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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: June 8: Six photos from ‘Not an ordinary day on Brooklyn’s streets’

June 8, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

Last week we had a look at “An ordinary day on Brooklyn’s streets.” What’s appropriate for this week? “Not an ordinary day on Brooklyn’s streets,” of course.

A timeworn definition of news has it that “Dog bites man” is not news, but “Man bites dog” is. Similarly, ordinary street scenes, like last week’s, generally weren’t newsworthy for the Eagle at the time my father took them. Therefore, he didn’t leave much information about them. This week’s not ordinary scenes, on the other hand, are more likely to be newsworthy, and most of them come with notes that my father sent to the Eagle.

I hope that adds an extra level of interest: the pictures themselves plus their back stories. Just to keep us on our toes, however, there are still a few with little or no information and, because the scenes themselves are unusual, the lack of information is all the more frustrating.

Today’s photos:

In a place the size of Brooklyn, all kinds of things can make streets very non-ordinary at any given time. The six for today provide a sample of those possibilities. The remaining eight, to be seen during the week, will offer further examples of oddity. Some draw a crowd, others are surprisingly sparse, and in others a crowd is the point.

Tight fit, from behind, October 9, 1936


Tight fit, from the side, October 9, 1936

This scene couldn’t be appreciated in just one image — it is much more fun to see from a couple of different angles. I think the house is being moved into this spot, but it could be being moved out. Either way, it looks impossible to maneuver. Anybody with expertise in how a building like this might be moved, or with a firm knowledge of the look of the local streets and houses in 1936, might be able to tell whether it’s coming or going. It’s a good-sized two-story brick house, so it must be enormously heavy. It is being moved from 430 Lincoln Road, where a new school is planned, to Sterling Street and Old Clove Road, about four blocks away. (And you think it’s hard to back an SUV into a parking spot or driveway!)


Not a scratch on her, September 21, 1935

This distinctive vehicle was driven at the end of the summer of 1935 through the streets of Flatbush by police officers dressed in uniforms from 1909. The officers were challenging local drivers by saying, “Since 1909 I have operated this car without an accident … Why can’t you?” Police precincts throughout New York City ran similar safety campaigns at the same time, competing for the most effective and creative effort. These officers from the 67th precinct and their unharmed antique, which had cruised the neighborhood safely for over 25 years, took second place in the city-wide campaign. Let’s see if we have any evidence of the success of that campaign.


Why is everyone looking at me? September 23, 1935

Oops. This scene certainly didn’t contribute to any auto safety improvement that year. The site drew a lot of spectators from the neighborhood, but at the moment this image was taken, they seemed more interested in the photographer than in the wreck. Exactly two days after the photo of the 1909 police car advertising the safety challenge was taken, this mishap occurred in a quiet residential area: the corner of Clarendon Road and East 35th Street. The vehicle on its side was a small truck belonging to a rug-cleaning service at 848 Nostrand Avenue. A car was also involved, maybe the one visible behind the crowd, or maybe not in this picture. The two drivers each suffered minor injuries.


Man down, undated

I can only be sure about two things here. First, it’s in the mid-30s, because the cars look it but also because this image was on a glass negative, which I haven’t seen in my father’s collection later than 1936. Second, it’s the only scene of his that is truly disturbing. Among the things I don’t know: Is the man injured, unconscious or dead? And whatever his condition, how did it happen? Are all the men standing around him from the police, or are there reporters as well, perhaps one from the Brooklyn Eagle with my father? I also don’t know where this is, and I wonder why there are no onlookers. A grim scene, by any measure.


Fighting fire, undated

This is another picture that could be showing a very serious situation. The fire could have human casualties, and it could be destroying a family’s home and possessions. At best, it is the source of some fire and smoke damage on the upper floor of this building, and water damage probably throughout the house. There are firefighters climbing the ladder, and at least one standing on a porch roof. They’re at risk of injury or death. It’s clearly not an ordinary day on this street.

But in an ironic and mysterious twist, the photo is given an ethereal look by shafts of light streaming at angles on the right side of the image. They look like water at first glance, but a close look shows they’re not. It’s eerie. I doubt my father saw or sensed those rays, and I don’t know whether they add a note of tranquility and hope, or if they are an inappropriate and distracting insult to the somber scene.

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 6: Photos from ‘Not an ordinary day on Brooklyn’s streets’

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