Friday, July 22, 2011

Pinning Down the Exact Location of Old Brooklyn Photos

The New York Times Lens blog has a cool post today about a website called Historypin and the Brooklyn Museum's recent embrace of the site as a tool in identifying the location of old photos. The site uses crowd sourcing to help identify the exact location of where a picture was taken. 

The museum is in the process of digitizing its collection of 19th century glass-plate negatives and so is using the site, as are other New York institutions, such as the New York Public Library, to better catalog them. 

It's a fun site to play with. You can type in a place-name on their map and it will show photos that were taken in that location. There's also a timeline, so you can choose which era of photos you want to look at.

The Times has a slideshow of about 20 of the Brooklyn photos that have been added. Many of them, you will notice, were taken by my favorite Brooklyn photographer, George Bradford Brainerd.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Calendar: Researching Found Objects

Historian Benjamin Feldman of the New York Wanderer blog will be at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Wednesday, July 27, to share the tale of Henry Knight Dyer (1846-1911), a Brooklyn man who rose from a modest Fort Greene home and his first job as an office boy in the Dennison Paper Products Co. to become president of that multi-national enterprise at the turn of the 20th century.

Feldman's lengthy journey into Dyer's life came after he found a diary that Dyer kept as a single 24-year-old living in Brooklyn and working in lower Manhattan. Through Feldman's blog came more information and images from Dyer's descendants. An incredible story unfolded, and a family was brought together to remedy wrongs.

Feldman's talk, titled "A Right of Return" will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased here.

Feldman is the author of the books Butchery on Bond Street and Call Me Daddy, which I reviewed here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Department of Defense Tells the "Hollow Nickel" Story

If you see something, say something.

That's what Brooklyn Eagle paperboy Jimmy Bozart did, back in the good old days of the 20th century, when the Soviet Union was our enemy. Bozart was collecting his subscription money one evening in 1953 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, when he came upon a strange coin. Upon dropping the nickel on the ground, it split open, and inside was contained a small piece of paper with some sort of numerical code on it. Rather than writing it off as a curiosity, he took it to the police, who in turn gave it to the feds. With the help of an ex-KGB man who had defected to the U.S., they were able to crack the code, as well as bust a Soviet spy operating right here in Brooklyn, Rudolf Abel. Abel had kept a studio right on Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

The 1958 propaganda film above was made by the Department of Defense and uses the "Hollow Nickel Case" as a tool to hit home just how real the Soviet threat was. There is news footage of Abel's Brooklyn neighbors being interviewed and of the Fulton Street (now Cadman Plaza) building where he was based (the building is no longer there). The film appears to have been aimed at American industrial workers who were involved in making defense products/weapons, and emphasized the importance of keeping American technology out of the enemy's hands. Enjoy!

Also for your reading pleasure: The Hollow Nickel Case: Espionage in the Borough of Brooklyn [Brooklyn Eagle]

Friday, July 15, 2011

Calendar: Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour

On Wednesday, July 20, 7-8:30 p.m., you can take a walking tour of that most beloved of Brooklyn structures, the Brooklyn Bridge. The tour is being offered by the Brooklyn Historical Society in conjunction with Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. The tour will explore the story of the engineers and laborers who built the bridge, the political climate in which it was proposed and erected, the technological innovations that made it possible and the cultural meaning of the bridge as one of the country's most iconic structures. RSVP is required. Email

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Calendar: Whitman Event At Fort Greene Park

This Sunday, July 17, from 1 to 3 p.m., you can enjoy "Walt Whitman's Fort Greene Park," a stroll sponsored by the Fort Greene Park Conservancy and The Walt Whitman Project.

Fort Greene Park owes its existence in large part to Walt Whitman’s advocacy in editorials written for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The event will include discussions about the park, Whitman's connection to it, its role in the American Revolution and Civil War, and the Wallabout Martyrs monument. Weather permitting, the event will conclude with a walk up Myrtle Avenue to 99 Ryerson Ave., the last existing building in Brooklyn that was a residence of Walt Whitman's.

Greg Trupiano, artistic director of The Walt Whitman Project, will be the guide. The event will also feature:
Hakim Williams, actor, speaking the poetry and prose of Walt Whitman
Nicole Mitchell, contralto, singing songs of the 19th century
Brandon Snook, tenor, singing songs by Gilda Lyons and Nkeiru Okoye with texts by Whitman

Meet at the Visitors Center, Top of the Hill, Fort Greene Park. For more information, call 718-391-8824.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Amazing 11-Minute Film of San Fran Just Days Before 1906 Earthquake

Ok. So this has NOTHING to do with Brooklyn. But it is beyond cool. If you caught "60 Minutes" last night then you know what I'm talking about. They did a segment on this beautiful 11-minute film shot in 1906 of San Francisco's main thoroughfare, Market Street. The filmmaker had attached the camera to the front of a streetcar and just kept filming all the way down the very long street, which is congested with pedestrians, "motorcars," cyclists, horse and buggies, etc. The result is mezmerizing. On its own, the film is an amazing find. But then a gentleman named David Kiehn researched the film and established it was shot just a few days before the catastrophic 1906 earthquake. Many of the buildings, and surely, some of the people you see here, will soon be destroyed. It's eerie to think about.

I will say this about a Brooklyn connection: If Brooklyn's traffic was anywhere near as hectic as this, then I completely understand where the nickname "trolley dodgers" came from, which if you don't know, was a moniker for Brooklynites, and is where the Dodgers baseball team's name is derived from.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Newsboys Battle For Papers, And Survival, 1903


This 1903 video from the Library of Congress was most likely shot in Union Square (not Brooklyn, I know). But we found it pretty fascinating, and applicable, since Brooklyn had its fair share of these all-too-young workers. The mad rush to get the newspapers from The World truck, and the fight that ensues, sort of gives a sense of how hard up these little "strays" were.

There was actually an institution called The Newsboys’ Home, or the Working Boys’ Home, at 61 Poplar St. in Brooklyn Heights. It was run by the Children’s Aid Society and had a Manhattan counterpart at 9 Duane Street.

A May 4, 1884, Eagle article described the opening of the new facility on Poplar Street. Mayor Seth Low said at the opening, “Brooklyn has now a better right to claim its proud title of the City of Homes, since it has made provision for every waif or stray which may be cast upon its streets.”

The home had “ample provision for light and air” and included a gymnasium and a large bathroom with five private bathtubs, 24 hand wash basins and 12 foot baths. A wardrobe had 146 lockers, each with its own key. The dining room had six long tables, able to seat 125 boys. There was a reading room “where they could read or play at quiet games or rest from their daily labors.”

It cost 10 or 15 cents a night, which included supper, breakfast, use of the bath, schooling “and all that motherly care which constitutes a real home.”

According to an Oct. 8, 1877, Eagle article, there was a satellite home at 136 Van Brunt St. and a Coney Island home that was only open in the summer.

Check out this post on the Bowery Boys about the Newsboy Strike of 1899, when newspaper barons Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst "were held at ransom by the poorest, scrappiest residents of the city."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Calendar: Book Talk and Trolley Tour at Green-Wood

Author Edward Kohn will give a talk about his book Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt (now available in paperback) at Green-Wood Cemetery on Saturday, July 9 at 1 p.m.

One of the worst natural disasters in American history, the 1896 New York City heat wave killed almost 1,500 people in 10 oppressively hot days. The heat coincided with a pitched presidential contest between William McKinley and upstart Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who arrived in New York at the height of the catastrophe. As Bryan’s hopes for the presidency began to flag, a bright, young police commissioner named Theodore Roosevelt was scrambling to aid the city’s poor. Kohn’s masterful account captures the birth of the Progressive Era and one of New York’s greatest – yet least – remembered – tragedies.

After the book talk, which will be in the historic chapel, Kohn and Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman will lead a tour of Green-Wood focusing on New York tragedies, including the memorials to those who perished in heat waves, fires, sinkings, crashes and the 1917 flu pandemic. The book talk is free; the trolley tour is $10 for Green-Wood Historic Fund members and $20 for non-members.

Make reservations here.

Below is clip of Kohn on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart talking about the book.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Edward Kohn
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