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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Eight photos of ‘Parks and recreation’

July 6, 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:

This week’s theme continues from last week’s: “Parks and Recreation.” Summer has arrived and with it, even with the limits necessary in our awful situation, we’ll be getting out to use the parks (very broadly defined) available for many forms of recreation. I’ve got lots of pictures for you of what some of that looked like in Brooklyn long ago.

My father didn’t do a great deal of work with recreational spaces. But enough of it came along so that many dozens of interesting shots accumulated. After posting 20 of them last week, I’ve got 20 more lined up for this week. The scenes this time include water ballet, a traveling circus, and Brooklyn’s iconic combination of Coney Island and Steeplechase.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Today’s photos:

The eight photos for today’s display include scenes from each of the activities I referred to above. I’ll provide whatever specific information I have, but in most cases there’s no need for much more. Just enjoy and maybe get a few ideas for your own summer activities.

Bathing and beauty, summer 1940

These women are members of the St. George Water Ballet team, and this photo was taken during a show they presented at the Ostend Beach pool in Far Rockaway. The team members created a number of graceful and beautiful formations, requiring swimming versatility and precision. Under various names — “water ballet,” “synchronized swimming,” even “artistic swimming” — the sport has changed somewhat since it began getting more exposure and attention, especially since becoming an Olympic sport in 1984. While maintaining the grace and beauty of ballet, synchronized swimming has become more athletically demanding and complex over the years.


Backstage at the circus, 1934


Out front at the circus, 1934

These are among the earliest pictures my father took professionally. The notes say only “Back Stage at the Circus, Bklyn, 1934.” But he did take at least one shot that shows the circus up and running. It’s a shame I have no information on where this is. If anybody can tell from the few clues in the images, or have family stories of when the circus came to town, it would be great to hear from you. Though the area no doubt doesn’t look anything like it did then, it would be fun to find the scene today and imagine what it used to be like.


Parachute jump from afar, undated


Parachute jump from afarther, undated

These two photos show one of Coney Island’s, and Brooklyn’s, most iconic images. Even at a distance, each picture owes much of its appeal to that still-standing sight. But, equally true, each picture’s foreground is important; not just any long-range shot of the parachute jump would do.

The first picture shows a slow day at one of the several public pools that were scattered around Surf Avenue. The second picture shows a long stretch of boardwalk, another essential scene. The large building – not a common sight on NY boardwalks – was (I think) the Sea Crest Health Care Center, still on the same site in a new building.


Another essential sight, undated

You can’t have a Coney Island display without a shot of the beach. Though beaches all over may be similar, the size and crowds at Coney Island were special. With public transportation and the heat of residential Brooklyn, the temptation of the beach was (and still is) irresistible. We won’t be able to, and shouldn’t, crowd the beaches like this now, but we’ll hope for medical progress that will enable us to mob the place again next year.


Who’s that guy with the mustache? May 26, 1939


Time for skating, May 26, 1939

It would take more than a mustache and a funny outfit to disguise Babe Ruth in the top photo. He came for this annual “Roller Skating Day” celebration at the famous amusement park. I don’t know who his bike-mates are, and he’s not wearing his roller skates in this picture. In fact, I haven’t found any evidence that he actually skated. But there is a published photo of him arriving that day, in costume, with a movie star named Nancy Carroll.

The three people in the bottom photo are putting on skates, so it seems that roller skating actually happened in between all the other festivities my father caught in action that day. Stay tuned for a few more scenes.

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 collections 9 and 10: Photos of ‘Parks and recreation’

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