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Goats Do Roam in Brooklyn

May 20, 2016 1:15 PM | 3 comments

This spring, one of the most hotly anticipated arrivals to Brooklyn is a herd of eight goats. The animals are here on the loan from a Rhinebeck farm for the summer months during which they will help control invasive weeds in the Prospect Park. They will be deployed in the Vale of Cashmere (between Flatbush Ave and the East Drive) to graze on poison ivy and goutweed which have been taking over the area after Hurricane Sandy damaged it. The goats are already hugely popular; the park's free “Fun on the Farm” event this weekend – with a "bleet and greet" tour every 30 minutes – is booked to capacity!

Yet, goats are nothing new to the Prospect Park (shown here in a picture by George Bradford Brainard taken in 1870s) ...


… or to Brooklyn itself.

A quick scan of old Brooklyn newspapers reveals that the animals were widely held by Brooklynites when the city was a “vegetable basket” for Manhattan. “Lost and Found” sections of the newspaper were peppered with pleas to return a stray goat (for a reward, like beloved dogs or cats of today) or to collect one (and pay expenses!) -- sometimes in the same breath, as in this segment from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on January 29, 1867:


In the good old days, one could not just own a goat. An owner had to obtain a license (yes, this is correct!) to own a goat. The reports of sting operations against illegal goats proliferate in the police dispatches, such as this one from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 17, 1867:


Goats were kept for milk (“especially useful of the anemic”), leather and wool, but also, evidently, as a companion animal:


I came across a hilarious story that appeared in the paper on October 11, 1893, where a wily goat inserted himself into the legal machinery of the city:

“An ordinary, every day goat, with no outward marks of distinction beyond unusually long chin whiskers and an air of reckless daring, has hopelessly mixed up two families in a snarl, which Justice Connelly and the district attorney have been trying to unravel between them. The animal in question resides on Hale avenue, in a very respectable neighborhood, and like all Twenty-sixth Ward quadrupeds has learned to despise the restraining influences imposed upon the less favored of his species by the more conventional customs of other sections of the city. Sometimes he grazes on the sunny acclivities of Cypress Hills, and again, with the rapidity of the lightning change artist, appears an hour or two later in the very heart of fashionable Brownsville.

The goat is owned by Mrs. Christine Dowling, an elderly woman, whose husband only figures as a background incident in the difficulty which necessitated the appearance of Mr. and Mrs. William Commoda, in the role of defendants, before Justice Connelly this morning. The Commodas and Dowlings are neighbors. Some time ago, it appears from the records, the Dowling goat chewed up portions in the fence surrounding the Commoda estate and also macerated a quantity of old shoes which have been slowly ripening underneath the rays of a long summer’s sun in the secluded spot near the Commoda gates. Mr. and Mrs. Commoda objected, but the goat resumed his luncheon day after day, disturbing himself every now and again to dodge a flying brick […] Relations between the Commoda and Dowling families became so strained in consequence that when both parties met Mr. Dowling was threatened with death and his wife with some lesser form of punishment. The Commodas were arrested and placed under bonds by Justice Connelly. They swore that they owned a house and a lot on Hale avenue which were nominated as a security in the bond to keep the peace, the execution of which then released the couple from the impending penalty. Today they were re-arraigned for repeating the old offense, and also for assault. Once more the goat was at the bottom of the trouble. He broke out again unexpectedly and his goings-on revived the old feud. During the trial of the Commodas, the attention of the district attorney’s representative was called to the fact that the representation of the proprietorship in the Hale avenue house and lot, made by the defendants at the previous arraignment, was false. The house and land belong, it is claimed, to a Mr. Rosenberg. Today Commoda was sent to jail for twenty days, […] while his wife received a similar sentence, which was afterward suspended. Justice Connolly is determined that the Dowling goat shall henceforth enjoy his meals undisturbed.”

Perhaps the hero of the story looked something like that:

Goats were held as domestic animals in Brooklyn well into the 20th century.  

This runaway goat boarded the Independent Subway System train at Church Ave and “butted into everybody’s business. The goat ran along the platform with its head down, butting inoffensive people waiting for trains and thus convincing one and all that the goat was going to business. Captured after boarding the crowded train, the goat was taken to Jamaica S.P.C.A. Shelter where he is shown with Fred Kusterbeck, kennel man.” (BDE, Nov 19, 1936).

This goat named Harry lived in a backyard of his owner’s house in Canarsie in 1939.

But sometimes, in a search for all things goat, one comes across a mysterious statement in a paper. Perhaps it is a subject of a future blogpost, but here it is, in all its glory:

Brooklyn's Paper Trail

May 4, 2016 5:17 PM | 0 comments

We are pleased to announce that we have completed a finding aid for our collection of Brooklyn letterhead stationery. The Brooklyn Letterhead Collection spans 200 years of business in our borough, from 1802 to 2002, with the bulk of the collection representing the 1850s to the 1960s. Several thousand different businesses, institutions, and organizations are represented in the collection, including carpenters, plumbers, painters, city agencies, religious institutions, and more. The finding aid includes a complete listing of the names, addresses, and dates from the letterhead collection, which should prove useful to genealogical researchers, those interested in the history of various industries in Brooklyn, neighborhood historians and many others. Explore the finding aid here.

Using just the finding aid, it is possible to tease out interesting stories. For example, we can see that Robert Clarke was a plumber in the 1860s:

But by 1875, he was a manufacturer of his own patented pipe type, indicating that Clarke was able to transition from plumbing work to full-time manufacture of his apparently useful and popular invention:

There are many instances of businesses being passed down through generations, as indicated by name changes such as "William M. Shipman" to "William M. Shipman's Sons." There are also times when cooperatively owned businesses change their partners, making one wonder about what potential drama might lie behind the name changes over the years. For example, the Ray Brothers, who sold stoves and ovens, combined forces with at least three other partners during their more than 25 years in business. The finding aid also indicates when businesses moved, either from one part of Brooklyn to another or simply down the street.

Sometimes, the letterhead includes imagery related to the profession of its owner, as in these examples on our Tumblr, and sometimes the typography and design is just beautiful and interesting in and of itself, as in these examples.

Some Brooklyn businesses lasted for many years, decades even, such as Longman & Martinez, which existed at least from 1852 to 1940 based on the evidence in this collection. Some are even still around today, like James Weir Florists, which used to be housed in the now-landmarked greenhouse across from Green-Wood Cemetery and is now located on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. We even have early letterhead from the now-national brand of paint, Benjamin Moore. The company was founded in Brooklyn in 1883; this collection has examples of their letterhead from 1887, 1892, and 1903.

Beyond information about the businesses themselves, these documents also provide other historical insights, such as evidence that immigrants retained the use of their native languages. This letterhead from Ogni Bros has "Gennaio" in the date field instead of January:

This 1889 letterhead from Kenny & Murphy, bill posters, states the population of Brooklyn (still an independent city at that time) as 300,000. Compare that to today's population of over 2 million!

This letterhead from Sprague National Bank shows us the interior of the bank building--quite different from banks today!

As a fun side note, the bank's vice president is BPL's own David A. Boody (former president of our Board of Trustees).

There are also street addresses that no longer exist, from several downtown Brooklyn locations that were eliminated in the creation of Cadman Plaza, to streets that simply changed names. These include Gwinnett Street (now part of Lorimer Street), Oakland Street (became McGuinness Boulevard), and Magenta Street (now McKinley Avenue).

Sometimes there are funny instances of the use of language. I know this letterhead from Coalankok Retail Corp. is referring to fuel, not drugs, but the phrase "Coke bulk bagged" is a bit funny to modern eyes:

Or how about Alfred E. Horn, bungmaker?

Who knew there was enough need for "bungs" (stoppers/corks) to devote a whole business to them? Plus, the word "bung" has another, quite rude, meaning.

In addition, there are some fun surprises, such as these thread samples from Commonwealth Color:

There is also one receipt, from H. & G.W. Rich, that measures a staggering 42 inches long, demonstrating that today's extra-long drugstore receipts are nothing new.

In short, our Letterhead Collection is full of fascinating insights and is awaiting your discoveries! Explore the finding aid here.