A Flatbush Life And A Mystery Lane That Would Not Die
|2008: Mary Enright (1941-2015) With Her Grand Nephew Liam|
|1947 Deed to 1329 Rogers Ave|
|1959 Life Insurance Policy On My Life|
|Policy Was Whole Life|
|1947 Mortgage Also in My Mother's Name|
|1969 Thanksgiving on Rogers Ave. My Sister Rita (1940-2010) and Her Daughter Mary Catherine Are Looking At Camera With My Mother Seated Behind Them on Left.|
My mother did not work and my father was employed as an investigator by the City's Welfare Department. Why my mother's name should appear on the property documents was another mystery to me. Perhaps it was to shield the property from any liability my father might incur? There were no people on either side of my family tree with any money whatsoever in 1947 so where did my parents get the $2,500 down payment ($27,500 in today's coinage)? My parents hadn't owned a car since the 1930's and with so many mouths to feed on a civil service salary, my father often worked 2nd and 3rdjobs (post office helper, evening clerical work, etc.) I suspect the money somehow came from my mother's side of the family (she had 12 siblings), and that's why she signed all the documents. That proved to be advantageous when she sold the house in 1977 following the long torturous dissolution of her marriage.
I did more research on the house and it seems to have been originally occupied by a master plumber named Thomas Joseph Flood who had a shop a block away at 1447 Flatbush Avenue. He later became an inspector for the Bureau of Fire Prevention according to the Flood family history online. In September 1914 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported he was among six men appointed as meter inspectors by the “Deputy Commissioner of Water Supply Gas and Electricity in Brooklyn", which political foes assailed as political patronage violating civil service laws.
|St. Jerome's At Nostrand And Newkirk. School on Left.|
|St. Jerome's Spires|
He went on to tell me that the apparition looked like pictures of my mother's mother, who had died a couple of years before he met my mother. My father thought his mother-in-law had come to warn him to treat his wife better. Sounded like a guilty conscience to me, so I resisted saying: “It would have helped us all a lot, Dad, if you had taken that advice.” Looking back at the prior deaths in the house, the ghost could have been Dorothy Sheedy or Margaret Flood. Or perhaps it was just a spirit fed up with all the kids running around the house, asking my father to cease with the procreation already.
|1947: My siblings Just Before My Birth in The Back yard of 1329 Rogers. Rita on Right (1940-2010). Behind Her Buddy (1936-1979). On Left Are Julie (1943-2012) in Front, Mary (1941-2015) Behind Her and Jerry (1938-) Rear Left|
|1955: Buddy (1936-1979) in Our Back Yard. He Worked For The NY Times Most of His Relatively Short Life|
|1950: Southbound Trolley on Rogers Getting Ready to Turn Right Onto Flatbush Then Down Farragut Road and Left on Ocean Avenue Straight to The Sea|
|1920s: Farragut Road Looking East to Flatbush - The Ocean Bound Trolley Has Turned Off Rogers, Through Flatbush Ave and Is Headed For The Camera and Ocean Avenue|
|1950: Flatbush Avenue Trolley Nortbound Approaching Rogers and Farragut.|
|1950: The Trolley That Ran Past Our Door Is Shown Here Turning From Farragut Road Onto Ocean Avenue. Our Lady of Refuge Church Is Visible Behind It, Before It Was Expanded. Herman Edert and Michael Enright Both Got Married There.|
|1910: Jolly Rogers Firehouse|
|2010: Same Firehouse, Rogers Near Flatbush|
|2013: Firehouse (Right), Rear of Farragut Theater (Left)|
|1944: Farragut Theater. Used As Induction Center In Mornings During WW II.|
Germania bought up large parcels of farm land in Flatbush and Flatlands following the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, when travel to and from Manhattan no longer depended on ferries. The land on which my house sat, a few doors down from the Jolly Rogers, was at the eastern edge of a 125 acre farm owned by the Lott family, Dutch settlers who had arrived three centuries earlier. They sold 100 acres of it in 1898 in what was then the largest realty transaction in New York history, the same year New York City had been formed by the political unification of five counties. At the turn of the 20th century, rural Brooklyn was vanishing. The Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, followed by the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, the first subway train in 1908 and a third East River bridge - the Manhattan in 1909 - made vast expanses of sparsely populated land south of the ridge lines very attractive to developers.
|1890: Map of Flatbush Street Grid - Except for Parkville, Sparsely Populated. Lott Farm Is Most of Yellow Area North of "Manhattan Beach Rail Road"|
|1922: Postcard Showing Flatbush (Left) and Rogers Ave. Note Rear of Farragut Theater on Right With A Fire Escape We Often Climbed.|
|2014: Same Intersection. The Farragut Is Now a YMCA.|
Wedged between the Farragut and The 5 Corners was a bicycle shop called Cohen's. The front on Flatbush sold new and used bikes and was presided over by Mr. Cohen, who everybody hated because he treated his repair guy, a middle-aged black man named Leroy, so mean. Leroy was the one we kids dealt with all the time. He would fix our flats or sell us streamers for a nickel at the back of the shop on Rogers. Mr. Cohen would yell at him a lot, especially if he was just talking with us about baseball or some such. Leroy rode to and from work on an old English Racer and sometimes you could hear him approach because he'd be singing. We never found out where he lived but it was probably a mile away because we rarely saw any African-Americans in our neighborhood back then. Listening to all our parents discuss race it was not hard to imagine why.
|1960: My Sister Julie (1943-2012) In Front of 1329 Rogers Avenue With Bobby Scarpa Who The Family Tried To Adopt|
|1957: McNabbem Was Better Dressed Than Mr. Steele|
In the middle of the block, in an apartment house directly across the street from us, the neighborhood nut resided. He was Mr. Steele and he looked exactly like the truant officer, Mr. McNabbem, in the Little Lulu comics, complete with a Hitler-esque mustache and a bowler hat. Except, unlike McNabbem, Mr. Steele would frequently walk around bare-chested, covered only by a knotted tie. And he would often be spotted urinating against trees. It was said his father had been Ambassador to some Eastern European country who died shortly after World War II and left his son a monthly stipend in perpetuity. He was also receiving messages from space aliens and my oldest brother, Buddy, a copy boy for the New York Times, would regale us with stories of Mr. Steele showing up in the lobby of the Times building, demanding to speak to reporters about the aliens' latest transmissions.
|1928: Rogers Avenue Looking North From Flatbush Avenue to Foster Avenue|
|1928: Looking South Down Rogers Avenue Past Foster Ave To Its Termination at Flatbush|
|1950: Flatbush Looking East On Foster Toward Rogers. Billboard Barely Visible on Empty Lot at Corner of Rogers and Foster.|
If you stood in that lot facing west, you could see gaps between buildings extending the two blocks to Flatbush Avenue. I learned only recently that this gap was the last vestige of Paerdegat Lane, an Indian path as old as the Dutch settlements of the 17th century. The Lane formed the boundary between the towns of Flatbush and Flatlands prior to their absorption into Brooklyn during the four years preceding Brooklyn's annexation by the City in 1898. Thereafter this town demarcation line became almost insignificant. However, there were still contracts and franchises in force which followed these old boundaries and they did not expire until decades after the merger. Moreover, the political ward boundaries below Prospect Park, created after Flatbush and Flatlands were annexed, followed the old town boundary lines as well.
|1638: A Map Published in 1924 Showing The First Dutch Settlements. Note Paerdegat Lane Slightly Left of Center.|
|1873 Map of Flatlands. Paerdegat Creek Is Shaded Snake- Like Figure Extending to "J.A.Lott" Farm at Top Left.|
|1873: "Judge Lott" in Center of Map Appears East and West of Flatbush Avenue. The Tip of The Triangle Above The Word Gravesend Is East 17th Street and Foster Avenue Today.|
|1905: Bridge Over Paerdegat Creek|
|1916: Flatbush Water Works From Southeast Corner, Newkirk and Nostrand.|
|1890: The Purple Diagonal Line Left of Center Is Flatbush Ave. The Orange Line Connecting Paerdegat Creek With Flatbush Ave Is Paerdegat Lane.|
|1896: Flatbush Water Works Near Nostrand and Foster|
|1932: Flatbush Water Works, Future Home of Vanderveer Projects, Seen From Newkirk Ave, East of St. Jerome's Church on Nostrand Avenue, Visible on Far Right.|
|1904: Flatbush Water Works Visible Under the "O" In Volume. Paerdegat Lane Is The Dotted Line Visible in the Uppermost Left Red Quadrangle Extending From Rogers to Flatbush Avenues.|
|2014: "Paerdegat Lane" Referenced As Property Line (Directly Under the "1-888" Phone Number)|
|2014: Property At Foster And Flatbush And Paerdegat Lane Described in Notice Above|
|2015: Remnant of Paerdegat Lane On E. 26th Street Looking West to Flatbush|
|2015: Remnant of Paerdegat Lane On E. 26th Street Looking East to Rogers|
|2016: Aerial View of Foster Avenue From Rogers Ave (Right) to Flatbush Ave (Left) Reveals Paerdegat Lane|
- In July 1895, some hoodlums were attacking a woman near the Flatbush Water Works on Nostrand Avenue and when the police responded, the criminals escaped by fleeing on foot across Paerdegat Lane into the town of Flatlands where the Flatbush police did not have the jurisdiction to continue their pursuit.
- In November 1919 the Brooklyn City Railroad Company operated a Flatbush Avenue trolley under an old franchise inherited by the City that allowed it to charge 5 cents per ride. When the City rejected its plan to increase revenue by charging an extra nickel for passengers riding beyond the old Flatbush town line into Flatlands, the railroad played hardball and hired goons to forcibly eject passengers refusing to pay the extra nickel once the southbound trollies reached Foster Avenue. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported somewhat gleefully that the trolley company was forced to admit to the Borough President that the original franchise ended at the legal boundary between Flatbush and Flatlands, which extended “200 feet south of Foster Avenue to where Paerdegat Lane intersected with Flatbush Avenue”. The headline the following day read: “2nd Fare Point Moves – 200 Feet More Ride for Nickel”.
|1950: Trolley Station at Corner of Flatbush and Foster.|
|2014: Empty Lot Indicates Where Paerdegat Lane Intersected Flatbush 200 Feet South of Foster|
|1907: Paerdegat Lane Is The Red Line In The Middle|
|1916: The Two Red Squares in Dead Center Are 1327-1329 Rogers Ave. Behind Them Are Structures With Xs, Signifying Stables on E. 28th St.|
So maybe the insurance policy was based on my being very depressed? A pre-teen suicide risk?
|1959: Gil Hodges Tops Card|
The most likely explanation is that my mother used the life insurance policy as some sort of savings account, building equity that she was eventually able to withdraw at some later date to buy us food when my father stormed out without leaving us anything from his pay envelope.
|Stillwell Ave Subway Arcade Entrance|
|1984: 1327, 1329, 1331 Rogers Avenue|
|1984: The Ederts Driveway (Reliable Express)|
And I suddenly remembered the best times we had in that yard were during Lent when the Reliable Express trucks would off-load palm branches from Florida in burlap sacks against the walls that lined the driveway. Herman had the contract with the Diocese to distribute the palms to all the Catholic churches and so the burlap bags reached almost to the 2nd floor, laid out in a sloping fashion that almost invited intrepid exploration by young boys. King of The Hill games would inevitably result in the three of us tumbling down one by one until exhausted, we would build forts with the palms, pretending to man bunkers, waiting for the Nazis to advance, just like Humphrey Bogart in Sahara, the film we loved to watch on Million Dollar Movie, almost as much as King Kong, which was another game the palm piles inspired.
|1971: Mike and Karen, Ritchie and Me|
In the end, I fear these memories don't capture the real bleakness of our childhood landscape. The emotional cost of a household with isolated, overwhelmed parents took its toll on all of us...
A cold wind was blowing when I got home from school and it was just as cold inside the house. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table and her eyes were red so I knew she must have been crying again.
"Where's your sister?" she asked.
"Jeannie is with her friend Linda down the block." I didn't say that Jeannie didn't want to come home because it was warmer in Linda's house and because Linda's mom usually had after-school snacks.
My mother's lower lip was trembling as she attempted a smile.
"There's not enough money for bread," she said but before that could sink in, she hurriedly added: "So we're gonna look for change, OK?"
"Sure, I know the best places to look," I said and in a flash I was on my knees in the hallway, my fingers groping under the edge of the linoleum.
If there was a way to ease my mother's sadness, I was going to do my best for her. As my fingers accumulated dust, I noticed rips in the linoleum from the last time we looked for money. I decided to break new ground and ran to Jerry's room.
One of my two older teenage brothers, Jerry had been drinking a lot lately and when he came home he sometimes just passed out on his bed. So I figured change might have fallen out of his pockets. Skinny as I was, I crawled underneath his bed easily, even with its sagging mattress.
Yes, it was 1958, the worst year that ever existed. First, we didn't have any money to pay for a uniform, so I couldn't stay on my little league team. Then we didn't have enough money for dog food, so one day I came home from school to find my younger brother crying. He said Lance, our Spitz Spaniel, had been hit by a car while we were at school and was dead.
"Mommy took him to the hospital to bury him," Michael sobbed.
My older sister Julie then took me out to the porch to show me where it happened but as soon as we got out of Michael's sight, she whispered "We had to give Lance to the ASPCA because we don't have any money to buy his food."
I brightened, thinking that Lance was still alive. "So can we visit him until we get some food?" I asked Julie.
Julie's eyes brimmed with tears. She was the 6th of 9 kids and although she was only three years older than me and Jeannie and six years older than Michael, it was her job to take care of us when our mother wasn't around. And right then I guess she wished someone could take care of her.
"No, Joey. The ASPCA had to put Lance to sleep."
"That's OK," I said. "We can go tomorrow when he wakes up!"
And with that, Julie started sobbing. I realized then that Lance was never going to wake up...
Jackpot! I found two quarters and a penny under some old tissues under Jerry's bed. I crawled back out and ran to the kitchen. My mother was on her knees feeling for lumps under the linoleum.
"We just need a quarter, Joey, to get a loaf of bread." She was still intent on finding coins and wasn't looking at me as I held out my open hand.
My childhood as I remembered it wasn't always that gloomy but when it was bad, it was really awful. Hey, we survived. Bruised, tattered, sure, but most of us bulled our way through and made better lives for ourselves and our new families. Sometimes though I wonder whether the ghosts of 1329 Rogers Avenue have stirred at all since the Enrights departed.
As for communications from my own deceased family members, whose growing ranks I shall join sooner than later, I did get what I always have considered a very upbeat message from my brother, Buddy. He died in my arms in 1979 as I was helping him to his bed, his body wracked with cancer. A couple of months later, I was in a motel out in the Hamptons and I dreamed that Buddy was waving to me from a UFO. He and I both shared an interest in the subject, prompted in part by Buddy's being dispatched to the lobby of the Times on many an occasion to placate the folks, like Mr. Steele, who were getting radio beams directed to the wire coat hangers they had wrapped around their foreheads. Despite all the nuts it seemed to us there had been many unexplained sightings and we wondered if indeed Earth was being visited or monitored. Although in truth we also enjoyed hearing the bizarre tales told by the "contactees" who were getting phone calls from space.
In my dream, Buddy was very happy, telling me that our spirits did survive death and that the universe was wonderful and we would see each other again. It was a very vivid dream and it ended with his telling me to go to the balcony of my motel room. I woke up and walked to the balcony and slid open the glass door. It was a beautiful, clear night. I looked up, and there, streaking across the sky, was a shooting star.