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The Answer to All of Life's Problems

Apr 28, 2011 5:00 PM | 1 comment

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was, for its entire run of over 100 years, a fount of crucial information for Brooklynites.  Covering news both local and global, it was a busy newspaper serving a busy metropolis.  But the Eagle was not content to merely report on the outer world; it wanted to tackle the thorny issues of the inner world as well.  Or so we can assume, once this headline began appearing in 1933.

Although these are questions many people struggle over for several years, if not an entire lifetime, the Eagle sought to solve these conundrums for its readers once and for all, with this offer:

"The Eagle has made an arrangement by which Dr. Byron Norton, noted psychoanalyst, will help Eagle readers solve personal life problems.  Fill out the questionnaire below, mail it with a self-addressed stamped envelope and 10 cents to Dr. Byron Norton, Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn, and you will receive a letter of advice on whom to marry and the vocation you are best fitted for."

Okay, so that offer itself isn't so revolutionary.  After all, newspapers had been doling out free advice to "Confused in Cleveland"s and "Mortified in Montgomery"s for the entertainment and edification of readers as far back as the 18th century.  But this particular offer wasn't a solicitation for heartrending hard-luck stories and scandalizing confessionals that could be printed on the page for the voyeuristic amusement of others.  No, this was to be a private correspondence with a "noted pscyhoanalyst".  Moreover, the path to enlightenment needn't involve a long, agonizing search into one's deepest soul... just fill out the simple questionnaire!

Yes, what about that questionnaire?  What are the eight questions that determine our choice of life partner and our vocation?  Grab a pen or pencil, and be mentally prepared for huge revelations:

Brooklyn, of course!  The greatest city in the world. 

Yes, both.

As opposed to making things with my feet?  Then yes.

Whoa, tough question!  I really have to think about that one.... do I like jig-saw puzzles?  Sure, I've completed a few, who hasn't?  But did I enjoy it?  I'll have to say a tentative yes.

Now slow down, Dr. Norton.  This is getting a little too personal, don't you think?

That's better, thank you.  Walking, of course, although swimming is a close second, because of the glorious beaches of Brooklyn's Coney Island.

Again, yes to both!  This is amazing... it's like Dr. Norton already knows everything about me!  I'm sure this next and final inquiry will pull the whole thing together, and ask that one question that, once answered truthfully, defines each of us to the core. 

Oh, the good doctor just had to end with a stumper!  Well, as something of a history buff, I guess I'd have to say I've always loved a good mystery. 

The Eagle continued its special arrangement with Dr. Norton through 1934, offering up at least two more self-help questionnaires:

...which asks if you are methodical and enjoy club life, and wonders if you know which game of cards your significant other likes best, and finally

which does actually get to the nitty gritty, with such pointed inquiries as, "Are you more interested in achievement or financial success?", "How many times do you take 'NO' for an answer before giving up?" and, my personal favorite, "Do you think men are mentally superior, or women?"

Since whatever correspondences these questionnaires  inspired between Dr. Byron Norton and soul-searching Brooklynites were never printed, we can only guess at what kind of advice was imparted, let alone whether or not it was followed.  My guess is that the good, practical people of Brooklyn took the doctor's medicine, whatever it may have been, with a grain of salt. 

Tearin' It Up

Apr 25, 2011 1:20 PM | 1 comment

This past summer I had the opportunity to teach a collage class. This four week workshop sponsored by the Brooklyn Collection and AMMS (the Arts, Media, Music and Sports Division) was open to anybody of any age and skill level, from accomplished artists to absolute beginners. The overarching theme was "What I like about Brooklyn."  To get things started we looked at the wonderful collage panels of Romare Bearden called "The Block," his homage to Harlem.  Following in Bearden's footsteps, our intrepid  group, which ranged from ages 8 to 80, was soon ripping and cutting up magazines, newspapers and copies of historical maps, photographs, City Directories, colored paper, etc.     

The result is a selection of provocative and personal artwork and that reflects the diversity and color that is Brooklyn. It's on display now in our exhibition cases in the Brooklyn Collection on the second floor of the Central Library and can be viewed during the Collection's open hours (Tues and Thurs 1-7:30, Wed and Sat 1-5:30, Fri 10-1).

Our first collage, by octogenarian Rioghan Kirchner depicts the vibrancy of her favorite locale -- Eastern Parkway, in Prospect Heights.  She colorfully depicts the motley crowd that congregates along this grand boulevard. With the Brooklyn Museum as a backdrop she shows the array of young and old and Caribbean and Hasidic culture, in a kaleidoscope of urban life. 


Rosa is passionate about the Brooklyn's cultural expressions, from the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, to the Brooklyn Academy of Music and all the sounds, songs, and visual art to be found around the borough. 


It was inevitable that the Brooklyn Dodgers would loom large in someone's work.  Leonard drew on his childhood memories of sneaking into Ebbets Field to fashion a collage dedicated to da bums and their devoted fans. 


Jordan LOVES Brooklyn pizza, and could eat it EVERY DAY if his mother let him. He's tried about every pizza shop in Bedford Stuyvesant, Park Slope and Prospect Heights.  I know, 'cause as his Mom I've had to take him there.  Our most recent excursion was to Saraghina's on Halsey Street in Bedford Stuyvesant. The Pizza Margherita was scrumptious, and when I asked Jordan how it was I all got back was "nom, nom, nom".  He has yet to visit the legendary Totono's in Coney Island, or Grimaldi's in Dumbo. (By the way I had such a craving for Grimaldi's pizza when I was seven months pregnant--with twins no less--I hopped my round-bellied self onto the B25 bus and... wait a all makes sense now...) At any rate, Jordan chose to create his ode to pizza incorporating the familiar red and white delivery box.


BFF's Ruby and my daughter April collaborated on this collage of old and new Brooklyn. Ruby loves old-fashioned long  dresses with bows, while April is drawn to anything prefixed by the letter "i-".  Rather than creating conflict, these differences underpin their ability to appreciate Brooklyn's rich history while embracing it's future.   


As befits her calling as an educator, Andrea is very much concerned with child abuse, domestic violence, and the cycle of poverty that affects so many in our neighborhoods. The gray background literally torn from phone books and newspapers serves as a contrast to the young woman whose pain is as intense as fire.  


When I was a teenager one of the first poems that made an impression on me was "Alabama Poem" by Nikki Giovanni.  The first line "If trees could talk wonder what they'd say"  stuck with me my entire life and nurtured my love of and respect for trees.  One of the nicest things about working here at the Central Branch of Brookyn Public Library is that Prospect Park and the Botanic Gardens are so close by.  It is easy to take a lunchtime respite from a busy day and walk among the still, old, towering giants. "If trees could talk, I wonder what they'd tell me..."  

Maria was fascinated by the streets of Brooklyn, and how they were named.  Employing an old map and a TON of research her collage is loaded with information.


Monique's favorite things about Brookyn are the playgrounds and parks. Her collage, so happy and filled with the innocence and exuberance of children at play just puts a smile on your face.



Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York to present on April 27th

Apr 24, 2011 12:04 PM | 0 comments

Charlie Fourquet of the Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York will give a free illustrated talk on how to explore your Hispanic roots here in the Brooklyn Collection, second floor, Central Library, on  Wednesday April 27, 2011 from 7-8 p.m. Wine and cheese will be served from 6:30 to 7.

Gertrude Hoffman, Outlaw Dancer

Apr 21, 2011 10:40 AM | 2 comments

I wrapped up last week's introduction to the early 20th century dancer, Gertrude Hoffman, with a promise of more tales of scandal and glamour to come.  As usual, a trip to "the morgue" unearthed several gems from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  Gertrude Hoffman made her first major impression on New York audiences in 1908, when a debacle erupted over her interpretation of the "Salome" dance at Oscar Hammerstein's Roof Garden in Manhattan.  The dance was based on the biblical story of the execution of John the Baptist; more to the dismay of prudish audiences, it involved the shedding of seven veils and a love scene with a decapitated head.  (If you're wondering what's so shocking about this, you're in luck!  The Museum of the Moving Image is screening a 1923 film of the Salome dance Sunday, April 24th, at 4:30pm.  It's not Hoffman dancing, but it is still a beautiful production).  Hoffman had seen Maud Allen perform the dance in Europe, and was quick to bring the equally artful and titillating routine to the American vaudeville stage. 

A veiled Hoffman is ready for her close-up.

If the allusion to striptease inherent in the dance wasn't enough to shock audiences, the costuming surely promised to push the boundaries of public morality.  Indeed, it seemed the production was designed to induce a collective gasp.  Before the show even opened, rumors abounded in papers like the Utica Herald-Dispatch as to just how little Hoffman would be wearing onstage. 

After Hoffman began her nightly sheddding of veils, critics were focused more intently on her much-hyped costuming choices than on her dancing.  In its review of the new show, on July 14, 1908, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Hoffman "appeared in the famous transparent drop skirt so much as been written about.  Like Miss Allan, she does not see the necessity of wearing tights, shoes or stockings, while a corselet and a few drop pearls is the only decoration used above the waist."

It was this aversion to "tights, shoes or stockings" that would get Hoffman into hot water.  On July 23, 1909, the audience at the Roof Garden held not only the usual mix of sophisticated urbanites out on the town, but also a few New York police, who waited impatiently and, we can only imagine, uncomfortably, in the wings while Hoffman finished her nightly spectacle.  As Hoffman described the incident to the New York Times the next day, she was just leaving the stage when she was stopped by Captain George Walden and Lieutenant Frank Rathgeber and asked:

"Excuse me, Miss Hoffman, but do you wear tights in your act?"

To which the dancer replied, "Certainly I do."

When the policemen asked for proof, Hoffman declined, and was promptly arrested for what the Eagle delicatedly described as "a marked lack of drapery".  The New York Times was a good deal more specific: Hoffman had violated "Section 1.530 of the Penal Code by offending public decency." 

It wasn't the first time Hoffman would be accused of dancing blissfully across the line of propriety -- in March of 1909 she had been arrested in Kansas City for performing "barefooted and bare ankled and almost bare-kneed" at that town's Shubert Theater, according to the Kansas City Journal.  Nor would it be the last.  Another police investigation came in 1917, in Chicago, followed by an arrest in St. Louis later that same year.  She was eventually acquitted of the St. Louis charges in what was seen as a victory for the arts.  As the New York Clipper optimistically reported in December of 1917, "the decision will wipe out forever the official prudery that has long made the middle west a standing joke among lovers of art."

But it is perhaps too easy to cast Hoffman as a high-minded artist suffering at the hands of a crude, unenlightened public.  In his compendium on all things vaudevillian, No Applause, Just Throw Money, Brooklynite Trav S.D. asserts that at least some of Hoffman's arrests were in fact merely publicity stunts, arranged in advance by her producer.  Although I've yet to track down the original source for this bit of juicy gossip, the tale is corroborated in Michael Capuzzo's book about a series of shark attacks that plagued beachgoers in 1916, Close to Shore: a true story of terror in an age of innocence.  (You may be wondering why Hoffman's name comes up in a book about shark attacks... well, that's a story for another day).  After looking into Hoffman's history, the faked arrests seem not only plausible, but likely.  In newspaper clippings, she often comes across as a turn-of-the-century reality star; one of those attention-hungry celebrities who is ever willing to stir up trouble for herself in slavish devotion to the idea that any publicity is good publicity.

Hoffman done up as a peacock... how fitting!

At the very least, Hoffman was a performer who never hesitated to turn lemons into lemonade (or better yet, cash; or better still, attention).  Seeking restitution for her rough treatment in Kansas City, the dancer sued those who had her arrested for $100,000 in 1909.  With a typical show of chutzpah, Hoffman promised the New York Times that she'd personally lend an "added attraction" to the trial proceedings by dancing the scandalous Salome on the courtroom floor. 

Kosher for Passover

Apr 19, 2011 5:01 PM | 1 comment

During the 1960s and 70s, amateur photographer Irving I. Herzberg spent his Sundays among the Hasidim of Williamsburg becoming a familiar and trusted figure in the community. While his interests were varied, ranging from subway scenes to the Coney Island boardwalk, Herzberg's Williamsburg photographs are among the most cherished in our collection, attracting ongoing interest among the descendants and friends of many of the subjects. To celebrate the season, here is a selection of Herzberg's Passover photographs. To see almost all the Herzbergs in the Brooklyn Collection, click here.

Kosher for Passover Silver Polish c. 1970

Kosher for Passover Cosmetics, c. 1970

[Two Hasidic boys looking out window] c. 1970

Backyards with clotheslines 1970

Rolling the matzo dough, c. 1970

Putting the matzos into the oven c. 1970

Hasidic boy sweeping steps c. 1970

[Burning of the leavened breads], 1965