Tag Archives: Coney Island

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)

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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)

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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)


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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)

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Gravesend Characters Past: Gilbert Hicks (1832-1903)

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, here is a profile of Gilbert Hicks, one of Gravesend’s early postmasters, from Peter Ross, LL. D., A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1902), 142:


Gilbert Hicks (1832-1903). Portrait accompanying his obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Monday 9 March 1903, p. 3, col. 4.

Gilbert Hicks, of Flatbush, was born at Norton’s Point, Coney Island, on the 6th of March, 1832, in the only house located on the island at that time. He represents a family that has long been widely known in this section of the Empire state. One of its representatives was Elias Hicks, a noted divine. Thomas Hicks, the father of our subject, was born at Newtown, Long Island, and was a son of GIlbert Hicks, Sr. The former came to Coney Island about 1828 and served as commissioner of common lands of Gravesend. He was a deacon and leader in the Dutch Refomed church at that place and was a leading and influential citizen whose active connection with public affairs proved of great benefit to the community. He married Cornelia Van Sicklen, a daughter of Abraham Van Sicklen, one of the early settlers of Gravesend. His death occurred in 1890. Four of his nine children still survive him, namely: Gilbert; Annie; Mary, widow of Abraham Voorhies, of Flatbush; and John B., who is also living in Flatbush.

Gilbert Hicks attended the local schools in Gravesend and entered upon his business career as a clerk in a store on Staten Island. He afterward occupied a similar position in Gravesend and later was appointed storekeeper at the county building, entering upon the duties of that position in 1857. He served in that capacity for thirty years, a fact which indicates his fidelity and trustworthiness.

Mr. Hicks was united in marriage to Miss Emma Abrahams, of Linnbrook [Lynbrook?], Long Island, a daughter of Zachariah Abrahams. Their marriage was blessed with four children, of whom three are now living, as follows: Nettie L., wife of Arthur Hatch, of Flatbush; Fannie, wife of Lewis Vernal, of Brooklyn; and Adelaide. In 1857 Mr. Hicks took up his residence in Flatbush and has been a promoter of many of its interests that have proved of public benefit. He is a Democrat in politics, and at one time was quite active in the work of the party. For many years he has been a Mason and has long served as an elder and deacon in the Dutch Reformed church at Flatbush, of which he is an esteemed and valued member.

Letter from Gilbert Hicks to Elias Hicks, postmarked Gravesend, 2 August 1855 (Collection of Joseph Ditta)

Letter from Gilbert Hicks, as postmaster of Gravesend, to his uncle, Elias Hicks, postmarked, 2 August 1855. (Collection of Joseph Ditta)

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

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