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Who are you?

Apr 6, 2012 11:33 AM | 1 comment

Sometimes you just can't say no. Having recently suffered this kind of aphasia here at the Brooklyn Collection, we are now the custodians of a mysterious trove of photographs. Last month we received an email from a photo archivist at a well-known New York newspaper, with the subject "accession query." The email went on to describe a small collection of photos discovered in a Brighton Beach dumpster, just outside of the Trump Village apartments, by a filmmaker who teaches at a New England College. Knowing that Irving Herzberg lived in that same Trump complex, where he also ran a camera club, we were intrigued, and so we made a visit to the newspaper's offices where we were dumbstruck by the touching personal photographs which had somehow found no better caretaker than a dumpster.

The couple you see here appear again and again in the photos, often in the back yard of this house.

They're either entertaining this baby, or spending time with these two pictured below.

The majority of the photos are small, typically about 2 1/2" x 3 1/2", and appear to have been removed from an album.

In addition to these snapshots, there is also a professionally assembled album of Bar Mitzvah photographs for Teddy G. Kaminsky, from November 5th, 1949. The photo below comes from that album. Teddy is on the right. Perhaps he is the baby all grown up?

It's difficult to tell exactly where these photos were taken; if this is Brooklyn, where in Brooklyn is it?

From the photo below, of a woman who is neither of the women depicted above, we can tell they're at Coney Island. That thin smudge in the sky is the Parachute Jump. But who is this we see on the beach?


This photo also looks to be from Coney Island.

The one person who appears more than any other in these images is the woman on the right, above, and beside the horse, below.

Here she is on a rooftop.

And here she is again, now older, with blonde hair. Is that the same man who appears in the first photo with her? Is this, perhaps, a grandson beside them?

But for all these images, we are left with more questions than answers. A few names appear here and there on documents included with the photos: Rhonda Kaminsky, Rhea Kaminsky, and Richard Kaminsky. There is also a Standard & Poor's Employee ID for Selig Rosenberg, who is the man pictured above in the red robe. So at the very least we know his name. It's also likely that the woman's name is Rhea Kaminsky, judging from dates that appear on some of the assorted documents. But were they married? Why do they have different last names? Are Richard and Teddy their children? Is Rhonda their child too or perhaps a grandchild? What happened to them?

This is one of the earliest photos in the group. Relatives of Selig? Relatives of Rhea? There are no notes or names on the back of the photo, no way to know. In looking on for some clue of the Rosenbergs/Kaminskys, I was able to dig up Social Security Death Index records for both Selig Rosenberg and Richard Kaminsky. Rhea Kaminsky only appears in the U.S. Public Records Index, where her birthdate is listed as 5 January 1913 and her address, as of 1990, as 2915 W. 5th St. Apt. 21D, Brooklyn, New York. I also found a 1930 census record for Selig Rosenberg. His father, Edward, born in Russia, ran a candy store. He and his wife, Sadie immigrated to the States in 1891 and 1906, respectively. Selig had three siblings: Jacob, Silivia, and Florence. Do any of them appear in these photos?

There are well over 100 photos in this mystery collection. Some, like the one above, were tucked away in the kind of plastic sleeve that fits in a wallet. And others, like the one below, are no bigger than a matchbook.

If you are familiar with any of the names mentioned in this post, or recognize any of the people staring out from these photographs, please let us know. There is very little information to go on, and we are curious to flesh out the lives of the people you see depicted here.


Brooklyn City Directories Online!

Apr 3, 2012 3:52 PM | 0 comments

We'll tell you all about it later, but for now, here are digitized directories for 1856-1880, with more to follow! Spread the word!

Brooklyn's Congressman for half a century, Emanuel Celler

Apr 3, 2012 11:51 AM | 2 comments

It has recently been my pleasure to arrange and describe a small collection of photographs and papers that belonged to Brooklyn's longtime congressman, Emanuel Celler. These items--principally photographs and laws written by Celler and framed along with the Presidential pen used to sign them--as far as we know came from his apartment just across the road from the library, on Prospect Park West. For those unfamiliar with Celler and his work, allow me to plagiarize from my own finding aid:

Sumner Ave, Brooklyn

"Emanuel Celler was born on May 6, 1888 in a frame house on Sumner Avenue near Floyd St in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the third of four children. His father owned a “whisky rectifying” business, but when it failed the elder Celler began working as a wine salesman. Emanuel graduated from Boys’ High School in 1906, and after his father’s death took over his wine route, while at the same time studying law at Columbia University. In 1914 he married Stella Baar. The couple had two daughters, one of whom suffered from cerebral palsy. Stella Baar Celler died in 1966.

Emanuel and Stella Baar Celler

 In 1922 Celler was asked if he would like to be the Democratic party’s nominee for Congress in the 10th District, which had thus far never sent a Democrat to Congress. Celler campaigned hard and won the election by just over 3,111 votes, remaining in Congress for fifty years until Elizabeth Holzman, 53 years his junior, beat him in the primary of 1972. Celler’s tenure in Congress endured through nine presidencies. An active and feisty legislator, he devoted himself to the struggle for civil rights legislation, helping to craft the landmark Civil Rights act of 1964. He was also particularly interested in antitrust laws and was a forceful voice in reforming exclusionary immigration laws. His battles on this front culminated in the Hart-Celler Law of 1965 which eliminated national origin as a basis for exclusion. During the 1940s he worked to allow victims of the Holocaust to enter the U.S., castigating as “cold and cruel” the immigration policy of the day. He was also a vocal opponent of McCarthysim. Celler served as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee from 1949 to 1973. A strong supporter of Israel, he was honored by several Jewish organizations, receiving an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University. Brooklyn College also conferred upon him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

In later years Celler lived at 9 Prospect Park West. After retiring from the House the former Congressman remained busy, speaking on the many issues that had occupied him through his years in Congress. He died at the age of 92 on January 15, 1981."

Emanuel Celler (right), New York City Mayor John Lindsay (center) and an unknown third man.

There were other sides to Celler, though, that don't come through in the biographical sketches. He was a dedicated amateur pianist and opera lover. And he took careful note of amusing anecdotes and aphorisms--some of them even slightly risque--to amuse his friends or possibly include in his speeches. Two tiny notebooks, one an appointment diary dated 1935, the other with the print almost worn off from use, at one time a booklet for telephone numbers, contain these inky nuggets written in a minuscule, careful hand. A couple of sheets of notepaper headed "House of Representatives" are folded into the pages. I transcribe here a few of the notes that are repeatable on a public library web site.

Ingratitude to her great men is the mark of strong peoples--Plutarch.

Burlesque--As a lad of fifteen father refused to allow to go to Burlesque. The more he objected, the more desirous I became. Finally I got together some cents and doing odd chores and went to a burlesque show. There I saw something I should never have seen--my father.

Oscar Wilde told story of a horse thief during his lecture tour of U.S. It was a cowboy town. Jury deliberated long. Finally came with the verdict "Guilty as charged." Judge says to Jury, "You are correct but tardy. What took you so long? We strung up the prisoner an hour ago."

Ice on doorstep. Act of God was the defence. Jurymen said Act of God impossible in Brooklyn.

Sun never sets upon British Empire. Why? God wishes to keep an eye on the rascals.

British are like squids retreating in a cloud of ink.

Consistency is hobgoblin of small minds=Emerson

We always want something better like the man condemned to be hung who wanted the luxury of being shot.

"My ancestors came over on the Mayflower."---"Mine came over when they had stricter immigration laws."

Never run after your hat. Someone is sure to bring it to you.

Irish immigrant writes back home. "Great country. Not only am I pulling down a Protestant Church but I'm being paid to do it."

Brandeis: "I am sorry I was born a Jew." This caused consternation. Then he said, "If I had had a choice I would have chosen to be a Jew."

The score says it all--Celler was a serious pianist.

Celler comes across in these notebooks as irreverent and funny: in them he took a little --a very little, if you consider his amazing record of fifty years in Congress--time out from his role as a productive legislator who worked hard to improve the lot of his constituents and the nation as a whole. A notebook that has been rubbed raw in a man's pocket gives you a peculiar sense of intimacy. And that is all a part of the attraction of manuscript collections.

For the full finding aid click here, and if you wish to see the collection be sure to make an appointment by calling 718 230 2762 during our open hours.



All Fools' Day

Apr 2, 2012 1:16 PM | 0 comments

March has gone out more like a lamb than a lion--and another April Fool's Day has come and gone.  On no other day are you allowed to play pranks on your loved ones, friends and co-workers and have a built-in excuse.

While the origins of the tradition are unclear, some have theorized that it is a remnant of the Roman festival of Hilaria or "Roman Laughing Day," which celebrates the resurrection of the god Attis. 

Others have hypothesized that the holiday relates to the Holi, an old Hindu festival celebrated to welcome the new season.  However, the prank-filled holiday most likely dates back to the 16th Century when the French switched to the Georgian calendar.  A person who continued to celebrate April 1st as the New Year (as opposed to the new January 1st date) would be subjected to ridicule and became known as poisson d'avril or April Fish. 

Tricks and jokes by and on Brooklynites were well documented in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and below are some accounts of our local April foolery:

While the practical jokes in the early twentieth century may not have been all that funny, it is interesting to see that the Eagle wrote about them, especially when the subjects were police personnel.  I can't imagine the NYPD being able to justify the poor use of the officers' time today.

April Fools' Day was also used as an opportunity to advertise and make some sales

Or show off how strong you were.


Still, sometimes the jokes didn't go according to plan

and some jokes caused a stir.

For years, many induced their unsuspecting friends and colleagues to call up numbers on the phone and ask for "Mr. Fox" or "Mr. Lion".  Usually the number given was for the Prospect Park, Central Park or Bronx Zoo.  Each year, the telephone company assigned operators to intercept such calls, check names of zoo employees and if the name was not there, inform callers, "someone may be trying to make an April Fools' joke."  On April 1, 1946, the Eagle reported the telephone company intercepted 2,708 calls to the zoo.

Finally, I would like to share with you a student poem about April Fools' Day. 

"The Chalk Mystery: An April Fool Poem"

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. April 1, 1890.

Luckily for us, April 1 fell on a Sunday this year, so our Brooklyn Connections students were deprived of the opportunity to invent new ways to wreak havoc in our class visits. There's always next year!