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Arti-Facts: BFS History Nuggets

Each week, BFS Arti-Facts will examine a moment in history
from the Brooklyn Friends Archives
Updated November, 2023

If These Elevators Could Talk…

Each week, BFS Arti-Facts examines a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives right here in The Weekly. This week we are going to look at a “then and now” situation that is very close to all of us. Perhaps you have seen the books that feature photos of New York City from long ago right next to a photo in the same location from today. Those photos always remind us that while life many years ago was happening a completely different way, it was happening in the exact location. This applies very often to our very own Pearl Street building, once the original home of Brooklyn Law School. While just about every aspect of how 375 Pearl looked when BFS moved in for the 1972-73 school year has been renovated, updated, and modernized, there is one very significant piece that has remained nearly identical—the lobby. Included here is a photo taken in 1930 and one taken this past Friday. How many things can you notice that are different in these otherwise similar photos? Still, for two photos taken nearly 100 years apart, it is staggering to see how similar they actually are. If those elevators could talk…

What’s On the Second Floor at Lawrence?

Each week, BFS Arti-Facts examines a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives right here in The Weekly. Because it opened 2015, however, our Upper School at Lawrence Street rarely makes an appearance here—until
now. The questions usually are asked to members of our enrollment team—from the families visiting our Upper School Open Houses and continue with new colleagues and students—”why is there no second floor?” or “what is on the second floor?” Of course, there’s the standard answer that we tend to give to quiet these questions, but those in the know are keenly aware of the true possibilities. Of course, most people know that before 116 Lawrence was occupied by BFS, it was the Brooklyn Extension for the Library of Congress. It was mostly used to store periodicals and artifacts from the east coast—largely items that the actual Library of Congress did not have room for, or felt would be better off stored off-site for security reasons. What did not become known until the late 1990s, was that the BELC had a humidified and air-tight series of rooms to store specific items, such as Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s hand-written draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. In all, there were 1,867 items stored at the BELC—375 of which were kept on the second floor at 116 Lawrence Street. According to the Library of Congress, those items were never moved back to their Washington, D.C. location and, according to their records, they are still at the BELC. While that second floor is not accessible through the main elevator at the school, there is a smaller elevator that does stop on Floor 2 and can be accessed from one of the private offices on the ground floor—but has remained off and has not been used since the school opened. Without proof of the BELC, other rumors have swirled—is there even a second floor, or were the floors mis-labeled when the building was constructed. If this is the case, then the third floor would really be the second floor, meaning that the third-floor commons is actually the second-floor commons, and all of the rooms would need to be re-labeled. There is the possibility, however, as unrealistic as it may be, that the second floor may be occupied by National Grid customer service representatives and is accessible from Jay Street. Although that explanation sounds just downright silly.

It’s Always Been About the Experience at BFS

Each week, BFS Arti-Facts examines a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives right here in The Weekly. As you may have read earlier in The Weekly, BFS colleagues had a full day of professional development this past week, discussing many different aspects of the Brooklyn Friends experience. One thing that came across loud and clear in most of the sessions is the genuine love that the colleagues here have for their jobs. There were conversations about always striving to be better in order to give our students the fullest experience possible. This is not a new thing at BFS, as over the years there have been so many teachers who have truly lived our mission. In an article in The Life newspaper exactly 52 years ago, fifth grade teacher Kenneth Lightell talked about the responsibility he felt as a BFS teacher. “I want them to get up in the morning and want to go to school,” he said. “If they don’t enjoy it, it’s my fault.” Kenneth believed in stressing basic concepts, rather than the memorization of facts and lists. It was his attempt to take the pressure off of learning and create a “happy” experience. If you replaced the word “happy” with “joyful” it might have been hard to tell if it was 1970 or 2022.

Gatherings of Yesterday

Can I Take You to the Prom?

Bravo to our Facilities Team

Thanks, Coach!

Each week, BFS Arti-Facts will examine a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives. This week, we head out to the baseball diamond of yesteryear to look back, not at a former student-athlete, but at a former well-known BFS coach. We have noted in past Arti-Facts’  that Alan M. Hughes coached multiple sports at Brooklyn Friends School for many years, including the 1925 championship boys basketball squad. This week, as we kick off the 2022 baseball and softball seasons, we remember that Coach Hughes led the way for the 1922 BFS baseball team, pictured here. While his players surrounded him with nothing but serious game-faces on, the dapper Coach Hughes—not looking any older than his players—almost had a glint in his eyes and the start of what might have been a smile in the corner of his mouth. Perhaps he knew that exactly 100 years after this photo was taken, coaches like himself would still be leading BFS to victories. Perhaps he knew that 100 years later people would be remarking that he looked more ready for the Queen’s Ball than a baseball game at Friends Field. Perhaps he was just happy because after the photo shoot he was heading to Ebbets Field to watch future Hall of Famer Zack Wheat and his Dodger teammates take on the New York Giants? Perhaps he was just excited that baseball and softball season was back! Just like we are! Go, Panthers!

The Curious Case of Señor Frizzle

Each week, we will examine a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives. One of the absolute best aspects of BFS is the diverse and interesting stories our current colleagues have. We will be looking at many of those in the coming weeks and months, not as Arti-Facts, but as feature stories on our website. This week in Arti-Facts, however, we look back into the late 1940s and remember a specific teacher who spent a short, but well-respected time at BFS. Mr. Arnold L. Frizzle was a Canadian-born student of French, Latin, and Math, but taught Spanish at BFS. Featured in a March 22, 1948 article in The Life newspaper, Señor Frizzle was described as “that stock-well-built man seen lumbering into Room 20 every day at about one o’clock.” It was clear from the tone of the article, penned by then-senior Paul R. Browner, that Señor Frizzle was very much liked by his students. A graduate of Teachers College of Columbia University, where he received his M.A. in French, Frizzle would return to the school to qualify for his Ph.D., which he would receive in 1950, two years after leaving Brooklyn Friends to teach modern languages at the college level. In addition to his love for languages, Frizzle made fine acid etchings, built furniture, and loved to work as a farmer, which he had done early in his life in Canada. According to the student journalist, “the students of Friends enjoyed and benefited from his teachings.” Just a quick snapshot into what was going on at BFS nearly 75 years ago!

Photograph and Memories

Each week, we will examine a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives. This week, we focus on a photo that was sent in to us by a friend of the school who is both a sister and mother of a BFS grad. Thank you to Lois Berseth Hedlund, whose son Magnus Hedlund graduated in 1991. This specific photo, however, was of her brother—John T. Berseth—and his BFS basketball teammates from the 1940s. It is always exciting to see a photo from someone’s personal collection, and this was clearly a happy day in the Schermerhorn Gym, following what was a victory for Brooklyn Friends. The coach in the photo is Walter Longley, who also used to run a summer camp on Staten Island where John and his friends would often serve as counselors. Not only was John on the basketball team, but he was the editor of his class’ yearbook and loved to collect books about New York history—specifically Brooklyn history. Sadly, John passed away in 2016 at the age of 84, but thank you to his sister, Lois, for sharing this fantastic photo and keeping her brother’s memory alive and well here at BFS!

The Lucky Break

Each week, we will examine a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives. This week, a photo found on eBay has sent us down a rabbit hole of excitement. At first glance, it is what it is, a really nice photo of a BFS performance of The Lucky Break in 1933. However, what was on the back of this photo was even more exciting. Stamped in ink, at a very hasty 45-degree angle, it reads “Photograph by KENNETH M. SWEZEY, 161 Milton Street, Brooklyn, NY.” As it turns out, Kenneth M. Swezey would go on to become a well-known journalist and Science writer for the New York Sun newspaper, and other well-known magazines, such as Boys’ Life and Popular Science. His bio explains, he would “often illustrate his articles with photographs he shot himself.” Perhaps this photo from BFS was originally to go along with an article of some kind? As an aside, Swezey has an unending fascination with the work of Nikola Tesla and even wrote a cover story about him for Time magazine. So here is where things get sort of interesting—the photo was found in a collection of photos kept by former New York Supreme Court Justice and U.S. Representative to New York, John MacCrate. Interesting, but why would he have this photo? Well, it turns out that the Hon. John MacCrate’s son, also John MacCrate, attended Brooklyn Friends School at the time the photo was taken—and appeared in the cast of The Lucky Break. Just as an aside, he was also the Editor-in-Chief of The Life newspaper at BFS his senior year of 1933-34. Here is where the story gets sort of even more interesting—the MacCrate’s lived at 134 Milton Street and there is no doubt there is some kind of a connection between the Swezey and MacCrate families. Milton Street was not then, and is not now, all that long. In fact 110 Milton and 161 Milton are a stone’s throw from each other. Nearly a century later, however, the connection to each other is that they both appear together in “Arti-Facts.”

Color Me Confused

Each week, we will examine a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives. This week, we focus on one of the most iconic aspects of BFS—the school colors. Just to be clear, there is no actual, specific reason that the colors of Brooklyn Friends are blue and gray. When the school was founded in 1867, the best of our records show that in the spirit of Quaker simplicity, the colors were selected to be white and gray. However, in the early 1900s, when BFS began competing in athletic competitions, the decision was made to embolden the look of the school sports uniforms and the colors were changed to blue and gray. It seems like the story would end there, as those are our current colors. However, an article on the front page of The Life newspaper in 1934—the official paper of BFS from its earliest days (and the current school magazine)—throws a wrench into the works. Under the headline of “Friends Furnishes Teams New Uniforms,” the article reads: “New equipment has been purchased for both the football and field hockey teams this fall. The boys have received new jerseys, with numerals on them…and new helmets, which have been painted orange and black, the team colors.” To add to the mish-mosh, an article the following week in 1934 announced that the junior and senior girls had selected an official sweater color for the seniors, which would be light blue. Color me confused.

Blue Pride

Each week, we will examine a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives. This week, we focus on the true spirit when it comes to supporting our school’s boys and girls basketball teams, as Brooklyn Friends student-athletes approach the playoffs. “It is of utmost importance that the student body gets behind the school’s activities, both indoor and out. Do not  permit your teams to take the field (or courts) without proper support from the sidelines; do not expect good teams if you yourself make no effort to play the game.” All of that applies today, of course, HOWEVER that was written back in October of 1931 in the school newspaper, The Life. It is always interesting to be reminded that the more things change in life, the more they stay the same. Ninety one years ago, BFS student-athletes needed their school’s positive energy behind them. This coming week, our current student-athletes need that same energy! Blue Pride, Friends Forever! Go Panthers!

The Summer of 1972—and 1922

Each week, we will examine a moment in history from the Brooklyn Friends Archives. This week, we look into the past and ahead to the future—simultaneously! It is taught to all students on the very first day of the very first journalism course that anyone takes, at any level—never put yourself in the story—ever! Having said that, let me tell you a little bit about myself: I was born in March of 1970, the son of a teacher and a dentist. But enough about me. It just so happens that “The Life” magazine published an issue in March of 1970, which caused me to take a closer look and see what was going on at BFS the day I was born. Turns out, that is the first time it was announced that Brooklyn Friends School was going to have a brand new Summer Program, starting in the summer of 1970. As you read earlier in THIS edition of The Weekly, BFS is excited to be considering a launch of a brand new BFX Summer Program, bridging the gap in June between the end of school and July. If you happened to miss the note above, please go back and check it out! The BFXploration program has been extremely successful this year and this proposed two-week program promises to be fun for all. Maybe not as much fun as the surprise birthday party that someone is hopefully planning for me, but again, it is not about me.