Pony Express

Sometimes I get lucky. That was the case on March 13th when I won on eBay the two framed horse racing photographs seen here. No one else bid (my many arch enemies must have been napping) and I got them for a song. According to the inscribed brass plaque on the base of its frame, the photo on the left captures a moment in the Steeplechase, the second race run at the Brooklyn Jockey Club’s Gravesend track on Monday, June 8, 1908. The winner was “Simon Pure,” followed by “Henderson,” “Waterspeed,” and “Boadwee.” The four small plaques on the base of the other frame name the horses above: “Agent,” “Alfar,” “John M. P.,” and “Haylas.” This was the second race of the Coney Island Jockey Club at the Sheepshead Bay track on Saturday, September 8, 1906. John M. P. won, followed by Agent, Alfar, and Haylas.

If only the pictures had arrived as fast as these horses raced. . . . They came from Florida, and were delivered on March 18th five days after purchase. Pretty good time, actually. Or so I thought. When I opened the giant box, it held stereo speakers. Yes, stereo speakers. Turns out the seller shipped two boxes simultaneously: mine with the photographs, the other with the speakers. The speakers were destined for California. They came to Brooklyn instead. You know where this is going, right? Yes, my pictures went to California. Luckily, the shipping company picked up the speakers the following day, but it took another week for the photos to cross the country. Another week of me anxiously checking the tracking location, praying that these 108- and 110-year-old images in fragile, 20″ by 30″ frames would survive the journey. They did, thankfully, but Pony Express might have been quicker!

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Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Gelukkig Pasen!

That’s Dutch for Happy Easter! It’s a bit late in the day (I was busy stuffing myself at Gargiulo’s!), but I hope those who celebrate have had a wonderful holiday. Here’s a program from the Easter service at the Gravesend Reformed (Dutch) Church on April 17, 1892.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Forty Years Landmarked!

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This 1896 lantern slide might be the oldest known image of the Gravesend Cemetery. The view is looking northeast toward the Samuel Hubbard House (hidden behind the trees) at 2338 Gravesend (now McDonald) Avenue. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the designation of the Gravesend and Van Sicklen Family Cemeteries as official New York City landmarks! Click here to read the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report from March 23, 1976.

The Gravesend Cemetery, established as early as 1650, is the oldest surviving burial ground in New York City. It remained in sporadic use as late as 1968. The adjacent Van Sicklen Family Cemetery received its first burial in 1842, and its last in 1992. My current guesstimate counts 84 interments in the Van Sicklen Cemetery, and somewhere in the ballpark of 1,300 in the Gravesend Cemetery proper. Only about 600 graves are marked.

I am actively collecting information about the people buried in the two cemeteries, and am happy to share what I can if I’ve found something on your particular ancestor. And if you have documentation on any person buried here, please send it my way, along with any stories you might have heard or read about the graveyards, EXCEPT for those impossible-to-quash rumors of tunnels connecting it to various places in Gravesend. Unless, of course, you’ve got proof. And no, sorry, but your grandmother insisting there’s a tunnel does not count as proof. If you’ve got video of her emerging from a hole in the ground, then we’ll talk!


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Erin go Bellwood!

Here’s the only remotely Irish thing in my vast trove of Gravesendiana: a souvenir journal from the fifth annual ball of the Bellwood Social Club of Gravesend, held at the Ulmer Park Casino (that was on the corner of Cropsey and 25th Avenues) on March 17, 1917. I can’t find anything substantial about this organization. There are a handful of newspaper references to an early 20th-century “Bellwood Club” in Gravesend, but I’m not sure it’s the same one (read about it here, here, and here). Do the flags on the cover of the journal indicate it was an Irish-American patriotic group? (It couldn’t have been exclusively Irish: among the officers, the names “Ricci” and “Squillante” are obviously Italian!) Did they always meet on St. Patrick’s Day? Are some descendants of the club members reading this? Can you shed light on their activities? I would love to hear from you! Until then, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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The more things change . . .

. . . the more they stay the same!

Your webmaster had routine blood tests recently. The idea of being tourniqueted (is that a word?) and pricked became almost pleasurable when he realized that the medical lab was located on the same block as this firehouse at 1635 East 14th Street, between Kings Highway and Avenue P. You see, he had recently bought a lovely postcard showing the building — currently home to Engine 276, Ladder 156, and Battalion 33 — back when it was new in the bucolic early twentieth century (it went up sometime between 1907 and 1912). It’s been hemmed in by bulky brick boxes since then, but remains remarkably unchanged.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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