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Did you know that Brooklyn was once home to 48 breweries or that 10 percent of the nation's beer was made in the borough? Join David Naczycz and Cindy VandenBosch of Urban Oyster for an entertaining, in-depth look at how beer has played a pivotal role in the history of Brooklyn. A beer and cheese reception precedes the event at 6:30 PM.
***Please note that all 45 seats have already been reserved for this program***
If you'd like to place your name on a waiting list please call: 718.230.2723
The program will take place in the Brooklyn Collection's Reserve Room.
As the school year comes to a close, I find myself weeding through the many notes I have accrued while planning student projects this year. Most projects were based on topics that were familiar to me. But in some cases I had to become an "expert" on a new field. Such was the case with what become known as "the oyster project."
IS 14 in Sheepshead Bay received a special grant this year that required them to create a multi-disciplinary curriculum focused on the local marine environment. So when I came to them in the fall, they were desperate to connect the required history project to Sheepshead Bay's waterfront. The teachers were thinking oysters. The students were already reading excerpts from Mark Kurlansky's The Big Oyster. I knew Kurlansky's book well (it's worth a read!), but I also knew that it was heavily focused on Manhattan.
Oyster businesses certainly existed in Brooklyn, but how to tell their story? Manhattan was indeed the hub of the industry, particularly in the consumption department. And there is far more archival information on the oysters of Manhattan than of Brooklyn. But, after some diligent hunting, I managed to dig up (pun intended) some oysters in the Brooklyn Collection.
Because the height of the industry was in the 19th century, the Eagle was an invaluable source. Article upon article discussed the startling quantities of oysters available to Brooklynites. An 1896 article with the subtitle "Cheap Sea Food for Brooklyn" stated that the New York State Fish Commissioner aimed to supply 50,000 oysters a day to Brooklyn. 3,000 men in New York City and Brooklyn were employed in "the business of raising and buying and selling shell fish." The State Commission granted parcels of underwater oystering land in Jamaica Bay to Brooklynites at the price of 25 cents per acre for fifteen years.
In 1870, you could buy one hundred raw oysters for $1.00. As late as 1901, the price remained the same in some markets. The 1900 Brooklyn Borough Business Directory listed 23 different oyster dealers - including Lundy Brothers on Emmons Avenue near East 23rd Street. Lundy's, as many of you know, went on to be one of the staples of Brooklyn seafood cuisine.
The oystering business was so lucrative that oyster theft and illegal farming (the common term for digging up oysters) was a rampant problem. By 1886, the Flatlands Oyster Protective Assocation (later the Brooklyn Oyster Protective Association) regulated and organized the planters and harvesters of oysters. In 1895, the owners of oyster beds near Gravesend, Canarsie and Sheepshead Bay claimed that individuals were trespassing upon and stealing from their oyster beds. In 1896, the police comissioner of Brooklyn took "the oysterman under his protecton" and issued a boat patrol of the oyster waters.
While I could not find any images of oyster businesses in Brooklyn, these images of processing plants on Long Island (taken later in the 1930s) gave students an idea of what types of structures would have been in Sheepshead Bay during the height of the oystering.
Early signs of over-fishing and pollution (the downfall of all fishing in New York Harbor) can be seen during the height of oystering. An 1896 Eagle article complains that garbage is being dumped into the areas around Sheepshead Bay, Jamaica Bay, Canarsie and Flatlands - all of which relied on oystering and other seafood industries. By the early 20th century, oyster farming in Brooklyn was at an end.
In the past few years, the oyster has enjoyed a comeback in the Brooklyn culinary scene, but our "local" oysters are now from Long Island. We still can't eat Brooklyn oysters, but we are starting to see their return to the harbor. Just this month, the non-profit Plant-a-Fish worked with a group of Bushwick high schoolers to plant a new oyster bed in New York Harbor. There's hope for our Brooklyn bivalves yet! (Come to think of it, Brooklyn Bivalves might be a good name for our new basketball team...)
And so, armed with a wealth of unexpected archival materials, I managed to create the project on Brooklyn oysters that I had originally thought impossible. In fact, I quite enjoyed it! If only it were oyster season - I'd go out and celebrate with a few delicious halfshells.
Like the Shriners mentioned some time ago in Brooklynology, the Loyal Order of the Moose has long had a presence in Brooklyn, raising money for good causes while promoting pleasant social intercourse among its members. Founded in 1888 by Dr John Henry Wilson, who admired the way the moose protected the young and old of its species, the Order was originally nothing more than a social club. But according to its web site, it soon began using membership dues to offer benefits to members in need, providing "security and protection for a largely working class membership."
Relatively obscure among fraternal organizations, in the early 20th century the Order was one among a loopy constellation of inventively named clubs: The Ancient Order of Gleaners; Daughters of the Nile; Fraternal Order of Orioles; Improved Order of Heptasophs; Independent Order of True Friends; League of Elect Surds; Order of Owls; Tribe of Ben Hur; Woodmen of the World; and my favorite: Mystic Order Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm. Among that company, the "Loyal Order of the Moose" seems tame but solid and imbued with considerable staying power.
The Order's "Temple" at 482 Franklin Ave was not the only one in Brooklyn. The 1929 Eagle Almanac also lists the Coney Island Lodge at 553 Neptune Ave, and the Bay Ridge Lodge at 1223 78th Street. Nationwide the Order counted 674,630 members that year, although its numbers fell rapidly during the Depression. In 1953 a new Brooklyn clubhouse was dedicated at 7709 18th Avenue, with celebrations that included a rabbi, a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor, reflecting the ecumenicism of the organization.
While the hearts of the Moose were most definitely in the right place, their giving during the 1950s reflected the tobacco-addicted habits of the era. In fact the Veterans of Fort Hamilton Hospital were particularly favored as the recipients of thousands of Moose donations. In the picture above, disabled veteran Arthur A. Hofsahs is likely rendered yet more disabled by a gift of cigarettes from the basket of the Loyal Lady in the armband.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Today, the Moose are an "International organization of men and women dedicated to caring for young and old, bringing communities closer together and celebrating life." To that end they run many warm and fuzzy--and by all accounts highly effective--programs including Mooseheart City and School for children in need, and Moosehaven retirement community, fully persuading me that given the choice between ending up as either a Veiled Prophet of the Enchanted Realm or a Moose, I'd choose Moosehood, any day.
Flipping through our Eagle photograph collection, you see a lot of patterns: children looking cute, attractive women at Coney Island, enthusiastic Dodger fans, exteriors of churches and schools and so on. But my favorite "genre" is the party planning committee shots.
There's no shortage of pictures in our collection that look like this:
(Don't they seem to be having fun together?)
At first glance, these images seem trivial, if not humorous. Just exactly how many hat-wearing party planners lived in this borough? I really ought to go into business attaching ironic captions or funny speech bubbles to these images and placing them on greeting cards. (Bonus points to any commenter that can come up with a good example!) But alas, my career is in history, not greeting cards.
The most common type of party being planned in these images are "card parties." Card parties are literally parties in which people play cards. Any card game will do, although the standard selection for women in the 1950s was bridge. Traditionally, a group of women would rotate the duties of hosting the party. (My father tells stories about how he was under strict orders not to touch anything in the house on the day my grandmother hosted a card party for 'the girls.') The hostess would set up card tables in her home and provide lunch or coffee/tea. Players or sets of partners would rotate to various tables around the room until a winner was declared. The winners of the afternoon would receive a small prize from the hostess in the end.
But knowing what a card party is doesn't explain why the Eagle enjoyed publishing photos of women awkwardly pretending to be in a meeting.
The ladies in these images were not planning any ol' party over tea (though I question what is in that tea. Her fur is looking rather disheveled...). They were using the card party format to organize fundraisers. By charging admission and selling raffle tickets, women used the premise of playing cards with friends to raise money for local community charities.
When flipping through the Eagle itself, you'll often find these pictures on the society page or in some leftover space not taken up by ads. The committees, almost entirely made up of women (with the occasional priest thrown in), handled everything from ticket sales to door prizes to menu planning. And the Eagle offered its support by giving them advertising in the form of a photo.
("Your suggestion, madam, is shocking.")
The pictures, of course, were also important to the ladies' social lives. The line between society and philanthropy has always been a hazy one. It certainly didn't hurt a woman's image to be seen planning a party in the Eagle. And it was even better if you were listed as a chairwoman--or seen in your best hat, pearls and furs.
Social climbing or not, these parties supported small initiatives that needed help. A card party for the Athonian Hall, a home for the blind, helped purchase an electric kiln for resident pottery classes. The proceeds from the card party for the Flatbush Chapter of the Friends of Ozanam Hall went towards "a building fund for a new and larger home for aged men and women to replace the old structure on Concord Street" in 1953. And money generated from the Parkville Taxpayers Association card party in 1953 paid for the upkeep of a World War II memorial in Borough Park. Other card parties supported the general funds of churches, poor houses and retirement communities (like the Graham Home for Ladies).
Card parties and other such gatherings were not unique to Brooklyn, nor are they a thing of the past. Do a quick Google search and you'll find that there are card parties scheduled for churches and community centers all over the country. Perhaps we should take a lesson from our 1950s counterparts and start throwing card parties to support for our favorite causes.
While searching in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle morgue, I came across the following photo, which spurred a hunt for local snake stories.
Reverend Dr. Hugo E. Meyer
Reverend Dr. Hugo E. Meyer, Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Woodhaven, Queens, had a long-standing pastime of hunting snakes. He collected snakes for his personal specimen collection, which he housed in hundreds of jars in the cellar of his Ozone Park home. His capture method involved throwing himself at the snake and "just about smothering it", using his stomach to field the blow, making sure to have a "hypodermic needle and a supply of antivenom that goes with it nearby."
Reverend Dr. Hugo E. Meyer with local Scouts
His snake collection was a "never failing source of interest to the Boy Scout troop attached to the church", the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported. The Reverend's wife and children supported his herpetology habits; in fact, most of his specimens were collected on family vacations to Florida.
A.S.P.C.A. agents holding Coney Island snakes
The next snake story was reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle after a Coney Island woman looked out her window to discover fifteen snakes slithering past her house on West 8th Street. Further investigations revealed that a nearby Surf Ave. side show concessionaire had neglected to properly lock up his snakes for the night.
Edward Fabry in hospital after being bitten by his pet snake
Amateur herpetologist Edward Fabry, of 75 Bush Street, Brooklyn, made the Brooklyn Daily Eagle news, after being bitten by his pet copperhead snake. His quick thinking saved his life when he applied a suction pump to the wound to draw out venom.
Edward's younger brother Billy with the snake collection
In 1947, a six-foot snake was found in the backyard of a residence at 522 Carlton Ave. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that a young girl found the snake, and notified a nearby policeman, who "advanced on the critter with a drawn gun, but by the time he entered the yard a galley of neighborhood boys and girls was perched on fences and he hesitated about firing." It was later revealed that a neighbor at 518 Carlton Ave. had brought the snake home three weeks prior, with the sole purpose of frightening his wife.
Anna Hamilton (inset), whose husband brought home a snake to scare her
The final local snake story is an incident involving New York night club dancer and entertainer, Zorita, who was found guilty of cruelty to her dance partner -- a ten-foot python -- whose mouth she taped shut for performances. Bail was set at $1500 and Zorita's snake was confiscated.
Zorita with her daughter and pet snake in happier times