Brooklyn Public Library


Golden City USA

Nov 4, 2014 11:29 AM | 0 comments

When New Yorkers dream of summer fun at an amusement park by the sea, most turn their thoughts to Coney Island. However, 100 years ago they might have been dreaming about Canarsie’s Golden City Park. The popular yet often forgotten amusement park opened in the summer of 1907 to a crowd of 25,000. Built on Jamaica Bay by Warner’s Canarsie Amusement Company, the park relied on the recently extended railroad system to deliver daytrippers from all over the city.

An undated rendering of the park in its heyday.

Golden City delighted attendees with amusement park staples such as a rollercoaster, carousels, arcades, a tunnel of love and a ferris wheel. The park also included more non-traditional rides such as the “Human Laundry” which took people though a wash cycle, including a spin dry and laundry chute. Games such as “Kill the Kat” allowed patrons to test their aim and win prizes by hurling baseballs at toy cats. Braver visitors could take a trip through the park’s funhouse, navigating by boat though dark tunnels where ghosts and devils were waiting.

Above and below, two views of Golden City rollercoasters.

Below, a 1929 Belcher Hyde desk atlas image of the park labels the various attractions, including a carousel, The Whip, circle swings, and fun house.

In addition to the rides, the park staged a number of live shows at “The Barbary Coast” amusement hall, allowing Broadway stars to try out new material before bringing the act to the major stages in Manhattan. The park’s most popular live action show, “The Robinson Crusoe Show” was a 22 minute telling of the Daniel Defoe novel that cost the park $60,000 to stage. It took 14 motors to move 60,000 square feet of scenery during the performance.

A May 19, 1907 ad from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle declares the many attractions on offer.

Wandering the park, one could stumble upon a live action Native American village, an animal oddities display or even a motorcycle show where daredevil drivers reached speeds of 80 miles an hour. The audience loved death-defying performers such as Arthur Holden, who twice a day dived from a height of 110 feet into a tub of water only 4 feet deep. Tamer acts such as King Pharaoh, a horse billed as an animal with “the intelligence of a human being”, wowed audiences by spelling and solving math problems.

A Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from the park's opening summer highlighted this surprising feat -- an automobile rolling down a ski-jump track to turn a somersault in the air before landing safely on an adjacent ramp.

During Golden City’s nearly 30 years of operation it was plagued by a number of devastating fires. In 1909, a fire that began in one of the park’s restaurants quickly spread, causing $200,000 worth of damage and destroying the restaurant, dance hall, photography gallery and office. The park was able to resume normal operations, but was the victim of fire again in 1912 when the Tunnel of Love was destroyed. The park was already losing money when a 1934 fire damaged the park so badly that management refused to rebuild. Golden City sat unoccupied until 1939, when it was razed to clear space for the new Belt Parkway.

The park is long gone, but need not be forgotten. Next time you’re visiting Canarsie Pier or driving over the parkway, take a moment and turn your thoughts to Golden City. Think of the rides, shows and thousands of happy New Yorkers spending summer days at the city’s lost amusement park.

Dirt for Dirt's Sake: the trials of Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer"

Sep 22, 2014 5:18 PM | 2 comments

In observance of Banned Books Week, the Brooklyn Collection offers this tale taken straight from the institutional archives of Brooklyn Public Library.

On July 11, 1963 a stern memo was distributed to every library throughout the borough of Brooklyn:




The New York State Court of Appeals ruled on July 10, 1963 that TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller is obscene under the New York State obscenity law.  The following action must be taken immediately:

  1. No copy is to be loaned to any branch or individual beginning immediately.
  2. No reserves can be taken on this title.
  3. Reserves which are being held by agencies for this title should be returned to the addressee through the mail with the following statement typed on the back of the postal "This reserve cannot be filled due to the decision of the New York State Court of Appeals - July 10, 1963"

After months of debate and controversy, the decision had come down from New York State's Court of Appeals: Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer was banned.  Judge John F. Scileppi called the book "dirt for dirt's sake", which is almost a compliment compared to the more strongly worded opinion from Pennsylvania judge Michael Musmanno, who in 1966 described Tropic of Cancer as, "not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity." 

For those who haven't read this oft-banned tome, it is a first-person account of a writer's life in Paris during the 1920s and 30s, with many frank descriptions of sexual exploits. It was because of these that the book was banned in the United States after its original publication in 1934.  It was nearly 30 years later that the book was finally published in the United States, at which point obscenity trials popped up all over the country to keep the controversial novel out of readers' hands.

As a result of the New York Court of Appeals decision on July 10, 1963, anyone distributing, selling or even -- and of particular concern to libraries -- loaning Henry Miller's risque novel would be in violation of the law.  Brooklyn Public Library took immediate action to be in compliance; all copies of the book in the system (approxmately 400 total) were sent to the office of the Assistant Chief Librarian, Margaret Freeman, and all catalog cards indexing the book were removed from files. 

Without a catalog card like the one above, users of the library would have no way of knowing the library had ever held copies of Tropic of Cancer, much less if any of them were available for reading.

Memos from branch librarians poured in from all over the borough as staff worked to track down every last copy.

Even before the ruling, the book's position on Brooklyn Public Library shelves was tenuously held (which is especially unfortunate when you consider that the author grew up in this borough, at 662 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg).  The Philadelphia Free Library withdrew its copies from circulation in December of 1961 in reaction to maneuvers by that city's District Attorney to have circulation suspended.  Throughout 1962 complaints rolled in from patrons concerned about children finding (and being corrupted by) the book in their local branch library while a flurry of letters between Brooklyn Public Library's Chief Librarian, Francis R. St. John, and heads of other institutions throughout the country grappled with the question of how to restrict access to the book to mature readers.  A staff memo from March of that year outlined a policy whereby catalog cards and index listings of the book would be excised from the record, but adult patrons who specifically asked for the book could reserve it. 

Francis R. St. John and Margaret Freeman were asked to testify on the issue before the Kings County Grand Jury in January of 1962.  After grilling Freeman on the ins and outs of Brooklyn Public Library's collection policy, Assistant District Attorney Louis Ernst gave her a copy of the book and asked her to read aloud a passage from page five in mixed company.  Freeman demurred, with the caveat that there are many books she would not read in mixed company.  Other questions centered on whether or not the book had a plot (Freeman's answer: "No"), whether it was purchased because of the notoriety of the author (again, "No") and whether Freeman thought the book was obscene (a qualified "No"). 

Definitions of key terms, in Freeman's handwriting, presumably in preparation for her court appearance.

St. John was also invited to read the infamous passage from page five before the group.  When St. John replied that he didn't think that targeting discrete paragraphs was a fair way to judge the totality of a book, Ernst continued to page six and asked St. John to read from that page instead.  St. John stood his ground, and Ernst indicated that he'd go through the entire book if he had to, page by page, with St. John refusing at every turn to read aloud in polite company.  St. John coolly replied that he'd be happy to read the whole book to the Grand Jury, noting that it had taken him a full 3 hours to read it himself the night before, and that reading out loud was generally slower going than reading to oneself.  I can't help but feel a certain pride by association with St. John's maneuver; a true librarian, he was, in effect, threatening to bore the Grand Jury into submission with a marathon reading of a plotless novel.  The Grand Jury also requested a list of patrons who had borrowed the book, ostensibly so that they could be brought into court to testify.  The library resisted, citing the confidentiality of patron records, and no subpeoena was issued.

After the July 1963 ruling, once the book was pulled from shelves, indignant patrons and staff alike wrote to support their right to read what they chose.  The library was in a difficult position -- the book selection policy and mission of the institution explicity stated "It is the function of the public library in America today to provide the means through which all people may have free access to the thinking on all sides of all ideas."  To excise a book from the collection because some found its ideas challenging was against the core principles of the institution and its staff.  On the other hand, as a publicly funded entity, the library could not openly defy the law of the land.  After an uneasy year, the Supreme Court ruled in June of 1964 that Miller's book could not constitutionally be banned, decisively closing the issue and upholding American's right to read what they chose. 

Among the many opinions offered on the alleged obscenity of Miller's book and the public's right to read it, my favorite comes from Margaret Freeman, who typed this eloquent (and unfortunately undated) memo at some point during the uproar. 

Today, patrons can check out Tropic of Cancer from Brooklyn Public Library in three different languages (English, Russian, and Polish).  They can download it as an ebook and surreptitiously enjoy its lascivious passages among morning commuters on the subway or romping children in their local park.  The truly bold can hear every f-bomb and s-word in an audiobook version, voiced by actor Campbell Scott.  If you go that route, I recommend doing so in mixed company.

Williamsburg: Then & Now

Aug 27, 2014 7:06 PM | 0 comments

Our collection of photographs by Anders Goldfarb are some of the most contemporary images in our holdings aside from those taken by Jamel Shabazz. However, unlike Shabazz who captures the personalities of Brooklynites, Goldfarb mostly captures the personalities of the borough's dilapidated buildings. In a 2012 interview with Goldfarb, Peter Mattei asked: "What emotion do you feel when you see these buildings? What makes you want to photograph them?"

"It's a form of compassion I think I have for the building," Goldfarb replied, "because they're old and the old as a rule tend to perish and I feel bad for them ..."

Goldfarb's explanation certainly holds true for many an old building in New York City and debates abound on whether gentrification is driving or repulsing this movement in Brooklyn's own neighborhoods. In a city increasingly obsessed with brownstones and loft conversions, my own inclination is to err on the side of preservation: that caring for these buildings is making a comeback. Lucky for us, the Brooklyn Collection possesses some great evidence to inform both sides of the debate, so you can decide for yourself. Our collection of Goldfarb's offers a fascinating smattering of photos from pre-gentrified Williamsburg. Situating these alongside current Google images of the same addresses offers food for thought on both ends of the spectrum:

Driggs and N. 8th Street, 1998

Apparently not much has changed for this old building, including the curtains and blinds!


Driggs and N. 8th Street, September 2013


Bedford between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, December 1997

Here the pizza restaurant remains while the liquor store has been replaced by a hat shop (established in 1895 evidently, but not at this location!).

Bedford between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, September 2013

Intersection of Throop and Lorimer Streets Williamsburg, February 1999


Intersection of Throop and Lorimer Streets Williamsburg, September 2013


Bedford and N. 5th Street, January 1997


Bedford and N. 5th Street, September 2013


Berry Street between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, January 1999


Berry Street between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, September 2013


Intersection of Bedford Avenue and N. 9th Street, 1987


One of my favorite comparisons ... it seems to sum up the transition in Williamsburg between 1987 and today perfectly.

Intersection of Bedford Avenue and N. 9th Street, September 2013


As the following photos show, buildings are not the only New York City relics that have endured a bit of a makeover since the 1980s and 90s:

L Train Williamsburg, January 1988

Some for the better ...

All Aboard, March 8, 2009 A. Strakey

... and some debatably for the worse.

East Williamsburg, March 18, 1989

Anders Goldfarb


Bedford Avenue near N. 9th Street, May 1995

A Look at the Year Ahead: Brooklyn Connections

Aug 22, 2014 12:48 PM | 0 comments

We at Brooklyn Connections are gearing up for our 8th year reaching out to local schools, teaching research skills and learning about local history.  With an exciting two-year, $400,000 grant from the New York Life Foundation and additional generous funding from The Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund, David and Paula Weiner Memorial Grant, The Hearst Foundation, Inc., Tiger Baron Foundation, and Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, we can continue our efforts of teaching authentic historical research to students around Brooklyn!

Students at PS/ IS 163 learned about transit history.  They wrote and performed a play about their research findings!

Thanks to our generous funders, Brooklyn Connections will be able to expand in several important ways:

*Additional staffing will allow us to serve an impressive 32 partner schools.

*Connections educators will continue to write lessons and curricula that are Common Core and AASL aligned.

*Each partner school will receive a collection of Brooklyn history books, maps and other materials, ensuring that research can take place in the classroom.

*A pilot program for selected Brooklyn Public Library branches to introduce a mini-Brooklyn Collection.

*Targeted outreach campaign to reach underserved neighborhoods including Bedford-Stuyvesant/ Weeksville, Brownsville, Canarsie, Cypress Hills, East New York, and Spring Creek.

*Connections staff will organize two teacher open houses and several free teacher workshops that will focus on developing research skills in the classroom and local history.  These sessions will be open to all New York City educators.

Teachers touring the Brooklyn Collecton

*Presentations at local and national conferences including the National Council for History Education in March.

*We will work with Pratt University to provide professional development opportunities for MLS students.

*The completion of an 8-module social movements curriculum funded by the David and Paula Weiner Memorial Grant.

If you are a teacher, school administrator, parent or other education-minded Brooklynite who is interested in bringing Brooklyn Connections to a classroom near you, please check out our website.  We are currently accepting applications for partner schools for the 2014-2015 school year.

A Digest of a Different Sort

Aug 5, 2014 1:25 PM | 1 comment

Last week I was looking for a piece of ephemera for a project packet I was creating on Brownsville when I stumbled across something different: a digest, if you will. This digest then went on to change the entire course of my day. How did one small magazine change the entire course of my day, you ask? Well, I immediately stopped looking for information on Brownsville, that's how. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading about sports, history, restaurants, and women in "The Magazine For Brooklyn, About Brooklyn, In Brooklyn."

Brooklyn Digest Magazine was a small monthly magazine published out of the old Ridgewood Times Building on Cypress Avenue. Side note: The Ridgewood Times Building is quite different as well. Built in 1932, the newspaper castle (I mean, look at those merlons!) was taken over by a public school in the 1960s and is now condos and a Rent-A-Center. Such is the way of the world, eh? Oh, if you want to see the old Ridgewood Times, we can help you with that too. 


852 Cypress Avenue - Map Data: Google Maps, 2014

I am not sure when the magazine started and I don't actually know when it ended, either. I did try to cross-reference some of the information I found in The Digest with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, but when I searched for 'different digest' all I found was this snide looking Cream of Rice child:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 Feb 1943. 

I'm sure with a bit more digging I'll be able to find more information as to The Digest's specifics. I'll keep you posted. 

I do know that the Brooklyn Collection has four issues in the ephemera files: July, September, November of '46 and January of '47. Each issue was ¢15 or you could pay $1.50 for a year's subscription.

As expected, the stories and articles inside revolved around Brooklyn. These little booklets had their work cut out for them, as Brooklyn was and is a pretty big borough. As you'll see, they did a decent job covering all of their bases: 

You've got your feature!

In November of 1946, Gene Tierney was hot. Brooklyn born with a "love for fresh paint and gasoline," she was all over the silver screen and Brooklyn couldn't have been prouder. Below is a photo of Gene from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's portrait collection. She was a looker, no joke.  

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "Gene Tierney." Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.

In January of 1947 the feature was funnyman Mickey Rooney (who was also adorable, am I right?).

You've got your sports!

Some of the sports columns detailed past games or future matches, while others were just lists of incredibly relevant and helpful facts. Apparently the average speed of a hockey puck is 88 miles per hour. Golly gee, thanks Different Digest!

You've got your history!

The Digest had stories about old Brooklyn and some old Brooklynites: Coney Island, the Battle of Brooklyn, Whitman, Gershwin. One of them, coincidently the one about Walt Whitman, was written by George Wakefield, the former head of General Reference at the Central Branch of BPL (hey, that's where I work!) and, at the time of writing (July of '46) he was the Branch Manager at the Bedford Branch.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "Bedford." 195-?. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.

George Wakefield is pictured here with his colleagues at the Bedford Branch. He is the gentleman in the back on the left. 

You've got your humor!

From a section entitled "In Brooklyn It Happened."

Wild Bill Ames, the mimic-king from Ridgewood, tells of the nun who found a hundred dollar bill on Central Avenue. Not wishing to keep the money, the sister approached an ill-shaven character leaning against a poolroom window, handed over the large bill and said, "God Speed!" The next day the ill-kempt man knocked at the convent door, and when the Mother Superior opened the door the individual gave her $800. While the mother looked at him in astonishment, the man ejaculated, "Give this to Sister Francis; tell her that 'God Speed' paid seven to one." 

You've also got some pretty fantastic cartoons scattered throughout. In light of all we know about the Gowanus, this one is pretty spot on. 

Now that's a merman any Brooklynite could love!

The editors of The Digest felt that Brooklyn had long been glossed over by travel guide writers. The September '46 issue contained a Brooklyn Pocket Guide:

(FYI - Baedeker is this guy.)

The Pocket Guide touched on a variety of topics including but not limited to:

"The Geography: Brooklyn is a territory bounded on the west by a huge body of water described as the East River and on the north by a place known as New York City." 

"The Topography: The region's terrain is moderately level excepting the Myrtle El and Ebbets Field. The site of Coney Island, however, is never on the level." 

"The Geology: The striking aspect of the territory of Brooklyn is the number of underground chambers known as subways, generally used to quarter drunks and other such nondescript characters as Giant's fans who've fallen asleep coming from the Dodger game." 

"The Language: Philologists maintain that the greater part of the population by and large speaks two languages - English and Doubletalk. A strange and somewhat fictitious dialect has emerged for which a Bronx publisher has printed a "Brooklyn-English; English-Brooklyn" dictionary."


And, finally, you've got your ladies!

Brooklynology has reported on many past beauty pageants: grandmas, babies, beer. Beauty was big in the 1940s and 1950s and, what with the wars and the sailors and the like, finding a pinup girl in the middle of The Different Digest didn't surprise me. As expected, these girls were quintessential Brooklyn and each one of them came equiped with her own "Zoot Suitor from Brooklyn". 

Miss January - February 1947

Miss November 1946

Miss July 1946

These sweet, silly little monthlies were clever and, I assume, well-liked by their readers. Aside from the aforementioned sections, there were also restaurant guides and reviews, short stories, poems, and editorials.

What would today's Brooklyn Digest Magazine look like? Inevitably we'd have new faces and new topics, but surely the spirit would be similar: a cheekiness, a boldness, and a wealth of artistic talent. 

I do know one thing for sure, there are still smoking longshore(mer)men in the Gowanus.

Don't believe me?

I'll bet you two wooden nickels and a bottle cap.