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Friday
Feb102012

Vexed in Park Slope: Valentine's Edition! 

 

Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day, VIPSters!  In the holiday spirit I’ve rounded up some stories of love from long ago in Park Slope. If these historical anecdotes don’t get you in the mood for romance, or at least melt a few cynical hipster hearts of ice, I don’t know what will. xoxoxo

You know those Park Slope dates where you wander around the hood, popping into one café or bar, having a drink or five, and then moving to the next locale? And you know how sometimes one person gets so drunk that they dare the other person to marry them that same night, and then they do?  Because that’s exactly what transpired one night in February1907, when Eleanor Campbell (of 823 President Street) dared a very drunk Walter Stevenson (408 6th Street) to marry her – and he did!

The thing is, Walter was so far gone ( “the drunkest man ever seen” his father told the Times) that he didn’t even remember getting married until twelve days later when he received a cashed check for $5 that he had written to the minister who officiated at the blessed event. Ultimately Walter sued to have the marriage annulled, which Eleanor insisted she wanted as well  - though anyone who’s been single long enough in Brooklyn may be dubious of this claim...

Are you the sort of person who routinely forgets Valentine’s Day before it’s too late? Or, to the chagrin of your significant other, would prefer it didn’t exist at all? Because if so, 1910 would have been your year.  In late January a massive fire destroyed the entire plant and inventory of the George C. Whitney Company – at that time the largest manufacturer of valentines in the world. 70% of the stock had already been shipped to small markets, but the stock that remained was bound for New York and Chicago  -- and as a result both suffered from a massive shortage of greeting cards! And this was before e-cards, too! Not to mention. . .

Bummer.

Valentine’s Day can be so exclusive. If you’re single or on the mend, it can be especially lonely. Which is why I’m suggesting we take a cue from Brooklynites in 1897 and revive the lost art of the Valentine’s Day Winter Carnival! Held in Fort Greene at the no-longer-existent Clermont Rink, the “Ice Carnival” was touted by the New York Times as “a picturesque social affair” featuring:  “the enthronement of St. Valentine, a musical hockey match between clowns and dumpics, a Russian sleigh race, a snowshoe race, a military tournament and a drill on skates.”  But this is what really caught my attention:

Seriously, if anyone can identify either a “dumpic” or an “ice razzle-dazzle” (but not the pen of the same name), I will send you your own very special vintage valentine.

Our last story is one of young love. Very young love. 

When Joyce Audrey Gerow’s parents moved to 175 6th Ave in early January, 1933 they probably did not expect that their 4 year old daughter with “chestnut curls and flashing eyes” would spark a fateful rivalry between their neighbors the Brothers McGrath, Dickie and Charlie (3 ½ and 4 ½ years old respectively). But spark she did and while she preferred the elder brother Charlie, the two were inclined to lover's quarrels. On one such occasion Dickie, seeing an opening, led Audrey away and the two vanished for so long that the whole of Park Slope was convinced they had been kidnapped and two police precincts became engaged in the search.

What did they do on their escapade? What didn’t they do! Lured by an unknowing peanut vendor, the two followed up from Lincoln Place and 6th Ave all the way to the park which is when things got really interesting:

 

But finding your way home at the tender age of 3 ½ is easier said than done. The two ended up wandering for five miles until they were found, seven hours later, by the kind officers of the Bergen Street Station who plied them with ice cream and reunited them with panicked parents.

And one more treat... a special Valentine for anyone who thinks that holiday is just an excuse to reinforce oppresive gender norms, constructed expectations of monogamy and ideological heteronormativity (I went to grad school!!). .. 

NYPL Digital Image Gallery, 1912

. . . you may have a point.

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