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W.F. Mangels and his "Amusing" Career

Aug 31, 2009 11:43 AM | 11 comments

Children Grabbing the Carousel Ring in Coney Island

Summer is quickly coming to an end, and soon our favorite boardwalks and amusement parks will be closed for the season.  As we roll, spin, slide and gallop our way into fall, few of us will notice that many of our favorite rides were designed by a Brooklynite. 

In 1882, a 16 year-old German by the name of William F. Mangels emigrated to New York City.  The young amusement enthusiast found himself at the right place at the right time.  Coney Island was the epicenter for the amusement industry.  The latest and newest rides were being manufactured blocks from the beach and tested on the massive crowds that arrived by train and trolley each weekend.  Within four years of arriving in his new home, Mangels opened his own factory, hoping to make a name for himself in the industry of fun and recreation.

W.F. Mangels Company of Coney Island    Like most amusement manufacturers in the late 20th century, the W.F. Mangels Company of Coney Island specialized in carousels.  Mangels collaborated with Coney Island's best wood carvers and mechanics, many of whom were immigrants themselves.  In 1907, he patented a version of the overhead gears that controlled the up-and-down "galloping" motion of the horses.  Mangels' design became the standard, and Mangels himself became a leader in the field.  

Coney Car CatalogOnce every park had a carousel, it was time to explore other forms of amusement.  Mangels designed over 39 different "devices" in his career, including the Tickler in 1906 and (my personal favorite) the Whip in 1914.  The Mangels Company also developed some of the first "kiddie" rides.  Our collection has an undated brochure for one of Mangels' creations:  the Coney-Car.  The catalog illustrates the ingenuity and thought that went Coney Car Diagraminto Mangels' work.  Schematics show how the car utilized the third rail system, often seen in subways and trolleys.  Photographs depict men, women and children enjoying the "real driving" experience that kept customers coming back for more and more.

The Coney Car

W.F. MangelsMangels had a wide reputation as both an expert and risk-taker in his field.  His rides could be found as far away as New Zealand.  In 1912, the Palisades Amusement Park asked Mangels to design one of the first wave machines.  Years later in the Eagle, Mangels said he was grateful the Palisades had not requested a ride to the moon because he probably would have attempted that too.  During the Depression, park owners across the country called Mangels for ideas.  He seemed to enjoy being of use and often answered questions by mass producing a new contraption or cheaper ride. 

In 1929, Mangels earned the right to open the American Museum of Public Recreation only 100 yards from his own factory (other cities had also competed for the honor).  The museum was an eclectic mix of archival papers, ride models and ride parts - including a menagerie of carousel animals.  In an editorial to the Times he argued that the museum celebrated "human reaction to play as expressed through play facilities man has created and developed."  But Mangels struggled to find financial and popular support, and the museum was a short-lived venture.The Carousel Menagerie

Even in his old age, Mangels checked in on his factory three or four times a year.  His was not a career, but a true labor of love.  In 1952, he published a history of the amusement industry, defending his belief that amusement parks existed because "man has ever been fun-loving." The Outdoor Amusement Industry: From Earliest Times to Present was one of the first works to outline the history of an industry that had always been perceived as truly modern.  Mangels spent years writing his opus, researching the evolution of amusement at the British Museum and other institutions.  His work gave historic background to many modern amusements, tracing items like the carousel back to "ancient royal tournaments of medieval times."

W.F. Mangels with a Steam-powered Bike at his Museum

In 1958, 92 year-old William F. Mangels died in his home on Ocean Parkway, only blocks from the boardwalk.  He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, but his legacy spans the globe.  Today, a few of his original rides are still operational, but almost all modern-day rides reflect the ingenuity and passion of this "amusing" Brooklynite. 


Geomapping on Flickr

Aug 25, 2009 6:07 PM | 0 comments

Historic photographs are one of the highlights of the Brooklyn Collection, and thanks to digitization, are the most easily accessible of our treasures. Thousands of unique Brooklyn photos can be searched and found on the BPL web site. Recently, we've embarked on a project that will make some of these images even more visible, through the photo sharing web site Flickr. Along with other cultural institutions such as the Library of Congress, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Queens and New York Public Library, we've created a Flickr page with a sample of some of our photographic holdings.

Because many of these images are of specific places in Brooklyn, we've added them to Flickr's geomaps. Scrolling through the photos causes pink dots to appear on an interactive map, and clicking on the dot brings up the photo for that location. It's a great way to get to know Brooklyn!  

Thanks and kudos to the Brooklyn Public Library Summer Youth Employment Project and the Web Applications department for making this project happen.

Transcribing a Difficult Past

Aug 20, 2009 4:45 PM | 0 comments

It saddens me that our manuscript collection doesn't get more use.  To be fair, it is a hodge podge of documents that are challenging to read and cover various parts of 19th century history.  But amidst contracts and lists of construction materials, there are some real gems.  I had known for some time that we had three documents that addressed slavery in Brooklyn, but I had never taken the time to read them carefully.  This week, I settled down to transcribe them in preparation for class visits.  What I found were three heartbreaking, but important, stories. 

The abolition of slavery in New York State was a long and drawn-out process, officially coming to an end on July 4, 1827 - also known as Emancipation Day.  Many former slaves found jobs, homes, and prosperity in Brooklyn and surrounding areas, but not everyone was so fortunate.  The three documents in question are welfare applications filed by former slaves.  They date from 1830-1831 and were hand-written by Mr. Jospeh Dodge, Superintendent of the Poor in North Hempstead.  Although the documents originated in North Hempstead, the Queens County seat until 1899, we have them in our collection because the applicants were once slaves in Brooklyn.

Each application is identical, with areas for name, date and signatures that certify the applicant was "adjudged and determined to be a pauper, chargeable to the Town of North Hempstead."  From the notes of these three applications we get a brief idea of how difficult the transition from slave to free was for many men and women: 

Cato and his wife were sold by a rope maker in Brooklyn to a Mr. Griswold in North Hempstead in 1813.  Mr. Griswold promised that they would be freed after five years of service and he kept his word.  But several months after earning their freedom they were living in poverty, and the overseer of the town asked them to return to their former master.  The complied and served Mr. Griswold until Emancipation Day in 1827.  Cato unsuccessfully demanded back payment for his 23 years of service and began to wander the County aimlessly, once again a free man.  By 1830 he had been taken to the North Hempstead Poor House. (His wife was no longer mentioned.) 

Jack Van Ness arrived in Jamaica, Queens as the slave of Dominic Van Ness and was sold to the Cortelyou family in Brooklyn's Narrows.  From there, he ran away and fled to Boston.  After some time, he returned to Jamaica by a "curious" boat that had no sails and was filled with smoke.  Shortly after returning to Queens as a free man, he became sick and sought shelter in the poor house.

Michael Johnson was sold to the Bergen family in Gowanus and eventually became free.  He then moved to Spring Field (a part of Long Island), where his mother lived.  For nine years, he wandered the County taking any jobs that he could find.  By 1831, however, he arrived in the office of the poor office without any family and without a permanent residence. 

Although these stories are brief, they are a critical piece in Brooklyn's story.  It can be difficult to teach and research slave history.  Many of my students assume slavery was a southern phenomenon that never existed in Brooklyn.  Showing students these documents helps them not only understand the reality of the situation, but also connect to the individual stories.  Reading a first-hand account of a slave experience has a greater impact than just knowing slavery existed.  Without the preservation of such documents, the stories of men like Cato, Jack, and Michael would be lost forever.  It is easy to get frustrated with manuscripts and argue that they don't tell us enough of the story, but we should be grateful that even part of that story has survived.

Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club

Aug 19, 2009 2:16 PM | 1 comment

I was having a very grumpy day. Looking back, I remember that the one thing that can almost always cheer me up--my cat Oscar--didn't seem to do the job before I left for work.  Even a day of going through photograph folders, which is a calming, productive, and fun activity, couldn't erase my glum mood.  The Brooklyn Collection has been conducting a photo inventory for the past few weeks.  We've found lots of photographs, some that we look at in puzzlement -- ("Why would someone take four photos of someone pointing?") --many of checks and awards being received, taken from different angles, and the rare photograph of something so fantastic that we have to write a post about it.

One folder full of discoveries was labeled Clubs: Social IX. 

The folder that my colleague and fellow blogger Leslie brought over to my desk seemed nondescript.  We've seen lots of interesting and strange photographs and sometimes share them with others working on the inventory.  Leslie knows of my love for cats and shared the photographs of the Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club's annnual show. They brightened my mood considerably.

The Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club was co-founded in 1941 by Mrs. Silas M. Andrews (quoted in an article in 1948 as being "crazy about cats") and Mrs. Edward D. Mudge.


The club's first meeting was held at the Hotel St. George and those encouraged to attend were editors of pet magazines and "other authorities on felines". The club hosted cat shows to raise money to establish a shelter in Brooklyn for homeless cats.  This shelter would also provide medical attention for stray animals and for animals whose humans could not afford medical treatment.

The Brooklyn Collection has an envelope full of articles about the club that spans almost a decade, during the 1940s.  In those years, the club purchased war bonds, and wrote a fascinating article about the benefits of having a cat in your home:

A Cat in Your Home? Plea made for Tabby

Women whose men have gone to war and who have taken a war job for the duration need not come home to a lonely apartment or house these days, according to Mae Wagner Carlysle of the Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club, whose headquarters are in the Hotel St. George.  The well-known cat's meow might well be the feline version of the hit, "I'm so nice to come home to," it is claimed.  Cats are easily trained, can be left alone for many hours, are scrupulously clean and are most affectionate, said Miss Carlysle.  Mrs. Elsie Collins, manager of the Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Show, which will be held in the St. George on Oct. 19 and 20, said that it does not matter whether a cat is a Persian, Siamese or just one of the "alleys," women will get a lot of comfort and companionship from such a pet.  Proceeds of the coming show will go towards building an animal shelter and clinic in Brooklyn. (Brooklyn Eagle, October 6, 1943)

I like this article for so many reasons -- but mainly, I know what it is like to come home to a fantastic little cat!  The Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club's  shows were not just about showing purebred cats.  There were awards for the most heroic cat, the funniest cat, the oldest and ugliest cats (I've never seen an ugly cat, so handing out that prize must have been a challenge).  The photo below shows the prize-winner Prince.  His category?  He won the prize for "cat of distinction" because "he keeps mice away from the door at the Norwegian Seaman's Home, 62 Hanson Place".  Prince is photographed with his owner, Sugar Miller. 

The Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club also hosted lectures on various topics.  These lectures ranged from the proper care of cats to leaving legacies for cats.  In 1949, the club hosted Milton Fisher, Instructor in Business Law at Long Island University.  He spoke to club members about the "intricate problems involved in leaving a legacy to a feline".  The rather cheeky journalist notes that "500 bored pets listen calmly as he cites difficulty of buying them annuities".  The audience was encouraged to ask questions.  One member asked how many scratches a cat was entitled to, since she heard a dog was entitled to one bite.  According Mr. Fisher, back in 1949 the owner was not liable for damage done by a cat unless he or she knew beforehand that the cat was vicious. 

It is not clear from these clippings whether the cat shelter was ever built or when the club disbanded, but I think it would have been fun to belong to it.  My cat Oscar, who waits for me at the door when I come home after work every day, is my purring alarm clock in the morning, and lets me take pictures of him wearing a homemade witches hat, would be my credential for membership. That said, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have entered him in the Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club cat show and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have wanted me to either.

Photo Credits:  Brooklyn Collection--Brooklyn Public Library


Mystery Building by Raoul Froger Doudemont

Aug 17, 2009 5:05 PM | 4 comments

We are cataloguing the Raoul Froger Doudemont Collection, and this photograph has us stumped.

Froger Doudemont Mystery

Froger Doudemont photographed in New York City and Washington D.C. around the turn of the 20th century--but where is this?

There are no prizes for the solution to this conundrum, just our eternal gratitude and smiles from the gods of metadata. Please use the Comments  box to dazzle us with your scholarship and knowledge of the world.