The Brooklyn Historical Society opened in 1863 and back then it was known as the Long Island Historical Society. The Society was to be responsible for preserving the history as well as the studies of all things Brooklyn. The gorgeous building it currently resides in was designed by George Browne Post and was completed in 1881. If you look closely at the top of the building you will notice the detail and carvings of Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin, William Shakespeare, Johannes Gutenberg, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Michaelangelo Buonarroti, which were all done by sculptor Olin Levi Warner. The building alone is worth the visit which is probably why it was designated a National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
An interesting note is that the interior, including the library, are protected here as well, as declared by the City of New York. A special occurrence indeed.
To see what I mean take a look at this brief video supplied by The Society.
Like I said the building is impressive just to look at but I was here for more than that.
I am not proud of it but this site has been on my to do list since my 2014/2015 list (http://bit.ly/2nGrUSK) came out. To say I a happy this is FINALLY checked off is putting it mildly. Despite how glad I am to have checked it out I have to say that I probably won’t be adding a return visit to any future itineraries. Although the building itself is a word of art I found the exhibits very few and far between.
Besides my long desire to visit, I was primarily here for one exhibit only, “The Lost Photographs of David Attie” featuring “Truman Capote’s Brooklyn”. The story behind this exhibit is a book put out by David Attie’s son, Eli. Eli found a treasure trove when he stumbled on a series of never published photographs his father had taken during the time he spent with Truman Capote who lived in Brooklyn during the 1950s. Capote lived here for over ten years for reasons that eluded his fancy friends in high society. Capote wrote an article in Holiday magazine about the reasons behind his lifestyle choice in 1959. These pictures were to accompany that piece but most never did.
Eli Attie has now decided to share these images with the world beginning with an exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society along with the publishing of the aforementioned book, “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir: With the lost photographs of David Attie” that came out in November 2015. See the second link below to purchase.
I am a big fan of Truman Capote and fell in love with his work a while back when the documentary “Capote” came out in book and film form. Seeing the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman portray this very unique author during the time when he was transformed by the research and writing of his first nonfiction work, “In Cold Blood”, endeared him to me. I also was entranced by the story of the Clutter family and how it changed Capote forever.
These are a list of the primary exhibits you will find at the Brooklyn Historical Society:
- Truman Capote’s Brooklyn July 20, 2016 - July 2017
The day David Attie spent with Truman Capote must have seem largely uneventful considering these are images capturing a regular day in his neighborhood. But looking at them so many years later they are fascinating. They capture the day-to-day “normalness” that Capote loved about living in Brooklyn. Something I suppose those who never have won’t ever truly be able to understand. The pictures are all interesting but my very favorites are the two of Capote inside his Brooklyn home. I have passed by the outside of his former Willow Street home and only wish I could have a day to spend inside which is unlikely given I do not have the ten million dollars required t purchase the privately owned home.
- Brooklyn Abolitionists/In Pursuit of Freedom January 15, 2014 - Winter 2018
Brooklyn may not seem like the most obvious front where slavery was dealt a blow but there were many abolitionists who fought the good fight. You can find many of their stories told here.
This exhibit works in partnership with another Brooklyn historic site, the Weeksville Heritage Center. I visited there in April 2015 (http://bit.ly/2nC3aOV)and was amazed to learn how this settlement came about to become one of the first, free African American communities in the 1800s.
- The Emancipation Proclamation October 16, 2013 - Winter 2018
This document signed by then President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 was the beginning of ending slavery, officially.
In October 2012 I visited the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (http://bit.ly/2nUkA5s) just for glimpse of one these rare remaining documents. Seeing them up close will never ever get old for me. So finding one during this visit was just as precious. I always make sure to stop and take the time to appreciate what I am standing in the presence of.
What makes this display different than the other I saw was that at the Brooklyn Historical Society has an opposing wall filled with quotes about slavery and freedom that really make you stop and think. Or rather it had that effect on me.
- Until Everyone Has it Made: Jackie Robinson's Legacy Opening April 5, 2017
As this exhibit has not yet opened I didn't get to see what lay behind the closed door that will let visitors explore this man and his legend. I would have rather enjoyed it I think. I love a true story about those that pave the way for the future.
If you, like me, think the outside of the Brooklyn Historical Society is breathtaking wait until you lay your eyes on the library. A favorite high school teacher of mine always said to judge a place by its library. If I were doing my review purely based on the library it would be by far the most special, beautiful place I have ever been. It was like a library you except to find at Harvard or in a movie. I could not believe it. I had nothing to research that day but I was tempted to linger anyway.
According to the Brooklyn Historical Society website:
“BHS’s Othmer Library and Archives houses the most comprehensive collection of materials related to Brooklyn’s history and culture in the world. A leader in museum education, BHS serves over 10,000 students and teachers a year at its Brooklyn Heights building and at other partner sites around the city.”
Not only is it a thing of beauty but a place that functions. Many come far and wide for its source information as well as for a quiet workplace.
On my decent down the ornate wooden staircase I walked past a statute by Meredith Bergmann that made me pause. When I read the description next to it, the moment felt serendipitous. It was of a girl name Pinky whose story I had first learned about during my visit to nearby Plymouth Church (http://bit.ly/2nUlKxI) in February of 2015. Pinky a.k.a. Sally Maria Diggs was a young girl who was living her life as a slave until Henry Ward Beecher, pastor of Plymouth Church, purchased her freedom in 1860 with funds he raised from the sale of an expensive ring, which remains on display there.
Despite my easy breezy visit with the exhibits I do think I would rather enjoy attending a talk or event here. I had so wanted to visit when Eli Attie was at the Brooklyn Historical Society before his exhibit opened but that didn't work out. However, I am confident I will find the perfect affair sometime soon.
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