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John McCrae and the Mysterious Miss Packard

Mar 28, 2016 10:30 AM | 0 comments

Our newest blogpost is written by a guest blogger Linda Granfield. It is published with her permission and that of the Guelph Historical Society (Guelph, Ontario, Canada). The article first appeared in Historic Guelph, vol. LIII. 2014-2015.

Linda Granfield, a native of Melrose, Massachusetts, is the award-winning author of 30 history books for adults and young readers; John McCrae is the subject of two of those titles. She holds degrees from Northeastern University and the University of Toronto; Linda lives in Toronto, Canada. She invites anyone with further information about the Packard family of Brooklyn to contact her via her website: www.lindagranfield.com.

Figure 1: "Penance" hand-written on "Alderley" stationary. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1999.6.1)

John McCrae and the Mysterious Miss Packard

by Linda Granfield

“Alderley/Kennebunkport, Maine”

So reads the blue-inked letterhead on a piece of stationery carefully preserved in “Poems”, a richly-bound book in the Guelph Museums’ collection. The name of the author of the book, John McCrae, is stamped in gold, like the title.1 Below the letterhead is McCrae’s poem “Penance”, hand-written by the poet himself, apparently based on recall. A verse is missing and different word choices are captured on the notepaper version than are seen in later published examples. While the textual differences are interesting and worthy of further study, it was the “Alderley” address that first captured my interest and led me to the book’s “publisher” E.H.P.-Miss Elizabeth Hutchinson Packard.

As I had spent many a childhood, week-long, family summer holiday on the beaches of southern Maine, I was familiar with Wells, York, Ogunquit, and Kennebunkport. “K’port,” as it is known to locals, is familiar to many today as the site of the presidential Bush family’s compound; however, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Kennebunkport was well-known as the summer playground of the wealthy who traveled there from New York, Boston, Pittsburgh and other large, unbearably hot cities on the American East Coast.

The Cape Arundel part of Kennebunkport still features rocky shores and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, and it was such vistas and cool breezes that led to the building of “cottages” on the land rising above the shore. American architects such as John Calvin Stevens2 were engaged to design and build shingle-style homes with rugged stone fireplaces, large porches, superb cross-ventilation and plenty of room for boat-storage, horse stalls, and quarters for the servants who accompanied their employers on their annual trips to the Maine coast.

Figure 2: John McCrae and Ethel Halsey at the front door of “Alderley,” 1903. Photo courtesy of David Gardner-Medwin.

Figure 3: The same spot at the front door of “Alderley”  in 2010. Photo courtesy of Linda Granfield.

Clearly, given his hand-written poem on the “Alderley” notepaper, John McCrae had visited Kennebunkport. The questions remained: with whom was he spending time, and was the cottage known as “Alderley” still standing? Biographer Dianne Graves mentioned McCrae’s visit to friends who “had invited him to join them for a week in September [1903].”3 Unfortunately, the friends were not named. Sir Andrew Macphail noted that among McCrae’s “diversions” was “one visit to the Packards in Maine... ”4 I considered this information a significant breakthrough.

The clues “September 1903” and “the Packards” led me to no further satisfaction after a visit to Kennebunkport in 2009; a town librarian, however, offered to relay my questions to a local historian, Joyce Butler. Ms. Butler has written extensively about Kennebunkport through the ages and noted that “the town had a strong summer newspaper, The Wave, from 1887 to 1908 (published cottage lists and news items about owners).... ”5 Tandem research done between two strangers (Ms. Butler and me) resulted in the location of “Alderley” in 2010. A copy of a photograph in the Guelph Museums’ collections showing John McCrae reading on a porch was sent to Maine with the hope that the decorative porch trim would prove a match to the current cottage Ms. Butler saw on Old Fort Avenue -- and it did. Also, the cottage had been built for “Edwin Packard of Brooklyn, New York.”6 Another score, and another important lead.

Few residents of Brooklyn Heights in 1900 would not have known about the Packards and their magnificent home at the corner of Henry and Joralemon streets. The society and business pages of The Brooklyn Eagle, the local newspaper, regularly recorded the lives of those who lived within the solid walls of Number 241. The Packards were listed in the social register, The Brooklyn Blue Book, and the family’s three daughters, Mildred, Elizabeth, and Clara made their well-noted debuts.7

Edwin Packard, a direct descendant of John Alden of the Mayflower and Captain Samuel Packard who immigrated to the United States from Ipswich, England in the Diligence in 1638,  was born in 1841 in Roxbury, Massachusetts.8 By the 1860s, Packard was a linen buyer for the hugely successful A.T. Stewart & Co, a ground-breaking department (“dry goods”) store located on Broadway, near Grace Church, in New York City.9 In order to keep Alexander Turney Stewart’s internationally-known “Marble Palace” filled with the top-of-the-line goods required by his wealthy New York customers, buyers like Edwin Packard made business trips to Europe. One voyage, in 1865, had Packard traveling back to New York from Liverpool when sailing was once again safe after the American Civil War had ended.10

In April 1868, Edwin married Julia, the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Hutchinson of Brooklyn. Samuel had “amassed an ample fortune”11 through his own dry goods company, Wickhams & Hutchinson, located on Pearl Street in 1830s New York. He was also interested in the municipal government in Brooklyn, though “not a politician.”12 Other positions held by Samuel Hutchinson included Director in the American Exchange National Bank, Trustee in the Atlantic Mutual Marine Insurance Company and Vice President and Director in the Metropolitan Glass Insurance Company.13 Julia gave birth to six children, four daughters and two sons. Sadly, neither Norman (b. 1874) nor Edwin (b. 1877) survived past 14 months of age.14

Figure 4: "Alderley"as shown in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 17, 1901. Credit: Public Domain.

Figure 5: Alderley/Braemar, 2010. The oeil-de-boeuf window and the enclosed porch were not the part of the original design. Photo courtesy of Linda Granfield.

Elizabeth Hutchinson Packard, the third daughter, was born July 10, 1872 in Bridge of Allan, Scotland.15 The family was in Scotland with Edwin while he purchased linen for Stewart’s. Bridge of Allan, three miles north of Stirling, had an early history in textile manufacturing and copper mining. Local mineral springs, however, led to development as a spa destination for travelers, the Packards among them.16 In October that year, at the age of three months, Elizabeth “Bessie” Packard made her first journey, home to America.17 The next month, in Guelph, Ontario, John was born to David and Janet McCrae. No one could have foreseen that 25 years later, the lives of these two infants would intertwine.

During the 1870s and until about 1882, the Packard family lived at 102 Montague Street, Brooklyn, in a brownstone house that in 1875 was assessed at the then-considerable value of $25,000.18 By 1880, the family had endured the deaths of their two baby sons and a four-year-old daughter. Edwin was listed as a “retired linen importer”, aged only 39.19

In 1882, he was elected the President of the Kings County Republican General Committee after he “pledged to bring about harmony in the party and was not a factionist.”20 The Brooklyn Eagle called him “a Republican of the ‘regular’ stamp, but of great independence of thought and convictions.”21 He, along with Theodore Roosevelt, was one of the delegates at-large from New York to attend the Republican National Convention in Chicago for the presidential election in 1884.22 The Republicans supported James G. Blaine (Edwin Packard was not a Blaine fan23) who was defeated by Democrat Grover Cleveland. In fact, Edwin “bolted the ticket and supported Cleveland.”24

Figure 6: John McCrae, in 1903, reading The Master of Ballantrae on the Arderley porch. Note the shape of the porch trim here and in the 2010 front entry image. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1968X.436.3).

By 1885, the Packard family had moved to 241 Henry Street, a grand home built for them, a mansion that more than adequately reflected the business successes of Edwin Packard. From his nearby Remsen Street office, he sold new-build homes on Garfield Place, near Prospect Park, Brooklyn.25 He was the president of the Franklin Trust Company, and later of the New York Guaranty and Indemnity Company. He was a director of the Franklin Safe Deposit Company, the American Writing Paper Company, the Fajardo Sugar Company, and the Brooklyn YMCA.26 Amazingly, given the amount of time each of these positions would have demanded of him, Edwin Packard was also a member of the New York Chamber of Commerce and served for a time as a civil service commissioner.

Edwin Packard, with his wife Julia, also found time to attend their children’s school performances. During the commencement exercises marking her graduation from Mrs. Robert Goodwin’s school on Montague Street, nearly 16-year-old Bessie acted in “an amusing farce, ‘No Cure, No Pay,’” in which she played “Aunt Maria Midget-a little hard of hearing.”27

Bessie continued her education at Miss Porter’s School, in Farmington, Connecticut.28 While young women were expected to leave Miss Porter’s capable of heading their own households, they were also schooled in Latin, modern languages, the sciences, history and geography. Drawing and music lessons and daily physical exercise, which included horseback riding that Elizabeth Packard adored, were also prescribed by founder Sarah Porter.29

Figure 7: Elizabeth Packard riding side-saddle. McCrae is accompanying her in this photograph believed taken at Alderley in Kennebunkport, Maine, 1903. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1999.7.1).

During the 1890s, Elizabeth Packard, as well as her sister Mildred, appeared often in newspaper articles relating details about brilliant society balls and the composition of wedding parties in Brooklyn. Lavish descriptions of the locales fill paragraphs in each article: rooms with gilded columns are full of sparkling incandescent lights, jardinieres of roses and lilies, laurel and rose wreaths, and musicians hidden behind "a huge screen of white and pink azaleas". 30 Many a Brooklyn wedding featured one or more of the Packard sisters among the bridesmaids.

More serious matters, like settlement work, support for education, women’s suffrage and free trade, however, were also part of the Misses Packards’ world. In April 1894, Bessie, in the absence of the president of the Brooklyn Civitas Club, presided over a club meeting where the speaker, the local Register of Arrears, Frederick W. Hinrichs, spoke of free trade and also about the vote for women, who at that time were still disenfranchised:

He [Hinrichs] said there was no logical reason why woman [sic] should not stand in the same relation to the Government as man, and he gave her some qualified compliments upon her brain power. “To my mind there is no great difference between men and women intellectually,” he said. They say women have limitations, but even that may be doubted. They also say women do not care anything about suffrage and public rights... Take up some book on the subject [democracy] and do some thinking. Reach a conclusion and then speak heroically upon it and convince your fellow-women... 31


By the summer of 1897, Elizabeth Hutchinson Packard emerged as a young woman, talented in music, trained in many areas, well-travelled, and considerate of the needs of those less fortunate than herself. Philanthropy was always a part of the Packard family schedule; Julia Packard was a patroness of events that raised funds in aid of the Brooklyn Home for Aged Men, for example. At 25, Bessie was taken on-staff to nurse ailing Baltimore children over the summer at the Robert Garrett Children’s Sanatorium in Mt. Airy, Maryland. As it happened, a certain young Canadian, John McCrae, was working there, too.

Figure 8: The Packard family home, 241 Henry Street, Brooklyn, New York. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library - Brooklyn Collection.

McCrae was a medical school student at the University of Toronto. He had completed three years of his studies and went to Maryland before beginning his final year in the university medical program.32 While neither Packard nor McCrae letters remarking upon their meeting at Mt. Airy exist, photographs in McCrae’s scrapbook albums place the two there among others on staff. The images, blue-tinged due to the chemicals used in photodeveloping, show “Miss Packard” sitting on the porch of the staff quarters with other nurses, and Bessie tempting a dog named “Christopher” with a treat. Given that John had been a member of the Varsity Glee Club and Bessie was a member of the Brooklyn Amateur Musical Club one can easily imagine singing was a shared interest, as well as horse-back riding and reading. Both were raised in the Presbyterian faith; Bessie taught Sunday School at the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn.33 Elizabeth’s birth in Scotland mirrored McCrae’s own family heritage there. And it was during the same summer that “Alderley” was being built in Kennebunkport, Maine.34

Figure 9: Miss Packard and "Christopher" at Robert Garrett Children's Sanatorium, Mt. Airy, Maryland, 1897. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House, (M1968X.44931).

After the sanatorium work in Maryland, McCrae returned to Toronto and graduated from medical school in early 1898. Within two years he was serving with the British artillery in the South African War. Elizabeth Packard, meanwhile, had returned to her life in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Few details are known of this time in her life.

Serendipity, or careful planning, was to put John McCrae and Bessie Packard in the same place again, in 1900. This time, they were in Montreal, where Dr. McCrae had a private medical practice, and was a medical school professor at McGill University. He served at more than one Montreal hospital. Also at McGill was Dr. John Taylor Halsey, who taught pharmacology in the medical school from 1900 until 1904 when he left Montreal to take a position at Tulane University in New Orleans.35

Mrs. John T. Halsey was the former Mildred W. Packard, older sister of Elizabeth. The marriage took place at the Packard home in November 189936 and their first child was expected a year later. Although Bessie nursed children in Maryland, there is no evidence of her having received formal nurses’ training at any time. Given her experience, however, it can be assumed that with Mildred’s coming confinement, Bessie’s presence in Montreal would have been needed and appreciated. Ethel Mildred Halsey was born on November 22, 1900 in Montreal; her first home was on Durocher Street, mere blocks from Dr. McCrae’s apartment on Metcalfe Street. It is difficult to believe that the Halsey family, including Bessie, did not welcome the chance to share time and recollections with John McCrae. It is no surprise that McCrae was invited to enjoy the sunshine and surf at “Alderley” in 1903, the year before the Halseys permanently moved to New Orleans.

Figure 10: Miss Packard (right) as Robert Garrett  Children's Sanatorium, Mt. Airy, Maryland, 1897. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1968X.44931).

Two photographs donated to the Guelph Museums-McCrae House by members of the Packard family show their “Aunt Bessie” riding side-saddle in Maine with John McCrae also on horseback as summer ended and autumn’s crispness meant the cottage had to be closed for the winter. He wrote two poems on the letterhead -- and she kept the copies for the rest of her life.

After that week with the Packards, McCrae returned to Montreal and Bessie was once more in Brooklyn. There is nothing extant to prove that the two friends stayed in touch by letter, further visits, or even via that wonderful gadget, the telephone.

John McCrae’s life after 1903 is well-documented: his dedication to his field of pathology; his teaching; his poetry contributions to various publications; his co-authorship of a major medical text; his rejected marriage proposal to his brother Tom’s sister-in-law, Nona Gwyn. And, in 1914, the beginning of his service as a doctor in the First World War.

Bessie’s life after 1903 continued to be one dedicated to philanthropic work and family duty. Following the marriage of her sister Clara to Harold Sterling Gladwin in 1908,37 Bessie remained in the Henry Street home with her parents. Her list of associations for the rest of her life included the YWCA, the Colony, Cosmopolitan, Women’s National Republican, and City Garden clubs, as well as the National Society of Colonial Dames. In a family photograph taken in about 1911, “Aunt Bessie” stands in the centre, surrounded by nieces and nephews; she never married. In 1912, Bessie spent four months visiting Italy. Her life was full and busy.

Figure 11: Dr. John McCrae at Robert Garrett Children's Sanatorium, Mt. Airy, Maryland, 1897. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1968X.44931).

John McCrae was in France in 1915, but the United States would not send troops into war for two more years. Edwin Packard had purchased “Welwood,” a country home in Bernardsville, New Jersey, from the Squibb family of pharmaceutical fame: the Packards renamed the house “Woodcote.” Still an important part of her parents’ daily lives, Bessie spent part of her summers in the beautiful fieldstone house built in 1765 by the Kirkpatrick family.38 Mine Brook was nearby; apple orchards and acres of pastureland made it a peaceful place for the Packards to escape the pollution of New York City and where Bessie could ride her horses for hours. In about 1915, Bessie’s father gave the title to “Woodcote” to her.39

“In Flanders Fields,” the famous poem by John McCrae, was written and published in that same year; there is no evidence regarding Elizabeth Packard’s knowledge of the poem at that time. So vast was the reproduction of McCrae’s poem, it is difficult to believe Bessie didn’t read it and think of her friend.

When the United States entered the Great War in 1917, Edwin and Julia Packard donated an ambulance for American field service in France.40 In Bernardsville, Bessie served as the head of the “Farmerettes,” a group that raised crops during the war. (She was also active in the work of the Visiting Nurse Association in that community.)41 The Civitas Club of Brooklyn supported the Women’s Overseas Hospital during the war.42 The members of the Cosmopolitan Club “had many members in uniform, raised money for Belgian Relief and for the purchase of an ambulance in Italy, and installed machines that every week knitted hundreds of pairs of socks for the [American] troops.”43 In October 1917, Bessie and Julia were wearing “Vote No” badges at a public meeting held under the auspices of the Brooklyn Auxiliary of the State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.44

January 1918 brought the world news of John McCrae’s death in France. Meningitis and pneumonia had overwhelmed him in just a few days and he was buried in Wimereux, along the English Channel. Did Bessie read of McCrae’s passing while sitting in the warmth of Henry Street? Did the Packards reminisce about the time spent in Kennebunkport, at the cottage they’d later sold?45 We do not know; what we do know is that Bessie Packard read Sir Andrew Macphail’s 1919 book about John McCrae and had multiple copies. She took the poetry pages from the Macphail book, the hand-written poems, a photograph of McCrae and his signature and had them bound for a private volume. Inside the brown leather and grass-cloth cover are embossed the initials “E.H.P.”46 One hopes Bessie found some consolation in this personal and obviously meaningful book. Were the other handwritten poems included some that McCrae had recited and/or mailed to her? The question remains -- why did Elizabeth Packard feel so strongly about the loss? Had they corresponded during the war? There would have been plenty to share; for instance, Dr. Halsey served with the U.S. Army in the Medical Reserve Corps.47

Even greater losses occurred at 241 Henry Street during 1921. In April, Edwin Packard, 80, died of influenza. In June, 79-year-old Julia Hutchinson Packard passed away. Both parents were buried in the family plot at Green-Wood Cemetery, and by the year’s end sanctuary lights had been donated in their honour by the family to the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn.48 In February 1922, it was reported that the Packard mansion “one of the show places of the Heights section” had been purchased by the African Inland Mission for use as local headquarters “after structural alterations to the interior of the home have been completed.”49 In just over a year, Elizabeth Packard and her sisters lost both parents and the family home.

Bessie moved into a Manhattan apartment, shared with a relative, and continued to live in Bernardsville, as well. She traveled extensively in the 1920s, to Italy, Egypt, and France; one wonders if a visit to McCrae’s grave in Wimereux was ever on a trip’s agenda. In 1930, Bessie sold “Woodcote” to Chauncey McPherson, a member of the American fencing team in the 1924 Olympic Games.50 It was time for a fresh start; Bessie bought property in Southwest Harbor, on Mount Desert Island, Maine and built a summer retreat, called “The Kedge,” in 1931.51

During the economic depression that gripped the world during the 1930s, Elizabeth Packard appears to have managed her funds well; she continued her philanthropy and her travel. And it is during the same period that the McCrae family once more appears in Bessie’s life. It is unknown when John’s sister, Geills McCrae Kilgour, met Elizabeth Packard, however, Bessie was certainly a part of Geills and James Kilgour’s children’s lives as they grew older. Society notices in The Winnipeg Tribune track Bessie’s visits to Manitoba in the 1930s. But how did Bessie know John McCrae’s sister and her family to such an extent that she could regularly schedule visits? Again, there is nothing extant in either family’s surviving records that entirely explains the relationship, its beginning, or its longevity.

Figure 12: The Packard family, circa 1911. Elizabeth is in the centre, behind Edwin and Julia. Sister Clara is seated on the right.; sister Mildred, on the left. Dr. John Halsey (left) and Harold Gladwin (right). Photo courtesy of Noel Barnes Williams.

After Geills Kilgour’s death in March 1933 (her husband James had passed away in 1931) Bessie was a December guest of the Misses Margaret and Katharine Kilgour in their Kingsway, Winnipeg family home for six weeks after which time she left to spend the rest of the winter in Santa Barbara, California, at the home of her sister Clara Gladwin.52 Such a lengthy visit with the young nieces of John McCrae, over the busy Christmas and New Year’s period, suggests a close relationship with Miss Packard.53 Again, what was the nature of that family connection so long after John McCrae’s death?

Margaret Kilgour married architect Robert Gardner-Medwin in Winnipeg in 1935. Elizabeth Packard and her sister Mildred Halsey traveled to England in 1936, and Katharine Kilgour married Dr. Donald Dennison Campbell in England in 1937.54 Had the visits with the McCrae family ended?

As the Second World War began, Margaret Gardner-Medwin and her son David moved temporarily from England to Canada for safety. In 2010, David recalled meeting “Miss Packard (as she was always called) only once”55 during those war years:

My mother Margaret took me and my younger brother to stay for a summer holiday at Miss Packard’s house in Maine -- a large house on the shore... I remember being taken out for trips on her very large varnished motorboat and fishing for flounders. The boat was in command of “Captain Kenny [Kenney]” -- I think her handyman who wore a peaked cap and probably acted also as her chauffeur. He had a family of young children of about my age -- we used to play with them.... My other main memory is of getting into a hornet’s nest in the garden, with unpleasant results. Miss Packard I remember only as a nice old lady who wore a hat.56

The boat David recalled was the gleaming, 35-foot Elco cruisette Bessie bought at the 1933 National Motorboat Show in New York.57 David’s guess was that his grandmother Geills “met [Miss Packard] through Jack [John McCrae] and had visited her in the Kennebunkport days. He also offered that “Miss Packard featured occasionally in Geills Kilgour’s letters to her mother” but that there had been “no useful clues” found there.58 Alas.

Bessie’s summer sojourns to Maine during the Second World War were balanced by work done back in New York City. Once again, the Cosmopolitan Club was answering the call for aid: the members established a War Relief Committee, operated a workroom that produced thousands of garments, planted a Victory Garden, sold war bonds, sponsored weekly parties for service members, and provided classes in “first aid, home nursing, and nutrition.” 59 As well, Bessie worked with the Red Cross during the war. It is safe to assume that she was involved when, during the war, her niece Ethel Halsey Blum, chaired the Brooklyn chapter of “Bundles for Britain” and the Brooklyn Prisoner of War Packaging Center, “one of five Red Cross groups that  shipped over two million food packages to American prisoners of war in Europe and the Far East.”60

Figure 13: "Captain" Felton Kenney, the man David Gardner-Medwin remembered. Photo courtesy of Jane Kenney.

On January 23, 1947, Elizabeth Hutchinson Packard, age 74, died suddenly at her Manhattan apartment, her “winter home.” Her funeral was held at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church two days later, and she was buried with her ancestors at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.61 Her descendants continue to warmly refer to her as “Aunt Bessie” and hold an obvious fondness for her decades after her death.

Figure 14: Elizabeth Hutchinson Packard's passport photo, 1923. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

In the end, however, the true nature of the relationship between Elizabeth Packard, who cherished hand-written copies of his poems, and John McCrae, the soldier, doctor, and poet, remains a mystery. Wishful thinking lets me imagine a day when someone opens a long-lost or abandoned hatbox, smells the sweet scent of violets, and brings to light sheaves of letters carefully tied in faded satin ribbons, postmarked “somewhere in France,” and opening with... “Dear Bessie…”

ENDNOTES

1. Hand-written copy of “Penance.” Collections of Guelph Museums M1999.6.1. Four other handwritten poems are included in this volume.
2. “Stevens, John Calvin,” Maine: An Encyclopedia, http://maineanencyclopedia.com/stevens-johncalvin/ (Accessed September 2014).
3. Dianne Graves, A Crown of Life: The World of John McCrae (St. Catharines, Ont.: Vanwell Publishing Limited, 1997), p. 91.
4. Sir Andrew Macphail, In Flanders Fields And Other Poems by Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, M.D., with An Essay in Character (Toronto: William Briggs, 1919), p. 129.
5. Quoted from email correspondence between Joyce Butler and the author, March 11, 2010.
6. Quoted from email correspondence between Joyce Butler and the author, March 16, 2010. Ms. Butler and I finally met in the summer of 2010. I also met the present owners of the cottage-two doctors who were delighted to hear of the connection of their home to John McCrae. They began to recite “In Flanders Fields” on the porch.
7. The Brooklyn Blue Book and Long Island Society Register (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Brooklyn Life Publishing Company, 1909) p. 174. The Packards are also found in The Elite of New York Society List & Club Register (New York: n.d.), p. 305.
8. Much of the information given for Edwin Packard derives from his death notice in The New York Times, April 28, 1921, as well as other confirmed, credible sources.
9. The multi-storey emporium eventually became the famed Wanamaker’s. For an interesting retelling of the Stewart/Wanamaker buildings story, and period photographs, please see www. http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.ca/2012/11/the-1906-john-wanamaker-annex-no-770.html (Accessed September 2014).
10. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Ancestry.com, for November 30, 1865.
11. Samuel Hutchinson obituary, The New York Times, June 16, 1876.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Children’s births drawn from genealogical records on Ancestry.com. An elder sister, Ethel, was born in 1869 and died in 1873. Presumably, Mildred Packard Halsey’s daughter Ethel (b. 1900) was named in honour of this sibling. There appears to have been a seventh child, a daughter named May (b. 1876). On the 1900 U.S. Census, May is listed as aged 23 and living with Edwin and Julia. May, however, does not appear in the 1880 U.S. Census, when she would have been about three or four years old.
15. U.S. Passport application #101315, signed by Elizabeth H. Packard, April 6, 1905. Copy appears on Ancestry.com. (Accessed March 17, 2010).
16. Bridge of Allan information care of http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/ (Accessed March 20, 2010)
17. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Liverpool, England to New York, New York, for October 12, 1872.
18. New York State Census, 1875. Ancestry.com
19. 1880 U. S. Census, Ancestry.com
20. “Edwin Packard Elected Chairman of The General Committee,” The New York Times, January 11, 1882.
21. “Pointed Opinions,” The Brooklyn Eagle, February 5, 1882, p. 3.
22. William Roscoe Thayer, Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography, 1919. www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext00/teddy10.txt/ (Accessed March 17, 2010).
23. “Words of Cheer for the Blaine People” (from the Brooklyn Union) The New York Times, May 9, 1884.
24. “For Cleveland,” The Brooklyn Eagle, August 4, 1888, p. 4.
25. For Sale advertisement, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 15, 1885, p. 2.
26. Edwin Packard obituary notice, The New York Times, April 28, 1921.
27. “Farewell to School Girl Days,” The Brooklyn Eagle, June 8, 1888, p. 5.
28. “Miss Elizabeth Packard” obituary, The New York Times, January 25, 1947.
29. “Miss Porter’s School/School History,” http://www.porters.org/ (Accessed at March 20, 2010). “Ihpetonga’s Brilliant Ball 1894,” The New York Times, January 24, 1894, p. 9.
30. “Talk to Women on Free Trade,” The New York Times, April 1, 1894. It is interesting to note that Elizabeth’s sister Mildred was listed as an anti-suffrage supporter in a New York Times article published a month later.
31. Graves, p. 42.
32. Obituary, The Brooklyn Eagle, January 25, 1947, p. 7.
33. Kevin D. Murphy, Colonial Revival Maine (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004), p. 109.
34. Information received from Christopher Lyons, Chief Librarian at the William Osler Medical Library, McGill University, Montreal, via email in March 2010.
35. “Brooklyn Society,” The Brooklyn Eagle, November 5, 1899, p. 9. Also: November 17, 1899, p. 9.
36. Announcement, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 16, 1908, p. 15. In another mention of the upcoming nuptials, the reporter writes Clara “has always been regarded as a very charming girl. Miss Elizabeth Packard is her unmarried sister.” One wonders what the impact of such subjective commentary was for both young women.
37. Harrison E. Wright. “History of Kirkpatrick Family And Bernardsville House Told,” The Bernardsville News, May 24, 1956. The name of a geographical spot in the area is “Packard’s
Corner,” presumably because of Bessie’s time in residence.
38. Capt. John Kirkpatrick of New Jersey 1739-1922 and His Sisters Mrs. Joseph Linn & Mrs. Stephen Roy: A Genealogy by William Clinton Armstrong, 1927, n.p. http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgibin/igm.cgi?=GET&db=kirkpatrick (Accessed February 24, 2015).
39. “History of the American Field Service in France,” http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/memoir/AFShist/AFS3j.htm (Accessed March 17, 2010).
40. Obituary, The Bernardsville News, January 30, 1947, p. 4.
41. Teresa Mora, “Historical Note,” The Civitas Club Collection 1893-1993 (Bulk Dates: 1893-1960) Finding Aid (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Brooklyn Historical Society, 2000), p. 3.
42. “A Short History of the Cosmopolitan Club,” www.cosclub.com. (Accessed April 2011).
43. “Brooklyn Hostesses to Greet National Anti-Suffrage Head,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 24, 1917.
44. “Alderley” was sold to Nathan A. Taylor of Philadelphia in 1914; the name thereafter and to this day is “Braemar.” Butler, email to author, March 16, 2010.
45. Rebound pages and “Penance” poem – M1999.6.1 Guelph Museums collection, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
46. The five hand-written poems are “Penance,” “Mine Host,” “The Night Cometh,” “Anarchy,” and “The Oldest Drama.”
47. “Orders to Officers of the Medical Reserve Corps,” Journal of the American Medical Association, February 9, 1918, p. 398. www.jama-ama-assn.org, (Accessed August 3, 2011).
48. “First Church Since 1822,” www.fpcbrooklyn.org (Accessed in April 2011).
49. Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide, vol. 109, no.7. February 18, 1922, p. 207. http://www.columbia.edu (Accessed August 4, 2011).
50. Wright, n.p.
51. Obituary, The Bernardsville News, January 30, 1947, p. 4.
52. The Winnipeg Tribune, December 16, 1933; December 25, 1933; January 5, 1934.
53. 1933 was also a year that brought some undesirable reportage by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle when Harold Sterling Gladwin sued his wife, Clara Packard Gladwin, for divorce on the grounds of desertion. Gladwin had left his career as a stockbroker in New York and was working as an archeologist in Arizona. Clara remained in Santa Barbara, California with their son. Gladwin won his Reno divorce decree in March of 1933 and quickly married Winifred MacCurdy, a coworker in Arizona.
54. James and Geills Kilgour also had two sons: John McCrae Kilgour (b. 1911) and David Eckford Kilgour (b. 1912). Mildred Halsey died in 1938.
55. David Gardner-Medwin (1936-2014) in an email to the author, March 31, 2010.
56. Ibid.
57. “Speed ‘Threat’ Draws Crowd At Boat Show,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 22, 1933, p. 39.
58. Ibid.
59. “A Short History of the Cosmopolitan Club”.
60. “Ethel Halsey Blum,” [the Ethel H. Blum Gallery/College of the Atlantic] www.coa.edu (Accessed 2010).
61. Obituary, The Bernardsville News, January 30, 1947, p. 4. [also in The New York Times, January 25, 1947]

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Grateful acknowledgement is made to all those who have granted permission to reprint copyrighted and personal material. Every reasonable effort has been made to locate the copyright holders for these images. The author and publisher would be pleased to receive information that would allow them to rectify any omissions in future printings of this article.

Now Showing at the Fox...

Jan 4, 2016 10:00 AM | 2 comments

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 apartment on the eighth floor, 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. 

Need Help With Your Holiday Shopping?

Dec 21, 2015 10:30 AM | 0 comments

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.

Mary Sandsted, a "typically American girl"

Dec 18, 2015 10:02 AM | 0 comments

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.

http://catalog.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/record=b11097110~S64

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? 

 

Cyclo-what?

Dec 10, 2015 11:00 AM | 0 comments

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.