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Researching Reinhardt

May 15, 2014 11:58 AM | 0 comments

If reports are to be believed, Brooklyn has been undergoing some kind of ground-shaking cultural renaissance for the past ten or twenty years. The borough -- once sleepy, then neglected -- is now a ballyhooed land barnacled with oft-parodied "artisanal" this-and-that shops, awash in alternative art-spaces, and peppered with the black and white "gear" of our recently dispatched cagers. Brooklyn is it! Brooklyn is cool! Brooklyn is a global brand, a baby's name! But if you Google "Brooklyn is" you will also see the gloomy auto-fill death of this shangrila not too far off on the horizon.  Right beside those proud paeans to the borough's hipness you'll also find this Google-generated sour epitaph: "Brooklyn is over." But before we go throwing dirt on our home and, here at the Brooklyn Collection, raison d'etre, let's take a look back at another link in the long chain of Brooklyn's cultural relevance, even if it is a link that was forged in Queens (undoubtedly New York's Coolville of the future).

We recently received a very generous donation of Brooklyn Dodger material from a life-long collector, Mr. Al Todres. The gift is largely comprised of the kind of ephemera that would have been swirling around any devoted fan's house: magazines, newsletters, lapel pins, ticket stubs, programs, and team yearbooks -- all of the little things that give so much color to the historical record.

The two images here are both scans of team yearbooks from the 1941 and 1942 seasons. And though these yearbooks are noteworthy because they commemorate remarkable seasons (in 1941 the Dodgers clinched their first pennant in 21 years, and in 1942 they ran a close second to the Cardinals, who won 106 to the Dodgers' 104 games) they are particularly noteworthy because of the young man who designed them.

It might be hard to see, but there beneath the disembodied hand and varied typeface (the disembodied hand and varied typeface which he chose) is the name of one of America's most notable post-war painters:

Not unlike the sighting of a yet-to-be heralded Richard Avedon in the pages of The Helm and The Mast, here we have a still unknown 28-year-old aspiring painter and day-job designer for the Brooklyn Dodgers named Adolph (Ad) Reinhardt. Curious to learn if Reinhardt grew up in Brooklyn, I headed upstairs to the Arts and Music division to see what I could find.

In this collection of Reinhardt's writings you'll find a (very funny) chronology of the artist's life written by the artist himself where we discover the following:

1913: Born, New York, Christmas Eve, nine months after Armory Show. (Father leaves "Old country" for America in 1907 after serving in Tsar Nicholas' army. Mother leaves Germany in 1909.)
1913: Malevich paints first geometric-abstract painting.
1914: Matisse paints
"Port-Fenetre, Collioure."
1914 Mondrian begins "plus-minus" paintings.
1915: Gets crayons for birthday, copies "funnies," Moon Mullins, Krazy Kat, and Barney Google.
1916 Juan Gris paints "Dish of Fruit"
1916 Dada in Zurich.
1917 Cuts up newspapers. Tears pictures out of books.
1917 October Revolution in Russia. Lenin replaces Kerensky.
1918 Malevich paints
"White on White"
1918 Peace. World War I ends.
1919: Enters Public Grade School No. 88, Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, Queens.

To see exactly where in Ridgewood Reinhardt lived, I checked census records on Ancestry.com (free here at the library!) and found the following listing from a 1930 record:

That's 16 year old Ad Reinhardt third from the top. And though you can't see it here, the family is listed as residing at 2529 Madison St. in Ridgewood, Queens. But when I check Google maps to see where exactly 2529 Madison Street is I turn up nothing. Google is flummoxed. Paging through our atlases I also come up empty-handed. This part of Ridgewood is a bit too far into Queens to be captured by our Brooklyn-only atlas collection. Hitting nothing but dead ends, I see if I can't get a general idea of his whereabouts on Madison Street through the Enumeration District listed on the 1930 census. In the upper right hand corner you can find the ED for each page's listing of inhabitants; in Reinhardt's case it is 41-611. Going back into Ancestry.com I search their Maps, Atlases, and Gazetteers database and find the Enumeration Districts for 1940 (close enough for our purposes) and turn up this:

From this rather bleary map, it would be my guess that Reinhardt lived somewhere on that block of Madison which I have circled in red. There are no addresses on this map, but the houses here were very likely in that 611 district. Here's how Google's ubiqutous eye saw this block back in 2012.

From here, Reinhardt need only walk 6 short blocks to PS 88. However, proximity, and the Dodger yearbooks above, were not Reinhardt's only connection to Brooklyn. As his chronology plainly states, 1947 saw the beginning of Reinhardt's teaching career at Brooklyn College and, as luck would have it, we have a few yearbooks from his time there. Below we see an arms-crossed Reinhardt surrounded by his colleagues in the 1951 Broeklundian.

And here's a close-up of the artist/professor from the 1954 yearbook.

And lastly, in a very Reinhardt-esque collage, we see the artist's head, along with those of the other Art Department instructors, stationed like statuary in Panini's Gallery of Views of Ancient Rome. (Reinhardt's is the large, topmost head just off center).

And though Reinhardt is perhaps best known for his weighty, abstract black paintings, he was also a talented and prolific comic artist (all those years of copying out Krazy Kat must have amounted to something!) and both of these modes were recently on display at a large show of his work at a Manhattan gallery back in late 2013. But if you missed that, you can always come by the Collection to have a peek at these Dodger yearbooks, where you'll find a number of gems like the ones reproduced below:

"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.

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!

The March

Aug 28, 2013 4:00 PM | 1 comment

With the country's eyes turned toward the past today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington we thought it only appropriate to turn our own eyes to a few items from the Collection dealing with this historic event. Below you will see scans of an Organizing Manual, a Bus Captain's name tag, and pages from the Lincoln Memorial Program. All of these materials come from the Civil Rights in Brooklyn Collection donated by the recently departed, and sorely missed, Rioghan Kirchner. Because of people like her history was not only made, but also preserved for future generations. We can't thank her enough. Though imperfect effects, these small ephemeral items help bring our shared history closer. We hope you think so too.

The Organizing Manual covers everything from the demands of the marchers to the ideal box lunch for participants: "peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, an apple or other fruit, a brownie or plain cake, and a soft drink." Marchers were warned against bringing perishables like mayonnaise and salads.

 

As the sizeable crowd could attest, the March on Washington was a massive organizational undertaking. The Brooklyn CORE contingent alone sent 13 busses to Washington, each one overseen by a name-tagged captain.

Front page of the program from the March. Dr. King follows Rabbi Joachim Prinz and precedes the head of the March, A. Philip Randolph

A list of demands printed in the program, as well as a map of the route.

Also among these items we find a number of photocopied news stories from local and national newspapers covering the March. This image, clipped here but without a source attribution, depicts a number of the Brooklyn CORE members who skipped the comfort of the bus in order to walk 237 miles to Washington only to... walk some more. After over 100 years of struggle and hardship, what were a few more days and a mere 237 miles to these inspiring demonstrators for peace and equality?

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.