The Revolutionary Promenade

The Brooklyn Promenade, also known to locals as the ‘Esplanade,’ opened in 1954 and provided Brooklynites and tourists with 8 blocks of spectacular views of the lower Manhattan Skyline and East River. In stacked levels underneath this walkway is the super-charged BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). The Promenade is a gorgeous stretch of paved stones that hearkens back to the 19th century. In warm weather the area is filled with baby strollers, bikers, joggers, gawkers, roller skaters, (Or Roller bladers) people selling day-glow toys, and even film productions make use of the open space. Ten years ago a friend and I walked past actor Harvey Keitel filming something or other.

I personally enjoy walking onto the promenade and relaxing on the benches with a cup of coffee or ice cream from the delicious ‘Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory’ (even better than coffee!) I like to just read and mediate on life. The Promenade is the perfect place to end your stroll through beautiful Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO (Which is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan–Brooklyn Overpass, not the Disney elephant.) And it is the icing on the cake after walking the illustrious Brooklyn Bridge.

The Promenade in the 21st Century

The promenade was once the location of the ‘Four Chimney House’, which has long since been torn down. It was a mansion owned by the Pierrepont family. (For which Pierrepont Street a few short blocks away is named.) The area was mostly a thoroughfare for the wealthy of the time. Hezekiah Pierrepont had ideas for a promenade as early as 1824, but it did not become a reality until over a century later.

In late August of 1776, British forces under General William Howe defeated Patriot forces under General George Washington at the Battle of Brooklyn. (AKA-The Battle of Long Island.) Washington’s army suffered over 2500 casualties. Washington used the roof of the Pierrepont mansion to oversee a strategic retreat. The night was stormy and foggy.

Washington and 9,000 soldiers were able to sneak across the river and prepare for a new battle the following morning. The escape took the entire night and George Washington was the last man to cross the river. However, the British eventually retained victory over the Patriots and overtook New York. It was the first Victory for the British during the Revolutionary War and it was recorded as General Washington’s first daring escape.

Witty Ads #2: Healing Londonderry water

Being a child of the 80’s, I foolishly assumed that bottled water was ‘invented’ and sold beginning in that particular decade. Silly me. Just look at a bottle of Poland Springs and you will see it was established in 1845!

Before the 80’s and 90’s,  you never saw so many people chugging down bottle after bottle of water. The old companies must have made their money off the giant jugs for office water cooler consumption. But In the last 30 years spring water in a personal sized bottle has boomed into a mega billion dollar industry. When we can just as easily drink tap, filtered or unfiltered for free, many of us may spend upward to $4.00 a bottle for ‘pure’ water.

During one of my Brooklyn Daily Eagle searches I came across some advertisements for ‘Londonderry Lithia Spring Water’ from as early as 1901 and I posted them below.

I discovered the charming Londonderry Lithia Springs Website. The natural springs were discovered in New Hampshire in 1882 and the company profited from their special water into the early 20th Century across North America. The website keeps a historical tone and they even sell matted prints of the original advertisements. These ads claimed that Lithia water successfully reduced symptoms from maladies common in the 19th century-Rheumatism, gout, Dispepsia, Gavel, Bright’s disease, et al.

These days scientists and doctors know better than to make such claims for simple water. While water has indeed been proven beneficial to the body in many ways, it is not a miracle cure. The 19th century was full of people hoping and searching for a cure-all and many would believe any charlatan or advertiser that made such claims.

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Old Brooklyn Postcards #1

The first image is a bathhouse which is no longer standing. Shore Road is currently a popular spot which overlooks the Verrazano Bridge and has a long walking and Bicycle path for Brooklynites to relax, eat, fish, and take in some sun.

If you look closely to your left at the second image you can see Erasmus Church and Erasmus Hall Academy–a once Private institution. The school became public in 1896. The church was built by the Dutch settlers in 1786, back when Flatbush was known by its original name, Vlacke bos, which meant, Flat Woodland.

In 1904 more buildings were added and housed one of the most notable High Schools in Brooklyn–Erasmus High. Erasmus now functions as 5 separate schools and after 3 centuries, the structure is officially a New York Landmark. You can see how Flatbush Ave. in 1909 is already a burgeoning business community. It later became known as ‘The Strip’, a term young entertainment seekers used whenever they wanted a night about town during Brooklyn’s heyday in the 20’s-50’s.

Panic on the Brooklyn Bridge!

On May 24th 1883, the city of New York had celebrated a glorious day. It was the grand opening of the Great Bridge, aka the The New York and Brooklyn Bridge aka the East River Bridge. Since 1915 it has officially been known as, The Brooklyn Bridge. May 24th was an all day celebration and Brooklyn declared a holiday from work and school and Manhattan declared a half-holiday. The most spectacular part occurred during the evening, when huge fireworks exploded from both the bridge and ships in the river. The New York skies blazed in a colorful and shimmering mist of triumph and thousands of onlookers cheered as a new bond was forged between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

A Brooklyn Reverend was inspired to envision the bridge “as a monument to peace, a peace that was felt between these two cities willing to interlink their destinies.”

As with any monumental creation, tragedies marred the bridge enterprise.  The father of the Brooklyn Bridge, architect and designer, John Roebling, and his son, Washington Roebling, both succumbed to the dreaded caisson’s disease. The construction suffered thirty losses of life over the fifteen years it took to build this marvel.

It was an unspoken truth then, that the Brooklyn Bridge was Emily Roebling’s bridge, despite the notion that a woman could not possibly be responsible for such a grand structure, as well as the general public uneasiness about its stability.

Emily took over the entire project when her husband Washington lost some of his hearing, speech, and mobility. Washington however, was undeterred and observed the progress every day through a spyglass from his bedroom window. He gave Emily instructions to carry out. The newspapers often reported on her activities and she did her part dutifully. When the bridge was completed in early May, Emily was the first person to go across it in a brand new Victoria carriage, carrying a rooster as a sign of the Robeling’s victory. The dawn of a new era for transportation.  Hundreds of people crossed the structure daily all for one penny.

May 30th, 1883 was a lovely, early summery day. At around 4:00pm, over 1,600 people endeavored to cross the bridge at one time. That was a dreaded scenario Washington Roebling had warned the city about. But how could you have reasoned with those who believed they were making history that first week? Everyone wanted their chance to cross the Great Bridge.

The journey across reduced to a crawl, because many people loitered to stare at the skyline and watch the sailboats, instead of keeping the stream of traffic flowing. A group, possibly from a popular men’s club, began to rant and rave how they would “Go through and pass this ungainly crowd.”

With little consideration for the women and children, they formed a solid, straight line by placing their arms across each others shoulders and marched forward like an army. Those who were stuck behind unsuccessfully tried holding back the surging crowd. Decorum faded and people started raising their hands and groping their way forward.

According to various accounts, someone shouted that the bridge was collapsing, and caused the panic. Another story blamed pickpockets in the crowds and a woman screamed and fell. The loud noise frightened everyone into believing the bridge was falling.

Grunts, groans, and agonizing cries filled the air. Heaps of men, women, and children piled atop one another on the stairwell. The police had trouble quelling the frightened masses. They begged for the mercy of the throngs and ordered them to calm down and use better judgment. Irrationality swept through everyone like a fire and they still clamored ahead.

As it turned out, the loud noise was the mother of a crying child, not the bridge collapsing or cables unwinding. In the heat and excitement from the prolonged walk, the mother had fainted and dropped her child and another woman up ahead screamed when she heard the noise.

The people were breathless and turned purple as their bodies were forced against the metal grating. Men held children above their shoulders and attempted to pass them overhead to safety. Parasols, hats, and canes went flying and only added to the mayhem. On that day 12 people died in the stampede. Though the earliest news reports claimed only 35 suffered injuries, it was most likely over a hundred.

In 1884 Phineas T. Barnum quenched the public’s fears of a bridge collapse. He marched a parade of twenty-one elephants, including a six and a half ton jumbo, across the entire bridge. Since then there have been countless parades, marathons, protests, and marches across the bridge.

On September 11th 2001, the Brooklyn Bridge was used an escape route for thousands of people after the Twin Towers collapsed.

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AP Photo/Mark Lennihan (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

As of 2012, the bridge still stands as one of Brooklyn’s finest achievements.

Read the original account from the New York Times, May 31st, 1883:  Dead on the New Bridge: Fatal crush at the Western Approach

Coney Island: New York’s Playground: Dreamland

Documentary created and Uploaded by ethelmalley on Youtube.

The Scott Russo Archives

If you close your eyes you can imagine yourself in that yesteryear walking and touring the spacious Dreamland and all its wonders and little curios. The vision may at first appear jumpy and black and white…and despite everyone animatedly talking and laughing, their voices are silent. The music starts off as if drifting on an echo and grows louder. The fun scenes come into sharper focus, you can smell the tasty foods and salty ocean air and it invigorates all your senses. Daydream a little harder and you will start to see Coney Island of the past in all its colorful glory.