Timothy Dolan- Artist Who Captures Greenpoint


When I first saw Timothy Doyle’s canvases of Greenpoint I was thrilled. His paintings captured the feel of the area. Sadly, like many other talented local artitsts, Timothy no longer lives locally. He is a victim of the rapidly rising rents that are forcing out some of the most creative people here.
Doyle, born in Millbury, Massachusetts in 1977, Was studying theater production at Emerson College in 1996 when he discovered painting. After several years in Boston travelling and showing in alternative spaces, Doyle moved to Greenpoint in 2002. He started showing his artwork in cafés and theaters, adopting the attitude of an emerging rock band, showing as often as possible wherever he could. He also started a neighborhood based artist group called “Meeker Avenue Artists”.
In 2009, Doyle enlisted in the United States Army. After his enlistment, Timothy relocated to Arizon where he received a BA in Art History from the University of Arizona. While pursuing his degree, he continued painting and became a fixture in the downtown Tucson art . In January 2015, Doyle returned to Brooklyn to work for the Guggenheim. Currently, he lives and works in Central Massachusetts, but he misses Greenpoint and hopes to return. His paintings remind me of Joseph Bartnikowski, whose work I chronicled in my book, ” Greenpoint Brooklyn’s Forgotten Past.”  They both paint local scenes with great color
Perhaps one of the readers can help him get a show. His work certainly captures some of the flavor of the neighborhood.




Williamsburg’s Great Philanthropist

Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 8.08.41 PM

The Death of the Philanthropist May 21, 1860


News of his death spread like wildfire around Williamsburg. If one man had embodied all that was noble, self-sacrificing and virtuous in the community, then it was Grahams Polley and the community was deeply shocked to learn of his passing. He was only 44 years old and left behind a widow and ten children who would certainly grieve, but they would not grieve alone. The entire old town of Williamsburg would mourn Polley’s death. It was a calamity for all Williamsburg.

In the spring of 1860 Williamsburg was a deeply divided community in a deeply divided country. There were rancorous local splits between Republican and Democrat, Protestant and Catholic, Abolitionist and supporter of slavery, but for a brief moment those differences were set aside and Williamsburg was united in grief. No one had done more for the old town than Polley. No one was more civic minded, more open hearted or more truly generous than Polley. People recalled his genial manner and his kindly smile.

Polley was one of the four or five richest men in the Eastern District, but that did not seem to matter now. It was his charity that people recalled and loved.   Born in Manhattan in 1816 into a poor family, Pollley came to Williamsburg as a young man, starting his career working as a teenager in a rope works. A man of great energy Polley was destined to rise.  He soon opened his own profitable local rope works. Then, he started an even more profitable business, a distillery that allowed him to purchase several pieces of prime real estate.  He even became president of the richest local bank, but it was the money he gave away, not the money he kept, that earned him universal respect. In the economic panic of 1857 he established a grocery store, providing so much credit to his neighbors that he lost $6,000, but Polley felt it was his duty to his neighbors to feed them during those bad economic times and never once considered closing the unprofitable market.                                           His death made people pause and reminded them of their mortality. He had been a vigorous, healthy man in the prime of life only a few years ago.  However, he was thrown from his horse in a riding accident and suffered serious internal injuries. Confined to bed, he had suffered for a long period before God, in his mercy, had ended the good man’s suffering.                                                                            His charity was a quiet unpretentious generosity. All his life evidences of suffering and distress easily moved him, especially with children. He had once been poor himself and he never forgot the pain of poverty.  He acquired wealth, but it never changed him. He was never pompous and always remained a man of a quiet demeanor and simple tastes. All his life his sympathies were with the poor and he remained open to alleviation of local poverty without regard to race, creed or color.  Someone said of him that his heart was never cold, nor his hand closed to the appeal of want or suffering.

He was amazingly generous to his employees. He paid them when they were sick. He kept trusted employees who had died on the payroll so that their widows could keep collecting a salary.

The day of his wake was the saddest day Williamsburg had ever seen. No one, not even the oldest people in the area could remember anything quite like the outpouring of grief his death stirred. There was shock and a pervasive sadness that bound all the residents, regardless or race, religion or social status. Everyone in Williamsburg had loved Grahams Polley and no one could fathom that he was now gone.

He hated show or ostentation and he never wanted his numerous acts of charity publically revealed. Many had wanted to commission a portrait of him for he embodied the civic spirit of Williamsburg, but he refused all but one. He agreed to let his friend John Searles paint his portrait. Ironically the canvas was finished on the day Polley died so Searles was unable to show the likeness to Polley.

During the days of his wake and funeral Williamsburg was eerily still.  Everyone spoke in hushed tones and the normal sound of the laughter of children was totally absent. All the area’s shops closed as a mark of respect and black bunting covered many of the houses.  The schools flew the flag at half-mast and the schools he founded were covered black bunting. Ministers in all the different houses of worship held him up as an example of a good man, praising his selflessness and compassion.

His corpse was sent to the coroner’s office and then taken home by wagon to be laid in state in a pine coffin on the lawn in front of his home at Kent Avenue and North First Street, so that the whole town could pat their respects. Word spread about Williamsburg like wildfire.  No one could remember a sadder day or anything like the outpouring of grief his passing had brought about. All day long, blacks and whites, Catholics and Protestants and even Jews, arrived, patiently standing in line for over an hour in silence for the chance to say good-bye to the kind-hearted man. Rich and poor alike stood dressed in their best attire, waiting on the long line that strung far down Kent Avenue. No one, however, uttered a word of complaint.  Ten thousand mourners passed by his coffin. His funeral cortege contained more than a hundred and fifty carriages as his coffin was carried off to Green-Wood cemetery.

Although everyone was sad, it was the school children who took his death the hardest and many of the children brought to his bier wept uncontrollably for they knew how much he loved them.  Many adults realized that it was thanks to Polley that they had received an education and were keenly aware of the difference he had made in the lives of Williamsburg’s children.

His greatest legacy was the local schools he founded. Williamsburg was no longer an independent city, having merged with the City of Brooklyn in 1855. Now it was known as the Eastern District, but today there were memories of the old city and of the man who was regarded as the most selfless citizen of the old town.  He embodied the spirit of the old city, the personification of its generosity and concern for others.  He donated land for a school. He donated the lot for the local fire house on Kent and North Fifth Street, becoming the treasurer of the fire house and its secret patron.

Williamsburg could make one claim to greatness Brooklyn could not and it was Polley’s greatest legacy. Williamsburg set up free primary schools eight years before Brooklyn thanks to Polley. Polley did not have the chance to get much schooling, but he determined that the children of Williamsburg would not suffer for want of education, so his great civic act was becoming the patron of the local primary schools.

Polleys was the most important trustee on the Williamsburg schools when it was still an independent city. Williamsburg had four primary schools, each founded and endowed by Polley. He spent lavishly on the schools, giving the principals of all the schools free reign to spend what they needed to educate the children. He even believed that black children should have the chance to get an education and generously funded their school.

Teachers loved him fervently. When the teachers were sick and could not work he still paid their wages. He hosted a dinner for the district’s teachers thanking them for their work. He was most generous however to children. He secretly bought poor children shoes, gloves and winter coats. He spent large sums of money for books and every year in May he funded a festival at his personal expense that the children adored.  He funded sleigh, ferry and stage coach excursions for each school. He even purchased paintings, pianos and organs for the schools, but never wanted credit and refused any public acknowledgment of his largess.

Two of the grief stricken children who passed his coffin that may day would go on to leave a legacy thanks to the education they received in one of the schools Polley endowed: Public School number seventeen. Eugene Armbruster would write the definitive history of the Eastern District, recalling until the end of his life how the education he received changed his life. Patrick McCarren, unlike many other Irish working class Brooklyn children learned to read and write in P.S #17.  He would enter politics, becoming a lawyer and one of the most influential law makers in the state.  One day he would use the intelligence he first honed in P.S. # 17 to acquire Williamsburg its bridge.


The Williamsburg Bridge Celebrates its Hundred and Fourteenth Birthday

Tuesday December 19th marks the anniversary of the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge.  The Bridge was opened on a Saturday and was one of the greatest celebrations the Newly formed city had ever witnessed.

The air all around Williamsburg that brisk winter morning in 1903 was electric and buzzing with excitement. After six long years of watching the construction of the bridge, the span would finally open. There was jubilation in the area, especially amongst property owners who knew that the bridge would dramatically increase the value of their properties.   The man who was responsible for getting the bridge was State Senator Patrick McCarren (1849- 1909) whom McCarren Park is named after. McCarren, who had grown up in the area was a political kingpin who was derisively called “ The Sugar Senator” for his total subservience to the local sugar trust. Sugar was the area’s biggest industry and McCarren became one of the first corporate lobbyists in American history.

I described in my book The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King how McCarren ignored the plight of his constituents who toiled in sauna like conditions in the many sugar mills that lined the East River, while enriching himself with sugar money legal and lobbying fees.   McCarren greased enough palms in Albany with sugar money to achieve his dream. Way back in 1892 Senator McCarren had gotten the legislation to fund the bridge through the State Assembly and Senate and finally coerced the governor to sign it.  Twenty years earlier in 1883 the older citizens could recall the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, but this bridge was different. The Williamsburg span was their bridge, the Brainchild of their very own State Senator, Patrick Henry McCarren. There was an exciting sense that the bridge would dramatically transform the Eastern District of Brooklyn, but they could only guess at all the various changes the new bridge might bring.   If the Brooklyn Bridge was an engineering marvel, then McCarren’s Bridge was even more miraculous. It surpassed the first span in many ways. It was longer, wider and heavier. Its towers were higher and stronger and were made of steel, not masonry. Even the new bridge’s cables were far superior. They were far bigger and stronger so that the span could support a wider roadways and much more traffic. The new bridge’s most superior feature was its capacity. It had two-foot walks, two roadways, two elevated tracks and four surface railway tracks.   When the opening ceremony date was announced all the locals talked of nothing else and the ladies discussed what they would wear the first time they crossed the great bridge. There was general consternation when the people learned not only that the bridge was not fully complete, but also that only politicians and very important people would be allowed to cross the bridge that first day.  They learned that Mayor Low had pushed to have the celebration observed before he left office at the end of the year, despite the fact that construction was still not finished. The truth that they were celebrating the completion of a still unfinished bridge, however, did not seem at all to disturb the gaiety surrounding the opening ceremonies. An observer on the morning of Saturday December 19th would have noticed that thousands of locals anxiously opened their windows to check the weather. The greatest concern early that morning was the thick, stubborn, threatening fog that hung over the river obscuring the view of the great span. There were fears that the fog would not lift and that the people on both banks would not be able to see the celebration. However, the tens of thousands of spectators were in luck.  As the sun began to rise in the sky, it slowly burned off the fog that had shrouded the bridge. Shortly after noon the span became visible to the crowds on the East River ferries and to the hundreds of spectators who had already staked out the best vantage points in the area. When enough of the fog burned off the majestic and monumental structure appeared, there was relief and rejoicing across the area. For the first time, the people of Williamsburg could make out how the huge bridge structure had been transformed during the night by the art of the decorator. Its immense proportions might have appalled the draper of flags and buntings, but he had gone at his task bravely and his work greatly enhanced the bridge’s beauty. His decoration of rosettes and semi-rosettes of Old Glory, long strings of bunting and banners and lines of American flags lent grace to the Spartan metal structure.   There were two delegations of dignitaries who would meet at the middle of the bridge: A Manhattan group led by the mayor and a Brooklyn group led by the Borough President.  Mayor Low resplendent in a frock coat and top hat left the City Hall in Manhattan at about 1 o’clock for the bridge, accompanied by Borough President Jacob A. Cantor, of Manhattan and a group of a hundred or so other equally well-dressed, top hatted dignitaries. The mayor’s group rode their carriages up Broadway to Broom Street, escorted by cavalry Troop A of the New York State National Guard the sound of whose hooves clicked against the hard pavement.  As the Mayor rode along Broadway, his mind must certainly have drifted back to the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 when he had been mayor of Brooklyn.  He remembered standing next to President Arthur who cut the ribbon to open the bridge. He recalled the din of horns from below the span that seemed to fill the river with sound just after the ribbon was cut.  Recently, he had cajoled Comptroller Grout to have the festivities moved up so that he could claim the honor of being mayor at the opening ceremonies of New York’s first two East River Bridges.             The air was festive. Great crowds lined Broadway.  Women waved handkerchiefs and men shouted words of praise to the group as their carriages rolled by. When they reached Broome Street they passed through formations of the 71st regiment standing at attention waiting for the mayor’s review. The delegation rode on through the Lower East Side where Alderman Sullivan turned out his constituents, who despite their political differences with the mayor, cheered him and Sullivan loudly from the rooftops.  The party got out of their carriages at the foot of the bridge at the corner of Delancey and Clinton Streets. They waited a few minutes looking at their watches for the exact minute when they would begin their historic walk across the newly opened span.   In the meantime, a similar party of dignitaries departed Borough Hall in Brooklyn led by the Borough President Edward Swanstrom who was overshadowed by the hero of the day, Chief Bridge Engineer Leffert Buck, the man who had overseen the construction of the bridge.  The Chief engineer felt embarrassed when cheers for him were louder and more enthusiastic than for the Borough President. Prominent amongst the group of Brooklyn dignitaries was the godfather of the new bridge Senator McCarren, who looked regal in a tight fitting black frock coat and matching top hat.  The locals cheered him wildly for his role in making this event possible. The two groups of politicians marched onto the bridge and met at the center of the span. They made speeches there, but the greatest celebration would be that evening.  A flotilla of boats sailed under the bridge and all of them let out their steam whistles. The city fathers had planned a huge firework and light show.  Tens of thousands of locals braved the cold to witness the glorious rockets that shot off from the bridge and to see the luminous electric lights that were turned on for the first time that night.  Perhaps the greatest cheer of the evening went up when locals could recognize a huge  likeness of Senator McCarren that had been created from fireworks along the side of He Bridge.   The opening of the bridge changed Williamsburg forever. Perhaps the greatest effect of the bridge was social. Thousands of Jews from the Lower East Side crossed the bridge to settle in Brooklyn. Quickly, Williamsburg became a large Jewish community and the New York Times and others nicknamed the span, “ The Jewish Highway. “  McCarren is now a largely forgotten figure, but the bridge he helped create still stands.

Brooklyn’s Forgotten Middleweight World Champion Jack “ The Non-Pareil” Dempsey. Friday marks the birthday of one of the greatest boxer’s Brooklyn ever produced, Jack Dempsey who is now overshadowed by the heavyweight champ who later took his name, but the original Jack Dempsey was so great that he earned the nickname, the non-pareil, meaning the incomparable. Dempsey was born as John Kelly in the Curragh, Coounty Kildare, Ireland in 1862, but emigrated to the United States as a boy. At age fourteen he became an apprentice barrel maker and as luck would have it, the other Irish boy who shared a bench with him in the cooperage would also go on to become a world champion boxer: Jack McAuliffe. The two became fast friends who studied the science of boxing. They jerry rigged a ring and created a punching bag. They spent hours honing their boxing skills. They would both become not sluggers, but scientific fighters and their arrival in the ring would mark a change in the nature of the sport. I described McAuliffe in my new book, “ The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King.” McAuliffe was one of seven boxers who was never defeated in the ring. His corner man was always Dempsey and Dempsey also used McAuliffe as his second. Dempsey turned pro at age twenty-one in 1883 when boxing was still illegal. A brilliant tactician, Dempsey was cool under fire and never got rattled. He changed his tactics in almost every battle, and his adversary never quite knew just how to size him up. If a man made a rushing fight, Jack would give him a whirlwind scrap. If, on the other hand, his adversary made a defensive fight, Jack would take more time and whip him at leisure.” Dempsey became lightweight champion of the world within a year of his turning pro, but he wanted to fight in the newly created middleweight division, so he left fighting as a lightweight. He was unbeaten in 14 fights when he won the world middleweight title in 1884 by knocking out George Fuljames at Great Kills, New York. Dempsey was the world middleweight champion from 1884 to 1891. The middleweight division was new (in Dempsey’s time, the middleweight limit was 152 pounds instead of today’s 160), and Dempsey is recognized today as the division’s first true champion of the modern era. To a generation of American boxing followers, he was a fighter who first demonstrated that boxing could be performed as art, with style, grace and athleticism. Dempsey’s earnings seem puny by today’s standards, but in the 1880s, few athletes made more. For his early major fights, his purses ranged from $500 to $3,500. In August 1899, Dempsey was knocked out in the 32nd round by George Lablanche, but retained his status as the World middleweight champion as Lablanche had weighed in for the fights at 161 pounds, over the middleweight limit. He lost the fight because his opponent threw a punch called a pivot punch that subsequently became illegal. Dempsey reigned supreme at middleweight until January 14th, 1891, when Bob Fitzsimmons shockingly beat him in 13 rounds. In what was a sensational result at the time, the gangling and freckled Fitzsimmons handed Dempsey a terrible beating, and the Nonpareil gave a great exhibition of courage to last as long as he did, before he was finally pulled out by his corner-men in the 13th round. Fitzsimmons pleaded with Dempsey to quit, but he would not and he suffered injuries in the fight he would carry for the rest of his life. Dempsey developed tuberculosis. His last fight was on January 18 1895, against the Welterweight world champion, Tommy Ryan. Dempsey’s condition and display in the ring was so poor that he was cruelly jeered and booed from the ring after the fight had been mercifully stopped in the 3rd round. Nine months later, on November 2 (some sources say Nov 1st) 1895, the Nonpareil died of tuberculosis, at just 32. Nonpareil Jack Dempsey’s final record was 54(23koes)-4-11.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 2.51.57 PMScreen Shot 2017-12-10 at 3.24.59 PM