Today’s piece of Greenpoint history
Contrary to what most people think, my ‘nabe’s distinctly Polish flavor is a relatively new phenomenon. I get more than a little irked when I tell someone a tale of Greenpoint hooliganism from the days of old, only to have him or her assume the perpetrator was Polish. The fact of the matter is people have been getting fucked up and doing weird shit here for a long, long time. The Poles are doing nothing more than continuing a tradition started by their Irish and German predecessors.
The historians among you probably understand the European geo-politics that precipitated the mass migration of Polish nationals to this country. The Polish presence was not felt in Greenpoint until the end of the 19th century. But when it was, it started off with bang. Literally. (We Poles don’t do anything half-assed.)
From the April 29, 1898 edition of the New York Times:
A $75,000 FIRE IN GREENPOINT
A Sausage Factory and Thousands of Pounds of Lard Burned.
By the explosion of a steam pipe in the boiler room of Walter and Peter Heidelberger’s sausage factory at 1085 and 1087 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, yesterday a fire ensued which did damage to the extent of nearly $75,000.
The buildings were of brick and three stories high. Two families lived over the provision store on the Manhattan Avenue side, and in the rear of these buildings was another three-story brick building used as a storehouse and smokehouse. In this building were thousands of pounds of lard. The explosion occurred at 5:30 a.m. and its force was so great that the inhabitants of all the tenement dwellings in the neighborhood were aroused. The explosion set fire to the greasy floors, and soon the inflammatory material on the premises burned with great fierceness. The fire at first was thickest in the rear of the building, which fronts Dupont Street.
A policeman who heard the explosion turned in an alarm of the fire, and the firemen were promptly on hand. By that time, however, the flames had burned through all the floors and reached the roof.
The tenants in the front building succeeded in getting safely out, some in only their night garments. Two more alarms of fire were turned in because the wind was driving the fire toward a row of tall tenements. On the arrival of additional fire apparatus the flames had reached the interior of the main building, but they were kept confined to the two buildings.
Come to think of it, the surname “Heidelberger” strikes me as being a wee bit German. Just like a pickle helmet filled with sauerkraut and beer is somewhat German. I can only imagine what the Heidelberger’s Polish neighbors thought about being awakened by this conflagration, but I’ll bet my bottom dollar one them muttered:
Przeklinani Niemcy, tam idzie sÄ…siedztwo!*
*Damn Germans, there goes the neighborhood!