December 17, 2011
As school begun and we were introduced to the Brooklyn Historical Society I never would’ve thought it might have interested me like it did. The BHS has very special feeling and just by its looks it stands out from the rest of the building. Its eye catching color and its amazing exterior design makes for a very appealing structure. The BHS alone holds a special place in Brooklyn as it’s labeled a landmark. We all didn’t experience the same things but we were all exposed to a part of Brooklyn most people don’t see. This varied from maps, diaries, photos, and even death records.
Specifically we focused around fire, disease, and disaster which all had plenty of affect in Brooklyn’s history. The Fire part of the semester was surrounded on the infamous burning of the Brooklyn Theater. In the disease section we were exposed to all the different diseases that shaped Brooklyn and how was formed due to them. With the disaster part it was mixed between both topics due to the fact that they both caused chaos in the society. Although it might not look like it really had any effect on us currently living but reality it had a major affect. To the extent of how buildings were constructed even placed to reassure those tragedies won’t happen again.
Furthermore the most interesting maps I saw in the BHS were located the Slum clearance Atlas. In this Atlas many things were included from different years and how things changed. Not only did it include that but small details which I was very surprised to find. For example a map of Manhattan at that time which shows where was there the most death of children under the age of two. This was such a stunning map it left me speechless and question what the purpose of this map was. Also it showed the same map over 30 year span. In these maps you could see how Manhattan was changing and how it was adapting to the mass number of people that migrated. Most residents of Manhattan were living in slums and this lead for an easier spread of disease.
Another set of maps that we took a look at were from the Brooklyn Theater fire. As a group we choose three different atlases all around the same area, but they all were from different dates 1874, 1877, and 1884. We wanted to see how the area was ten years before the fire, one that had the closets date before the fire, and a few years after it. While we were looking at the atlas from 1877 we were able to see the demission’s of the structure. We could tell that it was very narrow building and could connect what were the problems and why so many people died. It only had two exits one was the main entrance and the other to a back alley which was an even tighter and harder to escape. Now we can understand why people panicked to get out which lead to a bigger disaster and to some an ultimately doom.
During our first class reading we read about a woman with the name of Lucy Kolkin. Lucy wrote letters to her husband called Alfred Kolkin, in these letters she wrote about her daily life. She would write with passion and all love with the slightest detail, you can feel as if she is having a conversation right in front you with Alfred. We continued her letters in the BHS but this one was hand written and very sensitive. Like the others this letter also had extreme detail, but was harder to read due to the fact that it was in script. She wrote asking her husband whether it would be a good idea to move out there and be closer to him. In these letters you can see how people interacted during that era and have many similarities to our generation. These letters can even be used to base with the maps and see if they have any relation where Lucy lived do to her financial income.
An author by the name of Jorge Luis Borges who wrote a story called “Funes the memorius”. He wrote about a boy named Funes we suffered a misfortune and lead to curse he demised. The curse he received was the ability to have an extraordinary memory which he stored all unnecessary details. Anybody would discard and not hesitate to forget what shape was a cloud, but for Funes this was something that couldn’t be avoided and some days it was based around his whole day. Like Borges writes “each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day” he would spend endless hours trying to piece together something from the past. This has some similarities to the BHS were documents are stored that include many things that aren’t really useful, but they can help us piece together how people from those years lived a daily life.
All these documents and stories show how important is to keep information regarding the past. With those documents we can help improve how we live and advance in the future. During our visits to the BHS I never understood how historic documents really helped in anyway. Now that I have had experience with maps, photos, and even some personal diaries I can respect its meaning and what they truly stand for. Documents should be kept for an entirety so maybe some teenager like me in the future can read and hopefully captivate what I extracted from them. I would recommend anyone to visit the BHS and interact with the all the facilities they have to offer. I will in fact make more trips and extend the research we have started in our class. Going to the BHS for the semester has become a rather surprising pleasant experience and hope that more classes in the future would follow the same steps to make classes more interactive.