Blog posts by Liza

POTW: A Mournful Ouroboros

Liza

Bracelet, [1875-1900], M1990.53.6. Fred Hoyt family research collection, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
 This black beaded bracelet is shaped like a coiled snake swallowing its own tail, which is an image known as an ouroboros. The ouroboros symbol can have many meanings, but this one, created during the late 19th century, represents the eternal cycle of life and death. The bracelet’s color, materials, and symbolism identify it as an article of mourning jewelry. Victorian mourning culture was…

Margaret Armstrong, Alice Morse, and the Decorated Cloth Book Cover

Liza

 In the 1880s, two New Yorkers burst into the competitive scene of cloth book cover design: Margaret Nielson Armstrong (1867–1944), a Manhattanite, and Alice Cordelia Morse (1863–1961), a Brooklynite. They became two of the major forces behind the art's golden age, which lasted from about 1880 to 1910. Fourteen of their works are on display at the Center for Brooklyn History, now through June 2024.

Left: Van Dyke, Henry. Days Off. Scribner's Sons, 1908. Cover design by Margaret Armstrong. Right: Ford, Paul Leicester. Tattle…

A Peek Inside Brooklyn Eye and Ear Hospital

Liza

Bklyn Eye & Ear Hospital, [189-?], photographic print, V1972.1.804; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library.
Beware letting a photographer document your medical procedures lest it end up in a future form of communication we have yet to imagine. This Photo of the Week, taken around 1890, is one of five scenes captured inside the Brooklyn Eye and Ear Hospital around 1890, possibly for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Here a doctor administers anesthesia to a…

Midwinter Remembrance

Liza

[Fort Greene Park], 1926, gelatin silver print, PARK_0111; Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History
  As we enter midwinter, take in this snowy Photo of the Week of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park from 1926. This monument was created by Stanford White and Adolph Alexander Weinman in 1908. It memorializes the roughly 11,500 captives who died aboard British prison ships in Brooklyn’s Wallabout Bay during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). The conditions on the ships were horrific…

World Wildlife Day & the Pigeon

Liza

Man with pigeons, 1990, gelatin silver print, COHEN_0166; George Cohen photograph collection, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History
December 4th marks World Wildlife Day, which the United Nations describes as “an opportunity to celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora and to raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that their conservation provides to people.” When thinking of Brooklyn wildlife, the first that comes to mind might be the pigeon. This bird certainly does not require conservation efforts today, and…

Halloween Inspiration

Liza

 

[Gregg Chapel], [191-?], photographic print, GREGG_0008; Gregg Chapel photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History. 
Tis the season to get your Halloween costumes ready! Need inspiration? Perhaps this haunting Photo of the Week can assist. Here we have six children dressed as what appear to be bears, bunnies, and…perhaps baby birds? Shrubbery? Stumps? Whatever they are, we hope they inspire you.  This image is believed to have been taken during the 1910s at the Gregg Chapel at 190 4th Avenue. The…

International Lifeguard Appreciation Day

Liza

[Six orphan children in wading pool], 1951, gelatin silver print, SWEL_0523; Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
  Celebrate International Lifeguard Appreciation Day (July 31) with this Photo of the Week, which ran in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on August 20th, 1951. The original caption reads “Maxie, the lifeguard at the Infants Home of Brooklyn, whistles while he works.” The accompanying blurb continues, saying, “When it comes to expert protection of life, leave it to four-year-old Maxie. He is the…

A Horse-Drawn Toilet

Liza

[Six horses pulling a Ronalds & Johnson Co. bathroom display], circa 1905, photographic print, ARC_202_Box_20_Folder_3_001_r. Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
  This Photo of the Week* highlights what at first seems to be a perfectly ordinary horse-drawn carriage. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the team of six is not drawing a carriage, but rather a toilet.
Contrasted detail of ARC_202_Box_20_Folder_3_001_r.
Ronalds…

Assessing an 1848 Clairvoyant's Predictions for Brooklyn's Future

Liza

Left: Brooklyn Buildings, ca. 1850, print, ARC.202_box16_311; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.  Right: 162-166 Remsen Street, 1949, gelatin silver print, NEIG_0232; Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History
On November 21, 1848, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran an article titled “An Evening with a Clairvoyant '' in which an unnamed woman mesmerically read from a book written 102 years into the future. The topic: “the history of…

Four Horses of Fort Greene

Liza

[Three horses drinking out of a fountain], ca. 1898, photographic print, V1972.2.23; Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History. 
In this Photo of the Week, Brooklynites of two and four legs are lured to what appears to be a refreshing fountain on a warm day. The women wear light, summery patterns, and the workmen have bared their shirtsleeves and even forearms. Yet neither heat nor work could disrupt hat fashions. The women display their ornamented millinery while the men sport a variety…

Brooklyn's Mechanical Milkman

Liza

 

Mechanical milkman, 1953, WORK_0136; Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
Today we’re celebrating not leaving the building for basic necessities! It’s too cold out there. In 1953, automats had been thriving throughout New York City for decades, but Rowe Corporation endeavored to explore territory beyond the cafeteria: the apartment lobby. The Clinton Hill Apartments became the testing site for the charmingly retro-futuristic “mechanical milkman,” which claimed to save women from “braving Winter…

The Smallest Horse in the World

Liza

[Miniature Abraham & Straus delivery van], 1908. DEPT_0008. Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
  Before Cyber Monday became a multi day event, before stampedes of parents besieged displays of Elmo and Cabbage Patch kids with greater gusto than I will ever understand, there was the neighborhood department store. While Manhattan had Macy’s, Brooklyn had Abraham & Straus.  On Valentine's Day, 1865, Abraham & Straus opened its doors at 285 Fulton Street as Wechsler & Abraham, a “…

Risky Business: October 1878

Liza

Brooklyn Anchorage, 1878, gelatin silver print, BRID_0040; Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.   
  So begins another October, arguably Brooklyn’s best month (feel free to debate me in the comments). Let’s take a moment to travel back to another Brooklyn October, back to this photographed moment in October 1878. Brooklyn was independent from New York City, no Statue of Liberty was yet visible from Brooklyn’s shores, and the only way to reach Manhattan was by boat. But this last detail was…

Author Interview: Max Gross

Liza

I’m always excited when an author agrees to participate in an interview for Off the Shelf, so when Max Gross, author of rave-reviewed The Lost Shtetl, agreed to sit for an interview and join the New Utrecht branch for a discussion of his debut novel, let’s just say I was exceedingly happy. Gross’s book is an attentively crafted thought experiment on what might happen if a Polish shtetl slipped away from the outside world, unwittingly escaped the Nazi’s warpath, then collided with modern society. The catalyst for this “lost'' shtetl's reconnection with the modern world? The suspected…

Author Tahmima Anam on The Startup Wife and Her Creative Influences

Liza

The Startup Wife, by acclaimed author Tahmima Anam, is a fresh and bold examination of society’s obsession with social media and glorification of its creators. At once wickedly clever, hilarious, romantic and shocking, Anam's latest is a genuine literary gem that I could not put down, and has already received starred reviews and praise from the likes of Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and author Rumaan Alam ahead  of its July 13 release. The story follows tech genius Asha Ray as she introduces a new program that replicates her husband’s ability to create profound sacred-…

Peeking into the Writing Life of Author Deesha Philyaw

Liza

I’m someone who wants to be emotionally invested in the well-being of fictional characters. I enjoy worrying about them when I’m not reading and pining for them when the book has ended. And usually, I avoid short stories because I struggle to connect with the characters in so few pages. However Deesha Philyaw and her debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, changed my opinion entirely. Deesha's book contains nine short stories about black women, their sex lives and their varied relationships with the church, examining her tenderly-wrought characters at their most…

Interview with Author Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Liza

I think most people imagine a writer’s trajectory is a straight line but I’ve gone up and down...writing is a game of endurance. Like many of you this past summer, I read Mexican Gothic by the award-winning Silvia Moreno-Garcia and absolutely loved it. You clearly agree. At the time of this interview, 929 Brooklynites await their turn to read Mexican Gothic. It has all the bells and whistles of a classic gothic thriller: a once-grand estate, a misty cemetery, ghostly occurrences, a wealthy and peculiar family (complete with eligible bachelors), a beautiful young woman in…

Interview with Author Micah Nemerever

Liza

When I was a lonely teenager the local library was a sanctuary for me—there was one librarian in particular who linked me with public creative writing programs and offered to read stories I’d written...now that I’ve worked in libraries and know how busy librarians are, I’m especially grateful that she took the time to read my writing—it was above and beyond. I was thrilled by Micah Nemerever’s debut novel These Violent Delights and am so pleased to introduce him to Off the Shelf readers! This fresh thriller is hailed as The Secret History (Donna Tartt) meets Call Me by Your Name (Andre…

What You Read in 2020

Liza

This tumultuous start to 2021 notwithstanding, we can all agree that 2020 was a year unlike any other. Brooklynites masked up and quarantined for months on end; we showed our support for frontline workers at 7pm; we took to the streets in support of Black Lives Matter; we voted in a controversial presidential election. We also read—even when the libraries and bookstores were closed. With our doors mostly shut, it’s no surprise you started checking out eBooks and eAudiobooks more than ever before—forty-nine percent up from 2019 and still climbing! But to what books does the County of Kings…