This post marks the first in a series of posts that will recount the history of different streets in Greenpoint. Meserole Avenue is named for the Meserole family who once had a gorgeous orchard that long ago disappeared. The orchard at one time was so beautiful that it was considered one of the “garden spots” of Brooklyn. Long after the orchard was just a memory, the name garden spot survived and was used ironically by Peter McGuinness and others to describe the highly industrial neighborhood. Continue reading
Local lawmaker Peter J. McGuinness began his first term as alderman at the end of World War I when female behavior was rapidly changing, outraging conceptions of proper female behavior. Young women called flappers defied traditional ladylike behavioral expectations by cutting their hair short, wearing pants instead of skirts, and—most shocking for McGuinness—even smoking in public. These rule-breaking new women, like Greenpoint’s Mae West, flouted conventions, shocking traditionalists like McGuinness. Smoking was not just considered unladylike; it was for many a black mark on a woman’s character. A Washington Post editorial in 1914 declared, “A man may take out a woman who smokes for a good time, but he won’t marry her, and if he does, he won’t stay married.”
In 1921, McGuinness, determined to protect public morality, proposed a notorious ordinance in the Board of Aldermen banning women from smoking in public places in New York City. The bill, though was misfiled as a law, although it was never enforced., which only added to the firestorm or controversy around it. McGuinness, asked to explain the smoking ban, answered:
“Young fellows go into our restaurants to find women folks sucking cigarettes. What happens? The young fellows lose all respect for the women, and the next thing you know the young fellows, vampired by these smoking women, desert their homes, their wives and children, rob their employers and even commit murder so that they can get money to lavish on these smoking women.” Continue reading
Hugh Reid, who helped bury the dead of Greenpoint for generations, himself finally succumbed to death himself last Thursday, just short of his ninetieth year. I was lucky enough to spend a long afternoon with Hugh about two years ago, while researching my recently published book, King of Greenpoint, about Peter J McGuinness, the boss of Greenpoint. Many locals insisted that I had to talk to Hugh because no one knew more Greenpoint history, so we sat down.
He told me his grandparents immigrated in 1856 from Cushendall Northern Ireland and for generations his family had worked the Greenpoint waterfront. He was one of twelve children, so when he was not in school he hustled to help the family get extra money. Hugh knew Peter McGuinness well because they both lived on Leonard Street, though he was not necessarily a fan of McGuinness by any means. I learned not only about McGuinness, but also a wealth of local information. Hugh had lived here all his life and his memory was sharp, even if his hearing had grown dim. Many of the characters I wrote about I only knew from books but Hugh knew them as people and gave me insights into their personalities no book or document ever could. Continue reading