West Midwood Centennial & The Internet (2002)

The View From Argyle Heights

by Homeowner Harry

While waiting for the D train one day, admiring the trees hanging over the edges of the local tracks down near Dekoven Court, and how they swayed with each passing express, I thought: “I should write about this for the newsletter.” That was 8 years ago. Then last night I saw a solicitation for articles in the newsletter. So I called up editor Laura Givner and told her about the trees-swaying-over-the-cut incident.

After an uncomfortable silence, Laura advised me to try and work some other stuff in. And so I came up with an idea to do a “West-Midwood-History-on-The-Internet-Extravaganza-Type-Situation” while at the same time providing some Internet tips. Sort of an “old-meets- somewhat-new” angle, get it?

First, to see some 1908 photos of the neighborhood I put on line, point your browser to: http://www.argyleheights.blogspot.com.

TIP: If you put your mouse on this page of the newsletter and click on the web address right above this Tip, it won’t take you to the site -- you actually need to have that address on a computer screen, not on paper, before you click on it. Pressing the newsletter against a computer screen and then clicking won’t work either (unless, of course, as my son James just advised, you are imbued with super powers in which case please use your power to combat crime in the neighborhood, not to open stupid web sites).

OK, so now that we’re on the Internet, let’s see what Google can tell us about the history of the 700 block of Argyle Road. In particular, let’s concentrate on my address, 715…Nothing…Oh well, let’s try the Givner’s home across the street at 716…Nothing again….Hmmm…This Internet thing ain’t working…Let’s try the Rhine’s residence at 721. Harriet and Arthur are out barbecuing some burgers while I type this – little do they know I’m Google-ing their address right now…I got a hit!!! TIP: Google doesn’t work unless you can physically observe occupants of an address at the same time.

The Internet reference to 721 Argyle Road appears at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~blkyn/Newspaper/BSU/1918.RR.Accident.html in a special edition of the Brooklyn Standard, published a couple of days after Halloween in 1918. It covered the famous Malbone Street train wreck on the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT). 97 passengers died and 100 more were injured when a train derailed as it entered a tunnel East of the Prospect Park station on the Franklin Shuttle. It was the 2nd worst wreck in U.S. history; it bankrupted the BRT--ushering in the BMT to replace it; and Malbone Street was renamed Empire Blvd to rid itself of the ignominious association to the disaster. But perhaps most importantly, it proved that the Internet is not always a complete waste of time.

The headline you see below is a sidebar to the main story and strikes me as being decidedly post-modern in its syntax…Or maybe I’m just being too analytical:

Brooklyn Standard Union
2 November 1918


The mortality list of the B.R.T. disaster bears the name of William PORTER, Argyle Road. The only PORTER listed on Argyle road is Willis D. PORTER, of 721 Argyle Road. Willis D. PORTER is alive and well and returned home Friday night on the train immediately preceding the one that was wrecked. Mrs. PORTER when seen, says a claim agent from the B.R.T. has already been at her home trying to make an adjustment.

This clipping raises more questions than it answers. First, how did Willis Porter’s name get on that “mortality list”? Was there an Internet back then that has since been lost to history? And that “claim agent” who was “trying to make an adjustment” within a day of the crash – was he under the impression that Mr. Porter was dead? Or was he trying to head off a “mental anguish, pain and suffering” law suit because Porter was almost in the wreck? Or am I being way too modern here myself? In any event, I can’t believe that insurance adjuster responded so quickly – I’m still waiting for a visit on our 1993 bathroom ceiling cave-in.

One can only wonder what happened to the Porters after poor Willis had suffered what is technically called a “newspaper death.” (TIP: That’s a term I just made up, so don’t Google it.) Did he develop a fear of the Brighton line which impelled him to ride the Flatbush IRT train instead? That would have been difficult since the IRT hadn’t made it to Flatbush yet. Maybe he walked to work instead? Did he try to drown his anxiety in booze? We’ll never know unless a fellow reader steps forward with the answer. E-mail me at argyleheights@gmail.com please. TIP: Use a computer to send the e-mail (unless, of course, the super powers thing, yadda yadda).

The next on-line reference to 721 Argyle Road occurs in the 1930 Census -- released in detail last year by the Feds and now all over the Internet (for a price of course – try www.ancestry.com or any number of other genealogy sites). TIP: To find any block in our neighborhood, you will need to know that West Midwood in 1930 was located in the 2nd Assembly District – that was only 432 re-districtings ago according to my wife, who is also my paid political advisor, ie, she pays me not to vote. Also, the census refers to Argyle as East 13th, Glenwood as Ave G, and the “D” as the “Q”. For each house on the block you select, you’ll find lots of juicy stuff, which is why I guess they didn’t make it public until now.

OK, let’s take a look at 721...Hmmm...The Porters are gone. In their place, we have “The Farbigers”. Well, you can kiss whatever continuity I had going here good-bye.

Paul R. Farbriger, age 44, was the “Head of Household”, Elsie W. Farbriger, also age 44, was the wife and they had 3 daughters in the home: Charlotte (14), Elsie M. (13) and Norma (8). Mr. Farbriger emigrated from Germany and became a citizen the same year he married Elsie in Pennsylvania -- 1918. The family lived in Pennsylvania, the wife’s native state, until moving to Argyle Road sometime between 1919 and 1922, since the youngest child was born here. By 1930, Farbriger owned his own “import business” in New York, which is kind of a vague occupation if you ask me.

My guess is that the Porter’s actually died in the Malbone disaster, the victims of shoddy journalism, or else his wife brained him, buried him in the cellar and ran off with their insurance settlement (or maybe with just the adjuster). Either way, it seems the Malbone disaster must have played some role, given how quickly thereafter the house passed to the Fabriger’s. Well it’s more than a guess, actually because I just channeled with some gnarly aliens from Zeta Reticuli, and they confirmed my hypothesis -- the wife did it (TIP: Space aliens are better at detective work than “CSI”, which is really far-fetched.)

Returning to Earth for a minute, the final piece of census data says the Farbriger house had an estimated value of $20,000. I checked out all of this information with the Rhines, anxious to learn what they had found out about their home over the years. They didn’t know the Porters or the Farbrigers and no old skeletons were unearthed when they re-did their basement. In fact, Arthur & Harriet scoffed at the census, claiming their house is worth way more than 20k.

They bought it in 1992 from the Kaplans, only 7 years after the Kaplan’s had bought it from the Valentino’s, who lived there for at least 10 years. To fill in the gap between 1930 and 1975, I’d have to go down to the county registrar in Brooklyn Borough Hall and look up the block and lot. TIP: There’s no way to get to Borough Hall on the Internet and you have to go through a metal detector to look up the deeds, so leave your guns at home.

However, after 1992, we do find a final mention of 721 Argyle in an AOL Membership Profile that appears to belong to the Rhine boys:

“JeSSe aNd JuLIaN rule! Representin’ West Midwood and all my homies! Word up – 721 is DA BOMB”

West Midwood Centennial Stuff, Part Deux

Well, the response to the first centennial piece on page 3 above was so overwhelming, that I’ve been asked to do another one, except this time I’m supposed to have more history and less space aliens.

Returning to the Malbone Street wreck, West Midwood actually suffered two fatalities: Floyd G. Ten Broeck of 1421 Glenwood Rd, present home of the Chertoff family, and Emily Coady of 682 Argyle Rd, now the Mester house. The story in the Standard on 11/2/18 read:

“F. G. Ten Broeck was born in Elmira forty-six years ago and was a graduate of Cornell, class of '95. For seventeen years he had been chief engineer of the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, Astor Building, Manhattan. He is survived by a widow, Anne; his father, William R.; two daughters, Delphine and Adria, and two sons, David and William, who sailed for France last Thursday. Funeral services will be held to-morrow at 3 P.M. at his late home. Interment will be at Elmira.”

Unfortunately, we have no census data for that home from 1930. But we did find this happy note on line from the Brooklyn Daily Standard Union:

“MARRIAGE 9 May 1929…PARSELL, Richard (age) 29 (of) 60 W. 58th St. (and) BROCCK, Adria (age) 21 (of) 1421 Glenwood Rd.”

So the Broeck’s (or the Brocck’s depending on which news story you believe) hung on to their home despite the sudden death of their bread winner and Adria, only 10 when she lost her dad, wed a guy who lived right off Central Park, so he must have been loaded. Not bad.

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending I could find for the other death (again from the Nov 18th, 1918 Brooklyn Standard story):

Girl Chums Die Together.
Another case of two girl chums meeting their death in the wreck, came to light with the identification of Miss Ethel CLIFFORD, of 485 Argyle Road, and Ms. Emily COADY, of 682 Argyle road. The girls were sitting side by side in the second car of the train when the crash came. Both were killed instantly. The two had been chums for years, went to school together and worked in the same office.

In reading through the list of the Malbone Street dead--most of whom lived South of the Park--one couldn’t help but be reminded of similar lists published after the attack on 9/11, which claimed West Midwood’s own Patrice Paz, who lived right across the street from where the Ten Broeck’s originally resided. For 100 years, West Midwoodians have piled, day after day into Manhattan-bound trains and returned home to our kids, our parents, our neighbors, and our leafy cocoon. Every now and again, however, some of us have not come home, our journey cut short by sudden illness, sudden accidents or sudden terror. So every now and then take a moment to notice those trees drooping over those tracks – I don’t think we’ll have to worry about the MTA doing any pruning anytime soon. Again, that has to be a guess since Laura told me the Space Aliens are “definitely out.”

Wheh! That’s a lot of research for just a few houses. Only about 125 to go, so I should be finished by the next centennial. Assuming I don’t get caught in the Malbone Disaster, Part Deux. TIP: If you hear something like that, don’t believe it unless you read it on the Internet.