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Brooklyn Olympians

Jul 26, 2012 10:35 AM | 1 comment

The Olympic Games start this weekend and Brooklynites will no doubt be rooting for hometown star Lia Neal, the most recent Brooklynite to join the elite list of Olympians.  17-year-old Neal is only the second African-American female swimmer from the United States to make Team USA.  Neal will swim the 4x100-meter freestyle competition on Saturday, July 28.

With the announcement of Neal making the team, I wondered about other Brooklynites who were selected for the Olympic Games.  Brooklyn has had its share of Olympians including basketball stars Michael Jordan and Stephon Marbury, and boxer Riddick Bowe.  A few have performed for other countries such as runner Carl Kaufman who represented Germany in the 1960 Games.  Rifling through the collection, I found another Brooklyn-bred athlete who made history at the Olympics as the first female swimmer to be chosen for three American Olympic teams.

"Eleanor Holm (1913) won fame as a backstroke swimmer in the 1930's. She held 12 national titles and won the 100-meter backstroke race the 1932 Olympics,. She was born in Brooklyn."

Eleanor Holm in 1954

Eleanor Holm, born in Brooklyn 1913, learned to swim and dive at the age of ten at her parents' summer house in Long Beach.  When she was 13, she won her first title and went on to hone her skill while attending Erasmus Hall High School.  In 1928, she joined the USA Olympic swim team in Amsterdam, earning 5th place in the 100-meter backstroke.  By June 1932, she held world records in two backstroke events which she won in Rye, NY.  That same year, she would go on to win the gold medal for the 100-meter backstroke and break a world record in both the 100-and 200-meter backstroke in the Los Angeles Olympics.

At age eighteen, upon her return from the 1932 Olympics, Warner Brothers signed her to a seven-year film contract.  She landed many bit parts, but after only nine months she quit because the studio wanted her to swim in movies, which would make her a professional and disqualify her from Olympic trials.  Holm said in an interview with Sports Illustrated, "It's funny, but I never really had any ambition to be an actress. God knows the studio tried, but I still have my Brooklyn accent, don't I? And they spent a lot of money for me to lose it!  They tried to groom me for light comedy, but the only thing I ever wanted was to win the Olympics."

Holm (right) after signing her film contract

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1932

In September 1933, she married fellow Erasmus alumnus, Arthur Jarrett.  He was a well-known singer, songwriter and actor.  Holm sang with his band in nightclubs and vaudeville shows throughout the country--wearing a white bathing suit, white cowboy hat and high heels. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16, 1936

By 1936, Mrs. Holm-Jarrett was one of the most famous athletes in the United States.  In seven years, she did not lose one race and was expected to bring home a gold medal in the Berlin Olympics.  However, on the way to Germany, aboard the ocean liner SS Manhattan, she was invited to a party in the first-class area, where she drank champagne with journalists.  When curfew was called--at 9pm--she refused to turn in and asked her chaperone, "Did you make the Olympic team, or did I?"  The chaperone promptly went to Olympic officials and told them Holm was setting a bad example for the team.  When the ship reached Germany, Holm was fired.  Around 200 teammates petitioned for her reinstatement, but officials stood by their decision after a doctor examined Holm and diagnosed her with chronic alcoholism--a claim she vehemently denied.  Instead of returning to United States, she was hired by the International News Service to report on the games. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 1936

Upon her return to the States, she was quoted as saying, "I'll never be happy again.  It broke my heart."  This was surely one of the greatest furores in Olympic history.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 20, 1936

Her Olympic dream destroyed, she went back into show business.  She joined theatre producer Billy Rose's Aquacade, a touring water show which was the main attraction for the Great Lakes Exhibition in Cleveland in 1936-37 and the 1939 New York World's Fair.  Taking a break from the Aquacade in 1937-38 she starred as Jane in Tarzan's Revenge, opposite fellow Olympian, Glenn Morris.

In 1937, Art Jarrett filed for divorce from Holm because he claimed she was having an affair with Rose--an allegation she fervently denied.  At the same time, Rose divorced his wife, comedienne Fanny Brice.  On November 14, 1939, Holm and Rose were married.

Her marriage to Rose would last thirteen years and end after she found out that Rose was having an on-going affair with Milton Berle's ex-wife, Joyce Matthews.  Newspapers coined the two-year, drawn-out, and brutal divorce, "The War of the Roses." 

Brooklyn Eagle, January 8, 1954

The marriage officially ended on February 28, 1954, with Rose forking over $30,000 per year in alimony payments plus $200,000 in cash over a ten-year period.  Billy Rose married Matthews in 1956 and they divorced in 1959.

Holm signing divorce papers in Nevada. Brooklyn Eagle, 1954

After her divorce from Rose, she went on to marry one more time to oil-executive Thomas Whalen and moved to Miami.  Whalen died in 1984.  In an interview with the New York Times the same year, Holm said, "I don't swim any more, I just play tennis." 

Eleanor Holm lived a rather glamorous, and at times, controversial life.  She broke several world records and held twenty-nine National Championships in the course of her career.  She never had children, and when she died of kidney failure in 2004 at the age of 91, she was survived by two nieces.

A Freeman is Hard to Find

Jul 18, 2012 11:08 AM | 0 comments


Who is your favorite Brooklyn architect of the past? Raymond Almirall? W.B. Tubby? Montrose Morris? The Parfitt Brothers? Frank Freeman? Or do you have simpler, ancient tastes, eschewing the renowned builders of yesterday for some long-gone anonymous practitioner of the Walloon vernacular, perhaps?

If you were Norval White (and I presume you are not) -- architect, architectural historian, and co-author of the oft-consulted, exhaustively comprehensive, brick-thick AIA Guide to New York City -- you'd probably say Frank Freeman. White, after all, thought him to be Brooklyn's greatest architect.

But if you are one of those for whom an oculus might as well be an ogee, a plinth a pergola, and a Romanesque Revival police precinct a ham sandwich, the name Frank Freeman probably means as much to you as a tax form written in Linear A, which is to say, squat. So let's see how much light our collection can shed on this Brooklyn architect and the buildings he left behind as well as those which, due to some unforgivably overzealous city planners and forgivably overzealous fires, now live on only as miniature, uninhabitable, 2D versions: i.e., images.

Down in the morgue we have one envelope [Freeman, Frank Dead] containing one article which is, unsurprisngly, an obituary. I was surprised, however, that this was all we had on our borough's greatest architect. The obituary does its morbid work, relating to us that Freeman was 88 when he died in a convalescent home in Montclair, New Jersey; that he was a native of Hamilton, Ontario and came to Brooklyn in the late 1880s; that he lived at 213 Washington Avenue; lists some of the major buildings he designed; gives us two sentences about the wife, Katherine E. Caldwell, who preceded him in death; and then wraps it up with the names and whereabouts of his descendants and the time and place where the bereaved and familiars can expect funeral services to be held and interment to occur. And that's it for Frank Freeman in the morgue.

The place to turn, however, is online to the digitized Brooklyn Daily Eagle, since it is before 1902 (the date at which our Eagle digitization project has presently paused) that Freeman launched his career in Brooklyn. Searching for "Frank Freeman" there you will turn up 72 articles about the architect, most of which have to do with design competitions, opening ceremonies for new buildings, and appraisals of his work. Some of Freeman's finest work was done before 1902, including:

The Brooklyn Fire Headquarters (1892) [note dog on ledge]

1910 photograph by Irving Underhill

Hotel Margaret (1889) (No longer standing)

Early 20th cenutry, hand-tinted photo postcard from our post card collection.

The Thomas Jefferson Association Building (1889-1890) (No longer standing)

From page 438 of The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Germania Club (1889-1890) (No longer standing)

From Artwork of Brooklyn, New York

The Bushwick Democratic Club (1892) (No longer standing)

From page 441 of the The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Eagle Warehouse and Storage Company Building (1893)

1907 photo of the Eagle Warehouse

And the Brooklyn Savings Bank (1894) which Francis Morrone, in his indispensable book, An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn, refers to as Freeman's finest work. (Sigh, no longer standing)

From Artwork of Brooklyn, New York

Where we don't have photos of Freeman's work in our collection, or simply haven't been able to dig any up, the online Eagle is, again, a good place to turn. In an article on the opening of the Freeman-designed 9th precinct police house at Gates and Throop, which the Eagle called "The Finest Police Station in the World" we can catch a glimpse of the now-demolished building.

The same goes for dreamed-of, but never built designs, such as Freeman's plans for a dome atop City (Borough) Hall.


As I hunted around for more on Freeman, whether in Morrone's guidebook, the AIA guide, or online in pieces like this one from Brownstoner, it came up again and again that Freeman left very little behind by which historians could know him. All this made the discovery of some Freeman tidbits in Brooklyn Life particularly exciting.
1910 photograph of the Crescent Athletic Club by Irving Underhill

Making use of our invaluable index to Brooklyn Life, I found two mentions of Freeman in that society set's magazine: one issue, from 1906, includes a photograph of the architect along with interior shots of the Crescent Athletic Club, another one of his remarkable buildings; and the other issue, from 1892, carries a brief description of the man.

Photo of Freeman from Brooklyn Life. Vol. 34, No. 876, page 16.

The Great Hall and Office, Looking into The Grill Room [from the same issue]

The Main Dining Room, Occupying the Entire Pierrepont Street Frontage [from the same issue]

One End of the Grill Room in the Rear of the Main Floor [from the same issue]

The other mention of Freeman appearing 14 years earlier, paints the portrait of a young man just hitting his stride. The description, in a column called About Brooklyn People, begins:

Mr. Frank Freeman, the young architect who has made fame and fortune for himself in Brooklyn, is about two and thirty, slight build, medium height, dark hair and beard and dresses like a man always in a hurry. Mr. Freeman is a Canadian by birth but a Yankee in action. He is nervously quick, and is an intimate friend of hard work, which he rightly credits with his success. Mr. Freeman is happily married, has two children, owns the house he lives in and thinks the world a good place...

And thanks to Frank Freeman, we here in Brooklyn can think our borough a more beautiful place. Oh, and in case you missed it earlier, here's a cropped close-up of that dog...

The Little Fugitives Part I

Jul 16, 2012 12:16 PM | 0 comments


Running away from home at a young age is hardly ever a good thing, especially now, in a world in which evil waits on every corner to prey on the young and vulnerable.  An illusion it may be, but from our perspective the fifties seem a simpler, more innocent time, when wandering children for the most part made it back home again, safe and sound. 

While looking through the clipping file drawer in the morgue I noticed that the envelope labeled "Runaway" was particularly large, practically bursting at the seams, packed with articles about children who decided to break the familial shackles. The majority were from the 1950's.  Were children of that era really running away with greater frequency?  Was it a new phenomenom, or was it just being reported more often? Did television and movies beaming fantastic images of far away places induce them to pack their bags? Or was it the call of the ships along the waterfront that beckoned youngsters to see beyond the shore?  For whatever reason, more than a handful of children in Brooklyn were filled with wanderlust, and with an independence and determination that would have made Whitman proud, they proclaimed to themselves, "I Am Outah Here!"         

Our first deserters are 10-year-old Philip and 8-year-old Joan Gamble. In the spring of 1951 the siblings became captivated by scenes from a TV western. It could have been the Kit Carson, Jim Bowie or Range Rider shows that convinced them to leave the asphalt jungle surrounding 224 22nd Street. We'll never know which. But they developed a hankerin' to see the wide open plains of Texas and decided to take a ship there. They set out to walking to the place where they knew they could catch one. Well, our two tumblin' tumbleweeds didn't make it any further than the waterfront. 


Trouble was thar' warn't no ships sailing to Texas that day, or any other day, I reckon. The two desperados had to turn around, mosey on back home and face the long arm of the law--their Mama.  Dagnabbit!           



One youngster who did find a ship to sail on (the S.S. United States to be exact) was Eugene Hart of Bushwick. His two week odyssey began one morning as the lazy hazy days of summer were drawing to a close in September of '54.  Our young lad was at home with his grandmother trying to decide what to make of the day ahead.  As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported:

Gene left his home at 18 Schaeffer St, and failed to heed his grandmother's warning not to go far and be "back in time for lunch." As the boy described it today, he had toyed with the idea of going to a movie that morning but had decided to visit the superliner instead. A guard permitted him to go aboard without paying the customary visitor's fee.

Well, as everyone knows children are by nature a curious species, and Eugene treated that ship like one big English muffin, exploring every nook and cranny of the huge vessel.  To his amazement he soon he found out that the ship had set sail, for ENGLAND, and there he was aboard world's fastest ocean liner with 19 cents in his pocket.  Eugene was discovered by a stewardess during a life belt drill and subsequently confined to the ship's hospital. He spent his trip to Southampton, Cherbourg and back to New York walking along the deck, making friends, and reading his comic books.  


The ship carried such luminaries such as Henry Ford 2nd and Vincent Astor, but the real star was Eugene, who made the front cover of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Hugging his mother and presenting her with a bracelet, he vowed this voyage would be his last one for a long time.      


And then the pair mugged for the obligatory camera shots


Our tales of childhood breakouts are too many to fill this one blog post.  They will continue with the tales of the boy who lived in a manhole, and another brother and sister team whose adventuring took them to the big apple.     


The Photography of Anders Goldfarb: A Form of Compassion

Jul 11, 2012 11:56 AM | 0 comments

Peter Mattei's short interview with our old friend Anders Goldfarb captures his wry humor and provides insight into the genesis of his stark worldview. The son of Holocaust survivors, Anders has spent most of his career photographing Brooklyn's neighborhoods, particularly Greenpoint, in black and white, with his Rolleiflex and Leica cameras. Some of his photographs can be seen here in Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection. Look for more on Anders here soon!

The Laura C. Holloway Letters

Jul 5, 2012 3:36 PM | 0 comments

Laura Carter Holloway (also known as Laura Holloway Langford) has appeared before in the pages of Brooklynology, as a founder of the Seidl Society, provider of the Brighton Beach Concert series of the 1880s, and as a correspondent of Susan B. Anthony.  Now at last the full finding aid to the Laura C. Holloway Letters is available online. As well as the Susan B. Anthony letters, the collection contains an extensive file of letters relating to Holloway's book, The Ladies of the White House,  several letters from poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, one from Harriet Beecher Stowe, and miscellaneous other items.

Many of the Ladies of the White House letters are written, as you might imagine, by women who had lived in the Executive Mansion, including Martha J. Patterson, daughter of President Andrew Johnson; Virginia J. Trist, granddaughter of President Thomas Jefferson; Bettie H. Eaton, granddaughter of President William H. Harrison and sister of President Benjamin Harrison; and Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, sister of President Grover Cleveland.

Two letters by Virginia C. Trist are particularly fascinating; one of them, a fourteen page memoir of her mother and other female relatives, contains vignettes of life in the Jefferson household. Of the miscellaneous letters, Oliver Otis Howard's dated Dec 21, 1885  stands out. In it, he recalls some of the more difficult episodes of his career, including his work with the Freedman's Bureau and the peacemaking with Cochise and the Apaches in Arizona.

Letter from Gen. Oliver Otis Howard

One aspect of Holloway's life absent from this correspondence is her interest in religion and the occult. In the 1880s, Holloway became involved with Brooklyn's Theosophists and also with Brooklyn's small Buddhist circle. (In 1886 she published the Buddhist Diet Book, which was by all accounts unlikely to convert many to vegetarianism.) It is Holloway's journey as a spiritual seeker that provides the focus for Diane Sasson's new biography, recently arrived on my desk.

Yearning for the New Age. Laura Holloway Langford and Late Victorian Spirituality (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012)(not yet catalogued!), traces Holloway's journey from Tennessee, where she made a bad marriage and bore a son, to Brooklyn, where she worked as literary and woman's page editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper--one of the first women to work in a newsroom--and became a respected author. She was a woman of many names, and a woman of many roles. Sasson writes in her introduction:

To President Andrew Johnson she was a "little rebel." To Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, she was a "bomb-shell from the Dugpa world." In occult fiction, she is portrayed as a busybody who fancied herself as a mental healer. Some Theosophists labeled her a "sex maya." Brooklyn newspapers identified her as the "chief priestess" in the Wagner cult, but Henry Ward Beecher praised her as the most eloquent lecturer on the subject of woman in America.

In the 1880s Holloway became deeply interested in Theosophy, the movement promoted by Mme Blavatsky, and was later so profoundly attracted to the simplicity of Shaker life that she bought a farm from the Canaan Shakers and left Brooklyn in the early 1900s to live on the land. Among her books and articles touching on religious subjects are Five Years of Theosophy (1885), The Yoga Way (1891) "Teachings of the Master" (1886) "Buddhism vs Christianity" (1889) "Madame Blavatsky: A Pen Picture..." (1912) and many more. Sasson stresses the importance of her role as a disseminator of ideas on Eastern religions and other progressive causes, crediting her with helping to "alter the cultural landscape of the nation" and usher in a "New Age of spirituality."

The book provides valuable new information on Holloway and her circles of influence, as well as the "cultural landscape" of late 19th century Brooklyn.