Over the past few weeks, it seems as though every other day a mess of snow, sleet, and rain has fallen on our fair city, only to become a sheet of treacherous ice in the days following. New Yorkers have been running to the local supermarkets to buy the necessities ('necessities' being an incredibly subjective term: milk and bottled water for one person might be chips and a bottle of wine for another) and stopping at the hardware store to purchase the last remaining bag of salt and a leftover garden trowel, the only shovel to be found in a twenty block radius.
Even though we've been having 'Polar Vortexes' and 'Snowmageddons', names that imply apocalyptic conditions, if we look back through New York City's history we can see that we've been through this all before. What's more, the previous storms have been far more interesting and, in many cases, far more devastating.
Central Library, ca. 1940. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.
Taking a walk down memory lane, one coated in ice, we can see that New Yorkers have been faced with many a snow storm. We had a nasty one in 1996, another in 1980, and a big ol' blizzard in 1947.
Blizzard of '47, Vincent L. Stibler. Brooklyn Public Library. Brooklyn Collection.
And of course, the Blizzard of 1888.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 13, 1888.
On March 12th, 1888, a great storm ravaged New York.
Shortly after 12:00am on Monday morning, what was rain and sleet quickly turned over into snow. By 10:30am, Brooklyn's Fulton Street was a ghost town. Only a few stores were open and walkways were filling up with snow as fast as the men could shovel them. By noon, milk deliveries had ceased. Although the milkmen had the supply, the horses were exhausted and frozen. Schools closed early, the attendance being so meager that most people questioned why they were open at all.
(Did we just pull that last line from a recent De Blasio press conference? As Mark Twain said, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.")
The snow grew more intense. It was said that you couldn't see New Jersey, Brooklyn, or even Governor's Island from the tip of Manhattan.
The wind howled, whistled, banged, roared, and moaned as it rushed along. It fell upon the house sides in fearful gusts, it strained the great plate glass windows, rocked the frame houses, and pressed against the doors so that it was almost dangerous to open them. It was visible, substantial wind, so freighted was it with snow. It came in whirls, it descended in layers, it shot along in great blocks, it rose and fell and corkscrewed and zigzagged and played merry havoc with everything it could swing or batter or bang or carry away.
New York Evening Sun
By 6:00am on the 13th, the snow stopped. The winds had calmed. All in all, 21" fell on New York, with winds at times reaching 85 mph. Snow drifts of 20' towered over some areas of the city. Birds lay dead amid piles of debris, having frozen or been knocked about by the wind. The total cost of the storm would be $5,913,000.
Blizzard of March, 1888, Morris Betts. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.
As with most storms, with snow comes hyperbolic rumors. A report was made that the Greenpoint ferry was lost due to the storm. It wasn't lost, simply buried. Some of the rumors, however, turned out to be quite true indeed. Many men were reported missing. And many of the missing men were found drunk. Some folks became so inebriated they were collected by the police and, eventually, returned to their homes. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "It is a singular thing that almost every man Monday night was drunk. Men lost their bearings in the dark streets and high drifts and after plunging about in the snow that came above their waists, they felt like lying down and giving up. The police rescued many but the list of missing is swelling up and the snow may reveal some ghastly sights when it disappears."
The Eagle's prediction was correct. Bodies of men began to appear as the drifts began to melt away. Men were not the only victims of the cold, however. A young boy who lived near Green-Wood cemetery had gone out on an errand early on Monday and was never heard from again.
Blizzard, 1888. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.
Blizzard of March, 1888. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.
Trees and telegraph lines were down all over, thrown about by the wind like matchsticks. This would be the first time since the introduction of the telegraph that New York City was cut off from communication, as lines to Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, and the South were down.
In the aftermath, cab drivers charged an arm and a leg to go a few blocks. In Manhattan, one man paid $35 to take a cab uptown. Keep in mind, $35 was two month's rent for many poor families. While the wealthy were haggling with cab drivers, those unfortunate families were searching for coal, "bareheaded and scantily clothed, dragging shivering little children at their heels, carrying little tin pails with them, burst into tears while reading the placards, and turned away to pursue too often an equally fruitless pursuit at other stores" (New York Evening Sun).
One coal cart driver made the mistake of taking a full load through a crowded, tenement lined street, only to be swarmed by 100 women and girls with pails and baskets begging, pleading, and stealing coal from the back of his wagon.
The cars were not running across the Brooklyn Bridge and foot traffic, for the time being, was also prohibited. Many people who had found themselves trapped on one side of the East River or the other decided to attempt an alternative route. Accounts of the number of people that chose to walk across the frozen East River vary, some say 1,000 and some say 10,000. One observer noticed unattended women making the trek as well. (Scandal!) People, however, were not the only travelers. One Sun reporter noticed "dogs who crossed the natural bridge were legion. They seemed to appreciate the rarity of the situation."
Yet, as the tide began to come in "the great ice field moved. Not a crack on its surface showed the change, but a grating on the ends of the piers against which it was pinned told the story to the self-appointed watchers among the shore and loud were the cries to get onto the shore " (New York Evening Sun, March). There were over 100 people on the ice and many of them, apparently unperturbed by the slight movement under their feet, ignored the warnings of onlookers. Not until great cracks began to appear in the middle of the floe did they take heed, rushing to the shoreline. At least two men were found covered in ice, having taken an unintentional polar bear plunge into the East River.
On the Brooklyn side, a daring rescue was taking place. One Sun reporter watched three men start on an ill-fated journey just before the ice shifted. As it began to crack, they found themselves trapped on neighboring cakes slowly moving downriver.
Two of the young men were on neighboring ice cakes. One finally made a dangerous jump onto the cake nearer to the shore where his companion stood. The crowd shouted approval and told them to keep heart, but could do nothing. The other young man who was irreproachably dressed and carried a satchel, was on a cake scarcely 25 feet in diameter. He ran from edge to edge, till each time he nearly dipped in the water, and showed such terror that terror was communicated to those on the shore.
I know you're incredibly nervous at this moment, fearful for the lives of the young, inappropriately dressed men floating down the river. You shouldn't be.
As the men were crying out, Captain Lisha Morris was deftly maneuvering his tugboat through the ever-widening cracks in the ice to save the men. With the help of some tow line and guile, all three men would see another sunrise.
March, 1888. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.
The snow was not all bad -- sales of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle went up dramatically. So high, in fact, papers that sold for five cents were going for double! The reporting from those papers would carry on in the minds of those who had lived through the great storm. For some time after, survivors would meet to reminisce about the greatest storm New York had ever seen, one with snowflakes as large as dollar bills and temperatures that were so cold "the Statue of Liberty had to put her hands in her pockets" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle).
In the past few weeks, there has been many a news report where New Yorkers have been lauded for being tough, resilient, and ready to handle any type of weather. Atlanta was covered in a few inches of snow earlier this month which essentially shut down the city. But let's not jump on our high snowplow just yet. We might be able to handle a storm, but New York might be to Atlanta as Minnesota might be to New York. After the Blizzard of 1888, a letter in the New York Evening Sun from the citizens of St. Paul offered aid. New York's Mayor Hewitt, however, saw the aid with a dusting of sarcasm.
The city of St. Paul tenders to New York her sympathy for the damage to life and property occasioned by the blizzard now raging in your city. Unaccustomed to storm of such severity as to cause telegraphic isolation from the outside world, and never having had people frozen to death in the streets, we shall be glad to contribute to any relief fund for which may be started for your afflicted people. Weather here yesterday and to-day mild and beautiful.
Staten Island Chuck recently said that there would be six more weeks of winter. The Brooklyn Collection wishes you warmth as we brace for the next few storms to come our way. We also advise you to stay off the East River, even if it looks like a grand adventure, and to carry an extra pair of socks.
**This post brought to you jointly by Brendan and Christine**
After a brief holiday hiatus, the Brooklyn Collection is happy to kick off another year of public programming next Wednesday, January 29th. On this evening we will take an audiovisual tour through some previously unscreened gems from our 16mm film collection as well as introduce new content from a collection of Umatic videos created by Brooklyn Public Library staff in the 1980s. All fans of vintage Brooklyn are welcome! Come by at 6:30 to pick up free tickets and mingle during our wine and cheese reception. Screening starts at 7:00pm.
All programs are 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 starting at 6:30pm.
While researching the Queen of Tots pageant at the Infants Home of Brooklyn, I stumbled upon a photo of Hollywood icon Carole Landis crowning one of the young queens.
Queen Crowns Queen, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954.
I could have Googled her and gotten an immediate summary of her life and work, but that's not how we roll at the Brooklyn Collection. I went downstairs into our archive to see if I could find a small envelope with her name on it amidst the myriad of file cabinets. Lo and behold, I am not the only person who has taken an interest in Ms. Landis. I found a whole mess of clippings from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle relating to her life. As I started to lay the clippings out on my desk a seemingly familiar story started to take shape.
Young girl takes a leap of faith at age sixteen and heads to the big city in search of fame and fortune.
Didn't I see this movie?
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 6, 1945.
"Carole Landis was stage-struck at the age of 7 and never got over it. She waited until she was 16 before she took any definite steps about her career. Then, with insufficient funds to take her to New York, and judging the competition in Hollywood to be too tough, she went to San Francisco and haunted the night clubs in search of work" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 4, 1945). Eventually Landis would make it as a singer in San Francisco and, with $100 and a prayer, she headed to Hollywood. As of 1945 she had become a fashion icon with weekly write-ups detailing her style choices (she was a big fan of blue velvet, but aren't we all?), appeared in three Westerns with John Wayne, and caused a national uproar (pun intended) with her role as a member of the gentle Shell People clan in One Million B.C. (a movie that would see a 1960s remake with Raquel Welch in her iconic leather bikini). She would go on to star in over 30 films, appearing uncredited in many more.
One Million B.C., Theatrical Release Poster, United Artists, 1940.
There was a really stellar review of One Million B.C. in The New York Times which gave viewers permission to enjoy the film in all of its improbable glory.
In the first place, anthropological research has incontrovertibly shown that whatever life existed on this cooling earth 1,000,000 years ago bore absolutely no resemblance to homo sapiens of the lower orders - and certainly not to the peculiarly cultivated and distinctly Caucasian cave men and cave women who love about with such charming grace and poise... But what of it? What if the cave men didn't have such nicely barbed beards and the cave ladies didn't look as though they had just visited the beauty parlor? [The director] didn't start out to tell the literal story of creation - and any homo who thinks he did is just a sapiens. (The New York Times, May 5, 1940)
Let's be real. Everybody likes dinosaur movies.
Like many celebrities of the past and present, Landis used her fame to promote social causes both at home and abroad. In addition to crowning the Queen of Tots in 1944 she attended Jewish Day during the Brooklyn Week for the Blind.
Aid the Blind, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 9, 1946.
She also took her winning smile and signature blonde hair on a four-and-a-half month tour of various American camps during WWII. "Our boys over there who are not in the front lines," she reported, "want nothing more than to get there as soon as possible, to get a whack at the enemy" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 5 1943).
Good Medicine, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 14 1942
Something For The Boys, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 30, 1944.
Landis' public persona was not simply one of patriotism and great hair, however. Taking a page out of the book of one of her contemporaries, Elizabeth Taylor, Landis had a bit of a storied love life. In 1934, at the age of 15, Landis married Irving Wheeler. The marriage lasted all of 25 days.
In 1940 she married yacht broker Willis Hunt Jr. Apparently Mr. Hunt "was 'inhuman,' called her 'a fool,' was rude to her film friends and attempted to interfere with her movie career" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 1, 1941). Needless to say, that one ended in divorce.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 21, 1941.
In 1942 she was engaged to Gene Markey, a screenwriter, producer, and Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy but the engagement was called off.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 31, 1942.
Her third marriage, to Maj. Tom Wallace in 1944, did happen, however, it just didn't happen for long. They divorced within the year. Her fourth and final marriage was to film producer W. Horace Schmidlapp in 1945. Upon marrying Mr. Schmidlapp, Landis was asked by a reporter if the marriage was her fourth. " 'Need we go into that?' Miss Landis said in a very happy voice. 'It's my only marriage as far as I am concerned.' " (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 9, 1945). By 1948 Landis had filed for divorce from Mr. Schmidlapp.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 9, 1945.
Had circumstances been different Carole Landis might have given Elizabeth Taylor, who was married eight times, a run for her money. Alas, due to a tragic turn of events this was not to be so. On July 5th, 1948, at the age of 29, Carole Landis was found dead in her home. "Coroner B.H. Brown gave four empty sleeping tablet bottles to County Toxicologist R.J. Abernathy for analysis, along with two loose capsules and a small white pill found in an envelope clutched in the actress' hand... Propped against a huge cologne bottle was a note, on her personal stationary, addressed to 'Dearest Mommie.' It read: 'I'm sorry, really sorry to put you through this. But there is no way to avoid it. I love you, darling, you have been the most wonderful mom ever and that applies to all our family... everything goes to you. Look in the files and there is a will... Goodby [sic] my angel, pray for me. Your baby.' " (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 6, 1948).
In the following days rumors began to surface of an unrequited love affair between Carole Landis and British heartthrob Rex Harrison (who had six marriages of his own). Harrison, with his wife at his side, refuted the rumors.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 7, 1948.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 9, 1948.
A Hollywood rumor is not so easily quelled. When Harrison and his wife arrived at Landis' funeral the crowd, complete with movie stars, makeup artists, and prominent Hollywood elite, let out a collective gasp. Harrison, the last person to see Landis alive, insisted that she seemed upbeat and happy when they parted ways on the evening of her death.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 6, 1946.
Even in death Landis was a trendsetter. When her body was found "her head was pillowed on a brown leather jewel case and her long hair fell casually to the round neckline of her white lace blouse. Her gold-sandaled feet were tucked under her unmussed blue-and-white checked skirt" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 6, 1948). At her funeral her "body lay under a gold covering in the coffin, dressed in an evening gown spattered with multi-colored sequin butterflies" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 11, 1948). "
"The bishop said Carole 'was a regular trouper. I don't think the Almighty God will judge her too harshly'." (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 11, 1948).
I'm inclined to agree with the bishop.
Brooklyn has crowned many a beauty queen in its day. The Queen of Beer? Yes. The most beautiful grandmother? Of course! It turns out Brooklyn was crowning beauties of all ages. The Infants Home of Brooklyn, originally located in a private home at 1356 56th Street which was later demolished to make room for a new, more permanent building, hosted an annual beauty pageant to crown the Queen of Tots.
The Infants Home opened in 1919 as an emergency shelter for five children left homeless by a fire in Borough Park. It was specifically a home for Jewish children until a 1947 plea by the Welfare Commission which asked the home to operate on a non-sectarian basis. It was neither an orphanage nor a children's hospital, rather a place for children during early life emergencies: a parent's sudden death, a broken home, or a mother's long or incurable illness. Initially the Infants Home of Brooklyn only took children up to six years of age. By 1970, however, the home had expanded and was accepting emotionally disturbed children as well as those up to nine years old. Today, 1356 56th Street is the site of the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, an organization that provides social services to New Yorkers in need.
Infants Home of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1931
Desk Atlas, Borough of Brooklyn, 1929
What goes into crowning a Queen of Tots, you might ask? I asked the same question. As I began digging through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives in search of the Infants Home's regal past I began to uncover some fantastic images of daily life. Admittedly, I couldn't find anything about the judging criteria. Therefore, I've created my own.
The Queen of Tots is always modest.
Pardon Us for a Moment, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954
"Pardon Us For A Moment!" the caption of this 1954 photo reads, "It's time out and back to the camera for these youngsters, determined to stay on schedule." The infants went through an average of 22,000 diapers a month. Goodness.
The Queen of Tots must comport herself appropriately at parties.
Parties Galore, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954
The children celebrated birthdays with chaperones from Brooklyn College who were working toward degrees in child care. What's more, the Infants Home of Brooklyn was a recipent of generous donations from the public. The 1954 charity ball had an expected attendance of 3,000. We can only hope that every one of the 3,000 attendees wore one of the fantastic hats pictured above.
The Queen of Tots works to beautify her community.
The Scrub Team, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1953
From left to right; Peter, 4, Fanny, 5, and Melody, 5, work to clean their wading pool before the hot months of summer. The little boy on the far left isn't listed in the caption. You can see from the red grease pen that he was cropped out of the photo that eventually appeared into the paper. Apparently white was in that summer.
The Queen of Tots is always selfless.
America's Sweet Tot, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1951
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954
"Linda is offering Barry his choice of sweet." An informal holiday, the Sweetest Day, was held in 1951. Gifts were distributed around the Infants Home and throughout other orphanages in Brooklyn by the Sweetest Day Committee. Another little girl shares her ice cream (or some other spoon-appropriate food) with a very smug looking doll.
The Queen of Tots must be a law abiding citizen.
"Toby is the belle of the bathers, Toby is the best on the beach. Dressed in a bathing suit just a bit snug, everyone says she's a peach. When in the pool she's a corker and swims out of every guy's reach. Toby's the belle of the bathers, Toby's the best on the beach." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1952
Playing in their wading pool (cleaned by their own hands, no less) was a welcome respite from the summer heat. The above caption goes on to state that Toby, the aforementioned peach, fell for the pool lifeguard, four-year-old Anthony. Oh, young love.
Rivera in Borough Park, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954
For those who weren't in the market for a water bath (perhaps those who had yet to learn to eat on their own, let alone swim) a sun bath might have been more appropriate. Nurses supervised the infants in their special rooftop solarium. A glass roof protected the infants from the elements. After all, a windburn does not a queen make.
There she is, the Queen of Tots!
Queen Crowns Queen, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1954
In 1944 it was Iva! Iva was crowned by Hollywood icon Carole Landis.*
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1947
In 1947 it was Linda!
Just Barbara, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1953
In 1950 it was Barbara, and on her first birthday, no less!
Queen of Tots, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1951
In 1951 it was 10-month-old Judy! Ain't she a beauty!
Royal Treatment, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1953
In 1953 it was Rose. She was given the royal treatment by five-year-old Frieda.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1948
Although some girls may have grown too old to compete for the title of Queen of Tots, there were always more crowns to snatch. The Infants Home of Brooklyn hosted beauty contests for teenagers as well. Adele Lubroth was the Queen of the Cabaret Night Festival in 1948.
The Infants Home of Brooklyn is no longer there. However, you can't walk past the building without feeling like you're standing in the presence of royalty. A marker still hangs over the door denoting the building's important and, need I say adorable, past.
*Carole Landis, a Hollywood icon of the 1940s, came to crown the 1944's winner. When I pulled the above photo out of the archives I was unfamiliar with Ms. Landis. I am not a scholar of old Hollywood. I wrote her name on a Post-It and descended into the "Morgue" to see if I could dig up any information on her life.
"Morgue". "Dig up". Unintended puns that, sadly, shed some light onto the topic of my next entry. Stay tuned.
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, 1933Brooklyn 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.