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Flatbush + Main Episode 02: Brooklyn’s Working Waterfront

By Julie Golia

Posted on May 24, 2016

In the past several years, Brooklyn’s waterfront has transformed into a high-value, celebrated space lined with bucolic parks and new developments. In Episode 02 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia travel back in time to a different waterfront: a 19th- and 20th-century site of production, storage, and back-breaking labor for millions of Brooklynites who lived and toiled along its industrial shores. Through stories of people, goods, and work, Julie and Zaheer discuss how Brooklyn’s waterfront was a crucible of American capitalism and labor.

Julie and Zaheer vividly describe the rise of the commercial waterfront in the early 19th century, back when Brooklyn was dubbed “the Walled City” because of its miles of fortress-like brick warehouses. They sit down with BHS Assistant Public Historian Katy Lasdow to learn how Katy pieced together the story of one dockworker who lived and died at Brooklyn’s Empire Stores warehouse. Zaheer and Brett Dion, BHS Oral History Archivist, discuss a clip from BHS’s Puerto Rican Oral History Project. Finally, listeners hear from BHS Director of Education Emily Potter-Ndiaye and Teen Council Member Sam Pepere on the amazing work that teens have been doing at BHS this Spring.

Many of the stories on this episode will be part of a major exhibition, “Waterfront,” that will occupy Brooklyn Historical Society’s new satellite museum opening in the Empire Stores in 2017. Read more about Brooklyn Historical Society DUMBO here.

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.

Segment 1: Histories and Ideas

In 2014, for example, BHS partnered with Brooklyn Bridge Park to reveal the diverse histories that are located underfoot in the area now occupied by the park. The partnership resulted in 20 historical markers throughout Brooklyn Bridge Park, and an accompanying content-rich website,

Segment 2: Into the Archives

Here are some of the documents that Katy Lasdow used to piece together the life of Michael Harkins and his family.

Take a look at the March 23, 1873 New York Times death notice that introduced us to Michael Harkins here.

Harkins, Mary. Transfer Signature and Test Books, Emigrant Savings Bank, New York, NY, March 29, 1870.
Harkins, Mary. Transfer Signature and Test Books, Emigrant Savings Bank, New York, NY, March 29, 1870.Harkins, Mary. Transfer Signature and Test Books, Emigrant Savings Bank, New York, NY, March 29, 1870.
Harkins, Michael. 1860 Federal Census, Brooklyn, Ward 2
Harkins, Michael. 1860 Federal Census, Brooklyn, Ward 2Harkins, Michael. 1860 Federal Census, Brooklyn, Ward 2.

And here is Brooklyn Daily Eagle coverage of a murder that took place at 129 Plymouth Street when the Harkins family was living there.

Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn

Below is the full oral history of Francisco Pratts, part of BHS’s 1976 Puerto Rican Oral History Project, the first major oral history project undertaken by BHS – and one of the first archival collections related to Puerto Ricans in the United States. This interview is being made available online for the first time in a digital format, thanks to a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) of the National Archives and Records Administration.

This week’s bonus Voice of Brooklyn was that of Sam Pepere, a member of Brooklyn Historical Society’s 2016 Teen Council. This past Saturday, May 21, the Teen Council held a day-long, for-teens-by-teens event called “Street: A Day of Art, Performance, History, and Film.” Learn more about BHS’s many after school and collaborative programs here.

Segment 4: At Brooklyn Historical Society

Zaheer endorsed “Call and Response: Black Power 50 Years Later,” at BHS on June 14, 2016 at 6:30 pm. The panel includes activists from across generations, including Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, Basir Mchawi, Farah Tanis, DeRay Mckesson, and Dante Barry. Professor Robyn Spencer moderates.

Julie endorsed “Race and History: An Evening with Lonnie Bunch,” at BHS on June 16, 2016 at 6:30 pm. Bunch is the founding Director of the soon-to-open National Museum of African American History and Culture.

BHS Programs and Communication Coordinator KT Williams endorsed “Refined and Redesigned: Defying Gender Norms in Fashion,” at BHS on June 23, 2016 at 6:30 pm. The panel is moderated by Anita Dolce Vita, editor and chief of the website DapperQ.

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