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The Answer to All of Life's Problems

Apr 28, 2011 5:00 PM | 1 comment

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was, for its entire run of over 100 years, a fount of crucial information for Brooklynites.  Covering news both local and global, it was a busy newspaper serving a busy metropolis.  But the Eagle was not content to merely report on the outer world; it wanted to tackle the thorny issues of the inner world as well.  Or so we can assume, once this headline began appearing in 1933.

Although these are questions many people struggle over for several years, if not an entire lifetime, the Eagle sought to solve these conundrums for its readers once and for all, with this offer:

"The Eagle has made an arrangement by which Dr. Byron Norton, noted psychoanalyst, will help Eagle readers solve personal life problems.  Fill out the questionnaire below, mail it with a self-addressed stamped envelope and 10 cents to Dr. Byron Norton, Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn, and you will receive a letter of advice on whom to marry and the vocation you are best fitted for."

Okay, so that offer itself isn't so revolutionary.  After all, newspapers had been doling out free advice to "Confused in Cleveland"s and "Mortified in Montgomery"s for the entertainment and edification of readers as far back as the 18th century.  But this particular offer wasn't a solicitation for heartrending hard-luck stories and scandalizing confessionals that could be printed on the page for the voyeuristic amusement of others.  No, this was to be a private correspondence with a "noted pscyhoanalyst".  Moreover, the path to enlightenment needn't involve a long, agonizing search into one's deepest soul... just fill out the simple questionnaire!

Yes, what about that questionnaire?  What are the eight questions that determine our choice of life partner and our vocation?  Grab a pen or pencil, and be mentally prepared for huge revelations:

Brooklyn, of course!  The greatest city in the world. 

Yes, both.

As opposed to making things with my feet?  Then yes.

Whoa, tough question!  I really have to think about that one.... do I like jig-saw puzzles?  Sure, I've completed a few, who hasn't?  But did I enjoy it?  I'll have to say a tentative yes.

Now slow down, Dr. Norton.  This is getting a little too personal, don't you think?

That's better, thank you.  Walking, of course, although swimming is a close second, because of the glorious beaches of Brooklyn's Coney Island.

Again, yes to both!  This is amazing... it's like Dr. Norton already knows everything about me!  I'm sure this next and final inquiry will pull the whole thing together, and ask that one question that, once answered truthfully, defines each of us to the core. 

Oh, the good doctor just had to end with a stumper!  Well, as something of a history buff, I guess I'd have to say I've always loved a good mystery. 

The Eagle continued its special arrangement with Dr. Norton through 1934, offering up at least two more self-help questionnaires:

...which asks if you are methodical and enjoy club life, and wonders if you know which game of cards your significant other likes best, and finally

which does actually get to the nitty gritty, with such pointed inquiries as, "Are you more interested in achievement or financial success?", "How many times do you take 'NO' for an answer before giving up?" and, my personal favorite, "Do you think men are mentally superior, or women?"

Since whatever correspondences these questionnaires  inspired between Dr. Byron Norton and soul-searching Brooklynites were never printed, we can only guess at what kind of advice was imparted, let alone whether or not it was followed.  My guess is that the good, practical people of Brooklyn took the doctor's medicine, whatever it may have been, with a grain of salt. 


5/3/2011 2:05:58 PM #

Oh, if only he were around today...