Isaac Reynolds, 196-202 Mac D St. CB, PS

Isaac Delamater Reynolds began his career at a time when many of our row house blocks were not designed by architects as we know them now. They were designed and built by builders, carpenters and masons who used plan books and their own extensive experience to build this mostly speculative housing. Sure, there were architects around, but they were busy with other things, like churches, banks, schools and other commercial buildings, or were designing homes for the wealthy. Some of them, like Minard Lefever and Alexander Jackson Davis, were also busy writing those plan and style books that the builders were using.

Reynolds was a contemporary of Amzi Hill, and both men designed in the same neighborhoods. They got their training before the Civil War, and both began practicing in Brooklyn in the early 1860s. Isaac Reynolds didn’t leave much of a personal footprint, unlike later architects like Montrose Morris,William Tubby and Rudolfe Daus, but he left a legacy of buildings that can be matched by only a few. (more…)

Mac Levy ad, NY Sun, 1905

We Americans love “Trials of the Century.” From time to time, heinous crimes are committed that cause the entire country to sit up and take notice of the deeds of a notorious criminal, usually a murderer or a thief of enormous proportions. Those trials are hyped up in the papers and media, and usually by the time the case actually comes to the trial phase, rare is the person who doesn’t already know every detail of the crime and the criminal already. Such was the case in 1903 when the murder case against William Hooper Young took place.

He was accused of killing a pretty young woman of dubious reputation in 1902. Her name was Anna Pulitzer. It was said that he picked her up on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, took her back to his father’s apartment near the Plaza Hotel, and killed her. He then took the body out of the apartment in a trunk, rented a horse and wagon, and dumped her body into the Hudson River in New Jersey. Her body washed ashore a couple of days later.

The motive seemed unclear until it was revealed that William Hooper Young was the black sheep grandson of the late Brigham Young, the powerful Mormon leader who founded Salt Lake City. The Mormons were a secretive and mysterious group, as far as much of America was concerned. They had a long history of persecution and death that ran from NY State, where they were founded, across the country to their haven in Utah. Up until it was outlawed, and even beyond, they practiced polygamy, which both repelled and fascinated Americans. They were also insular and as a group, extremely rich. (more…)

Singsing, ossiningdemocrats.com 1The murder trial of William Hooper Young was set to being in February of 1903. Young was accused of killing a woman named Anna Pulitzer of Manhattan. She was the pretty, 24 year old wife of a man named Joseph Pulitzer. The couple lived in what is now Hell’s Kitchen, on West 47th Street. Anna was known to police as a sometimes prostitute and streetwalker. Her husband was involved with local politics, but didn’t seem to have any other employment.

In spite of that, Anna walked around with diamonds and other jewels, was very well dressed, and was known to love the good life. She picked who she chose to step out with, always wealthy men, and been seen talking to William Young on the street after midnight, the night she disappeared in 1902. Her body washed up on shore in New Jersey several days after her disappearance.

The evidence against Young was strong. He was identified by several witnesses who saw him with Anna, and later, by those who said that he moved a large heavy trunk the night of the murder, and rented a horse and wagon to take that trunk to a pier in New Jersey. When police finally identified him and went into his apartment, they found bloodstained towels in a cupboard also filled with blood. They only needed to find William Young. (more…)

Mac Levy, Young and Pulitzer, NY Herald, 1902

On a balmy September night in 1902, a beautiful young woman named Anna Pulitzer went out on the town in Manhattan, on the last night of her life. Around midnight, she was seen buying rolls for her husband at an all-night bakery on West 47th Street. She was then seen talking to a young man on the street, and she went off in a cab with him, still carrying the rolls. Two days later, her nude body washed ashore in New Jersey. She had been murdered, and her body had a large cut in the abdomen.

Her husband, Joseph, had been considered a suspect, but was soon cleared. Suspicion went next to the mysterious young man who had ridden away with her into the night. Someone matching his description had also rented a horse and wagon in New Jersey, and had not returned it, the very same night as the murder. The man did return the rig late the next day, but couldn’t pay the overtime fine. He told the stableman that he worked for a local paper, and was good for the payment.

When police took the stableman to the office of the paper, he picked out the young man from a photograph. He was William Hooper Young, once a co-owner of the paper. Young was also the grandson of Mormon leader Brigham Young, and had a very wealthy father who kept a large apartment in Manhattan, near the Plaza Hotel. This was the same area where the West Side cab driver had let Anna Pulitzer and her gentleman friend out. It wasn’t looking good for young Bill Young. (more…)

Early 20th Century NYC, Smithsonial Magazine 1

“Professor” Mac Levy, born Max Levy, of Brooklyn, was a self-made man, and one of America’s first fitness entrepreneurs. At the turn of the 20th century, he had made quite a name for himself in New York City and Long Island, and was building his fitness empire, ready to expand to wherever the market led him. As a puny and sickly teenager, he had decided he wouldn’t live that way, and through diet and exercise, especially swimming, calisthenics and weight lifting, he had built himself up into a healthy and strong young man; billed on the vaudeville and speaking circuits as a “young Hercules” and “Brooklyn’s Perfect Man.”

He spent years building up his business by building himself. He was an advocate for healthy living, and coached a curious and eager public through his speaking engagements, vaudeville appearances and through his health clubs. He ran the first gymnasium and health club at the prestigious Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights. He also ran summer health clubs at beach resorts in Babylon, Long Island and at Bath Beach, Brooklyn. Other locations followed, as did books, and a line of fitness equipment.

Chapter One of our story details some of his operations and his early days. Chapter Two continues the story of his career, including the would-be mugging on New Year’s Day, 1897, that propelled him into the limelight as a man who take care of himself, with gusto. But for all of the young Professor’s personal and business successes, none of them could propel his name into the history books like his involvement in one of the most sensational murder cases of the early 20th century. (more…)

Max Levy, Professor Mac Levy. Brooklyn Eagle, 1903

On New Year’s Day, 1897, Brooklyn’s premiere physical culturist, Professor Mac Levy, received a late holiday gift from the fitness gods. That evening he was at the Union League Club, on Dean and Bedford Avenues, giving the membership a lecture and demonstration of his journey from a consumptive and puny teenager to a fit and super strong modern day Hercules. Afterwards, he had planned to join friends downtown for some New Year’s Day cheer. They all met near the Elks Club on Schermerhorn Street, after which Mac Levy was headed for the trolley that would take him to his home on Union Street.

Because it was New Year’s Day, and because it was cold and miserable out, the trolley was nowhere to be found. The Professor was no longer in a good mood. He was walking up Court Street and had almost reached Union when two men stepped out from behind a building and demanded his money. It was late, and cold, and the police patrol was nowhere around, and he had been made to walk home. The old Max Levy would have handed his money over, and prayed he got home in one piece. Professor Mac Levy, the “young Hercules” whispered a prayer of thanks for this gift, and got busy. (more…)

Strongmen, Heliograph.com 1

We have been trying to improve the human body since we became aware of its strength and beauty. Mankind has been exercising for a very long time. We may have started with “run for your life” being a literal cry to escape predators, but in the centuries that followed our trip from the cave to the city, that mantra is still popular, although perhaps “run for life” is more accurate. The ancient Greeks and other civilizations glorified the perfect physical body, after all, they established the Olympics, and left an artistic record of their pursuit of the body beautiful, an ideal many still strive to reach. The Romans incorporated that ideal into their civilization, as they did so many of the ideals of their conquered foes.

The Dark Ages in Europe obliterated that Greco-Roman philosophy. Between plagues and religious zealotry regarding the sinfulness of the human body, physical perfection took a rest of a few centuries. But the Renaissance restored the glorification of the body human, and as nations rose and fell, so too did the idea of fitness. Of course, the lower classes utilized physical strength much more than the upper classes, so those above were getting weak, compared to those below. That did not go without notice, and over the course of the next few hundred years, various programs of physical fitness were delineated and put into practice in different countries and communities. (more…)

Throop Ave. Presbyterian Church, BE, 1890

In the early morning of January 9, 1895, a fierce windstorm rushed down the Hudson Valley and vented its fury on New York City. Gale force winds knocked down trees and power lines, and blew away anything that was not secured. Out on Fire Island, the roof was torn right off a hotel. In Brooklyn two buildings came crashing down. One was in East New York; a theater that was in construction on the corner of Atlantic and Alabama Avenues. The wind cyclone around the walls of the building and knocked them down. One wall fell onto Atlantic Avenue, the other on top of a house. The occupants of the house were injured, but no one was killed. On the edge of the Eastern District, on the corner of Willoughby and Throop Avenues, a similar scene played out. But in this case, two people died. (more…)

Throop Ave. Presbyterian Church, nycago.org

January of 1890 saw another new year arriving in Brooklyn. All was normal; winter lay upon the city, but, as always, people were going about their business. In the Eastern District, a new church was being built for the growing congregation of the Throop Avenue Presbyterian congregation, under the leadership of their popular pastor, the Rev. Lewis R. Foote. The history of the church was told in Chapter One of this story. Nine days into that year, tragedy struck with the force of a tornado. (more…)

Throop Ave. Presbyterian Church, ebay

The Throop Avenue Presbyterian Church was founded in 1852 by Presbyterians who wanted to worship in the growing neighborhood known as the Eastern District. This part of Brooklyn contains most of modern day Bushwick, Eastern Bedford Stuyvesant, and parts of East Williamsburg. Most of this area would become heavily German Catholic and Lutheran, but back in 1852, there were enough Presbyterians to form a good sized congregation. The Presbyterian General Assembly approved the church, and by 1867, a church was built on the corner of Throop and Willoughby Avenues, Pastor-Elect John Lowry in charge. It was dedicated on October 18, 1867, with ceremonies officiated over by the Rev. R. S. Storrs, of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. (more…)

Today’s offering is a rerun of a story I wrote several years ago. It’s always been one of my favorites, and I hope you will enjoy it again. I’ll have a new post next time.

This sad furry tale began with a letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, printed on the last day of the year, December 31, 1900.“To the Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle: Won’t you print something to make people on our block in Van Buren Street, between Tompkins and Throop Avenues, stop poisoning pet cats? They poisoned my Bismark yesterday. He was 1 year, 9 months and 7 days. I am 9 years old. He was a lovely cat, black and not a white hair on him. He was beautiful. He taught our dog Fritz how to wash his face with his paw. He would steal bones from the kitchen table and throw then down to Fritz. He and Fritz would play tag on the street together and would go walking to the park together.

He caught four rats in two hours the other day. Someone kept stealing the ribbons and bells from his collar and now they have poisoned him. We found his body on the street this morning and buried him in the back yard, and Fritz tried to dig him up. Won’t you tell folks to keep their cats home and can’t you make those mean people ashamed of themselves? I couldn’t help but cry over it.” Myra Louise Matthews, 33 Van Buren Street. (more…)

Cresco Realty Co. BE, 1907 2

Developer Walter L. Johnson was a powerhouse. When he began building his Dyker Heights suburban community, he went with the best of the best. First of all, he had one of the best locations in Brooklyn to work with. His father had purchased the old DeRussy estate back in 1888 with the idea to develop it into an upscale suburban community. The estate was on high ground, with magnificent views of the New York harbor. You could see from the Narrows all the way out to Sandy Hook and beyond. The air was clean and cooling, and living here would be the best of both worlds; a seaside house with easy access to the big city. (more…)