Title: Brooklyniana, No.36
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: September 20, 1862
Publication information: Brooklyn Standard 20 September 1862: [unknown].
Source: Our transcription is based on Emory Holloway, ed. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1921. pp. 306–309. The date of the article is from Joel Myerson. Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00236
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Ashley Lawson, Liz McClurg, and Sarah Walker
A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.
The old railroad tunnel at South Ferry.—Picture of the train starting in former days.—East New York and Bedford.—Jamaica and its Importance.
WE alluded in the last paper to the fact that though the inhabitants and wealth of Long Island were mostly concentrated in Brooklyn, there were still other sections, forming the vast remainder of the island, that were well worthy of record and of further investigation than has yet been afforded them by our local newspapers, or by any of the literary class hereabouts.
The old tunnel, that used to lie there under ground, a passage of Acheron-like solemnity and darkness,1 now all closed and filled up, and soon to be utterly forgotten, with all its reminiscences; of which, however, there will, for a few years yet be many dear ones, to not a few Brooklynites, New Yorkers, and promiscuous crowds besides. For it was here you started to go down the island, in summer. For years, it was confidently counted on that this spot, and the railroad of which it was the terminus, were going to prove the permanent seat of the business and wealth that belong to such enterprises. But its glory, after enduring in great splendor for a season, has now vanished—at least its old Long Island Railroad glory has. We were along there a few days since, and could not help stopping, and giving the reins for a few moments to an imagination of the period when the daily eastern train, with a long string of cars, filled with summer passengers, was about starting for Greenport, after touching at all the intermediate villages and depôts. We are, (our fancy will have it so,) in that train of cars, ready to start. The bell rings, and winds off with that sort of a twirl or gulp, (if you can imagine a bell gulping), which expresses the last call, and no more afterwards; then off we go. Every person attached to the road jumps on from the ground or some of the various platforms, after the train starts—which, (so imitative an animal is man) sets a fine example for greenhorns or careless people at some future time to fix themselves off with broken legs or perhaps mangled bodies. The orange women, the newsboys, and the limping young man with long-lived cakes, look in at the windows with an expression that says very plainly, "We'll run along-side, and risk all the danger, while you find the change." The smoke with a greasy smell comes drifting along, and you whisk into the tunnel.
The tunnel: dark as the grave, cold, damp, and silent. How beautiful look Earth and Heaven again, as we emerge from the gloom! It might not be unprofitable, now and then, to send us mortals—the dissatisfied ones, at least, and that's a large proportion—into some tunnel of several days journey. We'd perhaps grumble less, afterward, at God's handiwork.
Even rattling along after the steam-engine, people get a consciousness of the unrivalled beauties of Brooklyn's situation. We see the line of the Fifth avenue, and the hills of Greenwood, and the swelling slopes that rise up from the shore, Gowanusward. Also the little cove that makes in by Freek's mill, and the meadows to the south of Penny Bridge, and the green knolls and the sedgy places below the aforesaid Fifth avenue, and toward Bergen Hill.
But all the foregoing, (except the last paragraph) is only a flight of fancy—that took us back five or more years into the midst of the past. We put it down for the benefit of future readers, (if we ever get them,) who will not be aware that such a scene was of daily occurrence there at the South Ferry before the terminus was changed and the old tunnel filled up. Now the western extremity of the Long Island route is at Hunter's Point, just beyond Greenpoint—a handsome and thriving settlement that grows apace year after year, but does not exhibit the bustling and crowded aspect that for so many years marked the depôt at South Ferry.
Still there is a horse railroad running from the latter place to East New York, where passengers proceed onward to Jamaica, and so connect with the regular Long Island route. As we have had so much to say of the old depôt of the just mentioned road, we may as well continue the theme by going down the line, and giving a brief mention of the places along it.
We will not stop any length of time at Bedford, except to tell our readers that the name it now goes by is the same name that was given it nearly a hundred years ago, by some English settlers there, and that it is one of the most ancient and charming sections of the consolidated city of Brooklyn. Some of the substantial old families of [the] city have their residences here, surrounded by ample grounds and choice shrubbery. Mr. Brevoort,2 the Lefferts,3 Mr. Betts,4 Mr. Redding,5 and others, are established here.
Proceeding to East New York, we find a flat and expanded tract, which is not only going to be a populous and wealthy settlement, but has already assumed that position. The writer of these various chronicles made the journey through this place, and down the whole length of Long Island, last autumn, and found East New York to have improved immensely from [what it was] a few seasons since. From all accounts, it affords superior inducements to families who desire to be just out of the city, and yet within an hour's reach of it.
And so on to the village of Jamaica, which is composed mostly of one long street, which is nothing else than the turnpike. It is lined closely by trees, which again have an inner lining of the same, sprinkled with shrubbery. As you enter the village you pass a pretty place some years since owned and occupied by Hackett6 the actor; more lately by Mr. Judd,7 a retired New Yorker. Then there is Gov. John A. King's residence,8 unseeable from the road, through the impervious trees. We saw Mr. K., just returned from an agricultural fair, somewhere east. He holds his years well.
As you walk through the streets of Jamaica, every house seems either a store or a tavern. There are two newspapers, one by Mr. Brenton,9 otherwise "Dr. Franklin," a good soul; and the Long Island Farmer.10 Jamaica has a large, old established Academy for boys, "Union Hall,"11 and also an Academy for Girls; the former having been in charge, in previous years, of Henry Onderdonk,12 an accomplished man of letters, whose interesting work on the "Revolutionary Incidents of Long Island" will hold a standard place in all our complete local libraries. The infinitude of Jamaica stores and public houses allows an inference which is the truth, viz.: that farmers, travellers, marketmen, and other passengers on the turnpike through the village give it all its trade and retail business. It has no manufactories, and has not been what is called a "growing place" for many years, and probably will not be.
1. In Greek mythology Acheron is the river of pain in the underworld. The dead are ferried across it to Hades. In Dante's Inferno, the Acheron forms the border of Hell. [back]
2. James Carson Brevoort served as secretary of Brooklyn's Board of Water Commissioners from 1856 until 1862. He was one of the founders of the Long Island Historical Society in 1863 and served as its president until 1873. [back]
3. The Leffertses were a wealthy Dutch family with large holdings of land and slaves in Kings County. Their prominence in Brooklyn society spanned many generations. [back]
4. Charles C. Betts, who built an imposing residence at the corner of Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue in 1838, was an executive of the Brooklyn City Railroad Company and one of the founders of the Phenix Fire Insurance Company. [back]
5. Mr. Redding is unidentified. [back]
6. James Henry Hackett (1800–1871) was an American actor associated with the Academy of Music in Brooklyn, though he frequently acted in Britain. [back]
7. Mr. Judd is unidentified. [back]
8. John A. King served one term as governor of New York from 1857 to 1858. [back]
9. James J. Brenton established the Long Island Democrat in 1835. [back]
10. The Long Island Farmer was established in 1819 by Henry C. Sleight. During Whitman's time it was published by Charles Welling. [back]
11. Union Hall Academy was founded in 1792. [back]
12. Henry Onderdonk, Jr. (1804–1886) was the author of several books of local history. His Revolutionary Incidents of Long Island appeared in 1846. [back]