Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oct. 26, 1841: Brooklyn Eagle Rolls First Issue Off the Presses

The Eagle’s headquarters on lower Fulton Street
On Oct. 26, 1841, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle printed its very first issue, 170 years ago today. At that time, Brooklyn had a population of 35,500, and “Fulton Street was the single business thoroughfare. Court Street was unknown. Sands Street was the residence of the aristocrats; the Heights were a bluff merely; Fulton Street, beyond City Hall, was a country road, and Myrtle Avenue an adventurous highway of travel to Fort Greene.”

This was how the Eagle remembered the Brooklyn of its origins in a history they published in 1892. They had reason to be in awe at the changes. In the five decades since the Eagle had printed its first issue, Brooklyn had grown exponentially, not just in population — becoming the third largest city in the country — but in consequence, with a volume of industry that rivaled any working waterfront in the nation.  

The Eagle grew right along with Brooklyn, continually expanding its long-time Fulton Street, and later Washington Street, headquarters, buying newer and more state-of-the-art printing presses, opening more and more branch offices, and drawing in more readers. By the Civil War, the Eagle had “the largest circulation of any evening paper in the United States,” a fact the paper made a point of printing in the top left corner of page 2 every day, followed by, “Its value as an advertising medium is therefore apparent.”

That the Eagle became such a resonant and lasting voice in Brooklyn would have come as a surprise to its founders, who intended the paper to be a temporary endeavor, as a voice for the Democratic Party in Brooklyn through the election season following the death of President William Henry Harrison. But one of the founders, a printer named Isaac Van Anden, saw the paper’s value and took it over as the sole proprietor after the election.

Van Anden was born in Poughkeepsie, NY, in 1813. At an early age he learned the printing trade, and came to Brooklyn in 1836. He ran the paper until his death in 1875, although five years earlier he had sold the paper to a group of investors. To his employees he was known as “Mr. Van.” William Hester, Van Anden’s nephew, succeeded him as president and remained in control of the paper until he died in 1921.

By far the Eagle’s most famous editor was Walt Whitman, though he only served the post a short time (1846-48). He had a falling out with Van Anden over the issue of slavery — Whitman was a supporter of the Wilmot Proviso, which prohibited the extension of slavery to new territories. Seven years after he left the Eagle, Whitman published the first edition of his groundbreaking Leaves of Grass at a printing shop just around the bend on Fulton Street from the Eagle’s offices.

While at the Eagle, Whitman supported free trade and higher wages for dock workers, was critical of the “Nativist” movement (which was hostile to immigrants) and was in favor of prison reform. One of his editorials was headlined: “Are We Never To Have Any Public Parks In Brooklyn?” His crusade resulted in the creation of Fort Greene Park and the reburial there of the Prison Ship Martyrs, who died aboard the British prison ships in New York Harbor during the Revolution.

The Eagle rallied to many causes throughout its long history, perhaps most notably in favor of building the Brooklyn Bridge. (Several of the founders of the New York Bridge Company, the entity entrusted with building the bridge, were also co-proprietors of the Eagle itself, such as Van Anden, editor Thomas Kinsella, politician Henry C. Murphy and contractor William C. Kingsley.)

In the late 19th century the paper came out against political bosses, picking fights with Brooklyn Democratic “Boss” Hugh McLaughlin, and Gravesend “Boss” John McKane. The Eagle unsuccessfully fought the movement to consolidate Brooklyn with New York City, with this warning: “If tied to New York, Brooklyn would be a Tammany suburb, to be kicked, looted and bossed.” (Brooklyn became a borough of greater New York in 1898.)

During the 20th century, more successful campaigns helped bring a central library to Grand Army Plaza, and secured the demolition of the elevated train (“The Black Spider”) that rattled noisily up Fulton Street, darkening the main shopping boulevard.

The Eagle had two long-time editors, Thomas Kinsella (1861 to 1884) followed by St. Claire McKelway (1886- 1915), who had the greatest influence upon the paper’s style and voice, and oversaw the paper through the height of its influence.

None other than Joseph Pulitzer himself had this to say about the Eagle in 1911:

“This is what I sincerely feel about the Brooklyn Eagle:
In the first essentials of any newspaper to be respected and be respectable - integrity, independence and intellect — I consider it among the foremost newspapers of the nation — and there are very few indeed I would call foremost.
Secondly - As a newspaper emphasizing the word “news,” it is absolutely unique, because I do not know of any journal in New York City or in the whole country using such lavish liberality in space and printing the local news of Brooklyn with such impartiality, non-partisanship and broad variety.

Thirdly - On the editorial page, I find it courageous, non-partisan, able and free to attack abuses in both parties. My ideal. In specially difficult situations which test courage, character and capacity, I find the Eagle rises to the importance of the occasion and brings out great latent strength in reflecting the moral sense and public opinion of the community, which it largely creates.”

Over the years the newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize four times, once for exposing corruption in the police department during the administration of Mayor William O’Dwyer.

In 1955, when its circulation was at an all-time high of 137,000, the Eagle fell silent as the borough’s voice — a victim of a five-month strike that even federal arbitration could not settle. The last issue of the 114-year-old Eagle rolled off the presses on Jan. 28, 1955.

The author and newspaper columnist Pete Hamill, who used to deliver the Eagle after school, once observed, “It had a great function: it helped to weld together an extremely heterogeneous community. Without it, Brooklyn became a vast network of hamlets, whose boundaries were rigidly drawn but whose connections with each other were vague at best, hostile at worst.”

For a few months in 1960, the Eagle resumed publication as a weekly, and it was published daily for a year, ending in mid-1963.

As of Aug. 21, 1996, publication of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was resumed by publisher J. Dozier Hasty.

The Origins of the Eagle, As Told By Founder Isaac Van Anden

“In 1841 Brooklyn was a Whig County and, as has always been the case with a party opposing the Democratic party, the Whig embraced within its lines the great majority of the wealthy men of the city. It had two organs, the Star and the Advertiser. The Democratic party had none to defend it from attack or to advocate its principles. In the early part of 1841 it appeared as if the issues of the day were to the advantage of the Democrats. The logic of events was with it. How the Democrats were to advantage themselves in this condition was a frequent discussion among the Democrats who were active in affairs. The discussion proceeded through the summertime, and I was in frequent discussion with these active men. Early in the fall I suggested the establishment of a new paper. The suggestion was made to Henry C. Murphy. At first he did not take kindly to the suggestion, but, on reflection, he thought better of the idea. Finally a number of Democrats were called to a meeting in the office of Lott, Murphy & Vanderbilt at 3 Front Street.

“After a thorough discussion of the subject, it was agreed to start the paper, each one present contributing to a fund for the purpose. But my idea had been modified, and a campaign paper was determined upon, to cease with the election. The title of the new paper was suggested by Judge Greenwood. It was The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat.

“It was agreed that it was to be printed in my printing office. Henry C. Murphy was made the editor and Alfred G. Stevens was named as publisher.

“The Eagle was successful from the start, but when the election was over it was proposed to cease publication as it had served its purpose. Against that I protested . . . . I offered to assume the burden of the whole responsibility and to buy the interests of all who had been subscribers. While these negotiations were pending, the publication of the paper was continued, I guaranteeing them against a deficit . . . . These negotiations had been so long protracted that it was not until the following January that I was able to publish an issue which told that Isaac Van Anden was the Publisher and Sole Proprietor.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ghost Stories from the Old Brooklyn Eagle

The original Brooklyn Eagle (1841-1955) reported on everything from international affairs, politics, and women's issues, to literature, crime and real estate. And, they didn't shy away from a good ghost story either. So in honor of Halloween, we thought we'd share a couple of the spine-tinglers that were published by the old Eagle, though the newspaper sometimes took the fun out of it by reporting a reasonable explanation to the bumps in the night.

Published November 8, 1885
A number of gentlemen who reside in South Brooklyn were having a friendly chat upon various topics a few days ago at Masonic Hall, when the conversation turned upon the subject of supernatural appearances. Several of the party told of strange experiences they had had during their lives, and Mr. Benjamin R. Hicks of Fifth Avenue, related an adventure that was so strange that it made a deep impression upon the minds of his listeners, and was not laughed at as other stories had been. The story he related came to the ears of an Eagle reporter last evening and he sought out Mr. Hicks. He was found busily engaged waiting upon customers at his place of business.

“Do I believe in Ghosts?” echoed Mr. Hicks, as he offered the scribe a seat. “If ever anyone saw a ghost, I did – or, if it wasn’t a ghost I’d like some learned scientist to explain the phenomenon.”

“Will you relate the story of your adventure just as it happened?”

“Well, I don’t mind telling you what I honestly believe I saw, although I don’t want you to put me in any ridiculous light before the public. Several years ago I was engaged in the milk business and delivered milk at my customers’ houses. I had on my list a man by the name of John Day, who lived in Amity Street, near Hicks, and between Hicks and Henry. The family, which consisted of Day and his wife, lived on the top floor of the house, and were people in the ordinary walks of life. My first visit to these apartments was made one Thursday morning, just as day was breaking. The halls were dimly lighted by a gas jet burning in the upper story, and, in order to see my way up the lower flight of stairs, not being used to them, I placed a large stone against the street door to hold it open, so I might have the benefit of what little daylight there was at that early hour.

I started up the stairs, with my milk can in one hand and an empty cover – such as we carry milk in  - in the other hand, and was about half way up the second flight when I saw a very old, feeble lady coming down, holding on to the banister for support. No thought of a ghost entered my mind at the time. I supposed someone in the house was up at an unusually early hour, or that possibly someone was sick. I pressed against the wall to let her pass me, and she did so. I saw that she was about 80 years old and very wrinkled. I also noticed that she wore a black dress, a black cap faced with white, and a black shawl. She made no noise as she went by me, and my curiosity being aroused at seeing such an old lady at that hour going out of the house, I turned to watch her, but to my astonishment, she had mysteriously disappeared. There was not a door anywhere on the flight of stairs where she passed me. I went up to Mrs. Day’s door and poured the milk into the pail she had left in the hall to receive it and left the house. I had no thought at the time of having seen a ghost, or whatever you may call it.

The following week I went to Mrs. Day’s to collect my bill, and casually asked her who the old lady was who I had passed on the stairs. Her face turned as white as a sheet and she dropped the dish she held in her hand. ‘Did you meet her?’ she gasped. ‘Did you see her – the ghost?’

I told her just what I had seen and she assured me that life in that house was simply unbearable on account of that same old lady. She said an old woman, the exact counterpart of the one I described, had owned the house years ago and had been murdered by her son-in-law, who secured a large sum of money that she had secreted in the house. He burned her body in the cellar and it had lain there for years until the bones were finally discovered by some men digging in the cellar. As the family were all dead nothing could be done toward bringing the murderer to justice. Ever since the discovery of the bones the house had been haunted by the woman’s ghost. Doors were slammed and opened, locks were unlocked, windows were rattled and unearthly groans heard. She said she had moved into the house only five days before, but, although she had paid a month’s rent in advance, she would lose that and move out."

Published April 23, 1893
This is a ghost story. It may or may not be true. The reader may or may not believe it, as he sees fit. The writer does not care, he makes no affidavits, gives no guarantees, has not investigated and is not absolutely sure that he believes it himself.

Not that there is any desire to discredit Mr. Walter E. Parfitt or Cornelius Ferguson Jr. There veracity is above proof, or rather it is independent of proof and can stand alone and unchallenged. 

There is no doubt that they thought they saw what they now think they thought they saw, but the question is whether they really did see what they think they thought they saw and whether what they think they thought they thought they saw was really what they thought.

But they thought it was a ghost.

“We were coming to Brooklyn on a Bath beach and West End train from Bensonhurst, where we reside,” said Mr. Parfitt. “It was early in the evening about a week ago, the sun had gone down and it was twilight. As our train came to Greenwood Cemetery we suddenly saw a light in the cemetery. It was about one hundred yards from us and higher than the tops of the trees. The train follows the side of the fence for over a mile, and during all that trip that light followed along beside us. It was about the size of a football or a human head. Sparks of fire streamed backward from it like human hair. Mr. Furguson discovered it first and called my attention to it. There were five women in our party, and they saw it, too; it was very distinct. Now, how do you account for that?”

“The reflection from a lamp aboard the train.”

“No, it was not that. We put our hands to the side of our faces and looked out in such a way as preclude any possibility of being deceived by reflection.” Mr. Ferguson corroborates Mr. Parfitt’s story.

Published August 29, 1901
For several weeks past a ghost, that of a woman, apparently about 35 years of age, has held forth in the large vacant house on Fort Hamilton Avenue and Ninety-second Street. This ghost, according to the neighbors, appeared about three times a week. One night she was robed in white, stood at an open window holding a lamp, and the next night she appeared all in black. The people living in the neighborhood said that when the ghost appeared her moans were audible at some distance.

Mrs. Many, mother of Patrolman Frank Many of the Bergen street station, lives opposite the haunted house, in the same house with patrolman William Johnson of the Seventy-first Street Precinct and his wife.

Mrs. Many saw the apparition at the window several times. She told her son Frank, but he scoffed at the idea, and paid no attention to the matter at first. Later he spent several nights trying to solve the mystery of the ghost but although he would see her, but she always eluded him.

Then Detective Martin White attempted to clear up the mystery of the woman in white.

For several nights he kept vigil but failed to capture the woman.

The people living in the vicinity were greatly wrought up over the matter. The children would not go past the haunted house, and stories innumerable were continually in circulation touching upon the identity of the ghost.

Night after night residents of the town guarded the house, and they are willing to swear that no one entered or left the premises during the night. And yet the figure robed in black or white appeared.

The news of a genuine ghost haunting the old mansion in which H. Christensen, a wealthy man, who died two years ago, spread like wildfire, and many of the residents began to resurrect the story of the ghost of old Drury, supposed to have haunted the old Town Hall. Then the ghost disappeared for a few days and the excitement abated.

But last night the ghost again appeared and soon the news spread. In a short time there were fully 200 people surrounding the house to see the ghost. They were rewarded, for the woman robed in white appeared at the window, uttered a few mournful sobs and disappeared.

Detective White determined to throw some light on the mystery and broke into the house. He was followed by a hundred men and boys.

They searched every hole and corner of the house, and just as they were about to give up the hunt, White saw a woman’s foot inside the old fireplace. Stooping down, the detective discovered the ghost. He dragged her out into the room, tore away a sheet from the woman’s head, and discovered a trim, but greatly frightened woman. She was a Mrs. John Barrett, who had been making her home at the house, and the ghost business was merely a sham to keep people from entering the house.

And so the mystery of the Fort Hamilton ghost was solved.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

DUMBO, Then and Now

What a difference 38 years makes, huh?  The top photo of Washington Street in DUMBO was taken recently by Eagle reporter Mary Frost as workers finished up laying down new Belgian blocks. The bottom photo was taken in 1973 by Henrik Krogius, editor of The Brooklyn Heights Press (a sister publication of the Eagle's). I think the stray dog really hits it home just how much this neighborhood has changed. The newly planted trees and spiffy green awnings add to the contrast.

Altered Vistas [Brooklyn Heights Press]

Friday, October 14, 2011

Calendar: Researching Your House, And The Formation of Greater New York

You can learn the tricks of the history trade from a professional this Monday night (Oct. 17). At a Cobble Hill Association meeting, Historian Francis Morrone, a long-time Park Slope resident who specializes in architectural history, will lead a discussion on how to research the history of your home. The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Long Island College Hospital, conference room A. It is free and open to the public.


On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Manhattan Borough historian Michael Miscione will come to Brooklyn to discuss a touchy subject: the consolidation of New York in 1898. This was when our fair City of Brooklyn was downgraded in its autonomy to a borough. :-(
Miscione will speak about the fierce political battles that surrounded the consolidation in a lecture at the Parish House of the New Utrecht Reformed Church, 18th Avenue at 84th Street, in Bensonhurst. The lecture begins at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free.

This 1893 cartoon shows Father Knickerbocker (a mythical figure who was often used to represent New York) proposing marriage to “Miss Brooklyn”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

TONIGHT: Opening of "Context/Contrast" at Brooklyn Historical Society

Opening tonight at the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) is a new exhibit about architecture, specifically about new architecture being built in historic districts, from 1967 to the present.

A description from BHS:

"Featuring nearly forty different projects focused on the areas of Brooklyn Heights, South Street Seaport, SoHo, and the Upper East Side, Context\Contrast explores how new buildings and historic districts have learned to coexist in New York, the country's most culturally and architecturally diverse city. This traveling exhibition has been shown in New York, Washington DC, and Dallas, and concludes at BHS in Brooklyn Heights, the first historic district in New York." 
As part of the exhibit, BHS is also hosting a forum on Nov. 2, at 7 p.m., which will include Otis Pearsall (who was one of the key players in getting Brooklyn Heights designated as the first Historic District), architect Hugh Hardy, Pratt Institute President Thomas Schutte, and Yolande Daniels, of Studio SUMO.

Tonight's opening gets underway at 6 p.m. BHS is at 128 Pierrepont St., Brooklyn Heights.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Glimpse Inside 1970s Brooklyn Domiciles

This post should help you quench your voyeuristic impulses, without feeling too guilty. You can peer into hundreds of Brooklyn homes of the 1970s thanks to a series of photographs taken by Dinanda H. Nooney. She took hundreds of pictures of Brooklynites in their homes between 1978 and '79. They are digitized and viewable online at the New York Public Library here and were featured this week on Gothamist.

From the library's description of Nooney's project:

"Nooney initially became interested in the borough in 1976, while working as a volunteer for George McGovern's presidential campaign. Two years later, she used the connections she had made in order to gain access to rooftops and other vantage points for a survey of the borough. She soon became more interested in the people she met and began photographing families in their homes. Many of these sitters then recommended other potentially willing subjects."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Oct 4,1955: Brooklyn Dodgers Win the World Series

The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, winners of the World Series
Oct.4, 1955 is a somewhat sacred date in Brooklyn history. It was the day the Brooklyn Dodgers finally became World Series champions. The sweetest part was that they earned their victory against the arch rival New York Yankees, who had dashed the Dodgers' World Series dreams five times before. But not this time. And Brooklyn was granted its moment of glory just in time; the team was spirited away to the West Coast two seasons later.

Here's the story that Hearst's International News Wire sent out after the Dodgers' 2-0 Game 7 victory at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 4, 1955:

"At 3:44 p.m. (EDT) yesterday [Oct. 4], the New York borough of Brooklyn exploded.

"That was the moment the ball slid into Gil Hodges’ mitt for the final out at Yankee Stadium. The Dodgers were champs for the first time.

"From the east end of the Brooklyn Bridge, up along the Gowanus Canal and on into 'Greenpernt,' the shout went up:

"'Da bums is kings … whadda woild serious!'

"Bedlam was never like this and the ashes haven’t settled yet.

"Every auto horn in the borough began blasting, factory sirens started to shrill and the voices of the delirious multitudes became screams. The sound must have carried far across the Hudson River into Newark.

"They locked up shop, boarded up the glass fronts and went on a baseball binge — all 3,000,000 of them.

"Men and women danced in the streets. Respectable housewives threw their arms around the nearest male and kissed like so many Marilyn Monroes.

"Dodger rooters throughout the other New York boroughs went almost as crazy over the first Dodger World Series triumph.

"Telephones were jammed as every fan in Brooklyn called every other fan. Offices stopped work. Factories gave up as the workers went out into the streets to snake-dance.

"From the windows of Brooklyn’s staid board of education and courts buildings, torn-up telephone books, wastebaskets of paper and shredded newspapers, poured into the street.

"In the midst of the bedlam along Livingston Street, an old man with a long white beard and a portable radio leaned on his cane and said: 'I never thought I’d live so long!'

"A fan named Joe Flanders shouted 'This IS next year,' and cabbie Irving Davidoff predicted the series win would mean the end of Brooklyn gang wars and juvenile delinquency.

"As two chartered busses brought the Dodgers back to their Ebbets Field dressing rooms, a police escort led the procession.

"Around the Brooklyn field where the Dodgers won three straight, four cars cruised bearing huge signs: 'Podres for President … We’re in.'

"In the crowd at the dressing room entrance stood Mrs. Mildred Silverman and her 10-year-old son, Elliott, waiting for autographs.

“'Daddy’s just going to have to wait for supper tonight,' she announced.

"Anywhere in Brooklyn last night, it was 'moider' to mention 'Joisey' — or any place else as a home for the Dodgers. [Jersey was under consideration as a new home for the Dodgers]. Outside a corner bar along howling Flatbush, one Dodger partisan summed it up:

“'Yesterday dey was da Bums. Today dey’s kings. And dey’s stayin’ right here in Flatbush fer good.'”