Monday, January 30, 2012

50th Anniversary of 'The Snowy Day'

A 50th anniversary edition of the beautiful children's book "The Snowy Day," written by the Brooklyn-born illustrator Ezra Jack Keats, has been released, NPR reports.

The book is noted for portraying one of the first non-caricatured African-Americans in a major children's book. 

In the book, Peter, a little African-American boy living in Brooklyn, wakes up to a snowy day, puts on his red snowsuit and goes outside with "a stick just right for knocking snow off of trees, and a snowball in his pocket."

What was so groundbreaking was that Keats, who was white, makes no mention of the fact that the character Peter is African-American. It is only discerned through the beautiful illustrations.

"It was no longer necessary that the book say, 'I am an African-American child going out into the snow don't put a color on a child's experience of the snow," Deborah Pope, executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, told NPR.

Keats was born in 1916 to poor Polish Jewish immigrants in the East New York section of Brooklyn. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and before that attended Junior High School 149, where he won a medal for his artistic talents upon graduation. He kept the medal all his life, together with the prestigious awards he won in his later career, such as the Caldecott Award, which he won for "The Snowy Day."

You can read more about Keats here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Buckminster Fuller and the Brooklyn Dodgers Dome That Never Was

The Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field on Sept. 24, 1957. The next season, they were the Los Angeles Dodgers. But apparently as late as July 1956, flashy ideas for a new Brooklyn stadium were still being bandied about, at least according to this article from a 1956 Mechanix Illustrated magazine.

"The Dodgers home games may soon be played under this huge plastic bubble," the article reported, accompanied by a large illustration of the proposed stadium (pictured above).

The inventor/engineer/architect Buckminster Fuller (he preferred to be called a "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist") proposed to build the ballpark as a geodosic dome. And it would be much more than a ballpark, it would be an "all-weather, year-round sports palace capable of pulling in big money as a showplace for every kind of sporting event and exposition."

Fuller had invented the geodosic dome, a spherical structure created from triangles, in his quest to improve human shelter. (Fuller seemed attuned to issues of sustainability decades before the rest of us. He talked about resources as finite and often espoused a philosophy of "doing more with less").

And lest this sound like a pipe dream, the optimistic article reported that the New York State legislature had created a $30 million authority tasked with creating such a center "and the dome design helped convince the lawmakers that it could be made to pay its own way. Mere Dodger sentiment could not have done that."

It seems the proposed site for this giant Dodgers dome was Atlantic Yards, where Barclays Center is now being built; the article mentioned that the dome would be adjacent to the Long Island Railroad Terminal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Brooklyn, a Land of Opportunity For Beggars?

On Jan. 26, 1902, the Brooklyn Eagle ran a story about the “prosperity” of a new brand of beggar that was immigrating to New York from Europe. It was not the paper’s most compassionate article, and smacked of the nativism that sometimes infects our national politics. Below is an excerpt from the story and at left is an image that ran with it.

“Professional beggars have lately been so numerous and annoying in Greater New York that the police express the belief that the city has been made the victim of a wholesale immigration of professional mendicants from Europe. They are moved to this belief both by the nationality of the beggars and by the changed character of the begging methods. The regular native beggars, say the police, used to content themselves with looking miserable and asking for alms. The new importation follow the fashions of the countries from which they come and make a business of exciting pity by prominently displaying their deformities and afflictions.

“Some people have doubted the police story of the immigration of beggars, but investigation proves it to be true and unexaggerated. There has been — and continues to be — a steady influx of professional beggars from Europe, lured to these shores by the tales they have heard of the money to be made from ‘those stupid Americans.’ The tales told to them by their enthusiastic relatives in the United States have been to the effect that any lame, halt or blind person, or anyone who could simulate affliction could make more money in greater New York in a week than could be made in Europe in a year.

“And those tales are absolutely true. Professional mendicancy has actually become such a profitable occupation in Brooklyn and New York that these swindlers and loafers make more money than honest hardworking men. There is hardly a professional beggar in Brooklyn or Manhattan who is not considerably better off than 75 percent of the people who give alms. Nearly all of them have comfortable sums put away in banks…”                                          

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Eat Like a Mid-19th Century Brooklynite!

The Farm on Adderley is combining two of our favorite things: food and history. On Jan. 25 the Ditmas Park restaurant will serve a menu inspired by pre-industrial Brooklyn — meaning the ingredients will be those that would have been grown or available to Brooklyn farmers, and the foods will have been preserved through pre-electricity preservation techniques.

Chef Tom Kearney is preparing the four-course meal on Wednesday, Jan. 25. Tickets are $69 and the dinner starts at 7:30 p.m. Historic Gastronomist Sarah Lohman will be on hand to provide context for the meal and its preparation.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What's News: Prison Escapes, Winston Churchill's Mum, and Titanic Artifacts for Sale

AFTER NEWS BROKE LAST WEEK that the much-maligned Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill would once again be loading up with prisoners, the McBrooklyn blog dug into the jail's history and came out with a list of escapes from the facility and other sordid details. Highlights include "horse-trainer, inn-owner, embezzler and sensational murderer Buddy Jacobson" who escaped with the help of "Tony Two Suits," and a riot in 1970 in which the prisoners took 26 hostages. McBrooklyn

TODAY, JANUARY 9, IS THE BIRTH ANNIVERSARY OF JENNIE JEROME. She was born to a wealthy stock speculator in Cobble Hill. After she married into British aristocracy, she became Lady Randolph Churchill and gave birth to the one and only Winston Churchill. Brooklyn Eagle and some more detail on her life at Brooklyn Before Now

A NEW BOOK ON BAY RIDGE HISTORY will be launched this Thursday at the Yellow Hook Grille (7003 Third Ave.). Bay Ridge Etc. was written by local journalist Ted General, Bay Ridge Historical Society President Jack LaTorre, and Bay Ridge Historical Society President Emeritus Peter Scarpa. Brownstoner

THE BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY WILL HOST EVAN HUGHES, author of Literary Brooklyn, and scholar Edgar Garcia, who will discuss Walt Whitman and his role in Brooklyn's publishing history, on Jan. 18  at 7 p.m. (128 Pierrepont St.)  It's Free! Brooklyn Historical Society

ARTIFACTS FOUND ON THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN NEAR THE WRECK OF THE TITANIC will be auctioned off on April 11, the 100th anniversary of the infamous tragedy. There are more than 5,000 artifacts, valued at close to $200 million, but they are being sold as one big collection, as opposed to individually, at the insistence of Premier Exhibitions, the company that recovered the artifacts from the site.  Huffington Post