Jan 12 2011


Published by under Baseball | Vignettes


rooklyn has a long and storied history as a baseball town. Of course most people know the long tenure that the Dodgers enjoyed in Flatbush, but how many people know that the early names for the franchise included the nicknames the Bridegrooms, Superbas, and Trolley Dodgers. During the tenure (1914-1931) of one particularly colorful manager, Wilbert Robinson, were often referred to as the Robins in honor of their manager, who had acquired the nickname “Uncle Robbie”.

'Uncle Robbie' Robinson

Robinson rose to prominence as a catcher for the savvy, hard-nosed Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s, setting a record in 1892 with seven hits in a nine-inning game. After serving as a Giants coach for his ex-teammate and close friend John McGraw, Uncle Robbie was named manager of the rival Brooklyn franchise in 1914. Maintaining his jovial and easygoing demeanor, he led the Robins to their first two World Series appearances in 1916 and 1920.

When Robinson retired in 1931 there was some discussion about renaming the Robins the Brooklyn Canaries, but the name Brooklyn Dodgers returned to stay following Robinson’s retirement.

As he entered the cab, the driver asked him how the contest was going. “Pretty good,” the passenger replied. “The Dodgers have three men on base.” The cabbie responded, “Yeah, which base?”

In their later years, the 1940s and 1950, the Brooklyn Dodgers took their baseball seriously. Before that time they were known as the Daffiness Boys, and the daffiest of them all was Babe Herman, who besides being a great hitter and a dreadful fielder was a genuine eccentric when negotiating the base paths. The Babe was the sparkplug for the crazy time the Dodgers ended up with three men on base — the same base.

This signature Dodger play from this era occurred when Herman doubled into a double play, in which three players – Dazzy Vance, Chick Fewster, and Herman – all ended up at third base at the same time.

Babe Herman

The game with the Boston Braves was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh with the bases filled and one man out. Hank DeBerry was on third, Dazzy Vance on second, and Chuck Fewster on first, with Herman at bat. Herman hit a hard drive to right, and the runners held up a moment to see if the ball would be caught, an eventuality that Herman had never seemed to take into consideration when running the bases.

The ball banged against the fence and DeBerry came in to score. Vance rounded third and headed for the plate. Fewster was between second and third when he was shocked to see a steaming Herman bearing down on him, also on his way to third. Mickey O’Neil, coaching at third, also spotted Herman making his mindless headlong dash and began screaming “back, back.” Vance, almost home, stopped, thinking the frantic instructions were meant for him, and turned back for third. Fewster, running for his life, got to the base standing up just as Vance came sliding in from home and Herman from second. Thus here were three confused Dodgers on third base.

The Boston third baseman got the ball after it had been thrown home and tagged Vance and Herman but actually missed the tag on Fewster, who just sort of wandered off the base in a daze. In fact, the Boston third baseman had not actually tagged anybody. The lead runner Vance was entitled to the base, so the tag on him was meaningless. There was also no need to tag out Herman, since he was out automatically for passing Fewster. Meanwhile, Fewster simply decided a double play had ended the inning. He trotted over to second base to pick up his glove on the short outfield grass and take up his fielding position there. Finally Doc Gatrea, the Boston second baseman, called for the ball and slapped the tag on Fewster, who would have been safe if he had simply gone back to second.

With the tag, the umpire yelled, “Fewster, you’re out.”

Fewster replied, “I thought I was out five minutes ago.”

That ended the confusing inning with one run in. Babe Herman never could understand why he was subjected to so much abuse although he did admit that while he had not tripled into a triple play as some said, but had certainly doubled into a double play.

There was a famous joke that originated when a fan had to leave Ebbets Field before the completion of a Dodgers game. As he entered the cab, the driver asked him how the contest was going.

“Pretty good,” the passenger replied. “The Dodgers have three men on base.”

The cabbie responded, “Yeah, which base?”

After his removal as club president, Wilbert Robinson returned to managing, and the club’s performance rebounded somewhat.

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Jan 06 2011

Early Residents

Published by under Arts and Culture | History


he Lower Hudson bioregion has been inhabited by people for at least 12,000 years. A number of Paleoindian sites have been excavated in Staten Island, Long Island, southern New Jersey, the upper Delaware Valley, and the Lower Hudson. There may well have been earlier coastal settlements, but any evidence would have been submerged by the advancing sea.

The earliest known inhabitants of Brooklyn were a group of several organized bands of Algonquin people with shared cultural and linguistic customs known as the Lenape. The Algonquins called their home Lenapehoking, roughly the area around and between the Delaware and lower Hudson Rivers. This encompassed what are now known as New Jersey; eastern Pennsylvania around the Delaware and Lehigh valleys; the north shore of Delaware; and much of southeastern New York, particularly the lower Hudson Valley and Upper New York Bay. Among other Algonquian peoples, the Lenape were considered the “grandfathers” from whom all the other Algonquian peoples originated. Consequently, in inter-tribal councils, the Lenape were given respect as one would to elders.

For thousands of years, the Lenape Indians, comprising approximately one hundred different tribes, lived between the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean and from Tennessee to Canada. Among the more famous Algonquin tribes living in the New York area were the Delaware and the Mohicans. The Lenape spoke two related languages in the Algonquian subfamily, collectively known as the Delaware languages: Unami and Munsee.

Lenape society was organized into clans determined by matrilineal descent. Territory was collective, but divided by clan. At the time of European contact, the Lenape practiced large-scale agriculture, mostly companion planting, their primary crops being the “Three Sisters.” They also practiced hunting and the harvesting of seafood. They were primarily sedentary, moving to different established campsites by season.

Lenni Lenape as seen in a contemporary woodcut.

Metoac is the collective name for the group of Native Americans settlements roughly east of what is now the Nassau County line. The Long Island tribes lived fairly prosperous lives. They were hunters and fishermen, but some of them were farmers who raised beans and corn. Game was rather plentiful on the Island at that time and included deer, bear, raccoon, turkey, quail, partridge, goose and duck. Seafood was also plentiful where fresh water met salt water, many Lenape campsites could be found at such inlets- where the natives caught crabs, clams, scallops, lobster, and many kinds of fish including herring, bass and bluefish. The Lenape were expert fishermen, equally adept with bows and arrows or simple hook/string methods of catching fish.

According to early accounts recorded by the first European settlers, Lenape houses in the area were dome-shaped structures from 10 to 20 feet in diameter, covered with grass. Clay covered openings at the tops of the dwellings prevented them from burning when fires were lit inside: the vents allowed smoke and heat to escape. The primary medium of exchange among the Lenape was wampum, ornamental groupings of cylindrical purple and white beads drilled from shells strung on the sinews of small animals or attached to the inner bark of elm trees. Wampum was prized by the Indians and used by the Europeans as currency in exchange for beaver pelts.

The Canarsee

The Long Island Lenape contained thirteen small tribes which were part of the Delaware people. The tribes included the Canarsee, Rockaway, Merrick, Massapequa, Secateg, Unkechag, Shinneconk, Montack, Manhanset, Corchaug, Setauket, Nissequong, and Matinecock. They called Long Island Seaawanhacy (or Land of Shells). The tribe that lived in Brooklyn, on the western-most part of the Island, were known the “Canarsee” whose territory extended over most of Kings County and parts of Jamaica, including the neighborhood of Canarsie. There was also a small tribe of the Nyack Indians near the Narrows.

There are several theories which suggest how the Lenape obtained the name “Canarsee.” One theory was that the Indians often took the names of animals, birds, or natural objects. Because of Jamaica Bay and other water inlets and passages, the marshland was always filled with ducks, turkeys, geese, pigeons, venison, and clams. With the coming of the French trappers, hunters, and fur traders, the word “Canarde” meaning “duck” was used to describe the land. It is therefore believed that the name “Canarsee” came from the French work “canarde.”

A Native American name for Long Island is Paumanok, meaning “The Island that Pays Tribute”. More powerful tribes in the surrounding areas forced the relatively peaceful Long Islanders to give tributes and payment to avoid attacks. This name, by the way, is among many others recorded in historical accounts under different spellings- partly because the Indians did not write and early colonists were not particularly good spellers. The old Dutch inhabitants had a tradition, that the Canarsee Indians were subject to the Mohawks, as all the Iroquois were called, and paid them an annual tribute of dried clams and wampum. When the Dutch settled here, they persuaded the Canarsees to keep back the tribute; in consequence of which a party of the Mohawks came down and killed their tributaries.

The Lenape connection to Canarsie persists with the Canarsie High School football team, who are known as the “Chiefs” although the titular head of a Lenape tribe was typically called a Satchem or Sagamore.


The first Europeans to set eyes on Brooklyn was the crew of the Dolphin, captained by Florence came Giovanni da Verrazano a Florentine navigator of repute who was in the service of the King of France. Sailing into New York Bay in 1524 , he encountered the Lenape and observed what he deemed to be a large lake, which was in fact the entrance to the Hudson River. Verazzano did not linger: in 1528, during his third voyage to North America, after exploring Florida, the Bahamas and the Lesser Antilles, Verrazzano was killed and eaten by the native Carib inhabitants.

In 1609 Henry Hudson sailed up the estuary of the river that initially was called the “North River” or “Mauritius” and now carries his name. Hudson sailed into the upper bay and began a journey up what is now known as the Hudson River. Over the next ten days his ship ascended the river, reaching a point about where the present-day capital of Albany is located.

European settlement of Brooklyn began with the Dutch and was initially tangential to their main settlement on the island of Manhattan (New Amsterdam), part of their colony of New Netherlands. The States General, Holland’s governing body, licensed the New Netherlands Company in 1614, taking in an area from New York State on the St. Lawrence River south to the Delaware River. New Netherlands was the sole possession of a commercial monopoly of the The West India Company and was not a colony of Holland.

While the English embarked on a search for theological utopia, the Dutch immigrated for one purpose: to make money.  The first European settlement within the present limits of Brooklyn was made in Wallabout, site of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard and countless hipsters, by several families of French-speaking Walloons in the early 1630s, having arrived in New Netherland in the previous decade from Holland. Settlement of the area began with the purchase from the Canarsee Indians for some 335 acres of land, but these early Wallabout settlers waited at least a decade before relocating full-time to the area, until conflicts with the tribes had been resolved.

In 1636 Dutch farmers took up residence along the shore of Gowanus Bay. That year Jacques Bentyn and William Adrianese Bennett also purchased from the Indians a tract of land in Brooklyn, extending from the vicinity of 28th street, along Gowanus Cove and the bay, to the New Utrecht line. This formerly composed part of a powerful Indian Sachemdom that bore the Indian name of Matowcas.

Also at that time, a handful of New Amsterdam residents bought large tracts of farmland in an area of western Long Island in which the soil was unusually fertile. Nieuw Amersfort—the first Dutch settlement on Long Island—was built at present day neighborhood of Flatlands, on Jamaica Bay, site of the Indian village of Keskaechqueren. The abundant supply of wampum in the area led to the selection of Keskaechqueren as the earliest permanent European settlement on Long Island.

Manatus Map (click to enlarge)

The Manatus Map is an 1639 map that is the earliest portrayal of Manhattan and its environs. The map may have been drawn by Johannes Vingboons, cartographer to the Prince of Nassau for the West India Company of Holland. This map, possibly done to encourage Dutch settlement, depicts plantations and small farms. These widely dispersed settlements are keyed by number in the lower right-hand corner to a list of land occupants. The list of references includes a grist mill, two sawmills and “Quarters of the Blacks, the Company’s Slaves.” Also delineated are a few roads represented by dashed lines and four Indian villages situated in what is now Brooklyn. Although a bit confusing, since South is actually oriented East on the map, it clearly shows Lenape longhouses in the marshlands of Red Hook (Sassian) and Wallabout Bay, Bay Ridge (Nayack or Wichquawanck) and at the head of the Gowanus swamplands.


Dutch relations with the Indians began benevolently. A director of the West India Company, Johannes de Laet, wrote that the Lenape were friendly people if they were treated well. Governor Willem Verhulst was also instructed from Holland to treat them with “honesty, faithfulness and sincerity” and to respect their land claims. However a series of bad business dealings in several of the trading posts located in present day Connecticut quickly soured relations.

Kieft’s War, also known as the Wappinger War (1643–1645), was fought between settlers to the nascent colony of New Netherland and the native Lenape population. Twenty tribes ultimately consolidated in the fight against the Dutch: Hackensack, Haverstraw, Munsee, Navasink, Raritan and Tappan from New Jersey; Wecquaesgeek, Sintsink, Kitchawank, Nochpeem, Siwanoy, Tankiteke, and Wappinger from east of the Hudson; and Canarsee, Manhattan, Rockaway, Matinecock, Massapequa, Secatoag, and Merrick on Long Island.

Named after Willem Kieft, the fifth governor of New Netherlands the Brooklyn manifestation followed an unsuccessful expedition against the Raritans on Staten Island and included an attack  by 1,500 natives on New Netherland, where they killed many, including Anne Hutchinson, the notable dissident preacher. They destroyed villages and farms, the work of two decades of settlement. In retaliation  the English and Dutch combined strategically to decimate the Canarsee, Merrick and Massapequa villages on the western end of Long Island. Governor Kieft hired the English mercenary and veteran of the recent Pequot War, John Underhill, for 25,000 guilders. Underhill brought with him two companies of 120 to 150 volunteers and Mohegan scouts. Underhill’s company proceeded to kill over 120 Indian men, women and children where they lived near today’s town of Massapequa.

“No one can have visions because the earth is no longer clean.”

After some 500 Indians were killed on Long Island, the governor declared a day of thanksgiving.

A vestige of Kieft’s War was the stout, fortified construction of many of the Dutch homesteads, including the Old Stone House in the Park Slope neighborhood, which was to play a pivotal role in the defense of Brooklyn during the Battle of Long Island.

Trouble with the Dutch was only one of the factors which eventually drove the Indians from Long Island. Another was a smallpox epidemic in 1658, which reportedly killed two-thirds of the tribes in the area. The population of all the Long Island tribes in 1600 was estimated at 10,000. The effects of warfare and sickness reduced this population to 500 by the year 1659. By the time of the Revolutionary War, Lenape on Long Island were few and far between, perhaps not totaling 200 in all of New Amsterdam.

Moreover, the influx of white settlers and the resulting expansion of farmland drove animals away, and the Indians who were hunters migrated to the mainland in pursuit of game. They now became exiles and wanderers, dependent upon the hospitality – and subject to the hostility – of other tribes. With the severing of their ancient bond to the land, the source of their visions and insights dried up. In the words of a Delaware in the early nineteenth century, “No one can have visions because the earth is no longer clean.”

  1. http://canarsie.homestead.com/canarsiehistory.html
  2. “A History of the City of Brooklyn.” by Henry Reed Stiles. (ca.1870)
  3. “Notes, Geographic and Otherwise, Relating to the Town of Brooklyn in Kings County on Long-Island.” by Gabriel Furman (1824)
  4. “A History of Brooklyn and Kings County.” S.M. Ostrander, (1894)
  5. http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/indianwars/articles/kieftswar.aspx
  6. http://www.richmondhillhistory.org/indians.html
  7. http://www.newyorknature.net/Native.html
  8. http://www.terrain.org/essays/10/campanella.htm
  9. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/brotherton/metoachist.htm

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Jan 05 2011

In the Beginning


he New York City borough of Brooklyn lies at the western end of Long Island and has a fascinating topographic history that has influenced the course of major historical events on more than one occasion. As with all of Long Island Brooklyn is under-laid with sedimentary layers of rock that strike northeast and are inclined gently to the southeast. These layers appear at or near the surface in the vicinity of Long Island Sound, where erosion has left relatively tough sands and clays at elevations of more than 60 feet above sea level. Further south and resting on top of these sands and clays and forming the highest elevations is a belt of glacially deposited debris composed of an unsorted, unstratified mixture of boulders, sand, silt, and clay. This debris was deposited in the interval between 75,000 and 17,000 years ago when the area was covered by a massive sheet of glacial ice (1) known as the Wisconsin Ice Sheet. This was the last of many glacial advances that grew after the start of the Pleistocene Era about 1.5 million years ago and that stretched down from eastern Canada (Labrador), advancing as far south as New York City.

The Wisconsin Ice Sheet left its marks on the city, depositing rock and debris and accounting for the hilly areas that run straight through the middle of the five boroughs. Geologists believe that the Wisconsin Ice Sheet began its southward journey from Labrador about 90,000 years ago and reached its maximum about 70,000 years ago, forming the Ronkonkoma Moraine on Long Island. Following a period of warmth and retreat, it advanced again starting about 45,000 years ago, reaching New York City about 20,500 years ago, forming the Harbor Hill Moraine and then beginning its final retreat about 18,000 years ago. In North America, the Outer Lands is a name given to the terminal moraine archipelago of the northeast United States (Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Block Island and Long Island).

It has been said that the Ice Age ended in Brooklyn.

In New York City, the Wisconsin Ice Sheet was 1,000 feet thick (in the Adirondacks it was over 5,000 feet thick and perhaps as much as 10,000 feet thick in Labrador). The Wisconsin Ice Sheet had an impact not only on New York City but also farther north, deepening the bed of the Hudson River Valley (the Hudson River is the southernmost glacial fjord in the Northern Hemisphere), carving out the Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes basins, and leaving its mark on the Adirondack mountains. The glacier also deepened valleys beneath Webster Avenue in the Bronx, and the Harlem and East Rivers. It smoothed the bedrock and left glacial grooves and striations as the advancing glacier dragged rocks over the surface. These can be seen throughout Manhattan’s Central Park. Because the glacier acts very much like a conveyor belt, the longer it stays in one place, the greater the amount of material that will be deposited. The moraine is left as the marking point of the terminal extent of the ice.

The Brooklyn terminal moraine with secondary elevations : 2. Bay Ridge- Dyker Heights 2. Sunset Heights 3. Owl's Head 4. Fort Greene Park 5. Brooklyn Heights

The nature of glaciers is that as they grind away at rock underneath them, rock gets picked up and travels along with the glacier. After the glacier melts, the rock debris is left behind. In the New York region, the Wisconsin Ice Sheet deposited tons of gravel, pebbles and sand—moving, for example, boulders from the Palisades to Central Park—plowed up topsoil, and leveled the earth, filling in depressed areas with glacial till. Even after the Wisconsin Ice Sheet stopped advancing south and its southern end was melting at the same rate that the ice advanced, rock debris continued to be deposited and piled up at the southern edge of the ice sheet. This feature is known as a “terminal moraine” and evidence of it (hundreds of feet high in some places) stretches from the southern end of Staten Island across the Narrows and through Brooklyn and Queens. (2)

The ridge extends in an east northeast direction from the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, with hills of varying heights of 100 to 150 feet, with the southern slope of the ridge having a relatively steep drop and the rear, a more gradual slope. Without the terminal moraine, most of Long Island, including Queens and Brooklyn, would lie beneath the Atlantic Ocean, since the bedrock of Long Island is largely below sea level. In addition, the huge amounts of sand, silt, and clay that form the five-mile wide outwash plain that lies under Flatbush, Coney Island, and Canarsie were deposited by streams from the melting glacier.

The moraine as greenbelt: 1: Green-Wood Cemetary 2: Prospect Park 3: Evergreen Cemetary

Many parks and cemeteries are located where the land was too steep for easy farming or subsequent urbanization. The rocky terminal moraine areas meant that they were the least suited for real estate development, and thus the cheapest lands for the city to use for wood lots, cemeteries, and especially for parks. The band of green across Brooklyn and Queens, from Highland Park to Forest Park, including the many cemeteries in this area, is all built on the terminal moraine. In Brooklyn, Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park both comprise a portion of the terminal moraine, and the moraine is even referred to in the names of neighborhoods across this strip: Bay Ridge, Greenwood Heights, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Highland Park, Cypress Hills, Ridgewood, and Forest Hills. It is interesting to note that with the exception of the Bronx, the high points of each borough are in parks or cemetaries: Bennett Park in Manhattan, Todt Hill in Staten Island, Green-Wood cemetary in Brooklyn and Evergreen cemetery in Queens. Many of these ridges and peaks provide stunning views of the Manhattan, and park designs such as Sunset Park and Owl’s Head Park have taken advantage of these vistas in intricate networks of pedestrian paths and terraces.

The Battle Pass area, also known as Flatbush Pass in the area of Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. An etching circa 1792

In colonial times, the moraine was known as the Heights of Guan. With the advance of urbanization much to the moraine has been leveled off, but to early settlers of the area, these elevations would have appeared almost mountainous. Most of the early roads, which followed the paths of the Leni Lenapi Amerindians, bisected the moraine. During the American Revolution the hills posed an obstacle to the attacking British from the south due to the steepness of the southern slope and the fact that they were densely wooded. There were only four passes through the Heights of Guan: Gowanus Pass, Flatbush Pass (later known as Battle Pass), Bedford Pass and Jamaica Pass. Battle Pass (now in Prospect Park) and Jamaica Pass would figure significantly in the Battle of Brooklyn, the topic of several upcoming blogs.

In addition to the central moraine, the lowland coastal areas of Brooklyn were typically swampland. What is now the Gowanus Canal was originally a tidal inlet of navigable creeks in original saltwater marshland and meadows teeming with fish and other wildlife. Henry Hudson and Giovanni da Verrazzano both navigated the inlet in their explorations of New York Harbor. There were considerable swamplands to the north and east, including the present-day neighborhoods of Red Hook, Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

  1. http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/geology/leveson/linksa/nygeomorph.html
  2. http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_about/parks_history/geology.html
  3. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace (2000)

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