Greenpoint: Kicking Williamsburg(h) Butt Since 1865

July 16, 2007 by
Filed under: Area 51 

As I was searching for this week’s installment of Greenpoint fun last night I came across a real gem: a letter written to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle by one Corry O’Lanus. This incredibly lengthy and stream-of-consciousness tome is a long lost literary masterpiece. Regrettably, Mr. O’Lanus never found his way into the pantheon of great satirists like Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, H. L. Mencken or Jonathan Swift. Today I hope to change this.

When I am confronted with this much verbiage I usually try to edit it down to a more manageable size. I cannot bear to excise a single sentence of this letter, so consider yourself warned. That said, this read is totally worth the extra couple of minutes required to read it. You see, Mr. O’Lanus was a very opinionated man and in this magnum opus he expounds upon:

  1. Income Tax
  2. The Williamsburg(h) trolley
  3. The Greenpoint line of the Williamsburg(h) trolley
  4. The Williamsburg(h) Ferry
  5. And much, much more.

This piece, entitled “Corey O’Lanus’ Epistle” (from the July 22, 1865 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle) also addresses the age-old question:

If a Greenpointer and a Williamsburg(h)er get into a fight, who would win?

Hint: The title of this post should give you some clue as to the answer of the above question.













Dear Eagle:

I see you are publishing the income tax lists again, I regard them with a great deal of interest; they give you an idea of the individual and collective prosperity of the community.

Particularly the collective— that is the amount of income the collector can collect tax on.

Some people I know don’t seem to have any income, but their outgo is considerable. They probably borrow the money. A national debt being a blessing to the nation— according to J. Cooke and T. Tilton— why should not a personal debt be a blessing to an individual?

I know a few individuals who have been trying the experiment for some time.

One of them in particular. He experimented on me to the extent of ten dollars. He no doubt feels ten dollars better. I don’t.

That’s where the difference lies. A chap who borrows and don’t repay may be blessed; but I’m blessed if the fellow who lends is more blessed to give than receive— when applied to advice, physic, or the measles.

But credit is quite contrary. I thought I’d try J. Cooke’s advice, get in debt and be happy.

I did try. The experiment didn’t quite succeed. None of my acquaintances had any money to lend. Even tailors have lost confidence in mankind and expect to be paid.

To return to incomes— it is a gratification of that philanthropic curiosity which prompts man (and woman) to take an interest in a neighbor’s affairs, when you publish a tax list.

Mrs. O’Pake can’t impose any more airs on us. O’Pake’s income is only $2,000 after all. She has been going it as though O’P had made ten thousand at least.

Then there’s Peter O’Leum, he returns forty-eight thousand, nine hundred and forty-two dollars. Which is preposterous! He pays the tax merely to make people believe he is a millionaire. He can’t deceive us.

O’Bleek’s name don’t appear in the list. If he hasn’t any income how does he pay his board bill at the Upper Crust House and keep a 2:31% team? Which is what we would like to know.

The publication of the income tax lists exposes the hollowness of society, and affords material for moral conversation in select social gatherings where elderly ladies predominate.

I wish my income correctly reported, so I send you the figures:

Income…………………………………. $000,001,37 1/2
Gold Watch………………………………………………. 0,00
Billiard Table……………………………………………. 0,00
Carriages………………………………………………….. 0,00
Plate…………………………………………………………. 0,00
Yacht………………………………………………………… 0,00
U.S. Gold bearing bonds………………………….. 0,000
Revenue from 7:30’s…………………………….. 000,00
Revenue from State Stocks………………………….. 00
Revenue from Bonds and Mortgages…………. 0,00
Revenue from Oil Stock…………………………… 00,00
Revenue from Oil Securities……………………………. 0

Total taxable revenue…………….. $000,001,37 1/2

As I told you weeks ago, I’m not going to the country, but I’ve been travelling.

I have been to Williamsburgh. I went by chance the usual way. That is, by railroad. If you want to enjoy the luxury of travelling at a small expense,


by railroad.

Take the Greenpoint line. Cars start from Fulton Ferry. They are supposed to reach Greenpoint. I only ventured as far as Grand Street.

Under ordinary circumstances, you can go to Grand Street and back in a day. It sometimes takes a day and a half. The line is open as far as Classon Avenue. When you get to Wythe Avenue, you have to take your chances.

They only got one track on Wythe Avenue. Cars can’t run both ways on a single track at the same time; consequently, it depends on luck and resolution on the part of the driver, whether or not you get use of the track.

I went on car 1,049. We had only sixty-four passengers and eight market baskets. We got half way into Wythe Avenue without impediment. We then met a car coming from Greenpoint. Both cars passed.

The drivers and conductors called a convention to decide which car had to go back to the double track. Conductors tossed up a cent to see who should give way. Car 1,049 went heads; cent turned up tails. Driver hitched horses on the other end and we went back.

We then made another start. Got half way, and met another car from Greenpoint. The Greenpointers wanted us to back out again. Our driver got his back up, and said he would see Greenpoint in— Williamsburgh first.

Greenpoint driver appealed to his sympathies. He wanted to get down to the office to draw his pay, as he hadn’t been through for two weeks.

Our conductor said his family lived in Williamsburgh; he hadn’t been able to reach them on the single track for a fortnight. Passengers backed him up, and told him to stick to his line.

Greenpoint driver got belligerent, and threatened to mash our driver if he didn’t get out of the way. Our driver fell back on his muscle. I told him to go in. Drivers got down and went in.

They had six rounds. Our driver came out with two black eyes. Greenpoint claimed the track.

Our conductor got savage about his family and pitched in, and was knocked out of time in two rounds. The passengers then sailed in.

Things got very lively.

I engaged a Williamsburgher, a chap who said he had been three weeks trying to get to City Hall, and he was bound to go through this time. We fought twenty minutes. He said he was bound to fight it out on that line, if it took all summer.

Being in a hurry to get to Williamsburgh, I couldn’t wait to accommodate him, so I left on foot and made good time for Grand Street.

The rest of the passengers are still fighting for the right of way.

The Williamsburgh ferries run in the direction of New York. The boats start at intervals. I waited an interval— about an hour or two. Boat came in and I went aboard.

A shower came up so I went in the cabin. It rained a good deal harder in the cabin than it did outside, and experienced passengers preferred the outside.

Boat started at the rate of a knot and a half an hour and got into the river. Sound steamer came along, and being in the way we ran into her. Ferry boat got the worst of it, was stove in and put back in Williamsburgh for repairs. Being used to collisions the passengers didn’t seem to mind it.

Funny people those Williamsburghers.

The company with great foresight and enterprise keep two boats, so we got on the other boat, which came in about an hour.

An old gentleman on board told me all about her. She was a very fine boat. Built on the model of Noah’s Ark, and with the tide in her favor and a full head of steam, might make three knots an hour.

She had been sunk fifteen times by collisions, had run down fourteen sloops and a schooner, and drowned twenty-five passengers, and was good for as many more. At the outbreak of the war the government wanted to purchase her to capture privateers, but George Law would not take her off the ferry for any money.

Not meeting with anything to run into, the pilot in disgust ran into the bulkhead of the slip, upset the horses on board, and knocked all the passengers off their legs.

Being Williamsburghers they seemed to enjoy it.

Not being used to such diversions, I didn’t.

When we landed in New York the Williamsburghers held a congratulatory meeting on their safe arrival, and the old gentleman referred to, proposed to take up a subscription to present the pilot with a piece of plate. Not being a Williamsburgher I modestly declined to participate, and made a short cut for the Fulton Ferry.

I don’t think I shall move to Williamsburgh.

The travelling accommodations are altogether too lively for

Yours Serenely,

Corry O’Lanus

This is a damned good letter. In fact, I strongly recommend parts of it be used as a boiler plate for any churlish letter(s) you might be drafting for the edification of your duly (s)elected public servants. Yours truly would like to suggest the following as recipients:

  1. Metropolitan Transportation Authority
    Attn: Peter S. Kalikow/Acting Chairman
    347 Madison Avenue
    New York, NY 10017-3739
  2. The Honorable Michael Bloomberg
    Office of the Mayor
    City Hall
    New York, New York 10017
  3. George W. Bush
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
    Washington, D.C. 20500

Miss Heather


3 Comments on Greenpoint: Kicking Williamsburg(h) Butt Since 1865

  1. rowan on Mon, 16th Jul 2007 12:01 pm
  2. that was absolutely hilarious. where did you find something like this? good for you to post it in all its glory.

  3. missheather on Mon, 16th Jul 2007 12:05 pm
  4. The online Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives via the Brooklyn Public Library. Call me cynical, but I suspect “O’Lanus” isn’t this man’s real surname.

  5. rowan on Tue, 17th Jul 2007 12:12 pm
  6. ooooo-er. though i did meet an Irish girl once in Liverpool whose last name was McAnally.

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