BURY ME DEEP, IN A METALLIC CASE (1852)

Beware BODY SNATCHERS! Beware GRAVE ROBBERS! BEHOLD, the Fisk Metallic Burial Case! F.A. MORREL, UNDERTAKER AND DISTRIBUTOR, 57 MYRTLE In 1852, a Brooklyn Heights “sexton and general undertaker” by the name of F. A. Morrel, practicing at his “coffin-wareroom” at No. 57 Myrtle Avenue, was promoting to the Brooklyn public the latest design in funerary offerings – the Fisk Metallic Burial Case. Originally designed as a vessel that would keep a dead body from decomposing if the individual had died far from home, the Fisk Metallic Burial Case would soon “take on a new life,” so to speak, for those who wanted their nearby loved ones to keep from rapidly decomposing, as well. For this reason, many Fisk ads promoted their cases for the general preservation of the body – which was important to those whose burial case included a “viewing plate,” allowing for the living relatives to view the departed one’s face. “From a coffin of this description the air may be exhausted so completely as entirely to prevent the decay of the contained body on principles well understood,” noted Fisk’s patent, “or, if preferred, the coffin may be filled with any gas or fluid having the property of preventing putrefaction.” Another of the selling points of these cast iron caskets arose from a general fear of those ghouls and goblins that stalked the nation’s cemeteries and graveyards – body thieves and grave robbers. Once a body was sealed in this type casket, though, the case would be difficult […]

THE GHOST OF STUYVESANT HEIGHTS (1901)

“At last Stuyvesant Heights revels in the proud possession of a genuine haunted house.” This was back in 1901, when Stuy Heights was relatively young, the houses newish, and the ghosts scarce. But Stuyvesant Heights had everything back then – “a Republican Club, an amateur dramatic society,” and even “several asphalt streets where bashful maidens learn to wheel at night.” So why not a ghost? THE HAUNTING AT NO. 281 STUYVESANT AVENUE The Griffins, who had lived in the apartment house at the ground floor were terrorized by their electric bell ringing at 2 o’clock every afternoon. But they also heard “hollow groans,” “creepy sidesteps on the staircase,” and “unexpected trips from room to room of pieces of furniture.” It all got to be too much for the Griffins to handle, and so they fled. The Griffins moved to Williamsburgh. PERFECTLY GOOD EXPLANATIONS Some of the other tenants blamed the wind. A young woman who lived in the second floor apartment told an Eagle reporter that everything was perfectly explainable. “This house, you know, stands alone and the wind, when it sweeps into the vestibule, often comes hard enough to blow the whistle in the kitchen tube,” she explained. “Then it’s a fact that the pictures do move, but that’s caused by the heatwaves from the radiators, over which they hang,” she further accounted. And then she closed her case with: “The pipes groan and the plumbing rattles, too!” But a ghost? “Nonsense.” Follow @BrownstoneDetec ———————————————————————————————————————– The Brownstone Detectives The […]

CSI: BROOKLYN – GIRLS WHO SMOKE (1887)

“There are more women in the City of Brooklyn who smoke cigarettes than any one…would ever dream of.” So floated the words of a Fulton street cigar store proprietor one evening in 1887, after a boy “of 12 or 13 years of age” entered and ask him for “a package of the same kind she got last night.” I was paid to find out why. So, going to the source, I found a few men who talked. Actually, they sang like canaries. And I kept good notes. TRACKING A RUMOR TO ITS SOURCE The cigar store I walked into was doing a brisk business. But the customers were men. All men and, from time to time, a few boys. Playing the bored customer, I perused the tobacco boxes, fiddled with the cigar cutters, and then spotting the proprietor – rather he spotted me! – he struck up a conversation. Like most customers who either didn’t know what they were looking for or had ulterior motives, I told him that I was just browsing. Taking him into my confidence just then, I asked him where all of his female customers were. Arching an eyebrow, he shot me a knowing glance, patted the side of his nose, and waved a hand before me, inviting me to the back of his store. “That young man who was just in here is the son of a well to do business man who lives in one of the high toned houses not far from here, […]

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S ODE TO POLK (1844)

A more improbable story you may have never heard – but Edgar Allan Poe may have been partially responsible for electing James Polk president. A TEA STORE, A FRIENDSHIP, AND THE WHITE EAGLE CLUB… Remembered from the campaign year of 1844, erstwhile actor and artist Gabriel Harrison recounted for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle his encounter with Edgar Allan Poe. Harrison had met him one evening as the latter was peering through the plate-glass window of his tea store. “It was in the Fall of 1843 or ’44 that I first became acquainted with Poe,” Harrison mused. “At that time I was the President of the White Eagle Club, New York, and kept a tea store on the southeast corner of Broadway and Prince street, then Mr. William Niblo’s property. “One evening I observed a person looking intently through my windows at a display of some Virginia leaf tobacco. After some minutes he entered the store, spoke of the beauty of the leaf and its quality. He took a very small bit of it in his mouth, and further remarked that he might be considered a small user of the Solace. In a few days after he called again. “On this occasion I was endeavoring to compose a campaign song for my club. I acquainted him with the fact, and while I was waiting upon a customer, he had composed a song to the measure and time of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’” The first few lines of the song were later […]

SATAN’S CANDY SHOP (1911)

If a man named Hell offered you some candy – would you take it? That was Otto Herman Hell’s problem. And, yes, in fact he was about to open a confectionery in Brooklyn on Broadway. THE DEVIL’S CONFECTIONER It must have been difficult growing up with a name like Hell. There were probably countless jokes and plays on the name. Otto must have been quite tired of it all by the time he reached the age of maturity, at which point he began thinking seriously about changing it. Having emigrated from Germany in 1891, he was 25 when the immigration officials must have looked up at him in surprise as he stood before them hoping to gain entry into the country. “Hell? Hell?” the official must have half-asked, half-shouted, incredulously. “O’Connor, come quick, or you’ll have Hell to pay!” Lots of uproarious laughter here, then a loud stamp, and then Hell was on to the next set of jokes somewhere in his new country. He probably found it curious in the early days, perhaps a bit enjoyable if he had had a playful streak. But, by George, it was 1911 now, and Otto was 36 with a wife and two children. He was more than ready to get serious with his life and move on from the unavoidable tirade of jokes at his expense. And he was also planning to open a confectionery and could not stomach the idea of “Hell’s Confectionery” in great bright lights along Broadway. It was […]

HOW CASEY THE COP SPELT “KOSCIUSZKO”

Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko was a Polish military officer who helped the U.S. to gain independence from the British during the Revolutionary War. Because of his dedication there are numberous public locations named after him – including a street in Bed-Stuy. Even more numerous, though, are the tales about the difficulty in spelling the man’s name. The best tale, though, involves a tail – and a horse and a policeman. SPELLING KOSCIUSZKO “There was once an Irish policeman who was responding to the presence of a dead horse on Kosciuszko Street. Upon arriving at the scene of the dead horse, Casey began to write his report. When he got to the part where he was supposed to write the location in which the horse was discovered, the policeman faltered. “He did not know how to spell the street name. “So, Casey looked at the horse and then at his report, and he thought. A few moments later, he shoved the half-finished report in his cap, grabbed the horse by its tail, and began dragging it down the street to the corner of Marcy Avenue. Once there, he stopped, pulled the report out from his cap, and added the ‘location’ of the dead horse – ‘Marcy Avenue.’” By the way, back in the day when horses were relied upon for their horsepower, they were falling dead in NYC on a daily basis. A dead horse on a street was actually a very common sight. By 1880, for a fact, the city […]

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