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You Gotta Believe

Jan 31, 2017 2:37 PM | 0 comments

Swimming is one of the best ways of keeping physically fit, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  There are those that swim recreationally, and then there are those brave souls who test the limits of their capabilities by endeavoring to swim the English Channel.  One such person was Mrs. Betty Cohn of 120 Ocean Parkway, who became the first grandmother to swim the channel when she swam from France to England in 1951.

News of her swimming prowess was carried in newspapers around the world. like the Singapore Free Press, and Melbourne Australia's Argus newspaper where she said quite unequivocally,"My advice to all grandmothers is, throw away your rocking chairs and knitting needles and get into the water...I've been swimming 45 year, and I'd rather be in the water than on the land." 

Always training, she works out at the Hotel St. George gym.



Her road to the English Channel wasn't all smooth sailing.  She had to back out of the competition in 1950 due to a lack of financial support.  But Mrs. Cohn was very determined.  "I'm sure I can do it, I have no fear"

To practice for the 21 mile test in stamina, she took on the  comparatively calm Hudson River in the summer of 1950 by swimming 12 miles from Palisades Park to the Statue of Liberty in 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Before her swim her grandchildren apply grease to lessen the affects of the cold water.     


Her husband and coach, Dr. Harry (doesn't care much for swimming") Cohn, applies eye-drops.

Afterward the ever confident Mrs. Cohn remarked, "I knew I could do it, now bring on the channel!"



Betty Cohn takes off from Idlewild Airport bound for London with the well wishes from her granddaughter, Zena, grandson Michael, and her son Pvt. Bernard Cohn.


Looking like a modern day "Venus" Betty Cohn relaxes in the waters off of Cape Gris-Nez in France as she waits for more favorable weather conditions.

In August of 1951 with assurance, tenacity, and spinach and milk for nourishment, Mrs. Betty Cohn made history as the first grandmother to swim the English Channel.  Well Done!


That's A Wrap

Jun 29, 2016 3:41 PM | 0 comments

The school year has finally come to a close but, before students and teachers rejoice at the long summer days that lie ahead, they take the time to pause and partake in that time-honored celebration of achievement: the graduation ceremony. How have Brooklynites celebrated this singular milestone throughout the years?  We have numerous graduation programs in our collection, and by studying their content, as well as the physical program themselves, we see how the ceremonies were a reflection of their era, and how they changed with the times.

The early commencement programs were elegant, formal, and dignified, befitting the solemn ritual taking place.  When the students graduated from Bushwick High School in 1922 the evening program featured a violin solo by Chopin, and a selection from "The Merry Wives of Windsor". The program cover was classic and minimal. 


This trend toward formality continued throughout the 1930's, and 40's.  There were some exceptions though. Both the 1940 and 1967 graduating class from Samuel J. Tilden favored the modern. Incorporating the Tilden owl, they featured a smart and contemporary design cover for their commencement.



By the 1950's schools had expanded their graduation repertoire to include Broadway show tunes.  In 1950 the graduates of James Madison, which incidentally included future Supreme Court judge, Ruth Bader, selected Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" from the 1933 musical Roberta.   


The 1960's ushered in a sense of freedom, revolution, non-conformity, and ethnic pride.  These societal changes were reflected in the commencement exercises as well.  Sarah H. Hale high school graduates began the turbulent decade in 1960 with a program including the Negro national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by James Weldon Johnson.  In 1961 they selected "The Sound of Music" by Rodgers and Hammerstein as one their numbers.


The ascent of popular music along with revolutionary fervor continued into the 70's, with schools choosing any mixture of pop, folk, Broadway, and classical music for their programs.  Simon F. Rotschild Junior High School marched in on Elger's "Pomp and Circumstance" in 1974, but any semblence of tradition flew out the window after that. Black pride and Broadway were on full display with the featured songs of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "To Be Young Gifted and Black" by Nina Simon, "There's a Place for Us" from West Side Story, and the gospel/jazz song by Billy Taylor that became a civil rights anthem, "I Wish I Knew How it Feels To Be Free."


The commencement program at I.S. 218 featured a Pop Art commencement cover for their 1971 ceremony.  Featured solos were Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now," Michael LeGrand's jazz standard, "Watch What Happens," and Roto and Mancini's "A Time for Us."





Since then the digital world has come to dominanate the landscape, transforming music, and graphics.  It was inevitable that this technology would also alter the graduation ceremony as schools seek new ways to project sound and visuals.  Even with all of todays technological wizardy, students, parents and teachers still need to come together and celebrate their hard work, and as the graduates of MS 340 confirmed last year, todays schools still want to keep the ceremony classy.



The Toy That Kills

Apr 3, 2015 11:28 AM | 0 comments

Brooklyn in the early 1950s was a borough of rising crime, and the problem was steadily getting out of control. Cab drivers were held up, grocery stores robbed, and gangs fought for bragging rights in the streets. Stories of victimized residents and business owners were a regular feature in the newspaper. Something had to be done. Various community groups met to discuss strategies that would get weapons off the streets and out of the hands of the youth.

Enter the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which along with civic leaders, business leaders, and local precincts waged a three-year campaign, one that reached all the way to Governor Dewey in Albany, with a proposal for legislation that would ban the sale and possession of menacing switchblades.

Leading the campaign was Special Sessions Justice John E. Cone. Cone worked tirelessly, speaking in front of groups all over New York, about the need for comprehensive legislation. Justice Cone had previously been Chief of the Homicide Bureau in the District Attorney's Office and had seen first-hand the effect of switchblades on the psyche of young people. He claimed " was a badge of distinction among teen-age gang members to possess a switchblade or zip-gun." The allure of the switchblade was evident. They were the stuff of movie gangsters. With a quick temper and a flick of the mechanism, the blade would release, and advantage was quickly gained. These "toys" had become incredibly dangerous.

Huddle at City Council hearing at which Committee on State Legislation voted to ask Albany Legislature for a total ban of switchblade knives. Special Sessions Justice John E. Cone makes a point to group of Council committee members - December 17, 1953

Cone's fight would not be an easy one.  The switchblade had its supporters in knife makers and knife enthusiasts, many of whom lived in upstate districts. Governor Dewey was uninterested and ambivalent, choosing to side with New York state business lobby. But Cone fought on, enlisting the help of the 67th Precinct in Flatbush, which organized support of the ban as well, as the Flatbush Merchants Council and Americans for Democratic Action.

Among the many others who worked alongside Justice Cone were Senators Fred G. Moritt, Herbert I. Sorin, and Assemblyman Ben Werbel, whose son had been slashed with a switchblade. Werbel and Sorin drafted a bill in 1953 to ban the sale and possession of switchblades. By the time it got through the legislature, however, it was so watered down it was rendered worthless. Cone and his supporters took a half-a-loaf approach and vowed to fight on, agreeing only to a bill that limited the sale of switchblades to minors under 16.

Special Sessions Court Jusice John E. Cone, left, chairman of the Citizens Committee Against Switchblades, congratulates Mrs. Rita Develin, chairman of the 67th Precinct Co-Ordinating Council, for the council's part in the Flatbush crusade against switchblade knives. At right is City Councilmnan Jack Kranis, co-chairman of the co-ordinating council -February 15 1954.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle devoted considerable journalistic resources to the cause. In addition to op-ed pieces and letters to the editor, reporter Leslie Hascom wrote a series of in-depth articles about the violent impact switchblades had on the people and neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Keeping up the drumbeat, the Eagle maintained a box next to every article about switchblade violence that read,

Even after defeat of the 1953 bill Cone kept up the pressure. Sensing victory in the winter of '53, he did not let up, and exhorted Brooklynites to inundate Albany lawmakers with telegrams in support of the stricter comprehensive ban.

In the end, the governor could not ignore the onslaught from Brooklyn, and on March 28th, 1954, New York became the first state in the nation to ban the manufacture, sale, and possession of switchblades.

After the victory Cone declared, "It will take away the toy that kills from the adolescent and the favored murder weapon from the adult criminal. The ban could not have been secured without the support of the Brooklyn Eagle."

A period of amnesty followed right away, allowing knife owners to quietly turn in their blades, without fear of prosecution.

April 7, 1954 - Responding to warnings by Police Commissioner Francis W.H. Adams that owners of outlawed switchblade knives should turn them in, a citizen hands blade to Lt. Francis X. Grattano and Patrolman Joseph Graham, right, at Bergen St. stationhouse. Those who turn in knives immediately won't be prosecuted.

Since that battle was won exactly 61 years ago, times have indeed changed. Many states are reversing their switchblade laws, acknowledging that the weapons famously used by the "Sharks and the Jets" hearken back to another era. Furthermore, citizens with no evil intent have been arrested, and jailed for possessing knives used for maintenance jobs.

But for one moment, Brooklyn was front and center in a national struggle for saftey... a struggle that continues.

Artist Talk-Jesus in Brooklyn: Four Good Fridays with Larry Racioppo

Mar 17, 2015 4:20 PM | 0 comments

Larry Racioppo has been photographing Good Friday on the streets of Brooklyn for over 40 years.  Join us on March 25th at 7:00 p.m. as this celebrated street photographer talks about his work documenting the public processions, and celebrations of faith of four neighobrhood churches.   


                 Greater Zion Shiloh Baptist Church


                   St. John the Evangalist RC Church


                             St. Barbara RC Church


                St. Joseph Patron of Universal Church

The talk will be preceded by a wine and cheese reception at 6:30.


Feb 19, 2015 1:32 PM | 0 comments

We hope that you'll join us next Wednesday, February 25th to hear Peter Thomas Fornatale and Chris Wertz as they present their new book, "Brooklyn Spirits and Cocktails: Craft Distilling from the World's Hippest Borough".  They'll be discussing the history of distilled spirits in Brooklyn, and the new ways that restaurants, entrepreneurs, and bars are bringing back old recipes and methods, while adding their own twist to the enjoyment of cocktails.



The talk begins at 7:00 p.m, and there will be a cocktail receiption at 6:30 to kick things off.