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May 30, 2013 1:30 PM | 3 comments

Early last year we received a generous donation of some 650 postcards depicting all manner of the visually mundane so typical of that epistolary medium: a statue of U.S. Grant attended by a shadow and a cloud; the empty interior of Johnny Johnston's steakhouse on Church Avenue; and this one from 1908 -- a few kids, black dog in tow, palling around on the street.

There's nothing much remarkable about this postcard, at least from the standpoint of this non-deltiologist, but what did catch my eye is the location of this particular street scene:

That's: Woodward Avenue West from Gates. Brooklyn NY. Now, anyone familiar with Brooklyn's borders, let alone's handy mapping tool, will know that this address is in Queens (Ridgewood, to be exact), not Brooklyn. So what gives? An honest mistake by the Albertype Company, printers of the card? A clue in some deep Queens/Brooklyn border dispute mystery? Or just the sort of fuzziness of definition we might expect from the borough's fringes? My guess is that it's likely the latter, but I wanted to see what our materials in the Collection had to say about Ridgewood and whether or not it's part of Brooklyn, part of Queens, or part of both. The first place I looked was the map case.

This map, from 1859, gives a pretty good idea of how built up Bushwick was -- just four years after its consolidation with Brooklyn and Williamsburg -- compared to the environs of its Queensboro neighbor, making the border between the two boroughs hard to miss. Nevertheless, like Harold, I made use of a purple (albeit virtual) crayon to highlight the division for you. Dropping down from Newtown Creek you can see that the boundary line sort of strafes the neat Bushwick grid until it hits the Cemetery of the Evergreens. On the agricultural Queens side you'll see the names Maspeth, Melvina, East Williamsburgh and Ridgewood, all of which were individual villages or sections of the larger town, Newtown.

Just five years later, however, the division between developed Brooklyn and rural Queens is less conspicuous; farmland having been converted to orderly city blocks. Brooklyn was, in a sense, moving into Queens. From his book, the Illustrated History of Greater Ridgewood, George Schubel, editor of the Ridgewood Times, writes:

From the most authoritative sources, it seems that the name "Ridgewood" was originally applied to the territory in Kings County beginning at about Hamburg Avenue [present day Wilson Avenue] and extending to what is now the borough line of Kings and Queens Counties. As the population increased and new stretches of land were opened for real estate purposes across the borough line, the name "Ridgewood" persisted, despite the fact that here in this new territory, the officially established name was East Williamsburgh and the township name, "Town of Newtown."

So in spite of what New York Magazine might think, East Williamsburgh actually is in Queens... or, well, was. Here's a close-up of the area from an 1873 F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island. That's East Williamsburgh at Metropolitan Avenue (Williamsburgh & Jamaica Turnpike) and Fresh Pond Road, a decidedly Queens-y intersection.

But if I had to guess why that postcard of kids loitering at Woodward Avenue and Gates Avenue is identified as Brooklyn NY, I'd say it's because to the people living there it simply felt like Brooklyn. This Queens part of Ridgewood had more in common with its Brooklyn counterpart than with the surrounding farmland and cemeteries. For many years Woodward Avenue was one of the last developed streets in the area, as you can see from this 1902 map.

But anything more than my mere speculations about how Ridgewood, once an area of Brooklyn, became a neighborhood of Queens... well, I'll leave that to the librarians at Queens Public Library.


Shore Acres--inside a Shore Road Mansion

May 20, 2013 12:31 PM | 0 comments

A recent article on the discovery of a Paris apartment left untouched since the beginning of World War II reminded me of how rare and precious are our images of nineteenth- and early twentieth century interiors.  While our collection contains hundreds of photographs of exteriors of that period,  The Peet Residence and the Pope Mansion are two among only a handful of houses whose interiors are preserved for us today through the magic of photography.  So it was particularly delightful to come across an album containing exterior and interior shots of a grand house on Shore Road near Fort Hamilton, called "Shore Acres." Sad to say, that last sentence contains just about all I have so far been able to piece together about this building. A printed introduction to the album reads as follows:

"Shore Acres--Located on the beautiful shore driveway of Brooklyn, a magnificent boulevard winding along the shore of New York Bay, high above the water, where the picturesque hills of Staten Island and the adjoining Highlands of New Jersey form  a natural background for the ocean liners, war vessels and pleasure craft flying flags of all nations, contributing a panoramic picture that never palls, and of which one never tires. Here among the beautiful flowers the salt laden breezes direct from the open sea soothes the tired mind and finds contentment and rest."

The garage. Can you identify the year and make of the cars?

The carousel

The chicken run

The kitchen

The library

The music room, with pipe organ

The billiard room

Steak night at the Rathskeller

The study room

Unfortunately, there was another Shore Acres on Staten Island, yet another in Bayside, a Shore Acres Realty Company, and last but not least, a popular play by James A. Herne of the same name. In these circumstances, tracing the history of a building via internet sources is rather like searching for an ancestor named John Smith. And so these few images--about a quarter of the whole collection--are almost all I have to offer. Was it a private house or a hotel? (The Rathskeller and assembled male company, and the existence of the album, would suggest the latter.) An impressive wine cellar, numerous bedrooms, tennis courts, fruit, flower and vegetable gardens, greenhouses, a dining room and reception hall, a conservatory, bathrooms with showers and bathtubs, an art studio, a bowling alley, a laundry room and an "electric bath and massage room" complete the offerings of what appears to have been a delightful and no doubt expensive establishment. As a date I am hazarding a guess at the early 1900s, although the mention of "war vessels" might give us a more precise date between 1917 and 1918. Shore Road in those days before the ubiquitous automobile made the Belt Parkway seem desirable must have been a handsome thoroughfare, and Shore Acres was surely one of its finer ornaments.

LICH: following the paper trail

May 10, 2013 2:59 PM | 0 comments


The Long Island College Hospital is safe, for now.  Last week SUNY Downstate withdrew its plan to close  the historic beloved cash-strapped hospital. LICH will still need to find a suitable partner, but for now because of the alliance between the community and staff, LICH can continue serving the Red Hook, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights neighborhoods as it has since 1858. 

Emerging from the Brooklyn German General Dispensary, LICH’s founders were the first to bring the concept of a teaching hospital to the U.S., training hundreds of distinguished physicians and nurses, who through numerous innovations would change the way that medicine is practiced and taught in Brooklyn and the rest of the world.

The hospital boasts an impressive list of firsts, including the borough's first use of anaesthesia, its first use of stethoscopes, as well as its first ambulance corps begun in 1879.


My first encounter with LICH came through my children's school, P.S. 146/M.S. 448.  When they started in kindergarten I was surprised to learn that there was a SUNY Downstate/LICH Clinic on the school's premises, as well as in five other Brooklyn public schools. Throughout the years I witnessed how invaluable LICH's presence was to the school community as Abby Wolfson the Pediatric Nurse Practioner took care of everything from asthma attacks, allergies, eye infections, prescriptions, vaccinations and much, much more. 


This venerable institution has of course left an impressive paper trail, some of which has found its way into our collection.

Medical Education in Brooklyn: The First Hundred Years            Ref 610.7 D   
Written in 1960 Medical Education in Brooklyn: The First Hundred Years begins with the opening of the hospital’s college division. It takes us from the first class of 58 students, taught by notable faculty members including Alexander Skene, up to 1960, reviewing the highlights of their teaching methods.


Brooklyn First: A Chronicle of the Long Island College Hospital, 1858-1990      Ref 362.1109 E
Published in 1993, Brooklyn First: A History of The Long Island College Hospital  by Dr. N. Edson is an insider's view of Long Island College Hospital and the practice of medicine in the borough of Brooklyn, deftly weaving the history of LICH with that of Kings County.


Circular and Catalogue for Session for 1866                     Ref 362 B87 Lc
The early education of medical students in the U.S. was far from standardized. For much of the early 19th century all a young man had to do was find a physician to shadow, attend a few courses, pay a sum or money, and VOILA! a doctor.   LICH was in the forefront of standardizing medical education and introduced the concept of combining clinical and classroom teaching.  This small pamphlet describes the importance of clinical instruction:

"Another  feature which this institution may fairly claim to have inaugurated in this country is the union of a hospital and a medical school; the courses of instruction being given within the hospital buildings.  The great advantages of this union, so far as clinical teaching is concerned are obvious.   It is sufficient to say that they have been found to be even greater than had been anticipated.  The students being able to pass from the lecture room into the hospital wards, the loss of time in going from one part of the city to another is saved.  They are at hand to witness cases of accident or severe disease the moment patients are received.  Cases of disease or surgery, can be watched from day to day without any inconvenience, and subjects treated of in the didactic lectures, can often be at once illustrated by cases in the hospital." 

We also learn of the costs associated with obtaining a medical degree from LICH:

The Fees for a full course of lectures in the Long Island College Hospital  $100.00
The Matriculation Fee  $5.00                                   
 The Fee of the Demonstrator of Anatomy  $5.00
The Graduation Fee  $25.00

Gynecological Care of Women in Brooklyn, 1863-1900: The Work of Alexander J.C. Skene, M.D. Ll.D.
Ref B Skene P
This dissertation by Kathleen E. Powderly examines the life of Dr. Alexander J.C. Skene, one of LICH’s most highly regarded physicians. She examines Skene’s numerous writings and clinical records to shed light on this doctor's contribution to the field of women’s health. 

The Cobble Hill Capers

Even the most ardent and hard-working of staff need to let loose sometimes, especially when the focus is on raising money. The dedicated staff accomplished this by staging professionally directed annual revues. As anyone can see from the 1967 and 1968 edition of Cobble Hill Capers, the staff of LICH were a talented bunch.



 As long as LICH has been in existence it has been covered by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  There are literally hundreds of articles chronicling the growth of the hospital from 1858 to 1955.  In 1949 the Eagle published an extensive photo essay on the 90th anniversary of the hospital, giving readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the institution.  Most of the photographs that we have of LICH are from that story. The photographers and reporters had unprecendented access, documenting hospital personnel as they took care of sick patients and conducted medical research.   


Jean McCue, left, head nurse of the male medical ward, and Student Nurse Marie E. Kelly, look through the visible port which is one of hte features of the latest type of nurse's station installed at the Long Island College Hospital.

 Two nurses caring for a premature infant in an Isolette Incubator. 


Surgical Supplies are picked up from the dressing table by Mrs. Kennedy and Miss Cosgrove.                    


Dr. Katherine Schaeffer, biologist, making a microscopic examination of amoebae, organisms which cause troublesome human infections.


Dr. Elmer H. Loughlin, chief of the Long Island College Hospital Tropical Disease Clinic, uses a map of the world to show where tropical diseases occur--which is practically everywhere, even as far north as the Arctic Circle.

For over 150 years LICH has produced, employed, and sent out into the world countless medical professionals; from a doctor in 1897, to a nurse in 1970, or pediatric nurses currently working at local Brooklyn schools.



Abigail Wolfson, CPNP School Based Health Program




May Day vs. Loyalty Day

May 1, 2013 4:09 PM | 0 comments

May 1st is a day that means different things to different people.  For some, it is a day to celebrate the glory of spring with a dance around the maypole.  For many, it is known variously as International Workers' Day, Labour Day, or simply May Day -- a commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 and an acknowledgement of the strides made by the labor rights movement since then.  For a smaller subset, May 1st is Loyalty Day, a day to pledge allegiance to the flag and reassert one's "love and devotion to the nation."  It is of course no coincidence that the latter two celebrations fall on the same patch of temporal real estate -- Brooklyn's Loyalty Day was initiated by the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in 1948, according to a Brooklyn Eagle article, "to counteract Communist propaganda of Red May Day demonstrators and to provide an opportunity for faithful Americans to publicly express their loyalty to this nation and its institutions."

With the help of interns working on the Project CHART IMLS grant, we have digitized several Brooklyn Eagle photographs of Loyalty Day as it was celebrated from 1948 - 1952.

Although Brooklyn's first Loyalty Day parade wasn't mounted until 1948, the concept had been around since the first Red Scare of the 1920s.  According to the VFW, the event was first observed as "Americanization Day" in 1921 and was resurrected in the late 1940s under the newer moniker.  The Brooklyn Eagle gave extensive coverage to the new holiday in the weeks leading up to May 1st, 1948, with nearly daily updates on endorsements from officials and civic organizations that had signed on to march. On March 13th of that year, Brooklyn borough president John Cashmore officially designated May 1st as Loyalty Day.  Of course not everyone was pleased with the tactical ploy to draw attention away from May Day.  Benjamin J. Davis, Jr., a city councilmember and member of the Communist party rejected the VFW leadership as "pro-Fascist" and argued that May Day was about labor rights, not celebrating Communism, as it had been characterized by Loyalty Day promoters.

On May 2nd, the Eagle reported 50,000 marchers in Brooklyn's Loyalty Day parade, fully half of which were drawn from the ranks of Brooklyn's schoolchildren. The parade route took the marchers from Grand Army Plaza, right under the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, down Flatbush Avenue to Fulton Street and on to Brooklyn's Borough Hall, with 24 bands providing the tempo.  Coverage in the Eagle was lavish, with less notice given to the May Day festivities in Manhattan.  What mention it did give was dismissive: "while leaders of labor's May Day Parade estimated that more than 100,000 members of 60 unions and fraternal organizations participated in the demonstration, the Police Bureau of Operations estimated that 12,000 marched before 30,000 spectators."

The following year saw an even bigger celebration, with Governor Thomas E. Dewey throwing in his endorsement and declaring Loyalty Day a statewide observance.  The 1949 parade was held on April 30th, with a reported 80,000 marchers and 250,000 onlookers crowding the corridor between Prospect Park and downtown Brooklyn.  From his perch on the reviewing stand, Mayor O'Dwyer declared, "[t]he main purpose of this parade is to let the enemies from within know that the people are on their toes and will not stand for them.  Let there be no confusion as to what this day means.  This is the occasion on which the people have drawn a sharp line and decided what loyalty to their country means."  In August of that year, the national convention of the VFW adopted Loyalty Day as a nationwide initiative.  Congress declared Loyalty Day a legal holiday in 1958, with President Eisenhower issuing a proclamation on Loyalty Day the following year.  It has since become an annual tradition for the sitting president to issue a similar proclamation on the now largely forgotten holiday.