Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Additions to the Library's Historical Photo Collection - Picturing Great Neck in the 1940's

The presence of the United Nations Security Council in Lake Success brought many residents from other countries into our community.  In this wire service photo dated 1948, Philippe Pressel takes his turn reading for the class in English.  According to the caption for the photo, "The youngsters are generally quick at picking up languages, so the teachers in the Great Neck school have little trouble with their new pupils.”

Photograph purchased by Risha Rosner Memorial Fund.
A 1945 confirmation class at Temple Beth-El.  Temple Beth-El, the oldest synagogue in Great Neck, was founded in 1928.
Photo contributed by Barbara Freedman Wolfson, a member of this class.
Girl Scout Wing Troop, Great Neck, New York, circa 1946.
Photographer: Joan Faigle (perhaps related to Fred Faigle, friendly neighborhood butcher, whose shop sat where the Bohack supermarket used to be, opposite the Village Green, now 683 Middle Neck Road.  Photograph contributed by Troop member Barbara Freedman Wolfson.
Is Gus Stevens waiting on Polo Road for the lunch crowd from the Great Neck High School?  Probably.  There was only one high school in 1946.

Photograph contributed by Charles Quatela.
Great Neck Girl Scouts have a Halloween party at the Girl Scout House on Berkshire Road in1947 or 1948.  The Girl Scout House was razed in 1986. Five houses were later built on the property.
Photograph contributed by Merle Holstein.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Portrait of Alexander Culet, Great Neck Photographer

cu·let  kyü-lə(noun) - The small flat face at the bottom of a gem cut as a brilliant.

Photograph  of Culet photography studio, ca. 1930. Note the gas street lamp above the auto on the left.

This is what we know about Alexander Eugene Culet, according to the U.S. Census.  He was born in France and was 29 years old in 1920.  His photography business, and possibly his home, were in a small building on the east side of Middle Neck Road, opposite St. Aloysius Church.  Despite the fact that we know so little about Mr. Culet, one thing is certain: he was a very good photographer.  Alexander Culet took photos which were used on numerous postcards showing prominent Great Neck homes.  These postcards may actually have been produced by Mr. Culet in his Great Neck studio.
Hand drawn map by Mills P. Baker, from his book,
Breezy Hill: The Baker Farm, showing the Culet
studio (red asterisk), next to the O'Connell Saloon.

An example of Culet’s work is shown in the postcard below, recently acquired by the Library’s Local History Collection.  We are unsure where this image was taken - presumably at an estate or location called "The Oaks."  A home can be seen in the background of this image, behind the bushes.  This new postcard was purchased with funds donated in memory of librarian Risha Rosner.

The Oak’s, Great Neck, L. I.
Postcard photo by Alexander Culet.

Judging from their style, Culet's cards were printed in the “golden age of postcards," sometime between 1907 and 1915, when postcard collecting was all the rage.  The postcard images of this era offer some of the most beautiful photography of the period, and Culet's cards are no exception.   Many postcards created during this time were actual photographs - developed photo images on photographic paper - as opposed to pixelated images made in ink on a printing press.
Pergola C. Proctor, Great Neck, L. I. Postcard photo by Alexander Culet.
In 1906 Kodak came out with the Folding Pocket Camera.  Negatives were the same size as postcards.  Culet's postcard photographs were likely produced with this particular Kodak camera, as the hand lettering on his cards suggests.  A small metal tool, provided with the camera, allowed the photographer to write directly on the image.

Another of Culet’s postcards in the Library’s collection shows a distant view of the Bayview Avenue Bridge as seen from Nirvana, the estate of William Gould Brokaw.
The Bridge from Brokaw’s, Great Neck, L.I.
Postcard photo by  Alexander Culet.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

From New Hyde Park & Great Neck, Around the Globe, Signatures on Petition are Children’s Plea for Peace

Photo by James Kavallines, taken for the New York Herald Tribune.
In 1961, two residents from the New Hyde Park/Great Neck area, Hazel Kaufman and Fran Wunderlich, became increasingly alarmed by the ominous signs of war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.  The rhetoric between Kennedy and Khrushchev was constantly escalating.  Media reports were dire and threatening.  Children in Great Neck, including those of Hazel and Fran, were being told to hide under their desks in case of a Soviet missile attack.  Nuclear war seemed inevitable, even imminent.  Fran and Hazel decided to take matters into their own hands.  They wrote a petition, to be signed mostly by children, simply pleading for peace, not war, between the two superpowers.  It called on Kennedy and Khrushchev to stress reason and discussion over rhetoric and confrontation.  They called their movement The Children’s Plea for Peace.  Children took copies of the petitions to school and asked other students to sign them.  This was done in cooperation with the Great Neck Public Schools’ administration.  Other children and parents from other communities heard about the petitions and asked for copies.  Soon, people were circulating the petition all over the U.S., and in England, Japan, and India.  Word of the Plea for Peace began to spread.  Extensive coverage in the media followed.  Participants in the Plea for Peace were interviewed by the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Post, and many local newspapers.
Participants in the Children’s Plea for Peace included Elissa Kaufman (14), Michael Wunderlich (10), and Richard Lazes (13), who traveled with fellow students from New Hyde Park to the United Nations to rally.   Their aim was to present a scroll comprising 10,000 petition signatures to the international organization.  Their pleas were recognized – undersecretary Ralph Bunche accepted their petition scroll on behalf of the United Nations, and media coverage of the Plea for Peace took off.  Photo by James Kavallines, taken for the New York Herald Tribune.
When 10,000 people had signed, Great Neck’s Plea for Peacers attached all of their petitions together, end to end, to form a huge scroll.  A large group of children traveled to the United Nations in Manhattan with placards in hand, asking that they be allowed to officially present their petitions to the international body.  Dr. Ralph Bunche, noted diplomat, academic, and U.N. administrator received three of the Plea for Peace children, and accepted their petition scroll, which remains in the U.N. archival collection to this day.
Signatures for the petition arrived from around the world, including over 700 students from the Mar Basil High School, Kothamangalam, Kerala State, South India (left), and the Kamakura Prefecture, Japan, near Tokyo (right).
Other than advocating for peace and respectful, constructive communication between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., participants in The Children’s Plea for Peace learned a valuable lesson in civics.  They discovered that their efforts and concerns could be recognized, and that their activities could have real effects on the social discourse of the day.  Many of the Plea for Peace children went on to become advocates, activists and civic leaders.  The Children’s Plea for Peace had taught them how to act on the issues that mattered to them, and speak up for what they believed in.
Press coverage in local and New York City papers took off as the Plea for Peace grew, culminating with the response to the presentation by children of over 10,000 signatures at the U.N.
Images and information for this blog post were provided to the Great Neck Library by Hazel Kaufman.  This blog post is a companion to a local history display at the Main Building of the Great Neck Library, on view until September, 2011.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Main Street Great Neck, 1912

A century ago, postcards were the favored social networking tool.   Because of this non-electronic format, we have a record of one of the main shopping areas in our community, as it appeared a hundred years ago.
Postcard view of Main Street, Great Neck, circa 1912.
This view of Middle Neck Road, called Main Street here, was printed in Germany for the Ninesling’s  Brothers Department Store, some time before 1912.  The card was addressed to Hasel L’Hommedieu of St. James, L. I. (in Smithtown).  By 2011, this card had found its way to Las Vegas.  The L'Hommedieus were also a prominent Great Neck family around this time, very active in the business, religious, and civic life of the community.
A sign painted on the H. Ninseling & Sons store, on the right, advertised dry goods, furniture, and sporting goods as well as laundry - phone number GreatNeck 134.  A date at the roof line indicates that the building was constructed in 1881.
The view looks north from Beach Road.  Just visible on the left is the canopy of the LeCluse Brothers General Store.  One of this store's owners, Egbert LeCluse, was a member of the Alert Fire Company, and later a justice of the peace.  He had the distinction of having the first telephone in town, GreatNeck 2, because he was instrumental in bringing phone service to Great Neck.   Calling GreatNeck 1 got you the local phone company office, which opened on September 28, 1899.   Mr. LeCluse is also said to have helped dig holes for Great Neck's power and telephone poles.  Telephone numbers from this period can be found in the Library’s collection of telephone books on microfilm.  Several of these books will soon be available online, through the library's website.
Egbert LeCluse - from the Great Neck News, December 10, 1937.
Behind the LeCluse store sat the colorful Kortlander & Rempe general store, which sold wine, liquor and groceries.  Behind Kortlander & Rempe was the Lincoln Market, phone number GreatNeck 81.
Horses and carts also appear in the background of this image.  The strangely small automobiles traveling on the minimally paved road were added after the photo was taken, probably to make the image seem more up-to-date.  If you look closely, you can see the "cut marks" around the images of the cars.
A very similar postcard in our collection offers a less colorful view of the same scene.  On first viewing, these images look the same, except for the automobiles.  A closer look reveals that the images were definitely taken at different times, as small details, like the people posing on the sidewalk, are not the same in each.
Postcard view of Main Street, Great Neck, circa 1909.
West side of Middle Neck Road at Beach Road, part of the area shown in the postcards above, in 1977. Photo by Mort Shapiro.
The 1912 postcard was purchased with money from the Risha Rosner Memorial Fund, which is made up of contributions donated in recognition of Risha Rosner, a dedicated, longtime Great Neck librarian and local history enthusiast who passed away in March of 2010.  To contribute to this fund, please call the Great Neck Library Reference Department at 516-466-8055, ext. 218.  Contributions are spent on adding items to the library's Local History Collection, and preserving, conserving and providing better access to the collection.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Saddle Rock Turns 100

2011 marks the Centennial of the Village of Saddle Rock, the first village established on the Great Neck peninsula.
Louise & Roswell Eldridge founded the Village of Saddle Rock in January of 1911The Eldridge estate, in its entirety, made up the new village of Saddle Rock.  At the time, the new village had 77 residents.  All of them had lived on the Eldridge estate, and were either somehow related to the Eldridges, or worked for them.  The Eldridge mansion was called Redcote; it sat on a hill overlooking Long Island Sound, not far from the Saddle Rock Grist Mill.

"Redcote," the home of Louise and Roswell Eldridge, in Saddle Rock (no longer in existence).

Roswell was the first mayor of Saddle Rock, but Louise succeeded him when he died in 1927.  Louise was the first female mayor in the State of New York.  Given her previous experience with all things municipal (she was a founding member of many local entities, including the Great Neck Library, the Great Neck Society for Social and Educational Advancement, and the Great Neck Park District), Louise probably had little trouble serving and leading the new village.
Louise had inherited land and family money, and continued to make wise investments during her lifetime.  Roswell had made much of his fortune from the reorganization of The Hoboken Ferry Company.  Several Great Neck contemporaries of Roswell's had also gotten wealthy investing in shipping and ferrying lines.  Roswell also invested heavily on Wall Street.  Before he died he was a millionaire, living a life of leisure as a gentleman farmer and breeder of his beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Raising Cavalier King Charles Spaniels was one of Roswell Eldridge's true passions in life . . .
. . . riding his prized horses around Saddle Rock was another.
Stock certificate for 18 shares of The Hoboken Ferry Company, owned and signed by Roswell Eldridge, dated June 16, 1897.
This 1933 Chevrolet "woodie" was probably once the official vehicle of Saddle Rock and the Eldridges.  It was purchased by a Long Island collector in 2009.  "Saddle Rock - Great Neck" was painted in gold leaf on the driver's side door.  The owner sent us this photo, hoping that we might have further information about the van.
Louise Skidmore Udall Eldridge, the Grande Dame of Great Neck, onetime mayor, and owner, of Saddle Rock.
The oldest image of the Saddle Rock Grist Mill that the Great Neck Library owns is on this postcard.
The note written on the back of this postcard is signed "L. U. S.," which is probably either Louise Udall Skidmore, or her mother, Louisa Udall Skidmore.
Cool  Saddle  Rock  Facts
Most of the streets in Saddle Rock are named after famous American and British poets.
The Saddle Rock Grist Mill is the oldest known structure in the Great Neck area.  It dates back to the late 1600's.
For more information on Saddle Rock, visit the
History Page from the Village of Saddle Rock Website

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Did Fanny Brice Ever Really Live in Great Neck?

Over the years, claims have been made that many famous people lived in Great Neck.  At the library, we give claims that can be substantiated credence, but if we cannot find hard evidence to support a contention, we tend to qualify it by saying "Maybe," or "Yes, a lot of people say that, but no one seems to know for sure."
Fanny Brice: a gifted comedienne, for sure, but did she ever live in Great Neck?
We often hear that Fanny Brice was one of the famous actors who lived in Great Neck, back when our community was a “place to be” for actors, Vaudevillians, producers, and writers of note. Though it’s always hard to prove a negative, it would seem that Ms. Brice (nee Fania Borach) never really lived in Great Neck.

A biography in the Library’s collection, Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl, by Herbert G. Goldman, lists many residences for Brice, but not one of them is in Great Neck.  Nor does The Fabulous Fanny, by Norman Katkov mention Great Neck.  The 1920 census locates Ms. Brice in Manhattan.

Fanny was married three times – briefly, to a barber named Frank White, to Nicky Arnstein (a.k.a. Julius Arndstein and Jules Arnold), and to Billy Rose.  During their marriage, Arnstein spent time in Leavenworth prison where Fanny visited him frequently.  After Nicky Arnstein and Fanny Brice divorced in 1927, Nicky married one Isabelle Matlack.  That marriage, in Quebec, was recorded in the New York Times on January 7, 1930.  This announcement listed the bride as the daughter of J. C. Matlack of Beverly Road in Great Neck.  The obituary for Isabelle Matlack’s mother, also in the New York Times, lists her residence as 4 Beverly Road.  An essay about Kensington in the files of our local history collection mentions that Arnstein lived briefly on Beverly Road.  Could this Arnstein-Matlack connection, tenuous as it is, be the basis of the idea that Fanny Brice lived in Great Neck?
Do you have any evidence that Fanny Brice lived in Great Neck? If so, we’d sure like to know about it.
Postcard of the Bel Air, CA residence of Fanny Brice

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Seawanhaka Saga Continues

The Local History Collection recently acquired this circa 1870's postcard handout depicting the steamship Seawanhaka and advertising its schedule.  This item was purchased with money from the Risha Rosner Memorial Fund*, which is made up of contributions donated in recognition of Risha Rosner, a dedicated, longtime Great Neck librarian and local history enthusiast who passed away in March of 2010.

Artist's rendering of the steamship Seawanhaka off Sands' Point.  Note that the maker of this card was Donaldson Brothers of Five Points, New York.  Five Points was a notoriously overcrowded and crime-ridden downtown Manhattan neighborhood.

The Seawanhaka was one of many steamships that shuttled commuters and daytrippers to and from Manhattan, Whitestone, Great Neck, Sand's Point, Glen Cove, Sea Cliff, Glenwood, and Roslyn.  In the days before highways, affordable autos, and commuter railroads like the LIRR,  steamships were a major way for people to travel longer distances.  Recreational grounds like Oriental Grove in Great Neck became popular steamship destinations for weekend travelers looking to escape the city for a day of relaxation, nature, sport, and picnicking.  The waterways of New York City and its surrounding areas were full of steamships, which were full of passengers and cargo.  These waterways became increasingly dangerous, as more and more steamships and other boats competed for limited shipping lanes and rights of way.  Many serious steamship catastrophes, and many more small accidents and near misses, occurred in and around the waters of New York City.  Among these was the Seawanhaka Disaster of June 28, 1880.  These incidents were caused by the aforementioned shipping conditions, lax regulation, corruption, poorly enforced or nonexistent safety rules, improper ship design, use, and upkeep, and the dangerous, often negligent conditions on some ships.

If this schedule was accurate, then the
Seawanhaka was a very fast ship indeed

The Seawanhaka Disaster and Great Neck
       In the late afternoon of June 28, 1880, the steamship Seawanhaka was making its regular trip up the East River from its last Manhattan boarding dock to Long Island, with many commuters aboard.  As the ship sailed into the narrows between Hell Gate and Little Hell Gate, her boiler caught fire.  Flames quickly spread to the ship’s other decks.  With no docks in sight, and heavy boat traffic on both sides, Captain Charles P. Smith piloted his ship to the wetland shore of Randall’s Island.  He ran the Seawanhaka aground in a spot called the sunken meadow.  Half the ship sat on marshland; the other half faced the waters of the East River.  Captain Smith stayed with his ship until he blacked out.  He had been badly burned on the face and hands while steering his ship to the best landing site available.
       Those fleeing the Seawanhaka were forced to choose between a blazing, sinking ship, swampy marshland, and inhospitable waters - many could not swim.  Over forty people perished in the Seawanhaka fire, drowned fleeing the ship, or died from injuries suffered in the disaster, including several Great Neck residents.
       The Seawanhaka Disaster, as it came to be known, had a profound effect on Great Neck.  Some of the Great Neck residents who died in the Seawanhaka Disaster were prominent citizens - businessmen who owned homes and/or businesses in both New York City and Great Neck.  Abram P. Skidmore was a particularly beloved and admired Great Neck resident who died in the disaster.  Other Great Neck residents who died in the disaster include Hilard R. Hulburd, Mordecai Manuel Noah Smith, James H. Skidmore, and Montague Smith.  Still other Great Neck residents, including F. K. Edwards, were rescued after the burning ship ran aground.
       Outraged at the increasing frequency of deadly steamship accidents, of which the Seawanhaka had only been the latest, public and government outcry soon resulted in investigations and prosecutions.  Some practical changes in the oversight of New York’s shipping industry were made.  W. R. Grace, former mayor of New York City, and perhaps Great Neck's most eminent resident, was on the Seawanhaka when it went down.  He knew some of the passengers who died in the disaster.  Grace tried to make certain that those who perished in the Seawanhaka Disaster did not die in vain.  He attempted to ensure that proper investigations were being made, and that suggested changes in shipping regulations were being adopted.
       In Great Neck, townspeople mourned their fellow residents who had perished.  They also praised and memorialized the captain of the ship, helping to collect a large sum of money to present to him, for his bravery, and to help defray the costs of his treatment, recovery, and loss of income.

Illustration from the July 17, 1880 Harper's Weekly, dramatically depicting scenes from the Seawanhaka tragedy.  Before photojournalism became practical and widespread, illustrators often drew stirring images to accompany the news stories of the day.  The Great Neck Library Local History Collection owns a copy of this issue of Harper's Weekly, which also includes an editorial and news article on the Seawanhaka Disaster.

* If you would like to contribute to the Risha Rosner Memorial Fund, please call the Great Neck Library Reference Department at 516-466-8055, ext. 218.  Contributions to this fund are spent on adding items to the library's Local History Collection, and preserving, conserving and providing better access to the collection.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Harpo Marx Stayed (and Spoke) Here

Many of us know that Groucho Marx lived in a home on Lincoln Road in Thomaston for several years, but did you know that Harpo Marx also lived in Great Neck for a short time?
According to a September 26, 1930 Great Neck News article, Arthur Adolph Marx, better known as Harpo Marx, thought he had rented the Great Neck home of Major Henry Holthusen in the summer of 1930, only to discover that Mrs. Holthusen had not been made aware of this arrangement.  Being a good sport, and understanding that her husband had promised the house to the illustrious Mr. Marx, Mrs. Holthusen apparently allowed Harpo to stay on for at least a month.  It should come as no surprise that the elder Marx Brother, Harpo, would want to summer in the same town as his younger brother, Groucho.  The Brothers Marx and their families were known to socialize together.

As with many old Great Neck News articles, "Presenting Arthur Marx," by Kay Mott, was written in a lighthearted tone, playing up the idea that Great Neck had become the home and meeting place of many rich and famous people - actors, producers, writers, Vaudevillians, politicians, merchants, financiers, and investors.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We Owe You: One Horse - the Great Neck Library Board of Trustees, circa 1941-46

The Local History Room recently added to its collection the library's oldest existing records - Board of Trustees minutes, correspondence, and ledgers from 1894 to 1949. 
Previously, these documents had been kept in the library's safe, but it was thought they'd be better preserved, and more accessible to the public, if they were kept in the Local History Room, where they are now stored in a fireproof cabinet.  As we reviewed these materials for description, we came across some interesting documents that shed light on just how much Great Neck, and the library, have changed over the years.  For instance, a page at the beginning of the January 1941 - November 1946 board journal is entitled "List of Loans to the Great Neck Library."  In addition to some furniture and artwork, including a painting by the famous artist Childe Hassam, lent by one Robert Tarleton, this document notes that Mrs. Roswell Eldridge* once lent the library a horse.  You may wonder what the library needed a horse for in the 1940's - hauling, plowing, teaching kids about life on the farm?  Your guess is as good as ours.  Of course, it is possible, even probable, that Mrs. Eldridge lent the library the kind of horse that the American Heritage Dictionary describes as "a frame or device, usually with four legs, used for supporting or holding," but we prefer to imagine a large equine mammal grazing and frolicking on the grounds of the old Great Neck Library at 14 Arrandale Avenue.
This first page of the January 1941 - November 1946 Library Board journal lists "Loans to the Great Neck Library."  Note that there is no record indicating that the library ever returned the horse lent to it by Mrs. Eldridge.
One of the few pictures we have of Louise Skidmore Udall Eldridge.
* Louise Skidmore Udall Eldridge probably played the single greatest role in shaping modern Great Neck.  She came from two old, established families of Great Neck and Long Island, the Udalls and the Skidmores.  After her husband Roswell died, Mrs. Eldridge became mayor of the Village of Saddle Rock.  At the time, she was the first female mayor of a village in the State of New York.  She served as mayor from 1926 until her death in 1947.  Mrs. Eldridge was tremendously active in, and important to, the civic and community development and improvement of the Great Neck peninsula.  She was a dynamic, driving force in the founding, early administration, and trusteeship of the Great Neck Library, the Great Neck Park District, the Great Neck Schools, the Village of Saddle Rock, local health services organizations, and the Great Neck Society for Social and Educational Advancement.  Her desire and commitment to helping provide Great Neck with all the services and amenities that a modern community could need seemed to know no bounds.  Before and during her mayoralty of Saddle Rock, she served as an officer on the boards of numerous governmental, charity, and municipal organizations.  She donated funds, land, and endowments to numerous municipal and charitable groups, both public and private, and was thus instrumental in the development of both government and non-government services and infrastructure on the Great Neck peninsula.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Welcome to the Great Neck Library's Local History Blog

As we add new and interesting materials to the Local History Collection at the library, we will post entries on this blog about them.  For instance . . .

Pursuant to a patron request for information on an old Kings Point estate, we discovered that Hamilton Easter Field (1873–1922), a prominent artist, patron of the arts, gallery owner, arts publisher, and supporter of early American modernism, once lived in Great Neck.  Hamilton Easter Field lived with his parents and his brother, Herbert Haviland Field, in a large, waterfront estate called Ardsley (possibly spelled Ardesley), which sat at the end of Red Brook Road.  The family lived at Ardsley between the 1890’s and 1910’s (we have yet to determine exact dates for their residence in Great Neck).  Hamilton's parents, Aaron Field and Lydia Seaman Haviland Field were prominent Quakers.  Aaron Field could trace his family tree in the New World back to Robert Field, who came from York England to Massachusetts in 1630.  Works by Hamilton Easter Field are in the collection of The Brooklyn Museum (see 2nd link below). The Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection, which contains works created and collected by Mr. Field, is kept at The Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine (see 1st link below).  Hamilton Easter Field is perhaps best remembered today as an early supporter of the American modernist movement.  He wrote extensively about the movement, collected the work of other early American modernists, showed their work, arranged shows for them, and generally helped them out, finding them work and patrons, and even housing and feeding them.

The Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection at The Portland Museum of Art

Hamilton Easter Field works in the Brooklyn Museum 

Hamilton Easter Field, Self-Portrait, circa 1898, oil on panel, 24" x 18", in the The Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine.