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This summer, I was digging in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle “morgue” for information on one of Brooklyn’s long lost movie palaces, the Fox Theater. The morgue can be overwhelming, with thousands upon thousands of tiny clippings in equally tiny envelopes housed in rows of rather ominous looking file cabinets. That said, the multitude of clippings is exactly what makes morgue exploration so exciting. While digging for one thing you, can’t help but stumble across thousands of other things you didn’t even know you were looking for. Like this:
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 28 Feb 1930.
I found this really outstanding. "Wired Seats at the Fox Help Deaf Hear Talkies"; assisted listening devices in 1930! And how cutting edge!
“A number of choice seats in the mezzanine,” reads the article, “have been equipped with the device, which consists of a telephone headpiece and receiver and an adjustable hand switch by which the person using it can control the volume of the sound coming through the instrument.” What other innovations did the Fox champion? What other cool stuff was showing at the Fox?
The Fox Theater opened in 1928 inside a triangle block bordered by Flatbush, Nevins, and Livingston Streets.
Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn, 1929.
It was one of the “big four” movie palaces in the Fulton-Flatbush theater district, along with the Lowe’s Metropolitan, RKO Albee, and Brooklyn Paramount.
Fox Theater. 1935. Print. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.
At the time the largest theater in Brooklyn, the Fox had a seating capacity of 5,000 and was decked out with an undersea motif. The architect had “planned the large edifice to represent an undersea palace. The inside shell of the dome and the mural decorations carry out a theme as does the combination of green and tan marble in the lobby” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle 9 June 1946).
Not only was the Fox the biggest, but it was also one of the early hot spots to stay cool during the summer months.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2 June 1929.
A complicated cooling system (at least it sounds complicated to me) was installed in 1929. “An enormous fan,” reads the article “draws 80,000 cubic feet of air per minute.” The air was drawn in from vents in the ceiling, headed to the basement where it was cleaned of dust by jets of cool water, refrigerated with some sort of extreme chemical concoction, and then pumped up from the floor. Now that's fancy.
William Fox was a movie palace mogul and the theater’s namesake. He was hit hard by the Great Depression and ended up leasing the theater to new management in 1934, a Mr. Jacob Fabian and his Fabian Enterprises. The radio station WBNY moved into what had been William Fox's eight floor apartment, which provided a direct line to the screen for radio broadcasts. This innovation diversified the theater's programming.
The Theater Historical Society - Annual No. 9. The Brooklyn Fox Theater. 1982. Print.
The radio connection wasn't always spot on. Early on the theater showed a championship boxing match but, for the first few minutes, piped in the audio from a completely different match. Eventually, to keep up with the rise in home television sales, the theater started showing televised broadcasts of a number of things: State of the Union addresses, operas, football games, etc. On November 22nd, 1949, 4,000 junior high school students went to the Fox to watch the first televised broadcast of the United Nations Assembly proceedings. It was said to be the first time a theater had been used for educational purposes.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 22 Nov 1949.
Early in the Fox’s life, vaudeville and amateur shows were all the rage. In 1943, the theater hosted a series of “Victory Amateur Shows” in which all the participants were local defense workers. There were also visiting DJs, all Irish shows, and other famous musical acts. The shows were cancelled in 1945, however, in a “drive against bobby-sox juvenile delinquency in movie theaters.”
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 22 March 1945.
It seems that 35 arrests had been made over a period of a few weeks and students were using their lunch money for movie tickets! Scandal! There was even a local law that barred unaccompanied minors under 16 between the hours of 3:00pm and 6:00pm in an effort to combat this issue.
Ultimately, it wasn't bobby soxers but multiplexes that did the Fox Theater in. After being skipped over by big blockbusters, the theater was limited to B movies that didn’t pull in a sustaining crowd. On February 6th, 1966, the theater stopped showing films. The next four years saw a smattering of concerts and events, but in 1971 the theater was demolished and the ConEdison building built atop.
Though the Fox theater is gone, you can still visit a movie palace of old here in Brooklyn. The recently renovated Kings Theater, which you can tour, can give you a glimpse of what it might have felt like to see a show in that extravagant undersea palace that was the Fox Theater.
Well, the Brooklyn Collection has got you covered. All you have to do is suit up in your best hoop dress and top hat and get yourself to downtown Brooklyn, and we promise all your holiday gift-giving woes will melt away. Okay, hang on to your bonnets, here we go!
First stop: Fulton Street!
“Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 22 December 1860.
You’ve just got to get back to W.H. Cornell for those fancy boxed prunes that were such a hit with Uncle Clarence last year. Everyone in your knitting circle surely needs a box!
Next, you’ve got to find the perfect gift for little Mary and little Ernest. But, DUH, you know what they want this year! Head down Fulton a little ways to Dayton & Carter to pick up the gift that anybody who is anybody is looking for this year: SKATES!
“Christmas is Coming.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 8 December 1862.
Just one quick stop at the druggist on the corner for a bottle of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup to help ease baby Mabel’s teething pains, and the kids will be all set. So WHAT that its primary ingredients are morphine and alcohol! We don’t know about that yet, so shhhh!
“Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 6 February 1860.
Okay, now brace yourself to leave the calm of Fulton Street behind:
Brainard, George Bradford. “Fulton Street.” 1886. The Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn.
Now you’re headed to that big noisy thoroughfare of Flatbush Avenue! But you just have to get to Dr. P. Daily’s because he has the best deals on horseshoes this side of the East River. Papa’s horse Lula is certainly due for a new set of shoes!
Letterhead Collection. The Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library. 31 August 1898.
Working up a Christmas sweat? Good! There’s work yet to be done, so hitch up your petticoat and get moving. The final stop on your whirlwind holiday shopping spree is quite a journey up the road, but we’ll take the scenic route past Fort Greene Park. It’s always cheerful to watch the children playing in the snow, isn’t it?
Brainard, George Bradford. “Boys in Fort Greene Park.” 1875. The Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn.
A mile and a half up the road, the wagon wheels are a-squeaking and you’ve made it to your last stop just in the time! Thank heavens for Dr. Williams and his carriage fixing team. A wheel adjustment is a gift to all in the family – bumpy rides to work no more!
Letterhead Collection. The Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library. 21 August 1883.
Huzzah! You’ve made it through another season of holiday shopping around Brooklyn. Now you’ve got to get thinking about killing that ox for the holiday feast…..Well, good luck!
“Now We Shall Have a Christmas Party.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 24 December 1899.
As it often happens, one stumbles upon a story by chance. While going through a stack of old portraits of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle editorial staff, I happened upon a portrait of a young woman, Mary Sandsted Igoe, a society reporter for the newspaper. Encased in a passe-partout freckled with age, the portrait was remarkable in more than one way. To start with, it was the only portrait of a woman in the whole stack. Other images were studio portraits of venerable gentlemen in formal suits, with grave countenances and carefully groomed moustaches. Mary Sandsted Igoe seemed incapable of proper modelling for a portrait. Her bobbed hair mussed, her posture less than perfect, her arms bare, her mouth slightly open, her direct and curious gaze straight into the lens of the camera -- all these things defy the conventions of a formal studio portrait. But what stopped me in my tracks was the caption: “Mary Sandsted Igoe, 1917-1925. Reporter, society editor and manager of the Paris Bureau during the World War. Died July 16, 1925”. I had to find out more.
Mary Sandsted Igoe. (Brooklyn Public Library -- Brooklyn Collection.)
The years 1917-1925 signify Mary Sandsted’s engagement with Brooklyn’s most influential daily paper of the day. Mary E. Sandsted was a native Brooklynite, who graduated from Girls’ High School in 1912 (with honors in English, American history and civics, physical geography and Latin) and then from the Teachers’ College. She taught in school for three years before joining the Eagle staff. After a short stint as a reporter, she was dispatched to the paper’s Paris Bureau.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle's Paris Bureau offices at 53 rue Cambon.
It was July 1918. Less than a year prior, the American Expeditionary Forces joined the British and the French in the battles of the Great War. We know it now as World War I, but it had not been numbered yet, it was known as the World War, the Great War and it became the pivotal point of the entire history of the modern world. Young Mary Sandsted, age 25, found herself in immediate proximity to the bloodiest war yet known to the humanity.
Guy C. Hickok, the Paris Bureau Chief. (Brooklyn Public Library -- Brooklyn Collection.)
A well-respected journalist Guy C. Hickok who had distinguished himself for the “thoroughness of his investigations and brilliance of his writing” was appointed the Chief of Paris Bureau. He was expected to go straight to the front line to send dispatches on the” Brooklyn boys in the battle line”. His wife Mary Hickok stayed in the Bureau. Miss Mary E. Sandsted had been already in place and she took active charge in the Bureau’s work in Paris.
Reading room at the Paris Bureau office.
Her main job was, of course, journalism. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle features several long pieces (with long titles -- one on German propaganda was called “Wasn’t Fritz a Jolly Brick to Send Us Over Such a Bully Funny Sheet’, Say the Sammies”) but the bulk of her writing consists of a collection of dispatches about individual Brooklyn “doughboys” to those who were anxiously waiting for any news about their loved ones across the Atlantic. That was the era when the only means of instant communication were telephones and cables. Both were unavailable for most of the military personnel, especially for those who were wounded and convalescing in hospitals. The only source of regular news for ordinary citizens was newspapers.
These dispatches, signed simply “Sandsted”, seem so mundane and dry today, but they were a lifeline and a comfort for the families and friends of the soldiers.
“Lt. Harry Smith of 5919 Fourth Ave.…has fully recovered from a gas attack and is ready to return to the fighting front”. Or: “The Rev. M.M. Amunson of the First Church of Christ, Sterling Pl. and Seventh Ave., who is doing Y.M.C.A. work at the front ... sent the Bureau a story of a Halloween celebration in which 25 Brooklyn boys were guests” and attaches a list of names and addresses. Or: “23 Brooklyn Sgts Are Made Lieutenants”, again with names and addresses. Or: “Lieutenant W.F. Barnaby, 91 East 18th Street ... writes that he is anxious about his family, fearing that some members of it may have been victims of B.R.T. accident”. Or; “William Kuhn Jr., of 28 Arion Pl. ... acknowledges receipt of long delayed money order”. And many, many more like these, several times a week.
Mary Sandsted and other bureau staff turned the office at 53 Rue Cambon into a home away from home. It was known as “La Maison Brooklyn”, to all American military personnel who passed through Paris at the time, especially for those from Brooklyn.
A party at the Paris Burea offices.
Accounts like these pepper the Eagle of the day:
“The warmest words of praise for Miss Mary Sandsted, who has charge of The Eagle's Paris Bureau, are brought to America by James A. Lamb of 513 Park pl., a Knights of Columbus secretary, who was three times invalided to hospitals for shrapnel wounds, shell shock and gassed lungs. Miss Sandsted’s work for wounded soldiers in the hospitals around Paris have endeared her to everyone she attended. Americans, and especially Brooklyn men, have nothing but the highest praise for the typically American girl who distributed flowers and aids in the reception of many of the wounded men from the front. Her bureau in Paris is a rendezvous for American soldiers visiting Paris”.
Or this letter to the editor from Jennie F. Walsh, “mother of Bugler Harry C. Walsh”:“Today I received from Miss Mary Sandsted of your Paris Bureau a picture of my son’s grave in France, together with a letter that only a girl like Mary Sandsted could write – a girl who has given to her country, her paper and her boys from Brooklyn the very best that was in her. Almost two years ago, the Red Cross promised me the pictures of the grave, and this little girl without fuss or asking, after only three weeks since her visit to the grave, sends me the pictures that my heart has hungered for.”
She not only sewed their buttons and shared meals with them, he sent cables home for them, she helped them get in touch with old friends, she shopped for them, and she also visited the wounded in hospitals. The Eagle published a long and somewhat rhapsodic essay by Corp. John Black titled "Somebody Paid Me a Visit":
Excerpted from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 11, 1919. Read the full article here.
Once the war was over, Mary Sandsted went back to Brooklyn. Upon return, she announced her engagement to one of the officers she had met in France, Mr. E. Harold Igoe, of Yonkers. A wedding reception was given to her by the newspaper’s management in the Eagle auditorium, to which “all those parents and boys which whom she has come in contact [in Paris] were invited.”
In 1920 Mary Sandsted, along with the Bureau Chief, Guy C. Hickok, was recognized by the French government for her work for the troops during the war. She was also awarded a gold medal by the Kings County American Legion.
In the peacetime, Mary Sandsted Igoe continued her work at the Eagle as a society columnist. The young woman who just recently ministered to the wounded and the grieving effortlessly switched to covering the latest fashions from Paris; the charms of the French capital and what Brooklyn could learn from it; New Year’s Eve dance parties; mahjongg; and all the hot destinations in Brooklyn and New York.
Yet the war never really lets one go: on Memorial Day of 1920, Mary visited the graves of the fallen Americans and placed wreaths on 53 graves of the borough soldiers in France.
And then, on July 17, 1925, tragedy struck: Mary Sandsted Igoe died two days after delivering twin boys.
All major local newspapers published tributes to the writer from the rival publication. Her funeral was held at St. James Episcopal Church on the corner of Lafayette Ave and St. James Place, in Brooklyn. The service was led by Rev. Harry Handel, whom she befriended in France and who just three year earlier officiated at her wedding. The church was crammed with the Eagle staff, members of the family and many, many Great War veterans who came to pay their final respects to the “typically American girl” who became their guardian angel during the war.
Mary Sandsted Igoe's ashes were strewn among the graves of American soldiers in Suresnes Military Cemetery in France. She returned to rest to the place where the most intense, productive and perhaps happy years of her short life unfolded. She returned to her "boys". The good Rev. Harry Handel, although seriously ill, made this trip with Harold Igoe to finish his services of devotion.
Mary's twin boys, William James and John Roberts, did not outlive her by long. They succumbed one after another within two months after their mother’s death.
Ervin Harold Igoe, who used Harold as his preferred name, went on to serve in the next World War, in US Air Force. He remarried and lived a long life. He died in 1983.I was not able to find Harold Igoe’s portrait in our collection. Perhaps it is him, in the middle, sitting next to Mary Sandsted in this photograph taken in La Maison Brooklyn?
If you read about a “cyclorama” in downtown Brooklyn, maybe you would think it has something to do with bicycles. Actually, a cyclorama is a form of entertainment that was highly popular in the late-nineteenth century. The word refers both to large panoramic paintings and the circular or hexagonal buildings that were custom-built to house such paintings. In an era before movies, cycloramas were considered one of the most engaging amusements on offer, and they were extremely popular. Almost every major American and European city had a cyclorama building at one point, and Brooklyn was no exception. There used to be a popular cyclorama of the battle of Gettysburg smack in the middle of downtown Brooklyn, the current site of the Municipal Building on Joralemon Street across from City Hall (now Borough Hall).
A rendering of the cyclorama building on Joralemon Street in Brooklyn.
1886 map of Brooklyn showing City Hall (now Borough Hall) and the cyclorama building across the street.
The Brooklyn Gettysburg cyclorama painting was one of four made by French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux (say that ten times fast). The first was commissioned by a group of Chicago investors for that city in 1879 and opened in 1882.
Paul Philippoteaux painting the battle of Gettysburg cyclorama.
Boston and Philadelphia iterations followed, and the Brooklyn building opened in October 1886 on the site of the old Dutch First Reformed Church, which was demolished to make way for the cyclorama building. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that the painting was 20,000 feet long and weighed four tons. It was hung on the curved interior of the circular building which housed it, and viewed from a raised platform.
The inertior of the Gettysburg cyclorama, Scientific American 1886.
Between the platform and the canvas, an extremely realistic diorama completed the illusion. Tons of actual dirt, live plants, three-dimensional objects, and dummy soldier figures scattered the 45 feet between the platform and canvas, decreasing in size until they matched the painting’s scale. An 1886 article in the Brooklyn Citizen declared, “the many clever devices used in bringing out the whole general effect serves to make the illusion so perfect that one imagines he is on the battlefield surrounded by soldiers and implements of war, with miles of landscape in view… It is the nearest approach to reality the artist’s brush and ingenious mind have ever accomplished.” In fact, it even fooled police officers sent to the scene to prevent a robbery, as reported by the New York Times in July 1889 (this was at the later Manhattan location of the exhibition).
New York Times, July 11 1889.
In addition, the cyclorama provided education for Brooklyn residents, as well as accurate depictions of some of their hometown heroes. The 14th Brooklyn regiment, also known as the “Fighting Fourteenth,” saw heavy fighting during the war and “covered themselves with glory.” As the Eagle noted in 1898, they “earned…from the enemy the compliment of being known throughout the war as the ‘red legged devils,’ their Zouave uniform trousers having made them conspicuous in every fierce charge.” The regiment and their leader, Colonel Edward B. Fowler (for whom Fowler Square in Fort Greene is named) would have been recognizable by visitors to the cyclorama. Other recognizable figures included Major Wheeler and the 13th New York regiment as well as General Winfield Scott Hancock.
1886 advertisements for the cyclorama in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The Brooklyn cyclorama was hugely popular, and was often mobbed with long lines during its first months. After about a year, however, interest began to wane, and the spectacle was moved to Union Square in Manhattan to reach a different crowd. Eventually, the Brooklyn painting was dismantled and its pieces scattered. The Philadelphia painting was lost in a fire. The Chicago and Boston paintings, however, survive today. The Boston painting made its way to Gettysburg in 1913, and was acquired by the National Park Service in 1942. After a full conservation overhaul in 2007, the painting is now displayed the way it was originally intended, complete with its diorama.
A portion of the Boston version of the Gettysburg cyclorama painting.
As for Brooklyn, it got another cyclorama in the 1920s, when a depiction of the Battle of Chateau-Thierry was installed at Luna Park in Coney Island. Even after the advent of motion pictures, Brooklyn residents lauded the realistic experience provided by the cyclorama (now aided by various light and sound effects); according to Brooklyn Life, the exhibition “broke all records for attendance” and was “no doubt, the biggest and most thrilling attraction that has been brought to Coney Island for many a year.” Private James J. Cassidy of the Old 69th Regiment, a veteran of the actual battle, told the Eagle, “It is indeed a lesson in war to prevent war in the future.” Though today the word cyclorama may sound foreign to us, to Brooklynites of years past it was a well-known and cherished entertainment.
The Our Streets, Our Stories introduction post found me preparing for my kick-off event at the Leonard library and putting finishing touches on the mobile digitization kit. Four months later I’m now preparing for my fifth community scanning event at the Clinton Hill library and working toward scheduling more spring events.
Our Streets, Our Stories has been well received by the library community and public interest is steadily growing. As we host more scanning events in different neighborhoods, I'm adjusting my outreach efforts to reflect what I've learned along the way. Among the most important lessons is to reach the library’s most frequent patrons, whom I rely on the branch librarians to help me identify. Leaving a sign-up sheet at the front desk has been a great way for the librarians to collect the contact information of interested patrons, allowing me to reach out to them with a reminder a few days before the event.
Photo album with photographs of Lois Degenhardt at a fair in Kutztown, Pennsylvania (left) and Iris Sheber on the promenade at Manhattan Beach (right), 1970.
The support of the library’s friends group is key to successfully promoting an event. These volunteers are living in the communities I’m trying to reach, working hard to advocate for their branch; it’s a natural alliance. The friends of New Lots library suggested adjustments that led to my most successful event to date! In the coming weeks I’m looking forward to meeting with groups at the Clinton Hill, Greenpoint and Dyker libraries.
Pasta Association annual meeting, c1950
Employees inside of the I. Defrancisci & Son Macaroni Machines factory at 219 Morgan Avenue, 1917.
Starting in early November Our Streets, Our Stories will be taking on a new challenge by partnering with Brooklyn Connections to bring digitization to classrooms. By taking my mobile digitization kit to Brooklyn schools, children will have the opportunity to not only learn about Brooklyn’s history, but to contribute to it. Each student will be asked to bring in one item they believe best represents Brooklyn and will assist me in creating a digital copy. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the students interpret the assignment!
Senior pin from Junior High School 218 James P. Sinnott, 1973.
Eric Lafontant holding his daughter Farrah Lafontant in Flatbush, 1979.
The project reached an exciting milestone earlier this week when the majority of our collected images were uploaded to the Brooklyn Public Library catalog. I received an enthusiastic response from our donors, some of whom have been waiting since August to see their images online. In the spring these images will be migrated to the library’s new digital collections website, but in the meantime you can take a look at some examples here and here.
I hope to see you this winter at our upcoming events:
November 17th and 21st: Clinton Hill Library
December 16th and 19th: Greenpoint Library
January 29th and 30th: Dyker Library