We eagerly await your reply.

E.E. Rutter

Mar 11, 2010 4:30 PM | 2 comments

E.E. Rutter, 1924

Some may find this hard to believe but--librarians can make mistakes.

Sometimes we know very little about the photographers whose works we find in our collections. Photographs by E.E. Rutter can be found not only in the collection of Brooklyn Public Library but also in Queens Borough Public Library and the Brooklyn Historical Society. A recent telephone call from a colleague in Queens alerted us to the fact that we may have been perpetuating a mistake as to Rutter's first name. In several documents in our control file he is named Edward E. Rutter. His images are often signed simply "Rutter" and his studio is always advertised as E.E. Rutter, so how the mistake crept in is a  mystery.

We checked for census and other records, and indeed we found that the man we had been calling Edward was actually called Edgar. He had a photography studio at  number 8, 4th Avenue (among other locations) and was the official photographer for the Borough of Brooklyn.  In the 1920 census he was living on State Street with his wife, Ellen; born in Maryland, he is listed as a "Photographer" with his place of work a "Photo Studio." (In fact, his workplace was often a busy intersection, and the census erroneously gives his birthdate as 1880, but we who evidently live in a glass house will not be throwing any stones.)

A World War II Draft Registration card again has an Edgar E. Rutter, "Own Business Commercial Photographer" --but this time the birth date is given as  September 15, 1883. A Social Security Death Index record shows an Edgar Rutter of the same birth date who passed away in New Jersey in July 1964. We still don't know his middle name, but if we had continued to refer to him simply as E.E. (which he seems to have preferred) there would be no problem.

The subjects covered in our collection include Bush Terminal, Coney Island (with many images of the boardwalk and some well-muscled lifeguards)  New Utrecht, Williamsburg, Pigtown, bath houses, various new civic buildings, sewer construction, the 13th Regiment Armory and more. To the gods of cataloguing we have made reparations. In due course more of Rutter's photographs will make their way into our catalog, but for now we thank Mr. Brian Merlis for permission to use the self-portrait shown above, with pixellation that happened at our end, not his."In line." One of the drinking fountains at the Bush Terminal. No date.


Over Here! New York City During World War II Exhibit at the Central Library

Mar 10, 2010 11:03 AM | 0 comments

Exhibit window, Main Lobby, Central Library at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn Public Library

The Central Library at Grand Army Plaza is hosting an exhibit based on the book Over Here! New York City During World War II by Lorraine B. Diehl.  Many photographs from the Brooklyn Collection archives are on display for the very first time to the public.  The images show the first day of work for female employees of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn war bond fundraisers, and the Sheepshead Bay Maritime Training Station.  Don't miss this chance to see treasures from the Brooklyn Collection on display, along with original posters, photos, and World War II memorabilia from the author's collection. This exhibition was organized by Brooklyn Public Library's Programs and Exhibitions Department.

 The New York Navy Yard, for the first time in its history, calls women to work, September 14, 1942.  U.S. Navy Photo, Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.

Little Known Brooklyn Residents: Treasure Hunter, Jay Erlichman

Mar 6, 2010 11:20 AM | 3 comments

While researching in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle morgue, I came across this curious image of a young Brooklyn resident digging in rubble.

Brooklyn Treasure Hunter Jay Erlichman hard at work hunting treasure.

On January 16, 1950, a small article ran in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, with this image titled "Youthful Treasure Hunter". By the time it went to print, nine-year old Jay Erlichman had been digging for treasure with his broken shovel for "about four years". Up until this date, his efforts had dug up a total of $1.27 and "an enormous collection of rusty bottle caps, tin cans, broken glass and old shoes".

While his parents supported his explorations, his thirteen year-old brother thought he was "slightly crazy". However, Jay's perseverance paid off when he dug up a cigar box containing $200 in savings bonds, and about $100 of costume jewelry on one of his digs. He was off to buy a new shovel with his treasure, and hoped to be a professional treasure hunter when he grew up.


A Parting Word

Mar 5, 2010 4:18 AM | 3 comments

EAGL 0044, Close-up of paper carriers in press room, Brooklyn Eagle 195-A little over a month ago marked the 55th anniversary of the last published newspaper of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  January 28, 1955 was a sad day in Brooklyn history as the final newspaper rolled off the presses and was delivered to the Brooklynites who depended on it for news and entertainment.  The beloved 114 year old newspaper closed its doors the very next day, never to reopen under the same publisher or with the same mission.  Brooklyn would not have a single newspaper that reported on the daily local news of the entire borough again.  How did such a tragedy occur?  There are many reasons why the Eagle closed, but the story boils down to the changing economics of the newspaper industry and the changing demographics of Brooklyn.

Union interventions and poor management decisions may have struck the major blow that ended the Eagle, but the story also includes accusations of communist ties, ideological differences, and  unforseen economic hardships.   While the decline in circulation during the Great Depression greatly weakened the bottom line for the paper, the real downturn began with the strike of 1937. 

The American Newspaper Guild was founded in 1933, and after itching to unionize the New York newspapers, they finally succeeded with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and had their test case in 1937.  When management refused to meet Guild demands--which included setting up an editorial Guild shop, establishment of a discharge policy, and extension of the five-day week to more employees--workers voted to strike.  Eagle editor M. Preston Goodfellow threatened that the paper would close if the workers struck. The threat did not come to fruition however, as the mechanics and printers crossed the picket line. 

EAGL 0287, Brooklyn Eagle Employees, Brooklyn Eagle, 1953

The strike ended with some demands met, but the wound would never heal.  1938 was a bitter year for the Eagle as interoffice hostilities between strikers and non-strikers flared up.  The Eagle fared quite well during World War II, reporting on war bond drives, events around the world, and of course, casualties.  But while the Eagle strove to create a sense of community among Brooklynites, talks of strikes were quickly looming again for Eagle Employees.

EAGL 0066, Dismantling of the Eagle, Brooklyn Eagle, January 20, 1955

Labor disputes continued to flare up.  The Guild pointed out that if the Eagle wanted to compete with the major New York papers, then it had to pay its employees equivalent salaries.   In December of 1954, the New York Newspaper Printing Pressmen's Union accepted a two year contract, which called for a $5.80 weekly wage-welfare package increase.  The Newspaper Guild sought a similar contract for its members.  Frank D. Schroth, the publisher of the Eagle, warned that this type of contract would bankrupt the Eagle and he would be forced to shut down the newspaper.  The union, having heard these same words iduring the 1937 strike, claimed Schroth was bluffing and voted to strike on January 29, 1955.  Schroth wrote the following piece just hours before the last edition of the Eagle went to press, to inform readers  that it was possibly the last print edition of his Eagle.  And sadly, it was.


The strike was different in 1955 and the Eagle could not continue to publish, because this time the craft union workers (printers and mechanics) decided not to cross the picket line.  The Eagle, which enjoyed a circulation of 130,000 daily and 165,000 Sunday papers, would close forever.  630 employees lost their jobs and Brooklyn lost its only daily newspaper.  This would not be the end of Brooklyn's misery.  Just two years later the Brooklyn Dodgers left their home borough after winning a World Series that would not be reported by the hometown newspaper.  Nor was the Eagle there to campaign against the closing of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Could the influence of the newspaper that prided itself on bringing an entire borough together--though some say its vision of the borough was by then hopelessly outdated--have prevented the heartache of losing the Dodgers and maybe the countless jobs lost at the Navy Yard?