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The Story of the Little Brown Jug

Apr 29, 2016 10:30 AM | 1 comment

This week a guest blogger shares her story of how researching in our digital newspaper database, Brooklyn Newsstand, led her to a surprising discovery about her family history, and a new heirloom to boot! We librarians are always so happy to hear these kinds of stories, as we often don't get to learn where research in our collections leads after patrons exit our doors. Our guest blogger Joan Harrison is an artist and author. She is a Professor Emerita of Long Island University, where she taught for many years.

One evening in early March as my husband was watching the PBS show "Finding Your Roots," I, with iPad in hand, decided to search the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online one more time to see if I could find mentions of my paternal grandparents. The site had been my go-to source for the daily late 19th and early 20th happenings in Glen Cove, Long Island when I was doing pictorial histories of the city and neighboring Locust Valley for Arcadia Publishing. Previous searches had yielded no information. I can only assume more links were fed into the search engine since my last visit for I suddenly discovered a goldmine of information about my grandparents and their siblings. [Editor's note: these were likely articles from Brooklyn Life, a society magazine that was added to the online database shortly after the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was digitized.]

The first entry to appear was the May 20th, 1911 announcement of the engagement of my paternal grandparents, Grandma Bess and Grandpa Herb, aka "Pop" Harrison. I went on to find their wedding announcement, notations of their social engagements, obituaries of a great grandfather and a great grandmother, and then, amazingly, a photogravure of W.H. Harrison's and Sons, the legendary family store!

W. H. Harrison's was a wholesale and retail dealer in flour, butter, sugar, teas, coffees and spices as well as a purveyor of meat and produce. The emporium and warehouses were located at the corner of Washington Avenue and Pacific Street. The picture caption noted that the business had been at that location since its founding in 1865. It remained at that location until closing in 1917. A look at Google street view reveals that the store building still stands, though seemingly repurposed into an apartment building. 

On St. Patrick's Day when everyone was posting "green greetings" on Facebook, I posted a screen grab of the picture of the store. To my astonishment, it drew over sixty comments and included among the entries was an image of a stoneware jug with the name W.H. Harrison and the location of the store impressed into the surface and stained cobalt blue. I discovered that an artist friend, Sarah Hogan -- whom I had met in the local library history room -- had made the post.

I immediately got in touch with Sarah, who revealed she had found the jug while on a childhood archeology expedition. While searching for vintage bottles in a ravine in neighboring Sea Cliff, Long Island nearly forty years earlier she had uncovered the jug, intact and without a single crack or chip. We arranged a meeting and amazingly Sarah felt the heirloom, the earliest prize of her considerable collection of local artifacts, should come home to its family.

Since my siblings, cousins and cousins' children heard about this amazing gift they have set to intensive family historical and genealogical research, with a field trip to the old neighborhood of Prospect Heights and environs planned for next month. If you have any pictures or artifacts from the store or information about the Harrison or Redmond clans we would love to hear from you.

Now, on to the next question: Was Grandma Bess' claim that we were descendants of the 9th and 23rd presidents, William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison true or merely an apocryphal story?

Sanders for (Student Body) President!

Apr 13, 2016 11:30 AM | 0 comments

With the upcoming primary elections on April 19th, Brooklyn, all of New York City, and indeed all of New York State finds itself basking in the reflected glare of the white-hot spotlight that follows this season's presidential candidates. Trump, Cruz, Kasich, Clinton and Sanders are trotting all over the map this month, drumming up support for their causes and tasting some local delicacies along the way. Tomorrow Brooklyn's Navy Yard will host a debate between Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, drawing even more focus onto our patch of Long Island.

As is widely known by now, Bernie Sanders grew up in Brooklyn, so in some ways his campaigning here means a return to home turf. The Daily News ran a story last Saturday exploring just how deep Sanders's Brooklyn roots dig down, uncovering anecdotes from his childhood in Midwood through his high school career and into his stint at Brooklyn College. I couldn't resist doing a bit of my own investigating in the archives to hunt for traces of Sanders's boyhood days, and I was happy to hit a small jackpot in the pages of the Madison Highway.

The Madison Highway was the school newspaper for James Madison High at Bedford Ave and Ave P in Midwood -- just steps from Sanders's boyhood home. Sanders graduated from there in 1959, and as luck would have it, our collection of newspapers from that school starts in the fall of 1958, as Sanders embarked on his senior year.

James Madison High School in 1946.

While many of us squeak through high school without making the pages of our alma mater's rag, Sanders was mentioned in almost every issue that year. As a star member of the track and cross-country teams he was regularly featured in the paper's sports section.

That's co-captain Bernie Sanders sporting short shorts in the upper left.

As noted in the Daily News piece, Sanders also made an impression off the field. In December of 1958 the budding politician was selected to run against two of his classmates for the job of student body president.

Above, the front-page announcement of the presidential candidates (SGO = student government organization) and below, headshots of all the runners. Sanders is the third buzz cut from the left.

At this point, it is important to note that the Madison Highway came out only monthly, and that our collection is likely incomplete. And while the 24-hour news cycle has trained modern readers to expect up-to-the-minute reports of campaign action, high school elections of the 1950s were perhaps a bit more laconic. After the candidates for class president were announced in December, this campaign trail runs cold until March of 1959:

In case the fine print is hard to read, here we see the newly-elected SGO officers being sworn in. Sanders is nowhere to be seen as new president Robert Rockfeld raises his right hand.

But that defeat wasn't the end of Sanders's involvement with student affairs at James Madison. He makes a fiery comeback in the very next issue of the Madison Highway, grabbing headlines on nearly every page of the 4-page newspaper. As the Daily News article also described, part of Sanders's presidential campaign platform involved raising funds for a Korean War orphan. This was a cause that seems to have pre-dated Sanders's candidacy -- the outgoing SGO treasurer Myron Kalin was already organizing benefits to "adopt" a Korean orphan through the Save the Children Federation in the fall of 1958. Through fundraising efforts the school would donate $120 per year, enough to provide food, clothing and shelter for one child. In the March 25, 1959 issue the editors published a letter from Jong Han, identified as the older brother of Jong Soon, the boy who would benefit from the philanthropy of James Madison High School students:

That article cited Sanders specifically for his fundraising efforts in the campaign. How did he do it? you might wonder. With an all-star basketball game!

In language that portends of hyperbolic campaign pamphlets to come, the paper excitedly affirms, "This [alumni basketball game] is not a dream, and will shortly be a reality. Bernie Sanders made a campaign promise to bring back the stars, and that's exactly what he's doing." You must give Sanders credit -- many politicians who are successfully elected fail to come through on their campaign promises and yet here we have young Bernie making good on his word despite his defeat at the polls.

News of the coming alumni game flooded the (4) pages of the March 25th issue of the Madison Highway, and once again it bears reminding that this paper only came out monthly. When I paged through the following issue from April 16, 1959, eager for news of the alumni game and the profits it reaped for young Jong Soon, I was sorely disappointed. Sanders's fundraising blitz was by then old news, apparently, and no more mention of it was made through the rest of the school year. Did New York Knicks coach and James Madison graduate Fuzzy Levane indeed coach the alumni team, as was hinted? If he did, the Highway apparently didn't think it was worth reporting.

Which is not to say that the Madison Highway ceased to be riveting reading. The wacky editorial board ran several hoax news items in its April issue, presumably in honor of April Fool's Day, which elicited a few chuckles. And then there were also cartoons by staff illustrators:

All of this serves to remind us how important it is to collect things like school newspapers and yearbooks. We are all the time consulting these resources to assist with genealogy research and student projects, not to mention tracking the careers of famous Brooklynites. We've been steadily expanding our collection of high school newspapers, yearbooks, and ephemera, thanks in large part to donations from people who spent their own formative years in this borough. Hopefully there are some Brooklyn-born readers out there right now who are willing to donate a part of their private history to our historic and publicly accessible collections!