Yale Law School. SSPellen 1

This is the story of wealth, hurt feelings and stubbornness in a Brooklyn family, and the greed that surrounded the entire affair. In Part One, we met the Brasher family, millionaire residents of Park Slope. Widowed Mrs. Brasher did not like her only daughter Louise’s choice of husbands, and cut Louise and her daughter out of her large will.

Part Two is the story of the trial to break the will. At the end, Louise Bain lost, and unless the decision could be overturned by the Appellate Court, Louise and her family would never see a cent of her parents’ money.

When the case went to the jury in 1920, they pondered long and hard, pouring over the lengthy will, plus the four codicils, and days of testimony. At last they thought they had found a Solomon-like solution. Hidden deep in the original will was a bequest for Louise, after all. She was left a trust fund of $50,000 out of the $1,200,000 estate.

The jury voted to give that to her, plus $10,000 for attorney’s fees, and a $10,000 bequest already in the will for her son, William Clayton. They decided after 12 hours of deliberation to throw out the codicils which would have left Mrs. Louise Bain with nothing.

But when they made the announcement in court, they inadvertently set in motion a clause in the will that totally disinherited Mrs. Bain. The clause stipulated that she would get nothing if she contested the will. How they all missed that is inexplicable, but now Mrs. Bain could not legally receive any money.

The jury was devastated. (more…)

119 Henry St. Bain story, SB, PS

In Part One of our story, we met Louise Bain, who was disinherited by her wealthy Park Slope mother, Martha Brasher. In this installment, which takes place in 1920, the daughter tries to overturn her mother’s will.

Mrs. Bain sued, trying to break the will. She and her attorneys argued that her mother was not in her right mind when she cut her out of the will. They also argued that Mrs. Brasher’s lawyers had too much influence, as they were executors and beneficiaries. 

The Church Charity Fund, which received half the estate, teamed up with the lawyers for the executors to prove Martha Brasher sane, Louise Bain a horrible daughter, and the will valid.

All sides put forth a good case for their points. The trial lasted a week before the jury received the case. After long deliberation, they returned with a verdict upholding the will. Mrs. Bain lost. Then the story takes a strange turn. (more…)

58 7th Ave, BCM, KL, PS

The other day I featured 58 7th Avenue, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music Building, as our Building of the Day. As I mentioned there, the house was originally built for William M. Brasher and his family, in 1881. Brasher had a factory down the street at 20th and 7th where he manufactured oil cloth. This material was used for many different purposes, and was the 19th century’s equivalent of vinyl coated fabric. Cotton duck fabric was soaked in linseed oil, which formed a waterproof fabric that could be used for tents, tarps, clothing, tablecloths and floor cloths. Brasher operated his factory during the Civil War period, and as you can imagine, he made a ton of money selling oilcloth to the government. Long story short – he was rich.

William Brasher and his wife Martha had only one child, a daughter named Louise. William died in 1912, leaving his tidy fortune, the house, and the yacht to his wife, Martha. She spent many subsequent years making other people miserable. She sued several people, and was sued in return. Aside from her servants, her lawyers probably saw her, and loved her, more than anyone else in her life. She hardly ever left the house, and did not socialize.

The Brasher’s daughter Louise had grown up and married Captain Bertram B. Clayton. He was a West Point graduate, and served in the Spanish-American War. He subsequently served a term in Congress, and was made a Colonel in the 14th Regiment of the New York National Guard. Their headquarters was the Park Slope Armory. Martha Brasher was very proud of her new son-in-law, and her new grandson, William, who was named after his grandfather. But her daughter’s marriage was not a happy one. (more…)

E.A. Laboratories, 692-696 Myrtle Ave, composite.2

In the fall of 1942, the Bedford Stuyvesant-based automobile horn and headlight company, E. A. Laboratories, entered World War II. As one of America’s largest automobile accessories companies, EAL was poised to serve the country by converting its factory into a war materials manufacturing plant. Their distinctive song-tune electric horns, their car heaters and windshield wipers were going to be replaced by gun sights for airplanes, landing lights, and horns for ships, Jeeps and other military vehicles.

The company was very patriotic in their embrace of the war effort. John Aufiero, EAL’s president, was the younger brother of the founder of the company, inventor Emanuel Aufiero. He published full page patriotic ads in the local papers, contributed tons of scrap metal to the war effort, and hired more workers to enable the plant to work non-stop at a 300% rise in production. The American flag flew highest over the corner of Spencer Place and Myrtle Avenue in the two adjoining buildings that made up the E. A. Laboratories. Please see Parts One and Two, which give lots of background.

All of that flag waving may have been a necessary distraction to point attention away from John Aufiero’s personal skeletons. As I mentioned in the last chapter of this story, those skeletons were about to goose-step out of his closet, and make a mess of his well-ordered public persona. Aufiero, it appears, had a great admiration for Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy, and the enemy of the United States and Allied forces. (more…)

E.A. Laboratories, 692-696 Myrtle Ave 1943 ad. Amazon.com 1

In 1929, Emanuel Aufiero, the president of E. A. Laboratories, the makers of the best car, motorcycle and bike horns around, had a nervous breakdown. His life had been an immigrant success story – a young man comes to America from Italy in the new century, and becomes a success in the field of automotive accessories. His designs and innovations are snapped up by the largest manufacturer of such items in the country, and he is paid more money than he’s ever imagined in his life. He marries, has children, and is living in Brooklyn, where he is respected and admired. What more could anyone want? Part One of our story introduces our characters and their products.

Success was not entirely all it was imagined to be. Aufiero was indeed a genius in his field, and he had produced dozens of designs for his employer, the Automobile Supply Company of Brooklyn. But he was ill-advised, or just hoodwinked on the terms of his contract. Early on, he had signed a very restrictive and exclusive contract with Louis Rubes, the president of ASC.

That contract gave his employer the lifetime rights to all designs produced for manufacture by ASC, and also the rights to anything Aufiero ever came up with in the future, even if he was no longer working for ASC. That, of course, guaranteed that Aufiero would never leave ASC’s employ, because what was the point of another company hiring him to design goods, when that company could not produce them without paying Rubes a cut of the profits? (more…)

E.A. Laboratories, 692-696 Myrtle Ave, composite

If you’ve ever been walking down the street and a car passes you blasting the horn with the strains of “La Cucaracha,” “The Godfather Theme,” “Here Comes the Bride,” or some other popular eight bars of music making it past your earbuds, then you owe a thought, or a good curse, to Emanuel Aufiero. In 1908, he invented the first electronically operated motor horn. That one merely honked. His company, E.A. Laboratories, located right here in northern Bedford Stuyvesant, was where the first theme-song car horn was born. That didn’t happen in the 1960s or ‘70s either. It was back in 1941, during World War II.

Emanuel Aufiero was born in Italy in 1882. He and his brother Michael came to America in 1900 to seek their fortunes. Both brothers were mechanically inclined, but Emanuel was an inventive mechanical genius. He was one of those people who could look at a piece of machinery and understand it, put it to good use, and fix it if it were broken. More importantly, he could see where that object, or tool or process could be improved. He was one of those idea men who could take something that already worked and evolve that object, taking it to the next step in its evolution.

At the dawn of the 20th century, there was nothing so intriguing and exciting as the ever-changing world of the automobile. It captured the 20th century imagination, and inventors and innovators were constantly evolving the motor car into something more efficient and better each year. The Aufieros got into the car accessory business. Starting in a small workroom in Manhattan, Emanuel invented the first motor driven automobile horn. It was a variation on the classic “ahooga” horn that you’ve probably seen in old movies or at vintage auto shows. It was an instant success, and helped promote Mr. Aufiero into auto history, and soon, into his first law suit. (more…)

Weck composite

Every day we read about small companies relocating to Brooklyn. Inventive people in all kinds of ways are bringing their businesses to Brooklyn, attracted to available space, abundant public transportation and the possibilities of making their fortunes in the great city of Brooklyn. Everyone wants that Brooklyn name. Hopefully, we will once again be a city of makers. Our history is one of great manufacturing within our borders. We used to make everything imaginable, most of it in factories that were not tucked away in the outer fringes of the city, but with walking distance of some of the most desirable neighborhoods in that city.

I like to look at maps, and can spend hours examining our streets, and it never ceases to amaze me what used to be manufactured here. We were a self-contained city, capable of making everything we needed, except perhaps fresh food. And even that was possible well into the 20th century, in the outer parts of Southern Brooklyn and Flatbush. If you drive or walk around what was our industrial core – all of the waterfront areas, plus Gowanus, the border areas of Bedford/Clinton Hill and Crown Heights/Prospect Heights, Greenpoint and Bushwick, you can get an idea of what once was, and has since gone.

Most people don’t realize that downtown Brooklyn also had a lot of manufacturing going on, too. This part of town has been built up, plowed under, and built up again so often, it takes a look at maps, advertisements and old city directories to realize what a forgotten industrial hub parts of downtown once were. Two major bridges, ramps, highway exits and entrances, Metrotech, housing projects, hotels and college campuses have all but decimated the industrial parts of downtown. There were all kinds of interesting companies located there. One of them was Edward Weck & Company. (more…)

Christine Adler, Brooklyn Eagle, 1905Sometimes I write about people who become so real to me I feel as if I know them. Telling their stories becomes much more than simply doing a lot of research and then condensing it. Often I feel a kinship with them because I may have experienced something they experienced, or have been in their homes, or in the places they visited, or in their shoes. Sometimes we did the same things, or sang the same songs. Sometimes literally.

Christine Adler was a turn of the 20th century classical singer. She lived for many years in Bedford, in a house that for a long time I dreamed would be be mine, and a house that I’ve actually been in. I’ve stood at the same mantel she must have stood by; I’ve climbed the same stairs, and looked out of the same windows. At the time, I had never heard of Christine Adler. That didn’t come till much later.

When I did discover her name, I found out that we also share a love of classical vocal music. She was a contralto, the lowest of female voices, although that means something different today than it did in her day. In her day, a contralto included what we call mezzo-soprano today, and includes some of the great operatic repertoire sung by characters such as Carmen, Delilah in “Samson and Delilah”, and Amneris in “Aida.”

I used to sing some of that repertoire too, back in the day, so when I read in the old Brooklyn Eagle pages that Mrs. Adler sang this piece or that piece, I know the piece, and I know what was needed to sing it well. Christine Adler also sang the equivalent of pop and show tunes, because she enjoyed working and entertaining, and she also was a gifted teacher. Although I’m too young to have been taught by her, I certainly could have been taught by someone that she had trained, albeit in that student’s later years. It’s possible; after all, my own real life voice teacher lived to be over 100 years old. So here is the story of Madame Christine Adler, a true diva. (more…)

Pros Park, Troy, Garnet Baltimore, Composite 2

On July 4th, 1902, the bands marched, politicians waxed poetic, and the people celebrated on this, the grand opening of the Warren Hill Park, on top of Mount Ida, overlooking downtown Troy. The year before, after a few positive voices of agreement, along with the usual contentious wrangling and pompous posturing, the City Council of Troy voted in favor of purchasing the parkland to create Troy’s newest and most important public park.

After debating the issue for several years, the city finally owned the land. Now it was time to hurry up and wait. People wanted to see the view that had made Mount Ida famous, a panoramic vista that on a good day, allowed people to see for miles around. Troy lies in the Hudson River valley between the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and the view from the top of the mountain would allow you to see both ranges. It was a great place to take in the summer breezes and escape the hustle and bustle of one of the nation’s busiest and wealthiest cities. The only problem was that in the rush to get people in the park, they hadn’t yet gotten around to finishing it. In fact, it was barely begun.

That was not the fault of the city’s parks landscape engineer. Garnet D. Baltimore had already scoped out other cities and their parks, including Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and had great ideas on how to make Warren Hill Park a masterpiece. But first he needed to have his plans and a budget approved. Mr. Baltimore was a scrupulous record keeper, and the Troy newspapers faithful commentators, so we know what he had to go through to get the job done. For more background on the park and the man, check out Part One and Part Two of this story. (more…)

Prospect Park, Troy postcard 1

After the great successes of New York City’s wonderful parks, such as Manhattan’s Central and Riverside Parks, as well as Brooklyn’s Prospect and Fort Greene Parks, every city in the country was envious. Cities are judged by their public buildings and public spaces, and by the beginning of the 20th century, almost every municipality and its civic movers and shakers wanted to have exemplary parks. Parks were places that every citizen, high and low, could enjoy the beauties of nature, fresh air, and room to relax.

For many urban areas, that was key to a better quality of life and a happier populace. Thanks to the philosophies of the City Beautiful Movement, city fathers also thought that parks, like great public buildings, would inspire the lower classes to civic pride, and therefore industrious behavior, better citizenship and moral uplifting. Parks were also a chance for city fathers, committee heads, wealthy donors, and ambitious landscape designers to shine. They all knew they were creating places that would live on after they were long gone. (more…)

Pros Park, Troy, Composite

As our Brooklyn readers all know, Prospect Park was designed by the famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also designed Central Park. That park opened in 1857 with great fanfare and much success. As well it should; Central Park is one of the great urban parks, and Olmsted and Vaux created a masterpiece of natural and enhanced landscaping that America had never seen before. When the City Fathers from across the East River in Brooklyn went to inspect the park, of course, they wanted one too.

One of Brooklyn’s leading citizens, James S.T. Stranahan, was appointed to head a parks committee that would oversee this great project. In 1860, they picked an engineer/architect to map out the project. His name was to Egbert L. Viele, and he had actually been the original architect picked to design Central Park. That is until someone called in Olmsted and Vaux, who blew Viele out of the water with their far superior plans for the park.’

Viele would get his chance in Brooklyn. He accessed the site chosen, a huge tract of swampy and hilly land not far from Green-Wood Cemetery, up until that time, the largest park area in the city. Viele planned to include many natural features in his park, including the city’s Mount Prospect Reservoir, atop Mount Prospect, the second highest point in Brooklyn. The park would extend west towards the highest point in Brooklyn: Battle Pass, which was part of Green-Wood. Down below lay Gowanus, the site of the Battle of Brooklyn, the first decisive battle in the War of Independence, fought in 1776.

But it was the Civil War that defeated Egbert Viele. All plans for the park had to be shelved until the end of the long war, and by that time, Stranahan and his committee had years to mull over his plans, and decided to get a second opinion. As we know, they asked Olmsted and Vaux, and before the committee’s very eyes, the partners had totally redesigned the park site, dazzled the committee with their plans, and got poor Egbert fired. (more…)

Shirley Chisholm, 1028 St. Johns, GS,PS

When Congress convened in January of 1969, there was only one new female face among the men and women of the 91st Congress. She stood out for several reasons, the most obvious being that she was the only black woman in the room. She was also a small woman, slight of build, with big hair and thick glasses. She was not overly awed by the panoply around her. Shirley Chisholm had come to Washington to work. She was representing a newly created, and long overdue district in Central Brooklyn, that of greater Bedford Stuyvesant. Prior to this new district, Central Brooklyn had been gerrymandered into other larger districts with white majorities. For the first time ever, a black Congressman, in this historic case, a black Congresswoman, was going to represent this community’s many needs in the halls of power. It was going to be an uphill battle. But 1969 was one of those years.

Today, we are very cynical about what goes on in Washington, and with good reason, but almost 50 years ago, it was a different place. There was more respect for Congress and its power to change the country for the better. But in many ways, Congress was still the same. There was rampant cronyism, partisan in-fighting, powerful outside influences, racism, sexism, and the good-old boy network. Shirley Chisholm had to fight her way through it all. And like her experiences in politics in Brooklyn, Shirley knew how to be effective, and how to work with the most unlikely of people.

This is the story of Ms. Chisholm’s political and personal life, and it’s also a walking tour of the places that had meaning to her in her hometown of Brooklyn. (more…)