Archive for the tag 'history'

Two hundred years ago this week, the now historic village of Gravesend was rocked by a violent and tragic outburst that may have been the town’s first murder-suicide.

The bicentennial was first noted by historian and friend of the site Joseph Ditta, who posted on his blog of Gravesend history about two gravestones in the 364-year-old Gravesend Cemetery at Gravesend Neck Road and McDonald Avenue.

Ditta came across two stones, cracked and flaking with age, baring the names of 2-year-old Barnardus Ryder and his father, Jacobus Ryder. The Ryders died just 10 days apart, with the child passing on May 29, 1814, and the elder on June 8, 1814.

At first, Ditta writes, one might assume the two were killed by a “contagion [that] carried off multiple relatives, as [illnesses] did for eons before the advent of standardized sanitation and medical care.”

But on further research, Ditta discovered this wasn’t the case. He writes:

[A]ssumptions often prove dangerously wrong. On Monday, May 30, 1814, the day after little Barnardus Ryder died, readers of the Commercial Advertiser, one of New York City’s leading newspapers, stumbled across this shocking report from the otherwise tranquil reaches of southern Kings County:

New York, Commercial Advertiser, Monday, May 30, 1814

Newspapers up and down the eastern seaboard, from New Hampshire to Maryland, and as far inland as Ohio, recounted the tale of Gravesend’s “horrid transaction.” The version printed on June 1 in the Long-Island Star, Brooklyn’s leading weekly, managed to spell “Ryder” correctly, and added the detail that Jacobus — “long esteemed as a worthy and pious man, and . . . apparently in his right mind on the evening previous to the melancholy and dreadful act” — confessed in the letter to his father that he “imagined he heard a voice commanding him to execute the deed.” He lingered, sadly, until June 8, and died at the age of 44 years, three months, and 23 days.

Ditta doesn’t say in his post whether this was Gravesend’s first murder-suicide, but he told Sheepshead Bites that it’s quite possible.

“It very well could have been. It was a shocking story then, and even now, 200 years later,” he said.

By the time of the murder, Gravesend, one of the six original towns that later became Brooklyn, was already nearly 169 years old. But with a population numbering in the hundreds, it’s unlikely that a previous incident would have escaped the attention of record keepers.

The Ryders remain among the borough’s most famous residents, a founding family whose name still adorns streets, schools and libraries. The first Ryder, Barent Jurianz Ryder, emigrated from Holland in 1658. He later married Aeltie Van Voorhies, another familiar surname.

Check out the full story of these headstones and what came of Ryder’s descendants on Ditta’s Gravesend Gazette. You can also read our August 2009 Q&A with Ditta about Gravesend’s history, and check out his book, Gravesend, Brooklyn.

izzos-lisanne

Photo by Lisanne Anderson

Strolling by the 1605 Sheepshead Bay Road storefront recently vacated by Anatolian Gyro (which has moved around the corner to 2623 East 16th Street) will give you a little glimpse into Sheepshead Bay’s commercial history: a portion of the sign from the long-lived Izzo’s Barber Shop is now on display after Anatolian’s sign was pulled down.

I can’t find a certain date for when Izzo’s opened and closed, but it was there for a broad chunk of the mid-20th century, leading up to at least the 1980s, where the storefront (with updated signage) can be seen in a Department of Finance tax photo:

izzos2

I believe it was called Izzo’s Clippers, though it’s hard to say from the photo and it was long before my time.

I pinged reader and local history buff Lisanne Anderson to see if she could help pinpoint the timeframe. She wasn’t sure, but did confirm that it was owned by Peter Izzo, who lived from 1903 to 1984. The Izzos are one of Sheepshead Bay’s anchor families, having been involved in building much of the community throughout the 1900s, and Peter was uncle to the area’s most famous resident, Vince Lombardi.

There’s a plaque dedicated to Izzo, who was apparently known as Mr. Sheepshead Bay, at Bill Brown Square (too frequently incorrectly called Vince Lombardi Square, at East 17th Street and Jerome Avenue).

izzo-lisanne2

Photo by Lisanne Anderson.

Lisanne added that in the shop’s later years, Izzo had hired younger help and only came into the shop to attend to long-time patrons.

Can anyone else fill us in on the history of Izzo’s barber shop? Let us know in the comments!

Update (12:19 p.m.): A little post-publishing research turned up this amusing article from the September 3, 1934, Brooklyn Eagle, in which the 64-member Izzo clan stayed at Peter’s house for a family reunion field day:

izzos

Furthermore, Wikipedia notes that Vince Lombardi’s grandfather, and Peter Izzo’s father, Anthony, opened a barber shop in Sheepshead Bay before the turn of the century. While no address is given, a September 15, 1915, edition of the Daily Eagle notes that Tony’s barbershop was caught up in some illegal betting operations. It gave the address as Shore Road and Jerome Place, the former names for Sheepshead Bay Road and Jerome Avenue, pretty much exactly where the storefront is:

daily-eagle

Come tonight and you could learn how streets like this got their names. (Source: GerritsenBeach.Net/Flickr)

The Bay Improvement Group is holding its annual history night presentation tonight. The event, which serves as the lead-up to May 18′s BayFest. The group asked us to share the following message:

Tonight, Monday, May 12, is our Annual BIG History Night. We’ll gather at 8pm at Sunrise Senior Living, 2211 Emmons Avenue, Sheepshead Bay.

Ron Schweiger, the Official Brooklyn Historian, will present his exclusive presentation, “The Story Behind Brooklyn Street & Neighborhood Names.”

Every wonder why they call them “New Lotts”? “Bay Ridge”? “Gerritsen”? “Brownsville”? Why our streets have names like Batchelder, Ford, and Knapp Streets? Answers to these questions and more, as well as interesting tidbits of Brooklyn history, will be discussed.

Free parking. Refreshments and time to chat at conclusion.

RKO Tilyou Theatre exterior

The RKO Tilyou Theater. Built in the 1920s and now destroyed. It represents the rise of Coney Island as an amusement destination. (Source: Cinema Treasures)

The RKO Tilyou is one of those landmarks of Southern Brooklyn that have long been demolished but still live on through pictures and legacy. Originally built in 1926 on Surf Avenue, the theater belonged to a Coney Island family that helped define the waterfront neighborhood as an amusement destination.

The theater’s peculiar name comes from the family, the Tilyous, that opened the cinema. And the story of the theater is intertwined with the Tilyou family, a long line of people that the Brooklyn Museum describe as being “intimately connected with Coney Island as providers of entertainment.”

On the opening night of March 18, 1926, the theater featured vaudeville and the film Three Faces East, according to Cezar Del Valle. He has published two volumes on old theaters in Brooklyn called The Brooklyn Theater Index. There is soon to be a third volume that will feature the Tilyou theater along with many other oldies in Southern Brooklyn.

Cinema Treasures, another site for old theaters, writes this about the Tilyou theater:

This grand old theatre had its heyday in the golden era of Coney Island. It stood one block away from the Shore Theatre and Steeplechase Park, all on Surf Avenue. The Tilyou Theatre was opened by B.S. Moss on March 18, 1926.

The Shore Theater that is referred to above is last remaining theaters of the era still standing in Coney Island.

The Tilyous also enjoyed fame and glory during that time. Their legacy stretches back into the mid-19th century when Peter Tilyou opened a  Surf House in 1865 before Coney Island’s “golden era.” The neighborhood was beginning to transform into a world of amusement. The tavern quickly became a popular waterhole close to the terminus of the first rail line, according to the Brooklyn Museum. Peter’s son, George, went on to open Steeplechase Park in 1897 and the family eventually went on to open the RKO theater along with a Ferris Wheel “and other rides scattered along the beach,” according to Coney Island History.

The account continues:

[George] Tilyou became Coney’s biggest booster and a philanthropist who supported local orphanages, the Catholic church, children’s hospitals, and other charities.

In 1897, George moved his mechanical horse-racing-themed rides into an enclosed park at West 16th Street and Surf Avenue.

George died in 1914 and his children continued to run the park and the various other sources of amusement the family owned. Then in 1964, they sold the Steeplechase Park to a developer who demolished it. Not long after that, in 1973, the RKO Theater was also demolished.

In its twilight, it was running action double features at bargain prices.

seamonster

When moderators of “The History of Fort Tilden, Floyd Bennett Field, and Marine Park” Facebook page posted this photo a few weeks ago, it set me off on a long search of old newspaper archives and other databases for what they called the “Sea Monster of Gerritsen Beach.”

Nothing turned up, but Facebook readers did share photos of a Nessie lookalike that hung around the channel for a bit in 2007:

Source: Kevin Sr./Flickr

The story behind that one was a bit of an easier find than whatever was depicted in the undated postcard. According to GerritsenBeach.net:

Artist Cameron Gainer has staged a 12 1/2-foot replica of the mythical monster in the salt marsh off Marine Park.

… Nessie is one of 40 temporary art installation in “Art in the Parks” – the 40th anniversary celebration of the parks’ public arts programs.

Word is that this installation alarmed a bus driver on Avenue U so much so that he nearly flipped his bus.

But I’m still left wondering about the original postcard, and if there’s an older local legend I’m not aware of. Or maybe that’s just how Gerritsen Beach attracted tourism back in the day? Hey, it beats the whole “Come visit us on Halloween so we can throw hammers at you” shtick.

Resnick

Marty Resnick (Source: Howard Fields via Daily News)

The sculpture

The sculpture (Source: Howard Fields via Daily News)

When I was a student at Kingsborough High School (now Leon M. Goldstein High School) at Kingsborough Community College, I often passed by a rusted sculpture with Hebrew lettering as I wandered the campus.

I once stopped a guard nearby and asked him if he knew what the deal was. He shrugged. I moved on, and only occasionally thought about it again.

Little did I know, the same question of the sculpture’s origins had baffled faculty members for years. The school had no record of it being erected, or the sculptor who created it.

That mystery has finally been solved thanks to a friend of the artist who called the school after the sculptor passed away, hoping to do a memorial tribute beside his creation.

The Daily News reports:

The Brooklyn film historian [Ken Gordon] and Kingsborough alum wanted permission to hold a memorial service for his pal Marty Resnick, who died in August of cancer of the esophagus — and they wanted to do it next to his baffling sculpture.

“They had no idea who he was and what that thing was,” Gordon told the Daily News Monday, nearly 40 years after the sculpture was installed on the edge of the 70-acre Manhattan Beach campus, near a school gymnasium.

Resnick and Gordon attended Kingsborough in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Howard Fields, a friend of Resnick’s from James Madison High School, was a frequent visitor.

… Eventually, Resnick grew tired of the hustle of his home borough, bought 200 acres of forest land in Southeast Ohio and moved out. He left his sculpture, “The Ten Commandments,” behind and probably never saw it again.

Resnick’s back-to-the-land move to Ohio wasn’t novel in the early 1970s, but Gordon and Fields said he’s one of the few who never gave up. He spent the next 40 years living in cabins he built himself, scratching a living from his artistic talents and refusing to take a conventional job.

And now we know.

Source: Francisco Daum / Flickr

Source: Francisco Daum / Flickr

BETWEEN THE LINES: It’s time to change — the time.

Daylight Saving Time (DST), the seasonal hourly change, commenced at 2:00 a.m. this past Sunday. Clocks, watches and other timekeeping devices, including computers and home video units, had to be reset one hour ahead — essentially shifting an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening until the first Sunday in November.

For those of you directionally dazed when it comes to fiddling with your timepieces, just remember — you ‘spring’ forward and ‘fall’ back.

Continue Reading »

Meet Barbara Mensch, a photographer and writer, reminiscing about her Sheepshead Bay upbringing in If These Knishes Could Talk, a recent documentary about the New York accent, directed by filmmaker Heather Quinlan.

“Everyone in my family was loud. It was just normal to speak loud… Loud-ly,” Mensch says, correcting herself. “It was just this experience of being in Brooklyn that was just so intense.”

“I met Barbara in the Seaport when she had just published a book of photography, ‘South Street,’ about the Fish Market in the ’80s,” Quinlan told Sheepshead Bites. “I met her at a signing at Jack’s Stir Brew on Front Street, which is also where I ended up filming the dinner scene.”

At that dinner scene, Mensch talked accents with three New York City “wise guys,” one of whom recalled his often violent childhood in Little Italy and an observant neighborhood kid name Marty Scorsese.

With most of her “Rs” and “THs” intact, Mensch’s accent may not sound like signature Brooklyn. But, as it turns out, genuine New York accent has less to do with specific parts of the city and more with ethnic influences and local culture. That’s how a kid named Ben, also in the film, born in Korea and raised in Staten Island, grew up to sound like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

If These Knishes Could Talk is also a story of change and gentrification. Always in demographic flux, New York could soon end up without its trademark accent as those who speak with it age or get priced out of the city.

“Word on the street is the New York accent is disappearing,” Quinlan says. “A casualty of a city that’s evolved into a vast expanse of banks, H&Ms and glass-blown high-rises.”

In the film, Quinlan discusses this with an illustrious cast of New Yorkers, among them actors Pat Cooper, Penny Marshall, and Joe Franklin, fimmaker Amy Heckerling, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, writers Pete Hamil and James McBride, and many others.

If These Knishes Could Talk is available on DVD from Amazon. Check out the film trailer for more.

– Steven Volynets

Click to view enlarged image

Courtesy of the United States Coast Guard

Late in the 19th century, Congress approved the construction of a lighthouse on the western end of Coney Island. The now-defunct 124-year-old beacon has become the subject of a mini-documentary that aired last week on MetroFocus.

The documentary focuses on Frank Schubert, the last Coney Island lighthouse keeper- as well as the last civilian in the country to hold that job. In the article that accompanies the four-minute documentary,  creators Max Kutner and Johannes Musial write:

After serving with the Army in World War II, Schubert found work as a lighthouse keeper. In 1960 he moved with his wife and three children to the Coney Island Lighthouse. For three generations of Schuberts, the lighthouse became the family’s home. “My parents got married at the Coney Island Lighthouse, and then I was born the next year and they basically raised us there,” said Scott Schubert. “As a kid it was great. We’d be climbing on the lighthouse. It was like our jungle gym. You don’t even realize that it’s really different than any other house. It’s just sort of grandpa’s house.”

The use of GPS on boats has made lighthouses less necessary, but at one time such beacons helped prevent boats from crashing against rocky coastlines. The original Coney Island beacon was lit by Keeper Thomas Higgenbotham on August 1, 1890, according to United States Coast Guard. The lens used was powered by Kerosene and it was visible for more than fourteen miles.

Here’s the Metrofocus documentary:

61st-precinct

Sheepshead Bay Police Precinct – now the NYPD’s 61st Precinct – was once located on Avenue U and East 15th Street. I stumbled across the photo above and set about doing some research.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t learn when it was built or torn down and, quite frankly, stopped giving a damn once I found this amazing account of the extraordinary bravery and heroism of the local police force that occupied that stately building.

View the 1915 clipping (Click to enlarge)

View the 1915 clipping (Click to enlarge)

The date was July 13, 1915. The scene was West 5th Street and Avenue U – now on the border of the current day 61st Precinct, but then firmly within its command.

Our valiant hero is named Cowboy Doody. Cowboy James Doody.

Some time prior to the incident to be recounted below, one James Murdock who resided at the scene set forth, had “been for a long time addicted to the habit of rearing goats.”

Indeed. His neighbors, no more understanding in those sepia-tinged days than they are today, complained to authorities. A lot. Mainly about the “near -fragrance” – and no, we haven’t gotten to Doody yet – “and plaintive sounds emanating from a barn on Murdock’s place.”

The courts fined him and fined him again, ultimately offering a choice – pay yet another hefty fine or go to jail. The crazy cat lady of his time, Murdock chose jail. He was principled. Why should he not own as many damned goats as he likes? Is this not America?

The authorities disagreed and off to the clink Murdock went, leaving “sixty-five goats of indiscriminate ages … practically without any guardianship watsoever.”

What happened next is best described by those intrepid reporters of The Washington Herald (yes, this made national news, and on page two no less):

He had lived alone and none of his neighbors thought it necessary to investigate the pleadings of the goats which resounded throughout Gravesend the whole night long.

With the coming of daylight the goats, having devoured all the interior fittings of the barn, walked right out through the wall on one side and permeated the entire neighborhood.

With ba-a-a-a and bleats of joy the goats proceeded on their work of devastation. The reidents were powerless. Many who sought to prevent the invasion of their premises were butted all over the place.

Butted all over the place! The carnage! The mayhem! Kings Plaza had nothing on the Gravesend streets of 1915.

What were the residents to do? Worry not, for this is the cue for our hero, Mounted Policeman James Doody, who appeared on the horizon and bellowed a mighty “Ki-ya!”

“Ki-ya!” he said. “Ki-ya!” as he “rode his fiery steed up and down and across the placid confines of Gravesend today, twirling his lasso above his head and ever and anon lassoing a goat.”

Our brave hero was not alone. Cowboy Doody – he was indeed a former cowboy, having “acquired said efficiency on the plains in the southwestern part of our country,” was assisted by “his associate centaurs of the Sheepshead Bay police precinct.”

But, alas, our Herald reports, “none of them could zip out ‘ki-ya’ with the penetra[ting] efficiency of James Doody.”

By noon the strange-eyed nuisance had abated. Doody and his centaurs corralled 42 goats into a barn behind the station photographed above.

Doody, with his “Ki-ya” and his no less valorous but less vocal assistants, were scattering out toward Sheepshead Bay, Flatbush, Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge in search of the most nimble and adventurous of the flock.

The legend of Cowboy Doody is new to us. But, this reporter has learned, his name to this day strikes fear into the black, freakish hearts of goats everywhere, and his mighty “Ki-ya!” brings, without exception, the following reaction from goats citywide:

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