Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


Blowing our horn

Sep 29, 2011 5:20 PM | 0 comments

Today's New York Times article about Rabbi Levi Meisner, master of the shofar and  teacher to aspiring shofar blowers of the world, inspired us to seek out shofar experts recorded in our Brooklyn Daily Eagle files. The shofar, a horn trumpet blown to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, has been seen and heard more than once on the library's plaza. And we have, it turns out, an embarras de richesse of shofar photographs; in fact if proof were ever needed that the art of blowing the shofar has deep roots in Brooklyn, it is right here in the Eagle files. Here is a small selection of them.

THE 5,706TH YEAR BEGINS--As the sun set yesterday Jews throughout the world began to celebrate the two-day holiday of Rosh ha-Shanah, the New Year. It will be the 5,706th year of Jewish history. At the Brooklyn Hebrew Home and Hospital for the Aged, 813 Howard Ave., five worshippers pose with the Shofar, the traditional ram's horn which symbolizes the start of the holy season. Left to right are Selig Zaretsky, Aaron Lederman, Moshe Korn, Harry Rubin and Charles Cohen. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept 8, 1945

I am glad to see the admission that the gentlemen above are "posing" with the shofar, because I am not at all sure that any of the embouchures pictured here could actually generate a sound. We will have to give Rabbi Feuerman, visiting the Air Force Base in Texas, the benefit of the doubt as his mouth is obscured by the shofar itself. Perhaps not the photographer's finest hour, that one.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Shown ushering in Jewish New Year 5713 at sunset last night is Charles Finkelstein, 89, of Warschauer Haym Solomon Home for the Aged, which is erecting a new building at Bay 34th St and Cropsey Ave. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept 20, 1952

1952-5713--Traditional high holiday services ushered in the New Year at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. Shown, left to right, in the hospital's Kalmon Solomon Chapel are nurse Floretta Appel and Samuel Katz, a patient in wheel chair; Charles Wolf, another patient; Rabbi Harry Bronstein, chanting the services, and Rabbi Leon Essex, blowing the shofar, a ram's horn. Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept 20, 1952.

USHERING IN A NEW YEAR--Chaplain Howard H. Feuerman of the Mesivta Chaim Berlin Rabbinical Academy, 350 Stone Ave., blows the shofar to signal the start of Jewish New Year 5714 during services at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. Chaplain Harry Silverstein also officiated at sundown services yesterday. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept 10, 1953

Back in the Days: Author Talk with photographer Jamel Shabazz, Wednesday Sept. 28, 6:30pm

Sep 22, 2011 4:43 PM | 0 comments

The Brooklyn Collection's lecture series is back from summer hiatus!  Please join us for our first author talk of the season, with Jamel Shabazz.  This legendary Brooklyn photographer talks about his life and career as he celebrates the 10th anniversary of his book Back in the Days, a photographic look at New York's hip-hop culture during the late seventies and eighties.

Wednesday, September 28th, Brooklyn Collection, 2nd Floor, Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn NY 11238

Wine and cheese at 6:30. The talk starts promptly at 7:00. Seating is limited to 40 people. Tickets will be given out during the 30 minutes before the event.

Do you need more convincing?  Here's the trailer for the new documentary about Shabazz's work, by Wild Style director Charlie Ahearn:

Gotta go to Mo's

Sep 20, 2011 5:49 PM | 0 comments

With nine branches scattered throughout the borough, Modell's sporting goods stores are a familiar sight to most Brooklyn residents. Although the chain's first store opened on Cortlandt Street in Manhattan, Brooklyn played an important role in the company's development.

Henry Modell, November 12, 1946

Morris A. Modell founded the company in 1889 as a discount clothing shop.  Morris's son Henry inherited the business after his return from World War I, and renamed it Henry Modell & Company.  He purchased spare World War I army clothing from the Federal Government at a huge discount and passed the savings along to his customers, that acquisition changed the dynamic of Modell's.  Unlike so many other businesses, the store experienced record growth during the Great Depression.

Brooklyn Borough President Cashmore and Henry Modell at the Brooklyn pre-opening sale, 1946

In 1945, Henry created a veterans training program for returning GIs, which provided them with on-the-job training for careers in sales.  When the first Brooklyn Modell's opened at 381 Fulton Street in 1946, customers were greeted by the staff of 15, who were recent graduates of the program.

Opening day of Modell's on Fulton Street

Henry again stocked the new store with army surplus and sold the materials at a discount.  He creatively recycled some supplies, including shell cases, which were crafted into lamp bases; helmets became toys, and children's snow suits were made from blankets.  He also donated ten percent of opening day sales to the United Service Organizations.

After the war, consumer demand declined due to rising prices.  As President of the Smaller Business Association of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Henry worked with businesses to reduce demands on customers' wallets.  In response to President Truman's appeal urging businesses to "cut prices," Henry sent a telegram to the White House:

"Dear Mr. President,

We all know how the War brought scarcities, high earnings, free spending and skyrocketing prices.  America was riding a gravy train.  Manufacturers were piling on and on.    Retailers were marketing it up and up.  The customers were shelling it out and out.  Nobody seemed to mind.  Prosperity was on a binge.

Then the War was over.  A peacetime America was back, uncertainty along the road to normalcy.  Earnings couldn't keep pace with mounting prices.  Housing and food remained high.  So did taxes.  Savings dwindled.  Customers starting pulling in their money belts...

Here, in New York, we are doing something about it.  Henry Modell & Company retail stores started a lower prices crusade weeks before Christmas 1946.  Wide markdowns on already reasonably-priced merchandise were perked up.  Goods started moving again.  Hundreds of other retailers adopted Modell's plan for reduced prices..."

July 14, 1947, marked the start of "National Surplus Week," an idea promoted by Henry Modell. The week was designed to stimulate buying through slashed prices in thousands of retail stores throughout the country, including, of course, his own.

Also in 1947, shortly after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers and broke the color barrier, Modell's made news and marketing history when they used him in their advertisements.  "As Jews, we knew what it meant to be outsiders." Henry's son, William later told Crain's New York Business.

In the 1940s there were only a handful of Modell's stores.  Today, according to its web site, "Modell's Sporting Goods is America's largest and oldest family-owned and operated sporting goods" chain, with over 140 stores in the North East.  Modell's continues to give back through their "Team Weeks" program, with over $1,000,000 donated to local organizations since 1997.


Annals of a Brooklyn Cop

Sep 13, 2011 11:43 AM | 0 comments

Those who read this blog regularly or follow our Twitter feed religiously are no doubt familiar with the diary of public transit enthusiast, Brooklyn Dodger fan, and assiduous scribe of the everday, Arthur Lonto.  His daily observations, scrawled in minute cursive or blocky capital letters, range from the mundane to the monumental -- the news that Jackie Robinson debuted as the "FIRST NEGRO to PLAY ON A MAJOR LEAGUE TEAM" shares a page with the less historically important note that Lonto spent the day polishing his family's car.  This is the value of diaries as historical artifacts; they not only document the trends and movements of the past, but they also give a sense of what it was like to live through those events.

We give Mr. Lonto a lot of attention because his diary is so much fun to read, but it is high time we turn our attention to other journals in the Brooklyn Collection.  One of these is the daily log of New York City police officer Louis F. Welge.  

Left, Welge scratched his name into the soft leather cover of his 1911-1912 log.

He served in what was then the 155th Precinct in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood -- the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac of 1911 cites the precinct boundaries as Bedford Avenue to the west, Fulton Street to the south, Stuyvesant Avenue to the east and Dekalb Avenue to the north. 

Detail from the 1921 Belcher Hyde desk atlas of Brooklyn, showing the 155th precinct headquarters at the northwest corner of Gates and Throop.

Departing from his station house at Gates Avenue and Throop Avenue, Welge patrolled the tree- and brownstone-lined streets of Bed-Stuy and recorded any and all occurences in his daily logs, of which we have four, covering the years 1903, 1907, 1908, 1911, 1912, 1915 and 1916.

The earlier years of Welge's service seem to have been largely uneventful ones.  From the 1903 and 1907/1908 logs, Welge's daily report often read, merely, "no report."  Bedford-Stuyvesant was at that time, apparently, a quiet residential neighborhood, and even when Welge is assigned in other neighborhoods his daily log lacks the drama we may expect from a New York City police officer.

Slow news week, above, Sept 27 - 30, 1907.

A disturbing frequency of dead cat, dog and horse corpses notwithstanding, many of Welge's logs document only minor nuisances -- the kind of things you notice when you spend a large portion of your workday walking the sidewalks of a community.  In the summer of 1907, for example, Welge saw and dutifully reported "dangerous holes in street pavement between car-tracks", a stretch of broken sidewalk, and a few out-of-order gas and electric street lights.  Each day's entry is accompanied by a police lieutenant's signature, usually in bright blue ink and every bit as florid as Welge's own handwriting, apparently verifying the reports.

But not every day was a Mayberry-esque stroll through an urban paradise.  Kidnappings, prison breaks, and larceny abound in Welge's later journals.  His 1915 log book is full of accounts of arrests he made and descriptions of the men (and sometimes women) he collared.  On September 9th of that year, Welge arrested a man wanted for homicide and noted his appearance: "25 years old, 5'10" - 150 lbs - blond wavy hair, blue eyes & suit, straw hat ... looks like Swede ... good looking, hair combed back, gold tooth upper right jaw, shows when he laughs."  Why the man laughed as he was being arrested for murder, we'll never know.

This entry from Welge's 1907 journal, written with a just-the-facts brevity that belies the awful scene Welge must have witnessed, reminds us also of the human tragedies that policeman encounter every day.

"At 3:30AM found W. H. Stackman - 51 - NS Agent - Married - 96 Heyward St - in bath-tub in his apts - and gas tube connected to fixture, pronounced dead by Dr. Snyder E.D. Hosp."  An article from that day's New York Evening Telegram corroborates Welge's terse account of the suicide and elaborates on the reasons for the man's sad ending. William Stackman, a "wealthy coal dealer" was grief-stricken after the death of his oldest son and, upon taking his life, was found by his daughter, Florence.  The family's woeful tale continues, as told in the September 11, 1907 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

The widow Stackman killed herself as her husband did, by inhaling gas, and left a note for her daughter Florence, who had the horrible luck of twice discovering a beloved parent, dead.  The note read, "Dear Florence: If you cannot get in, my darling, use your key, but for God's sake don't use a match.  Your loving mother."

Although Florence declared at the time that she, in the Eagle's summation, "had nothing further to live for and would join her parents at the first opportunity," census records indicate that the poor girl moved in with an aunt and grew up to become a bookkeeper, eventually defying the family curse and living to the ripe old age of 99 1/2. 

As for Welge, he continued jotting down the daily goings on of the borough around him -- the dangerous potholes, the busted streetlights, the stolen Studebakers -- and interceding with a helping hand when needed, as any good cop would.

The Chewing Gum King

Sep 7, 2011 10:49 AM | 1 comment


1885-1886 Brooklyn Directory

In the late 1860s, Thomas Adams carried out a series of experiments with chicle,  which is extracted from Mexican Sapota trees, hoping he could make the rubber-like substance into toys, boots or bicycle tires. The trials were a failure. He was just about to throw the chicle into the East River when he remembered that his boss, who was the ex-dictator of Mexico, regularly chewed it.  Experimenting by adding sugar, he created a better tasting gum than any other available at that time.

How Chewing Gum is Made.  Brooklyn Daily Eagle. July 25, 1897

Adams and his son, Thomas Jr. began production of the gum in 1871 and in 1888 they opened a factory in Brooklyn, which was one of the largest of its kind in the world.  The Collection doesn't have a photo of Adams & Son chewing gum factory, but I was able to find one of the Federal Chewing Gum Factory, located in Bush Terminal.

Federal Chewing Gum Company

The gum was sold as "Adams' New York Gum No. 1- Snapping and Stretching." Flavors included Black Jack and Tutti-Frutti, and in 1888 the latter became the first gum to be sold in vending machines.


With his gum fortune, Thomas Jr. built a mansion.  Designed as a double house in the Romanesque Revival style by C.P.H. Gilbert, with one entrance facing 8th Avenue and the other facing Carroll Street, it is decorated with stained glass windows and dragon ornaments.  It was also the first on the block to have an elevator.  While strolling around the neighborhood, I took a photo of it:

Adams Mansion facing 8th Avenue

The story around the neighborhood goes that one summer the family came home from vacation to find their calls for the servants went unanswered. When they went to look for them, it transpired that the elevator had stuck. The servants were all trapped, no one had heard their calls, and they were all dead inside the contraption!  Residents of the building have claimed to hear voices crying in an Irish brogue, "Mary Mother of God help us!"   I wasn't able to find any proof that this actually happened, but it sure is an interesting tale.

In 1897, Thomas Jr. sold his home for $75,000 and moved to New York City.  Thomas Sr. retired from the business in 1898, leaving his sons in charge.  On February 7, 1905, he died of pneumonia at the age of 87.  He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.