It’s Just Cold Coffee, People!


Seriously, it’s just  coffee with ice in it. Oh, my bad, I should probably explain what it is I’m going on about this time. Ok, check it out, like a week ago I came upon some article about how iced coffee is a big trend now – just do an internet search for it, you’ll see.

Is it? Is it really? I myself have been drinking it for at least 20 years and so have lots of my friends. My husband tells me that his grandmother loved the stuff. But just to make sure this wasn’t some new phenomenon and that I wasn’t over-reacting, as usual, I searched for it in a couple of my favorite newspaper archive websites. Why, as sure as hell, one of them came back with 5,ooo hits – the max number it can return – dating back to 1864. That’s almost 150 years ago. The article in question is from an edition  of the New York Herald entitled “Fresh Meat and Vegetables for the Navy.” It’s actually a letter to the editor talking about the importance of getting a good supply fresh food to men stationed on Naval ships more frequently than was currently happening, especially in the summer. The writer says that if they could get fresh, healthy food more than every 3 weeks or so, the men would “gladly dispense with “iced tea” and “iced coffee” and even the “old ration” of whiskey.” So, iced coffee was so popular that sailors were drinking it over a century ago. But that isn’t much proof I guess, considering it’s seems to indicate that the boys would give it up for carrots or chicken or salad. There must be more… oh wait, there’s another mention from 1868. An issue of the St. Paul Daily Press in MN tells of how the Ladies Parlors of the First Baptist Church will be open for an ice cream social. What’s the first thing on the menu they let you know about? Iced coffee. A mention in a newspaper in 1876 called it “a drink as delicious as it is novel.” An article from the Omaha World Herald in 1891 entitled “How to Build a Picnic” informs you that in order to make your guests “fervently happy”,  “Iced tea, iced coffee and ginger ale will do the best for drinking materials.” And the articles go on and on and on  – every newspaper in the country seems to rehash it every spring and summer, whether it be in simple mentions of what had been or was going to be served at a local soirée or as advice to the lady of the house on what to prepare for her family or guests in the sweltering summer months.

As usual though, I discovered more than what I had started out trying to prove, which was that iced coffee has been around & has been popular for a long-ass time. What I found was that not only did they have coffee which was chilled or had ice in it, they had trendy cold coffee concoctions, much like ones  you might find at a hipster cafe or a chain hawker of these drinks today. For example, a July 1951 issue of the Auburn Advertiser tells you how to make Maple Iced Coffee: Combine 1 Tbs maple flavored syrup, 2 Tbs of heavy cream and  1/8 tsp of artificial maple flavoring in a tall glass, add ice cubes and fill it the rest of the way with double strength brewed coffee. I assume you stir it after, doesn’t say, but just a guess.

A few years earlier in 1894, the July 15th issue of The World had several recipes, or receipts as they were once called, for the drink in question in their article “Fine Points of Making Coffee”. One describes how to make “Iced Coffee, in New York Style”. It is “merely cafe noir that has been cooled  in a china freezer by placing ice around it, slightly salted. For what is called mixed coffee, a pint of milk, a gill of cream, a gill of syrup and a quart of  black coffee subjected to the same cooling process and served when just this side of freezing is considered a proper caper by all who are not coffee connoisseurs.” A gill is a quarter of a pint, by the way. I looked it up.

Later, in 1916, you might be a housewife reading an edition of the Ithaca Daily News. There you would learn in the Of Interest to Women section what to serve instead of the “inevitable lemonade.”  It goes on to instruct you to “make your coffee very strong, at least a pint of it, and add to it a few drops of almond flavoring. Heat this up with one well-beaten egg until it gets a trifle thick. Sweeten it to taste – not too sweet-and cool. When it is time to serve, you beat into it a pint of cream and pour into glasses filled with cracked ice.”

Do you know how Ruth Etting liked her café glacé? She told the folks at the Medina Daily Journal in 1931 that she filled a shaker with half fresh brewed coffee, a few drops of vanilla, 4 Tbs of crushed ice, one or two Tbs of powdered sugar and some heavy cream. Shake it until it’s foamy and serve in a tall glass topped with whipped cream – hmmm… sounds like one of those over-priced novelty drinks that are so popular now, yet, it’s been around for 80 years. Weird.

A 1941 issue of the Schenectady NY Gazette will even introduce you to a girl named Mimi, the Queen of Iced Coffee. The beverage had its own week that year, which was from June 22nd to 29th.

As I scoured through all of these writings, I discovered a couple of little things that may interest you – everyone seems to have used powdered sugar rather than granulated and heavy cream instead of milk or half and half. It was made double strength because the ice diluted it and it was very often combined in a shaker, especially from the mid 1930’s on. Prohibition had ended so I guess everyone had a one for cocktails anyway.  Iced coffee was touted to be not only refreshing, but also nourishing and better for you than water when the weather was warm. It was never, ever suggested for children even in the oldest articles I could find. I also saw it suggested, more than once, that it be served with a scoop of chocolate ice cream in it – yummy!

So there you have it. If you drink iced coffee, you may be cool (cause it’s got ice in it), but you are not trendy. Actually, you are old fashioned and taking part in something that is so, like,  totally last week, dude. OMG, my great great great grandparents drank it, and they’re like, not even alive anymore.

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Gourmet Chocolate in Old-Timey Brooklyn, USA


Finding anything “gourmet” in Brooklyn is easy nowadays, what with gentrification and all – such a filthy word. Most of us are used to the Brooklyn of the 70’s and 80’s when if you wanted high-end, hoity-toity snacks you went to “the city”. Brooklyn was for pizza and delis and bodegas. But there was a time when you didn’t have to go to Manhattan for fancy foodstuffs, you could put on your knickers and skip on over to the corner chocolate shoppe. One of these specialty stores was Loschen’s Confectionery at the corner of Classon Avenue and Prospect Place.

In 1913, a young German couple and their infant son came to America. They were Herman and Marie Loschen and their boy, John. Herman was a coopersmith and they were coming to stay with Marie’s brother, Fritz Schepper who appears to have owned the building where the store was. They settled in this new place called Prospect Heights and went into the candy business.

From what I’ve been able to figure out, Marie Loschen had at least three brothers, Fritz AKA Fred, John and Gerard and at least two of them owned a candy store at 772 Washington Avenue, about a 5 minute walk from their place on Prospect. I’m guessing that’s how Herman learned the trade. Smithing isn’t exactly the same as being a purveyor of chocolates.  All was going well, I would suppose, when not even a year later, poor John Schepper was killed in front of his store.  According to the October 20th, 1914 edition of the NY Tribune, a group of rowdy teenagers was causing trouble in front of the place. When John came out to chase them away, one 17 year old struck him in the chest. Sadly, it was fatal – he was all of 19 years old. I wasn’t able to find out much else about the Schepper’s store, I know Fritz owned it until at least 1918. On the 1920 census, Marie’s brother Gerard is living with the Loschens and is a clerk in their store downstairs. The Shepper candy store on Washington Ave is as of this writing listed as a nail salon.

As for our friends on Prospect Ave., they continued on selling their tasty wares, one of which was Pirika Chocolate. Pirika was a Brooklyn company and had a factory at 972 Dean Street. They had been around since 1895 and in 1919, along with several other candy manufacturers, expanded their operations in anticipation that prohibition would drive up the desire for sweets. Even though their cocoa “satisfies the most exacting epicures” for only 25 cents a can, people would still rather have beer than chocolate and by 1925, Pirika had succumbed to bankruptcy. I believe the building at Dean St. is still there.

Who else lived above the sweet shop? In 1911, one occupant there was selling his Hupmobile, but I don’t know what year it was or how much he was asking. Then there was the Canadian immigrant family of Charles Ganthie. He lives here too in 1920 and his occupation is also confectioner/own company. In 1910 Charles and kin can be found in Manhattan and he’s a barber. Did he go into business with Herman? Are these the two in the picture or did Chuck also know Fritz and was he set up in his own store? In any case, a German who made things out of copper and a Canadian hair dresser making chocolates together – there’s a combo. Only in America! I don’t know what happened to the Ganthie family, but a gaggle of Pennsylvanians named Swartley were living there in 1930, the patriarch of which owned an auto repair store. The rent for their place was $60 a month while the Loschens were paying $50.

Herman passed away at the young age of 48 in 1933, leaving behind Marie, John and his son, Herman, Jr. who was born after they came to America. From what I can tell, his sons didn’t carry on the family business. Since then, the space at Prospect & Classon has been a soda fountain, luncheonette, kosher butcher and is now a corner grocery, or what we NYers refer to as a bodega with its classic yellow sign with red letters – at least that’s what the street view shows on google maps. I don’t know if you can still buy candy there, but I would think so.

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The “Genealogy” of a Building on a Street that is No Moore


Once upon a time in the section of lower Manhattan which is now known as the Financial District, Moore St. was just a little bit more than it is now. Currently it’s simply an easy to overlook, dark, little street. More like an alleyway, she is almost hidden in between Pearl and Water, cowering in the shadows of McDonald’s and the now glassed over U. S. Army Building that houses a gym and a Starbucks. At one time though it extended to South Street.

See, a little over 50 years ago before we had to suffer through gentrification there was something called “urban renewal” and the city had a fabulous idea for this part of town. What they were gonna do see,  was get rid of all of the stores and bars and dirty old tenements that served who they perceived were the financially disadvantaged folk, some of whom had lived there for years and years. Ya know what they were gonna do? They were gonna replace it all with brand new tenements for these same people only now they couldn’t go to their favorite  bar or diner or haberdasher anymore. This modern new  complex was going to be called “public housing” AKA “the projects”.

According to Wikipedia,  “In 1959 the City of New York attempted to acquire through eminent domain  the land under this development as part of the Battery Park Urban Renewal Area. The plan involved consolidating several blocks into a “superblock” for public housing.  When that plan fell through the city hoped to entice the New York Stock Exchange to relocate to the property. However the owner of the property—the firm of Atlas McGrath—successfully sued to retain their land, claiming they were more than willing to develop the site privately.” The result of this was that a bunch of streets were consolidated and a bunch of old buildings were razed and up went One New York Plaza. Hooray.

One small section of what became One New York Plaza were the addresses 6-7 South Street, 7 being right on the corner of Moore. This was the South Ferry Hotel with a restaurant/bar on the first floor.   In 1899 there was a huge fire and the whole block almost burned down to the ground but the inn survived.  The hotel was owned by Jeremiah C. Murphy & Co. and the eatery was called Harry & Joe’s.  A menu from 1900 advertises porterhouse steak with mushrooms for 90 cents – a double oder will cost you $1.40. For 10 cents more you can have spinach on the side and then add a  bottle of Guinness Dublin Stout for 25 cents. For dessert, coffee and pie will cost you 10 cents. No free bread though, that’s a nickel.

Of course, being situated right on the East River near docks and ferries, you could find all kinds of soldiers and sailors there. An article from the New York Evening Telegram on January 24th, 1891 says it was “kept constantly full of captains of sailing ships and their wives.” It goes on to describe the rebirth of this old commercial building into a hotel in 1889, prior to that it was one of four old warehouses. It was leased to the brother of Richard Murphy, probably the Jeremiah C. mentioned earlier, and the interior was entirely gutted. It was replaced with 75 “large, comfortable rooms… with everything in the way of furniture new.”  One such sailor who visited the hotel was Leander Matson. He was born in Russia about 1870 and in March of 1911, the young man who was stationed at Ft. Hancock, NJ, was staying there “hoping to be sent to the Mexican frontier.” Well, instead they claim he went a little nutty, busted out of his room in his pajamas and ran up South Street for almost half a mile. Not to worry though, he was caught, put in a straight jacket and sent to Bellevue.

A picture I found in the NYPL Digital Archives is what inspired this blog. Not being  sure of copyrights and all that jazz, I didn’t post the original, but you can find it here http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?723229F  When this picture was taken in February of  1915, No.’s 5, 6 & 7 South St. were owned by Julius Roetgger. He and his wife Caroline were  born in Germany and came to America around 1885. In 1900, Julius is a saloon keeper and  my internet research leads me to believe he took a 6 year lease on the property in May of 1908. A few months after this picture was taken, Julius filed for bankruptcy. He died in 1925 and his obit doesn’t mention his hotel.

6 South Street was also home to a barber shop and the jewelry store of Joseph Lempert, watchmaker. He was born in 1896 to Russian immigrants and both his father, Judah and one of his brothers, Benjamin were jewelers too. I don’t know what became of Joseph, but in a picture from 1934 you can zoom in to see that his store is now a restaurant and you could get a hair cut in the barber shop next door for a quarter.  The February 11th, 1944 edition of the NY Evening Post has a story – dare I even say it -of a slacks wearing female bootblack! Why yes, it’s true. Mrs. Vernell Borchin and her husband John owned the barber shop next to the hotel and the Mrs. took up the shoe-shining duties because of the shortage of available boys to fill the position, they all being busy serving our country in WW2. In the morning,  Mrs. Borchin would go to a barber school in the Bowery and was planning to give up shining shoes when she graduated. I don’t know if she ever did.

Although our buildings survived fires in 1899, 1913 and 1922,  a crazed sailor, bankruptcy,  a few episodes of asphyxiation by gas (Chester Thomas in 1899, John Gorman in 1907), more than one owner and a scandal here and there, they could not survive progress and it’s wrecking ball. I couldn’t say  what the area was like nor what the condition of these edifices were in 1959 when the powers that ran this metropolis decided it was time for them to go. For all we know they could have been rat-infested hell holes that honestly and truly  needed to be gotten rid of. What I do know is that they had character. If you go there now, you will find only what you see in this boring picture I took the other day:

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Cranberry Pie


So, the other day I had to macerate some blueberries for a lemon cake I made. I opened the freezer to discover two bags of cranberries – I always stock up in November so I can satisfy my cranberry sauce cravings throughout the year. I asked myself, “Self, do you think you can macerate these tart red orbs of tasty goodness?” and Self said she was pretty sure the answer was “no”. I had pondered this once before and searched the world wide web for this information and not one person, it seems, has ever posted anything about this, which means it probably couldn’t be done. But today I was being stubborn and ignored Self’s answer to Myself and tried it anyway.

I did what you need to do in order to macerate fruit; I poured the cranberries into a bowl, mixed them with about a cup and a half of sugar – as they need lots of sugar, cranberries do – covered them and put them in the fridge for a day.

Nothing happened.

I was neither deterred nor surprised that these bog dwellers had not broken down and produced any sweet, syrupy goodness, so I poured some lemon juice upon them, covered them and let them sit for one more day, and it appears to have worked.

Now, what to do with them? I could make a pie. I could fight with my husband about making said pie, he being quite against my having to turn the oven on in 98 degree weather. I could then ignore him and do what I wanted to. I was not going to throw out my berries and I wasn’t going to just cook them and turn them into sauce because I could have done that already. Silly. But how do I make this pie? I’m not much of a baker of pies. I can make cakes and cookies, all I do is follow the directions exactly and they all turn out perfectly. I know that baking is all about  science and I’m not into science and logic and math. I’m all about “what if’s” and “maybes” so inventing a pie was pretty adventurous for me. I expected the worst and hoped for the best.

My favorite, and frankly, the only pie I have ever made is Shaker Lemon Pie. I wondered if I could make a Shaker cranberry pie? The only diff was the fruit, right? I found my recipe and mixed four eggs, 3 tablespoons of flour and 4 tablespoons of melted butter into the bowl of berries. My intent was to add a cap-ful of vanilla, but I forgot 😦 .  I then poured most of the concoction into a pre-made frozen pie crust – oh, no, I don’t make my own. I have no problem admitting it either. I put the top crust on,  squished in the edges, cut the steam vents and put it in the oven. The lemon pie recipe says to start at 425 for the first half hour and then down to 350 for another so that’s what I did.

After I got the pie out, it looked pretty good – no burning or explosions, which was nice. It was way to hot to taste so I let it sit for a couple of hours, but by then it was too late to eat it and sadly I would have to wait until tomorrow so I covered her with some tin foil and put her in the fridge.

Next day, as I was making lunch for the child, I spied the pie and figured I could have a slice for breakfast. It is fruit, which is good for you and it has eggs in it, so how can this particular dessert for breakfast really be all that bad? Well, I have to say, it was pretty damn good.  As you can see, it looks like it didn’t bake all the way through and like the berries separated from egg mixture and went to the top. Hmmm… maybe next time I should smash them up before I put them in the shell? That could work. Also, it probably could have used another 10 minutes in the oven. But all in all for my first pie experiment, I think it came out pretty decent and it hasn’t made me sick, so there’s a thumb’s up.

If any of my much more talented baking/cooking friends have any suggestions on perfecting my pie, please let me know. I know you’re out there and I know at least three of you actually went to school and have knowlege and skill with this stuff.

Next time I think I’ll try a Shaker Orange Pie.

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Drinkin’ Whiskey at a Working Girl’s Apartment in Staten Island


Working Girl is a movie from 1988 about a Staten Island gal trying to make it big in uppity, high-class New York City. Now, back in 1988, I was a 16 year old metal head chick who could give a shit about Staten Island. I had never been there and my dream job if I ever worked in “the city” was gonna be at like a record store or a bar. I’d have tattoos (cause they were still illegal here back then, such a rebel I would be!) and colored hair, and a loft apartment in The Village. It would be totally awesome.

Alas, I eventually became that working girl in the city, in an office in mid-town and eventually, I moved to, yeah, Staten Island. Fine, laugh. Screw you. What-ever! At least I got a bunch of tattoos. Anyhow, I ended up seeing Working Girl – but only cause there was nothing else on TV and besides since I lived there, I was wondering if I could spot any places I knew and eventually I did, hence this here blog.

The place in question is Tess McGill’s apartment. It was, and still is, a run-down old building at the foot of York Ave. and Richmond Terrace. Please note, by the way, that York Avenue is a steep hill and I, as usual, took a crooked picture. Sorry ’bout that.

I of course  started internet researching to see if I could find out anything cool about the place. It is pretty neat, I love the columns and the yellow railing. It’s one of the few old places left on the North Shore, the rest being destroyed by stupid gentrification. I have a fondness for old structures and prefer it when the aren’t restored and show their real history. They aren’t putting on airs, they are wise and seasoned and have seen more than you or  I ever will. But I digress. As I was saying, I started looking for stuff and found zilch. I had to change my search from the actual number address to simply using the street names in quotes and finally I got my first clue, that it had once been referred to as The Richmond Apartments. So I searched that but discovered that those are across the street on the northwest corner “a five story brick building”, which this is not, this is northeast. Damn.

So I searched and searched. I discovered that a doctor named Anna A. Stein was among 146 physicians busted in a sting in 1932 for prescribing liquor. Well, that kinda sucks, but I guess being prohibition and all, people were gonna get their fix somehow and there were people out there who were gonna fix them. But before you go calling young Anna a criminal or a drug dealer (she was born about 1899, the daughter of Joseph J. Stein, a German immigrant,  who owned a grocery store.  just sayin’) remember, there were people out there that used booze and medicine. Medicine that was sanctioned by the government. Medicine that was advertised, as it was here in the NY Sun on Sunday, February 9th, 1902. Is this not awesome? I came upon this most amazing advertisement while looking for cool stuff about the movie building. What a groovy coincidence, dontcha think? The same politicians who promoted this stuff for good health and apparently saving your damn life, went and took it away. See, down on the bottom it says “the only whiskey recognized by the government as medicine.” Yes, I know they don’t specify “which” government, but being from Rochester, NY I’m guessing it was the U. S.? In an ad from The Amsterdam Evening Recorder in 1905, “America’s Champion Heavy-Weight Wrestler”, Tom Jenkins, said it was the only medicine he used the entire time he held the championship belt. I bet it was. Duffy’s, although quite popular,  wasn’t the only whiskey touted as an elixir, there were lots of brands like A. R. Tudor’s and Royal Ruby Rye whiskies. If whiskey wasn’t your thing, there was always something called Buchu Gin used for the kidneys and bladder.

So Anna and her doctor friends were simply providing their patients with “medicine” they had been raised on.  Some of these were probably folks whose moms and dads and physicians had been curing them with liquor since they were kids. One minute this stuff is a liquid miracle, promoted everywhere,  and the next it’s the devil’s tonic. I am not by any means condoning alcohol for children or even for curing disease, but I can relate to these ancestors of ours. Just watch the news today – one day coffee is horrible, the next it’s awesome. Then some newly discovered berry can ward off cancer and then suddenly it’s the worse thing ever. Aargh!!!

And what on earth was the point of all this? I have no idea. I just found some cool pictures and thought I’d write about them. If you want to find some other nifty old ads and articles, check out the link up on the right called Old NY Newspaper Articles. That’s where I got this stuff.

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How Religious Intolerance Got Me Pregnant With My Husband’s Cousin


What? What the hell does that mean? you say. I shall explain.

As you may or may not know, I’ve been doing genealogy for about 1o years or so. As any other genealogist, I am always wondering if I’m related to anyone I know and over the years I have not found anyone. I’ve also tried to figure out if I may be my own cousin, or my own Grandpa, as the song goes, but alas, this discovery has not been made yet. Recently though, I figured out some things that might very well make me my husband’s cousin – what fun! This seemed to vex the spouse a but, but made me slightly giddy deep down inside.

See, it all begins back in the 1600’s in a little town called Plymouth. There settled a whole gaggle of folks who were trying to escape the religious intolerance of England. Of course, this didn’t mean they liked any else’s religion, it just meant that they preferred theirs and wanted to have their own place just for themselves. And so, in 1629 on the second voyage of the Mayflower (yes, there were two), came Thomas Blossom, my husband’s 12th great grandfather. He was a Puritan, of course, and Deacon of the church in Plymouth Colony. He had a daughter named Elizabeth who married Edward FitzRandolph in 1637 and one of their kids was Nathaniel FitzRandolph, my husband’s 9th and 10th great grandfather. Yeah, well, more about that later.

In the meantime, back in England, was the widow Anne Perkins, my 11th great grandmother. She had been married to a dude named John and had three kids by him, one being John Bryant in 1618, my 10th great grandfather. The story goes that John Sr. died and the family lawyer, John Doane, who was also widowed, told Anne that if he married her he would take her and the boys to Plymouth where they could be as happy as Puritans were permitted to be without going to hell. Anne agreed and in 1630 they arrived on the Handmaid.

John Doane, my 11th great step-grandfather was as popular among the Colonial Puritans as was his friend Thomas Blossom. Doane even replaced poor Thomas as the church deacon in 1633 when Tommy died of fever during an epidemic in the colony that year. So, if they were such good friends, then I bet there had to be at least one intermarriage, right? That means I must be my hubby’s cuz – but who and how?

Not so fast, rabbit. It seems that the Blossom grandkids were, dare I say, upstarts! Apparently, Nathaniel, the eldest of the FitzRandolph kids became… a Quaker! It’s been thought that he switched over when he married Mary Holley, but who knows. What we do know is that the Puritan’s hated Quakers, – a lot. They persecuted them horribly and in 1658 even tried to outlaw them by seizing boatloads of Quakers trying to land at Sandwich. Around 1677, Nate was one of the people who asked for tolerance of the Society of Friends, a Quaker organization,  in Massachusetts, but the Puritans told him that this wasn’t gonna happen and so he packed up the wife and kids and moved them all to Woodbridge, NJ where he was followed by many of his siblings. My ancestors stayed in Mass and are the Bryants of Scituate, some of whom went to Maine.

So there you have it, my ancestors hated my husband’s (in-laws, sheesh!), they moved really far away from each other, the Quakers became Presbyterians, the Puritans became Baptists, and so would never, ever hook up until years later when no one cared or even knew anything about this stuff. The end.

But wait, what about that weird double great grandpa thing and how does that make my daughter my husband’s cousin or something. Oh, right… that. Well, it seems that the FitzRandolphs like to keep things in the family. It wasn’t a Quaker thing, they frowned upon that quite a bit and even discouraged the marriages of second cousins. The FitzRandolphs didn’t seem to care much and I have found at least two instances of FR cousins gettin’ hitched and makin’ babies. The situation that concerns us here is that of Nathaniel the Quaker lover. He was born in 1642 and had a son named Samuel born in 1668, who is also 8th and 9th great grandfather at the same time of my husband making him the 10th and 11th of our daughter.  Nate and Sammy had lots of descendants. Grace FR, born 1727 was a  great-granddaughter of Nate while Francis FR, born 1738, was a granddaughter of Sam. The girls are fourth cousins once removed. At least I think they are removed. Well, anyhow, they both got married and had lots of kids and in 1820, Grace’s great granddaughter, Lettie Thornell married Francis’ grandson, Stewart Crowell. Stewart and Lettie’s daughter married a guy whose family came to America way after the FitzRandolphs did and who was absolutely no relation to any of them. But the damage was done. This fella married a girl who was her own cousin – or was she her own aunt?

So, there you have it. Because my ancestors chased my husband’s ancestors out of Plymouth colony over 300 years ago, we met in NY and got married. And because my husband’s acestors didn’t pay attention to what the hell they were doing, I got pregnant with his like 15th cousin a gajillion times removed. Or his niece, I dunno.

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Are Liberty and Freedom Slowly Becoming Just Words?


So,  the fam and I went to Philadelphia, PA last weekend, the town that symbolizes the Freedom and Liberty of these great United States of America and we knew that we had to go and check out some wonderful pieces of our history. Why, I fondly remember visiting this fair city in 6th or 7th grade, back in 1984ish. It was so much fun! Each of these great historic places were right there, accessible to one and all. The Liberty Bell was outside and you could walk right up to it and no one could stop you. I would find out in later years that my and my husband’s ancestors have been here since the 1600’s and that his sixth great grandfather was a Captain in the Revolutionary War. Our family helped found this country and it’s our duty to take our daughter to see what her ancestors helped create – which is awesome, btw. So we leave our hotel in the windy March weather and trek across town to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the rest.

All is going well. We see a rather unique individual dressed like a purple bunny shouting about something in between chugging from a water bottle. Cool.  My daughter wants to have her picture taken with said bunny. I tell her no. We go into the Visitor’s Center and take some pics with some Colonial looking dudes. Then we attempt  go to the National Constitution Center and the annoyance begins. 

Let me explain that my husband is a man, therefore he always has a multi-tool with him. All able-bodied men should be able to fix things at any time. It isn’t too much to ask, I don’t see what the problem is. Every guy I ever knew carried either a knife or multi-tool. It could be used at a moment’s notice to cut an apple, unscrew a screw or pry something open. Phrases such as “Let me get my knife” or “hey, you got your knife on you?” were just part of normal, every day conversation. And at least once a year, boys would declare they needed a new one cause the one they had was shot. A guy leaving the house without one of  these things was like forgetting your cell phone. But not now, not anymore.

 Now every other place you go has a checkpoint because every other thing you have is a weapon. All of the historical places we go to have a line so that we can prepare to be searched and wanded. What that hell is that all about? They go through your purse, make you lift up your jacket and shirt so they can see your waist. I don’t let my kid go through my purse, so I should let some stranger do it? And ya know what? I don’t need anyone looking at my waist, thank you very much.

We figure we should at least see the Liberty Bell. If the hubby can’t get in, he’ll wait outside. “NO, screw that!” I say. This is his bell and he has every right to see it. We get in, I watch in disgust as some dude molests my purse – really, he should have bought her dinner for what he did to her. The spouse admits, right away that he has what is considered a “weapon” on him. One guard is ready to kick him out but another says that it’s fine. It was very gracious of him. The new home of the bell is very nice and serene. There are all kinds of artifacts and little bits of historical things in a sunlit hall that leads to the famous chime. My husband and daughter love it, but for me it’s just not the same. She should be outside, the way she used to be, in the open air. Anyone should be able to walk up to her at any time, no lines or checkpoints. I can understand that people carved so much out of the bell that she was in really, really bad shape but couldn’t they find another way rather than lock her up?

The whole experience did not make me feel free, it made me sad. Maybe I’m just romanticizing my past like we all do, the usual “life was better back in the old days” routine. Maybe it was always like this and I’m just fooling myself. I know that you couldn’t bring outside food and beverages anywhere, which everyone’s mom did anyway.  But this weekend reminded that this is how life is now, not just in Philadelphia, but everywhere in the United States.  When I heard two older women outside of a different site afterwards, discussing with irritation how they needed a ticket for this and there was a security checkpoint at that place too, they should just skip the whole thing and go somewhere else, it really drove home for me that my America is not the one I knew even twenty years ago, and it is not something my daughter will ever get to experience. She will live her entire life being checked and scanned and scrutinized. She won’t be able to go anywhere without being registered or stamped or made to wear a sticker or a tag or a paper bracelet. She won’t feel that there is anything wrong with it because she will never be able to say that she knew it any other way.

Here is your bell. It’s free. I won’t check your bag or your pants.

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Eggs for Sale! But Not for Everybody


from the Brian Merlis collection, http://www.brooklynpix.com

I was checking out a popular auction website when  I came across this most fabulously, awesome picture.  Now, I know you’re saying to yourself “Wow! How can I NOT buy this?” and that’s exactly what I said to myself and now this here picture is in my house and of course, I had to investigate it.

The address is 4905 Fifth Ave., in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn. It was taken in 1910 and it is of Alvin N. Vrooman (at least I’m assuming this handsome young fella is Alvin.) According to my research on popular genealogy websites, Alvin, twin brother of Alfred and older brother of Lee, was the son of Daniel and Margaret Vrooman of Schoharie, NY – Sharon Springs to be exact. The Vrooman name can still be found in Schoharie and this particular gaggle of Vroomans were farmers.

Alvin was born in 1869 and while his family all stayed upstate, Al appears to have taken a chance and ventured out on his own. By about 1900, he had left rural Sharon Springs, moving almost 200 miles away to the thriving city of Brooklyn – well, it had been its own city just two years earlier, until it was consolidated with NYC in the “worst mistake of ’98”. Anyhow, as I was saying, we first find our hero in Brooklyn on the 1900 census where  he is living as  a boarder in some family’s apartment, only about a 10 minute walk away from what will be his new venture. His is currently a Rail Road Conductor, still single, just checkin’ out the city, a dashing 30 year old bachelor. But his free wheeling days will soon come to an end when he marries none other than Emma VanValkenburg, daughter of Schoharie County’s own Physician /Farmer, Jacob VanValkenburg. The newlyweds can be found in 1905 living in an apartment at 4913 Fifth Ave.,  a few doors down from their delicatessen. By 1910 they had moved to a nicer place (I am only guessing) across town on Flatbush Ave.

Alas, I can’t find our lovely couple in 1920, but by 1930 Alvin and Emma appear to have given up on their Deli-Days and Al is now a garage mechanic in Wyckoff, NJ. They aren’t broke, they own the house they live in and it’s valued pretty damn high. I guess he made a pretty penny selling those eggs, even though it seems that he only sold them to SOME of us. From what I can tell, he and Emma had no kids and he died sometime between 1930 and 1939, when his younger brother, Lee, passed away. The End.

But what the hell is up with the eggs? Are you telling me that if I wanted to buy eggs from Alvin’s posh deli he’d say no? What’s up with that? WTF I declare!

Now, now, don’t get your bloomers in a bunch. Apparently, eggs for good health were all the rage at the time, and for some time before that. According to all kinds of doctors and other authorities on nutrition back in the old-timey days, eggs were a super food. And the best way to eat those eggs, especially if you were a child or an invalid? Raw. That’s right, the less they were cooked the better. It was said that the more an egg was cooked, the longer it took to digest and the delicate digestive systems of young people and the infirm should not be forced to break down a hard-boiled egg for up to three hours. According to page 462 of Mrs. Hale’s New Cook Book (1857):

Eggs.- An egg broken into a cup of tea or beaten and mixed with a basin of milk, makes a breakfast more supporting than tea alone.

A serving suggestion from the 1911 Bulletin/North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture, Vol. 32, page 32 is to serve eggs steamed or frothed, as once the egg white hardens your  tummy will not like it:

Steamed or Frothed Eggs – One egg, a few grains of salt, a small piece of butter. Have a little water boiling in a large covered saucepan. Separate the egg, beat the white to a stiff froth and heap it into a dainty bowl. Make a little well  in the center, drop in the yolk (whole), place the bowl in the saucepan, cover the pan closely. Remove all from the fire and let stand five minutes. Remove the egg from the water and serve immediately with salt and butter.

Aside from the nutritive properties of eggs, they were a hell of a lot cheaper than meat. You can find tons of books from the time breaking down what it costs to feed a family eggs for dinner rather than beef or pork, for example. Besides, who didn’t have a chicken or two running around the yard?

I’m guessing Alvin was taking advantage of this trend – did he get the idea from his Physician-father-in-law? Did he get the eggs from the Vrooman farm? Who knows? Alvin knew, and this it may seem is how he made a boat load of cash and bought him and the wifey and $20,000 house out in Jersey. Or maybe the deli flopped and he inherited some money from dad.

If you are looking for eggs now, you will need to go next door to the bagel place at 4903. If you accidentally walk into 4905, they will not have any eggs. According to google-maps, it’s  electronics place now.

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A Con-Man Grows in Brooklyn and a Kid Grows in West VA


After my last post about the Williamsurg Bridge going to PA, I rifled around in my old dresser and found another old postcard. This one is of the Frederick A. Cook mansion in Bushwick. I used to see it from the M train every day and just fell in love with it. I had no idea what it was at the time, just another beautiful old building, once full of life and energy now boarded up and all alone. She was probably a victim of the looting and fires during the black out of ’77, but thankfully she survived, albeit she’s bruised up a bit. I have heard that someone is working on it, but with this stupid economy who knows how that will turn out? Sigh.

I took this picture of it from the train in August of 2002 – at least that’s what the pic says, I can assure you that my memory isn’t that good. It was a Friday it seems and I guess I got out of work early. The train was empty so I was able to get a good shot with my spanking new-fangled digital camera as I hurtled by. The address is 670 Bushwick Ave. and all you have to do is use your preferred internet search engine to find out all kinds of stuff about it. If you don’t want to, I can tell you a little myself.

Back in the early 1900’s , a guy named Fred Cook lived here. He was born in upstate NY in 1865 and his dad died while he was very young. His family moved to Brooklyn and Fred always worked, eventually graduating from NYU with a medical degree. He hooked up with a guy named Robert Peary and got into the exploring business. You can check the links yourself, but in a nutshell, Fred claimed that he was the first man to reach the summit of Mt. McKinley in Alaska in 1906. Rumor has it that he never actually did this. Seems he went to Alaska, climbed up the aforementioned mountain a little, took a picture which he then adjusted, if you will, and then made up the rest of the story of his trek. He banked the money he made off of this to race Peary to the North Pole a couple of years later.  Both Cook and Peary claimed to have gotten there first. The post card below shows Fred’s house in all her glory on the day he came home in September of 1909, surrounded by his adoring fans.

The big float on the bottom says “We Believe in You”. I am guessing it was a result of the whole 1906 debate. Those being the elevated tracks for M on the bottom, I guess the pic was taken from a taller building behind them. The mansion on the right has been torn down in recent years – she was still there in 2002 as you can see from the picture I took from the train. The ghosts of the kids in the yard on the bottom right haunt what is now the parking lot of a KFC.

In any case, you can search the web and you’ll find that the general consensus is that he never went to the North Pole at all – some think that Peary never got there either. He eventually got into some unsavory situation having to do with oil promotions, was convicted of fraud and did five years in the pokey. He got out in 1930 and died in New Rochelle in 1940.

Now, what the hell does any of this have to do with some kid in West Virginia? My postcard not only has a note on it, but it’s got a name, a state AND a postmark. Woo-hoo! You need to understand that genealogy is pretty much my crack. That and coffee. I will research for hours a day for weeks at a time and then burn out. A couple months later and I’m fiending for more. If the earth does indeed explode in 2012, I’ll be pissed cause that’s when they release the 1940 census.

Our postcard was sent to Master Lionel Wiseman in West Virginia in October, 1916, just about the same time Americans were losing interest in the Cook/Peary/North Pole situation. War was raging in Europe and we were about to jump in. I guess folks had more important things to think about.

 Our post card  says”Dear Lionel how many days have you counted. Write and tell me I will bring you an apple. good bye.” and it’s signed L.W.

Master Lionel – well la-di-da. That’s what them there rich folks calls their sons until they hit about thirteen, and then they get to be called Mister. According to the 1920 census  there are two Lionel Wisemans and both are the right age to have been addressed as “master”. One is in MD and the other is in West VA. I’m  99% positive that our boy is the second one, so I’m gonna go with him – I think our clue is in the initials at the bottom of our letter.

So who is our young master? Well, he isn’t really fancy or rich at all. Lionel Wade Wiseman was born in 1913 and was the son of a simple coal miner living in a coal mining town among lots of other coal mining folk. He’s the son of Norval Lee and Laura May Wagner Wiseman – L.W for short.

So, if L.W. is Lionel’s mom, why didn’t she just say “love mom”? I like to think they were playing a little game. Maybe she had to go away for a little while and she was pretending he was all very fancy and grown up. Maybe this was his very first piece of mail. How adult! If you have kids you know what a big deal that is for them. I’m sure you have plenty of little nick-names for them and my daughter loves to pretend she’s older than me and takes great pleasure in calling me by my first name in her “woman” voice.

Oh, and what a fancy card to send him! Such a glorious house in great, big New York City. Maybe they could visit is someday? I wonder if they ever did?

I don’t know much else about our Lionel. I didn’t find any news articles, good or bad, about him or any if his family. I actually could probably spend lots of time and go back years and years and find it all, but it’s late and I’m tired. Maybe a descendant of the West Virginia Wisemans will come across this and it will give them a clue or spark their interest in finding their ancestors. Maybe Lionel is still alive and will find this. That would be kinda neat. You think he’ll want his postcard back?

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How I Took the Williamsburg Bridge to Austin – PA That Is


Back in the late 1900’s, when I had this weird thing called “disposable income”, I used to occasionally buy old pictures and postcards from a popular auction website.  I always searched for the ones that had to do with places I’ve lived or had been to over and over again. One such place was Continental Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Also known as Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, it is the first and last stop on the M and J line between Brooklyn  &  Manhattan, depending on which way you’re going. Twice a day, every day for like fifteen years I took the M from Metropolitan Ave to Delancey/Essex and transferred to the F uptown. Every once in awhile, I’d mix it up a bit and take the bus to the R at the Queens Center mall, but for the most part I was an M train gal.

Anyways, as I was saying, I came upon this here postcard of Williamsburg Plaza and thought it was totally cool. The best part was that it had been written on, making it less expensive. Personally, I like postcards better when they’ve got messages on them but if you’re a collector, you want them pristine and unused – boring, I say. I like the history and the “life” that was added to the pictures when someone picked up this card in the store and thought it was special enough to send to someone they knew. They picked up a pen or a pencil and added their thoughts and feelings to this piece of paper putting a tiny bit of themselves into it. Then it travelled, maybe across the county, or maybe just down the block, and it was looked at and read by a bunch of other people before it got to its final destination. It was read by the addressee and has lived, in this case, for 100 years.

If you’ve ever been to Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, you’ll notice that it hasn’t changed very much – a wonderfully, refreshing feeling for us native NYers who are having our city ripped away from us by a bunch of greedy interlopers. Unfortunately, the names and addresses of the folks who sent and received this piece of mail are not written on it. I was so hoping to find out who they were and where they came from, but alas, that shall remain a mystery. It seems it was probably placed in an envelope and mailed to parts unknown. I guess that whoever (or whomever? don’t know, don’t care) sent it liked the picture so much that he didn’t want it to get scarred on its journey. There were, however, some interesting notes on it.

Our sender told his friend that he passes this place every day, twice a day, on the “elevated road” and that it’s called the Jewish Passover. I wonder if he chuckled as he wrote that? Well, it seems that the Williamsburg Bridge was dubbed this almost as soon as it opened. Construction began in 1896 and was finished in 1903. I found a reference to it being called the Jewish Passover as early as 1906. Poor Jews escaped the slavery of the factories and  tenements of the Lower East Side over the East River into the Promised Land of Brooklyn.  They still live there today, among the expensive loft apartments and the projects, in the shadow of the now dim Domino Sugar sign. If you are ever on the train and you need a seat, just hang out near the Hasidic Jews – it’s almost guaranteed that they’re getting off at Marcy Ave. or Hewes.

The author of  our postcard continues and asks if his friend knew anyone in the Austin disaster. Wow – this went to Texas maybe? Why no, it actually went to Pennsylvania, I am supposing, or to someone who was from there. So what was this disaster? Let’s check the internet…

On September 30th, 1911 a dam broke in Pennsylvania and 78 people died. Built in 1909 and 50 feet high, the dam was owned by the Bayless Pulp and Paper Company. The company decided they needed to cut construction costs and so the damn wasn’t constructed as well as it should have been. Some structural issues were addressed in January of 1910, but again, they did a cheap, half-assed job, which resulted in its failure.  According to Explore PA History website  “the water picked up debris and stacks of pulp wood, estimated to be as much as 700,000 cords, from the Bayless lumber yard. These logs became deadly weapons as the water hit the town of Austin. After the waters raged through Austin, they hit the nearby town of Costello.” Unfortunately, despite donations and help pouring in from all over the country, the town of Austin never fully recovered from this tragedy and half of its population left by 1920. I checked the 1910 census and it shows 2,941 people living there – aside from native Pennsylvanians,  it was full of German, Swedish and Austrian immigrants who had all come to this blue-collar town, working as respectable, blue-collar folk, trying to provide the American dream to their families.  In 1920 though, the population was down to 1,556. By 1930 it lost 400 more people and according to the 2000 census was down to 623 and City-Data.com will tell you that it’s about 615. A town that may have become  a thriving, wonderful city had its life cut short by laziness and  greed.

So that’s how, for a couple of bucks, I travelled across the Williamsburg Bridge to a town in Northern PA I had never even heard of. Although it’s a sad story, it reminds me of how quickly things can change and about how small the world really is. I’m glad I learned about the Jewish Passover and a little town over 300 miles away. I hope the six or seven other people who read my blog learn a couple of new things too.

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