Brooklynology is happy to present a guest blogger this week, historian John Manbeck. After 32 years teaching English at Kingsborough Community College and eight years as Brooklyn Borough Historian, Manbeck continued to write a column for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle for another eight years. He has authored/edited nine books on Brooklyn history and is now writing fiction.
Back in 1967, I was looking for a job. I had just returned from a two year grant as a Fulbright professor at Helsinki University in Finland and applied for a professorial position at Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach. Community colleges were the latest development in the educational market and City University of New York was experimenting. The opening date was 1964 at an abandoned public school in Sheepshead Bay. About 300 brave students enrolled.
The master plan was to open on 64 acres of a de-commissioned Merchant Marine base at the eastern tip of Manhattan Beach. Since 1945, the base had resisted Robert Moses (who had wanted the land for a parking lot) and had housed the Air Reserve, Coast Guard and veterans. The city purchased it from the federal government for $1.
The Merchant Marine base as it appeared during World War II. Photo supplied by John Manbeck
When I walked through the gates, I felt I had walked onto a set for a Hollywood western. Sidewalks were wooden, buildings had been former barracks, and sand blew over the muddy roadways. Street signs heralded the names of naval heroes. The remains of the former Rainbow Bandshell, left from the Manhattan Beach Baths of the 1930—where big bands played, Danny Kaye got his start and Mayor LaGuardia held a war bond drive—wobbled as the wind blew through the superstructure.
Above, a brochure from the Manhattan Beach Baths, an earlier tenant of this plot of land. Below, images of how the decommissioned Merchant Marine base looked in 1967. Photos supplied by John Manbeck.
Nearby were the remains of a freighter built on sand where recruits had trained; on Jamaica Bay waterfront hung lifeboat davits. The former officers’ club, with a substantial oak bar, had been a dance hall before World War II interrupted the party. By the gate was a gun used on Liberty Ships and a brig, used as an art studio by the school. A flagpole donated to the Manhattan Beach Baths had been at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair was still flying the flag over Brooklyn’s most recent college.
Because of lack of space while new classrooms were being created, Kingsborough had two additional campuses: West End on Manhattan Beach’s West End Avenue, and Mid-Brooklyn in the Masonic Temple in Fort Greene. The college also had an amenity no other New York City college could claim: a private beach on the campus where life guard chairs and barbecue stoves were soon erected. Until the college, and the community college concept, gained wider recognition, classes were small: not more than 20 to a room where merchant mariners had studied.
A typical Manhattan Beach scene from the 1960s.
Initially the academic structure was designed around six divisions consisting of departments: Division 1 for Liberal Arts contained English, Languages, Art and Music, for instance. Students who attended were experimenting with higher education, had difficulty passing CUNY’s admission tests, or used the community college to build their academic grades so they could transfer to a top senior college.
Within the next five years, the campus began to take shape with the temporary buildings—former barracks—replaced by new construction with a library, theater, gymnasium with pool and marine center. The ancillary campuses closed—the Fort Greene site became home for the new Medgar Evers College—sending the Kingsborough students to Manhattan Beach and enrolling in the new academic programs now available, including the college’s own FM radio station, the first in New York City in 40 years.
Rendering of the Kingsborough Community College campus plan. Image supplied by John Manbeck.
Today, after six presidents, Kingsborough occupies an important role in City University and a trailblazing position among the nation’s community colleges. After 50 years of education, Brooklyn is proud of its only community college, Kingsborough.
Yes, the long wait is over! The Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper is available in its entirety (or as near as we can hope to get to its entirety) as a free, searchable database online. Those who have used our Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online database, which offered the Eagle from 1841 to 1902, will be pleased to learn that the second half of the Eagle, 1903 to 1955, is finally open for research online. You can search the database, browse specific dates of the paper, print or save articles, and share them through the social media outlet of your choice through our new historic newspaper portal, Brooklyn Newsstand.
Above, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle building in downtown Brooklyn in the 1920s. Below, the same eagle that brooded over its entrance arrives at Brooklyn Public Library fifty years later.
Brooklyn Newsstand is a newspaper digitization initiative between the Brooklyn Collection and Newspapers.com. This partnership gives the public free access to the full run of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper, which was published from 1841 to 1955. Thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, Brooklyn Public Library was able to digitize a microfilmed copy of the Eagle from 1841 to 1902 and make those years searchable in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online database in 2003. With the second phase of digitization completed by Newspapers.com, using microfilm master negatives from the Library of Congress, the full breadth of the Eagle, and the history it documented, is now available for general research. You can learn more about the history of this influential Brooklyn newspaper here. We will continue to digitize more historic Brooklyn periodicals in the near future, so check back often to see what new resources are on offer.
Founded in 1841 by Isaac Van Anden and Henry Cruse Murphy, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was published as a daily newspaper for 114 consecutive years without missing a single edition. At one point the Eagle actually became the nation's most widely read afternoon newspaper. Unusual among major metropolitan daily newspapers of that time period, the Eagle chronicled national and international affairs as well as local news and daily life in Brooklyn. As a result The Brooklyn Daily Eagle provides a window into Brooklyn's past, as well as documentation of national and international events that shaped history. The rise and fall of the Eagle coincided with economic development in Brooklyn. The paper folded in 1955 after a prolonged strike called by the New York Newspaper Guild. At the time it closed it employed 681 people and did an annual business in the sum of approximately $6 million.
Brooklyn Eagle workers striking in front of the factory on Third Avenue between Pacific and Dean Streets, 1955.
The extensive clippings and photograph files of the Brooklyn Eagle were donated to Brooklyn Public Library by its last publisher, Frank D. Schroth, in 1957. The staff of the Brooklyn Collection has for years worked to make these materials available to the public, through digitization of newspapers and images and through one-on-one reference service. With the launch of the Brooklyn Newsstand website, we are now able to hand the reigns over to you, the researcher. Do know, however, that we are still here to help with in-depth research, photograph requests, and all the other question marks that pop up as you delve into Brooklyn's history.
We hope you take some time to peruse the site and try out its new features. A quick guide to the various search and save functionalities can be found through the "About" link. You can also create a free account with Newspapers.com to clip and save articles on the site; those who do so should take a moment to set up their account and communication settings to their liking.
For those in the New York City area, we are also offering workshops on using and navigating the new site. Join us on Friday, April 18th in the InfoCommons (first floor of the Central Library) from 10am to 11:30am for an introduction to Brooklyn Newsstand -- users will get an overview of the sites features and functionality and will be given laptops to try hands-on researching themselves. A second workshop will be offered in the InfoCommons on Tuesday, May 6th from 7pm to 8:30pm.
We've become a monoculture of list readers. With the advent of Buzzfeed and the like, we've grown accustomed to sifting though these monotonous lists to identify if we saw that movie or had that toy as a child. Admit it, you totally read these articles. Did you see the one about the 58 worst things that happen on social media? Or the 19 questions people with moustaches are tired of hearing? And don't get me started on all the quizzes.
Recently, while scrolling through my newsfeed, I came across a Buzzfeed article about the 60 things you probably didn't know about New York City. I figured since we're all accustomed to list-reading, why not copy the idea and share some things you probably didn't know about Brooklyn (with pictures!)
1. 12-year-old Clarence D. McKenzie was Brooklyn's first casualty in the Civil War. He was killed in friendly fire when a member of his regiment fired his gun while cleaning it.
Clarence D. McKenzie, July 1861
2. Shortly after the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, there was a panic on the bridge when a woman's heel got caught in the wooden planks. She screamed and those around her thought the bridge was collapsing, causing a rush off the bridge. 12 people died in the stampede.
Panic on the bridge. May 30, 1883
3. Steeplechase Park held an annual "Most Beautiful Grandmother Contest", beginning in 1932.
4. Brooklyn had its very own ice hockey team named the Brooklyn Americans (although they weren't very good).
5. Borough President John Cashmore wrote Dodgers star Jackie Robinson a heartwarming letter in 1949 after reading a story about him in the Brooklyn Eagle.
Letter to Jackie Robinson from John Cashmore. August 15, 1949.
6. The Brooklyn Public Library offered classes for women entering or re-entering the workforce including, "Make-up and Hair Design for the Working Woman" and "Capsule Dressing" in 1983.
7. To demonstrate against unfair sanitation practices, residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant organized a "cleansweep" of their streets, bringing all the uncollected garbage to the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall on September 15, 1962.
"Bernard Hall Telling It Like It Is"
8. FDR visited Ebbets Field while campaigning for his 4th term as president.
9. Erasmus Hall High School was established in 1787.
10. Brooklyn Borough Hall had WPA murals which depicted the history of Brooklyn from 1609 to 1898. The project took two years to complete and covered 900 square feet.
"GI of '18--These are soldiers of the last war, as represented on the wall at Borough Hall." Brooklyn Eagle, July 26, 1945
11. And in 1946, they were torn down.
12. In 1942, the Brooklyn Navy Yard made a call for women to apply for work as mechanics, painters and welders for the first time in their 141-year history. 20,000 women applied.
Women on their first day of work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. September 14, 1942.
13. The Howard Colored Orphan Asylum was located on Troy and Dean Avenues.
Howard Colored Orphan Asylum, ca 1910
14. Dreamland Park in Coney Island had a "midget" fire department.
15. A portion of Long Island University is housed in the former Paramount Theatre.
Paramount Theatre, January 17, 1955
16. Mickey Rooney was born in Brooklyn on September 23, 1920. He began his acting career in his parents' vaudeville act at 17 months old. He died yesterday (April 6, 2014) at the ripe old age of 93.
Mickey Rooney and Sally Forrest at Loew's Metropolitan Theatre, October 13, 1951
17. Before talkies, Midwood was a center of movie making and home to the Vitagraph Studio.
Vitagraph Studio's dressing rooms under construction, 1926.
18. Parking was a problem even in 1954!
Brooklyn Eagle, May 27, 1954
19. In 1914, the Brooklyn Public Library opened the first library in the world devoted exclusively to children in Brownsville. It is now the Stone Avenue branch.
Brownsville Interior, 1914
20. 1 in every 7 people can trace their roots back to Brooklyn. (Well, this is a "fact" that we've all heard before, or perhaps you heard a better ratio like 1:4 or 1:5. Recently the Urban Omnibus did their due diligence to debunk said statistic.)
Want to know more about Brooklyn? Leave a comment. Maybe we'll write another list.
As an undergraduate studing history, I've enjoyed spending my past semester interning at the Brooklyn Collection. Because of my love for all things sports, I jumped at the opportunity to help create an exhibit focused on the history of sports in Brooklyn. I quickly realized that there's so much more to Brooklyn's sports history than the Brooklyn Dodgers! I sorted through hundreds of old photographs, newspaper clippings, and even yearbooks to create a diverse representation of sports in Brooklyn. Come check out the display in the Brooklyn Collection (on the 2nd floor balcony level in the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza), it'll be up until early May.
While typing captions for the selected pictures and ephemera, I came across a striking picture with a note that read: “Overton Tremper, Bushwick Baseball, May 25, 1934.” I don't know if it's just me, but his name caught my attention (and perhaps also the attention of the ballplayer in the background of the photograph). I wanted to learn more about Overton Tremper.
The Brooklyn Collection Photo Archive
It turns out Overton Tremper was a popular guy during his time. Tracing his history through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, I discovered Tremper’s unusual background ... and despite whatever impressions the image above might create, he was never an aspiring model.
Brooklyn-born Tremper expertly balanced academics and baseball. He grew up playing on the Parade Grounds, and became a star academic and player for Erasmus High School and then Poly Prep. While studying for a degree in economics, he continued his baseball career at the University of Pennsylvania. He made only one error as a centerfielder on the freshman team in 1924, and finished with a batting average of .410. He became captain of the varsity team in 1927, and according to his coach Doc Cariss, he was “one of the best college hitters.” Cariss went on to say, “He is easily the best outfielder in the Eastern ranks today and there is no reason in the world why he shouldn’t make the major league grade.”
Brooklyn Eagle - June 5, 1927
As his coach predicted, Tremper signed on with the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1927 team with a $10,000 bonus. His contract with the Dodgers caused public outrage. John McGraw of the New York Giants announced that Tremper had accepted financial aid from the Giants to pay for his Ivy League education, with the assumption that McGraw’s investment required Tremper to play for them. Tremper publically confirmed that he had received payment from the Giants during his college career. Defending his choice, Tremper said, “I could have gone to a bank, borrowed $1,000 and there would have been no objections. Instead, I borrowed from a ball club and paid it back. What’s the difference?” (As a side note, this entire situation is HIGHLY illegal in today’s world of sports.)
Brooklyn Eagle - June 27, 1927
Despite the debate that complicated his professional baseball debut, Tremper proved relatively unsuccessful in the major leagues. According to a Brooklyn Eagle article published on August 11, 1928, journalist Thomas Holmes wrote, “Probably [New York Giants Manager John] McGraw felt avenged when Tremper failed to show hitting ability or fielding talent to justify all the fuss about him.” The Dodgers quietly demoted him to the minor leagues in his second season, and he was eventually dropped by the team.
Not yet willing to give up his love of the game, Tremper started to play semi-pro baseball in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Becoming a household name in the area, he first played for the Bay Parkways and then the Bushwicks.
Brooklyn Eagle - April 28, 1930 | Brooklyn Eagle - June 11, 1932
In 1935, after three successful years as an outfielder for the Bushwicks, Tremper moved to the Springfield Greys in New Jersey to become a playing manager. By the end of the 1940s, Tremper went back to graduate school to study education. He became a math teacher and a baseball coach for Freeport High School in Freeport, Long Island, while continuing to play for the Grays. In addition to his teaching salary, by 1939, the Grays were paying Tremper $55 per week to both manage and play during the season – a sum well above the team’s average. Using his education, and following a path that's probably uncommon for once-professional athletes, Tremper ultimately became a school administrator at Freeport.
With a little digging, I was amazed by how much I discovered about the Brooklyn native who struck a pose for a photographer in 1934.
Sarah Scalet is a new blogger on Brooklynology and working as an intern in the Brooklyn Collection.
Earlier this month, Brooklyn Connections educators – Christine, Kaitlin and Brendan – descended on Albuquerque, New Mexico for the annual National Council for History Education (NCHE) Conference.
Excitement over this conference was twofold; well maybe three if you count the added bonus of temporarily escaping winter’s reach for a few glorious days …
Santa Clara, NM
… ok, twofold: 1) it offered the opportunity to replace our educator hats with those of students eager to soak up historical antidotes and best practices from colleagues around the country; and 2) Christine would accept the prestigious Paul A. Gagnon Prize, an award bestowed to the educator who contributes significantly to promoting history education in the U.S. You cannot imagine how proud we are of Christine and furthermore what her achievement says about the importance and relevancy of the Brooklyn Connections Program, and by extension the Brooklyn Collection as a whole – go Christine!
Christine's Paul A. Gagnon Prize
The two-day NCHE Conference presented a plethora of breakout sessions equally devoted to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), an ever present thought in the minds of today’s educators, and using history, and specifically primary sources, to help students develop critical thinking and college readiness skills. Topics overlapped many of the new social movements curricula Brooklyn Connections is establishing thanks to the generosity of the David and Paula Weiner Memorial Grant, including gender, race and environmental issues. Topics of particular interest to Brooklyn Connections educators grappled with how to teach students to identify bias in historical dialogue, become self-reliant when searching for facts and make historical connections to self. It was especially pleasing to hear how valuable, if not completely essential, library and archival collections are to educators in their quest to teach these skills.
Day one’s keynote speaker, Patty Limerick, was a particular inspiration to us all. A faculty member at the University of Colorado, Patty candidly acknowledged the all-too-common fear educators encounter as they find themselves losing touch with new generations of students that don’t abide by the old order of learning (we can relate). However, she didn’t stop there; after admitting her fear and subsequent bitterness over the fact, Patty did what many of us don’t have the insight to do – she accepted it and made amends to cease judging and change herself to meet the needs of this new generation of students rather than sticking to what she felt comfortable with from the past (insert moment of pause).
Our intellect adequately filled we set off to satisfy some of our other appetites, including the following:
Sandia Peak Tramway
Santa Clara Pueblo
I think I speak for all the educators when I say how thankful I am for the experience. We left the NCHE Conference with our tummies full of fine local cuisine and our brains full of new ideas and knowledge. We look forward to putting our brains, at least, to good use back in Brooklyn!