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Serendipity in the Eagle Morgue

Jul 28, 2009 12:41 PM | 0 comments

If the serendipitous nature of alphabetical order has ever struck you as one of life's inexpensive pleasures, then the Eagle morgue is for you. Why should nudity and nugatory nestle so close to one another on the dictionary page?  And there among the s's sedition and seduction rub shoulders, one misdemeanor inciting its neighbor to worse and worse behavior. Morgue file drawer

A file drawer full of photographs is much like a dictionary page in producing strange bedfellows. Leslie mentioned in her last post that we have been undertaking an inventory of some of our photograph collections. That is true. The Eagle morgue contained many thousands of photographs of Brooklyn people and places that are our stock in trade. We keep these near us, readily available in case of need, and have digitized 18,000 of them thanks to a grant from New York State via the LSTA some years ago. Many people who use our services know of these Brooklyn-related photographs. They are quite frequently used and they needed a good checking over.

Less well known are the remaining 200,000 or so photographs that are most likely not of Brooklyn subjects, stored in a newly renovated basement area of the library. These non-Brooklyn photographs are currently the subject of an ongoing re-foldering project that is allowing us slowly to create a list of subject headings. The project has been advancing through the alphabet for a couple of years and we are now somewhere in the Ls, which puts us about half way through.  (This list will soon be available in PDF form via our web page.) In the meantime, I had occasion to descend to the morgue this morning in search of material for a research request. As so often happens, I did not find what I was looking for but instead found something much better.

Opening the drawer marked "Sondegaard, Gale, Actress--Stiskin, Henry, Disabled Veteran" I noticed a folder that was the wrong color. Good--Sports--Basketball, misfiled, will now go back to its proper home upstairs.  Anyone who has been to the morgue will know that it requires a will of steel or an extremely pressing task upstairs to open a drawer and leave it immediately without spending at least a minute browsing. Today, I must confess, the weak will that some would say has been my downfall in life, drew me deep into the dusty files with the cryptic headings. "Stampler Sheila--Miss Christmas Seals of 1953." What could that be?

I opened the file and there among the pictures of the Flatbush-born Ms Stampler being crowned  Queen of the Brooklyn Tuberculosis and Health Association, was a familiar face.

Apprentice Meets Star--Photograph by Edwin Gray, Falmouth. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Evidently Ms Stampler (left) took a summer position in the Falmouth MA playhouse, where Marlon Brando was starring in "Arms and the Man."  This photograph appeared in the Eagle on July 28th, 1953.

After a find like that, who could resist browsing a little further? Not long after Stampler came "Steinmetz, Charles P., Electrical Wizard."  Naturally I had to see what an Electrical Wizard might look like.

Two Master Minds of Science.  Albert Einstein and Charles Steinmetz, May 23, 1924. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Steinmetz (right) was the distinguished consulting engineer of the General Electric Company, while Albert Einstein standing to his left was, according to the Eagle, "famous as the proponent of Einstein's Theory of Relativity."  I couldn't have said it any better. Another photograph shows Steinmetz in the company of William Marconi, wireless inventor, while a third bears on the verso this pencilled note: "Charles Steinmetz. I think this man is dead. Look it up in the morgue."

We are less than half way through the drawer but a blog post cannot ramble on forever, so let us skip quickly from Steinmetz to Stern, a different kind of wizard.

 Isaac Stern, Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept 1953. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

The occasion of this pleasantly unbuttoned photograph of violinist Isaac Stern was a 1953 performance of the Brahms "Double" Concerto with cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and the Stadium Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Schippers, at City College's Lewisohn Stadium.  Five years earlier Stern had appeared in recital at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). In fact the Eagle seems to have been fond of this artist, gathering no less than twelve publicity photographs.

Famous people are all well and good, but they were not the bread and butter of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Eagle took bread, and butter, and other foodstuffs very seriously. "Elsa Steinberger, Eagle Food Editor," popped out at me as I was about to close the drawer. I couldn't resist. I learned that Steinberger became chairman of the food and nutrition service committee of the Brooklyn Red Cross in 1949. Before becoming a food writer she had worked for the Brooklyn Union Gas Company as home economist. 

Editor honored. Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept 30, 1948. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection



On September 30 1948 she was honored  by the American Meat Institute for "best news writing on food in cities over 500,000 population." That must have been a real feather in her cap.