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The right to bare arms

Jan 17, 2013 3:05 PM | 0 comments

W hrd tht sm f y r hvng prblm wth r spllng f th wrd Bklyn n r nw lg. Lt m jst sy, chll! Pprntly y hv nvr trd t lrn Hbrw.

If by chance you are thinking that the title above confirms your suspicion that some people--I might even say, some libraries--cannot be trusted to follow generally accepted rules of spelling--you would be wrong!  We have people here who are walking dictionaries, nay, ambulant lexicons! And we can run spellcheck!

Nor, I might add, are are we foolish enough to embroil ourselves here in an argument over gun control.  

No, our subject today is inspired by the viruses lurking this season on subway poles, door handles, the hands and faces of friends--influenza! Scientists first developed a flu vaccine in the 1940s, and by the 1950s Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was saving thousands of lives. A stable vaccination for smallpox also became available in the 1940s--a fact confirmed by the sudden appearance during the 1940s in our image files of a score of photographs showing people waiting for or enduring vaccinations.   

If you have recently undergone a flu shot at a pharmacy, you might have had to wait on line. I trust your experience, tedious as it might have been, was more comfortable than that of the long-suffering crowd above, shown standing in the rain at 8 p.m. on April 15, 1947 on Flatbush Ave Extension, waiting for their smallpox vaccination.


Here young people exercise their right to bare arms at Long Island College Hospital during the same vaccination drive. These images, almost all from 1947, beg the question, why was smallpox vaccination suddenly de rigueur? 

On March 8, 1947, a businessman named Eugene Le Bar left Mexico City for New York. Traveling by bus, he passed through Texas, parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey before reaching his destination. On March 10th, Mr. Le Bar died at  the Willard Parker Hospital for Contagious Diseases, located on the Lower East Side.  The cause of death was given as bronchitis with hemorrhages.

Less than two weeks later, a baby and a young man were admitted to hospital with suspected smallpox. Both had been at the Willard Parker Hospital during Mr Le Bar's stay. When tests revealed that all three were infected with smallpox, the City's Health Commissioner sprang into action, recommending that everyone who had not been vaccinated since childhood should receive the smallpox vaccine. Free vaccination clinics were set up all over the city. In all somewhere between 5 and 6 million people were vaccinated before the end of April, and a smallpox epidemic was averted.


Few people love having a needle stuck into their arm, but some approach this trial with more fortitude than others. This gentleman at the Red-Hook Gowanus Center looks less than happy. 

The grim-faced workers at Todd Shipyards steel themselves for the assault on their bared arms.

Perhaps this toddler doesn't quite know what's coming. The little fellow behind her is a trooper.

Waning eyesight can play strange tricks. At first glance the sign on the steps seemed to say, "Vaccinations To-Day 1 P.M. No Rednecks." I know New Yorkers can sometimes be prone to urban snobbery, but I did find that to be a surprising official communication.

I looked closer. It actually says "No Rechecks."

Those librarians. Can't spell, can't read....


Go, logo, go!

Jan 14, 2013 1:48 PM | 14 comments

If you've used the library website in the last few days, you may have noticed that Brooklyn Public Library sports a snazzy new logo and color scheme on its homepage. Gone is the sad little black box that for so long meekly defined our presence in the digital realm. There's something invigorating about the facelift that comes with rebranding -- it seems to signify a fresh start, a new direction. The library has gone through several such reincarnations over the years, and today's blog post concerns itself with the various iterations of the our logo, from classic to retro to ultramodern.  Think of it as the institutional equivalent of embarrassing photographs of yourself in 1970s bell-bottoms or 1980s shoulder pads.

The above book plate image appears, with minor variations, in the library's earliest materials.  Joy's blog post about our book plate collection goes into greater detail on the many iterations of the torch image with the Latin motto "Litterae, lux, scientiae".  Images like this one were employed to establish ownership of library materials or the provenance of book donations.  On some of our older books you will also see perforations on the front page that spell out "Brooklyn Public Library".  It may not be a logo, per se, but I do think its an interesting graphic rendering of our name.

Logos as we now know them -- a kind of iconic shorthand representing a larger concept -- started appearing in Brooklyn Public Library materials, as far as I can tell, in the 1960s. 

The above logo, from a 1967 BPL Bulletin, oozes mid-century-futuristic charm, while the masthead below, from ten years later, employs the iconic Brooklyn Bridge in a more nostalgic style.

One especially unique design campaign, which you will still see on our letterhead and on the signs at our many neighborhood branches, celebrated Brooklyn's status as a home to authors by incorporating the autographs of well-known writers from the borough, including Gay Talese, Isaac Asimov, Anais Nin, and Norman Mailer, among others.

It was also deployed on our library card design.  Residing as they do in the wallets and purses of hundreds of thousands of Brooklynites, library cards serve as a little plastic ambassador of the Brooklyn Public Library brand. 

Although they started out as purely functional, like the paper card above from 1954, library cards have transformed over the years to become a bit more colorful and playful.  Here are a few different designs you may remember (or maybe you are still carrying them around, even, in your bursting-at-the-seams wallet).


And lastly, here is the black box logo we've used for so many years, to which we now happily say goodbye, and thanks for the memories. 

Mail on the Mind

Jan 2, 2013 12:35 PM | 1 comment

Mail is on my mind. Perhaps it's because of the holiday season, or perhaps it is because every day I walk by this:

This beautiful mail slot next to the Brooklyn Collection's offices always makes me wonder about the story of Brooklyn's mail service. Has sending and receiving mail changed through the years? 

It is commonly said  that we live in a culture of instant gratification, from texting to emailing to tweeting; we want an answer and we want it now. We look fondly on the "olden days" when, we imagine, life was slower and more relaxed. But was it really? Perhaps a look at the history of Brooklyn's postal service will allow us to test that steadfast belief. 

An article about the schedule of mail in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1852 states that mail between New York City and the City of Brooklyn (remember Brooklyn was its own city until 1898) was dispatched three times a day, and once on Sunday. This means then, that a person in Brooklyn could send a piece of mail into Manhattan at 7am and expect it to arrive  within a couple of hours. But even this was not fast enough for the U.S. Postal Service.

Now you probably have heard of New York City's first "subway" the Beach Pneumatic Transit, which ran under Broadway from Warren Street to Murray Street in Manhattan and was built in 1870 (and is the origin of what is now known as the B/D line.) One could assume pneumatic tubes were all the rage, because soon after, the postal service got in to the game. In 1897 the pneumatic tube was introduced between Brooklyn and New York City. Using compressed air, a tube containing mail parcels running through the Brooklyn Bridge began pushing mail between the boroughs. 

27 minutes saved between NYC and Brooklyn! The tubes were working so well, petitions were created to extend them throughout Brooklyn.

By 1908 Brooklyn's pneumatic tube was extended to the Flatbush and Atlantic Ave depot. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle called it a "success" and said it "relieved congestion." But by 1916, with the appointment of a new Postmaster General, Albert S. Burleson, the tides turned. 

After his appointment, Postmaster General Burleson shut down the tubes for a little over five years. However, in 1921 -- the same year Postmaster Burleson retired -- the post tubes were re-animated and hailed once again for their "efficiency."

The pneumatic tubes were a hit! By 1933, it seemed like the pneumatic mail tube was the wave of the future for Brooklyn. Plans to build a connecting tube from Floyd Bennett Field to the Brooklyn tube depot at Atlantic were in the works:

But like most good things, pneumatic tubes came to an end. Citing high costs ($1,226,000/year to run the tubes versus $12,400/year for trucks) and issues of contracts and ownership between the City and private companies, the pneumatic mail tubes stopped running Brooklyn by the mid-1950s. 

In addition to bringing the mail more quickly than today, the pneumatic tube did something else amazing: it connected Brooklyn and Manhattan in a new way. Unlike the brash and overt subways and bridges, the pneumatic tubes quietly helped to solidify the newly formed New York City. Just as the circulatory system helps deliver blood and oxygen to the body, the pneumatic mail tubes delivered much-needed information to and between residents and integrated Brooklyn in The City. Additionally, the tubes exemplified the new era of technological advancement and innovative thought in post-war America.

The future was all around us--especially under our feet.