Where was the Brooklyn Ice Palace located? What does “Brooklyn” mean in Dutch? Did the egg cream really start in Brooklyn?
These are just a few of the questions facing Ron Schweiger (pictured), Brooklyn’s borough historian. This week, he’ll really be earning his title, since New York’s public radio station WNYC is in the midst of a special summer program featuring New York City’s five official borough historians, who are appointed by their respective borough presidents.
“I was aware there was a new borough historian in Queens, and we started wondering ‘who are these guys and what do they do?’” said WNYC reporter Kathleen Horan. So this summer, the station is devoting a week to each borough, with the borough historian answering questions from listeners online at wnyc.org.
This week Brooklyn is in the spotlight, and anyone can post a question about Brooklyn for Mr. Schweiger, who will also be appearing on WNYC’s “All Things Considered” this Friday to address some of the queries that came in.
Speaking with Brooklyn Before Now Tuesday morning, Schweiger sounded pretty confident. “I first received questions online last night and there were nine questions. Right away I could answer six or seven of them. And the other ones I have to do a little research or refer the person to someone else.”
A retired science teacher and a lifelong Brooklynite, Schweiger has served as borough historian since 2002. He became interested in Brooklyn history after he and his wife moved to Victorian Flatbush as newlyweds back in 1969. He was taken with the beautiful homes and started looking into the history of the area and collecting old postcards and photos of street scenes. He now has more than 3,000 slides of Brooklyn and a substantial library of books.
“I’m standing in my dining room right now looking at my bookcase and everything on the shelves is Brooklyn. Everything Brooklyn is here,” he said.
“A great range of questions are already coming in,” said Kathleen Ehrlich, director of editorial operations for the wnyc.org. These days you can find out so many things just by searching the Internet, she noted, “but some facts are so unique or specialized that you can’t find them online. It’s nice to know that there are still some questions that need to be answered by human beings.”
In addition to Schweiger’s committed question-answering, wnyc.org has posted several other features about Brooklyn history, including a timeline of the borough, in which readers are invited to add any important dates that may have been overlooked, a feature article on Brooklyn-born composer Aaron Copland, and an extensive interview with Michael Shapiro, author of The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together, about what the baseball team meant to Brooklyn. There’s also a list of blogs, books and newspapers about Brooklyn, and the “Ultimate Brooklyn Mixtape” — a list of songs about Brooklyn or by famous Brooklynites, ranging from “Stormy Weather” by the late Lena Horne to “Get Me Home” by the recent headline-getter Foxy Brown.
These features, Schweiger’s questions and answers, as well as the radio content about Brooklyn from this week will permanently stay on the station’s web site at www.wnyc.org/history.
But, if you don’t get your question in this week, all is not lost. You can send questions to Schweiger through the borough president at firstname.lastname@example.org. They all get forwarded to the historian’s mailbox at Borough Hall, which he says he checks once a week.