Wednesday, April 27, 2011

‘Bridge’ Poet Hart Crane's Dramatic Ending

In the early hours of April 27, 1932, the poet Hart Crane was drunkenly raging about a steamboat crossing the Gulf of Mexico.  A few hours later, he exclaimed, “Goodbye, everybody!” and hurled himself overboard in front of several witnesses. His body was never recovered.

So went the abrupt and dramatic end for this talented poet, who found his inspiration in Brooklyn. Though he was from the midwest, he spent some of his most productive years in Brooklyn Heights, and wrote one of his most memorable works, "The Bridge" about the Brooklyn Bridge.

You can read more about him (including interesting facts, like that his father invented Lifesavers) at the Eagle.

Here's an excerpt from "The Bridge:"

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,—
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Record Breaking Day
For Howard Hughes in Brooklyn

From the Brooklyn Eagle's On This Day In History page:
Hughes, right, at Floyd Bennet Field on April 21, 1936. AP

On April 21, 1936, the eccentric aviator and movie producer Howard Hughes landed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn after a record breaking Miami-to-New York flight of 4 hours, 21 minutes, 32 seconds.

Floyd Bennett Field was the first municipal airport in New York City and was officially opened in May of 1931. It was named for the aviator Floyd Bennett, who became famous as the pilot who flew to the North Pole with Richard Byrd  in 1926.

Although Floyd Bennett Field never became a hub of commercial and passenger air activity, it was the home of many aviation “firsts” and record breaking feats in the 1930s, such as Hughes’ accomplishment mentioned above. In 1938, Hughes broke another record using Floyd Bennett when he circumnavigated the globe in 91 hours. (A newsreel about that accomplishment is below.)

Famed aviators Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post also used the airfield.

For many years Floyd Bennett served as a support base for the Naval Air Reserve and the Marine Air Reserve until it was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1970s. It is now a part of the National Gateway Recreation Area, and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (ForgottenNY has more on Floyd Bennett Field here.)

As head of Hughes Aircraft, Howard Hughes (1905-76) was instrumental in engineering many advances in aviation, and in the process became extremely wealthy. He also owned the controlling share of TWA airlines for many years. He produced many Hollywood films, including Hells Angels and Scarface. Later in life, he was famous for being a recluse who suffered from extreme obsessive compulsive disorder.

The Academy Award-winning, Martin Scorsese-directed film The Aviator (2004) was about Hughes, and starred Leonardo DiCaprio.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On the Lecture Circuit: Genealogy

Two interesting genealogy events are on the horizon, but they're on the same day so you'll have to choose.

On Wednesday, April 27 at 7 p.m., the Brooklyn Historical Society will welcome author Pearl Duncan to discuss how she traced her lineage to the Akan people of Ghana, in West Africa, and to Scottish-American nobles, related to British royals. She was able to find mixed-ancestry birth records as far back as 1726! The program is part of the historical society's Crossing Borders: Bridging Generations, a series of public conversations about mixed-heritage families, race, ethnicity, culture and identity, infused with historical perspective. It is free with the price of museum admission.

On the same day and at the same time, the Brooklyn Collection of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza will host Charlie Fourquet of the Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York, who will give a free illustrated talk on how to explore your Hispanic roots by using the Brooklyn Collection's resources. The event is free and open to the public.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Barrier With Brooklyn Dodgers

AP Photo
It was on April 15, 1947, that Jackie Robinson played his first official major league baseball game, becoming the first African American to do so. (A few days earlier he played in an exhibition game with the Dodgers, but the April 15 game was the first one for the books).

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. At UCLA, he became the first student to earn four letters (football, baseball, basketball and track). He also served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in World War II.

When Dodgers manager Branch Rickey approached Robinson about playing in the big leagues, he asked whether he thought he had the patience and self-control required to withstand the inevitable racial taunting that would come along with it. Robinson supposedly sat silently for a full three minutes before telling Rickey he could. We're sure glad he felt he was up for it.

Robinson is pictured above on April 11, 1947, warming up for an exhibition game with the Dodgers, a few days before his official debut on April 15.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Crazy Joe" Gallo's Last Meal

Gallo testifying before Congress, 1959  AP
Three notable members of organized crime hailed from President Street in South Brooklyn — the Gallo brothers, Larry, Albert and Joey, the latter known with a certain amount of reason as “Crazy Joe.” (He supposedly kept a lion in his Brooklyn basement to scare loanshark victims into paying what they owed.)

It was on April 7, 1972, his 43rd birthday, that Joe met his bloody end at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy while dining on their scungilli marinara.

Gallo had been dining that night with his wife and with his bodyguard, Peter “the Greek” Diapoula. They managed to flip over the table and use it as a shield. But when Gallo made a run for the door, a bullet pierced his back and cut his carotid artery. He stumbled out the door and collapsed on the street.

Gallo had first made a name for himself in the mob world in 1957 when he carried out a hit at the order of mob boss Joseph Profaci against Albert Anastasia, head of the infamous Murder, Inc.

Gallo lies in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

It is suspected that hitman Frank Sheeran killed Gallo, but no one was ever officially charged with the murder. Before his death in 2003, Sheeran confessed to killing Gallo, and also claimed that he had killed Jimmy Hoffa.

Read more about "Crazy Joe" Gallo at the Eagle

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Early Brooklyn Baseball

AP/Library of Congress
So, I'm a little late to the party on the beginning of baseball season, but here's a little something to honor that occasion. What’s a baseball game without a hotdog? In this photo Dodgers fans are seen buying hot dogs from a busy vendor while waiting for the gates to open for World Series Game 2 between the Dodgers (then known as the Robins) and Cleveland Indians at Ebbets Field on Oct. 6, 1920.

The Dodgers caused a lot of heartache when it came to the World Series. They made it to the big game often enough but had a hard time sealing the deal, except for in 1955, when they took their one and only World Series championship.

But long before the Dodgers, Brooklyn was home to another baseball team, with a somewhat more consistent winning record: the Brooklyn Atlantics. They were a dominant force in early baseball, taking the championship in 1861, 1864, 1865. (Although I'm thinking the baseball-playing ranks might have been a bit thin given that there was a Civil War on.)

Below is an 1865 photo of the Atlantics in what baseball historians consider a prototype for baseball cards.

Library of Congress
Also, Just yesterday was the anniversary of the opening of Ebbets Field, on April 5, 1913. See the Eagle for more on that.