More from the Peter j McGuinness Archive

I went again to Brooklyn College where I went through the Peter McGuinness collection. I got a clue today to the source of the material. It was Pete himself. He created fourteen scrap books with clippings about his doings.  I was reading today about Pete and Greenpoint durng the Great Depression. These were hard times. Half the people in Greenpoint were out of work because it was a huge center of manufacturing and it felt the sting of the depression quickly. 
Pete had a great regard for the poor. One newspaper teased him about poverty in Greenpoint. His answer was vintage Pete stating,” GOd must have loved the poor people if he centered them all in Greenpoint.” He continued,” I ain’t going to deny it.While my folks are poor they are honest. Maybe that’s why they do not get rich.” 

There were two figures in Greenpoint during the Great Depression who did great things to help the hungry people of Greenpoint: Father McGoldrick of Saint Cecila’s and Pete. Pete had the Peter J. McGuinness night in which thousands of people showed up at a diinner whose proceeds went to feed the poor. In 1931 Pete’s organization gave out one thousand three hundred fifty baskets of food. Each basket had a five pound chicken and five pounds of potatoes, Cranberries, pork and beans, soap,  sugar, milk , bread tea, oranges and apples, but most importantly candy for the kids for Christmas. in 1932 the number grew to over two thousand. People were proud, but they had large families to feed so one could imagine that they had little choice, but to accept the baskets. 

  Every night Pete went to his club where he helped his constituents. Times were hard and people needed help. Each night on average he helped ten people fill out applications for home relief. He was constantly stopping evictions and settling domestic disputes caused in part by the hard times. Pete also helped get people jobs that literally saved families. 

Everyone said that Pete was the last of a dying breed- the urban Democratic ward boss, but he had power and was respected by the party. He was a friend of the party leaders Jim Farley and through Farley he met Roosevelt with whom he shared a conversation over a hotdog and orangeade. Pete’s club was festooned with a gigantic Roosevelt banner than even had lights at night. He believed in Roosevelt’s philosophy of priming the pump and getting people back to work, government make work jobs if they were not created by the private sector.  When Roosevelt was elected Pete was a central member of the Brooklyn Democrats in attendance. Ironically, Roosevelt was sworn in by a man who grew up in Greenpoint- Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes, like Roosevelt had been governor of New York, but soon they would quarrel over the legality of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.

It is little wonder that the area was heavily Democratic. Pete delivered 14,000 more votes for Roosevelt than for his Republican challenger.  There were fourteen thousand or so registered Democrats out of 16,000 or so. 


Pete McGuinness Archive



Hi Readers,

Went to Brooklyn College and  started to look at the scrapbooks from Pete’s career. Basically, a St. Francis College historian clipped articles from brooklyn Newspapers from 1919 to 1948.  I read through a batch of articles on Pete’s career from 1924 through about 1927. Here are a few things I gleaned They called Al Damato Senator Pothole, but Damato had nothing on Pete. He brought home a huge amount of political pork, mostly infrastructure.  Pete defined the area more than anyone else. While he was Alderman( like today’s city Council ) he got Greenpoint The McCarran Park Pool, American playground, The Park at Dupont and Franklin, The Automotive High School, the Bridge at Greenpoint Avenue and the G Train. 

I found it very interesting how the City got the park at Dupont and Franklin. The lot was owned by the French government through a holding company. The French argued that they should not have to pay taxes because they were a government. The state did not see it that way and claimed the land that the park sits on in 1926 McGuinness sponsored a bill in the Board  of Aldermen to make the land a park and even got an adjacent piece of land added onto it. 

One of the things that I learned was that during the 1920’s Greenpoint was teeming with kids. Pete got a bill through the Board  that allowed the Board  and not the police to close streets in the summer so that kids could play. I still cannot believe this but acording to the article I read there were eighteen hundred kids who lived on Guernsey between Meserole and Norman. Many blocks the article claimed had a thousand or more kids, so closing the streets allowed them to play without risk of getting hit by a car. 

Along with the crowded conditions there was poverty. Kids’ parents did not have the money to get them out of the city in the Summer. Pete had Peter J.McGuinness night march 5, 1926 where he raised money for local kids to have an outing. Five thousand people showed up at the Labor Lyceum Hall at Myrtle and Willoughby paying fifty cents. The funds allowed all the kids of Greenpoint to go on the trip. 

One of the staples of Pete’s career was defending Greenpoint. When a NYC newspaper quoted a 1910 yearbook dedication to the future Police Commissioner McGlaughlin Pete wrote a defense. The NYU entry said. “How so bright a chap can content himself with living in Greenpoint is beyond us.” Pete rose in the Board to defend Greenpoint and said,” I could talk for two hours about the great men who have come out of this district. ” He added,” We are the most clannish community in the country and the touchiest.  

 The heart of Pete’s popularity was his service to his constituents. Every night he went to his club ” The Regular People’s Democratic club on Meserole and Manhattan Avenue where he helped people with their problems, ranging from arrests to landlord problems. According to McGuinness he saw twenty five thousand constituents in a two year span and was at his club every day of the year. One of the things that I have learned researching Greenpoint history is that very few people, Pete included, finished high school. They were unsure how to obtain city and legal services. Pete helped them take care of their concerns and that is why he held power in Greenpoint for thirty years. 

Researching Peter J MCGuinness

Hi Readers,

Tomorrow I will be heading to Brooklyn College to peruse the papers of my favorite character from Greenpoint history Peter J. McGuinnness. I think he embodied the courage, humor and decency of the Greenpoint working class. He was also an unbelievable larger-tahn life-character who was the most colorful alderman in the history of New York City. His speeches in City Hall are the stuff of legend. he was accused of corruption based on his 1927 arrest for allowing gambling in his political club, but he was one of the few politicians to emerge vindicated from the Seabury commission’s investigation of New York City corruption.

He had scrapbooks, which I will read through. 

Below is a short bio of his life.

Peter J. McGuinness (1888-1948), born in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, New York, was the third of fourteen children. He attended P.S. 31 and Philip’s Business School in Manhattan. Upon finishing grammar school (it was not unusual at the time for youngsters not to continue their education), Peter worked as an office boy for the R. H. Hoe and Company, then as a runner at Thomas Plunkett’s Celebrated Cigars, a bouncer on a steamboat, a middleweight fighter, and teamster for the S. Brinckerhoff Hay and Feed Company. In 1907, Peter PcGuinness married Margaret Lyons and began working on the docks at the John C. Orr Lumber Company. He became an official in the Lumber Handler’s Local 955 of the International Longshoreman’s Association. In 1917, McGuinness became a government lumber inspector. Around the same time, he and several other leaders in the community establishd the “Native Borns,” a community group that opposed the foreign customs of Polish and Russian immigrants moving into Greenpoint. A Democrat, McGuinness was instrumental in getting his friend, Republican John MacCrate, elected to Congress. McGuinness himself was elected to the Board of Aldermen representing the 15th A.D. (Greenpoint). In 1922, he proposed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to women, sparking a citywide controversy. During his term in office, McGuinness continued his battle to improve Greenpoint. He put much effort into having a new subway line built in the district; succeeded in persuading the city to construct a new bridge over Newtown Creek and one connecting Brooklyn and Queens (Meeker Avenue Bridge); three playgrounds were constructed and the McCarren Park pool was opened. McGuinness fought (unsuccessfully) to save the ferry to Greenpoint. In 1924, he defeated James McQuade and the county machine led by John McCooey as district leader. In March 1927, McGuinness’ Greenpoint People’s Club was raided and, to the delight of Police Commissioner McLaughlin, McGuinness was arrested for gambling. Although the charges were dropped, McGuinness claimed McLaughlin with trying to frame him. McGuinness was vindicated after testifying before the Seabury Commission. In 1931, McGuinness finally earned County Leader McCooey’s support. McGuinness was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Public Works for the Borough of Brooklyn and, two years later, was promoted to Commissioner for a brief period. In 1935, he defeated Fusionist candidate Harold R. Reynolds for the office of the Sheriff of Kings County. From 1937 to 1941, McGuinness was elected Register of the county, and, in 1944, in recognition of his vote-getting ability, was again appointed Assistant Commissioner of Public Works. McGuinness worked tirelessly for the people in his district. He trekked weekly around the neighborhood helping his constituents with their complaints and difficulties; his club handed out yearly Christmas baskets to those in need; he sponsored farm garden projects where local children grew their own vegetable gardens in McCarren Park. McGuinness, an old-fashioned Irish ward boss, was representative of the last of the old-time local politicians who were being replaced by a new breed of well educated professionals. McGuinness loved his district of Greenpoint; “… an enormous man with an enormous voice … with the bearing of a beefy Roman emperor … relished walking through Greenpoint –its lumber yards, varnish factories, dreary flats, and still dared to call the area ‘the garden spot of the universe.’ ” (TIME magazine). If there was ever a quintessential Brooklyn, from McGuinness’s point of view, “The Pernt” was it. Peter James McGuinness was fatally stricken by a heart attack in 1948 and died at St. Catherine’s Hospital on June 10th of that year. As his funeral procession moved slowly down Greenpoint’s streets, stores were closed, windows draped in black, flags flew at half-mast and thousands lined the curbs to bid their son a silent farewell. (TIME magazine).

Arion Hall Bushwick German-American Landmark



The Arion Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in North Brooklyn, s a living testament to the   aesthetic vision of  German-American  master architect Theobald M. Engelhardt  (1851-1935) Engelhardt   was one of Brooklyn’s most prolific architects, designing hundreds of structures that include  a  range of buildings  from factories and churches to stores  and homes. Born in Brooklyn to German parents, his father was Philip Engelhardt, a  refugee from Baden who emigrated  here  along with his wife, father, and sisters after the failed political revolutions of 1848-49.[ Theobald   received his early education at the Williamsburgh Turn Verein school.  He then  studied at the Cooper Institute where  he received a certificate in  architecture in 1869. After graduation,  he apprenticed in his father’s construction firm,  where he was prepared  blueprints and  supervised construction projects . Philip Engelhardt is credited with the design of the original buildings of the Williamsburgh Turn Verein, as well as numerous breweries and malthouses, including the  area’s first brewery, the S. Liebmann & Son’s Brewing Company.

After his father’s retirement in 1877, Theobald   established his own architectural office at 14-16 Fayette Street, and, in 1885, the practice moved to a building that he designed  at 905-907 Broadway. During his career, The younger Engelhardt designed numerous graceful buildings in various  architectural styles, mainly in North Brooklyn. Examples of his work include St. John’s Lutheran Church (1891) and several residential buildings within the Greenpoint Historic District; factory buildings at 60-64 Kent Street (c. 1895), now part of the Eberhard Faber Historic District; the former Maison au Candy Company (1885) in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District; and the Pirika Chocolate factory building (1895) and the former Trinity German Lutheran Church (1905) in the neighborhood of Cobble Hill.[5] Within the Bushwick Avenue study area, Engelhardt designed numerous residences, as well as the Eastern District Turn Verein (1902), Arion Hall (1886 and 1902), and St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran church and school (1892). In 1893, when the Jamaica Bay Yacht Club purchased the Peter Wyckoff mansion, Engelhardt directed and managed the removal of the building from its original foundation and relocation to Jamaica Bay by boa

The Arion Hall  building is one of his greatest achievements, but is much  more than a mere landmark. It is a monument to  a now  largely forgotten piece of German-American culture in Brooklyn- the German immigrants  love of their country’s music. 

New York in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was  a very German place and no place was more German than Bushwick where the Arion Hall stands.   In 1880, there were over 168,000 native-born Germans living in New York, constituting 14 percent of the overall population. New York had eleven German newspapers and many German areas that not only included Bushwick and WIlliamsburg, but also the Lower East Side, Brownsville. Ridgewood, Middle Village and of course Yorkville. By 1920, however, much of the German musical culture had all but disappeared e, a casualty of assimilation and anti-Geman sentiment aroused by World War I that  the German community in Bushwick suffered.  German street names in the area were changed against the vociferous protests  of the community where Nativists led  menacing  anti-German demonstrations. German-American stores had their windows broken and many younger members of the community felt a strong pressure to integrate and leave German culture behind.

The German Männerchöre, or singing societies were once  a defining feature of German-American culture. Founded by German immigrants fleeing political and social upheaval after the failed revolution of 1848,  these musical societies played an important role in Brooklyn culture,  commissioning  statutes of German composers that still  grace Prospect and Central Park and supporting cultural institutions like the Brooklyn Academy of Music.   In 1891, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac  listed  twenty-seven German singing societies in Brooklyn alone with a membership of thirteen hundred and an active chorus of six hundred They  once  sponsored  huge choral festivals that spurred the  growth of  American choral singing.

The Arion Singing Society of Brooklyn, a German choral group based in Brooklyn’s Eastern District, was first organized in 1867. After using temporary rehearsal spaces for many decades, the society purchased the property in 1886 on what was then Wall Street for $18,000, and commissioned Engelhard to design and construct its permanent home for $65,000. Engelhardt designed  a three-story structure with a brick and terra cotta façade and a double entrance on the first floor whose prominent feature was handsome double windows. Two rows of six double windows also  appear on  the second and third floors. Originally, the basement contained three bowling alleys, a bathroom, a storage room, and a kitchen. A billiard room, dining room, wine vault, and spacious vestibule were all parts of  the ground floor. Two flights of stairs climbed  the second floor, where entrants  were greeted by  the spacious lobby and the noble ballroom. Adjoining the ballroom were a sitting room and refreshment room. The singing hall of the society occupied the topmost story, “with the nicest regard to acoustic advantages,” as well as committee rooms, the ladies’ parlor, a dressing room, and several cloakrooms.

The Arion Singing Society’s founding conductor, Edward Wich, served until his death until 1886. In 1890,  Arthur Claassen  who had been trained at the Conservatory in Weimar and had conducted at prestigious opera houses in Germany before coming to the United States was named musical director. Classeen brought the singing society to new heights as the  group consistently won top accolades in the various singing festivals or Sängerfests, including one that took place in Brooklyn in 1900 at which the Arion club won the Minnesänger Prize donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The Brooklyn Arions sang at he Expositions in Chicago (1893), St. Louis (1904), and Jamestown (1907). In the summer of 1908 they toured Germany after having entertained President Roosevelt at the White House.

The Arion Singing Society founded a women’s chorus in 1893, a children’s choir school in 1903, and began an orchestra in 1910. Arion Hall was in 1919 when about one hundred members and their sons fought in the First World War, and the building was sold in 1920 with new clubrooms constructed in 1924. One of the last public concerts of the Brooklyn Arions was their performance at a Steuben Day benefit concert in New York on November 27, 1983.  The organization’s honorary president, Willie Schoeps, was quoted as lamenting the demise of sizable German-American enclaves in the city from which the club had traditionally recruited its members: “Our old timers came here in search of a better life and, like other immigrant groups, they banded together for their own enjoyment and well-being. . . . But these newcomers usually are more affluent, better educated and seek to get into the American mainstream right away. They seem to prefer a suburban life style, and their ties with the culture and customs of the old country are not nearly so strong.

The building lived through the demise of the area and became a run-dwon catering hall , but  in  2003, it was converted into lofts and today these places are some of the most desirable living spaces in Bushwick. Image

There is even a poem dedicated to the now forgotten singing club in German with an English translation:

Bald fasste der Gedanke Keim Bei Männern wie bei Frauen,
Dem deutschen Lied ein trautes Heim
Im fremden Land zu bauen.
Man überlegte hin und her,
Was das wohl könnte kosten
Und welche Gegend passend wär’,
Im Westen oder Osten.
Dort, wo er einst den Ursprung fand,
War nicht Arions Bleiben;
Der Stadttheil war zu unbekannt,
Zu fern vom grossen Treiben.
In diesem Sinn ging spät und früh
Ein Committee auf Reisen
Und hatte bald für seine
Müh’ Auch etwas aufzuweisen.
Flugs einen Bauplatz, schön und gross,
Fand es auf seinen Wegen;
Der passte für den Zweck famos
Und war central gelegen.
In kurzer Zeit kam es zum Kauf,
Dann fing man an zu bauen;
Die Mauern thürmten sich hinauf,
Gar herrlich anzuschauen.
Und wie geplant, so kam das Haus
In Kurzem zur Vollendung;
Es sah recht schmuck und stattlich aus
Und praktisch zur Verwendung.
Gar festlich ward es eingeweiht
Mit höchst solenner Feier,
Ein Denkmal, das für alle Zeit
Den Sängern hoch und theuer.
Sie schauten stolz im Bau sich um
Und Freudenrufe schallten:
„Das ist jetzt unser Eigenthum,
Wir wollen hoch es halten!”
Und die Passiven im Verein,
Sie schmunzeln nun und lachen: ..
Die Hypothek ist zwar nicht klein,
Doch das wird sich schon machen!”
Arion Hall.

Soon, the idea took seedIn men and women,
The German song is a sweet home
To build in the foreign country.
We wondered back and forth
What the cost might well
And which area would be more appropriate’,
In the West or East.
Where he once found the source,
Arion was not staying;
The part of the town was unknown,
Too far from the big doings.
In this sense, was late and early
A Committee on Travel
And soon for his pains
Also some exhibit.
Flight a building site, nice and big,
Found it in his ways;
The splendid fit for the purpose
And was located central.
In a short time it came to buy,
Then they began to build;
The walls thürmten up to
Splendidly to look at.
And as planned, it was the house
In a short time to complete;
It looked very pretty and handsome

And practical to use.
Even it was festively inaugurated
With most solemn celebration,
A monument for all time
The singers and highly expensive.
They looked proud in the construction are
And shouts of joy rang:
“This is now our property,
We want to keep it up! ”
And the liabilities of the association,
Now they smile and laugh:..
The mortgage is not small,
But that will make it!”

Henry Huttleson Rogers and Greenpoint






Heny H. Rogers is a largely forgotten figure in American history, but  he was a self-made oil tycoon who became one of the twenty five or so richest men ever  in the history of the United States. He was richer in his day’s wealth  than Gates or Buffit is today. He started his road to wealth as the director of The Astral oil Refinery in Greenpoint. 

He was born in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, on January 29, 1840, but early on moved to Fairhaven, a town he would later shower with architectural gifts. He was born into a family of limited means and he worked a series of low-paying jobs, but like his future business partner, Charles Pratt, he was hard-working, ambitious and entrepreneurial. Rogers realized that there was money to be made in the newly opened oil fields of Pennsylvania. In 1861, 21-year-old Henry pooled his savings of approximately US$600 with a friend, Charles P. Ellis. They set out to western Pennsylvania and its newly discovered oil fields. Borrowing another US$600, the young partners began a small refinery at McClintocksville near Oil City. They named their new enterprise Wamsutta Oil Refinery.Rogers and Ellis and their refinery made US$30,000 their first year.  When Rogers returned home to Fairhaven for a short vacation the next year, he was greeted as a success. However, it is adversity that tests the true metal of a person and Rogers would soon face it. 

    In Pennsylvania, Rogers was introduced to Charles Pratt (1830–91) who like Rogers was from a modest family from Massachusetts.  When Pratt met Rogers at McClintocksville on a business trip, he already knew Charles Ellis, having earlier bought whale oil from him back east in Fairhaven. Although Ellis and Rogers had no wells and were dependent upon purchasing crude oil to refine and sell to Pratt, the two young men agreed to sell the entire output of their small Wamsutta refinery to Pratt’s company at a fixed price. This worked well at first. Then, a few months later, crude oil prices suddenly increased due to manipulation by speculators. The young entrepreneurs struggled to try to live up to their contract with Pratt, but soon their surplus was wiped out. Before long, they were heavily in debt to Pratt.

Charles Ellis gave up and ran away from the large debt he owed Pratt , but Rogers was a man of amazing character. In  1866, Henry Rogers went to Pratt in New York and told him he would take personal responsibility for the entire debt. This so impressed Pratt that he immediately hired him for his own organization, the Astral Oil Company, located on North Fourteenth Street in Greenpoint. 

Pratt made Rogers foreman of his Brooklyn refinery, with a promise of a partnership if sales ran over $50,000 a year. The Rogers’ family moved to Brooklyn. Rogers moved steadily from foreman to manager, and then superintendent of Pratt’s Astral Oil Refinery. He accomplished and exceeded the substantial sales increase goal which Pratt had set when recruiting him. As promised, Pratt gave Rogers an interest in the business. In 1867, with Henry Rogers as a partner, he established the firm of Charles Pratt and Company. Rapidly, Rogers became, in the words of Elbert Hubbard, Pratt’s “hands and feet and eyes and ears”  While working with Pratt, Rogers invented an improved way of separating naphtha, a light oil similar to kerosene, from crude oil. He was granted U.S. Patent # 120,539 on October 31, 1871. 

    Pratt’s Astral Refinery was, however,  a prime target of the Tycoon John D. Rockefeller who wanted to create a monopoly and would crush his competitors to achieve total domination of oil.  In 1871 Pratt and Company and other refiners became involved in a life and death business struggle with  Rockefeller ) and one of his firms The South Improvement Company. In developing what would become Standard Oil, Rockefeller, a manager of extraordinary abilities, and Henry Flagler, an exceptional marketer, recognized that the costs and control of the shipment of crude oil would determine which oil firms would survive and which ones would go bankrupt. The railroad that transported crude was key.  They came up with a nefarious plan , which  was basically a mechanism to obtain secret favorable net rates from Tom Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and other railroads through secret rebates from the railroads. The Railroads were  somewhat like a modern utility, inasmuch as  it was expected to serve the public good and treat its customers equally. Rates in that era were  published in what was called “tariffs” and were public information, but  the rebate scheme was done secretly. 

       H.H. Rogers was a fighter and he would not stand for bullying by Rockefeller. He learned of the rebates and  informed Newspapers which publicized the scheme, outraging many independent oil producers and oil refiners.  Rogers led the opposition among the New York refiners who  formed an association, and about the middle of March 1872 they sent a committee  headed by Rogers, to Oil City to consult with the Oil Producers’ Union. Working with the Pennsylvania independents, Rogers and the New York delegation managed to forge an agreement with the railroads, which agreed to charge uniform rates  to all and promised to end their shady dealings with South Improvement.

   Rockefeller was  deeply impressed by the fight in Rogers.  In 1874, Rockefeller approached Pratt with an offer to consolidate their businesses. There was an implied threat that if Astral Oildid not merge with Rockefeller’s Standard oil, the Greenpoint based firm would be driven out of business.  Pratt discussed it with Rogers, and Rogers convinced the nervous Pratt that  the combination would benefit them. They were studies i contrast. Pratt was a neervous wreck who would lose his cool during the negotiations, while  Rogers coolly  formulated terms, which guaranteed financial security and jobs for Pratt and himself. Rockefeller thought Pratt weak and a push-over, but he  had apparently admired Rogers’ talents and negotiating skills, which he had seen earlier during the South Improvement conflict. He quietly accepted the offer on the exact terms Rogers had laid out. In this manner, Charles Pratt and Company (including Astral Oil) became one of the important independent refiners to join the Standard Oil Trust.

In 1881 Standard Oil was reorganized as the Standard Oil Trust. By 1885 the three main men of Standard Oil Trust had become John D. Rockefeller, his brother William, and Henry Rogers, who had emerged as a key financial strategist. By 1890, Rogers was a vice president of Standard Oil and chairman of the organization’s operating committee.

    Henry Rogers would further develop an idea that would revolutionize oil production. Although he did not invent the pipeline, he was one of the first people to realize how it could transform the industry. Rogers conceived the idea of long pipelines for transporting oil and natural gas. In 1881, the National Transit Company was formed by Standard Oil to own and operate Standard’s pipelines. The National Transit Company remained one of Rogers’ favorite projects throughout the rest of his life and made him an even wealthier man, but Rogers was far from through in making money. 

  Rogers was much more than a robber baron. He was a charming man who was extremely generous. He became friends with his favorite author- Mark Twain. When Twain went bankrupt is was Rogers who gave him six grand to get out of debt and helped the great writer to invest his money wisely. They became close friends and Twain often sailed on Rogers yacht and was a frequent guest at Rogers’ estates. Rogers was equally generous to Booker T. Washington who he helped to start his school  and to Helen Keller whose education he paid for. Both Keller and Washington became friends of the tycoon. 

 Rogers learned that McClure’s Magazine was going to publish an expose on Standard Oil. He asked Twain to find out who the author of the article would be. Twain learned that a woman whose father was crushed by Rockefeller, Ida Tarbell, was going to write the article.  One might expect that Rogers would try to destroy the journalist who threatened to expose Standard’s hard ball tactics. However, Rogers determined that he would help Tarbell write her work. It became a classic of Muckraking journalism and led to the eventual Break-up of Standard Oil in 1911. Rogers charmed Tarbell and they met regularly over the next two years. Rogers opened the books of Standard Oil to Tarbell and shared all the secrets of how the corporation became a monopoly and openly admitted to contributing to politicians in return for political payback. 

Why was Rogers so honest with Tarbell? Some have said that it was a form of revenge against Rockefeller with whom he had fallen out, but Rogers himself suggested that since she would write it any way it made sense to present Standard in the best light possible. Tarbell called Rogers,”As fine a pirate as ever flew his flag on Wall Street.” 

    Rogers was wise enough to turn his wealth into massive wealth. He invested in United States Steel and sat on its board. He developed railroads along with Harriman and became a copper baron as well. When he died in 1909 just shy of sixty he was one of the richest men in the world. He had traveled far from his start as the director of the Astral Oil Refinery on The East River. 


The Giglio Feast of Williamsburg

feast video

Every July for over a hundred and twenty six years thousands of people have flocked to the streets around Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church for its annual 12-day Italian festival, highlighted by the “dance of the giglio” through the Williamsburg streets. However, the tradition of the Giglio dates way back to the fifth century. The Giglio festival was brought to North Brooklyn by the Nola immigrants who settled in Williamsburg more than one hundred years ago. It reenacts a moving tale, passed on through the generations in both Italy and Brooklyn, of sacrifice and homecoming. In the fifth century, Nola was overrun by North African conquerors who took the townsmen as slaves. St. Paulinus, Nola’s bishop, offered himself in exchange for a widow’s only son, and two years later, after he had won freedom for himself and the men of the village, their boat was met by the grateful women of Nola, each waving a giglio, or lily. The earliest Giglio celebrations, honoring Paulinus right after his death, were simply presentations of bouquets of lilies brought to the church in the town center. Soon, the bouquets were mounted on poles, and eventually a base was created to support the poles and a statue of St. Paulinus was placed on top.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, guilds and artisans vied with one another to design tall papier-mâché and wooden structures with giant representations of the lily bouquets. When festive music was added in the seventeenth century, the Giglio began to dance. The Giglio used in the yearly celebration in Williamsburg is a seven-story tower composed of aluminum, papier-mâché, and plastic painted and decorated with gigli and the image of St. Paulinus. A platform at the base of the tower supports a twelve-piece brass band and singer. The entire assemblage—tower and band—is hoisted and carried by 112 dancing and marching men, the paranza (lifters). A separate boat, complete with fitted mast, sail, and rigging, represents the ship that returned St. Paulinus from captivity. Like the Giglio, it has a band and singer and is also carried and danced through the streets. Members of the Vecchiano Festival Band perform on both the Giglio and the “boat.”

Marching band music accompanies the Giglio for much of the way as it is carried along the procession route, but it is the Giglio song that actually makes the Giglio dance. The Giglio’s route is punctuated by a series of “lifts,”by brawny Italian Americans from the area, which last roughly three minutes and cover approximately thirty feet. Each lift begins with the official feast song, written in Williamsburg and used since 1959, “O Giglio e Paradiso.” The band ends the music to the first stanza with a crescendo, the Capo raises his cane, and the 112 lifters become the single paranza that lifts the Giglio off the ground and then makes the structure dance.

Generations of local Italian-Americans have taken part in the feast. Today’s lifters can often trace lineages in the feast three or even four generations. Music is such a vital component of the Giglio celebration that it is said that without music, the four-ton Giglio structure would never get off the ground and dance through Williamsburg’s streets the first Sunday after July 4. The official band for the Giglio Feast is the Vecchiano Festival Band, led by Danny Vecchiano who embodies the passing on of Giglio traditions and culture: His great-grandparents came from a town outside of Nola, near Naples, and he is the third generation to be actively involved in the festival. Danny started playing trumpet when he was just eight years old, studying with Sarge Mirando, a veteran trumpet player of the feast. He then studied with band leader Laurence Laurenzano, who after twenty-two years handed over leadership to Danny in 2000. Because he studied with Laurenzano, Danny says, “I kind of got groomed into the job … it was logical. I had a history with the feast and knew all the tunes, and I knew all the people involved with the feast.”
The feast beckons the “Giglio Boys” of the community back home, even if they are living as far away as California they will come back for the feast, reconnecting with their Italian-American heritage. During the years when Williamsburg was a tough place and the community struggled to survive, the feast held the community together and it is a huge source of Italian-American pride. hundreds of families are involved in the preparation for the feast.

The 2014 Highlighted Feast Events:
Opening Night – Wednesday July 9th, 2014
Children’s Giglio I – Thursday July 10th, 2014
Questua – Saturday July 12th, 2014
Giglio Sunday – Sunday July 13th, 2014
Feast Day of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel/Night Lift – Wednesday July 16th, 2014
Old Timers Giglio Sunday – Sunday July 20th, 2014

The 1977 Blackout and looting in Bushwick

The 1977 New York City Blackout enabled such widespread looting and arson that it marked this event as one of the lowest points in city history, Bushwick was so badly devastated that it took decades to heal its wounds, which were still visible decades later. The looting and arson that occurred became emblematic of urban decline and many residents still have bitter memories of what happened during the blackout and the rest of that summer. The blackout lasted only from 9:34 p.m. on July 13 to 10:39 p.m. on July 14, but the effects of the power outage were massive. Citywide A thousand fires were reported, sixteen hundred stores were damaged in looting and rioting and three thousand seven hundred people people were arrested, most of them for looting. The authorities later estimated that the total cost of the blackout exceeded $300 million.

The summer of 1977 has become legendary in the city’s consciousness.It was a time when the city seemed to be spinning out of control. Crime was rampant and people feared to go to some areas of the city, even in daytime. The police were searching for the serial killer known as the Son of Sam who host young people parked in Lovers’ lanes: the Yankees made the stadium infamous as” the Bronx Zoo” and went to the World Series despite a clubhouse feud; Edward I. Koch, Mario M. Cuomo and Abraham D. Beame fought their way through a fractious Democratic mayoral primary.

Bushwick in the summer of 1977 was a quiet area few people outside of Brooklyn knew much about. The community was founded long ago in the seventeenth century as a village in the woods whose first inhabitants were Huguenot farmers. By the 1830s, Bushwick had begun to lose its rural character. It became an early industrial center and Germans set up a number of breweries and other businesses there, attracting other Germans, and later Italians . The newcomers steadily built up Bushwick; densely packed two- and three-family homes came to line its streets, interspersed with retail strips and a smattering of warehouses and factories. Beer barons and factory owners even erected elegant mansions on Bushwick Avenue and a few other streets.

Bushwick’s decline began in the mid-1960s, as African Americans and Puerto Rican immigrants surged into the area causing white flight to the suburbs. As race riots ripped apart other cities, including Detroit and Newark, unscrupulous real-estate agents and speculators tried to frighten white Bushwick residents—a practice known as “blockbusting.” Homeowners would find ominous messages in their mailboxes—“Don’t wait until it’s too late!”—as well as encouraging ones: “Houses wanted, cash waiting.” In a massive scandal reminiscent of today’s subprime-mortgage meltdown, speculators bought homes from Bushwick residents for an average of $8,000 apiece, and then, using fraudulent appraisals and a Great Society federal mortgage program that insured home loans to low-income buyers, sold them to poor blacks and Puerto Ricans at prices that they couldn’t afford— on average, about $20,000 per home. Many defaulted, abandoning their homes and massively depressing local property values. By 1972, in one city estimate, some 500 Bushwick buildings stood empty because of the bad loans; others, not part of the federal program, also emptied as housing prices plummeted and buyers balked at investing in the neighborhood.

A big reason they balked was rising crime, especially arson. To collect on fire insurance, unscurpulous owners began torching their own empty buildings; gangs set fire to abandoned buildings, too, and then waited for the fire department to do the hard work of knocking down walls and floors, making valuable fixtures and copper wiring easier to steal. By the early seventies, infernos blazed nightly. The neighborhood’s wooden row houses, tightly packed together and often sharing attics, proved particularly vulnerable; a fire would erupt in one building and swiftly spread, sometimes consuming half a block. At bedtime, residents began dressing children in street clothes instead of pajamas so that they could make a quick escape from late-night fires. Men living near abandoned homes began sleeping on porches, guns by their sides, ready to drive off arsonists.

Bushwick residents tried to save the neighborhood by forming block patrols and anti-blockbusting campaigns, but Mayor John Lindsay’s administration made this a fight in vain by raising rental subsidies for welfare recipients, which encouraged Bushwick landlords to fill vacant units with welfare recipients, since they now brought higher rents than ordinary tenants would pay on the open market. By the mid-seventies, half of Bushwick’s residents were on public assistance. After discovering that the city also paid generous relocation costs if fires displaced them, the welfare tenants began setting their own government-subsidized apartments ablaze. Investigators arrested one local welfare family that had collected $40,000 from the city for 13 fires that it set. Nor were firebugs the only problem. Crime in general in Bushwick soared 50 percent during the first half of the seventies, with burglaries and robberies leading the way, increasing to nearly 8,500 per year—up from 4,500 in 1971.

Bushwick was steadily descending into chaos and was becoming an urban jungle. Although it didn’t explode until that fateful July night, all the elements were in place for the ugly scenes of the blackout. Bushwick burst into national headlines on the evening of July 13, 1977, when a massive blackout plunged New York into darkness. Within minutes, hundreds of residents began assembling in Bushwick’s streets, chanting “Broadway, Broadway,” before marching off to that street, the area’s main shopping district. As the mob arrived, someone drove a car through a sporting-goods store’s iron security gates. Frenzy ensued. Some looters tore away more iron gates, shattered store windows, and carted away anything they could carry. Others hustled off to find trucks, vans, and cars, and then returned to load them with stolen goods. “People were running around crazy like a pack of wild dogs,” a looter told the authors of Blackout Looting!, a study of that unhappy night. Morris Todash showed up at his small storefront to assess the damage and noticed that the furniture outlet next door, protected by iron gates, remained undamaged. “Suddenly, I heard a buzzing in the streets, like a hive of bees, and I looked outside and saw a crowd of several hundred people gathering,” says Todash. “Someone drove up with a truck and hooked a chain around the gates of the furniture store, then used the truck to pull them off. I decided to get out of there because there was no one to protect you.” one hundred and thirty four businesses were looted and forty-four were burned to the ground.

Broadway was devastated. Many owners of looted businesses decided never to return. Broadway had a forty-three percent vacancy rate. After a decade of disorder, Bushwick had hit bottom—whole blocks were now abandoned and destroyed. On some streets, the only thing left standing was the local church. Many left the area for good. The looting made the covers of National magazines like Time.

It would seem that things could not get any worse for the beleaguered neighborhood, but they did. On July 18 1977, a giant fire burned out the heart of Bushwick. It was one of the biggest fires that FDNY ever fought. It started at the corner of Knickerbocker Avenue and Bleecker Street in an old abandoned knitting factory. It was set by three teenagers, who were later charged with reckless endangerment, third degree assault and arson, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

It was like many other fires that occurred during the firestorm years of Bushwick, except for the old tank of Kerosene in the basement. When it exploded, a fireball exploded out of the building. It took about 3 to 5 hours for 55 units of firefighters from Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn to put out the fire. The fire hydrants were no use to the firefighters because they were low on water.
It turned out that the citizens throughout the summer kept on using the hydrants to fight off the heat. The firefighters also were low on equipment because of the low budget the department received. Many citizens were affected by the fire. 65 families lost their homes and about 23 buildings were destroyed, as well as 50 people injured, including firefighters.

This fire was important to Bushwick because many homes were lost and it showed how dangerous leaving abandoned buildings could be. It was also important to the rebuilding of Bushwick. The empty space left by the fire is now the location of the 83rd precinct.

It would take thirty years before the area began to recover, but today Bushwick is experiencing a huge revival and it is a hotspot for culture and creativity.