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Found in the Morgue: Efforts to Elevate the Humble Doughnut

Sep 30, 2010 2:30 PM | 1 comment

The humble doughnut is often considered lowly food in the landscape of American snacks. During the 1940s and 1950s several efforts were made to elevate the status of the doughnut, and the Morgue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle records these efforts well. Following are three examples found in the Morgue photo files.

In 1955, Miss America's Wanda Jennings was the spokesperson for a nationwide campaign to "encourage housewives to serve families more nutritious snacks." Doughnuts and milk were promoted as "Wholesome Pals" -- "a good nutritious food and all important mid-morning or midday snack."

Socialite and entertainer, Elsa Maxwell, world famous for her high-class parties, was pictured in the act of "dunking a doughnut thereby removing the social stigma in her select circle and changing the art of dunking from a secret vice to an advertised art." Her public doughnut dunking was one of the highlights of the 1941 meeting of the National Dunking Association.

Brooklyn's own Janice Gilman was selected as the National Doughnut Party Queen in 1954 at the Hotel Roosevelt. The National Party Committee launched a nationwide campaign to "cement home ties and keep children off the streets by promoting home doughnut parties." The National Doughnut Party Queen planned to tour the nation, urging the public to hold more and better home parties. "Doughnut dunking," she said, "is better than street fighting." 


Vanquish your neighbors, win prizes: The Brooklyn Trivia Challenge

Sep 29, 2010 11:39 AM | 1 comment

 TONIGHT! Wednesday, September 29th 7:00 p.m., 6:30 for wine and cheese

Something must be in the air, some twin wind blowing and doubling everything up; in another instance of eerie coincidence, it looks like we have, unbeknownst to us, planned a trivia night the evening after a similar event is slated to be held at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Oh well. I guess good things come in pairs, especially if you love rattling your brain trying to answer questions about Brooklyn history. And besides, anyone who knows Brooklyn knows that one trivia night could never get at all of the strange factual gold buried in this borough’s historical mountain.

So if you haven’t had your fill of Brooklyn related trivia by Wednesday night September 29th, come out to the Brooklyn Collection and test your wits by answering some of the toughest questions our dedicated staff could devise. Among others, categories will include: Arts and Entertainment, Landmarks, Sports, and Famous Brooklynites.

Come on your own and be teamed up with other library-goers, or bring friends and compete as a team.

Come at 6:30pm to enjoy the refreshments. The competition will begin at 7pm.


Little-Known Brooklyn Businesses. S. Gumpert & Co.

Sep 22, 2010 11:13 AM | 2 comments


When first I pulled  this recipe booklet from S. Gumpert & Co. out of its file, the synthetic orange and pink sherbert colors of the cover illustration suggested a company that manufactured cheap water ices.  But to open the booklet at any page was to realize that in this instance, Gumpert's  interest was less in the ices themselves but in their ingredients. A glance at a recipe shows that this sorbet is destined for no puny domestic freezer.

The secret to fine water ices, it turns out, is a substance produced by the Gumpert Company called "Textor."  "No more pale, syrupy, watered down water ices when Textor has been used. Textor-made ices...are always smooth in texture and of proper consistency." At the time the undated recipe booklet was produced, the company was based in Brooklyn's Bush Terminal, home to many companies that packaged and bottled foods brought into the docks.


But Gumpert's, (which still exists but seems now to be based in Canada), must have made puddings too, because a 1937 Eagle article dwells on one particular Gumpert employee, Mr George Trenner, whose job was to taste puddings--all day, every day. In a laboratory in the Bush Terminal building, Mr Trenner spent his days "sipping such items as butterscotch filling, devil's food cake, chocolate malted milks, cream desserts, double Dutch chocolate, fancy fruits, fudges, gelatines, meringues, tutti frutti flavoring and frosteds." Not surprisingly, he commented, "My stomach is knocked out."


Little-Known Brooklyn Residents: Parrot Fanciers Jeremiah O'Shea and William Musella

Sep 20, 2010 10:14 AM | 0 comments

Jeremiah O'Shea, a 1950 Red Hook resident, owned a parrot with a special talent -- the ability to swear in four languages. When Jeremiah made a trip to the pet store for birdseed one morning, he returned to find his front door open and his parrot Polly missing from her cage. He searched the neighborhood and the police investigated too, with no success. Almost a month later two teens were pulled up for causing a disturbance and after police questioning, the teens admitted that they had broken into Jeremiah's home and sold Polly to another local bird fancier. To O'Shea's delight Polly was reunited with her owner by two policemen who reported that when Polly was set down on her kitchen table she "breathed a deep sigh and croaked 'Good Night' in four languages."

Jeremiah O'Shea reunited with his parrot Polly

William Musella's parrot named Doris also had a special talent -- riding on the hood of his old green Packard. Doris did this by holding on tightly to the radiator with her claws and was not chained at any time. "I trained her on Sunrise Highway" Musella announced, "...a woman stopped me one day and said 'I have toured the 48 states and never saw such a thing in my life.'" Musella raised money for the Red Cross and the Kingsbridge Road Veterans Hospital by exhibiting Doris and her talent outside local bars and grills. During her time with Musella she toured Brooklyn, Long Island and the state of New Jersey.

William Musella and Doris exhibiting her talent outside a local bar

Ephemera #2: All hail the fastener, that master of combination and order.

Sep 16, 2010 3:36 PM | 1 comment

Not being a part of the things which it binds, a fastener is neither here nor there. Unless it's not there but needs to be, or it's breaking down and shouldn't be, a fastener usually goes unnoticed. It's an entirely forgettable little piece of hardware in this world, but not in the least is a fastener inconsequential. On the contrary, it can be the very thing upon which consequence depends. After all, if it weren't for those two staples punched into the 12 months of your wall calendar, would October really follow September? We should pause to thank those puny, bendable wickets for they truly are the gates through which we are permitted entry into the clock-works of the Universe. So as we continue to air out our ephemera collection, let's take a moment to honor the lowly metal fastener and its bird-like overseer, the attaching machine, as they appear in the catalog of the Edwin B. Stimpson company which was located at 70 Franklin Avenue not far from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  

The factory then, and the area now.

Some of the types of fasteners Stimpson produced which, to my ears, sound like either doo-wop groups or biker gangs – eyelets, paper dales, snaps, ferrules, grommets, rivet crowns, arrows and hands, terminals, ventilators.

 Up close.

The Arrows and Hands (biker gang)

The Eyelets (doo-wop)

The Side Prong Rivets (biker gang)

The Snaps (doo-wop)

The Dale Papers (um, a doo-wop biker gang maybe?)

Music and motorcycles aside, it’s really upon closer inspection that these fasteners become, well, fascinating–-one moment they assume the aspect of flowers, comedians, or sea creatures and in the next instant you could convince yourself that you were seeing a catalog of mushrooms, hats, or bubbles. 

Or maybe I’m nuts. But have a look.

A Dutchman’s hat.

Some tulips.

Tables, beetles, and trampolines.

An ascendant jelly-fish trailed by bubbles.

Laurel and Hardy.

And here, as one brand of fastener attests, are all manner of smooth and pock-marked toadstools.

Hair-dos on a sign in some unimaginative barber’s shop window.

Likewise, the attaching machines can be misconstrued -- here we have rows of black flamingoes.

Or peahens.

Or cobras.

I could go on and on, but before I start to sound too unhinged I better sign off until our next Ephemera Files installment.