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Famous Brooklyn Alumni

Feb 13, 2012 11:29 AM | 10 comments

I've been working steadily for the past few weeks to prepare a guide to our Brooklyn yearbook collection, which, as faithful readers will recall, has been mentioned before in the pages of this blog.  Knowing that Brooklyn has been home to so many famous people throughout the years, I couldn't help but wonder if we were perhaps sitting on a goldmine of before-they-were-famous photographs of Brooklyn-bred geniuses.  Could Woody Allen's (that is, Allen Konigsberg's) senior picture from Midwood High be tucked away in our stacks?  How about candid shots of Neils Diamond and Sedaka humming through the halls of Abraham Lincoln High School?  Or heroic images of Vincent Lombardi dominating the football field during his time at St. Francis Prepatory School? 

After a fair bit of research and cross-checking, I was able to find in the pages of our yearbooks a few former Brooklynites who went on to great fame in their respective endeavors.  Without further ado, I present you with a Brooklyn Collection puzzler!  Below are the fuzzed-out yearbook photographs of four Brooklyn high school alumni.  I'll give the year they graduated and the high school they attendend, along with a clue to the reason for their fame.  The rest, I leave to you!  Anyone who can guess any of their true identities wins my deep respect.  I'll post the answers, along with the senior photographs, this coming Thursday.  Let the guessing begin!

Alumna # 1

This petite, plucky actress was a singer at Lafayette High School, and after graduating in 1964 went on to gain fame not for singing sweet melodies, but for cracking wise on a popular TV sitcom.




Who is she?


Alumnus #2

This graduate of Sheepshead Bay High School, class of 1965, may lack the long roster of achievements enjoyed by many of his classmates, but he more than made up for it in his professional life, as an Emmy-winning writer for one of TV's most popular sitcoms.




Who is he?




Alumna #3

This ambitious student served as both Class Treasurer and Class President during her time at James Madison High School, from which she graduated in 1960.  Knowing the path her professional life would follow, it comes as no surprise that she readily took on the mantle of authority at so young an age.

Who is she?


Alumnus #4 

This graduate from Lafayette High School's class of 1951 had big dreams of becoming a radio announcer after finishing college, and would indeed become famous for his gift of gab. 




Who is he?

Postscript: the Coney Island House Register

Feb 8, 2012 10:59 AM | 4 comments

For those of you fascinated by the idea that Poe, Melville and friends might have met at Coney Island, and for those certain they could not possibly have done so, here is a scan of the full page of the hotel register for Wednesday September 5th, 1849.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Feb 2, 2012 5:53 PM | 0 comments

Although it has been a bizarrely mild winter thus far, we would be remiss if we failed to seek the wisdom of nature's own weatherman, the groundhog. 

The news is already out that Staten Island Chuck didn't see his shadow, which ensures we will glide comfortably into spring.  Unless you subscribe to the Punxsutawney Phil forecast, which claims we're in for six weeks of real winter weather, the likes of which we have yet to see this year.  No need to worry, groundhogs have disagreed before.

Dissension among the rodent ranks, 1931.

It seems that the general logic behind the rodent-as-forecaster tradition is that animals (because they are presumably more in touch with nature) have a sixth sense about weather patterns, and so observing their hibernation patterns can give us an idea of what to expect; a cold winter or a mild one.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle first mentioned these potentially prophetic powers of the groundhog in February of 1878, when it reprinted a piece from the Boston Post.  

"'An old trapper says this is going to be a very cold Winter.  Even the muskrats are building storm doors to their residences.'  People must indeed to hard pressed to exercise their superstitions if they will entertain prophecy second hand from a muskrat.  The amphibious wretch has no truth in him, and even his selfishness and possibly low cunning cannot supply the place of those intuitive endowments, those backward signalings of fate and futurity that distinguish some of the more honorable speciments of the rodent family, the ground hog for example."

It makes you wonder if perhaps the reporter was bitten by a muskrat at some point.  What else would explain his distrust of the species?

Perhaps it is simply the groundhog's photogenic cuteness, not to mention its apparent willingness to pose in glasses, that has ensured its high honor as weather prophet among its rodent bretheren (at least, we hope the often-bespectacled groundhog is posing willingly throughout the pages of the Eagle, the alternative being taxidermy).  Although the reigning celebrity groundhogs like our Staten Island Chuck and Punxsutawney Phil may enjoy a comfortable lifestyle (only one day of work a year!), the life of a forecasting groundhog does not appear to have been glamorous through the 20th century.  In 1933 the Eagle reported the untimely demise of a groundhog named Willie, who "was to have done his Groundhog Day stuff on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, where reporters, photographers and radio announcers were waiting to have him let out of a synthetic 'hole' to look for his shadow."  En route to his media debut, as Willie was carried in a cage along 52nd Avenue, the born burrower busted free and ran off, only to be hit by a passing car.  In 1951, the rodent prophet from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin -- which touted itself as the Ground Hog Capital of Wisconsin -- died from exposure.  Needless to say, winter continued unrelentingly that year.

The worst suffering endured by a groundhog may have come at the hands of New York's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.  In February of 1935 the mayor declared that he would debunk the myth of groundhog prognostication once and for all.  To this end, he had a little pen with a burrow built in City Hall Park and borrowed a couple of groundhogs from the Central Park Zoo to occupy it.  A crowd of reporters and onlookers gathered on February 2nd to witness the forecast, which was mixed; one groundhog ran back into its hole, and the other stayed out "enjoy the scenery". 

The divided opinion between the two groundhogs would have proven the Mayor's point nicely, had it not been for allegations that came out the next day, February 3rd, accusing LaGuardia of poking the slumbering groundhogs with an electric needle to roust them from their cozy burrow and into the harsh light of flashing cameras.  The Mayor had announced that the prophesying would begin at high noon, and Eagle reporter Maxwell Hamilton smelled a rat when he noted LaGuardia's confidence in the time of the groundhogs' emergence.  Hamilton wrote, "Why, it's a known fact that in previous years groundhog editors had been on the job from 6 a.m. until sundown, uncertain as they were of the animal's debut.  And here was a fellow who would have them come out when he was darn good and ready." 

LaGuardia's groundhogs, happily cavorting of their own free will, or running for their lives from the sting of a hot poker?

If LaGuardia had indeed had the groundhog pen hotwired to his Mayoral desk, as Hamilton alleged, the entire results of the experiment had to be discounted.  Groundhogs acting under fear of electrocution could be excused for incorrectly assessing the weather conditions.  It is also entirely possible that the Eagle reporter trumped up the conspiracy theory to squeeze a bit more copy out of an already tired annual ritual. 

Still and all, it doesn't take a long memory to recall another mayor's troubled relationship with the Marmot monax.  After being bitten on the finger by a groundhog in 2009, Mayor Bloomberg will most likely never sidle up to the creature the way this United Airlines flight attendent did in this 1954 meet-cute between beauty and beast.

Indeed, our mayor would more likely appreciate the humor of Benny Zame, below, a Brooklyn butcher who in 1950 showed that he, for one, wasn't touting the revered groundhog as any kind of sacred cow.  More like a delectable pig.