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Flatbush + Main Episode 01: Histories of Waste in Brooklyn

By Julie Golia

Posted on April 24, 2016

Last Friday, April 22, was Earth Day, recognized since 1970 as a day to agitate for environmental consciousness and protection. In honor of that, Episode 01 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main tackles one of the most pressing topics shaping Brooklyn’s past and future: waste. With the help of guests historian Elizabeth Pillsbury and artist Barry Rosenthal, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia dive into the trash, sewage, and general yuckiness that is produced by a densely-populated urban center like Brooklyn.

Julie and Zaheer learn how Brooklyn’s sewer system prompted the demise of the oyster industry in Brooklyn, and discuss trash as a symbol of inequity for 1960s Civil Rights activists. Zaheer shares clips from BHS’s Pfizer Brooklyn Oral History collection. Finally, Julie checks in with photographer Barry Rosenthal to learn more about his process creating art out of found trash.

Got a great idea for an upcoming Flatbush + Main episode? Email us at [email protected] or leave a comment on this post. And don’t forget to subscribe to Flatbush + Main and to rate us on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts.

Explore documents, interviews, and pertinent links from Flatbush + Main Episode 01: Histories of Waste in Brooklyn.

Segment 1: Histories and Ideas

BHS’s amazing map collection includes several depicting the building of sewerage lines. Here is one of Julie (and Beth Pillsbury’s) favorites. You can see two outflow lines (in brown) emptying right into Jamaica Bay (on the right side of the map).

Map of the borough of Brooklyn, city of New York: showing all sewers completed up to January first, 1902; BA 1902.Fl; Brooklyn Historical Society

Looking for a good read on the history of oysters in New York City? Check out Mark Kurlansky’s classic The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. It’s available in the BHS library.

Segment 2: Into the Archives

Here are images of the Civil Rights-era documents and images that Zaheer and Julie discussed. All are from the Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality collection (ARC.002). Learn more about visiting BHS’s Othmer Library and researching in this collection here.

Garbage in Bedford Stuyvesant, circa 1962; Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality collection, ARC.002, box 1, folder 5; Brooklyn Historical Society.
Garbage on Gates Avenue, circa 1962; Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality collection, ARC.002, box 1, folder 5; Brooklyn Historical Society.
“Operation Cleansweep is On!” circa 1962

Bonus for educators: here’s a great classroom exercise using the “Operation Cleansweep” flyer.

Zaheer and Julie recommend Brian Purnell’s book Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn. It’s also available in the BHS library.

Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn

Here are the full oral histories of Mike Palisoc and Roslyn Sheer. Both are from the Pfizer Brooklyn Oral History collection.

Below are two of Julie and Zaheer’s favorite pieces from Barry Rosenthal’s “Found in Nature” series. Check out all of Barry’s work at

Barry Rosenthal, “The Wall”
L_Barry Rosenthal Soles
L_Barry Rosenthal SolesBarry Rosenthal, “Soles”

Did you know that a judge struck down New York City’s ban on polystyrene containers (featured prominently in Barry’s piece, “The Wall”) only a few months ago? Read about it here.

Segment 4: At Brooklyn Historical Society

Julie endorsed “If These Walls Could Talk: A House History Primer” (at BHS on Sunday, May 15 at 2pm). Librarian Elizabeth Call (formerly BHS’s Head of Reference) leads an intensive workshop on how to unlock the history of your home.

Zaheer endorsed “Book Talk: Democracy Now!” featuring Amy Goodman, independent media icon and host of the radio show, “Democracy Now!” She’s joined by co-author David Goodman (at BHS on Tuesday, May 24 at 6:30pm).

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  • Julie Golia

    Posted on May 2, 2016

    Great idea, Marjorie. We're keeping a tab on listener ideas. We'll definitely be sharing Navy Yard stories in several episodes in the future. If you enjoyed the podcast, we hope you'll keep listening, subscribe to and rate us on iTunes, and share it widely. Thanks for your interest!

  • Marjorie Moore Reyes

    Posted on April 29, 2016

    I would love to hear a podcast about the history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Both of my great grandfathers and my grandfather worked there and my dad was in the Navy on the USS Intrepid. My family is from Red Hook and Bay Ridge and we are Irish and German.

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