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Jun 25, 2013 11:00 AM | 3 comments

After twenty years under sail as a Brooklyn Public Library crew member, your blog editor will be jumping ship on Friday 28th June, leaving in her wake a trail of 92--count 'em--92 blog posts on everything from Pigtown to alcoholic turtles. With an eye to the future, yet, as befits a local history librarian, with feet firmly anchored in fine examples from the past, let me now look forward to life beyond the library.

For an old special collections dame, collecting is going to be an attractive pastime.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16, 1937

Miss Mary shown...with her collection of English tin soldiers...Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 29, 1940










Art projects line up to be completed, and the knitting that has been languishing for two years next to the sofa might even be finished.

Mr Joseph Turner came out of retirement to make shadow boxes that people buy...Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 1, 1946


And honestly, another good reason to move on is the need to get down to some serious gardening.

"On the job--Mrs. Louis Sternberg of Brooklyn CDVO helps to turn the ground [with a plow] in community [victory] garden at 17th Ave. [i.e. East 17th Street?] and Avenue J." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr 20, 1943

I will certainly relish the opportunity to take long walks,

Sir Edmund Hillary leads a companion over broken and dangerous ground...Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 19, 1953

 maybe go camping

Image from Frederick Cook's 1909 arctic expedition. Wikimedia Commons

And I'll be doing some traveling, as far as my limited budget will allow:

View of Jacqueline Cochrane, who took international record by flying 331.716 m.p.h. in 1940, in cockpit of airplane. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 29, 1941

But most of all, I look forward to being a humble student and servant of music.

Ensemble work is always tremendously stimulating,

Robert Hickok...leads the Community Orchestra in rehearsal ...of Handel's "Israel in Egypt..." Brooklyn Daily Eagle Jan 3, 1954

















in whatever form,

 The Tyroliers...will provide...the opening the Academy of Music. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 19, 1952

and I will especially relish time spent at the keyboard, alone or with an adoring acolyte:

Fifteen-year old Dorothy Vera Franceschi play her prize-winning "Obsession."Brooklyn Daily Eagle Mar 23, 1953

Although sad to relate, my acolyte is more likely to resemble this one: 

Bom Bomb and Patricia Typond. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept 26, 1949

 And then, after a hard practice session, what could be better than to follow the example of Floyd, the tippling turtle of the Toddy Inn.

'Water, schmater," says Floyd, turtle," I'll take a jumbo lager any time." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 1, 1953

Farewell Brooklynology! Farewell Brooklyn Public Library, dear colleagues and library patrons!



Shore Acres--inside a Shore Road Mansion

May 20, 2013 12:31 PM | 0 comments

A recent article on the discovery of a Paris apartment left untouched since the beginning of World War II reminded me of how rare and precious are our images of nineteenth- and early twentieth century interiors.  While our collection contains hundreds of photographs of exteriors of that period,  The Peet Residence and the Pope Mansion are two among only a handful of houses whose interiors are preserved for us today through the magic of photography.  So it was particularly delightful to come across an album containing exterior and interior shots of a grand house on Shore Road near Fort Hamilton, called "Shore Acres." Sad to say, that last sentence contains just about all I have so far been able to piece together about this building. A printed introduction to the album reads as follows:

"Shore Acres--Located on the beautiful shore driveway of Brooklyn, a magnificent boulevard winding along the shore of New York Bay, high above the water, where the picturesque hills of Staten Island and the adjoining Highlands of New Jersey form  a natural background for the ocean liners, war vessels and pleasure craft flying flags of all nations, contributing a panoramic picture that never palls, and of which one never tires. Here among the beautiful flowers the salt laden breezes direct from the open sea soothes the tired mind and finds contentment and rest."

The garage. Can you identify the year and make of the cars?

The carousel

The chicken run

The kitchen

The library

The music room, with pipe organ

The billiard room

Steak night at the Rathskeller

The study room

Unfortunately, there was another Shore Acres on Staten Island, yet another in Bayside, a Shore Acres Realty Company, and last but not least, a popular play by James A. Herne of the same name. In these circumstances, tracing the history of a building via internet sources is rather like searching for an ancestor named John Smith. And so these few images--about a quarter of the whole collection--are almost all I have to offer. Was it a private house or a hotel? (The Rathskeller and assembled male company, and the existence of the album, would suggest the latter.) An impressive wine cellar, numerous bedrooms, tennis courts, fruit, flower and vegetable gardens, greenhouses, a dining room and reception hall, a conservatory, bathrooms with showers and bathtubs, an art studio, a bowling alley, a laundry room and an "electric bath and massage room" complete the offerings of what appears to have been a delightful and no doubt expensive establishment. As a date I am hazarding a guess at the early 1900s, although the mention of "war vessels" might give us a more precise date between 1917 and 1918. Shore Road in those days before the ubiquitous automobile made the Belt Parkway seem desirable must have been a handsome thoroughfare, and Shore Acres was surely one of its finer ornaments.


Apr 30, 2013 1:42 PM | 0 comments

The Listening Project: Midwood is a collection of gripping oral history interviews collected by documentary film maker Dempsey Rice during a residency at the Council Center for Senior Citizens in Midwood. If you think of oral history as long-winded wallowing in nostalgia, think again--these interviews are riveting stories distilled from long lives and told with grace, humor and panache. There are so many wonderful interviews to choose from that I urge you to explore the site. Here to whet your appetite is Harriet Solomon recounting the story of how she almost died on her first date with her future husband.


While we are on the subject of oral histories, Brooklyn Collection librarian June Koffi is capturing on video stories from around Brooklyn of residents' encounters with Hurricane Sandy.  Read about her project here. She will be at the Kings Bay branch with her video camera this Thursday, May 2 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. If that's not convenient for you, she will also be visiting other locations to be announced.  If you have a Sandy story to tell, you can just show up on Thursday; or call 718-230-2708 to make an appointment or email

Secret and long suppressed records of the Froebel Society.

Apr 1, 2013 10:24 AM | 0 comments

This blog post comes with an audio accompaniment. Please put in your ear-buds or ensure that your speakers are turned on, click here, skip the obnoxious ad, and press start before reading on. All will become clear as we go on.

Slowly but surely the manuscripts and archives housed in the Brooklyn Collection are rising out years of obscurity complete with finding aids and arranged into sparkling new acid-free folders. The records of the Froebel Society are the latest to be dusted off and brought into the light of day. It was in 1957 that the ageing members of the Froebel Society, a dwindling cohort of women interested in progressive education and uplifting ideas, decided to wind up their affairs. Active since 1884, the Froebel Society had, it seemed, run its race, reached the finish line, and like many other Brooklyn clubs, succumbed to changes in society and the media that rendered club membership less attractive than staying home and watching the telly. Cognizant as they were of the value and interest of their activities over the last half century to future generations, the far-sighted society members turned to their local library to find a final resting place for the minutes of their meetings, their yearbooks, their accounts. What they did not give us, was their photographs, if they had any, or the silver tea service! I find these omissions hard to forgive.

But we must be grateful for what we do have, and among our Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs we find these two images showing the actual transfer of the materials from the remaining Froebel Society members into the hands of then Chief Librarian Francis St. John. The date is June 1957.

A catalog record for the collection has long been available in OCLC, but I sadly I cannot say that library patrons have been breaking down the doors demanding access to these files. Now, the new finding aid describes some of the activities of the Society and the arrangement of the collection in the confident expectation that those interested in educational movements, women's clubs and related topics will find their way to us.

Friedrich W. A. Froebel (1782-1852) was a German educator who established the idea of the kindergarten and believed in the value of free play in early education. A kindergarten based on Froebel’s principles was established in Brooklyn in the 1880s. According to the Brooklyn Citizen, (Sept 23, 1894) and in the words of one of the officers of the society,
“The Froebel Society was organized in April, 1884. It was the outcome of the desire of the patrons of the Froebel Academy (incorporated 1883) to so understand the principles of education that the home life and the school life might become supplementary parts of one scheme, and was organized out of the mothers and teachers of the academy. Its purpose…continues to be mainly educational..." 

Children at the Froebel Academy, 1945

The Froebel Society was a women's social club that provided cultural programs for its members at their monthly business meetings, and gave them other opportunities to meet in committees such as the "Home Committee," which was particularly scrupulous in recording its proceedings. The Club also took part in the activities of the New York State Federation of Women's Clubs.

The Society's records provide a fascinating window into social practices among middle class women during the first half of the 20th century.They entertained each other frequently at lunches and suppers and their menus were very much of their time. Here is a lunch menu from 1954:

Fruit cup

Ham, peas, sweet potato and pineapple

Tomato aspic salad


Ice cream and special anniversary cake

While the subjects of talks ranged widely through literature, art and politics, a number of our volumes relate to the activities of the Home Committee, which took a particular interest in domestic life. "Fabrics--the key to successful decoration" was the title of one of their talks in 1948. In 1899 a Mrs Benjamin read a piece by Marion Harland entitled "The Mistress' Touch,"  which avers--now pay attention to this--that the "stamp of good housekeeping is the clean soap dish."  Happily, the ladies of 1900 (February 20th) took a somewhat more relaxed view of housekeeping: "It was the general opinion of the ladies...that...if a book was out of its usual place or a few cigar ashes on the carpet not to feel that either interefered with the routine of work."

It all too easy to make fun of  women who were not allowed to vote, or to enter a profession aside from those then prescribed for women such as teaching or nursing.  Women's clubs must have played an important role in keeping women sane and connected to society. Later in 1900 Mrs Benjamin summarizes an article from the magazine Club Women: "The article stated how beneficial Club life had been to women; taking them away from the petty cares and trials of house-keeping for a while, to go back strengthened and refreshed at the same time keeping women young."

Among the many concert programs included in the collection, this one caught my eye. Schulz-Evler's Arabesques on Strauss's Blue Danube Walz (played in this case by the amazing Josef Lhevine) is what you have been listening to if you followed the instructions at the top of this post. Pianist Marian Kalayjian must have had chops!  She played that, but the only note in the minutes is "Miss Marian Kalayjian...rendered a well-chosen group of piano pieces"! There's gratitude for you. I hope at least they had a glass of fruit punch waiting for her on a doily!



Nazism in 1930s Brooklyn.

Feb 22, 2013 1:46 PM | 2 comments

We have grown accustomed--too accustomed perhaps--to thinking of Brooklyn as the borough that integrated baseball, a borough dominated politically by Democrats, in which liberal and left-wing politics historically have flourished. But a recent acquisition brought home the fact that other points of view--including some many of us would now find repugnant--have gained a foothold here in the not so distant past. The drumbeat of Fascism in the 1930s could be heard all over Europe. It should come as no surprise that Brooklyn in that era also had its share of Fascist sympathisers.

On November 17 and 18, 1934, a gathering of "Friends of the New Germany" aka Nazis, drawn from all over the Eastern U.S., met in Brooklyn. We recently came across a well-preserved program for the event, and acquired it for the Brooklyn Collection.

The groups represented are listed in the program, with "Bay Ridge N.Y." receiving special mention, and Brooklyn at the head of the list, as "Seat of the Leadership District." Many things about the program indicate a well-organized group with firm roots in the community. Who, then, were the Nazis of Brooklyn?

On August  12, 1935 the New York World Telegram reported that there were 1,100 Nazis in Ridgewood, Brooklyn, but "to most of them, the American Nazi movement offers simply another of those sociable Vereins they can never resist joining." There were two main organizations: the Friends of the New Germany, headed by Joseph Schuster; and the breakaway American National Socialists League established in January 1935, headed by Anton Haegele.

According to William Birnie in the same newspaper on August 14, Nazism offered two attractive features to German Americans who might have had no interest in spreading Nazi propaganda: first, they supported the war on the American boycott of German goods and services; second, they offered an extensive program of social and athletic activities.

Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Several photographs in the program show uniformed groups. Above, Brooklyn's Nazi soccer team took on the Philadelphia Gauleitung. We do not know who won. But soccer was only one of many activities offered by the Nazis. Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, L.I., offered the area's Fascists a place to strutt, march, relax and exchange salutes. On arrival at the Yaphank train station, an enthusiast from Brooklyn would have been greeted by crowds of fellow campers giving the Nazi salute.

Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Once settled, the camper could enjoy marching in strict formation, stealing fruit from nearby orchards, chasing local residents from Yaphank Lake, or taking a ride on a Ferris Wheel. According to the outraged Justice Neuss reporting to the Brookhaven Town Board, between 3,000 and 5,000 persons visited the camp each weekend.

Camp Siegfried, Yaphank L.I., September 1938. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection.


According to the program, Brooklyn's women's group was "the strongest in the region." 

On March 13, 1938 Brooklyn's long-serving Representative, Emanuel Celler, appeared on a radio program in which he registered his alarm at the spreading of Nazi ideology. Quoting a study in the magazine Ken, he said, "Within the last week (the Nazis) have captured complete control of the old German American societies which for five years put up a stiff fight against the Nazi invasion. In Los Angeles, New Jersey, Brooklyn...Nazi officials took over the united German societies, lock stock and barrel..." Celler urged the passing of a bill in congress to compel all propagandists to register. 

Celler was not the only one to be alarmed. One correspondent to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote: "Why are the German-Americans parading here? Why are they establishing Nazi camps, dressed in full uniform, practicing the Hitler salute?...and when doing so they carry the American flag."

Apr 23, 1938 Charles Weiss, editor of a Brooklyn anti-Nazi magazine, was found badly beaten with swastikas etched on his back. He worked in the offices of the Anti-Communist Anti-Fascist and Anti-Nazi League at 130 Flatbush Ave near the LIRR. Four men "of German appearance" broke in, pinned his arms behind him and demanded that he kiss a small Nazi flag. He refused.

Oct 3, 1938 2000 members and sympathizers of the pro-Nazi German-American Bund met at the Prospect Hall, 261 Prospect Avenue. 200 pickets from the American League for Peace and Democracy, "a leftist group," picketed outside.

March 16, 1939 400 members and friends of the German American Bund attended a rally at the Schwaben Hall, Knickerbocker and Myrtle Aves. Sponsored by the Brooklyn unit of the Bund in Ridgewood, the meeting was held to show motion pictures drawing comparisons between the old and the new Germany. The event included speeches by Karl Nicolai, Brooklyn chairman of the Bund, and Gustav Wilhelm Kunze, national director of public relations. The Schwaben Hall in Bushwick was a particular hotbed of Nazi activity. In fact the final page of our program invites German Americans to meetings at the Schwaben Hall "Jeden Mittwoch" (every Wednesday) at 8:30 P.M. The headquarters of the Friends of the New Germany was nearby at 533 Knickerbocker Avenue, and Hamburg Ave was renamed Wilson Ave after Word War I.

Belcher Hyde Miniature Atlas of Brooklyn, 1912.

The Schwaben Hall, shown as the pink square at the top right of the map, burned down in 1977.


Local businesses of all kinds were not shy to advertise in the program. The particular meeting documented here included musical excerpts, as well as a speech by Gauleiter Schuster. The Star-Spangled Banner opened the event; Johann Strauss's Fledermaus Overture came next, then a few other items followed by the Radetzky March.  After speeches, athletic displays and songs by the youth group, the program ended with the Horst Wessel Song.  

And what happened to the members of these organizations when war broke out? Some surely quietly hid their involvement. But according to Mark D. Van Ells, "When Hitler declared war against the United States four days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Bund members found themselves stranded in enemy territory. Federal agents seized Bund records. Many of its members faced denaturalization proceedings and imprisonment."