Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, the three-day weekend that gives us a much-needed excuse to go to the beach, have a picnic, or just enjoy a lazy day at home. It can be easy to forget that, though, that it’s meant to be a day to remember those who died while serving our country.

We’ve selected a few interviews with living veterans to learn more about the experiences of those who served in the military.

The videos linked in this post are interviews with veterans conducted by the Brooklyn Public Library for the Veterans History Project. Signed into law by President Clinton in 2000 after unanimous support in Congress, the Veterans History Project collects firsthand stories by wartime veterans for posterity. With the help of schools, libraries, veterans service organizations, and community groups, these remembrances are recorded, where they will be sent to the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center.

The story above is from an interview with Vietnam veteran Donald MacIver, Jr. at the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. This is part three of a four-part interview series detailing MacIver’s experiences before, during, and after the war. We cued up his gripping story of a daring helicopter mission that went wrong, and how soldiers deal with the wartime loss of their comrades.

Click through to hear more local stories from Brooklyn recorded for the Veterans History Project. (more…)

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A 2009 Memorial Day concert in Green-Wood Cemetery by Green-Wood Cemetery

We celebrate Memorial Day with food, festivities and perhaps even a day at the beach, on the semi-official start of the summer season. Some of us plan to go shopping, taking advantage of all of the Memorial Day sales at practically every large department and discount store.

Because the experience of war, losing someone in war, military service, or even having a relative in the service is so foreign to most of us, nowadays, it’s hard to conceive of this convenient holiday on the last Monday in May being anything more than just a blessed day off, a break in the schedule of hard work that we are all too familiar with.

But it was not always so.

My parent’s generation were veterans of World War II, with the Korean War following right on its heels, so war and national and personal sacrifice were things they were very familiar with. I grew up in a small town upstate where patriotic parades took place on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day, with the school band marching down the village streets, followed by the local chapter of the American Legion, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the 4-H, the Grange, church groups, and anyone else who wanted to participate.

Looking back, I’m surprised there was anyone left to line the streets, but there always was a crowd, waving flags and cheering. I started out marching with the Girl Scouts, and by high school was in the marching band, along with my brother. My Dad, a WWII vet, marched with the American Legion.

Our parade began at the school, wound through the town, and ended at the village cemetery, where a very solemn ceremony of wreath laying took place, accompanied by prayer, a 21-gun salute fired by proud veterans, and ended with the lonely and poignant sound of taps echoing across the hills. My brother was one of the two trumpet players on opposite sides of the cemetery, one playing the echo to the other.

The Vietnam War was still dragging on, but on that hill above Gilbertsville, time stood still, the ground was sacred, and even as a rebellious generation, we knew and honored those traditions. (more…)

KC Courthouse, undated photo 1

If you are a fan of procedural cop shows, you are no doubt familiar with the character of the coroner or medical examiner. Since the days of “Quincy, M.E.,” we have grown to love the crusty and quirky personalities tasked with investigating the deaths of thousands of people in a given city.

Over the years, our TV coroners and medical examiners have changed. In today’s shows most of them seem to be black women. But no matter who is cast, on television they are invariably dedicated and brilliant doctors with a passion for finding the facts of a person’s death. They are immune to politics or profit, and serve only the law and the truth.

Well, back in 19th-century Brooklyn, things could be different. Our tale concerns the last mayor of Brooklyn, his administration and the two doctors who served as the last coroners of Brooklyn. (more…)

blueprint1

What did your Brooklyn row house look like originally? What year was it built? Who was the architect? Was it a two-family, one-family or something else? These are all questions original blueprints can answer. You may want to know because you are renovating, you have a passion for old houses, you are a new owner or you’re just curious.

Finding your original blueprints requires some legwork, ingenuity and persistence, as Brownstoner reader chemosphere recently discovered when researching his house in Flatbush.

He posted about the process, what he found and questions about the 100-year-old shorthand he was trying to decipher in a few separate posts in the forum. He has kindly allowed us to use those posts and the pictures of the blueprints he found to discuss in more detail how to find and read your original blueprints. (more…)

coney island bpl

The Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Public Library each have fascinating collections of historic Coney Island artifacts. On Wednesday, May 13, representatives from both organizations will give a talk detailing the stories behind their respective collections. The items include a wax replica’s of Nat King Cole’s head, photographs of the night time Mardi Gras parade and so much more that the topic is a two-part series.

The first, titled “Brooklyn Collecting Brooklyn: Coney Island! Part 1,” takes place at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, May 13 at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The second takes place on Wednesday, May 20 at the Brooklyn Public Library. Both are free. You can find out more information and register here.

Photo by Brooklyn Public Library — Brooklyn Collection via Brooklyn Historical Society

Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood Cemetery is offering one of its trolley tours of the 478-acre cemetery this Sunday. “Hidden Gems of Green-Wood” includes visits to a sculpture of a man’s last memory of his wife, a monument to Rex the dog, the tomb of Jean-Michel Basquait, 18th-century brownstone monuments in Ceder Dell, the open air mausoleum of the Pierrepont family and plenty more. (more…)

Murray, 783 St. Marks, postcard,

Inventor and business giant Thomas E. Murray died in 1929, just as the world was about to suffer through the Great Depression. He left his large family over $11 million, and a personal and company portfolio of over 1,100 patents. The story of his life, his family and his businesses can be found in Part One and Part Two of this story.

Following Murray’s death, his eldest son, Thomas Jr., became company president, and the work at the factory at 1250 Atlantic Avenue in Crown Heights went on.

Thomas Jr. was a chip off the old block. He had inherited his father’s generosity and love of invention, and was a skilled inventor himself. He was an excellent businessman as well, even better than his father. In 1928, he was made a trustee of the Brevoort Savings Bank.

He was also a devout son of the Church, who like his father was sworn in as a Knight of St. Gregory, a singular honor bestowed on men of great faith. His home was down the street from Papa Murray’s house, at 800 St. Marks Avenue. For both Murrays, it was only a short walk up the street to get to work.

(more…)

Brooklyn Museum's Beaux Arts Court

Tired of the usual Mother’s Day celebration options? The Brooklyn Museum has something a little different. Yes, there will be brunch — and also Mother’s Day-themed tours.

Brunch with pastry baskets, quiches, yogurt and granola parfaits, roasted salmon salad and seasonal champagne drinks will be served in the museum’s Beaux-Arts Court, pictured above. After, choose one of a number of tours that take a Mothers Day-themed look at the museum’s collections. The museum will also provide a complimentary shuttle to the WantedDesign and Bklyn Designs fairs. The brunch ticket includes free admission to both events and a gift bag. (more…)

Murray, 1250 Atlantic Ave, R. Baird Remba 2

Brooklynite Thomas E. Murray was one of America’s greatest inventors. A colleague of Thomas Edison and the holder of 462 patents, Murray was responsible for developing much of the electrical technology we enjoy today. Electric signs? T.E. Murray. The dimmer switch? T.E. Murray. The designs for the power plants that bring us the power we take for granted? Yes, those were Murray, too. His base of operations was in Crown Heights, where he had his factory and his home. Part One of our story tells of his early days, his family, and his business ventures.

In the spring of 1920, Murray was given an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Villanova University in Pennsylvania. He must have been thrilled, since he’d been a working man supporting his family since the age of 10, and had never had the opportunity to attend high school, let along college. His success was a testament to hard work, self-improvement, and genius.

By this time, Murray was at the height of his success. His businesses were thriving, he was living in a mansion among fellow millionaires on the best block of St. Marks Avenue, and his many children were getting the educational opportunities he’d never had.

His eldest son, Thomas E. Murray Jr., graduated from Yale, and was also a mechanical wizard. He was being groomed to take over the companies after his father’s retirement or death. Another son, Joseph, also had the gift, and worked with his father. His daughters were doing well in marriage and family; the other boys were successful in school and work. He and his wife were on the boards of several charities, and gave generously of their time and money. (more…)

Murray, with Edison, temurray.com 1

As you travel east on Atlantic Avenue sometime, take a minute to notice the factory buildings on the south side of the street, between Bedford and Nostrand Avenues. They are a bit hard to see, as one’s attention is distracted on the left by the rising elevation of the Long Island Railroad tracks as they come up out of the ground near Bedford Avenue.

Back in the 20th century, these buildings belonged to one of the greatest inventors in Brooklyn, a man named Thomas E. Murray.

Murray has the distinction of being the second most prolific holder of patents in the United States, surpassed only by Thomas Alva Edison, his friend and colleague. Yet most people have never heard of Murray, and fewer still know that these long factory buildings with rows of windows stretching along Atlantic Avenue were the headquarters for the Metropolitan Engineering Company, Murray’s company.

If you are a follower of the Southampton, Long Island, crowd, and the history of the rich and famous who have summered there for over a century, the Murray name may ring a bell. Murray’s extended family was part of the “Golden Clan,” wealthy Irish Catholics who helped build Southampton into THE posh summer village of the rich. That seems as far away from a gritty Brooklyn factory as one could get. We’ll get to that part of the story later. (more…)

Holy Cross Cemetery, Flatbush. Jim Henderson, Wiki 1

Pretty 16 year old housemaid Barbara Gronenthal was dead, and her boyfriend, James Walsh killed her. Now he was in jail, awaiting his murder trial. Would he end up like his older brother, sentenced to Sing Sing Prison, or, as we learned in the last chapter, would his fate also match his brother’s – death?

James Walsh sat in Brooklyn’s Raymond Street Jail alone and friendless. His mother, Catherine Duffy, came to visit him once, and left shortly thereafter, weeping bitterly. The guards told reporters that James would be calm and quiet in his cell, and then suddenly rage and throw himself at the bars. He also liked the prison food, which in their estimation proved he was insane.

An autopsy was conducted before Barbara was returned to her family for burial. It determined that the four inch knife had been plunged into her heart up to the hilt, killing her in minutes. She never had a chance. Her funeral took place on January 6, 1881. Only her mother, her two sisters, her brother-in-law, and a few family friends followed the funeral procession to Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. The Carlisle family was not there.

Investigators went to talk to anyone who knew James Walsh. They visited his job and found out a lot of information that was not positive for James’ case. His supervisor said that James had been a fine worker until about a year ago, when his brother Buck had been arrested for the home invasion robbery. After that, James had started to pick fights with management and with fellow workers.

The day James killed Barbara he had suddenly taken off from work in the afternoon, and never came back. That was it for his supervisor, who told other workers that if James came back the next day, he was going to be fired. (more…)

Gowanus Canal, 1905, BPL

This is the story of two poor families in Brooklyn and a terrible crime. In the first episode, we met one of the ne’er-do-well Walsh boys and his sweetheart, 16-year-old Barbara Gronenthal, who worked as a maid for a well-off family in Bedford in 1881.

Barbara was eager to please her employer, the Carlisle family. They lived in a four story Neo-Grec brownstone on a quiet block filled with similar houses, part of the great building frenzy that had overtaken Brooklyn.

Like many upper middle-class families, they had at least one live-in servant, as well as help like Barbara and the cook, who were day workers.

Barbara lived in Brooklyn too, but not in a fine brownstone. (more…)