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The Brooklyn Collection will be partnering with Storycorps for Brooklyn Week from Monday July 25 to Friday July 29. Interviews will be held in the Reserve Room of the Brooklyn Collection on the Second floor of the Central Library. If you are interested in participating, or would like to learn more about the project, please contact StoryCorps at:
646-723-7020 ext. 27 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviews can be scheduled for anytime during the hours listed below.
Monday, July 25th: 12pm - 6pm
Tuesday, July 26th: 10am - 4pm
Wednesday, July 27th: 10am - 4pm
Thursday, July 28th: 12pm - 6pm
Friday, July 29th: 10am - 4pm
There will be no access to the Reserve Room during this week during interview hours, so Ancestry.com will not be available on Reserve Room computers. Sorry for any inconvenience, but we think it's in a good cause.
Long gone are the days when, according to Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, "The head of every family in Flatbush, with few exceptions, was a farmer...they cultivated their land in the most careful manner, and were among the best farmers in the state." Still, even in the 1880s, market gardeners of Kings County sent considerable amounts of food to the tables of New York City. But by 1900 a precipitous rise in development entailed a corresponding decline in the amount of available farmland. By 1924 there were 24 farms left in Brooklyn, by 1930 only 11, but the depression and World War II brought a temporary reversal of the trend in the form of WPA gardens and then Victory Gardens.
A sample of the first crop from a Brooklyn home relief subsistence garden as it was received by Miss Charlotte Carr, acting director of the Home Relief Division of the Emergency Relief Bureau. The bushel basket contains 17 varieties of vegetables. So far 1,500 Brooklyn gardens have produced 5,000 bunches of radishes, three tons of beans, 10,000 bushels of white turnips and quantities of lettuce, Swiss chard, cabbage, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, carrots, squash and corn. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 14, 1935.
Though divided into blocks and lots, Brooklyn's soil could still support an abundance of vegetables and fruits. On April 1 1935 Brooklyn Borough President Raymond Ingersoll urged all owners of vacant land to offer its use for the Subsistence Garden project. The plan announced that "the person who wishes to raise his own vegetables will be furnished the land, tools, seeds, provision for plowing and instruction in the art of agriculture." In spite of the date of the article, this was not a joke. In 1936, WPA gardens produced more than a million pounds of vegetables for the borough's poor. This did not include the produce raised in hundreds of backyard gardens throughout the borough. The produce reported in a Jan, 1936 Eagle article was raised by people dependent on home relief on six plots totaling about 106 acres. In the year 1936 only those WPA workers earning less than $60.50 a month were eligible for the program; in 1937 the limit was raised to $103.40. Applicants were obliged to sign an agreement to work their plot, sell none of the food grown, and keep their gardens in good condition.
In 1936 WPA supervisors tallied the weight of crops produced in lots located at Bergen Beach, E. 74th St and Avenue U, Remsen Ave and Avenue A, Utica Ave and Avenue I, Crescent St and Old Mill Road and 102nd St and Foster Ave. Topping the list in terms of sheer poundage were tomatoes, at 237,809 lb. Corn was a distant second, at 130,296 lb, closely followed by 108,852 lb of turnips; other successful crops included 88,362 lb of snap beans and 65,582 lb of Swiss chard. Either nobody liked parsnips or the crop had a wormy year: only 40lb were grown; 26,000 lb of summer squash made it to the table, only slightly more than the poundage of turnip greens. Onions too had a mediocre year (191 lb). (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 19, 1936.) The gardeners also received instruction in canning and were able to bring their produce to a canning center where they worked under the supervision of a nutritionist, a part of whose job was to banish microbes from the canned and bottled foods.
The canning of tomatoes grown in local subsistence gardens is shown underway at a canning kitchen at 1021 Crescent St today (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 17, 1935)
WPA era gardeners were also responsible for what might have been a grand show of tulips in a sunken garden at the south side of the Brooklyn College library building. We will never know for sure, because all the photos are in black and white.
Campus tulip gardens: In the late spring...the colorful Dutch tulips planted by WPA gardeners finally awake...
The subsistence gardens of the WPA era (also termed relief gardens) prepared the ground for an even greater effort to produce food from Brooklyn's fertile land--the Victory Gardens of the 1940s, to be the subject of Brooklyn Gardens Part II.
The information in the article comes from: Brooklyn Collection photograph collection; the Brooklyn Daily Eagle morgue clippings; the Brooklyn Daily Eagle via www.fultonhistory.com; Mark Linder and Larry Zacharias, Of Cabbages and Kings County.
The Nits, the Jolly Stompers, the Brewery Rats, the Tigers, the Presidents, the Shamrocks, the Beavers, the Midtowners, the Robins, the Majesties, the Garfield Gang, the South Brooklyn Boys, the Socialistic Gents, the Midget Socialistic Gents, the Bishops, and the Hawks; ranging from intimidating to clever to unexpectedly silly, these names struck dread in the hearts of policeman, civic leaders, teachers, and Brooklynites of every stripe. These were the names of just a few of the gangs of adolescent boys and girls who turned the borough into their battleground in the 1950s.
Above, the calling card of a teenage gang. "Til death do we part" was not a romantic promise, but a blood oath, and as the Brooklyn Eagle reported in March of 1954, police feared that sentiment was "all too real". When you're a Hawk, you're a Hawk all the way.
The public concern over unleashed teenage fury in the 1950s is often viewed now through the lens of kitschy nostalgia. We watch old movies depicting juvenile delinquents with perfectly greased ducktails, white t-shirts, and cuffed blue jeans and laugh at how innocent they seem. Movies like, say, Rumble on the Docks, a splashy 1956 melodrama set in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The trailer is conveniently availabe on YouTube:
Although we may now find these b-movie depictions of "rebels with plenty of cause" more funny than fearsome, the campy image of the switchblade-wielding teenage gangster is based on reality, and one need look no further than our own Brooklyn Eagle to find the evidence. In the Brooklyn Collection we have two fat clippings files stuffed full of articles from 1948 to 1955, all of them detailing the eruption of teenage violence across the borough.
Our newly digitized collection of crime photographs from the Eagle provides a visual record of the mayhem wrought by Brooklyn's youth. These were no cuddly Arthur Fonzarellis, but seriously troubled teens who fought, all too often to the death, over their small fiefdoms.
From the March 11, 1954 Brooklyn Eagle, a Borough Park teen in full "battle garb".
Although juvenile delinquency was nothing new, it seems that it wasn't until the 1940s that the problem was given specific attention by authorities. Teen crime had mostly been handled locally, neighborhood by neighborhood, precinct by precinct, but the issue of teen gangs certainly became a borough-wide one by April of 1948. In that month two teenage boys -- William Gottlieb, 18 and Ralph Wise, 14 -- were killed in unrelated rumbles among warring gangs. Another group of teens in Bay Ridge sprayed bullets at the home of their math teacher. Suddenly, it seemed that malicious teenage thugs were lurking behind every corner. The pages of the Eagle were bursting with garish headlines decrying the rise in teen crime, with feature articles offering an "inside look" into the seedy world of adolescent vice.
An article from April 29, 1948 describes how gangs acquired their weaponry, "A toy gun which uses firecrackers is purchased and sent by express agency from out of the State. These pistols are advertised in comic books read by adolescents... [ed. note: Of course, the evil comic book! Original corrupter of teenage minds!] ... When made over, the detonation of the cracker propels a bolt out of the gun with sufficient force to imbed it into a two-inch plaster wall."
The article goes on to describe guns built completely from scratch by "ingenious youths" -- zip guns:
"One such exhibited by a the police officer was a 22-caliber gun made of wood, adhesive tape and a screen door hook." Ingenious to be sure, but also deadly.
Officers John Loder and Henry J. Abruzzo examine arsenal confiscated from a gang fight in 1953.
Assistant District Attorney Louis Andreozzi, left, and District Attorney Miles F. McDonald examine the rifles used to shoot at a Bay Ridge math teacher's home. They were stolen from a Coney Island shooting gallery.
The police and civic organizations rallied to put an end to teen violence. Special Youth Squad units of the police force were created to focus on the "war on juvenile delinquency", as the Eagle called it. One of the goals was to "channel youth activities along proper lines," so the Youth Squads worked with schools, churches, and social service groups to find alternatives for Brooklyn's youth. The Brooklyn Council for Social Planning also took up the fight against teen gangs. The chairman of the council's Youth Activities Committee, James H. Callahan, declared in an April 28, 1948 Eagle article, "To combat juvenile delinquency we will have to mobilize the resources of Brooklyn. Every storekeeper, every housewife, all of us, will have to pitch in and do our share... We have got to fight this thing just like we fought the war."
Prisoners of war -- teen gang members caught in a rumble are hauled off to adolescent court.
Although neighborhoods all over the Brooklyn saw teenage battles take over their streets, the Eagle clippings indicate that the fighting was particularly brutal in the Red Hook neighborhood. Adolescent gangs had long battled over this peninsular turf, with the "Pointers" (from the tip of Red Hook) fending off the "Creekers" (from the Gowanus area) as far back as the early 1900s. According to the Red Hook, Gowanus community history guide, published by the Brooklyn Historical Society, a 1927 report by the New York State Crime Commission declared that Red Hook had the "third highest number of juvenile delinquents of any comparable area of its size in the world."
By the 1950s, local warfare had escalated alarmingly. In June of 1953, police confiscated 20 molotov cocktails, above, from Red Hook teens who were preparing for what the Eagle glibly called a "cocktail party". Just a year later, the Eagle reported that thirteen Red Hook boys ranging from age 12 to 16 were arrested for breaking into a "war surplus warehouse" on Carlton Ave., stealing "12 flare guns, a .32 caliber revolver, and a sawed-off .22 caliber rifle." The arsenals were being gathered in preparation for a fight between the Gowanus Dukes and the Chaplains, but police were able to intercede before the battle began.
Which brings us full circle. As these real-life, alarmingly violent wars were terrorizing neighborhoods, the figure of the teenage gangster was being caricatured and mythologized in pop culture, much to the titillation of readers. In 1955, local writer Frank Palescandolo writing as Frank Paley, penned a pulpy dramatization of the carnage in Red Hook's streets, Rumble on the Docks, which laid bare the "shadowed world" along the waterfront. Sound familiar? His novel provided the inspiration for the movie.
The Proposed Constitution of the State of New York; Full Report of the Proceedings of the 80th Annual Meeting of the American Board; The New Primary Law; Brooklyn Church Semi Centennial; Directory of Educational Institutions; Mortgage Tax Law; Life Insurance; The War Revenue Bill.
Not exactly beach reading, is it?
And yet I can see him now, our anthropomorphized Brooklyn eagle, from whose library these titles come, under a parasol on Jones Beach, zinc on his beak, poring over the new Sanitary Code of the Board of Health, totally absorbed, waves lapping his talons, a cold soda wrapped in his feathery wing.
Oh to dream....Granted, our dry bird's dry library may not be the most exciting collection on our shelves, but it has its own sort of charm. To be fair, not all of the titles are so dull (though informative!) and more often than not the cover art, as well as the illustrations inside, surprise with their design.
Hard facts and good looks aside, the Brooklyn Eagle Library was massively popular in its day (10,000 copies of the Raines Law pamphlet sold within 48 hours) and provided Brooklynites with an easy reference resource where they could find out...well...whether or not they could sell beverages in a cemetery (they could not: Section 171 of the 1900 Sanitary Code).
A 1922 edition of the Eagle summed up the Eagle Library's mission this way: "for giving authentically all the information which busy people need, and find so difficult to obtain."
So without any further ado, here are some selections from this library within the library.
The Eagle Library commonly published political pamphlets which typically included bios of candidates, guides for voters, and all manner of law relating to elections and primaries. The above pertains to local elections in 1895.
In addition to these handy guidebooks, the Eagle Library also turned its attention to more controversial political topics: class conflict, socialism, corruption.
And below, a photo of one of the Trappist monks -- "The Oldest Monk" -- written about in the above issue.
Published in a pocket-sized format the Eagle Library also included guidebooks to different cities -- namely Washington DC and Paris, both of which were home to Eagle bureaus.
And a photo from the above guidebook showing the exterior of the Washington bureau.
A guidebook to New York City was also included in a year's subscription.
Small red map of Central Park.
The Eagle Library also specialized in how-to manuals. Three indispensable titles are: How to Play Baseball, Poultry Raising for Profit, and Practical Notes on Photography.
This volume includes a number of illustrations, like this one of a pair of handsome French Houdans.
Incredibly informative and accompanied by numerous photographs, this manual could teach any novice the best techniques for capturing smoking toddlers on film.
For the kids themselves, the Eagle Library provided special childrens' supplements.
Herein children could spend hours lost in puzzles and riddles. Here are two for you.
"'I Don't Jes' 'Zackly Like the Way Them Two Chicken Hawks is Hoverin' 'Round Here.' Can You See Them?"
"Find the Other Two Hod Carriers."
Adult cartoons were decidedly more political. In 1912 the Eagle Library put out a collection of political cartoons by staff artist Nelson Harding.
And since I began this post imagining an eagle reading on the beach, I suppose it's only fitting to end it with a donkey and his gun.
But before I go, here is something in the Eagle Library no Brooklynite could have done without in the summertime: the annual summer resort directory. This colorful cover is typical of these supplements, so if you like what you see, come visit us for more; we'll be happy to show you our library within the library!
We are very happy to announce a new partnership with StoryCorps, a national nonprofit oral history organization. During Brooklyn Week, which runs from July 25th to the 29th, we will team up to record the stories and experiences of everyday people who live and work in the borough.
If you are interested in participating, or would like to learn more about the project, please contact StoryCorps at: