Moving. No one enjoys moving – lugging all your furniture into the van, heavy boxes full of books, exhausted family members, crying kids. It’s stressful and miserable moving at any time of the year.
But, I recently learned, it could be worse. Much worse. In fact, in Brooklyn from around the 1820’s to just after the start of World War II, Moving Day was the same for every single Brooklynite – May 1st of each year. Each May, leases ended and in a mass exodus the citizens of Brooklyn packed all their belongings into a cart and headed out to their new place.
All at once.
Such an event garnered poetry, drawings and even puzzles
The origin of Moving Day is a little hazy with some reports connecting it back to the European May Day celebrations. Regardless of how it started, by 1820 the law of Moving Day was official.
Logistically landlords would let their tenants know about any possible increases by February 1 leaving people with three months to find a new place or stay. Most people waited until the last minute to move causing May 1 to erupt into a mass exodus of carts and horses and wheelbarrows pushed down busy Brooklyn streets as people frantically tried to get to their new home.
The dread was real.
Prior to Moving Day there were pieces on how to survive the “terror”
Directions on the proper way to pack
And even advice columns on how to manage the children
Pets were a whole other problem with reports of high incidents of mortality! Apparently, goldfish causalities during moving times are “tremendous”! Rest in peace, little fishes!
And on top of unruly children and wandering pets, Brooklynites had to deal with the dreaded mark-ups on vans close to moving day. Capitalism stops for no one! Not even the movers.
Unable to afford moving vans, Brooklynites had to be clever while getting their possessions from one side of town to the other. Junk carts and wheelbarrows and, apparently, even balancing stoves on your head were all options.
Don’t forget your goats and chickens and things!
Moving Day also worked as a barometer for the state of the Housing Market. In a piece in the Time Union from September 26, 1936 the Real Estate Board pointed out an increase in one and two family houses in Marine Park, Flatlands and Sheepshead Bay.
Moving Day statistics also helped track the state of the housing market. The number of vans rented or the number of phone lines disconnected or moved were all quantifiable statistics that told us what Brooklynites were doing.
As time went on people expressed that they were sick of Moving Day and appeals were made to get rid of the May 1 tradition. Sadly, they only requested that it be moved to October 1 instead. But as this “old-timer” in the Bedford section said, you can in fact move any other time of the year!
World War II brought housing shortages. It also shipped overseas many union men that used to help with moving day. Appeals were made for rent control which then lead to rent stabilization in an effort to make the city a habitable place for all Brooklynlites.
And that lead to the end of the dreaded terror that was Moving Day!
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