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"You may not quite recall my name, but certainly you ought to..."

Apr 16, 2010 12:05 PM | 1 comment

On Sundays, beginning sometime around 1895, there began to appear in the pages of the Eagle a column called Tricks and Puzzles. Unlike Sam Loyd's eponymous puzzle column which first appeared in 1896, Tricks and Puzzles was not the work of one riddling mastermind, but rather a column created by Eagle readers for Eagle readers. However, don't think that this column was proof of some conundrum-loving community of puzzle-heads bound by the mysteries of five-letter double diamonds and scriptural enigmas; the motivating factor here was rather simple: cold hard cash. For the contributor offering the most ingenious puzzle, enigma, or conundrum the Eagle promised a prize of $3. And in an effort to be completely fair and impartial in delivering this prize, the Eagle even hired an outside judge with no connection to the paper to select the weekly winner. The rules of this regular competition were clearly stated and invariably printed at the top of each Sunday's column: only original work was accepted and contributors should write in ink, on one side of the paper only, and send answers and address seperate from the design. Notice of acceptance or rejection was published two weeks after receipt of the puzzle and for those rejected--like "May F.S." and "J.H.W." here--notices could be particularly harsh.

It's no wonder then that many of the contributors chose either a pseudonym or else the faceless trinity of their own initials as an epistolary handle. Looking through a few Tricks and Puzzles columns I found a list of contributors almost as enigmatic as any of the published puzzles: F.U.T.; B.R.S.; SPHINX; G.M.T.; M.J.L. They read like the enciphered plans for--who knows?--some Alpine reconnaissance or desert rendezvous perhaps. But then, in an issue of the Eagle dated September 15, 1895, I discovered one very familiar name--albeit an unfamiliar one at the time--printed in its entirety and seated just beneath a riddle. The name, printed in all caps, was that of UPTON SINCLAIR, JR.

Born on September 20, 1878, Sinclair was just about a week shy of his 17th birthday when this riddle appeared in the Eagle. According to his memoir, American Outpost, Sinclair was living in Manhattan on West 23rd Street at the time, enrolled at the College of the City of New York, and making a living publishing jokes for any publication willing to pay--usually Life, Judge, Puck, or the Evening Journal. His weekly budget at the time was slender: $1.25 for a top-story hall in a lodging house; $3.00 for two meals a day; and 25c for a clean collar and miscellaneous luxuries. And though he never mentions contributing anything to the Eagle, it's hard to imagine a young Sinclair passing on the chance to secure a week's meal ticket simply by publishing a 16 line riddle.

Afterall, $3.00 was no trivial amount in 1895. Had he decided to forego his board at the eating-house, Sinclair could have splurged on the kinds of goods advertised that day in the Eagle. For $3.00 he could have purchased a full sized muslin gown with tucked yoke and cambric ruffle at 39c; a steel enameled cuspidor for 39c; dog chains for 15c; a ruby gas globe for 25c; and a carving knife and fork--with stylized stag handles no less--for $1.29. And had he ventured out into the streets of Brooklyn in such a ghoulish get-up he likely could have used his remaining change to bribe any authorities looking to lock him up in the Flatbush Asylum.

However, it was not to be. Unfortunately for the young Sinclair--and perhaps accounting for his one-time appearance in the Tricks and Puzzles column--he did not win the prize. The $3.00 puzzle purse went instead to one E.T. Weymouth of 5 Macon Street for the following problem: 

And just to verify that E.T. Weymouth was not some pseudonymous extra-terrestrial, I checked the 1900 census and the 1897 Brooklyn City Directory where, it turns out, Elisha T. Weymouth is listed as a very real 57 year old steam-fitter who was born in Maine.

As for Upton Sinclair, his name would not appear again in the Eagle until March 29th, 1901 when, in a column called "To-day's Book News," the publication of his novel Springtime and Harvest--later to be renamed King Midas--was announced. Judging by Sinclair's own description of the genesis of this novel we can see why the joke writing and riddle writing had stopped for this earnest young man.

And though the editors of the Eagle promised to read his novel, not many other would-be readers made the same pledge. However, just 9 years after his losing riddle appeared in the Eagle, and 3 years after the above notice was published, Upton Sinclair was living in Chicago among the wage-slaves of the Beef Trust working on the book that would make his name. In 1906, after a handful of rejections, The Jungle was published by Doubleday, Page and Company. And soon thereafter, rather than toiling on jokes in his top-story lodging house hall room, Sinclair was raising his cup at the White House with Teddy Roosevelt discussing ways to solve a very tough conundrum indeed--how to clean-up one of America's largest and most corrupt industries.

Brooklyn's Flower

Apr 10, 2010 2:11 PM | 2 comments

Forsythia Bloom, April 14, 2010

Is there anything better than walking through Grand Army Plaza, around Prospect Park, or down Eastern Parkway in the spring?  Our eyes are so ready for some color, and at last the delicate daffodils appear, and tiny buds  on the trees float in a green haze above us.  And then too there are the skinny branches shooting from the ground covered with  buttery flowers swarming the stalks--Forsythia!Mrs. Florence A. Blum, Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1949

Seventy years ago Mrs. Florence A. Blum lobbied to make Forsythia Brooklyn's official flower.  To her, Forsythia was "a symbol of unity and brotherhood at a time when world conflict is in force."  In 1949, 50 Forsythia plants, cut from Brooklyn shrubs, were accepted by Eleanor Roosevelt for the United Nations and were planted in the hope that "the message of these golden flowered plants would play a real part in the deliberations of that great body."

Floral Fireworks, Brooklyn Eagle 1947

The Flaming Forsythia was a highlight of the Coney Island peacetime pyrotechnic display in 1947.  The flower was featured at this festival because its message of peace unites three continents.  A relative of the olive tree, a token of peace, it is a native of China.  British botanist William Forsyth brought it to England, and from Europe, it found its way to America and to Brooklyn where it was adopted as the offical flower by Borough President Cashmore on March 18, 1940. 

Proclimations, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1940

When Borough President Cashmore declared that Forsythia was Brooklyn's official flower, he also declared the first week in April "Planting Time" for planting forsythia in Brooklyn.  Forsythia Day was celebrated on a different day each year.  The Brooklyn Collection has dozens of photographs that show  Brooklyn residents coming together to plant Forsythia all over the borough.  Thanks to their efforts, the delicate bursts of yellow reappear each spring. 

A Gardener's Fancy, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 10, 1940

In the above photograph from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mrs. Francis Burk doesn't let her heals and fur coat get in the way.  She is planting the "stringy bushes that will later blossom in a multitude of golden flowers".  The Eagle ends the caption noting that the scene was duplicated many times all over Brooklyn on April 10, 1940.  The Forsythia brought so many people together!

Potential Forsythia Queens, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 6, 1947

The Forsythia Queen was given the honor of officiating over the borough's Forsythia planting ceremonies.  In 1940, Forsythia Queen Barbara Evans of Flatbush planted a forsythia on Brooklyn Day at the World's Fair.  In this photo, we see five potential Forsythia Queens standing with bandleader Charles Turecamo.

 Invitations to the Forsythia Award Dinner, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1981-1997

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden began giving out The Forsythia Award in 1954.  This prize, which is no longer awarded, honored a civic and philanthropic leader of the borough for his or her contribution to the community's prosperity.  The recipient's accomplishments had to embody the same symbolic meaning as the Forsythia itself: brotherhood, unity and understanding. 

Florence Blum died on February 10, 1959.  Without her, I'm not sure that Brooklyn sidewalks would glow golden in April.  In lieu of flowers, her family requested that donations be sent to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  Mrs. Blum established an endowment fund, the income to be used to further the ideals of Forsythia Day and to "link the floral beauty of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with the well-being of the community."  While Forsythia Day has been phased out, the spirit of the flowers has not been lost.  Brooklynites will come together at the beginning of May to celebrate Sakura Matsuri.  Check back for my next blog post to see a brief history of one of the most beautiful festivals held in Brooklyn.



Mr Lonto and Jackie Robinson

Apr 7, 2010 3:21 PM | 1 comment

We have recently acquired one volume of the diary of Arthur Lonto, a noted authority on transit and a former President of the Electric Railroaders Association. A World War II veteran, Mr Lonto worked in insurance and real estate until he was hired by the MTA, eventually becoming a transit management analyst.

At the time the diary was written, Mr Lonto lived on East 7th Street between Avenues M and N.  He notes indefatigably and compulsively every journey taken by public transportation, but more importantly, he abstracts news items of interest and follows the fortunes of the Brooklyn Dodgers with a fan's enthusiasm.  He also jots down the hit parade, and makes a note every time he goes to mass or confession.  In spite of the spare nature of the entries, the diary is a fascinating document, a memorandum of a year in a life lived quietly in a frame house in a Brooklyn suburb.

Diary of Arthur Lonto Vol 10, 1947

From time to time we will note daily entries of interest here.

His entry for April 11th reminds us not only that the regular baseball season didn't open until April 15th back in 1947, but that Jackie Robinson was about to start his storied career.  The capital letters would indicate that Mr Lonto realized the importance of the event, but then--POLISHED OUR CAR & SIMONIZED IT gets the same treatment--so maybe not. 

"Jackie Robinson plays first base for Dodgers IN EXIBITION GAME AGAINST YANKEES BKLYN WON 14-6 FIRST NEGRO TO PLAY ON A MAJOR LEAGUE TEAM." That's big all right.

"New Uniform, New Pal''Dan Bankhead, left, newly acquired pitcher, meets Jackie Robinson, Dodger first sacker, in Ebbets Fields locker room before today's game. He pitched in relief against the Pirates today, hitting a homer his first time at bat." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 26, 1947

Here is Jackie in August of 1947 with new Dodger pitcher Dan Bankhead.

Genealogy Workshop Tonight April 7, 6 p.m.

Apr 7, 2010 3:18 PM | 0 comments

Join us in the Central Library's Brooklyn Collection at 6 p.m. to uncover the secrets of your family history with genealogist Linda Jones.

Brooklynology Featured in New York Archives Magazine

Apr 5, 2010 2:48 PM | 0 comments

I would tell everyone to rush out to the news stand immediately to pick up your copy of  the Spring issue of New York Archives magazine, but--attractive as this publication of the New York State Education Department is--I don't think you can find it on every corner.  Still, we are pleased to have rated a two-page spread in the "Archives Around New York" section of this well-designed organ of the Archives Partnership Trust. Hoping we can be forgiven for a moment of self-reflexivity, we offer a paragraph from the article, entitled Blogging the Archives, for the special benefit of our faithful Brooklynology readers:

New York Archives magazine

"One of the advantages of the blog format is its flexibility. Posts can be as long or as short as you wish; they can incorporate weeks and months of research or the insight of a moment, even an announcement, a new acquisition or a news report....Another advantage is that a blog is cheap. As long as the staff is already in place and is willing and able to produce one or two short posts a month, a blog costs nothing after initial setup and design. The result is a store of short articles with intrinsic value that can also be developed into a deeper exploration of a subject...."

Happily we have one update to offer: at the time of writing the article, our web statistics were showing about 15,000 visits a month to Brooklynology. Since then, during February and March this year the blog has attracted around 600 visits a day, or around 18000 a month. Of course, now that our fame has spread via the magazine, the sky is the limit...