46. The Brooklyn Club’s Column
My grandparents live in a lovely “active adult community” in Monroe Township, New Jersey. Recently, Pop-Pop has embarked on a new ambitious adventure:
The Founding of The Brooklyn Club.
This sounds fairly simple, but there is, of course, drama amongst the old people. Before Pop-Pop started to mix things up, The Bronx Club dominated the borough-related scene. It had many members. They went on field trips to exciting places in the Bronx – The Bronx Zoo, old tenements, etc. And then my grandfather had the gall to found The Brooklyn Club. Unfortunately, they had to let Staten Island in, to compete with the Bronx club for membership. I encourage Pop-Pop to just settle it with fisticuffs. After all, as he always says, “You can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the boy.” Pretty sure that’s an original quote.
Recently, the Brooklyn Club got a column in the community newspaper. Pop-Pop wrote it and sent a copy to each of his children – my Dad (Bennett) and his two sisters (Idette and Devorah). The following note was enclosed. Spelling is kept intact.
H ere IS tHE CDOLUMN I WROTE FOR t HE Brookl yn Staten Island club. I am no Walter Winchell but it was fun. I sent in the one for November and am now working o n Staten Island for December and t I hope we will be in Florida by then.
Love to all of your family
Mom and Dad
Here, now, I present Pop-Pop’s column. I feel like I should just publish it here, without any changes. Enjoy. And be patient, the second half is the best.
Brooklyn/Staten Island Club
By Joe Hecht
Author’s Note: The contents of this column will come from personal experiences of our members residents from Brooklyn or Staten Island, and from many publications dealing with the boroughs. In today’s column I’ll be talking about Brooklyn.
Peter Golenbrock in the book In the Country of Brooklyn states that one of every seven people living in the United States can trace their families back to Brooklyn, New York. It is only seventy square miles but it is home to millions of people who come from every corner of the globe. I was born and brought up in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. It did not matter where you lived. When the kids in Flatbush started to play “immies” (marbles), kids in Bensonhurst, Midwood, etc. were playing too. This was true for stickball, potsie, ringolevio and any other game. This was a phenomenon that cannot be explained, but it did happen every year.
We all know Brooklyn for its egg creams and the Brooklyn Dodgers (still not forgotten). Brooklyn was one of the first urban areas to decay into slums and one of the first to be reborn. It is a densely populated urban borough with public housing projects, private homes, expensive high rise condominiums and beautiful Brownstones. The Brownstones were renovated and modernized by some of the owners, while other owners restored them to their Victorian or Edwardian glory.
An island that was separate and independent from the rest of Brooklyn, Coney Island, was also known as Gravesend. There was a stockade surrounding the town center on Gravesend Road and McDonald Avenue. Coney Island remained isolated because it was difficult to reach on foot or horseback until 1829 when a bridge was built from Brooklyn to the island.
In 1850 Coney Island became popular. Soon horse racing became the attraction at Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, and the Gravesend Racetracks. The president of the Long Island Rail Road built a line for the “horsey” set to get to the races. When horse racing died out, Coney Island still offered many attractions that were very popular. In 1895 the first outdoor amusement park, Sea Island Park, opened featuring an aquatic toboggan slide and a two-passenger roller coaster that performed a loop-de-loop. A second park called Steeplechase opened and featured an aerial slide and a double chute. For those who loved horses, a new exciting horse ride was introduced where two people could ride the horse down a long rail.
In 1902 a ride know as “A Trip to the Moon,” copied from the Buffalo State Fair, was built. More than 850,000 curiosity seekers paid to ride to the “Moon.” In 1903 Luna Park opened, with two million lights over the entrance-way. Its attraction was “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.”
The amusement park craze cooled off because of the sober nature of the World War II era and, perhaps, because the world was becoming sophisticated. Unfortunately, during the Depression most of the parks went into bankruptcy, great fires destroyed others, and in 1949 the land became the site for low-income housing. Coney Island beaches were in great demand but the only access to them was through the amusement parks. In order to get to the beach bathers were charged one dollar. These charges inhibited the masses from bathing in the waters of Coney Island. By the end of the 1920’s the use of the beach was free but one had to pay one of the amusement rides 25 cents if one wanted a place to change from one’s bathing suit to regular clothes.
Coney Island in the 20th century grew at the same time as Brooklyn grew because of the mass movement of immigrants. Immigrants came to Brooklyn and loved it. They came from Germany, Russia, Italy, Ireland, England and Puerto Rico. They settled in Brooklyn and eventually many moved to other areas of the U.S. There is an old saying that people in Brooklyn know only the parts of town that lie between their neighborhood and Manhattan. I, for one, didn’t travel to Borough Park, Bensonhurst, East New York, and Brownsville (you name the areas) unless I met someone from there. Why would I leave Flatbush? As I grew up I found good reasons to travel to other areas. I learned about museums, zoos, the Botanical Gardens and all the wonderful attractions Brooklyn had to offer.
David McCullough, in his book, Brooklyn: How It Got That Way, said, “Brooklyn was the site in 1899 if the famous boxing match when the champion Fitzsimmons lost his title to Jim Jeffries.” It was the start of many famous championship-boxing matches that led to years of big boxing held in Brooklyn. Baseball had been played as an amateur sport in Brooklyn since 1850. In 1870 a professional baseball club was organized. It was the first to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings who had gone undefeated in 69 games prior to playing the Brooklyn club. Charlie Ebbets bought the club and they became the Dodgers of Ebbets Field. They won the National League Championship in 1899 and 1900.
Brooklyn is proud to brag that William Makepeace Thackery called Brooklyn, “A tranquil place entirely different from New York.” Tallyrand visited Brooklyn and so did Tom Paine and Lafayette. They saw Brooklyn, as did the immigrants, as a land of opportunity, an area where one could walk down any main street and shop to your heart’s content. One could find things to do, and live in the kind of neighborhood and home of one’s choosing. Brooklyn was and is the land of opportunity.
On November 21, the Brooklyn/Staten Island Club will present a “Coney Island Night.” Look for the announcement and save these dates for upcoming events – February 24, May 22 and August 25, 2010.
As silly as this piece is, it really is a sweet homage to the place that Pop-Pop honestly saw as the land of opportunity. Pop-Pop pretty much only talks about his childhood in Brooklyn now. As hard as he had it (he was a poor, second generation American Jew), Brooklyn was a magical place for him. I’ve always found that really sweet.
I spoke to Pop-Pop about this column soon after we received it. He told me that Coney Island Night was gonna be “just like a Nathan’s store – everything Nathan’s. Nathan’s hot dogs, Nathan’s cups, Nathan’s napkins.” Apparently, Grandma is on the decorating committee. I suggested that she procure a ferris wheel, or else people would be disappointed.
Clear your schedules, folks. And join on up!
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