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Axel Hedman Part II--I think

Jan 30, 2009 4:51 PM | 0 comments

Back in November I posted a short article about the Brooklyn architect Axel Hedman. While researching that article I came across evidence that Hedman had designed a bath house on Hicks Street, but was unable to find any picture of it in our files and eventually gave up the search. (See I assumed that the bath house had been razed to make way for the BQE.  Well, one thing has a way of leading to another. Following our interest in Brooklyn-related ephemera, we have just acquired an interesting group of old menus. Among them is one for a dinner given on Thursday December 10th 1903 by the Citizens of Brooklyn to Hon. Edward J. Swanstrom, President of the Borough.

Swanstrom Menu

After the menu itself comes a list of toasts, starting with an invocation from Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler and ending with Auld Lang Syne from Abraham Abraham. Then comes a picture of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. And then, this:


In case you cannot read the reduced-size print, it reads, "A Swanstrom Monument. Public Baths on Hicks Street, one of Five."

Apparently there is a reason for collecting menus we had never even thought of--they preserve images of lost architecture! I think this must be Hedman's Bath House. I'm quite ready to be corrected on this, but I don't know of another bath house on Hicks Street.

 In case you are wondering what the Beep was offered to eat that night, it was:

Caviar Muscovite; Buzzard Bay Oysters on the half shell; Cream of Celery soup; Striped Bass, Vin Blanc with Pommes Hollandaise;  Filet Mignon, a la Cheron with Pommes Parisienne follwed by Sorbet au rhum; Squab magnifique with Pommes Duchesse and Haricots verts; Biscuit Tortoni, Glaces Varies and Petits Fours; Fruits Assortis; Cafe noir. The wines were: White Rock with the Oysters; Pontet Canet with the Fish; Moet & Chandon White Seal with the roti.


Brooklyn Menus

Jan 29, 2009 12:16 PM | 2 comments

I made some thrilling new discoveries in our ephemera files: Menus!  We are lucky enough to have several of them and I am now on a crusade to expand the collection.  These menus give us a fascinating glimpse of culinary history and menu design in New York City's most populous borough.     

Social clubs had great menus, not just for the food that was offered, but also for their artwork and general frivolity. Some menus were just that - a menu in its most common form, describing what the food for the evening would be.  But this beautiful menu from the Montauk Club highlights the dishes that would be enjoyed for the Subscription Dinner to Ladies on Tuesday, March 27, 1894 with fine artwork. 


This vibrant illustration--the teaset, the delicate flowers and folds of the lady's dress--is accompanied by a second menu issued the same evening, illustrated with a gentleman in matching outfit of top coat, wasitcoat, breeches, and stockings.  I wish I could dress like the Montauk Club lady.

It is after my usual lunchtime, and my stomach is growling over this menu.  Each course is written in French, and we start with Shinnecock Oysters from Long Island.  We continue with cold and hot hors d'oeuvres, potages, (one being Clear Green Turtle soup), Kingfish, spring lamb, fancy ices, biscuits glacés, coffee and bonbons.  Truly a feast!  

The second menu comes from the Union League Club, which attracted wealthy Brooklyn Republican party members.  This menu was created to celebrate the 99th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, the hero of the Union and the Republican party.

The menu was included in the program for the evening of February 12, 1908.  After the list of dishes are pages that include portraits of the guest speakers for the evening  and lines from Lincoln's speeches and letters.  On the last printed page is  a poem dedicated to Lincoln, and opposite, an image of Lincoln's statue in Prospect Park.  The final pages of the program are reserved for autographs (although ours has none.)  I have only included half of the menu here, but I think it gives a good representation of the whole.  I wish menus today tempted me with lines from Shakespeare's plays and quotes from Voltaire!  None is paired more perfectly than that of the Currant Jelly - Feel, masters, how I shake. - Henry IV.  I see myself chomping on a cigar (which is listed on the second half of the menu) and am suddenly distracted by a crystal bowl full of quivering currant jelly.   

Like the menu for the Montauk Club, this menu offers Green Turtle Soup.  I am an adventurous omnivore, but I've never had the opportunity to eat turtle soup.  In case anyone would like to make this recipe for their own celebration of Lincoln's birthday, I found a version of the recipe in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online.  It is a little graphic in its description, giving explicit instructions on shell removal.  Brooklynites seemed to like it but I will, however, skip it. 

The spectacular New York Public Library Menu Collection, much of it donated by Miss Frank E. Buttolph, is housed at the New York Public Library.  Here you will find not only some beautiful examples of menus, but also links to other historic menu collections around the country.

I keep menus from restaurants that I have fond memories of -- the tasting menus from Rosewater Restaurant in Park Slope; the spring menu from LouLou in Fort Greene - one from a particularly happy birthday dinner.  The going away party at Clemente's Maryland Crab House in Sheepshead Bay - this celebration was twofold - my best friend was moving away to Cleveland AND it was the weekend that the final Harry Potter book came out.  I brought the book with me to sneak a few pages while riding on the subway and the menu acted as my bookmark.  It still smells like Old Bay seasoning.

If you have menus from Brooklyn restaurants that you would like to donate to our collection, please send them to The Brooklyn Collection, Attn: Archivist, Brooklyn Public Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn NY 11238.



Walking on Water

Jan 28, 2009 11:59 AM | 1 comment

In my last entry, I alluded to my love for our print collection.  With all of the snow and ice we have seen this winter, I thought I would share another favorite:


Harper's Weekly published this print in March of 1871.  Here we see a few ambitious souls walking across a frozen East River while others enjoy the unusual scene from the safety of the piers.  Although it was not a regular occurrence, the East River did freeze from time to time, stopping all boat traffic and giving Brooklynites and New Yorkers (the two were still independent cities) the opportunity to cross the river on foot. When the Brooklyn Bridge was proposed, the weather's ability to stop inter-city travel was cited as a reason for the bridge; walking across the frozen river was more of a spontaneous adventure than a practical commuting alternative.  According to the accompanying article, the changing tides forced the ice to break apart after only a few hours, leaving groups of people scrambling for safety.  Those not quick enough to reach land in time were stranded on ice floats in the frigid water--a frightening end to a playful excursion.

The thought of people awaiting rescue on temporary floats is reminiscent of the recent "miracle on the Hudson."  Similarly, Harper's reports that during this particular day all of the stranded individuals were saved by local ferry and tugboat companies.  No one, to their knowledge, was left behind on the ice.  Yet another example of the efficiency of New York Harbor's long-running ferry system.

Jingle Bells

Jan 27, 2009 4:07 PM | 1 comment

I have been told there has been too much death and gloom in my blog posts, and not enough color.  Enough of cemeteries and disasters, they say.  Despite any number of reasons I can see for continuing in that vein, I am determined to turn my face towards more cheerful subjects. Like for example...good grief, I am entirely at a loss.

Here's something. Our volumes of the Williamsburgh Gazette were just returned to us after a sojourn elsewhere. That's good news. But somehow even the events of 170 years ago fail to ignite that fire of interest so necessary to a good blog post. A load of 8000 cabbages came into the dock! The Grange is to let! Mr Hoggart Grocer thanks his patrons and earnestly sollicits their continuing custom!  

Never mind. The personal advertisements are a source of never-ending interest in any newspaper. Here is one from January 1839 for a lost sleigh robe. How wonderfully cheering to think of riding through the snowy streets of Williamsburgh in a sleigh with a little fur blanket edged in Black jennet and lined with printed crum cloth. I have no idea what jennett or crum cloth are but a sleigh robe sounds like my kind of garment.

And since the temperature seems not to have risen above freezing for several weeks now, and to add insult to injury, the snowfall has been barely enough to launch a sled in Prospect Park without churning up the grass below--here is another reminder of days when they knew how to enjoy a cold snap, from Harper's Weekly, February 10, 1877.

Who would need Prozac when you could swish along Coney Island beach in a horse-drawn sleigh covered in a cozy blanket with a scalloped fringe of red cloth? The sound of the surf and of hooves cantering through soft snow, the long vista out to the Rockaways, the chill air upon your face, blankets wrapped around your body, bells jingling and gay voices--what could be more invigorating? No wonder people stopped paying attention and dropped their expensive lap skins.

In fact, if you look to the far left, you can just see the fellow with the waxed moustaches who probably found the lost Williamsburgh sleigh robe. There it is, a faded red cloth draped around the back of his sleigh--and you can't see very well because his back is turned and I had to resize the image, but I assure you he looks like just the sort of chap who would find a lap skin and keep it for 37 years never once thinking to return it to its owner.


Jan 21, 2009 1:16 PM | 2 comments


As reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle 75 years ago this week:  In 1934 another Illinois legislator decided to challenge the status quo - after his secretary was refused service in the House cafeteria.