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A Few of Our Favorite Things: Holiday Photos from the Collections

Posted on December 21, 2020

This year has proven to be a year like no other, full of ups and downs, and a longing from most for better and brighter days. Despite the challenges, we at the Center for Brooklyn History are grateful for what we’ve been able to achieve this year.

A historic partnership between two long standing, and significant institutions, and with it, the opportunity to serve our community and our borough, by expanding access to a singular collection in a single space, free and open to all.

For this edition of Photo of the Week, we’d like to share our personal picks from our combined collections, that represent what this time of year means to us, and to introduce the team of Librarians, Archivists, Collection Managers, Educators and Administrators, who make up the fantastic staff at the Center for Brooklyn History.

[No Title] Image from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Morgue
[No Title] Image from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Morgue Brooklyn Daily Eagle Photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

I love the sense of invincibility of kids and their sleds conquering the world (or at least Fort Greene Park). This image taps into the feeling that a big snow storm always instilled in me as a kid; the rules were suddenly different, and your familiar world was something new to explore. I think it’s especially cool that they are posing in front of the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument and the famous staircase in the park. These young Brooklynites are both giving reverence to iconic symbols of their borough but also claiming urban space as their own. For me, it captures the highest aspiration of the public park: important enough to house our monuments but approachable enough to bring our sleds.
Charlie – Education Administrator

[Frozen lake in Prospect Park]
[Frozen lake in Prospect Park] Lucille Fornasieri Gold, [Frozen lake in Prospect Park], circa 1985, digital image, V2008.013.45; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

One of my favorite things about winter is the quiet stillness that follows a gust of snow in Brooklyn. I love running through Prospect Park right after it snows–and before it gets icy–when few people are outside, and the world feels shiny and new. I love how this photograph of a frozen lake in Prospect Park by Lucille Fornasieri Gold captures the stillness and reflection that I associate with the winter season. While our holiday plans might be different this year, the things that we can still do stand out in sharper relief.
Amy – Archivist

Photo of a park with trees covered in snow
Prospect Park Snow Daniel Berry Austin, 1907, Daniel Berry Austin photograph collection, AUST_0521, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

I’m a big fan of going on long walks – 5 miles or so – and my one of my favorite times of year to do that is in the winter. There’s something about the hush of what a snowfall provides; that strange otherworldly feeling when the birds are quiet, and it starts to feel like maybe you are the only person in the world. I love the way Prospect Park looks in this photo, the way the light brightens as the road turns around the bend, leading off to anywhere. It reminds me of the magic lands I use to daydream about when I was younger. Also, even though this picture is from 1907, it could have been taken today. You have to respect the permanence of nature.
Ally – Reference Librarian 

Street obstruction
Street obstruction Brooklyn Daily, Eagle, circa 1930, Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, NEIG_1648, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

This photo carries the caption: “Street obstruction–A baby carriage floater [in an outdoor market at an unknown location] as a side-line sells cardboard during the Passover holiday. …” I like this view of a bustling holiday street market – something we all miss now but dearly hope to see again when conditions allow. I also like the scrappy ingenuity of the vendor using a cast-off pram to wheel his wares. It is a good example of making do – a creative response to necessity which we have all had to muster in recent months.
Deborah – Special Collections Cataloger 

[Sarah J. Hale Vocational High School students]
[Sarah J. Hale Vocational High School students] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1949, 1954, Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, SCHL_0965, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

Let’s be real: one of the best parts of any holiday celebration is the food. And not just eating it—though that is certainly very enjoyable—but also the rituals around preparing it. Though this 1954 image of students in the kitchen at Sarah J. Hale Vocational High School is not a holiday image per se, it captures the spirit of gathering in the kitchen to create the holiday meal. This year, many of us are missing this communal experience, but here’s hoping we’ll all be able to enjoy kitchen fellowship once again sometime soon.
Diana – Archivist

Snow Storm, 450 9th Street, Brooklyn
Snow Storm, 450 9th Street, Brooklyn Snow Storm, 450 9th Street, Brooklyn, Ralph Irving Lloyd, circa 1905, lantern slide, v1981.15.134; Ralph Irving Lloyd lantern slides, v1981.15; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

While the winter holiday season is typically a time to gather with family and friends, it can also be a period of pronounced loneliness. To me, this solitary man walking his dog during a snowstorm captures the sense of isolation also ushered in with the season.
Anna – Manager, Art Collections and Exhibitions

Joe's restaurant Advertisement
Joe's restaurant Advertisement Joe's restaurant Advertisement, Brooklyn Times Union, December 24, 1935, Brooklyn Newsstand, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

My favorite part of the holiday season is New Years Eve. It’s an evening of dressing up, lots of noise, fancy drinks, and the anticipation of the countdown. Yelling 5-4-3-2-1 with a group of friends and family is the best feeling in the world. This year I’ll be celebrating in my apartment with some homemade cocktails, so it was especially fun to browse the advertisements of New Years past and imagine what those parties were like. A night of food, drinks and dancing in Brooklyn Heights on the eve of 1936 sounds like a great time!
Sarah – Reference Archivist

[Cameo Theatre]
[Cameo Theatre] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1924, Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, THEA_0014, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

It’s been a long time since the Cameo Theater on Eastern Parkway hosted holiday movie screenings, but this building is one of my favorites to walk past; remnants of rooftop projection equipment and screens are still visible from the side. Many of us have holiday movie traditions; while I hated television as a child, I still watched For Better or Worse: The Bestest Present (1985) on repeat every December. Going to the movies with friends or family has become one of my favorite ways to spend Christmas Day, and this year, I’ve been so grateful for friends who have organized collective online movie watching parties in order to maintain this little part of the holiday season. All I need to do now is wrangle The Bestest Present into their tightly curated film list… BYO popcorn!
Jen – Educating Librarian 

Looking in my gate
Looking in my gate Adrian Vanderveer Martense, Looking in my gate, March 14, 1888, V1974.7.32; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, V1974.007, Center for Brooklyn History at Brooklyn Public Library.

Over the past few years, big snowstorms in Brooklyn have become more and more infrequent. This photograph from the Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection reminds me of the hours after a big snowstorm, when the city is quiet and there’s time to curl up at home with a book and hot chocolate.
Maggie – Manager, Collections and Digital Access

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem [sheet music]
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem [sheet music] Oh Little Town of Bethlehem [sheet music], Emmanuel House lantern slide collection, 1900 ca., V1981.284.38; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

Growing up, singing Christmas hymns at church on Christmas Eve was one of my favorite parts of the Holiday season – despite not being able to carry a tune! There’s nothing like music to bring a sense of community, purpose, and emotion to any occasion. Whether you prefer pop songs like Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You, or more traditional hymns like Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, or anything and everything in between, it just isn’t Christmas without the music.
Bailey – Administrative and Special Projects Assistant

It's the first day of winter
It's the first day of winter Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1949, Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, CLUB_0452 Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

What better way to celebrate the shortest day of the year than by taking a plunge in icy cold water? The rituals surrounding the winter solstice are many and varied. Vikings and Druids embraced the ancient traditions of decorating with evergreen to protect from evil spirits and inviting warmth and illumination through fire. Some, like Mr. Albert Wetzler (shown here in 1949), took seriously the rite of swimming in near-Arctic water. I hope someone lit a fire for this Polar Bear! This year, I’m especially grateful for the inspiration to approach our winter celebrations unconventionally and resiliently.
Michelle – Reference Librarian

[Skiing in Prospect Park]
[Skiing in Prospect Park] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1952, PARK_0342, Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is surrounding myself with my loved ones, eating delicious food, and embracing our adventurous side by trekking out in the cold.  We fill our day with outdoor adventures and belly laughs as we end the day with a nice cup of hot chocolate.  Things might be different this year, but this picture strikes a warmness in my heart that makes me excited about the future shenanigans that I can’t wait to have.
Julia – Educator

Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn Academy of Music Brooklyn Academy of Music, Montague Street, c.1905, V1972.1.781; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

My hometown in Massachusetts also has an Academy of Music, where each December the local ballet school organizes a performance of The Nutcracker. It was one of my favorite holiday traditions growing up—either to dance in it as a little kid or to watch from the audience. I still can’t hear the music without feeling some of the excitement I felt then. This photograph of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), shown left of center in its original location on Montague Street, brings back those memories. May we all look forward to the return of live holiday performances—whether The Nutcracker or The Hard Nut—in 2021!
Cecily – Special Collections & Outreach Librarian

Swerdlof wedding
Swerdlof wedding Swerdlof wedding, 1946, V1991.11.100.17; Harry Kalmus papers and photographs, Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library.

Here’s a little peek behind the scenes: this photo has become something of a go-to for blogs and social media relating to New Year’s Eve, but it’s actually from a wedding that, for all we know, may have actually at a different time of year entirely! Regardless of when this party happened, it’s become my favorite for capturing the spirit of the New Year: family and friends gathered together, lifting a hopeful libation to the promise of things to come. Since this year we may be clinking screens instead of actually clinking glasses, this sentiment is perhaps even more potent and serves as a reminder that there are better days ahead. To quote Brooklyn’s own El-P (one half of hip-hop duo Run the Jewels): “We’re gonna need a little hope, boys, on the double!”
Bo – Communications Consultant

[Industrial Mixing Equipment Inside Drake Bakeries Building]
[Industrial Mixing Equipment Inside Drake Bakeries Building] [Industrial Mixing Equipment Inside Drake Bakeries Building], 1940 ca., V1987.7.6; Drake Bakeries photographs, Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library

Holidays mean baking to me. This year I’ve sampled more than my share of raw dough left on beaters and bowls! I’ve been using my family’s 50 year-old Wear-Ever SUPER SHOOTER (state-of-the-art for its day!) to make batch after batch of vanilla spritz cookies. This picture makes me smile. If you look hard enough maybe you too can imagine a shrunken mixer busy at work on a kitchen counter, and the man as a miniature elf!
Marcia – Director of Programs

[Christmas carolers at Central Library]
[Christmas carolers at Central Library] Brooklyn Public Library, c.1950's, CBPL_0541, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

What’s not to love about this photo! Christmas trees, carolers, and a choir instructor directing them in song, all in the lobby of the iconic Central Library. With card catalogs in the background, and staff and visiting patrons looking on. It speaks directly to the role of the library within the community, whether it is spreading holiday cheer or simply providing a safe space for people to just be. I’ll be looking forward to that part most of all next year.
Natiba – Assistant Director, Collections and Public Service

[Holidays view 21]
[Holidays view 21] Holidays View 21, c.1965, 2006.001.1.131, Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building photographs and architectural drawings, ARC.116, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

Since March, we’ve all lost so many simple comforts and pleasures that I know I took for granted in the “before times.” One of the things I long for most is being together and at ease with others, sharing stories and enjoying food together. This image of the Ye Olde Carolers of PS 9 evokes the close, cozy, celebratory feeling of the holiday season that we’re all missing this year.
Heather – Center for Brooklyn History Director

Interested in seeing more photos from CBH’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images, or the digital collections portal at Brooklyn Public Library. We look forward to inviting you to CBH in the future to research in our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, please visit our resources page, available here or access the resources of the former Brooklyn Collection here. Our reference staff are still available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected]

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