THE BOMBING OF BROOKLYN HEIGHTS (1892)

It was just past 1 a.m. on a cool Saturday morning in the tony Columbia Heights section of Brooklyn. The police reserves of the Second Precinct, under the able leadership of Sergeant Joseph Carrougher, would soon be arriving on the scene. Carrougher’s desk sergeant had just awoken him out of a deep sleep at the Fulton Street police station. The sergeant had looked at him gravely in the dark of the room. “Somebody exploded a dynamite bomb on Willow Street.” “GROTESQUELY DRESSED, THE RESULT OF A HURRIED TOILET” When Carrougher arrived on the scene, he found Officer Seymour, “a portion of whose post was the scene of the explosion,” along with “a crowd of citizens” busily disturbing the crime scene. It was not too troublesome, however, having this crowd of citizens, “grotesquely dressed, the result of a hurried toilet,” tromping about the evidence. So long as they did not take anything that would assist in apprehending the guilty party. But many at the scene that night had begun amusing themselves “by digging out the fine white powder of the cobblestone with their penknives,” taking away samples. Sgt. Carrougher had seen it all in his 25 loyal years of dedication to the force. And while there were a number of clues that pointed in a variety of directions, the good sergeant was clearly stumped. Many of the locals were privately suspicious that it was a socialist who had exploded the bomb in an attempt to incite fear in the lives of […]

COL. BACON KISSED THE WIVES (1905)

It is a shame the way newspaper reporters don’t write these days. The folksy, tongue-in-cheek, gossipy style of 100 years ago would today seem too daring, too familiar. And perhaps newspapers now are just a little too gun-shy of potential libel suits… Here is a story reported by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1905, that combines all the elements of a ribald over-the-fence tittle-tattle: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Fri., 20 October 1905 — The home makers and home defenders of Prospect Park South were stirred this morning to dark purposes. Quite well it was that Colonel Alexander S. Bacon got away from Ditmas Park home in that aristocratic section before his neighbors saw the morning papers in which the gallant colonel was depicted in the very act of kissing their wives. Not only that, but the same papers had Colonel Bacon declaring publicly that he had been enjoying sweet osculatory favors. It all grew out of Colonel Bacon’s law business. He was defending Mrs. Hortense Powers from the suit of her husband, William F. Powers, who wanted a divorce on the ground that Mrs. Powers had been too free with her kisses and favors for a neighbor, “Billy” Campbell. Colonel Bacon tried to excuse and justify these little tokens of affection. Here is the argument he was reported to have used before the jury: “Gentlemen, every one of you who is married probably has kissed his neighbor’s wife. Without wishing to be egotistical, I might say that I have been fortunate […]

THE SINGING DOG OF LINCOLN PLACE (1915)

Nothing makes front page news like the ridiculous or the sublime. Just over 100 years ago, the stage was certainly given over to the ridiculous. That year – 1915 – produced the first-ever crooning canine. And “Bunny,” the French bulldog was its name- or, rather, was it “Gaby,” the French bulldog – but, perhaps, it was “Bunny”? This confusion, it seemed, was the apex upon which would spin the entire ever-dizzying melodrama concerning the ownership of said dog – and to obscure matters even slightly further, there was a total of three individuals who seemed to be quite certain that each was the master to this now-famous dog. The contest, thus, was set, the curtains prepared to be drawn, and the public waited impatiently to review every detail of the salacious tragedy in an effort to determine the eventual players of the parts – in particular, who would emerge before the footlights in the precious and coveted melodramatic role of supporting actress to Bunny (or Gaby), the singing dog. And the newspapers covered it all, down to its last partially accurate detail. SETTING THE STAGE The Bunny-Gaby trial was certain to provide some good pieces for the newspapers for at least a week as the case weaved its way through the court system, but the players, the scenes, and the script together made for a heady brew, so let’s first set the stage for the drama that was about to unfold: Maude Klotz, a famous soprano living at 907 Lincoln […]

THE BROOKLYN HOUSING SHORTAGE (1946)

When Johnny came marching home again – he found a housing shortage. As World War II ended right on the tail end of the Depression, the City of New York realized it had a crisis on its hands. Relatively little housing had been built in the previous 15 years and suddenly, with the war winding down, veterans would be returning en masse to a “smaller” city. Robert Moses proposed the temporary solution that seemed to perfectly address the veteran housing shortage – quonset huts. Servicemen would certainly be familiar with them – those curved corrugated “shacks” so familiar to the boys who fought in the Pacific. Used there as quickly built administrative offices and barracks, they were the solution for an army “on-the-go.” But would veterans want to live in them – again? BROOKLYN’S HUTS GO UP In Brooklyn, after much heated debate as to what to build, where, and for how much, acres of land in Canarsie, Jamaica Bay, and the area along the Belt Parkway in the south of Brooklyn, were all selected upon which to build temporary public housing in the form of the Federal surplus quonset huts. These structures, with their curved, corrugated roofs, potbellied stoves in each living room for heat, and a common ground between the rows of houses, took some time to arrive in the City – and then some time to put up. Builders seemed to not have realized the difficulty of putting these pre-fabbed buildings together and then fitting them out […]

THE ROMANCE OF A BOTTLE NOTE (1902)

Floating along in the water, down the southern shore of Martha’s Vineyard, came bobbing a corked green beer bottle with what looked suspiciously like a note inside. Coaxing the bottle to shore with a stick, Harold A. Thomas barely got his shoes wet in retrieving the missive. It was certainly a distress call from the survivors of a sunken ship marooned on some unknown exotic island. Upon uncorking the bottle, Thomas fished the note out with some effort, unrolled the coarse paper, and began to read the nicely penned lines therein: “On board the good old ship Southwark the first day of September, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and two, we, the ‘Smart Set,’ have assembled in Cabin No. 5, to celebrate the last night of a most agreeable voyage.’ Not the note that Thomas had expected, his hopes of saving the daughter of an ambassador or the owner of a large and profitable railroad company, were suitably dashed against those great rocks that had so recently been the cause of the imagined marooning. Thomas, hoping to salvage something from his discovery, read on. “A reward of $5 will be given to any mortal or immortal who will bring this note to Howard S. Parker, 414 Madison street, Brooklyn.” Immediately he began to compose his return letter. “Picked up on the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard about three miles from Gay Head, on Friday, September 12, 1902. Harold A. Thomas, 501 West One Hundred and Thirteenth Street, […]

YOUR BROOKLYN BROWNSTONE – IN THE ’80s

Ever wonder what your home looked like in the 1980s? Do you know if that drive-way was recently installed at your house? Do you lie awake at nights wondering when your iron gate was stolen? All of these answers to the riddles and mysteries of your Brooklyn Brownstone may lie at the NYC Department of Records. TAX PHOTOS Sometime in the 1980s city government workers went around the city snapping photographs of every house, building, and lot to update or establish a baseline for the Department of Finance’s tax records. They were known then – and now – as “tax photos.” According to the department’s website, 262,624 images exist in their online gallery: “By the early 1980s, the Department of Finance determined that the 1939/40 photographs were too out-dated for property tax appraisal purposes. From 1983 to 1988, using 35mm cameras, they photographed every property in the five boroughs, including vacant lots and tax-exempt buildings. They used color film stock producing over 800,000 photographs in both print and negative formats. Taking advantage of then-new technology ca. 1989, they recorded each print as a single frame on Laser Video Disks (LVDs), using analog video capture. The Archives extracted low-resolution tiffs of each frame from the LVDs for viewing in the gallery. High-resolution scans or prints can be ordered from the original negatives.” HOW TO GET YOUR OWN FRAMEABLE TAX PHOTOS This was one of the first things that I did after buying my house. And it is easy to do. Check […]

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