Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Brooklyn

 “Brooklyn was a dream. All the things that happened there just couldn't happen. It was all dream stuff. Or was it all real and true and was it that she, Francie, was the dreamer?” 

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Did you know that Brooklyn  is the most populated of New York City's five boroughs? Indeed it is, and I love it here. You will often hear me say I wish I were living in the country, and that is the truth, but we cannot always have what we want, so, since I have to live in the city,  I am so glad it is Brooklyn.  When asked, I often say that I have the best of both worlds at my fingertips.  I am minutes away from the maddening rush of the city with its myriad of restaurants and Broadway plays, but I can also enjoy the charm of a tree-lined Brooklyn Street.

My German ancestors settled here when they first arrived in America in the early 1800's. Back then, Brooklyn was its own independent city; in fact, it wasn't until 1898 that it became a part of New York City. The first of my ancestors, John Hoffman, b. 1823 in Saxony, Germany, was a shoemaker.  His wife, Catherine, was born in Hesse.  His son John, b. 1843 in Brooklyn, was a carpenter.  His wife, Mary, was born in Ohio. Their son, John, b. 1869 in Brooklyn, was a fireman.  His brother was a police officer. They lived and died here, and sometimes, when I walk these streets of Brooklyn, I feel that this part of the family has come full circle.

So, moving on, graffiti has always been a problem in the city.  It's not as bad now as it once was, and some graffiti artists are so talented that stores actually hire them to showcase their work as in the following which appears on the outer walls of a Rite Aid not far from my home... 
This  is one of those old brownstones Brooklyn is famous for. My ancestors most likely lived in a building just like this.  Notice the alarm on top, the red and white sign offering instructions in case of a fire,  and the water  spigot?  They are all part of the building.
This is the new sports arena in downtown Brooklyn.  It sure is giving Madison Square Garden a run for its money.
The world famous cyclone, the father of all roller coasters.  It may not be the oldest or the tallest of all the coasters, but it sure is the most famous. It's a rickety old thing, and in my heyday I sure would have enjoyed a ride, but today I am content to just stand and watch.
Along with the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel is a centerpiece at Coney Island.  Despite Sandy, it continues to stand as a testament to old Coney Island.  The cars actually swing, so you know I have never been on it, but I can imagine that my ancestors must have when they were out for a Saturday of fun.
And finally, what I believe my be the most famous bridge in the world, the Brooklyn Bridge, the oldest suspension bridge in the United States. Completed in 1883, it spans the East River and  connects Brooklyn with Manhattan.  This bridge figures prominently in one of my favorite films...Kate and Leopold.  Look closely and you will see another fire sign.

So, there you have my little tour and history lesson about Brooklyn.  It truly is a very special place. 

To Brooklyn Bridge by Hart Crane 
(one of the most beautiful poems you will ever read.)
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty— 

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
–Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,–
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,–

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path–condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.


  1. As Dorothy said, "there's no place like home". It is good to have pride and pleasure in your home city.

  2. Brooklyn is on my "places to visit" when I finally get to New York! You made it sound ever so lovely!

  3. How wonderful it is Mary, that you are proud of and love where you live. I've only visited Brooklyn twice, and i fell in love with it. But i'm certain i don't love it in the same way you do. And you must feel the history of your family when you walk the streets. How beautiful.

  4. thankyou Mary for the little tour of Brooklyn, I love to see those old brownstones in the old movies, I feel like i have had a fleeting visit to the U.S. without leaving my armchair here in Australia.

  5. thankyou Mary for the little tour of Brooklyn, I love to see the old brownstones in movies, are there many of them these days? i feel like I have had a mini holiday in the U.S. without leaving my armchair here in Australia.