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Goats Do Roam in Brooklyn

May 20, 2016 1:15 PM | 3 comments

This spring, one of the most hotly anticipated arrivals to Brooklyn is a herd of eight goats. The animals are here on the loan from a Rhinebeck farm for the summer months during which they will help control invasive weeds in the Prospect Park. They will be deployed in the Vale of Cashmere (between Flatbush Ave and the East Drive) to graze on poison ivy and goutweed which have been taking over the area after Hurricane Sandy damaged it. The goats are already hugely popular; the park's free “Fun on the Farm” event this weekend – with a "bleet and greet" tour every 30 minutes – is booked to capacity!

Yet, goats are nothing new to the Prospect Park (shown here in a picture by George Bradford Brainard taken in 1870s) ...


… or to Brooklyn itself.

A quick scan of old Brooklyn newspapers reveals that the animals were widely held by Brooklynites when the city was a “vegetable basket” for Manhattan. “Lost and Found” sections of the newspaper were peppered with pleas to return a stray goat (for a reward, like beloved dogs or cats of today) or to collect one (and pay expenses!) -- sometimes in the same breath, as in this segment from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on January 29, 1867:


In the good old days, one could not just own a goat. An owner had to obtain a license (yes, this is correct!) to own a goat. The reports of sting operations against illegal goats proliferate in the police dispatches, such as this one from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 17, 1867:


Goats were kept for milk (“especially useful of the anemic”), leather and wool, but also, evidently, as a companion animal:


I came across a hilarious story that appeared in the paper on October 11, 1893, where a wily goat inserted himself into the legal machinery of the city:

“An ordinary, every day goat, with no outward marks of distinction beyond unusually long chin whiskers and an air of reckless daring, has hopelessly mixed up two families in a snarl, which Justice Connelly and the district attorney have been trying to unravel between them. The animal in question resides on Hale avenue, in a very respectable neighborhood, and like all Twenty-sixth Ward quadrupeds has learned to despise the restraining influences imposed upon the less favored of his species by the more conventional customs of other sections of the city. Sometimes he grazes on the sunny acclivities of Cypress Hills, and again, with the rapidity of the lightning change artist, appears an hour or two later in the very heart of fashionable Brownsville.

The goat is owned by Mrs. Christine Dowling, an elderly woman, whose husband only figures as a background incident in the difficulty which necessitated the appearance of Mr. and Mrs. William Commoda, in the role of defendants, before Justice Connelly this morning. The Commodas and Dowlings are neighbors. Some time ago, it appears from the records, the Dowling goat chewed up portions in the fence surrounding the Commoda estate and also macerated a quantity of old shoes which have been slowly ripening underneath the rays of a long summer’s sun in the secluded spot near the Commoda gates. Mr. and Mrs. Commoda objected, but the goat resumed his luncheon day after day, disturbing himself every now and again to dodge a flying brick […] Relations between the Commoda and Dowling families became so strained in consequence that when both parties met Mr. Dowling was threatened with death and his wife with some lesser form of punishment. The Commodas were arrested and placed under bonds by Justice Connelly. They swore that they owned a house and a lot on Hale avenue which were nominated as a security in the bond to keep the peace, the execution of which then released the couple from the impending penalty. Today they were re-arraigned for repeating the old offense, and also for assault. Once more the goat was at the bottom of the trouble. He broke out again unexpectedly and his goings-on revived the old feud. During the trial of the Commodas, the attention of the district attorney’s representative was called to the fact that the representation of the proprietorship in the Hale avenue house and lot, made by the defendants at the previous arraignment, was false. The house and land belong, it is claimed, to a Mr. Rosenberg. Today Commoda was sent to jail for twenty days, […] while his wife received a similar sentence, which was afterward suspended. Justice Connolly is determined that the Dowling goat shall henceforth enjoy his meals undisturbed.”

Perhaps the hero of the story looked something like that:

Goats were held as domestic animals in Brooklyn well into the 20th century.  

This runaway goat boarded the Independent Subway System train at Church Ave and “butted into everybody’s business. The goat ran along the platform with its head down, butting inoffensive people waiting for trains and thus convincing one and all that the goat was going to business. Captured after boarding the crowded train, the goat was taken to Jamaica S.P.C.A. Shelter where he is shown with Fred Kusterbeck, kennel man.” (BDE, Nov 19, 1936).

This goat named Harry lived in a backyard of his owner’s house in Canarsie in 1939.

But sometimes, in a search for all things goat, one comes across a mysterious statement in a paper. Perhaps it is a subject of a future blogpost, but here it is, in all its glory:

Brooklyn's Paper Trail

May 4, 2016 5:17 PM | 0 comments

We are pleased to announce that we have completed a finding aid for our collection of Brooklyn letterhead stationery. The Brooklyn Letterhead Collection spans 200 years of business in our borough, from 1802 to 2002, with the bulk of the collection representing the 1850s to the 1960s. Several thousand different businesses, institutions, and organizations are represented in the collection, including carpenters, plumbers, painters, city agencies, religious institutions, and more. The finding aid includes a complete listing of the names, addresses, and dates from the letterhead collection, which should prove useful to genealogical researchers, those interested in the history of various industries in Brooklyn, neighborhood historians and many others. Explore the finding aid here.

Using just the finding aid, it is possible to tease out interesting stories. For example, we can see that Robert Clarke was a plumber in the 1860s:

But by 1875, he was a manufacturer of his own patented pipe type, indicating that Clarke was able to transition from plumbing work to full-time manufacture of his apparently useful and popular invention:

There are many instances of businesses being passed down through generations, as indicated by name changes such as "William M. Shipman" to "William M. Shipman's Sons." There are also times when cooperatively owned businesses change their partners, making one wonder about what potential drama might lie behind the name changes over the years. For example, the Ray Brothers, who sold stoves and ovens, combined forces with at least three other partners during their more than 25 years in business. The finding aid also indicates when businesses moved, either from one part of Brooklyn to another or simply down the street.

Sometimes, the letterhead includes imagery related to the profession of its owner, as in these examples on our Tumblr, and sometimes the typography and design is just beautiful and interesting in and of itself, as in these examples.

Some Brooklyn businesses lasted for many years, decades even, such as Longman & Martinez, which existed at least from 1852 to 1940 based on the evidence in this collection. Some are even still around today, like James Weir Florists, which used to be housed in the now-landmarked greenhouse across from Green-Wood Cemetery and is now located on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. We even have early letterhead from the now-national brand of paint, Benjamin Moore. The company was founded in Brooklyn in 1883; this collection has examples of their letterhead from 1887, 1892, and 1903.

Beyond information about the businesses themselves, these documents also provide other historical insights, such as evidence that immigrants retained the use of their native languages. This letterhead from Ogni Bros has "Gennaio" in the date field instead of January:

This 1889 letterhead from Kenny & Murphy, bill posters, states the population of Brooklyn (still an independent city at that time) as 300,000. Compare that to today's population of over 2 million!

This letterhead from Sprague National Bank shows us the interior of the bank building--quite different from banks today!

As a fun side note, the bank's vice president is BPL's own David A. Boody (former president of our Board of Trustees).

There are also street addresses that no longer exist, from several downtown Brooklyn locations that were eliminated in the creation of Cadman Plaza, to streets that simply changed names. These include Gwinnett Street (now part of Lorimer Street), Oakland Street (became McGuinness Boulevard), and Magenta Street (now McKinley Avenue).

Sometimes there are funny instances of the use of language. I know this letterhead from Coalankok Retail Corp. is referring to fuel, not drugs, but the phrase "Coke bulk bagged" is a bit funny to modern eyes:

Or how about Alfred E. Horn, bungmaker?

Who knew there was enough need for "bungs" (stoppers/corks) to devote a whole business to them? Plus, the word "bung" has another, quite rude, meaning.

In addition, there are some fun surprises, such as these thread samples from Commonwealth Color:

There is also one receipt, from H. & G.W. Rich, that measures a staggering 42 inches long, demonstrating that today's extra-long drugstore receipts are nothing new.

In short, our Letterhead Collection is full of fascinating insights and is awaiting your discoveries! Explore the finding aid here.

The Story of the Little Brown Jug

Apr 29, 2016 10:30 AM | 1 comment

This week a guest blogger shares her story of how researching in our digital newspaper database, Brooklyn Newsstand, led her to a surprising discovery about her family history, and a new heirloom to boot! We librarians are always so happy to hear these kinds of stories, as we often don't get to learn where research in our collections leads after patrons exit our doors. Our guest blogger Joan Harrison is an artist and author. She is a Professor Emerita of Long Island University, where she taught for many years.

One evening in early March as my husband was watching the PBS show "Finding Your Roots," I, with iPad in hand, decided to search the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online one more time to see if I could find mentions of my paternal grandparents. The site had been my go-to source for the daily late 19th and early 20th happenings in Glen Cove, Long Island when I was doing pictorial histories of the city and neighboring Locust Valley for Arcadia Publishing. Previous searches had yielded no information. I can only assume more links were fed into the search engine since my last visit for I suddenly discovered a goldmine of information about my grandparents and their siblings. [Editor's note: these were likely articles from Brooklyn Life, a society magazine that was added to the online database shortly after the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was digitized.]

The first entry to appear was the May 20th, 1911 announcement of the engagement of my paternal grandparents, Grandma Bess and Grandpa Herb, aka "Pop" Harrison. I went on to find their wedding announcement, notations of their social engagements, obituaries of a great grandfather and a great grandmother, and then, amazingly, a photogravure of W.H. Harrison's and Sons, the legendary family store!

W. H. Harrison's was a wholesale and retail dealer in flour, butter, sugar, teas, coffees and spices as well as a purveyor of meat and produce. The emporium and warehouses were located at the corner of Washington Avenue and Pacific Street. The picture caption noted that the business had been at that location since its founding in 1865. It remained at that location until closing in 1917. A look at Google street view reveals that the store building still stands, though seemingly repurposed into an apartment building. 

On St. Patrick's Day when everyone was posting "green greetings" on Facebook, I posted a screen grab of the picture of the store. To my astonishment, it drew over sixty comments and included among the entries was an image of a stoneware jug with the name W.H. Harrison and the location of the store impressed into the surface and stained cobalt blue. I discovered that an artist friend, Sarah Hogan -- whom I had met in the local library history room -- had made the post.

I immediately got in touch with Sarah, who revealed she had found the jug while on a childhood archeology expedition. While searching for vintage bottles in a ravine in neighboring Sea Cliff, Long Island nearly forty years earlier she had uncovered the jug, intact and without a single crack or chip. We arranged a meeting and amazingly Sarah felt the heirloom, the earliest prize of her considerable collection of local artifacts, should come home to its family.

Since my siblings, cousins and cousins' children heard about this amazing gift they have set to intensive family historical and genealogical research, with a field trip to the old neighborhood of Prospect Heights and environs planned for next month. If you have any pictures or artifacts from the store or information about the Harrison or Redmond clans we would love to hear from you.

Now, on to the next question: Was Grandma Bess' claim that we were descendants of the 9th and 23rd presidents, William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison true or merely an apocryphal story?

Sanders for (Student Body) President!

Apr 13, 2016 11:30 AM | 0 comments

With the upcoming primary elections on April 19th, Brooklyn, all of New York City, and indeed all of New York State finds itself basking in the reflected glare of the white-hot spotlight that follows this season's presidential candidates. Trump, Cruz, Kasich, Clinton and Sanders are trotting all over the map this month, drumming up support for their causes and tasting some local delicacies along the way. Tomorrow Brooklyn's Navy Yard will host a debate between Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, drawing even more focus onto our patch of Long Island.

As is widely known by now, Bernie Sanders grew up in Brooklyn, so in some ways his campaigning here means a return to home turf. The Daily News ran a story last Saturday exploring just how deep Sanders's Brooklyn roots dig down, uncovering anecdotes from his childhood in Midwood through his high school career and into his stint at Brooklyn College. I couldn't resist doing a bit of my own investigating in the archives to hunt for traces of Sanders's boyhood days, and I was happy to hit a small jackpot in the pages of the Madison Highway.

The Madison Highway was the school newspaper for James Madison High at Bedford Ave and Ave P in Midwood -- just steps from Sanders's boyhood home. Sanders graduated from there in 1959, and as luck would have it, our collection of newspapers from that school starts in the fall of 1958, as Sanders embarked on his senior year.

James Madison High School in 1946.

While many of us squeak through high school without making the pages of our alma mater's rag, Sanders was mentioned in almost every issue that year. As a star member of the track and cross-country teams he was regularly featured in the paper's sports section.

That's co-captain Bernie Sanders sporting short shorts in the upper left.

As noted in the Daily News piece, Sanders also made an impression off the field. In December of 1958 the budding politician was selected to run against two of his classmates for the job of student body president.

Above, the front-page announcement of the presidential candidates (SGO = student government organization) and below, headshots of all the runners. Sanders is the third buzz cut from the left.

At this point, it is important to note that the Madison Highway came out only monthly, and that our collection is likely incomplete. And while the 24-hour news cycle has trained modern readers to expect up-to-the-minute reports of campaign action, high school elections of the 1950s were perhaps a bit more laconic. After the candidates for class president were announced in December, this campaign trail runs cold until March of 1959:

In case the fine print is hard to read, here we see the newly-elected SGO officers being sworn in. Sanders is nowhere to be seen as new president Robert Rockfeld raises his right hand.

But that defeat wasn't the end of Sanders's involvement with student affairs at James Madison. He makes a fiery comeback in the very next issue of the Madison Highway, grabbing headlines on nearly every page of the 4-page newspaper. As the Daily News article also described, part of Sanders's presidential campaign platform involved raising funds for a Korean War orphan. This was a cause that seems to have pre-dated Sanders's candidacy -- the outgoing SGO treasurer Myron Kalin was already organizing benefits to "adopt" a Korean orphan through the Save the Children Federation in the fall of 1958. Through fundraising efforts the school would donate $120 per year, enough to provide food, clothing and shelter for one child. In the March 25, 1959 issue the editors published a letter from Jong Han, identified as the older brother of Jong Soon, the boy who would benefit from the philanthropy of James Madison High School students:

That article cited Sanders specifically for his fundraising efforts in the campaign. How did he do it? you might wonder. With an all-star basketball game!

In language that portends of hyperbolic campaign pamphlets to come, the paper excitedly affirms, "This [alumni basketball game] is not a dream, and will shortly be a reality. Bernie Sanders made a campaign promise to bring back the stars, and that's exactly what he's doing." You must give Sanders credit -- many politicians who are successfully elected fail to come through on their campaign promises and yet here we have young Bernie making good on his word despite his defeat at the polls.

News of the coming alumni game flooded the (4) pages of the March 25th issue of the Madison Highway, and once again it bears reminding that this paper only came out monthly. When I paged through the following issue from April 16, 1959, eager for news of the alumni game and the profits it reaped for young Jong Soon, I was sorely disappointed. Sanders's fundraising blitz was by then old news, apparently, and no more mention of it was made through the rest of the school year. Did New York Knicks coach and James Madison graduate Fuzzy Levane indeed coach the alumni team, as was hinted? If he did, the Highway apparently didn't think it was worth reporting.

Which is not to say that the Madison Highway ceased to be riveting reading. The wacky editorial board ran several hoax news items in its April issue, presumably in honor of April Fool's Day, which elicited a few chuckles. And then there were also cartoons by staff illustrators:

All of this serves to remind us how important it is to collect things like school newspapers and yearbooks. We are all the time consulting these resources to assist with genealogy research and student projects, not to mention tracking the careers of famous Brooklynites. We've been steadily expanding our collection of high school newspapers, yearbooks, and ephemera, thanks in large part to donations from people who spent their own formative years in this borough. Hopefully there are some Brooklyn-born readers out there right now who are willing to donate a part of their private history to our historic and publicly accessible collections!

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:

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…”


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, (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. (Accessed September 2014).
10. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,, 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 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 (Accessed March 17, 2010).
16. Bridge of Allan information care of (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.
19. 1880 U. S. Census,
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. (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,” (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. (Accessed February 24, 2015).
39. “History of the American Field Service in France,” (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,” (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., (Accessed August 3, 2011).
48. “First Church Since 1822,” (Accessed in April 2011).
49. Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide, vol. 109, no.7. February 18, 1922, p. 207. (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] (Accessed 2010).
61. Obituary, The Bernardsville News, January 30, 1947, p. 4. [also in The New York Times, January 25, 1947]


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.