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Goats Do Roam in Brooklyn

May 20, 2016 1:15 PM | 3 comments

This spring, one of the most hotly anticipated arrivals to Brooklyn is a herd of eight goats. The animals are here on the loan from a Rhinebeck farm for the summer months during which they will help control invasive weeds in the Prospect Park. They will be deployed in the Vale of Cashmere (between Flatbush Ave and the East Drive) to graze on poison ivy and goutweed which have been taking over the area after Hurricane Sandy damaged it. The goats are already hugely popular; the park's free “Fun on the Farm” event this weekend – with a "bleet and greet" tour every 30 minutes – is booked to capacity!

Yet, goats are nothing new to the Prospect Park (shown here in a picture by George Bradford Brainard taken in 1870s) ...

 

… or to Brooklyn itself.

A quick scan of old Brooklyn newspapers reveals that the animals were widely held by Brooklynites when the city was a “vegetable basket” for Manhattan. “Lost and Found” sections of the newspaper were peppered with pleas to return a stray goat (for a reward, like beloved dogs or cats of today) or to collect one (and pay expenses!) -- sometimes in the same breath, as in this segment from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on January 29, 1867:

 

In the good old days, one could not just own a goat. An owner had to obtain a license (yes, this is correct!) to own a goat. The reports of sting operations against illegal goats proliferate in the police dispatches, such as this one from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 17, 1867:

 

Goats were kept for milk (“especially useful of the anemic”), leather and wool, but also, evidently, as a companion animal:

 

I came across a hilarious story that appeared in the paper on October 11, 1893, where a wily goat inserted himself into the legal machinery of the city:

“An ordinary, every day goat, with no outward marks of distinction beyond unusually long chin whiskers and an air of reckless daring, has hopelessly mixed up two families in a snarl, which Justice Connelly and the district attorney have been trying to unravel between them. The animal in question resides on Hale avenue, in a very respectable neighborhood, and like all Twenty-sixth Ward quadrupeds has learned to despise the restraining influences imposed upon the less favored of his species by the more conventional customs of other sections of the city. Sometimes he grazes on the sunny acclivities of Cypress Hills, and again, with the rapidity of the lightning change artist, appears an hour or two later in the very heart of fashionable Brownsville.

The goat is owned by Mrs. Christine Dowling, an elderly woman, whose husband only figures as a background incident in the difficulty which necessitated the appearance of Mr. and Mrs. William Commoda, in the role of defendants, before Justice Connelly this morning. The Commodas and Dowlings are neighbors. Some time ago, it appears from the records, the Dowling goat chewed up portions in the fence surrounding the Commoda estate and also macerated a quantity of old shoes which have been slowly ripening underneath the rays of a long summer’s sun in the secluded spot near the Commoda gates. Mr. and Mrs. Commoda objected, but the goat resumed his luncheon day after day, disturbing himself every now and again to dodge a flying brick […] Relations between the Commoda and Dowling families became so strained in consequence that when both parties met Mr. Dowling was threatened with death and his wife with some lesser form of punishment. The Commodas were arrested and placed under bonds by Justice Connelly. They swore that they owned a house and a lot on Hale avenue which were nominated as a security in the bond to keep the peace, the execution of which then released the couple from the impending penalty. Today they were re-arraigned for repeating the old offense, and also for assault. Once more the goat was at the bottom of the trouble. He broke out again unexpectedly and his goings-on revived the old feud. During the trial of the Commodas, the attention of the district attorney’s representative was called to the fact that the representation of the proprietorship in the Hale avenue house and lot, made by the defendants at the previous arraignment, was false. The house and land belong, it is claimed, to a Mr. Rosenberg. Today Commoda was sent to jail for twenty days, […] while his wife received a similar sentence, which was afterward suspended. Justice Connolly is determined that the Dowling goat shall henceforth enjoy his meals undisturbed.”

Perhaps the hero of the story looked something like that:

Goats were held as domestic animals in Brooklyn well into the 20th century.  

This runaway goat boarded the Independent Subway System train at Church Ave and “butted into everybody’s business. The goat ran along the platform with its head down, butting inoffensive people waiting for trains and thus convincing one and all that the goat was going to business. Captured after boarding the crowded train, the goat was taken to Jamaica S.P.C.A. Shelter where he is shown with Fred Kusterbeck, kennel man.” (BDE, Nov 19, 1936).

This goat named Harry lived in a backyard of his owner’s house in Canarsie in 1939.

But sometimes, in a search for all things goat, one comes across a mysterious statement in a paper. Perhaps it is a subject of a future blogpost, but here it is, in all its glory:

Comments

5/20/2016 1:55:05 PM #

Alla, your goat in the first photo looks distinctly sheepish to me!

Joy Holland

5/20/2016 2:02:44 PM #

Yet, the catalog records states that it is an Angora goat!

alla

6/17/2016 10:49:47 AM #

I grew up in Flatbush but lived some time in Southern CA near LA. During an Easter morning sunrise service at a cemetery site, a tribe of goats with shepherds was arranged for in the background of the several clerical speakers. During the service some of the goats mounted other goats inconsistent with the intended reverence of the ceremony. "Giggles" replace "Amen’s". Goats seem to have a strange sense of humor.

john clynick