Brooklyn Public Library


Brooklyn Connections Professional Developments

Nov 17, 2014 4:31 PM | 0 comments

We are pleased to announce the Brooklyn Connections 2014/ 2015 teacher professional development schedule. To register for any of the workshops, please email or visit our website.


Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson--a great topic for this year's NHD theme: Leadership and Legacy

What: Creating a National History Day Project with the Brooklyn Collection and the Museum of the City of New York

When: Monday, December 1, 2014 from 5pm-7pm

Who should attend: Teachers and parents who have students or children participating in National History Day or those who want to know more about NHD

Why: National History Day is a highly regarded history contest in which students choose a historical topic related to the annual theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research. After the research, students present their work in the form of a paper, website, exhibition, performance or documentary. 

At this session, participants will review the step-by-step process for creating a National History Day project, look at examples of projects in various categories, review evaluation criteria, and tour the Brooklyn Collection. Light refreshments will be served and all participants will receive a Brooklyn Connections National History Day guide to take home.


Beverly Leeds protesting Ebinger Bakery in 1961

What: Brooklyn and the Civil Rights Movement

When: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 from 9am-3pm

Who should attend: English and Social Studies Teachers, Administrators and Librarians

Why: Explore the Brooklyn Collection's original Civil Rights materials with expert historian Brian Purnell. Learn about the efforts of Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which included protests, community clean-ups, marches, and a sit-in at the Brooklyn Board of Education. This workshop will provide teachers with the content knowledge and materials needed to help students explore Brooklyn's role in the Civil Rights Movement. Teachers will have time to connect with the CORE collection and will sample lessons, including the new Social Movement Project Packet: Civil Rights Movement in Brooklyn, funded by the David and Paula Weiner Memorial Grant and written by historian and NYU professor, Daniel J. Walkowitz and Brooklyn Connections staff. Each participant will take home an extensive packet of resources that can be used in the classroom.


What: LGBTQ Movement

When: Monday, February 9, 2015, 9am-12pm

Who should attend: Middle and High School teachers

Why: Learn about the LGBTQ movement from Stonewall to DOMA and how to incorporate this history into the classroom. Participants will hear from experts and discuss "people-first" language, prejudice and misinformation, review and receive our newest David and Paula Weiner Social Movement module: The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Movement. Participants will have an opportunity to connect with the Brooklyn Collection's materials as well as learn where to find other materials related to the topic.


What: A Bite of Brooklyn's History

When: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 from 9am-3pm

Who should attend: Teachers and librarians from all grades

Why: Explore the Brooklyn Collection's vast array of food-related primary source materials and learn the role food played in Brooklyn's history. From sugar refineries to hot dogs, historic photos to Chinese take-out menus, the workshop will offer a wealth of information and access to a meaty chuck of Brooklyn's past. Participants will be introduced to the holdings of the Brooklyn Collection followed by presentations from two food historians: historic gastronomist and author Sarah Lohman and pizza historian and educator Scott Weiner. Attendees will be provided with model lessons designed by our education staff. Each teacher will take home an extensive packet of resources that can be used in the classroom. 

If you cannot attend the workshops but would like a copy of the resources or if you would like to schedule a teacher workshop in your school, please contact us at

The Brooklyn Hellfighters

Nov 11, 2014 11:00 AM | 1 comment

The day was November 11th, 1919. At exactly 11:00am, on the one year anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting between the Allies and Germany, all school children in Brooklyn were asked to place their pencils on their desks for a ten minute silence so that they could "realize vividly the significance which that moment had for America's embattled armies." 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 11 Nov. 1919.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the events of the newly elected day of remembrance (not a national holiday until 1938 and not called Veteran's Day until 1954): parades, dinners, and memorial celebrations. President Woodrow Wilson's address to the nation was also framed prominently in the paper.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 11 Nov. 1919.

"To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations." 

The United States did fight for peace and justice in the global arena and all should be commemorated for their service and sacrifice during that time. However, a fair number of the soldiers fighting for those values -- values of democracy and equality that came to represent America during the global upheaval -- did not find those values waiting for them back home.

The 369th Infantry was first known as the 15th New York Colored Infantry. Today they are more commonly known by the name they were given by their German foes: the Harlem Hellfighters. The men of the 369th were fearless in battle, highly decorated, and bursting with patriotism. The kicker, however, is that the soldiers fought for America but not necessarily with America. Due, in part, to the aggressive segregation of the US military, the Hellfighters fought with the French troops. Many of the enlisted black servicemen were not sent to combat and suffered incredible discrimination within the ranks.  

For Brooklyn, a hero is a hero. The parade that marched through the streets of Brooklyn on that first Armistice Day contained "approximately 2,000 of the Negro warriors from Brooklyn who wore Uncle Sam's uniform in the trenches in France." At the culmination of the parade they were honored "when 10,000 of their relatives and friend's celebrated a big armistice day celebration... to commemorate their splendid fighting achievements." Thousands of people turned out to pay tribute to the soldiers (a parade in Harlem in February of that same year reportedly drew five million onlookers, said the New York Tribune) and "colored children, hundreds of them, from all over the borough who, hearing their heroes were going to march, hurried to the starting point." 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 12 Nov. 1919.

The men marched past veterans from both the Civil and Spanish-American Wars and, upon arrival at the 13th Regiment Armory, sat for a grand meal. Imagine the 13th Regiment Armory decorated to the nines with flags, wreaths, and garlands and packed with 10,000 people in their Sunday best. 

"13th Reg. Armory Interior." Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1913. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

Mary Church Terrell, civil rights activist and suffragette, was in attendance and called for the heroic actions of the Hellfighters to propel the nation further toward racial equality. Congressmen James J. Delaney, referring to all of the black troops serving during World War I, said that " every citizen in the country, regardless of color, has every reason to be proud of the record these 400,000 brave colored defenders of liberty made for themselves." 

Setting aside the antiquated language, the citizens of Brooklyn welcomed these soldiers home and graciously thanked them for their service. On Veteran's Day we remember all those who fought and still fight for the freedoms that we hold dear, regardless of their race, creed, gender, or orientation. Staff at the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library can't help but be reminded as to the sacrifice of America's soldiers, as every time we leave our office we see the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Grand Army Plaza. The arch is always a sight to see, but on Veteran's Day it seems to be all that much grander. 

Geller, Jules. Marchers on Armistice Day. 1952. Print. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

For more excellent images of Brooklyn and its vets, check out our Tumblr!

Golden City USA

Nov 4, 2014 11:29 AM | 0 comments

When New Yorkers dream of summer fun at an amusement park by the sea, most turn their thoughts to Coney Island. However, 100 years ago they might have been dreaming about Canarsie’s Golden City Park. The popular yet often forgotten amusement park opened in the summer of 1907 to a crowd of 25,000. Built on Jamaica Bay by Warner’s Canarsie Amusement Company, the park relied on the recently extended railroad system to deliver daytrippers from all over the city.

An undated rendering of the park in its heyday.

Golden City delighted attendees with amusement park staples such as a rollercoaster, carousels, arcades, a tunnel of love and a ferris wheel. The park also included more non-traditional rides such as the “Human Laundry” which took people though a wash cycle, including a spin dry and laundry chute. Games such as “Kill the Kat” allowed patrons to test their aim and win prizes by hurling baseballs at toy cats. Braver visitors could take a trip through the park’s funhouse, navigating by boat though dark tunnels where ghosts and devils were waiting.

Above and below, two views of Golden City rollercoasters.

Below, a 1929 Belcher Hyde desk atlas image of the park labels the various attractions, including a carousel, The Whip, circle swings, and fun house.

In addition to the rides, the park staged a number of live shows at “The Barbary Coast” amusement hall, allowing Broadway stars to try out new material before bringing the act to the major stages in Manhattan. The park’s most popular live action show, “The Robinson Crusoe Show” was a 22 minute telling of the Daniel Defoe novel that cost the park $60,000 to stage. It took 14 motors to move 60,000 square feet of scenery during the performance.

A May 19, 1907 ad from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle declares the many attractions on offer.

Wandering the park, one could stumble upon a live action Native American village, an animal oddities display or even a motorcycle show where daredevil drivers reached speeds of 80 miles an hour. The audience loved death-defying performers such as Arthur Holden, who twice a day dived from a height of 110 feet into a tub of water only 4 feet deep. Tamer acts such as King Pharaoh, a horse billed as an animal with “the intelligence of a human being”, wowed audiences by spelling and solving math problems.

A Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from the park's opening summer highlighted this surprising feat -- an automobile rolling down a ski-jump track to turn a somersault in the air before landing safely on an adjacent ramp.

During Golden City’s nearly 30 years of operation it was plagued by a number of devastating fires. In 1909, a fire that began in one of the park’s restaurants quickly spread, causing $200,000 worth of damage and destroying the restaurant, dance hall, photography gallery and office. The park was able to resume normal operations, but was the victim of fire again in 1912 when the Tunnel of Love was destroyed. The park was already losing money when a 1934 fire damaged the park so badly that management refused to rebuild. Golden City sat unoccupied until 1939, when it was razed to clear space for the new Belt Parkway.

The park is long gone, but need not be forgotten. Next time you’re visiting Canarsie Pier or driving over the parkway, take a moment and turn your thoughts to Golden City. Think of the rides, shows and thousands of happy New Yorkers spending summer days at the city’s lost amusement park.

Dirt for Dirt's Sake: the trials of Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer"

Sep 22, 2014 5:18 PM | 2 comments

In observance of Banned Books Week, the Brooklyn Collection offers this tale taken straight from the institutional archives of Brooklyn Public Library.

On July 11, 1963 a stern memo was distributed to every library throughout the borough of Brooklyn:




The New York State Court of Appeals ruled on July 10, 1963 that TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller is obscene under the New York State obscenity law.  The following action must be taken immediately:

  1. No copy is to be loaned to any branch or individual beginning immediately.
  2. No reserves can be taken on this title.
  3. Reserves which are being held by agencies for this title should be returned to the addressee through the mail with the following statement typed on the back of the postal "This reserve cannot be filled due to the decision of the New York State Court of Appeals - July 10, 1963"

After months of debate and controversy, the decision had come down from New York State's Court of Appeals: Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was banned.  Judge John F. Scileppi called the book "dirt for dirt's sake", which is almost a compliment compared to the more strongly worded opinion from Pennsylvania judge Michael Musmanno, who in 1966 described Tropic of Cancer as, "not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity." 

For those who haven't read this oft-banned tome, it is a first-person account of a writer's life in Paris during the 1920s and 30s, with many frank descriptions of sexual exploits. It was because of these that the book was banned in the United States after its original publication in 1934.  It was nearly 30 years later that the book was finally published in the United States, at which point obscenity trials popped up all over the country to keep the controversial novel out of readers' hands.

As a result of the New York Court of Appeals decision on July 10, 1963, anyone distributing, selling or even -- and of particular concern to libraries -- loaning Henry Miller's risque novel would be in violation of the law.  Brooklyn Public Library took immediate action to be in compliance; all copies of the book in the system (approxmately 400 total) were sent to the office of the Assistant Chief Librarian, Margaret Freeman, and all catalog cards indexing the book were removed from files. 

Without a catalog card like the one above, users of the library would have no way of knowing the library had ever held copies of Tropic of Cancer, much less if any of them were available for reading.

Memos from branch librarians poured in from all over the borough as staff worked to track down every last copy.

Even before the ruling, the book's position on Brooklyn Public Library shelves was tenuously held (which is especially unfortunate when you consider that the author grew up in this borough, at 662 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg).  The Philadelphia Free Library withdrew its copies from circulation in December of 1961 in reaction to maneuvers by that city's District Attorney to have circulation suspended.  Throughout 1962 complaints rolled in from patrons concerned about children finding (and being corrupted by) the book in their local branch library while a flurry of letters between Brooklyn Public Library's Chief Librarian, Francis R. St. John, and heads of other institutions throughout the country grappled with the question of how to restrict access to the book to mature readers.  A staff memo from March of that year outlined a policy whereby catalog cards and index listings of the book would be excised from the record, but adult patrons who specifically asked for the book could reserve it. 

Francis R. St. John and Margaret Freeman were asked to testify on the issue before the Kings County Grand Jury in January of 1962.  After grilling Freeman on the ins and outs of Brooklyn Public Library's collection policy, Assistant District Attorney Louis Ernst gave her a copy of the book and asked her to read aloud a passage from page five in mixed company.  Freeman demurred, with the caveat that there are many books she would not read in mixed company.  Other questions centered on whether or not the book had a plot (Freeman's answer: "No"), whether it was purchased because of the notoriety of the author (again, "No") and whether Freeman thought the book was obscene (a qualified "No"). 

Definitions of key terms, in Freeman's handwriting, presumably in preparation for her court appearance.

St. John was also invited to read the infamous passage from page five before the group.  When St. John replied that he didn't think that targeting discrete paragraphs was a fair way to judge the totality of a book, Ernst continued to page six and asked St. John to read from that page instead.  St. John stood his ground, and Ernst indicated that he'd go through the entire book if he had to, page by page, with St. John refusing at every turn to read aloud in polite company.  St. John coolly replied that he'd be happy to read the whole book to the Grand Jury, noting that it had taken him a full 3 hours to read it himself the night before, and that reading out loud was generally slower going than reading to oneself.  I can't help but feel a certain pride by association with St. John's maneuver; a true librarian, he was, in effect, threatening to bore the Grand Jury into submission with a marathon reading of a plotless novel.  The Grand Jury also requested a list of patrons who had borrowed the book, ostensibly so that they could be brought into court to testify.  The library resisted, citing the confidentiality of patron records, and no subpeoena was issued.

After the July 1963 ruling, once the book was pulled from shelves, indignant patrons and staff alike wrote to support their right to read what they chose.  The library was in a difficult position -- the book selection policy and mission of the institution explicity stated "It is the function of the public library in America today to provide the means through which all people may have free access to the thinking on all sides of all ideas."  To excise a book from the collection because some found its ideas challenging was against the core principles of the institution and its staff.  On the other hand, as a publicly funded entity, the library could not openly defy the law of the land.  After an uneasy year, the Supreme Court ruled in June of 1964 that Miller's book could not constitutionally be banned, decisively closing the issue and upholding American's right to read what they chose. 

Among the many opinions offered on the alleged obscenity of Miller's book and the public's right to read it, my favorite comes from Margaret Freeman, who typed this eloquent (and unfortunately undated) memo at some point during the uproar. 

Today, patrons can check out Tropic of Cancer from Brooklyn Public Library in three different languages (English, Russian, and Polish).  They can download it as an ebook and surreptitiously enjoy its lascivious passages among morning commuters on the subway or romping children in their local park.  The truly bold can hear every f-bomb and s-word in an audiobook version, voiced by actor Campbell Scott.  If you go that route, I recommend doing so in mixed company.

Williamsburg: Then & Now

Aug 27, 2014 7:06 PM | 0 comments

Our collection of photographs by Anders Goldfarb are some of the most contemporary images in our holdings aside from those taken by Jamel Shabazz. However, unlike Shabazz who captures the personalities of Brooklynites, Goldfarb mostly captures the personalities of the borough's dilapidated buildings. In a 2012 interview with Goldfarb, Peter Mattei asked: "What emotion do you feel when you see these buildings? What makes you want to photograph them?"

"It's a form of compassion I think I have for the building," Goldfarb replied, "because they're old and the old as a rule tend to perish and I feel bad for them ..."

Goldfarb's explanation certainly holds true for many an old building in New York City and debates abound on whether gentrification is driving or repulsing this movement in Brooklyn's own neighborhoods. In a city increasingly obsessed with brownstones and loft conversions, my own inclination is to err on the side of preservation: that caring for these buildings is making a comeback. Lucky for us, the Brooklyn Collection possesses some great evidence to inform both sides of the debate, so you can decide for yourself. Our collection of Goldfarb's offers a fascinating smattering of photos from pre-gentrified Williamsburg. Situating these alongside current Google images of the same addresses offers food for thought on both ends of the spectrum:

Driggs and N. 8th Street, 1998

Apparently not much has changed for this old building, including the curtains and blinds!


Driggs and N. 8th Street, September 2013


Bedford between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, December 1997

Here the pizza restaurant remains while the liquor store has been replaced by a hat shop (established in 1895 evidently, but not at this location!).

Bedford between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, September 2013

Intersection of Throop and Lorimer Streets Williamsburg, February 1999


Intersection of Throop and Lorimer Streets Williamsburg, September 2013


Bedford and N. 5th Street, January 1997


Bedford and N. 5th Street, September 2013


Berry Street between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, January 1999


Berry Street between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, September 2013


Intersection of Bedford Avenue and N. 9th Street, 1987


One of my favorite comparisons ... it seems to sum up the transition in Williamsburg between 1987 and today perfectly.

Intersection of Bedford Avenue and N. 9th Street, September 2013


As the following photos show, buildings are not the only New York City relics that have endured a bit of a makeover since the 1980s and 90s:

L Train Williamsburg, January 1988

Some for the better ...

All Aboard, March 8, 2009 A. Strakey

... and some debatably for the worse.

East Williamsburg, March 18, 1989

Anders Goldfarb


Bedford Avenue near N. 9th Street, May 1995