Tag Archives: Coney Island

When everything old is new again

Signal malfunctions . . . Track fires . . . Sick passengers . . . Commuting by subway gets worse by the minute, so we New Yorkers moan. That is our god-given right. We pine for the good old days, when trains ran on time, free of “show time” acrobats and seat hogs. But our reverie might not reflect the reality of times past.

August 12, 1906, saw such jaw-dropping chaos in Brooklyn that our present-day gripes about public transportation must wither and die. That day, despite a court ruling that the collection of two fares for a trip to Coney Island was illegal, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (an ancestor of today’s MTA) demanded a second nickel–for a total of ten cents–from trolley riders once they passed Kings Highway on the various lines it controlled: the Sea Beach Railway (today’s N train), the Brighton Line (the B and Q), and Culver Line (the F).


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The BRT’s uniformed “police” force ejected every passenger who refused to pay. With hundreds–maybe thousands–of riders out on the street, swarming the tracks, the cars could not move and did not move. For hours. The Culver Line, on Gravesend Avenue (the original name of McDonald Avenue), saw the longest back-up. In the frustrating crush, a girl fell into Coney Island Creek and drowned. (In the photos above, the BRT’s thugs are assembled at the Kensington Station, just south of Ditmas Avenue.)

An unidentified photographer (possibly Edwin Levick) positioned himself in a second-floor window of the Hubbard House, at the southwest corner of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road (long since demolished), and caught the day’s mayhem at that intersection. It is hard to recognize our familiar, gritty, elevated-train-track-shadowed McDonald Avenue in these scenes from 1906.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The photographs were reproduced in a series of twenty-odd postcards that are highly sought by insane collectors (your webmaster chief among them) who will pay anything for even the crummiest copies just to complete a set. (I’m missing six. Maybe more. No one knows exactly how many cards there are.) I bought number 11 earlier this week and it arrived today, on the 111th anniversary of the “trouble.”

Just think of these striking images the next time your train is stuck on the bridge due to “congestion ahead.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Sorry about the obnoxious watermark across the postcards. It’s to stop folks from copying images from this blog and posting them without attribution or my consent.)

Copyright © 2017 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)


1 Comment

Filed under McDonald Avenue

Coney Island Palimpsest

Looking west through the temporary arch over Surf Avenue at West 8th Street, Coney Island, August 1893 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Looking west through the temporary arch over Surf Avenue at West 8th Street, Coney Island, August 1893. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Twenty-seven thousand firemen descended on Coney Island in August 1893. No, the place wasn’t burning, for once! They came for the 21st annual convention of the New York State Firemen’s Association and a week of dinners, speeches, boxing matches and parades. As the New-York Tribune described the setting on Monday 14 August 1893 (p. 10, col. 1), Coney Island “was one mass of flags and bunting. It looked as if . . .


. . . every one tried to outdo his next-door neighbor, and the result was the most lavish display of decorative material ever seen at the Island. The preparations for the firemen’s convention ended with these decorations, and yesterday was given over to welcoming the delegates. The line of march for the big parade next Friday is covered with flags, and across Surf ave., near Eighth-st., a big arch has been erected, decorated with pictures of engines, hose carts and hook and ladder wagons. Across the top, in big letters, are the words ‘Welcome to Coney Island’.”

It’s easy to imagine this fanciful arch stood where the pedestrian bridge would later span Surf Avenue connecting the West 8th Street subway station to the New York Aquarium. The arch is long gone, of course; it probably came down right after the convention. The bridge went up in the mid-1960s and served for half a century. Safety concerns prompted its overnight demolition in August 2013.

The New York Aquarium's pedestrian bridge spanning Surf Avenue as it looked in June 2011 {Courtesy of Google Street View}.

The New York Aquarium’s pedestrian bridge spanning Surf Avenue as it looked in June 2011. {Courtesy of Google Street View}

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Coney Island

Father’s Day on Gravesend Bay


“Gravesend Bay, near New York, Sep. 5, 1884,” signed “R. O’B.” {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

I like to imagine the figures in this little watercolor of Gravesend Bay are father and son, wading on the rocky shore, watching the small moored ships and seagulls wheeling by while the scrubby hook of Coney Island dips into the sea at Norton’s Point. My father had no real interest in history, but to humor me he’d drive us around the neighborhood exploring. We “found” Coney Island Creek this way. I never tired of gazing across it with him.

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

1 Comment

Filed under Gravesend Bay

Gravesend Characters Past: Vamps of 1915

Photograph of poster announcing 1915 ball of the G.E.V.F.A. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Photograph of a poster announcing the 1915 ball of the G.E.V.F.A. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, I turn my attention this time to the Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen’s Association (G.E.V.F.A.). This is not so much a profile, as an endless list of names of those who attended the association’s annual ball in 1915.

When Gravesend became the 31st ward of the City of Brooklyn in 1894, Brooklyn’s paid fire department supplanted the town’s volunteer force (only to be replaced by the FDNY when Brooklyn became a borough of Greater New York City in 1898). With no fires to put out, the volunteers reorganized on January 21, 1896 as the Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen’s Association, a social club-cum-mutual aid society. (In restitution for their voluntary service, they were “exempt” from military conscription and jury duty.) The major activity of the G.E.V.F.A., aside from parading on Washington’s Birthday, seems to have been the throwing of a lavish, annual ball around Lincoln’s Birthday. To judge by the report below from Brooklyn’s Daily Standard Union, and the large group photograph of the grand march, their 1915 affair seems to have been quite popular. (I don’t expect you to read all those names! Just scroll down for the picture and invitation.)

Incidentally, old-time firemen carried megaphones, or speaking trumpets called “vamping horns,” through which orders were shouted above the din of a blaze. Hence the firemen, by extension, were nicknamed “vamps.” Read how the Gravesend Vamps kicked up their heels . . . .

The Daily Standard Union, Brooklyn, N.Y., Tuesday 9 February 1915, p. 12, cols. 1-2:


Old Gravesend Hand Engine in Place of Honor at Coney Island Reception.


Sons of Veterans Give Drill on Dance Floor.

All roads led to Coney Island last night, when the invitation ball of the Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen’s Association was held at Stauch’s Pavilion. Many hundreds of residents of Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay[,] Bath Beach and the adjoining sections attended and helped make merry with the old “vets” who fought fires in the days prior to consolidation.

As usual, the members appeared in their uniforms, with red shirts, and the old hand engine, which remains in solitary confinement during the year in the barn of “Father Bill” Lake in Gravesend, was brought upon the scene and occupied a prominent place at the entrance to the hall. The interior of the hall had been tastefully decorated, and with the lighting effect presented a pleasing picture.

The committees in charge of the affair had prepared an exceptionally good order of dance, including the fox trot, tango and all the latest steps, which were thoroughly enjoyed by all present. During the evening several selections and a drill were given by members of the Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen’s Sons’ Fife and Drum Corps.

Invitation to the 1915 ball of the G.E.V.F.A. at Stauch's Palace Hall, Coney Island. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Invitation to the 1915 ball of the G.E.V.F.A. at Stauch’s Palace Hall, Coney Island. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Three Hundred Couples in Line.

At midnight the grand march was led by Mr. and Mrs. Francis P. Gallagher, Mr. and Mrs. William Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. William T. London, Mr. and Mrs. Lockwood, Mr. and Mrs. William B. Lake, Mr. and Mrs. William Van Cleef, Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Walther and followed by some three hundred couples.

Dr. Alfred Chambers was floor manager, assisted by Charles M. Brewster, Patrick Gillen and Herman Wacke.

On the floor committee were: James Jameson, Jr., chairman; Andrew W. Ahearn, George J. Ahearn, Charles Allen, William A. Aldrich, Arion [sic] M. Aumack, George A. Aumack, Berend W. Baas, Adrian Bogart, Simon Bogart, John J. Bowen, Andrew Boyle, Charles Brewster, James Brewster, George S. Brown, Jacob Buhler, Albert D. Buschman, John Byrnes, Dennis J. Costigan, Jr.; Hiram [sic] N. Cropsey, Anton Deferee, George C. Dangman, Patrick Dempsey, Charles L. Feltman, George H. Fredericks, Louis Frederick, Stanley French, Augustus Friend, George Gilmore, J.N. Goodfellow, Ernest Goskay [sic], Joel Halstead, Charles Hardwick, Richard Hayman, Frank J. Herman, Norton Inge, James Jameson, Sr.; Andrew S. Jameson, John H. Joyce, Ward B. Jones, Charles M. Kies, John Knuth, Jr.; Theodore Knuth, John Kopf, Johannes Kouwenhoven, George Kuckler [sic]; Abraham Lane, John H. Lockwood, Leo Loesing, Edward Maybert [sic], Benjamin McGray, Frederick A. Miller, Richard B. Moore, Thomas P. Murphy, Thomas Murray, George C. McBride, Bartlett McGettrick, John S. McGettrick, George Neusser, John Oliver, Peter J. O’Connor, William H. O’Connor, Paul Petrucelly, Andrew Poole, John Lundy, John W. Murphy, John B. Potter, Henry Schiffman, Gottlieb Seyfried, Charles Simmon, Louis Stauch, William H. Stewart, James Tanzey, George C. Tappen, Theodore E. Tripp, John Vandernoot, George Vanderveer, Charles F. Vanderwater, Strycker [Derrick Stryker] Van Sicklen, Fred von Fricken, Edward T. Walsh, John Whalen, George W. White.



Reception Committee.

Richard Garms was chairman of the reception committee. On the committee were: Jeremiah H. Aheran, Frederick Below, Charles E. Boyd, Frederick Burkhardt, Charles Buschman, Alfred Chambers, James Connor, Cornelius Colwell, Frederick R. Corsen [sic], John M. Cun[liffe?] Jr., James Dooley, Frank Dunig[???], John W. Durand, Andrew J. Darb[???], Michael H. Daly, William V. [Eberhart?], Harry J. Ettricken, Charles E. Fowler, James Gallagher, Thomas J. Gavin, Peter Gillen, Patrick Gillen, Alfred Girardot, Louis Gottlieb, John S. Griffin, George A. Hann [Hahn?], Frederick B. Henderson, Peter Hourigan, Anton Huebner, John M. Jones, Henry E. Jones, Murray Kahn, Charles Kies, Jr., Hans Kronika, Frank Knuth, Henry Koch, Fred Lundy, William Muller, Morton Morris, William H. Miller, David Martin, Charles E. Morris, John J. McGettrick, Patrick McDonald, John W. McKay, William McKeon, Duncan D. McKinlay, Elwin Pl. Page, Louis Potter, Michael T. Reily [sic?], Uriagh [sic] J. Ryder, Ambrose P. Rickerman, George Schwieckert, John Shaw, John B. Steininger, Harry Van Wart, John G. VanDuyn, Thomas Van Riper, Charles S. Voorhees, Herman Wacke, John T. Walsh, George Webb, Robert Whiteford, Nelson Williams, George T. Wood, Joseph Wright, Frederick Wyckoff, James F. Yarrington, William A. Young, Henry C. Young.

The stokers are: William Kister, chairman; William Bishop, Christ Butterbrod, Joseph Byrne, George Campbell, W.T. Campbell, James Carr, Thomas Chatterton, George Clark, Frederick Cronin, H. M. Cummings, Frank G. Curnow, John M. Driscoll, Louis Duncan, William G. Ferris, Thomas Gallagher, Richard Geary, Edward Gray, Ernest Grotzinger, Frederick M. Hall, Louist T. Hauck, Gustav A. Hedler, Gustav A. Hedler, Jr., Charles A. Hollock, Louis Howard, John H. Jackson, Ike Jacobs, John F. Jameson, Christian Jensen, Phil Jolly, Chris Kavakos, John Kavakos, James Kennedy, Adam Klein, Stephen Knapp, William F. Kearns, Walter Larsen, Jim S. Lee, Burt G. Lewis, John Luhrs, John Lundy, Jr., Martin Lynch, John Madden, Charles Martin, Dennis J. McCarthy, George Menakakes, William F. Messiter, Charles Miller, Walter E. Morson, John M. Mulrean, Patrick McDonough, Peter McElroy, Barney McGuire, Ira McKane, Philip I. Nash, A. Nebenthal, Morton Newman, John Nichols, Frank C. Nostrand, Gus Oberland, John Oberlie, Stephn O’Brien, J. J. O’Connell, Goerge Pfaff, John Woodlin, porter; William Proudman, Martin J. Rauscher, James T. Reily [sic?], Lester A. Roberts, James H. Robinson, Julian Robinson, Louis Rogers, William C. Rogers, Robert Rehm, Charles Rosenberg, Oscar Rubein, Samuel Samuels, John Savarese, Gus Schindlbeck, Frank Schulze, Philip Schweickert, Jr., Thomas A. Sharkey, John Sheridan, Jessie Sherwood, William Slavin, Edward Slavin, Edward Smith, Martin E. Smith, Thomas Spellman, Arthur J. Stern, Abraham Stiefel, Edward Strattan, Thomas Sutphen, Chris Talbot, Harry Temple, William F. Ulrict [sic?], John A. Vance, Edward Vermilyea, Charles Victory, Gus Von Thaden, Samuel B. Weisberger, Joseph White, Joseph Whiteley, Albert Whitworth, Charles Wolford, James Woods and Adam Yockel.


A postcard view of the G.E.V.F.A.’s 1850s hand-pumped engine, the one stored in Bill Lake’s barn and brought to Coney Island for the 1915 ball. It now resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Firefighting in Hudson, New York. [Postcard from the collection of Joseph Ditta]

The officers of the organization are: Francis P. Gallagher, president; William E. Johnson, first vice-president; William T. London, second vice-president; John H. Lockwood, third vice-president; William B. Lake, treasurer; William Van Cleef, financial secretary; Frank G. Walther, recording secretary. Trustees–William Fitzpatrick, chairman; John J. Hynes, secretary; Henry Bateman, Peter Kappelmann, Charles Buser.

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)


Filed under Gravesend characters, Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association

Gravesend Characters Past: Richard Lawrence Van Kleek (1839-1896)

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, I turn my attention to Richard Lawrence Van Kleek with this excerpt from The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Issued in Commemoration of its Semi-Centennial and Occupancy of its New Building; Together With the History of the City of Brooklyn From its Settlement to the Present Time, edited by Henry W. B. Howard (Brooklyn, N.Y.: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1893), vol. 2, page 1147:


Dr. Richard Lawrence Van Kleek (1839-1896)

Dr. R. L. VAN KLEEK, the present medical officer to the Gravesend board of health, has held that position ever since that body was organized in 1880. Dr. Van Kleek was born at Berne, Albany County, N.Y., on March 21, 1839, but when he was four years old his father and mother removed to Flatbush. There he became a pupil in the famous Erasmus Hall Academy. In September, 1855, he entered the New York University and was graduated in June, 1858; he was made Master of Arts in 1861. He began his medical studies at the New York University in 1859, and was graduated in 1862. The following twelve months he spent on the staff of the Kings County Hospital. Dr. Van Kleek left the hospital in August, 1863, and settled at Gravesend, where he began private practice as a physician and surgeon. From 1869 until 1889 Dr. Van Kleek was postmaster of Gravesend, and from 1889 until the present time has been physician to the Health Home at Coney Island.


A piece of Dr. Van Kleek’s stationery. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under Gravesend characters, Richard Lawrence Van Kleek