Monday, February 23, 2009

Du Bois in Brooklyn

It seems the great African American leader W.E.B. Dubois lived for a time in his twilight years in Brooklyn Heights, according to an Eagle article written by Brad Lockwood. Arthur Miller, of "Death of a Salesman" fame, sold Du Bois his home at 31 Grace Ct. in 1951.

Du Bois wrote of his Brooklyn digs, “It cost about twice as much as we could afford to pay but our choice was between something like that or life in the country.” Yup, sounds like the Heights.

He did not remain in Brooklyn to the end of his days, however. He actually renounced his American citizenship in 1962, and a year later he died in Accra, Ghana at the age of 95.

Du Bois was one of the founders of the NAACP, the first African American to be granted a Ph.D from Harvard, and wrote more than 20 books, the most famous probably being The Souls of Black Folk.

The Birth Anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois [Eagle]


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Upcoming Events

Explore the beautiful Brooklyn Historical Society! A tour of the landmark building, designed by architect George Post and built in 1881, will be given on Saturday, Feb. 21. Using the latest technology, Post created a magnificent structure with amazing craftsmanship. On this guided tour you’ll learn not only about the building as an architectural gem, but you’ll also find out the "more than meets the eye" history of one of Brooklyn’s premier cultural institutions. Tour begins at 2 p.m. Visit www.brooklynhistory for more information.

On Saturday, Feb 21 Bay Ridge historians Peter Scarpa and Lawrence Stelter will be signing copies of their new book, Bay Ridge Then and Now from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer’s office at 7606 Fifth Ave. in Bay Ridge.

Author Peter Quinn will be reading from his historical novel Banish Children of Eve at the Chapel at Green-Wood Cemetery at 1p.m. on Sunday, March 8. The book tells the story of Irish immigrants during the 1863 Civil War draft riots in New York City. Following, there will be a book signing and trolley tour through Green-Wood, conducted by cemetery historian Jeff Richman. The reading is free, with a $5 suggested donation, and $20 ($10 for Historic Fund members) for the trolley tour. For more information, visit

The Brooklyn Bridge will be 126 years old in 2009 and the Brooklyn Historical Society, in conjunction with the Center for Architecture Foundation, is celebrating. Families with children ages 6 - 12 are invited to BHS on March 7 from 1 to 4 p.m. to discover some of the bridge's secrets and to make a model of the Brooklyn Bridge to take home. All materials are provided and a $10 donation per family is requested. Gallery talks and art projects are geared for kids 5-13 years old.

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael D'Antonio, Peter O'Malley, president of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1970 - 1998, and Richard Sandomir, sports broadcasting reporter for the New York Times, at the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) as they discuss the story of Walter O'Malley and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles, on the occasion of the launch of Mr. D’Antonio’s new book Forever Blue. The event will take place on Saturday, March 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. and is free and open to the public. The Brooklyn Historical Society is at 128 Pierrepont St.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Brooklyn's Answer to "Boss" Tweed

Well, if you thought Tammany Hall had the monopoly on 19th century political corruption, you were wrong. "Boss" John McKane ruled Gravesend with an iron fist, and ultimately paid for it with a sentence in Sing Sing.

Gravesend was not yet a part of the city of Brooklyn and encompassed what we call Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay when McKane ran things in the 1870s and '80s. He was town commissioner, town supervisor, chief of police, head of the town board of health and the water board, and served as the excise commissioner, meaning he was responsible for collecting taxes. He was even superintendent of the Sheepshead Bay Methodist Episcopal Sunday school.

McKane’s rule was marked by fraud, extortion, and gross financial misconduct. He left the town completely bankrupt with no credit. He may have collected as much as $100,000 in assessments on property owners for local improvements, but there were practically no vouchers for his expenditures, and he kept no bank account for the town, but kept all the money in his own personal account. A large number of the town improvement bonds went missing with no record of them available.

But the crime he was ultimately punished for was election fraud. He was the greatest ballot stuffer of the age, and crossed a line when he threw a court delegation in prison after they presented him with an injunction.

In 1894, he was sentenced to six years hard labor at Sing Sing, but was let out two years early for good behavior. He never again held public office and died of a stroke at his home in Sheepshead Bay in 1899.

To read more about McKane's shenanigans, and they were many, read the story I wrote on him for the Eagle.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Walt’s Editorial Flourish

Although the Brooklyn Eagle was home to many illustrious editors, Walt Whitman is no doubt the most famous, though he only served in the position for two years.

He was 27 years old when he came to the Eagle in 1846. An experienced newspaper man, he had already worked for a dozen city papers. The first edition of Leaves of Grass was published in 1855. In the preface to that edition he said he had begun to think about the poems in 1847, when he was 28, and still an editor at the Eagle. Indeed, his literary talent was already apparent in his Eagle editorials, such as the one reprinted below, titled "Autobiography of a Brooklyn Lamp."

Extinguished street lamps were a consistent pet peeve of Whitman’s, and this was his way of dealing with it.

"Autobiography of a Brooklyn Lamp" (Dec. 12, 1846)

"After I was put up in my little glass house, I remained without annoyance for a considerable time. One day however a man came to me, (by a ladder) and filled me with a thick poshy singular substance, (not liquid) and squeezed a cotton string through my nostrils, the ends of which he dabbed with turpentine. The same evening, just after sundown, he came again and put me on fire. Proud of my office I chuckled considerably; but alas! hardly had he got to my next neighbor, when I found that the poshy substance on which I had to depend for life, was a humbug. Accordingly I went out; - and though the people who passed were full of jibes when they looked up at my glass house, I confidently defied them to make light of me."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Eagle’s ‘Special Airplane Edition’

The Brooklyn Eagle became the first newspaper to deliver their product via air when they began the "Special Airplane Edition" just after World War I. The newspapers were dropped in parachutes in bundles of fifty over fields on Long Island. Local Boy Scouts would then pick them up and distribute them. But apparently they used to also sneak in some "Special Airplane Editions" via rail, as well. Sneaky, sneaky Eagle.
I’m not sure how long this "special edition" went on for. I came across brief mention of it in Raymond Schroth’s fascinating book The Eagle and Brooklyn (1974). Raymond Schroth was a professor of journalism and American studies at Fordham University, as well as the nephew of Frank Schroth, the last publisher of the original Eagle before it folded in 1955. The photo above is also from the book and is part of the Brooklyn Public Library Collection.

Kensington Snow, 1956 [Gowanus Lounge]

Cool Footage of a Brooklyn Trolley in 1938 [Gowanus Lounge]

A 'Tom Thumb' Wedding [Brooklynology]