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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: 12 photos from the ‘Variety’ collection

September 28, 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:

I’ve been displaying a lot of pictures each week for the past couple of months. This week will be no exception. But many weeks have not had much variety. Last week is certainly the best example of that: over 40 portraits of women, mostly from the same time period and with a similar look. (I hope you found interesting variety in the subtleties of their faces, bearings, expressions; that was my intent.)

This week I will add variety to the quantity. Rather than a single theme for the week, I have a number of different categories, usually just one per day, but sometimes even some variation within a day. I hope the variety will add to the spice of life for you this week.

Today’s photos:

There are very few times I would make this claim, but I’d bet that not one in a hundred readers have heard of or seen today’s sport – until now. The pictures for today show men on ice skates jumping over barrels, competing for the “World Championship of Barrel Jumping” at Grossinger’s Country Club, in the Catskills, NY. It was an annual event hosted there through the 1950s and into the mid-sixties. It has come and gone as a sporting event in various venues for decades.

The sport has been around for centuries in Europe, originating in Holland. It began to get popular in the 1920s when Olympic speed skaters created barrel jumping as a diversion for themselves between or after races, using the barrels that routinely lined their skating course. A retired skater, working as a recreation director at Grossinger’s, first had the idea for a competition in the Catskills to attract visitors and publicity. The first event there was in 1951. For a few years, starting in 1962, it was broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

My father had an arrangement with Grossinger’s for several years: he photographed the contest in exchange for a weekend at the resort. (My mother had the better end of the deal, since she didn’t have to work, and had a couple of days out of the house. Grandma and Grandpa took over.) You can find plenty of videos online if you’d like to see more action than still photographs provide.

Up, up and away: Twelve barrels and counting, Grossinger’s, NY, January 12, 1953

The competition began with 11 barrels. Jumpers got three tries at each level. They simply had to clear all the barrels, not land on their feet. Take-off speeds reached as high as 40 mph, so a soft landing was rather unlikely.

This particular year the winning jump was 14 barrels. In other years, it got as high as 16. It looks like my father managed to get a shot of the winner in mid-air over the barrels and then landing on his bottom a second later — though it’s possible the first shot came on a previous jump that he didn’t clear, and the second shot came on another try when he succeeded.


The winners’ circle: Three judges, two winners, two mates

Honorary judges were part of the spectacle. This year’s three (top) include singer Eddie Fisher (left), boxing champion Rocky Graziano (right), and a woman I can’t identify.

The judges help present the trophy to the winner, Terry Browne, a Detroit fireman, #14, in the middle photo with, I assume, his wife. The third photo shows the runner-up, #4, accepting a kiss from, probably, his wife. (You can tell that #14 is the winner because his trophy is bigger. #4 might have needed more tries to clear 14 barrels, or maybe he never cleared 14 but was the best at clearing 13.)


Group shot: The (real) judges with the competitors


Matriarch: Jennie Grossinger

Jennie Grossinger (third from left, holding plaque) was the moving spirit and skilled manager of Grossinger’s for 45 years. Grossinger’s began before World War I as a failing farm in the Catskills that had to take in boarders to make ends meet. The boarding house became much more profitable than farming, and in 1919 the family sold the farm and bought a small hotel nearby. That’s when 27-year-old Jennie was designated by her parents to run the business.

The hotel thrived through the twenties, struggled but survived through the Depression, and then really took off in the ’40s. In the post-war years the resort had grown to be a magnet for Jews throughout the northeast, and increasingly for non-Jews as well. With entertainment, activities, celebrities and renowned food, it was the place to be.

Its peak years were in the ’50s and early ’60s, but it adapted and continued to be successful into the ’80s. Jennie turned over control to her two children in 1964. She was active in charitable activities and continued writing cookbooks until her death in 1972. The resort closed in 1986.


Other stunts on ice: Unknown trickster, January 11, 1954

This unidentified gent was apparently an accomplished acrobat on ice, as these few pictures, and many others, show. I don’t know why these photographs were taken. It was the following year on a frozen pond on the Grossinger property.

My father was never an active or accomplished athlete that I know of, but he did enjoy ice skating and was more than competent at it. I suspect that skill either began or certainly grew during his stays at Grossinger’s. (In later years, my parents’ weekends sometimes extended to full weeks.) I’m sure he never tried anything like handstands or flips, but he could do backwards figure-eights, and that was impressive enough for me.

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 22 and 23: Photos from the ‘Variety’ collection

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