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A Whale's Tale

Oct 2, 2015 1:00 PM | 0 comments

Don’t you love a heartwarming animal story? You know, the ones where dogs and cats put aside their instinctual differences to find their way home or children risk it all to rescue baby pandas? Those are excellent stories.

This is not one of those stories. 

I found a photo of a large whale on a flatbed truck in a folder appropriately named “Animals.” The 1953 photo’s caption told of a seven year old, 75 foot, 70 ton fin whale named Mrs. Haroy. Naturally, I had some questions.

"Where's Jonah?" Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Mar 1953. Print. 

With a bit of research, I found some answers. But, boy howdy, they aren’t pretty. Here we go.

In 1951, a group of Danish fishermen were sailing off the coast of the Norwegian island of Haroy when they spotted a fantastically huge fin whale. They then shot harpoons into said fantastically huge whale and lugged it to shore. She was quickly embalmed and given the name of Mrs. Haroy. 

Over the next year her owner, a Mr. Lief Soegaard, exhibited her in over 60 cities across Europe. Reports say that she was seen by over 6,000,000 during that year.

If you feel like it, you can actually watch a video of Mrs. Haroy’s last hours on EUScreen, Europe’s version of the Digital Public Library of America. It isn’t pretty. With that said, there is a horribly hilarious and slightly disturbing image of young children gawking at the marine behemoth, one going so far as to climb inside the mouth (it comes at 0:51). 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Mar 1953. 

In early 1953, Mrs. Haroy was returned to her ocean home, though this time above the water, not in it. She arrived in Brooklyn on March 30th, 1953. Mr. Soegaard’s intention was to wow Americans with a whale extravaganza just as he'd done in Europe. Coney Island was to be her home base while in New York City. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Mar 1953. Print. 

When she arrived, Brooklynites reacted variably. As reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Some sneered at publicity statements that it was the largest leviathan ever caught in North Atlantic waters, saying they had seen larger. Others bemoaned the slaughtering of whales" (1 April 1953).

Another agitated onlooker was quoted saying, “Pretty soon we won’t see any more whales in the Artic. In the Antarctic they’ll soon be gone, too” (1 April 1953). This guy might have been on to something. 

Mrs. Haroy hung around Coney Island for months (as if she had a choice). And then, tragedy struck! 

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “The whale was already harpooned and her body was desecrated by tiny feet. What more could happen?!

I’ll tell you what. She caught fire.

Yes, early in 1954 the structure that protected Mrs. Haroy from the sun caught fire, badly burning the whale. I assume she was quite flammable considering the chemicals inside her incredibly large veins. 

She had already begun to smell, but within days of the fire she began to really smell. 

Keep in mind, Mrs. Hoary was still sitting at 3222 Stillwell Avenue, right smack dab in the middle of Coney Island's tourist hub. 

Desk Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn. New York: E. Belcher & Hyde 1929. Print. 

She remained on her half-burned funeral pyre for weeks. Local business owners claimed the whale was driving away customers. Residents, naturally, were equally unpleased. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 20 July 1954.

On July 21st, 1954, the Eagle reported that the threat of fines and imprisonment had finally convinced Mr. Soegaard to remove the whale that “wafted unladylike odors through Coney Island for some weeks” (21 July 1954).

You totally want her to go to a museum or a place where she can promote conservation or something, right? 

Sorry. As reported in the Eagle: “In court the owner promised they would begin dissecting the whale today, and that, within a week, it would be deposited below three feet of dirt in a Staten Island dump. ‘You had better stick to minnows.’ Justice Thompson told the whale owner” (21 July 1954).  

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 21 July 1954.

Her heart, which was exhibited alongside her during her days as an entertainer, was 1,100 pounds. I assume it went to the dump as well. 

And so ends the tale of Mrs. Haroy. 


...I know, right? 

Preservation and Progress at the Brooklyn Collection

Sep 10, 2015 9:35 AM | 0 comments

Brooklyn is in constant flux. Every day, it seems, someone comments that “the neighborhood is changing so quickly” or “five years ago none of this was here!” The Brooklyn Collection’s new exhibit, Preservation and Progress, explores those very statements. 

Pacific and Atlantic Photos, Inc. Municipal Building Under Construction, 1925. 

In conjunction with the Brooklyn Connections program, the exhibition looks at buildings that are long gone and buildings that have been landmarked by the Landmarks Preservation Commission; buildings that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Two Brooklyn Connections interns, Sydney Fearon and Austin Nguyen, led the charge by identifying buildings of interest for their architectural or historical value.

Brooklyn Connections Interns Austin Nguyen and Sydney Fearon 

With some digging, the archive revealed a diverse set of primary sources to support their interests. We've got some cool stuff, friends. 

The exhibition will be on view from now until December 4th. Come visit!

A Civil War of Our Very Own

Aug 6, 2015 11:00 AM | 0 comments

General Ulysses S. Grant is an American hero. He commanded the Union forces during the Civil War and is today lauded as a military genius. What's more, he served two terms as President of the United States - that’s quite a resume. (Yes, yes, he made some mistakes during his time in office, but show me a president who hasn’t.) 

Grant died in 1885 and was buried in his tomb (the aptly named Grant’s Tomb) on Manhattan’s Riverside Drive. It's big. 

Thomson, Edgar S. "Grant's Tomb." 1895. Print. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Brooklyn didn't have a body to bury, so we made one out of bronze and stuck it on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch across from Lincoln in 1895. 

Memorial Arch. 1909. Print. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.
- Grant and Lincoln are on the walls of the inner arch - 

The following year Brooklyn went one step further -- you can never have too many memorials. The Union League commissioned sculptor William Ordway Partridge to create a large bronze statue of General Grant riding quite the formidable stallion. The statue was placed at the corner of Bedford and Dean Streets in a square that was from then on named Grant Square. 

Thomson, Edgar S. "Dedication of Grant Monument." 1896. Print. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Grant Square was the perfect place for a fancy monument. The roads were wide and full of carriages carrying the wealthy residents of the up-and-coming neighborhood of Crown Heights. Grant Square was also the site of many a parade and celebration and Mr. Grant, surveying the area, added an extra dollop of patriotism to each and every one. 

And then came the automobile. Honk honk! Achooga achooga

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1921.

As the streets began to fill with cars speeding past (well, speeding in early-twentieth-century terms) the statue began to acquire a layer of dust and grease. A general rumbling of discontent came from those who maintained Grant's Tomb, the Grant Monument Association.

"General Grant is dirty," they cried.

"General Grant is ignored," they moaned.

"General Grant should be moved to a place where he can be both clean and seen!" they demanded.

The committee claimed that the evolving traffic patterns could result in Grant being taken down and removed anyway, therefore it was in the statue’s best interest to be moved to Grant’s Tomb on Riverside Drive. In 1929 they began a capital campaign to raise $400,000 for that exact purpose.

And then came the Great Depression. The plan was scrapped. Grant and his horse stayed at the corner of Bedford and Dean uncontested until 1937, when the Grant Monument Association again attempted to relocate the statue to Manhattan. 

The proposed move hit a nerve with some Brooklynites. Members of the Brooklyn Council of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States were vehemently opposed, including Robert G. Summers. Mr. Summers had a special place in his heart for General Grant, as any 98-year old Civil War veteran inevitably would. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 11 Oct 1938.

A Brooklynite was quoted in the Eagle: "There are too few statues in Brooklyn now to allow another to be taken away from us. It seems that every time someone wants to have a statue in Manhattan they run over to Brooklyn to find one that will serve the purpose. This statue was erected by the Union League Club of Brooklyn and it is fitting that it remain here." 

Even with some very powerful ex-officio members (Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Mayor LaGuardia, to name two), the group only garnered $90,000 through fundraising and asset liquidation. All of the money went to the restoration of the tomb with none left over to relocate Mr. Grant.

When the ’37/'38 proposal failed, the Grant Monument Association regrouped and recruited more allies. In 1941, with the backing of the Arts Commission, they lobbied once again to move the statue to Grant’s Tomb. Herbert Livingston Satterlee, head of the Association, stated that he had the money to move Grant, just not the support from the community. Mr. Satterlee was a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and the son-in-law of one J.P. Morgan.  He hosted town meeting after town meeting and at town meeting after town meeting, Brooklyn was not having it. 

Eventually, Moses suggested that they just pull the plug to prevent "a petty local squabble." (Funny, Moses was usually the petty one starting all the squabbles.)

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 10 June 1941.

"I said then and repeat now that nothing could be more unfortunate from the point of view of the memory of General Grant and the good opinion of the rest of the country than to have a petty squabble over the gift of this statue by the people of Brooklyn to Grant's Tomb to complete this national monument," stated Moses.  

The squabble continued anyway. 


Brooklyn Daily Eagle 15 July 1947.

In 1943, Satterlee and the Arts Commission lobbied one last time.

Satterlee said that the statue was neglected, dirty, greasy, and often vandalized (with chalk).  Discussion of the traffic pattern came up again, with references to Brooklyn’s future and possible infrastructural changes (*ahem* Robert Moses *ahem*). 

And then it got personal. Satterlee and the Arts Commission argued that Crown Heights’ population was shifting from one comprised of wealthy whites. Immigrants and African-Americans from the South had begun to move in and the cry from the upper crust was that it was disrespectful to keep Grant in a “slum.” Oof.

The debate came to a head in the fall of 1943, when Brooklynites from all walks of life weighed in. A contingent of residents wanted the statue to remain in the borough but be moved to Grand Army Plaza.  “If we have not the gumption to move it there we deserve to lose it,” one man stated.

The Eagle floated the idea that Grant should replace General Slocum on the Plaza. They even photoshoped (1940s photoshop = scissors and whiteout) Grant’s statue into Slocum’s place.

"How Do You Like It?" Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1934. Print. 

Poor Henry Slocum. First, he was given the nickname of "Slow Come" since he took so long to get to Gettysburg, then his name became synonymous with a horrible tragedy, and then they try to replace him. Can’t a guy catch a break?

"Slocum Statue." 1905. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Today, Slocum still sits to the right of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. He is often overlooked because his hill could use some serious pruning. 

Rev. Stanley T. Olsen spoke on behalf of the Swedish Hospital, located at Bedford and Dean Street. He rejected that the statue “ought to be removed from a slum area . . . It has always been the policy of American cities to diffuse beauty, not concentrate it,” he asserted. Furthermore, he went on, the patients found the statue calming.

(Someone apparently retorted that you could only see the statue from a small fraction of the hundreds of windows on the hospital.  I don’t know. Google Maps tells a different story.)

Google Maps. 22 July 2015. Web. 
- The hospital was the white building with the rounded corner - 

The Eagle took a straw poll of Brooklynites, some from the neighborhood and some from elsewhere in the borough, asking them to weigh in on the issue. A few folks didn’t know the statue existed (which isn’t all that surprising – I walk past things every day that I didn’t know existed), but in the end support for keeping the statue in its current place was 3 to 1. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 5 Nov 1943.

One woman smartly asked if they’d have to rename Grant Square if Grant left. (Three cheers for logic.) That would have been a nightmare for businesses, as many claimed that they used the statue as a marker to help customers find their shops.

The town hall in which a final decision was to be made was held on November 4th, 1943. Robert Moses sent an intermediary to speak on behalf of the Parks Commission. In his professional opinion, he felt the statue should stay in Brooklyn but be moved to Grand Army Plaza across from Slocum. (Slocum breathed a sigh of relief.) 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 5 Nov 1943. 

The next morning the Eagle reported: “The sturdy bronze horse upon which General Grant rides serenely on Bedford Ave. seemed to hold its head a little higher as its heroic flanks glinted in the morning sun today. A meeting of Brooklynites held in the best traditions of the American town hall had set at rest any idea of leading him across the river.” Manhattan was out and, even if Grand Army Plaza was to be Grant’s future home, the move was postponed until the war’s end.

Though the matter of Grant’s home was temporarily settled, the debate over it only further exacerbated the rivalry between Manhattan and Brooklyn. An editorial in the Eagle accused Manhattan of trying to steal the statue:  “Our piratical neighbor across the River [attempted to] rob us of the Grant statue,” it read.

Another reader retorted a few days later saying that the whole town meeting was just another place for Brooklynites to show their animosity for Manhattan: “They’d rather see the statue thrown into the river than moved across it.”

One reported claimed that the statue had morphed into “a symbol of the spirit of Old Brooklyn struggling to reassert itself against the domination of Manhattan.”

After years of hooplah, Grant was left alone. Traffic continued in its original pattern. Hospital patients kept their cheerful reminder of the bloodiest war in American history. The seasons passed by. 

"Snapshot of Equestrian Statue of Ulysses S. Grant." 1966. Print. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

In the end, Grant still stands at the corner of Bedford and Dean Streets and most likely always will. Next time you drive past, slow down a bit (not too much, someone will honk) and give him a little wave. I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

Leaving Brooklyn: Fuhgeddaboudit!

Aug 3, 2015 11:00 AM | 1 comment

It has been an amazing five years here at the Brooklyn Collection. I will miss my job as Project Manager of Brooklyn Connections and I will certainly miss the students and teachers I have worked with. But most of all, I will miss all the friends I have made here at the Brooklyn Public Library.

2015 Brooklyn Connections Convocation

I have learned so much more from the Brooklyn Connections students and teachers than I could have ever taught them—and I doubt they even know it!  From our students I’ve learned to be patient (especially with our middle schoolers) and to look at photos and paintings differently—I see the beauty that can only be seen through the eyes of a child.  From our teachers I’ve learned teaching techniques, classroom management methods and overall how to be a better educator. 

I am so sad to leave the home I have made here but I will be a stone’s throw away – or rather, an expressway, a bridge, another expressway, and some side streets away—in Staten Island! 

Verrazano Bridge, 2010 (I won't miss driving over this every day in rush hour traffic!)

This month I start a new chapter in my life, as I will be the Manager of Education at the Staten Island Museum—yes, Staten Island has a museum (in fact, it has several).  The Staten Island Museum is the only remaining general interest museum in New York City. Founded in 1881, by environmental activists, the Museum has three main collections: Natural Sciences, Fine Arts, and History Archives & Library.  I’m excited to be part the team as the Museum transitions into the Snug Harbor Campus.  The building the Staten Island Museum will be housed in is the first federal landmark on Staten Island to be designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, which will include a geo-thermal heating system.

Sailor's Snug Harbor, 1871

In addition to managing education programs in Snug Harbor, I will also run the education programs at their homebase at 75 Stuyvesant Place, a five minute walk from the Staten Island Ferry.

I’m excited to work in Staten Island at this transitional time with the New York Wheel and Empire Outlets coming and the newly opened Flagship Brewery!  If you haven’t been to Staten Island, I suggest you make a visit. I’ll be waiting at the Museum!

Crow Hill Castle

Jul 6, 2015 11:15 AM | 0 comments

New York's prisons have been in the news a lot recently: tragic deaths, racial bias, the promise of sweeping prison reform, and the Shawshank Redemption-like escape of two convicts from an upstate prison. It got me thinking about Brooklyn's own prison history - specifically that of the Crow Hill Penitentiary, a long since demolished landmark of Brooklyn's past. 

Thomson, Edgar S. Crow Hill Penitentiary. 1896. Print. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

The Crow Hill Penitentiary, also known (and perhaps better known) as the Kings County Penitentiary, was an ominous fortress-like structure situated in today's Crown Heights. It occupied a square from Nostrand to Rogers and President to Crown and was originally a wing of the county hospital, but was moved into the new structure in 1848, pre-Prospect Park. It was demolished in the Spring of 1907. On the below map the penitentiary is the red box and BPL's Central Branch is the star in the top left corner. 

Google Maps 23 June 2015. 

Crow Hill was the name of the neighborhood in the early to mid-1800s, hence the prison's moniker. A longstanding African-American community, the hill's story is similar to that of Weeksville and Carrsville, both neighboring African-American communities as well. Unlike its neighbors, however, Crow Hill was not named after its founder. An 1873 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article on the neighborhood's history inquired as to the name's origin: "How did their settlement get to be named Crow Hill?" A retired (white) policeman answered: "Well, they had to live away from the white people, and they got up there in these woods. The woods were at that time full of crows, and it was called Crow Hill, partly because there were a great many crows there and partly on account of the people nicknaming the darkies 'crows,' too." (Brooklyn Daily Eagle 14 Aug 1873). Both are popular theories but the actual answer remains unknown.  

An extensive profile of the facility appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in July 29th, 1872: "The Penitentiary has a front of about four hundred feat, from the centre and the ends of which rise in all eight turrets. A thirty-foot stone wall runs from the ends of the front, in the form of a square, enclosing in all five acres of ground." The main building was divided in two sections; the male section had 168 cells and the female section had 282.

Atlas of the City of Brooklyn. Philadelphia: G.M. Hopkins, C.E., 1880. Print.
*The purple refers to the stone material while the yellow refers to wooden structures. Note the empty lots on all sides. 

Confused about the disparity of cells between men and women? Me too. Perhaps Crow Hill was one of the few penitentiaries that would take women? Though it was one of the few penitentiaries period, so that doesn't explain it. However, considering folks were arrested for vagrancy, drunkenness, solicitation, poverty, and sneezing in the wrong direction, perhaps we shouldn't find extra cells all that surprising. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 29 July 1872. 

The Eagle reporter toured every section of the prison and took copious notes. "The female prison," he noted, "is a model of cleanliness; singularly enough, too, when one reflects upon the degraded character of some of the prisoners." Not only were the female cells clean, but many inmates decorated their cells with "colored ribbons, papers, and woodcuts... were it not for the barred doors," writes the reporter, "they would look quite cheery." 

The cells were relatively attractive, but in the reporter's eyes the female inmates were anything but. "Young women with brazen looks, and hard lines, where tenderness and modesty should grace their features, silver haired old women with idiotic glare, middle aged women with the eyes of wolves and brutal faces stamped all over with the unmistakable brands of vice..."

The reporter took less interest in the male prison, stating that it had "but little about it to interest the curious eye. One sees gangs of hard visaged fellows, clad in striped suits. That's about all." I'd say that's something, but what do I know?

Austin, Daniel Berry. Brooklyn Kings County Penitentiary. 1907. Print. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

Some of the notorious inmates mentioned sound like folks you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley (or on a well-lit street, for that matter): "The Terror of Williamsburg," Owen McMann, member of the famous Battle Row Gang; Ironically named "Nosey" Kate Martin, a noseless woman who "lost this useful member in endeavoring to knock the neck off a gin bottle with her face, the aforesaid bottle being in the hands of an enemy at the time"; and "Mrs. Red Lion," an infamous madame who gathered innocent shop girls "like flies into the spider's web." 

In 1848, shortly after the opening, reports of improper conduct on the part of the guards called for a change in leadership; the head keeper had been tasking prisoners to supervise other prisoners. What could go wrong? By 1865, the Eagle was reporting that the Kings County Penitentiary was "one of the best institutions of its kind in the country... prisoners prefer incarcerations in it, to any other of our prisons" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2 Aug 1865). I highly doubt the inmates had a choice of prison, but that's beside the point. Utilizing an "anti-punishment system," the discipline came in the form of hard work, which is not to say that there wasn't physical punishment. There are reports of lashings and solitary confinement, called "the dark cells," throughout the prison's history. An issue of the Eagle in 1933, looking into the history of the prison, said that there was no evidence that any executions were ever carried out. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 July 1870.

Men dug roads and cracked stones, women stitched and sewed, and both groups worked together to make shoes. Allegedly, the prison could turn out twelve to fifteen thousand a day in the 1870s. (The number dropped to roughly 4000 a quarter by the 1890s. Either the shoes became much fancier or the first figure was a bit high.) 

An 1872 inspection reported that the penitentiary was in tip-top shape, both physically and staffing-wise. The prison was also to recieve a upgraded hospital and, oddly, another female wing later that same year. No one had cholera at the time of writing, which was excellent, as 67 prisoners had died during an outbreak in 1867. Because of that tragedy, every inmate was required to bathe weekly. Yet, in spite of the new requirements, the prison saw an outbreak of typhoid in 1886. 

Although the prison was well cared for and well run, calls for the closing of the prison came right around the turn of the twentieth century.

Austin, Daniel Berry. Brooklyn Kings County Penitentiary. 1907. Print. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Advocates for the prison's demolition cited the new county jail as justification for the closure. The new county facility saw many short term inmates, while prisoners serving long terms were taken by the state, leaving many of Kings County's cells empty. What's more, in 1875 the facility had changed its requirements for inmates: they had to be serving more than thirty days and less than ten years. They also said that the institution was a "barrier to further growth" in the neighborhood. After all, "Fine houses are not likely to be erected in the presence of such a forbidding neighbor."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1 Oct 1905

What was originally built far outside the main city in a African-American neighborhood found itself in the middle of an up-and-coming white neighborhood full of mansions and tree-lined streets. The prison was not alone, as there were other social services that were also feeling the push: "Down the hollow, but close at hand, is a group of buildings for the city's waifs and strays - the Kingston Avenue Hospital... the Almshouse and the Epileptic Home." A mental health facility (or a home for "the insane") had already been relocated. "Those who have seen city regions develop say that the tearing down of the penitentiary is but the first step, that one by one this collection of city hospitals and shelters for the poor and miserable must inevitably make way for the town that crowds upon them." 

A bit of a turn of the century "Not In My Backyard" situation. 

In October of 1905, the Eagle reported that the prison was to be no more. A new one was to be constructed on either Hart, Blackwells, or Rikers Island. (We utilized the old prison and workhouse on Blackwells Island until a new facility was built on Rikers Island in the 1930s). "Crow Hill Castle" came down in the Spring of 1907.

Progress does not come without cost. Though a distant second to the displacement of individuals under the city's care, the borough was also to lose a landmark. "It stands at the front of the ancient buildings of Brooklyn of to-day," wrote the reporter. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle 21 Feb 1901). 

Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn. New York: E. Belcher Hyde, 1916. Print.
*Note the brownstones surrounding the essentially vacant space left by the penitentiary. 

A parochial school and church were built on the lot, followed by iterations of Boys Prep School, followed by sections of Medgar Evers College and apartment buildings. Walking down any of the streets surrounding the once-massive building, one would never suspect that a prison ever stood there. Although it would be pretty great to still have the structure, much like Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, at least we still have the history. And here's to hoping that our current prison woes become history as well.