BROOKLYN LADS

I was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest,
Was call'd by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly....


(Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt Whitman)

The Village of Breuckelen (1646) was founded by the Dutch almost a decade before they broke ground for the City of Nieuw Amsterdam across the water.  The two were united in 1898, when the City of Brooklyn was consolidated with New York City; however, Brooklyn  continued to retain a distinct character of its own and the fierce allegiance of its inhabitants.  

WALT WHITMAN

Walt Whitman spent his childhood and early adult years mostly on Long Island and in the city of Brooklyn.  His fame, of course, rests on his audaciously innovative collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855 and containing twelve poems; by the time of its final edition in 1892 it had grown to almost four hundred.  The work was well received in Europe, especially in France, but acceptance was harder won in his own United States.  Emily Dickenson declared, "I have never read his Book - but was told he was disgraceful."  His poetic style and voice were barbarous to many Americans, but his subject matter - particularly his joyous celebration of the physical senses - caused him to be vilified for coarseness and obscenity, bringing him much trouble.  Many of his  critics hardly got beyond their initial indignation over Whitman's pervasive and exultant physicality, so vigorously at odds was it with the prevailing Victorian morality.   It would seem impossible to not see the homoeroticism in his work, one section in particular, the Calamus poems, speaks quite plainly about homosexual love.  "Malodorous" and "temporary insanity" were two contemporary comments on Leaves of Grass.    

                                                                      A "mass of stupid filth" and a "gathering of muck."

In Brooklyn Whitman was influenced by the radical message of the Quaker Elias Hicks.  
This Quaker preacher caused a tumult among the Society of Friends with his extreme emphasis on the Inner Light above the bible, prophecies and the like, proclaiming that the physical blood of Jesus had no more power to save than the sacrifice of bullocks or goats.   "And what astonishing ignorance it must be, to suppose that the material blood, made of the dust of the earth can be considered a satisfactory offering for a spiritual being that is all spirit, and no flesh!" 

The Divine dwelt "in every blade of grass"....and heaven and hell were not future destinations, but states of being in this earthly life.  Whitman, who as a poet who would place total reliance on the voice of the self, was thrilled and inspired by the words of Elias Hicks.   Whitman wrote of him:

"Always Elias Hicks gives the service of pointing to the fountain of all naked theology, all religion, all worship, all the truth to which you are possibly eligible—namely yourself and your inherent relations. Others talk of Bibles, saints, churches, exhortations, vicarious atonements—the canons outside of yourself and apart from man—Elias Hicks to the religion inside of man’s very own nature.... He is the most democratic of the religionists—the prophets...."

And Brooklyn also gave the poet it's thronged scenes of working-class lads and young men, working and roistering - messenger boys, carters, roughnecks, sailors, laborers.  Always the streets were filled with the sweat and strain of men at work, their horseplay or the easy camaraderie at the docks or on the ferries plying the water between the two cities.  These lads populated his days, filled his poetic visions and came to live again in his poems.
 

LES DEMI-DIEUX/DANNY Fitzgerald

In the early Nineteen Sixties a series of unusual photos appeared in several large-format, glossy physique magazines. They were attributed to Les Demi Dieux studio, with a mailing address in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.  The photos were the work of Danny Fitzgerald. As one recent commentator has said, "Fitzgerald's style has a fresh editorial quality that is timeless....so much so, one need only look to contemporary editorial/advertising work to see how ahead of the curve he was with his aesthetic and vision."  Fitzgerald photographed young Brooklyn men as they hung out in neighborhood basketball courts or in the streets, and some of them were the subjects of his large body of figure work.  Another photographer has written, "In a genre dominated by cliches and a monotonous photographic style, Demi Dieux stands out with enduring sensual images that defy the dated look of so many of their contemporaries."  The facial expression in his nude portrait of Orest Daszo  seated in a chair is vintage gay photography's equivalent of the enigmatic Mona Lisa.  While other physique photographers of the era occasionally produced work that was as thoughtful (e.g. Milo and Douglas of Detroit come to mind, and much more rarely Lon of New York), Fitzgerald was notable in that this was his consistent standard.  His work is classic, if not well known, and until the advent of Colt Studio/Jim French Danny Fitzgerald's photographs of the young men of Brooklyn were close to unique.  The handful of photos below have come from various sites on the internet, such as www.timinvermont.com and others.  As far as I have been able to discover nothing is known about Fitzgerald or his models, nor have I ever read that his original negatives are intact as a collection. 

[The last sentence written in 2005 or 2006, needs to be updated as of 2013.  Two collectors, Robert Loncar and James Kempster, did finally succeed in tracking down Fitzgerald's work, which was in the possession of his premier model, and best friend, Richard Bennett.  As a result of their dedicated interest in Fitzgerald's magnificent work, and Bennett's cooperation, it now appears in a beautifully produced large format book Brooklyn Boys, The Photography of Danny Fitzgerald and Les Demi Dieux.  This book, which covers the entire gamut of Danny Fitzgerald's work, shows him to have been even more artistically and technically accomplished - and ahead of his time - than the relatively few photos that were published in magazines of the late Fifties and early Sixties.]

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EDWARD MELCARTH AT CONEY ISLAND

Below are a handful of photos taken at Brooklyn's famous Coney Island beach and amusement park in the 1940's and 50's, which turned up on a now defunct Yahoo group "Gay Historical Photographs."  They were taken by the American painter-sculptor, Edward Melcarth (1914 – 73).  (In response to my inquiry the site owner said that the photos had been submitted by someone who had been an acquaintance of the artist.)  Melcarth is perhaps now most remembered for painting the murals in the rotunda of the elegant Hotel Pierre in Manhattan in 1967-68; he painted murals in two Broadway theaters, the Helen Hayes and the Lunt-Fontanne, as well.  He moved to Italy permanently in 1969 and passed away of cancer in 1973 in Venice. Most of his works were purchased by Malcolm Forbes and his son. Many of them are displayed in the Forbes Magazine Collection and Forbes Gallery in New York.  Melcarth enjoyed photography and took many candid shots of young men around New York and Brooklyn's Coney Island, most of which are unpublished and remain collected with his papers in the Smithsonian archives.

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