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Ghostly Brooklyn for sale

This is the farm 20 blocks from my house...well, the one that was there about a century ago, at Church Avenue and 38th Street. If I could lay hands on $102.50 within the next 7 hours, I could buy it on Ebay. I can't, but somebody out there clearly shares my love of Daniel Berry Austin, the most hauntingly wonderful photographer you never heard of. 

Austin's sole presence on the Web, as near as I can figure, is here, in an extensive online archive of the Brooklyn Public Library. Their descriptive background is terse: "1899-1909. Brooklyn, Manhattan. Farms; houses; neighborhoods; landscapes. Many stereoviews. Amateur photographer."

This "amateur," according to a geneology site, was born in 1864, and by 1910 was an accountant living with his in-laws; perhaps his huge oeuvre of spare, elegiac images of a rapidly disappearing Brooklyn (along with many spots in Queens) offered him a soulful escape from everyday life. He went on to work for Standard Oil and to have six children by his wife, Florence; there is no explanation of whether he continued with his photography as his career and family life expanded. The library's Austin collection includes some thrillingly bleak images (my favorite, for the title alone, is "Fire at Dreamland"). But my passion is for his captured glimpses, through a glass darkly, of my beloved Flatbush. (Above is the T. Bergen house, Ocean Avenue and Avenue J.) Most of these pictures of crumbling or abandoned farmsteads seem to have been taken in winter, and the leafless trees stand like mourners around the neglected remnants of a once-thriving Dutch village. If they were indeed taken around the turn of the century, it was precisely at the brink of Flatbush's transformation into a suburb with commuter rail access via the Brighton line. Elegant apartment buildings and posh subdivisions like Prospect Park South would soon sprout over the leveled remains of these bucolic homes and barns.

This is the Samuel J. Lott house, which stood at Flatbush Ave. and Cortelyou Road (now a mix of apartment buildings, commercial strip, and freestanding homes). If you can look at this picture without having the hair raise up on the back of your neck, stop taking those meds you're on.

Now, I have no idea whether or not I'm allowed to post these Brooklyn Public Library photos; I am too slow-witted to figure out most "terms of use" statements. But it seems to me that Austin's work cries out for a coffee table book of its own, with some delicious research to fill in the backstories of these ghostly scenes. Perhaps the invaluable chronicler of Brooklyn, Brian Merlis, could be prevailed upon. Or if he's busy, I'm available!

Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 12:39PM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn in | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for the old pictures, the nursery-update tour, the 10 Reasons....I found you via Dawn Eden's blog. God bless! When your soul hungers for more stables, more old pictures, more land-and-sky, look at the Evelyn Cameron pictures on line - a museum in Terry Montana carries her work.
November 4, 2008 at 11:39PM | Unregistered CommenterMrs Spumoni

I found your site when googling D.B.Austin (I was thinking he might have related to Alice Austen, then realized their names were spelled differently and apparently they were from very different backgrounds). Anyway I was also thrilled when I stumbled on the BPL's photo archives. I grew up in Midwood in the 1950s-60s--by that time only a couple of these colonial houses were still there.. It is amazing to think that so many of them still survived in Brooklyn into the early 20th century. At least we can get an idea of them from the houses at the Brooklyn Museum. Anyway, these ghostly images are a treasure. I shared the site with my FB friends many of whom are old Brooklynites.
January 13, 2010 at 06:08AM | Unregistered CommenterWendy Sacks

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