One of the challenges in curating a visual impression of antebellum Brooklyn is not so much due to the relative scarcity of images as it is to the evolutionary nature of the city itself. Brooklyn in 1850 was an entirely different place than it was just twenty years prior. Incorporated as a city in 1834, what was little more than a port village became an indefatigable boom town within a decade. It took less than two decades for Brooklyn to become the third largest city in America.
Maps & Views
By applying 21st century technology to 19th century maps and landscapes, we can get remarkably close to a Google Earth experience of Whitman's Brooklyn. The Bird's Eye Views in particular offer a vivid impression of the city in its formative years. Short of a wall-sized print, the impressive detail in these images has rarely been able to be fully appreciated. Now, with the advent of digital high-definition and online zooming and panning tools, we can all go exploring.
Music is a well known inspiration for Whitman’s poetry. His embrace of opera is familiar territory, and although scholarship acknowledges his affection for brass band music, the full story of the Brooklyn Brass Band has never been told. One need only track the precipitous spike in Daily Eagle coverage the band received under Whitman's editorship to see that he was its chief chronicler and true champion. It is the story of an American family, a family that just happens to be mine.
Click the images for a larger display. Some may be explored with a special zoom-and-pan tool. See instructions on the Maps & Views page.
Great care has been taken to provide the highest-quality visual experience. As such, my goal was to present these images not in their found condition (various stages of fading, discoloration, etc.), but as restored versions that evoke the spirit of the original. Nothing has been altered except for the purposes of clarity, and to evoke a vivid sense of place. The one dimension in which I have chosen, on occasion, to undertake a greater degree of artistic license is in some judicious modern tinting. I feel that this addition illuminates many images beyond their basic illustrative nature, and, incidentally, represents an idea that was popular in the time period as well.
Begin your tour with the latest entries in the Images section.