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Riding the Rails!

Oct 31, 2009 12:21 PM | 0 comments

TRAN 0251

The Brooklyn Collection holds several collections of little-known transit-related photographs and we've just installed a new photography exhibit in the cases in our reading room, called Riding the Rails.  This display of post cards, ephemera and photographs highlights the construction of trolley and subway tracks and tunnels and the machines used to assist in building them.  It also features passenger cars not seen in over 100 years as well as the people who rode them.  Many of the photographs chosen are from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and can be found in our photo database. The photographs presented are just a small sample from our larger collections: the Subway Construction collection, the Sea Beach Line Construction photograph collection, and the Surface Passenger and Service Car collection.  So, find your favorite NYC subway line (ours happens to be the 2 and 3 train at Grand Army Plaza or at the Eastern Parkway stop) and visit the Brooklyn Collection at the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza! 

Collier L. Duncan

Oct 21, 2009 1:40 PM | 8 comments



The blog has fallen silent for a few days. Last Friday afternoon our colleague and friend, Collier Duncan left the library wishing us all a good weekend. Collier was not supposed to work on Fridays, but even so, he could usually be found at his desk down among the Brooklyn Daily Eagle files on a Friday afternoon. "I was coming to the library anyway, so I thought I'd swing by," he would say. It had been a week like any other. Our research assistant for the last five years, Collier had been busy, with an ever increasing load of requests for searches of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper "morgue" files, requests for microfilm searches, and a never-ending refoldering project. And then, there was the important job of keeping half of the library staff entertained.

On Saturday, we heard that Collier had suffered a heart attack and died.

Collier L. Duncan had a successful career with the City Planning Commission and in the beverage industry before coming to the Library in his retirement to help out in the Brooklyn Collection. A man of immense personal charm and warmth, Collier was the opposite of the stereotypical history buff. Although he loved digging around in old stuff, finding treasures among the photographs and making discoveries on behalf of our patrons, he was also outgoing, personable and funny.  In any line of work there are people who work tirelessly behind the scenes, often without much recognition. That was Mr. Duncan here in the Brooklyn Collection. As "Captain" of the Eagle morgue, through dogged perseverance he was often able to put together the missing pieces of a family's history. He loved to help others explore their background, and was a moving force behind a planned Genealogy Group that will start meeting in the Brooklyn Collection as of February 2010.

Collier had a great way with children and relished opportunities to join our Librarians on school visits. When he did, if another trip was planned, the children's major question would always be "Is Mr. Duncan coming back?" Collier always had a story, and he always had a smile. And now he won't be coming back.

We'll miss you Collier.




Brooklyn and the Atomic Age

Oct 14, 2009 4:00 PM | 3 comments

I was born in the late 1970s and cannot remember a time when the nuclear threat kept me awake at night.   I've been exposed to tornado drills, not air raid drills; calls for nuclear disarmament formed a background hum that was soft and loud by turns.   

While I was digging through some of our Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, I found several images that represent Brooklyn life during the Cold War.  They cover a wide range of subjects from atomic air raid drills and civil defense preparedness to exhibits on nuclear physics, at the same time providing a primer on 1950s fashions.

 Air Raid Instructions

This poster was distributed by the Office of Civil Defense in Brooklyn.  It was 9x14 inches and was suitable to hang in the kitchen or an office as a reminder of what to do in if Brooklyn was attacked by a nuclear weapon. Those of us working in the Library would have been well placed,  as the local bomb shelter was in the Central Library's basement.

Children at PS 125

Here are children at Public School 125 in Brownsville going back to class after an atomic air raid drill.  These kindergarteners were sheltered in a hallway. 


The regional winners of the Eagle-sponsored Miss Brooklyn pageant participate in the Brooklyn Civil Defense Day recruiting rally. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 8, 1951. 

I would love to know what the other facts are, but the two depicted in this photograph are definitely winners. Held aloft by Miss Brownsville East New York and Miss Bensonhurst: "Fact #12 Women can play as important a role as men, in the civil defense forces." Note the manly clipped fingernails above the perfect manicure holding the shovel. And our favorite presented by Miss Heights-Downtown and Miss Coney Island: "Fact #1 If an atom bomb drops we will not all be killed." Now that is a fact that I am sure is still relevant today. At the edge of the two-mile radius shown, only one little figure is lying flat while all the others--who appear to be wearing trousers, not skirts, by the way--are still standing! I for one am grateful to the publishers of the posters--the New York City Office of Civil Defense and the National Committee of Thirteen Against Superstition, Prejudice and Fear--for those immensely comforting words.

Close up

Update - we just had to resize this poster for everyone to see!

 Atomic Age Halloween.  Brooklyn Daily Eagle November 1, 1951.


 Atoms for Peace exhibit, Brooklyn Public Library, 1957

Brooklyn Public Library played a role in promoting the peaceful uses of atomic energy in 1957 through an exhibit and lectures.  "Atoms for Peace" was a traveling exhibit prepared by the United States Atomic Energy Commission.  The exhibit opened with a one-of-a-kind ribbon cutting by City Council President Abe Stark.  He used a set of mechanical hands that were on exhibit to show the public how to handle radioactive materials safely at a distance.  The exhibit focused on industry, medicine, and the "advances" being made in agriculture and the food industry. 

Brooklyn Public Library invites you to look into the atomic future with two outstanding nuclear physicists, April 1957

Dr. Lawrence V. Parsegian spoke on the wonder of the atom followed by the screening of the film "A" Is for Atom.  Three weeks later, Dr. Lyle Borst discussed Atoms for Peace: In the Home, In the Factory, In the Classroom. 

The Library's leading role in both education and defense is evident from these materials, which provide an uncannily immediate sense of what it must have felt like to live in Brooklyn during that time.



Cemetery of the Evergreens. A talk by John Rousmaniere just in time for Halloween, Wed. October 28th

Oct 14, 2009 11:52 AM | 0 comments

Join us in the Brooklyn Collection on Wednesday October 28th for an illustrated talk by the author of  Green Oasis in Brooklyn, featured previously in this blog. There will be a short reception at 6:30 with wine and cheese and possibly some black and orange things if we get inspired -- followed by the talk at 7 p.m. 

Shadowy Way, Pastor Lot. Photograph by Ken Druze. From Green Oasis in Brooklyn.

Open House New York Weekend and Brooklyn's Central Library

Oct 6, 2009 9:46 AM | 0 comments

On Saturday and Sunday October 10 and 11 at 3 p.m., free guided tours through areas of the Grand Army Plaza library that are not usually accessible to the public will be offered as part of the Open House New York weekend.   Reservations are required for these tours and participants will learn about the history of the Central Library and will visit the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper "morgue". A  pictorial history of the 36-year effort to build the Central Library, prepared by Olivia of the Brooklyn Collection, will be on show in the Grand Lobby. 

Did you know that this is what the building could have looked like?

For more information on the history of the Central Library building you can read this post written by Joy AND you can come to the Central Library -- the one that WAS built:

For more information on Open House New York's programs you can visit  To reserve a spot on the tour please write to