Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


"Arts and Skills" for Veterans

Mar 31, 2010 11:04 AM | 1 comment

Learning New Skills, 1945

In 1944, as more and more American soldiers were returning home from war, the American Red Cross established a new volunteer sector: the Arts and Skills Corps.  This program is included in the Eagle's post-war publication, Staging Area Brooklyn.  It states that the Corps "resulted from increased awareness of the therapeutic problems of convalescents.  Skilled and craftsmen, wearing the Red Cross uniform, helped men fill the long hours of convalescence with activities ranging from sculpture to photographs, programs that kept minds and hands busy in the fights against boredom and mental and physical stagnation."

But the Arts and Skills Corps fought against more than boredom and stagnation.  For many veterans, particularly in Brooklyn, returning home to an active and enthusiastic homefront after witnessing war first hand was a tough transition.  In June 1944, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt witnessed the impact of the therapy provided by the Arts and Skills Corps at a hospital in Washington, D.C.  Afterwards she wrote, "I am very glad that the Red Cross is carrying on this work and hope that the program will be developed in all mental hospitals."  While the First Lady's wish to serve every hospital was not fulfilled, the Corps did its best.  Between 1945 and 1946 over 6,000 volunteers participated in 105 hospitals across the country. 

Getting it out of his System, 1945

In Brooklyn, the Arts and Skills Corps operated out of Sea Gate Naval Hospital and Fort Hamilton Training Station, where volunteers served not only their hometown boys, but also servicemen from all over the country.  This young veteran is from South Dakota.  A closer look at his sculpture and the caption of this photograph gives a glimpse into the severe traumas the Red Cross was working to heal:

"Pharmacist's Mate 3d Class William Magee, who has seen Japs die on the point of a bayonet, finds modeling the incidents in clay a means of ridding himself of horrible memories."

Getting it out of his System, 1945 (close up)

The Eagle helped bring attention and support to the Arts and Skills Corps by hosting an exhibit in the Eagle Building in the spring of 1945.  At Work on Exhibit, 1945

To Their Taste, 1945

In addition to temporary art displays, patients were on hand to demonstrate their talents.  Seaman 2nd Class Charles Moran showed-off his painting ability for young visitors (Moran received an "art champion" award at the close of the exhibit).  The Eagle also offered daily lessons and exercises featuring special guests.  The photo below, titled "Stop, look and whistle!", shows a group of sailors sketching two different types of models from the famous Conover Modeling Agency.

Stop, Look, and Whistle! 1945

Future Pin-up Girl, 1945

Also in 1945, the Brooklyn Red Cross received a generous donation from the Putnam Family estate: the deed to the family house at 70 Willow Street.  Recognizing the importance of post-war art therapy, the Red Cross converted the newly acquired building into an arts and skills training center that was run by Mrs. A. Robert Swanson, chairman of the Arts and Skills Corps of Brooklyn.  The basement was used to store donated materials for in-hospital sessions, and the first floor was converted to hold two offices and two studios that could accommodate activities ranging "from ceramics to painting to making shell jewelry to plastics and typography."  Lectures were also provided to veterans on "various new developments" in the arts.

70 Willow Street, built c.1850

As the war came to an end, the spotlight on the Arts and Skills Corps began to fade.  The Red Cross' residence at Willow Street seems to have been short lived.  The Times reported an art show there in 1948, but by 1955 the building was once again residential (and its most famous resident - from 1955 to 1965 - was Truman Capote).  As late as 1950, I was able to find signs of the Arts and Skills Corps operating in Brooklyn, but even then the Times described a "serious shortage" in arts volunteers. 

Today, various forms of art therapy are available to veterans, but not through the Red Cross.  Local hospitals and veterans associations have their own efforts, although the general consensus is that there is always a need for more creative outlets for our returning veterans.  Brooklyn Boy at Exhibit, 1945

The Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Mar 25, 2010 5:22 PM | 0 comments

Annual reports of charitable institutions do not usually make riveting reading matter.  The annual reports of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children form  a compelling yet disturbing exception to the rule.  Aside from the inevitable statistics and lists of donations, they contain photographs of some of the children brought to the notice of the Society, each one accompanied by a brief report of the circumstances surrounding the child's misfortune.  Here are a few, offered without commentary:

"From the Report for 1891

Case No. 9641--The above is a picture of a little girl, Francesca Carboni, 11 years old, who was brought out from Italy and thirty days thereafter was forced to marry a man 27 years old, who beat and kicked her.  One morning he tied her hands behind her to the bed, in the room,  and after beating her, left her alone, not returning till late at night. She then ran away and wandered all the way from Maspeth, Long Island, to Prospect Park, where she was picked up by a police officer.  The Society's agent is shown in the picture, to give the comparative size of the girl. The husband was arrested, and is awaiting trial in Queens County for assault and illegal marriage, and the little girl is being cared for by the Society.

From the report for 1903-4.

Two boys

Case 37,061--These boys were brutally treated by their aunt and legal guardian, who was the next heir to their property. She struck one of them on the head with a stick because he feared to tie up a dog, laying his scalp open. Two days afterward, because he asked for a bandage, she struck him in the same place with a strap, the buckle laying open the wound afresh. He was taken to the hospital and the wound sewed up. The woman was sent to jail and the boys to an institution. (p.23)

From the report for 1904-5

Two girls

Case No. 41,435--Gertrude, 10, Lizzie 7 years old. These children were found living in a room, which was without furniture and in a filthy condition, with their mother, who was beastly intoxicated. The woman was placed under arrest by a Society officer and children brought to Shelter. Later the mother was convicted.

The above picture was taken after the children had been in the Society's care for three weeks.

From the report for 1904-5 


Case No 39,116--John, 7, Percy 4 years old. These children were found by a Society officer in the basement of a dilapidated house in Jamaica, L.I. The weather was very cold and children were found in condition shown in the picture. Their mother was dead and they were deserted by their father. When found the eldest child was in the act of making buckwheat cakes in an old dirty tin pail. The children were removed to the Society's Shelter and later placed in an institution. The father was placed under arrest and committed to the Kings County Penitentiary for three months.

From the Report for 1909

Abandoned boy


No 74,813--During the year many lost children are cared for by the Society, and in most cases restored to their parents.

Early one morning in June, this child was found wandering about the beach at Coney Island, and brought to the Society's rooms where he was provided with every care. In the meantime, diligent search was made to find his parents. Many clues were furnished through the story and picture published in the press, but the numerous searches made failed to identify him. it was quite evident that this child had been deliberately abandoned.

No enquiry ever reached the Society office from any friend or relative and in this way he became another "John Doe'"and was committed to an institution to be found a family home.

From the report for 1915

Eleven year old Chinese acrobat

The Society stopped the exploitation of this child in a dangerous theatrical employment. Through the case the Federal Immigration Commissioner stopped the further importation of children from China for theatrical work.

From the report for 1918

Grown-together Filipino Twins

Rescued from a Coney Island Freak Museum

Although these splendid boys were born united and will probably remain so throughout life, they are bright and happy. Since infancy they have been exhibited in shows and circuses. When found last summer they were being exhibited as 16 years old, whereas their correct age was only 10.

After a hard legal battle the Children's Court committed the twins to the Society's custody. Fortunately we were privileged to place them in the home, in Washington, of a Filipino, the foremost philanthropist of his race, who is giving them an education and other fine advantages."

Little Known Brooklyn Residents: Grandma Logan of Greenpoint

Mar 23, 2010 1:17 PM | 4 comments

I am very content to live and work in the borough of Brooklyn, and wholeheartedly enjoy my provincial lifestyle. Occasionally months will pass before I travel across the river -- a running joke with my husband who commutes into Manhattan frequently. This probably reveals why the following headline caught my attention, from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, dated June 19, 1927.

Mrs. Mary A. Logan lived a long, happy and peaceful life within the confines of three city blocks of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. When she first arrived in Greenpoint from Ireland in 1859 at the age of 21, the district was a farming community and "little more than a wilderness." She was quoted as saying "...there was not a pavement and hardly a well. We had to go to India St. for a pail of water...there was a beautiful orchard between Norman and Nassau Sts. on Newell St., and many beautiful gardens." She even recalled a time when mothers commonly bathed their babies in the East River.

A view of Greenpoint, Brooklyn from the late 19th century

Over the many years she lived in Greenpoint, Mrs. Mary A. Logan felt little desire to travel far beyond her own neighborhood. She lived at 77 Dupont Street, and became well-known to most Greenpoint residents, who treated her like royalty and affectionately called her Grandma Logan. Every year she celebrated her birthday with a neighborhood party, and great circles of her intimate friends were invited. At her 92nd birthday party, she surprised her guests by dancing a "break-down" -- otherwise known as a birthday jig.

 The three times Grandma Logan left Greenpoint were reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as follows. She took one ride on the subway, after which she said "I thought they were trying to drown me...never again." The second trip was to Prospect Park which she recalled largely through "the feeling of lonesomeness for home after a few hours had passed." Her third outing was a trip to Central Park which she thought was a "beautiful place."

Prospect Park in the era of Grandma Logan's outing

"I have lived in Brooklyn all my life" Grandma Logan said, "and here in Greenpoint for the greater part of it. Everything is fine here. I have always liked it. No one could get me to move out on Long Island or anywhere else now." Grandma Logan's perspective on Greenpoint was certainly unique, her home being truly where her heart was. Grandma Logan passed away in her 101st year in 1936. 


Walter O'Malley and Robert Moses: The Loss of the Dodgers Reconsidered

Mar 23, 2010 11:41 AM | 0 comments

Join us on Wednesday night March 24th, at 7pm for an illustrated talk by Robert E. Murphy.

Lamenting the removal of the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957 has been a major pastime among traumatized fans for 53 years. But who was to blame?

After poring relentlessly through archives, original news stories, and government documents, Robert Murphy, author of After Many a Summer: The Passing of the Giants and Dodgers and a Golden Age in New York Baseball, gives the most fully-researched answer to that question yet offered.

Seating is limited so come early to meet the author and enjoy wine and cheese.

(Photo of Walter O'Malley, Eagle Publisher Frank Schroth, and Boro President John Cashmore)


That's Using your Noodle

Mar 17, 2010 3:29 PM | 0 comments

Brooklyn was once renowned for producing beer, sugar, ships, and much more, but not many people know that it was also once famous for the manufacture of pasta. Brooklyn was pasta's gateway into America, as documented in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1886:

                                           macaroni article                             

It all began with Antoine Zerega, an Italian who made pasta--or macaroni as it was known--in Lyon, France.  He came to Brooklyn in 1848, setting up shop on Front Street in the area now known as Dumbo.  Little did he know that from these humble beginnings a 6.4 billion dollar per year industry would emerge.


So successfull were Zerega and other pasta makers that at the turn of the 20th century they formed the American Manufacturers of Macaroni Association.  In 1935 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle touted the emergence of Brooklyn as a power house of pasta during the Association's annual convention held here.


Zerega's business left Brooklyn in 1950, but the company continues to manufacture pasta today in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. The original building that housed the company stood on Front Street until 2006 when it was demolished, and a piece of culinary history was lost.  


101 ways to prepareOne of the more prominent companies to produce macaroni in Brookyn was V. La Rosa and Sons, Inc. They were founded in 1914 by Sicilian native Vincenzo La Rosa. 
In 1949 they published this beauty of a brochure, a full-color homage to everything pasta, including recipes and descriptions of the various pasta types.                 




So the next time you fill the pasta pot, remember Zerega! Buon Appetito!