Brooklyn Public Library


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. 

The Quiet, Colorful Moments of Irving Herzberg

Jul 14, 2014 4:33 AM | 2 comments

Irving Herzberg (1915-1992) is perhaps best known for capturing personal, candid moments. The Brooklyn Collection houses Herzberg's life's work; over 2,300 images of day-to-day Brooklynites: a woman with her tired baby, a man looking at totem poles, and children stuffing their faces with cotton candy. The Brooklyn Collection also has some amazingly terrifying photos of the plane crash that shook up Park Slope in the winter of 1960 and a wealth of photos that he took of Brooklyn's traditionally closed Hasidic community. Herzberg spent 10 years, Sunday after Sunday, sitting and talking with leaders in the community developing a relationship that eventually granted him access that few photographers have been given. You can view more photos from Hasidic Brooklyn here and here.

His images are chiefly black and white, sometimes quiet, and often personal, yet much of his work has a humor and lightness as well. It would be hard to take photos of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club without having a sense of humor.

Yet, to me, Herzberg's most personal work was never framed for exhibitions at galleries or museums. His most personal work sits in a tiny archival box in the 'map room' next to my desk. It is one thing to take the photo, another to be the subject. Along with the photos from the Hasidic community, the plethora of shots from Coney Island and the subways, the Brooklyn Collection has over 200 small color Kodachrome slides taken in the early 1950s. They are personal photos from vacations and holidays; his own quiet moments.

It was so enjoyable going through each of the small slides, each one taking me back to a time when each photo was precious. You couldn't delete the ones that were blurry or crop out the man unabashedly photo-bombing your beach day family portrait. You had 36 photos and you had to make them count. What's more, you couldn't document every moment of Thanksgiving or Instagram the turkey on your plate. You took one. That one photo encompassed all the memories from that one day.

Below are a smattering of Herzberg's images from that tiny box, all of them taken with a photographer's keen eye for composition and color.

For some of the photos, the aim of the photo was clearly art.

A longtime Coney Island resident, others showcase the diversity of Herzberg's favorite subject: Brooklyn.

- These ladies are lunching, for real -

- These kids are lunching, for real, too -

Many of the images are from a trip to the beach. With few exceptions, none of the slides have any acknowledgement as to their subject or the date. A few have 1954 written on them, others 1952. This beach adventure happened sometime in the early 1950s. The coloring on the Kodachrome slides is fantastic, something that many an iPhone app has attempted to emulate. There is nothing quite like the real thing, though.

- Herzberg's wife and son - 

The box contains so many memories. All of them are lost on me, as I wasn't there, but by using my imagination and my own sense of nostalgia, I can almost picture the corresponding memories. Below are photos of Herzberg's family: his son, daughter, and wife.

- This is one of my favorites -

We all have a family photo where no one is doing what they were supposed to do. Dad is looking down, mom has her eyes closed, Grandpa fell asleep, etc. The Herzberg family has one too. These photos are always the most honest, as how often are families truly quiet and still, smiling and facing forward? The posed photos, of course, get the frame; the others get deleted or stuck in a box under the bed. We're pulled to remember the good things, the smiling, happy, posed things.

But who is to say that a photo of sleeping grandpa isn't a good thing? That distracted dad isn't something to be remembered? The photo below is another one of my personal favorites.

Finally, these gems. Herzberg took two photos in this same spot, one with his color Kodachrome film, and another with his standard camera. Yes, he is in a lawn ornament display.

 - A selfie, pre-selfie -

As always, Mr. Herzberg, thanks for sharing.

Before "organic" was even a notion...

Jul 9, 2014 9:00 AM | 0 comments

In an unusual confluence of the World War I centennial observation and the height of harvesting season, a small, curious cache of photographic images found its way to the Brooklyn Collection. Twenty six lantern slides and seven photographic prints, presumably from 1919, depict a group of Brooklyn youngsters and their teachers tending vegetable plots. A couple of them feature the Park Commissioner John N. Harman as well.

It was not only a tree that grew in Brooklyn, apparently, but also carrots, kohlrabi, beans, beets, radishes and corn.

The pictures were taken at the Betsy Park Playground. The park, which still exists, and the playground (since redesigned) were named after Mrs. Betsy Head, who bequeathed her considerable estate to the City of New York with the provision that one half of it would be spent on child welfare charities, and the other for the purposes of health and recreation. The Betsy Park Playground, in Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood, answered both requirements.

A few words about the benefactress herself; Mrs. Betsy Head was perhaps one of the most unusual cases in the history of the New York philanthropy. A British native, she was hired by a Long Island millionaire recluse, George C. Taylor, to manage his estate in Islip. She became his trusted accountant and confidante, and over the many years of her employment with Mr. Taylor, Betsy Head accumulated quite considerable wealth herself. She had come to the United States with her daughter Lena. Lena fell in love with one of the employees of Mr. Taylor and married him against the wishes of her mother and Mr. Taylor. Both were banished from the estate, and the mother and daughter became estranged. They never saw each other again. When in 1907 Mrs. Head died of illness at the age of 60, her personal assets were upwards of $200,000 (the equivalent of today’s five million dollars). She left Lena only $5 ($125 today), and the rest went to the benefit of the City of New York. As it sometimes happens, reconciliation came too late, after death. Lena was inconsolable at the funeral, and it was rumored that Mr. Taylor was moved by her grief. Through this private drama in 1907, New York City came into a windfall of cash for its charities.

The Betsy Head Park was open to the public in September of 1914. (Mrs. Frederick W. Bodley, once the wayward and lovelorn Lena, was an honored guest during the opening ceremony.) It is perhaps worth mentioning that the Betsy Head Park came into the existence not only due to the largess of the donor, but also because of the local residents’ activism. Although Mrs. Head's charitable monies were allocated, they were not being spent; it was only thanks to the pressure from the Brownsville community leaders that the park finally was designed and constructed on the stretch from Blake Ave., Dumont Ave., Livonia Ave. between. Strauss St., Hopkinson Ave. and Bristol St. It absorbed land that was formerly used as a dumping site.

Architect Henry B. Herts designed the recreational center. The park also included an athletic field and stadium which could hold up to 20,000 viewers, public baths and a swimming pool. The Children’s playground consisted of a park with wading pool and a beach; mothers’ recreation center – which also included the city milk station; a model farmhouse and, finally, the farm school and a school for nature study.

The playground farm became the largest of the four existing children’s farms in Brooklyn. The other three were in Highland Park, McCarren Park, and Fort Greene Park.

I must acknowledge that some images of very young children at work in the fields made me cringe. However, there were some laws against the child labor already in place at the time, and since each little gardener took all the produce he or she raised home to replenish the family table, it was considered beneficial on the whole.


The girls (and some boys too!) were taught canning techniques, and the canning classes were offered to local residents as well. The newspapers could not resist publishing syrupy stories about struggling families who were able to survive cold winters thanks to pickled vegetables from the children’s gardens.

There were competitions among the gardens from the different parks, with trophies for the best harvest. Here you can see Mrs. Jane C. Roth, a longtime director of the Besty Head playground garden with one of the winning student farmers.

And there were annual fall harvest festivals. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described one of these events in 1919:

Whether the gardening fever was natural or motivated by adult supervision, the little gardeners exhibited an admirable fervor in pushing for three crops during a season:

And, perhaps, it was not an unattainable goal. The young farmers grew hardy, short-season vegetables: carrots, cabbages, corn, beets, radishes, Swiss chard, turnips, peas and kohlrabi. The crops that grew more slowly – potatoes, cauliflowers, and celery – were avoided.

So, what is the World War I connection? During the Great War, such gardens became known as “Children’s War Gardens”, and the Betsy Head farm was part of the movement. New York City alone counted 100 schools with vegetable gardens and it is estimated that these children-run gardens produced as much as $5,074.28 worth of vegetables, worth nearly $100,000 in today's economy.

The children’s farm persevered and lasted through the 1920s and ‘30s and well into the World War II, when the urban gardening tradition found new life in the so-called "victory gardens" that grew throughout the city in support of the war effort.

Although the Betsy Head children’s garden survived a park redesign in 1936, when an Olympic-sized pool was added to the list of attractions, the little farm for "little farmers and farmerettes" is sadly no more. It appears that the baseball diamond now occupies the patch of land where the garden once thrived.  

Summing Up a School Year with Brooklyn Connections

Jun 24, 2014 8:29 AM | 0 comments

The 2013-2014 school year has proven to be a truly banner year for Brooklyn Connections.  We're pleased to have partnered with over 2,000 students in 70 classes from 30 schools in Queens, Manhattan and of course, Brooklyn.

Students from PS 131 before their visit to the Brooklyn Collection in January

Throughout the year, Connections staff supported students by teaching Common Core-aligned research skills, including note-taking, text and photographic analysis, outlining, and writing a research question or thesis statement.  All partner schools visited the Brooklyn Collection at least once and an educator visited each class five or more times -- that's over 350 in-class visits this year!  After the students learned the necessary skills to do authentic historic research, they worked on a project that incorporated oral, written and visual components.

11th and 12th grade students from the Academy for Environmental Leadership in May

Celebration and Exhibition

The annual end-of-year celebration and recognition ceremony was held on May 23rd in Central Library's Dweck auditorium.  All projects were put on display and one student or group from 12 of our 30 partner schools presented their Brooklyn Connections project to an audience of over 130 people.  After all speeches and presentations were finished, each student and teacher was given a certificate of participation and a small gift as a token of our appreciation.

Students from PS 66 presenting their project about Weeksville at the end-of-year celebration

The Brooklyn Collection's current exhibit is a sampling of our students' work.  Our annual exhibit highlights the creativity and originality conveyed in our students' final projects, which ranged from the highly academic to the wildly creative.  Research topics included the abolitionist movement, neighborhood history, architecture, city planning and famous Brooklyn residents.  Students produced exhibit boards, models, plays, research papers, slideshows, movies, scrapbooks and more.  These projects reflect not only a significant amount of research, but also the unique personalities of our students.

2013-2014 student exhibition on-view throughout the summer

Professional Development

We're continuing to work hard to offer high-quality teacher professional developments for teachers in New York City.  This year, we held an open house and tour for teachers in October; an in-house student-teacher professional development with CUNY College of Staten Island and Brooklyn College; a professional development about local history in December with author and former Kingsborough professor John Manbeck; a full-day workshop with author and historian Brian Purnell about the Civil Rights Movement in Brooklyn and a tour of Green-Wood Cemetery for Brooklyn-Queens Day (a Department of Education mandatory staff professional development day).  Over 100 teachers, administrators and pre-service teacher attended these sessions.

Teachers touring Green-Wood Cemetery on a rainy June morning

Teachers exploring our Civil Rights and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) materials

Attending and presenting at conferences is crucial for our professional development and also informs the public and our colleagues about the Brooklyn Connections program.  We attended several conferences this year, including the National Council for History Education in New Mexico where I was awarded with the prestigious Paul A. Gagnon Prize -- an award bestowed to an educator who contributes significantly to promoting history education in the United States. We also presented at the New York City Librarians Conference, New York City Museum Educator Roundtable Conference and most recently the New York State History Conference at Marist College where Ivy Marvel, Manager of Special Collections, presented about the Brooklyn Eagle digitization project with

In the Media

On May 7th we were featured on a News12 segment. Eighth graders from Brooklyn Prospect Charter School visited the Brooklyn Collection while a reporter followed our tour from the reserve room to the open browsing section of the Collection.  Students were in the process of obtaning resources about World War II and while looking through our resources, a student found his great, great grandfather in one of the Brooklyn city directories.  It was truly a special visit.

Future Funding

We are pleased to announce that we have received a $400,000 grant from the New York Life Foundation to continue our efforts of teaching authentic historical research to students around Brooklyn for the next two years.  You can read the official press release here.  This is in addition to our current funding from the Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund, David and Paula Weiner Memorial grant, the Tiger Baron Foundation and Epstein Teicher Philanthropies.

We're currently accepting applications for partner schools for the 2014-2015 school year.  If you are or know a teacher, librarian or administrator in a middle or high school, please consider applying or forwarding the application.