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Speakeasies Abound in Prohibition Era Brooklyn

Nov 21, 2013 3:41 PM | 0 comments

Prohibition has always held a certain level of fascination in my mind and, dare I say, I'm not the only one. Long has the era been immortalized by Hollywood through movies, TV shows and the fashion trends they inspire. However, living in the current day and age that we do one might find it difficult to navigate what's real from what's merely a romantic reinterpretation of a profound, if not completely befuddling, time in our nation's history.

 

 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 6, 1928.

The Morgue hosts not one, but three drawers stuffed with newspaper clippings from the prohibition era, but it was the recent discovery of the "Bedford Nest" file that piqued my interest. Located at 1286 Bedford Avenue, the Bedford Nest was one of Brooklyn's most infamous speakeasies. Close to a dozen articles detail the notorious raid on Bedford Nest proprietor and ex-dry (or prohibition enforcement) agent, Francis Conly.

Desk Atlas Borough of Brooklyn, 1929. 

Raided on Feburary 17, 1930, the headlines following the bust were littered with scandalous accusations, as if raiding an ex-dry agent wasn't exciting enough!

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feburary 24, 1930.

The three aforementioned policemen were later acquitted, having proven the checks were cashed by a third party who in turn cashed the checks at the Bedford Nest. It all sounds a bit dubious to me, but apparently the excuse carried some weight with the judge who deemed this chain of events legitimate according to the customs of the time.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 3, 1930.

Prohibition was highly unpopular with New Yorkers who made quite an effort to get their "hooch" despite the law. In fact, one Brooklyn Daily Eagle article went so far as to claim that it was unsurprising that "there had been no cessation of drinking in the State and that the number of speakeasies had been holding it's own, if not increasing" ("New York Speakeasies Under a New Attack," May 1, 1932).

The law was also unpopular among politicians including then-Governor of New York Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promised to repeal the 18th Amendment if elected president in the 1932 election.

 

The New York Times, 1931.

In February 1933, Congress adopted a resolution proposing the 21st Amendment and in December of that year enough states voted to ratify the Constitution, effectively ending prohibition and just in time for New Year for these happy Brooklynites:

Court Grill, December 6, 1933
Brooklyn Collection

Unfortunately, relief didn't arrive soon enough for the Bedford Nest. In 1931 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that government agents seized $40,000 worth of property from Francis Conly, gutting the establishment of all its furnishings and ensuring "Brooklyn's ... most ornate speakeasy" remained a short-lived affair ("Act to Confiscate Bar Furnishings of Bedford Nest," November 23, 1931).

 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 30, 1930.

"That green branch cut down"

Nov 19, 2013 3:34 PM | 0 comments

When the Brooklyn Daily Eagle shut its doors in 1955 the borough lost an important conduit for receiving news of the world and for investigating and editorializing on community developments. After the paper's short-lived revival finally sputtered out in June of 1963 -- just a few months before John F Kennedy was killed in Dallas -- Brooklynites had to turn to smaller neighborhood newspapers for reports on the assassination and to see their grief reflected back to them in stunned print encomiums for the recently dead president.

In addition to the entirety of the Eagle, we also have here in our Collection 88 of these neighborhood newspapers. Though not all of them were around on the day Kennedy was killed, I combed through the reels to select a few that were. Here is a short selection of front pages from Brooklyn's local papers, most which -- being weeklies -- were printed on the day of his death (thus, featuring your run-of-the-mill neighborhood news) and again a week afterwards, which might account for the apparently muted reaction of some papers.

The Graphic, above, ran a portrait of the President that was ubiquitous in the days following the assassination. The front page of the November 29th Brooklyn Heights Press, below, features tree lighting and turkey basting articles, with a memorial spread buried on page 8.

Though a bit too dark to see here, the spread featured photographs of impromptu memorials set up in shop windows.

 

In the middle of the page, Brooklyn's Norman Rosten contributed a poem:

In Memoriam

The day is still reverberant with drums,
We are blinded in the blaze of his death.

We know there was that green branch
Cut down, the perishable honour;
We know there was the young alternative
To war and evil, the possible good.

Enshrouded in flags, what he gave us
Is yet to be recognized, and time,
The abstract mercy, will come to heal --
Except we feel the terror once again
That moves beneath the blind skin,
Our savage self, who lives upon a land
Blessed with every wind but love.

 A common discussion printed in the Bay Ridge weeklies was whether or not the new Verrazano-Narrows Bridge could instead be named for Kennedy. In the end, Idlewild won out as the best choice for civic memorialization.

High Schools were also in the running for name changes, as can be seen in the Canarsie Courier. Additionally, as you can see from the headline above the masthead, the question of who really killed Kennedy was already on peoples' minds.

 And for those of you interested in the coincidental connections between the presidencies and fates of Kennedy and Lincoln, you'll likely find something of mystic import in this ad which, eerily, ran in just about all of the weeklies on November 22 1963.

The Coney Island Times, on November 29th, spent more front page space mourning the death of Pauline Gluck, mother of the paper's Scouting News columnist, than JFK.

 

The editors of the Ridgewood Times struck a common note -- that Kennedy's death should not be in vain:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy 1917-1963

If John Fitsgerald Kennedy is to truly rest in peace it will only be if his death has not been in vain, and that we the people will turn back those forces of hate, bitterness and violence that are eroding the moral fibre of our country and dedicate ourselves to pursue true, lawful Democratic principles to settle our differences.

However, the anger and bewilderment felt by many was given free reign on the front page of the Kings County Chronicle:

The President Is Dead

The First child born into this world was a murderer.

And the murderers are still with us.

How easy our civilization (?) has made it for the lowest of the low to destroy the highest of the high.

There is no cowardice more cowardly than the cowardice of the assassin. He has to be a sneak, a conscienceless cur, a brutal butcher.

When we consider the type of turncoat, traitor, liar, subversive, attempted infiltrator, that the slayer of our President is shown to be, we are compelled to loathe atheism, marxism, communism -- all that revolting breed from Hades.

The assassin is so LOW that he would have to use the speediest jet plane we have and fly upward faster than sound for many years before he could get as HIGH as the bottom of hell.

"Brooklyn's Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era" - Wednesday Evening Author Talk

Nov 18, 2013 2:56 PM | 0 comments

Statue of Reverend Henry Ward Beecher with Mrs. Rose Ward in flowered hat (1927). Mrs. Ward's freedom had been purchased by the congregation of Plymouth Church during one of Beecher's sermons in 1860.   

During the years leading up to the Civil War, Brooklyn had the distinction of being one of the strongest abolitionist cities in the nation.  And led by the fiery and passionate preacher Henry Ward Beecher, Plymouth Church became a central site in the abolitionist movement.  From electrifying sermons and fund-raising concerts, to harboring escaped slaves, Plymouth Church organized its considerable resources in the fight againt slavery.

Join us this Wednesday evening, November 20th, at 7:00p.m. in the Brooklyn Collection as longtime member Frank Decker and Lois Rosebrooks discuss the historic church's important role in our nation's greatest struggle as they present their book Brooklyn's Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era.

A wine and cheese reception, as well as distribution of tickets, will precede the event at 6:30 p.m. The Brooklyn Collection is located on the 2nd floor balcony of the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. Seating is limited to 40.

Researching Your Family Tree: Monthly Genealogy Workshop

Nov 14, 2013 1:56 PM | 0 comments

 

When our doors swing open here at the Brooklyn Collection they are likely being pushed apart by the determined hands of a genealogist. Whether looking for the Williamsburg address of a great aunt or hunting down the high school yearbook photo of Dad, the Brooklyn Collection is where many an ancestor sleuth starts her journey. In order to better assist these researchers, and to introduce a whole new phalanx of patrons to the genealogy trade, we are teaming up with historian and genealogist Wilhelmena Kelly to offer monthly genealogy workshops in Central Library's ground floor Info Commons.

The first workshop will be held Wednesday, November 20th at 7pm in the Info Commons Lab at Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library. To clarify, this program will not be hosted in the Brooklyn Collection, but in the InfoCommons Lab space on the first floor of the library.  Patrons can expect to learn about many of the library's online genealogy resources as well as print materials. Attendees are also encouraged to come with any family histories they may have already assembled. 

Lap tops will be provided, but seating is limited, so be sure to come early to claim your spot at this first of many exciting and illuminating workshops.  

For more information feel free to contact librarian Ben Gocker at b.gocker@brooklynpubliclibrary.org or by phone at 718-230-2778.

We hope to see you there!