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Death in the Air

Jul 30, 2013 6:15 PM | 1 comment

Accurate or not, it's fair to say that in the popular imagination the Brooklyn Dodgers are remembered as a rag tag bunch of lovable lunks, both object of their zany fanbase's opprobrium as well as affection. What other sports team wore so sour an epithet (dem Bums!) as proudly as the Dodgers? Yet, for all of the organization's sweet buffoonishness, there have been times when an ill-starred pop-up has darkened the outfield. One such instance, and one which is perhaps little known to all but those who bleed blue, occurred in 1935 -- in a private plane, in the skies above Toronto.


A Dodger for just about two years, centerfielder Leonard Koenecke was in the midst of a disappointing season when, during a mid-September road swing, manager Casey Stengel sent him home with two teammates, slumping pitchers Bobby Barr and Les Munns. The year before Koenecke looked like a sure bet, batting .320 and committing just two errors in 193 games, a major league record for outfielders. Fortune, however, turned on the man and as quickly as he had made a spot for himself in the flock's roost he was sent packing on a plane from St. Louis to Brooklyn, his fate with the club unknown.


But before he made it home to his wife and young daughter at 2025 Regent Place, Koenecke was yanked from his commercial flight at a stopover in Detroit due to drunkenness, belligerence, and general polluted wantonness. Munns and Barr continued on with the second leg of their journey leaving Koenecke behind at the airport where he eventually hired a private plane to fly him as far as Buffalo. To know what happened in the air we have to rely on the accounts of the men who piloted the plane, the very same men who brained Koenecke with a fire extinguisher following a struggle. According to the two pilots, William Joseph Mulqueeney and Irwin Davis, Koenecke became violent and uncontrollable, at one point attempting to commandeer the controls and fly -- or crash -- the plane.

As you can see from this headline, the attorney for the pilots argued that the men were merely defending themselves from a distraught ballplayer looking to end his life. It's a reasonable story, and one that would sound good in a courtroom, but was there more to it than that? Numerous times throughout the Eagle's coverage of Koenecke's death descriptions of the outfielder's demeanor surface. He is called "a moody hypersensitive chap," possessing a "peculiar introspective temperment" who was "never talkative" and was generally recognized as a "problem player." His drinking, which was roundly acknowledged in the papers, likely contributed to this assessment.

In his book, Stengel: His Life and Times, author Robert W. Creamer claims that something other than suicidal ideation gone haywire accounts for the violent outburst in the air. He writes: "Koenecke, drinking, made his way to Detroit, where he chartered a two-man plane to fly him to Buffalo. He began to behave irrationally -- veteran baseball men say that he made homosexual advances to the pilot and the copilot -- and a fight broke out on board the small plane, during which Koenecke was hit on the head with a fire extinguisher and killed." It's not surprising that the Eagle would completely avoid any discussion of a major leaguer's sexuality, preferring to cloak speculation with quotes regarding the man's "peculiarity." But I was surprised that this bit of information is nowhere else cited. Just who Creamer's "veteran baseball men" are is unknown, and they don't seem to surface in the Dodger literature I explored. But if Creamer's claim is true, or rather, the claim of these anonymous veteran ballplayers is true, the story of Len Koenecke, though tragic no matter how you understand it, certainly becomes a lot more complex and difficult to come to terms with. To read more about these events you should check out this great Globe and Mail piece from 2005, written on the 70th anniversary of Koenecke's death. And if you're near the library you should stop by the Collection to look through our clipping files.

New Collection: The Linewaiters' Gazette

Jul 16, 2013 12:00 PM | 0 comments

It is always exciting to accession a big new collection, as it brings the promise of new researchers, new information, and because it's just fun to dig around in new stuff.  Our latest big new collection is the Linewaiters' Gazette, the official bi-weekly newspaper of what is likely the world's most famous grocery store, the Park Slope Food CoopPerhaps you've heard of it?

The Park Slope Food Coop was established as a members-only, collectively-run buying club in 1973, housed in the Mongoose Community Center at 782 Union Street (where the Coop continues to operate).  Members chipped in by working on all aspects of the operation -- ordering the groceries, stocking the shelves, manning the cash registers, and whatever other jobs sprang up -- in exchange for a minimal mark-up on the price of food.  That model still stands today, although the membership has grown from a small handful of souls to over 16,000 people from all over the city (of which, in the interest of full disclosure, I am one).  In similar fashion, the Linewaiters' Gazette has matured from a very homemade, two-page in-house newsletter to a slick publication staffed by a cadre of dedicated volunteers.  This evolution is evident in the paper's changing masthead, which went through various hand-drawn, cartoonish iterations before settling on its current look.

There was also, in the late 1970s, an identity crisis.  The fine print below reads, "We think we need a new name.  If you have a suggestion, drop it in the newsletter envelope near the Records Committee desk."

More than just an in-house newsletter intended to while away the time spent waiting in a checkout line (hence the title), the Linewaiters' Gazette documents the then-burgeoning and now-established movement to look at food as not just nourishment, but as the product of ethical and political forces.  Organic produce, locally sourced goods, sustainable agriculture, and farm workers' rights were of as much concern to these shoppers as the usual criteria of taste and freshness.  An article from April of 1974, Margarine - the tremendous hoax, heralded the current backlash against trans fats more than 30 years before New York City banned the substance in restaurants.  Price lists and the periodical new product supplement, Food News, trace the changes in the organic food market and its advertising as the industry has grown explosively through the last 40 years.  The Coop also has a long history of boycotting goods from companies, or countries, deemed unethical, debate over which is exhaustively recorded in lengthy articles and Letters to the Editor.  In this way, the Linewaiters' Gazette reflects changing attitudes toward food politics, albeit from the perspective of its largely left-leaning membership. 

As the official voice of a local institution the Linewaiters' Gazette also closely documents the community of Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Fliers for dances, announcements for stoop sales, and event listings for classes and workshops give insight into the daily life of a group of Brooklynites gathered around a shared ideal.  Indicators of the now-stereotypical Park Slope lifestyle abound (announcements for yoga classes and meditation workshops, impassioned arguments for ethically produced yogurt, etc.) alongside the more mundane apartment and job listings one will find in any local newspaper.  The paper is not entirely inward-looking, but also includes articles on neighborhood developments that impact the Coop membership, with pieces on the city's public school system and other of-the-moment topics.  It serves as a supplement to the local news coverage found in our newspaper collection on microfilm.

There is, of course, a quirkier side to the paper.  Fans of contra dancing will be happy to see their hobby well-represented in the Gazette's events listings. 

The timely asterisk indicates "These traditional New England social dances have nothing to do with Central America."

Goofy doodles serve as filler and comedic relief between, say, weighty articles about social injustice and rants against the genetically modified food supply. 

The headline reading "Militarization of the Public Schools" is nicely offset by a whimsical rollercoaster sketch.

Lost and found lists periodically pop up in the paper, indicating a slow news cycle and an excessively conscientous membership...

...while also serving as a reminder that some things are probably better left lost. 

Our collection currently runs from the Coop's founding in 1973 through 2006, with a few gaps in coverage.  Issues after 2006 can be found online through the Coop's website.  A partial index lists articles from 1983 - 1987 by subject.  Anyone wishing to research the collection should call us at least 48 hours in advance at 718.230.2672.


July Program -- Mailer’s Brooklyn -- Wednesday, July 31, 2013 7:00pm

Jul 9, 2013 10:36 AM | 0 comments

Brooklyn Public Library and the Norman Mailer Center present a discussion of American writer Norman Mailer and his impact on the literary culture of Brooklyn. Having spent 40 years of his career living and writing in his Brooklyn Heights home, Mailer’s rich history of iconic literature contributed over 30 pieces of fiction, non-fiction, and plays to the American canon, including his second novel, Barbary Shore, which was written during this time in Brooklyn. Brooklyn author, Evan Hughes, Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life, will lead this discussion with other Brooklyn historians, which will tackle Mailer’s Brooklyn during his active years as well as take a look at Brooklyn’s current literary boom.

Program will be held in the Brooklyn Collection, on the 2nd floor mezzanine level of the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. A wine and cheese reception precedes the talk at 6:30 P.M. Seating is limited to 40 people. Tickets will be given out 30 minutes before the event.

Teacher Workshop with Green-Wood Cemetery

Jul 3, 2013 11:02 AM | 0 comments

In early June, Brooklyn Connections had the pleasure of welcoming 24 educators from throughout the city for a teacher workshop on local history in partnership with Green-Wood Cemetery.

Green-Wood Cemetery entrance, 1894.

Green-Wood Cemetery gates in an 1894 photograph taken by Edgar S. Thompson.

The day started with an introduction to the Brooklyn Collection and the resources it can offer to teachers who are interested in creating lessons and units about Brooklyn. We developed a set of worksheets, lesson plans and examples of primary sources that teachers could use to help them devise a unit about any neighborhood they might be interested in studying with their students. The Collection has a great selection of primary source documents (photographs, letters, oral histories, etc.) that can be used in a variety of creative ways in the classroom. Educators were shown various websites and catalogs where they can find documents on their own.

After being given a chance to look materials over, our wonderful librarian Ben Gocker took all of the teachers on a tour of the Collection, including our small but impressive map room and a trip down to the "Morgue" - the archived newspaper clippings from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Following the library tour, everyone grabbed a packed lunch and followed Green-Wood Cemetery Education Manager, Steve Estroff, out to the historic Green-Wood Trolley. A short drive later, we were on the beautiful Cemetery grounds. The tour started at the historic entrance, followed by a lovely lunch near the "Family Tree" (a dramatic weeping willow). For the next three hours, Mr. Estroff entertained and educated the teachers with stories of the famous people buried on the grounds. Highlights include Clarence McKenzie (the little drummer boy), George C. Tilyou, Charles Feldman, Dr. Susan Mckinney Stewart and the Green-Wood Chapel. If you don't know who these people are, you're clearly due a visit to the Cemetery!


The tour was a great example of experiential learning, as Mr. Estroff demonstrated many wasy to create learning moments for students. Given that the wide variety of monuments we were shown was but a fraction of what the the Cemetery has to offer, it was also very clear that the Cemetery could easily adapt to suit many class units.

Feedback from the event was extremely positive, and many of the educators felt that they had learnt a lot throughout the day, from the library and from the cemetery tour.

We had a wonderful day with everyone, and really appreciated the highly dynamic group of educators who came together for the day. We'd like to extend a hearty thank you to everyone involved and hope to see them again for another workshop in the near future!