BROOKLYN’S “GREAT WHITE HURRICANE” (1888)

“Brooklyn awoke this morning to find itself in the hands of the blizzard.” So read the morning edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle almost 130 years ago on Monday, 12 March 1888, about the record snowstorm that, over a day-and-a-half period, dropped up to three feet of snow on the city, produced sustained winds of 40 miles per hours, and created snowdrifts in some places in excess of 50 feet! Nearly all transportation was shut down completely and many Brooklynites were confined to their homes for up to a week. While the city slept the rain that had rendered last evening slightly unpleasant had turned to snow, the wind had increased to a tempest and all life was driven from the streets. Street cars were unable to proceed. The horses were detached and taken to the nearest place of shelter. The inmates of the cars saw the huge drifts of snow pile up above the window ledges, heard the shrieks of the wires above their heads and did not leave the cars unless an open house was very near at hand. It was about 1 o’clock when the storm became furious and it raged for ten hours with undiminished violence. Those who ventured out during the morning were treated to a view of the city unparalleled in its history. During the entire morning there was little concerted effort, except along the principle business part of Fulton Street, to open traffic or carry on any business. Half the city felt that […]

POOR OSCAR MOORE, FELL & HIT THE FLOOR (1884)

We Brooklynites can sense history all around us. It does not jump out at us like ghosts or drift in our direction like disembodied voices from walls. But we know it is there. Sometimes it takes a little physical research to understand what it is that happened at a particular location, though – just to see it. Take the case of the brownstone at No. 272 South 5th Street in Williamsburg, for example – literally, at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge. The facade shows what appears to be an unassuming 3-story and basement 19th century tenement. But something once happened there – literally, right there out in front of the house – that changed a man’s life. POOR OSCAR MOORE A short piece in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of 11 January 1884, noted that a painter, by the name of Oscar Moore, who lived at 143 Marcy Avenue, had been working on a scaffold at the Fifth Street location, painting the front of “No. 272 South Fifth Street.” Then he fell. According to the paper, Moore “sustained a severe fracture of the right side.” It is likely that a surgeon was dispatched to tend to Moore. He probably did little more than assess Moore’s status and then, with the help of an assistant, pick him up and place him in their horse-drawn ambulance. Moore, still very much conscious, likely groaned in pain. The surgeon may have administered him a restorative along the way to the hospital. The article does […]

SUNSETTING ON A BED-STUY BOULEVARD (1909)

In 1909, a landmark was about to be destroyed. It was quite common, though, at the time for owners to tear down the antiquated wood-frame mansions that dotted Brooklyn’s skyline. Since the new brownstone houses had become all the rage in the 1880s, these tinder “firetraps” had become redundant, difficult to sell, and simply unstylish to live in. By the late 19th century, they were being sold, in many cases, for the value of their land as building lots. And with the demise of these historical artifacts, went some truly beautiful examples of mid-19th century architecture, few of which remain with us to this day. The De Mille house was built around the middle of the 19th century for the family of that name, “and it has been a landmark in that region since the days when it was surrounded by open fields.” Yes, even Bedford-Stuyvesant – today chockablock with brownstone and masonry homes – was once – even before the advent of wood-frame homes – forested land alongside open virgin fields. As a matter of fact, the corner of Quincy and Patchen, in the 1850s, was little more than hills, dales, dirt lanes, and the vague promise of a future suburban city. “Broadway, which is nearby, was beginning to be built up, but most of the other streets in that vicinity had only been laid out on the map when Thomas De Mille, a New York commission merchant, and his brother invested in property in the region,” noted the […]

SNOW DAY ON BERGEN & FLATBUSH (1888)

Although today was merely a dusting in comparison to the Blizzard of 1888, it gives us an opportunity to look back on what the aftermath of a real snowstorm looked like. In the inset black & white photograph, we see men clearing snow outside of a coal & wood store after the blizzard at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Bergen Street. We’ve included a Google Maps view of what that corner looks like today. The Coal & Wood shop is now a Gino’s Pizza at 218 Flatbush Avenue. Follow @BrownstoneDetec ———————————————————————————————————————– The Brownstone Detectives The story you have just read was composed from extensive historical research conducted by The Brownstone Detectives. We perform in-depth investigations on the historic homes of our clients, and produce for them their very own House History Books. Our hardbound books contain an illustrated and colorful narrative timeline that will bring the history of any house to life. Contact us today to begin discovering the history of your home.

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, […]

THE BOERUM HILL SNAKE-OIL MAN (1885)

If you climbed to the third floor of 375 Pacific Street in 1885, two floors above its stable, and you passed through “several mysterious little doors,” you might find “a little room where seven girls were busily engaged” in filling and labeling numerous clear bottles. And if you thought, while climbing the thin stairway and passing through the oddly small doors, that perhaps you were entering upon the quarters of a crime syndicate or those of a mafia den, you would not have been too very far from the truth. MAKING, BOTTLING, AND SELLING THE CURE Years before the Pure Food and Drug Act was signed into law in 1906, patent medicine salesmen were plying the U.S. mails with great success. Although their “cures” brought their clients considerably less success, their hopes were still strong and snake oil continued to sell at a good clip. Patent medicine salesmen were everywhere, advertising everywhere, and came from a number of professions – failed doctors, teachers, tinsmiths, and even wood engravers. What a wood engraver might have known about medicine was probably never in dispute – all he needed to know was how to sell a product – what was in dispute was the fact that his “cure” did nothing other than make the buyer somewhat poorer. That wood engraver, “Dr. J. A. Lawrence,” who was otherwise known as James L. Connolly, a “stylishly well-dressed young man” who had his shop at 375 Pacific Street, and hired the names of numerous doctors in […]

A REALTOR ON THE PARK SLOPE (1885)

In 1885, Park Slope was still expanding at a rapid clip; houses were being built and sold to those members of a future Brooklyn elite who were then moving from Manhattan across a recently completed Brooklyn Bridge. Enter John A. Schilling of 429 5th Avenue (btwn 8th and 9th streets), who cared for all of Prospect Park Slope’s realty and insurance needs. Schilling appears to have been at the Fifth Avenue location from 1882 through at least 1894, at which time, probably due to the Panic of 1893, the real estate market dried up. These bad economic times, which lasted most of the decade, would force him to go out of business and sell his office – after which he would seek other employment. With his Republican political connections, and the fact that another German, Republican Charles A. Schieren, had just been elected mayor of Brooklyn, that work came in civil service positions which had him working for various Brooklyn city agencies. Schilling was also a Civil War veteran, which was common for men his age living in Park Slope during the period. When Schilling passed in 1910 at Montegue Terrace in Brooklyn Heights, he was memorialized in the press as “very popular among his associates.” Follow @BrownstoneDetec ———————————————————————————————————————– The Brownstone Detectives The story you have just read was composed from extensive historical research conducted by The Brownstone Detectives. We perform in-depth investigations on the historic homes of our clients, and produce for them their very own House History Books. […]

JACK THE RIPPER IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS (1889)

The residents of Brooklyn Heights had always seemed to have much more to fear from one another than from the butcheresque stylings of London’s Jack The Ripper. His fiendish work had been performed with the great learnedness of a doctor, but, comfortingly, it had been executed all the way across the Atlantic in the East End of London. It was likely because of this distance that Brooklynites felt free to regale in the stories of the Ripper’s murders and to wonder at the identity of the modern-day butcher. On 18 January in 1889, however, all of that may have changed, when a man using the “common, every day” name Smith stepped up to a Brooklyn Heights boarding house – with his bag and great trunks en tow – and quietly checked himself in for a long stay. TWOMBLEY, THE INDIAN HERB DOCTOR The former “Indian herb doctor,” who had, through “judicious and extensive advertising, managed to make a handsome income,” engaged Mrs. Lamb’s rooms, where he also took his meals. Dr. Francis Twombley, also known as Tumblety, in his former life in the U.S. – for he was born and raised in the States – had, in the early 1860s, had an office and laboratory on Fulton Street, near Nassau. (According to the Rochester Daily Union, though, before coming to Brooklyn, he was selling books, which were possibly pornographic, along the Erie Canal between Rochester and Buffalo. He then found brief employment as a cleaner at the Lispenard Hospital, in […]

FIRE, FUN & FIASCOES ON THE 4th (1887)

A lot of accidents happen on the 4th of July. While it has been a day of celebration for Americans since its inception, certain citizens have tended to go a bit too far with their fireworks and other dangerous weapons. Back in 1887, a few days after Independence Day, a listing of the damages occurring and casualties effected on that date appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle – once the authorities had had the time to assess the collective destruction. “Pistols and pyrotechnics of every kind were used with absolute impunity by even mere children,” the paper noted, “and the wonder is that more accidents did no occur.” The following list reflects a number of police blotters and lays out the accidents occurring primarily in the Eastern District (Williamsburg and Bushwick areas, and parts of Bed-Stuy). It is partial, but it will 1) boggle your mind, and 2) make you laugh. FIRE CRACKERS AS ASSAULT WEAPONS 8:30 – A boy whose identity could not be discovered threw a firecracker at the peanut stand outside the frame building at 21 Grand street and set it on fire. The building, which was owned and occupied by Sauer Brothers as a saloon, was damaged to the amount of $500 before the flames were extinguished. Some boys threw firecrackers on the roof of Charles Frank’s tailor store at 404 Keap street during the afternoon. A fire engine was promptly on hand and the incipient blaze was stopped before any damage was done. While fireworks […]

Snakes Eating Monkeys at Empire Stores (1889)

Back in the 19th century, newspapers knew how to tell a good yarn. And who better to get their material from than sailors who were known for spinning a few of their own. So, in 1889, when reporters heard a rumor about a ship filled with escaped snakes and monkeys, many of the former making meals of many of the latter, they raced down to the shipyards to see what stories they could find. THE CLIPPER SHIP MONROVIA AT THE EMPIRE STORES Docked down at the Empire Stores, a chain of huge coffee warehouses strategically built near the Fulton shipyard docks – in what is today known as DUMBO – was a relatively new, 3-masted clipper bark, the Monrovia. The Monrovia’s original purpose was the Liberian trade, but as all shipping companies had to make up for costs in any way they could, they usually took on a trade in passengers. The clippers’s trade route was New York to Liberia, though, so there were few passenger sources other than missionaries – until they learned of the groups hoping to repatriate former slaves. In this case, at the request of the American Colonization Society, the Monrovia had been transferring black emigrants, many of them former slaves, back to their African homeland. OUT OF AFRICA On the date of her return to New York, the Monrovia was transporting in her holds palm oil, ginger, palm nuts, cattle hides, canewood, and coffee, the last of which, in particular, caused her to dock at […]

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