Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Virtual Visit to Whitman's Brooklyn

I have to give a shout-out to a great new web site that was recently brought to my attention. Whitman's Brooklyn: A Virtual Visit Circa 1850 (now one of my Favorite Links, listed at left) has been created by Russell Granger, a branding/art director in the ad world with deep roots in Brooklyn.

Granger's family came over from England in the early 19th century and lived mostly in the Vinegar Hill section of Brooklyn. They played in a bad-ass brass band — the Brooklyn Brass Band. One of their biggest fans: Walt Whitman. (In case any of you don't know, Whitman grew up in Brooklyn, and spent about a third of his life here. He wrote for several local newspapers - and worked as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for two years, before he wrote and published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, which was published where else? In Brooklyn).

Anyhow, this family history got Granger interested in local history and Whitman. Something of a Photoshop guru, he has compiled some really stunning visuals of the Brooklyn that Whitman would have known and used his skills to make them all the more vivid. (See example above of the Fulton Ferry Landing in 1857.) Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Morning Edition: Good Stories on Brooklyn Museum and College

Came across two interesting items on the web this morning. The Wall Street Journal, with its spiffy new Greater New York section, has a story today detailing how Brooklyn College has recently become home to the premiere boxing archive in the country. Hank Kaplan, originally from Williamsburg, died in 2007, willing the collection of boxing material he had been hoarding his whole life to the college.

In addition to a "mountain of news clippings," Kaplan's trove covers "American and British fighters between 1890 through 2007...Along the way, he also amassed 2,600 books on boxing, roughly 500,000 photographic prints and negatives, 1,200 posters—many signed by some of the most prominent boxers in history—correspondence, memorabilia, scrapbooks and more materials, all chronicling the ethnicities, rivalries, lives, triumphs and deaths of thousands of fighters, famous, infamous and unknown."

Kaplan's collection "has attracted a stream of other donations from relatives of prominent historical boxing figures" to Brooklyn College. And the National Endowment for the Humanities recently awarded them a grant of $300,000 to process the materials.

Brooklyn College: Boxing Mecca [Wall Street Journal]

Brownstoner's Montrose Morris has another great history post this morning, this one about the Brooklyn Institute, the precursor organization to the Brooklyn Museum. The institute was sort of an umbrella organization over dozens of different learning societies in Brooklyn. This post focuses on the Architectural Department of the Brooklyn Institute. Future posts are promised. It's worth clicking on just to see a picture of the original architectural plan for the Brooklyn Museum on Eastern Parkway. As it stands today, it's only a fourth the size as it was intended. It would have been a monster!

Walkabout: the Great Gathering, part1 [Brownstoner]

Friday, June 4, 2010

Meet Pasquale Bruno, 77 Year Resident of Gowanus

Pasquale Bruno, 77, has been living in the same house on Bond Street his whole life. Journalist Mike Weiss got a chance to chat with him about Gowanus in the old days, when it was "all just plain old South Brooklyn,” and fruits and vegetables were delivered by horse carriages that clip-clopped along cobblestone streets. Bruno also testifies to one of the more ghastly rumors about the canal: "I never heard of no dead bodies being found." We hope he's right.

From Coal Barges to Superfund: Recalling a Life by the Gowanus [Brooklyn Eagle]

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jackie Robinson? Who’s That?

Brooklyn Dodgers? Never heard of ‘em. Could you imagine these words coming from born and bred Brooklynites? Inconceivable, right? Think again.

“I never even heard of them. I didn’t know Brooklyn had a baseball field,” said Garesha Ferguson, a 10th grader at Cobble Hill School of American Studies.

“I didn’t know they existed. So this was really a shocker,” echoed Alex Yeranosyan, a junior at Brooklyn Tech.

Fortunately, there is hope for these youngsters yet. The Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) has been saving their souls through its after-school program Exhibition Laboratory, in which 20 high school students curated “Home Base: Memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field,” set to open tonight, June 3. I had a chance to meet up with the kids last week and talk about what they're learning.

“I learned about Ebbets, and how [the Dodgers] got their name and their move to L.A., which made them not the Brooklyn Dodgers,” said Ferguson, perhaps beginning to bear a grudge that is her natural-born right as a Brooklynite.

After months of research in BHS’ archives, field trips (including one to the Ebbets Houses, where the beloved field once stood), conducting interviews with fans, and meeting with former Los Angeles Dodgers president/owner Peter O’Malley, the kids are veritable experts on the team, and might be budding fans as well.

“I feel like something is missing now. I would have definitely went if it was still around,” Yeranosyan said. “This team seemed to have an effect on everyone, whether or not you liked them. Ebbets Field, watching the Dodgers — It was the place to be.”

Brooklyn Tech senior George Athanail seemed to be coming to terms with why the Dodgers were often referred to as “Dem Bums.”

“The only impression I had [of the Dodgers] was that they had a reputation as one of the great teams, even though they didn’t always win,” he said. “They had that luster of the golden age of baseball. Actually, I was surprised to find out how much they lost.”

“All I knew was that they were from Brooklyn, now I know their entire history,” said junior Langston Curtis. “[The Dodgers] were significant because they distinguished Brooklyn from New York City. They gave Brooklyn a special sense of itself, which I think we lost a little bit, and that’s why people like to remember and care so much about the Dodgers.”

The exhibit is built to bring back memories for anyone who ever spent time at Ebbets. Included will be photos of the field and the fans, baseball cards, uniforms, autographed baseballs, original benches from the stadium, an actual Ebbets third base, ticket stubs, score cards and the enormous blue and white Dodger banner from their one and only World Series championship in 1955.

The memories are apt to come back quickly, as the entry to the exhibit will be carpeted with AstroTurf. “When we were doing interviews, everyone commented on the field — that it was extra green and bright. They said it was the first thing they noticed,” explained sophomore Abena St. clair.

Exhibit-goers will be able to record their own memories of the Dodgers and Ebbets at the “Post Game Wrap Up,” where an iMac will film their testimonies.

Back in February, BHS put out an open call for people who wanted to share their memories of Ebbets, and the students conducted interviews to be recorded for the oral history archive, some of which will be available at listening stations in the exhibit. Some students were amazed to learn about the dedication of the fans.

“I didn’t know they were so devoted. They brought, like, a ladle and a pan and banged it and cheered their hearts out until they couldn’t breathe,” said junior Curtis Gibson, who was also impressed with the story of Jackie Robinson. “I didn't initially think an exhibit on baseball was the best thing, but then [I learned about] the first black man who broke the color barrier.”

“It’s kind of sad the Dodgers are gone, but their legacy lives on," says Christina Valdez. “It doesn’t live on in the Mets. It lives on by people being more racially tolerant of each other.”

A dedicated Yankees fan, Valdez said she was a bit surprised to learn about the legendary enmity between the Bronx Bombers and the Brooklyn Dodgers. “I didn't know a lot of people didn’t like the Yankees,” she said, noting, “I saw a photo of people cheering at the ’55 World Series. I felt the same way when the Yankees won. It made me cherish the memories more.”

The exhibit also presents the battle between Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley (Peter’s father), much maligned in history for moving the team to L.A. in 1957, and the city’s powerful and controversial planning chief Robert Moses, over a new stadium for the Dodgers in Brooklyn, which, of course, never came to pass.

“The moment that most defines the team is their leaving, so it’s interesting to understand that well,” said Athanail.

The students studied binders full of correspondence between Moses and O’Malley, which are on display in the exhibit, and seemed to universally come to the conclusion that O’Malley has shouldered an unfair amount of the blame for the Dodgers leaving.

“I understand why people blame [O’Malley] but it clearly wasn’t his fault,” said Langston Curtis. “He tried to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn. People in L.A. tried to get him to move years before, and he blatantly rejected them … It was nice to see the actual writings between people. We didn’t do reading in books, because we had the actual materials to look at,” he added.

“We had the original objects, the original information.” Looking at them, junior Yeranosyan says, “you feel the same thing they felt 50 years ago.”

The history of the Dodgers, “helps us not only understand baseball, but the history of Brooklyn through baseball,” senior Athanail says. “My generation was not around for it, but it still created for our parents and grandparents their traditions.

“And also, it’s our neighborhood, and you have to know what happened in your neighborhood.”
“Home Base: Memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field” is opening on June 3 and will be on display until April, 2011 at the Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont St.

CAPTION FOR PHOTO AT TOP: Fans line up for World Series tickets at Ebbets Field, October 1, 1956 (Photo by Bob Lair, International News).
Photos from Brooklyn Historical Society
Photography Collection