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5 Things You May Not Know About Greenpoint's Past

By Serena Dai | July 6, 2015 10:21am
  From sex symbols to boxers, here are some things you might learn from a new book on Greenpoint history.
5 Things You Might Not Know About Greenpoint History
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GREENPOINT — Keep these in your cap for trivia night.

Longtime Greenpoint resident Geoffrey Cobb recently published a book, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past," based on research he's done on the neighborhood.

After poring over archives, he cobbled together a history of some of the more notable figures in Greenpoint over the years — people with whom newcomers might not be familiar.

"As things started to change here, I became more aware that someone had to chronicle the neighborhood," said Cobb, a history teacher in Brooklyn who first came to Greenpoint about 25 years ago.

He looked at 16 different people in Greenpoint's history. Here are a few things you might not know about the neighborhood:

► Mae West, one of Hollywood's first sex symbols, was a Greenpoint girl. Some 50 years ago, West was the most famous thing to come out of Greenpoint, Cobb said. She was born in Bushwick but moved to Greenpoint, where her father was born. West teetered on the edge of social acceptability, riling up New York in 1927 when she put on a Broadway play called "Sex." It got her arrested, but the controversy gave the play the legs to keep going.

► The author of iconic picture book "Goodnight Moon" — and dozens of other children's books — was born and raised in Greenpoint. Margaret Wise Brown grew up on Milton Street before writing dozens of children's books that are still making millions for her estate, Cobb said. "She had a real deep intuition into how children perceive language," Cobb said. "Many people say she invented the modern children's book."

► Before baseball became professional, Greenpoint had a national championship-winning team made up of local shipbuilders. The Eckford Baseball Club won two national championships during the Civil War, Cobb said. But once baseball went professional, team owners started offering talented players from Eckford money to play ball. The players quit their jobs and went to play baseball full-time — ripping the amateur team as it was apart.

► A ship built in Greenpoint helped the Union win the Civil War. The U.S.S. Monitor, the first ironclad battleship commissioned by the U.S. Navy, was built by John Ericcson in Greenpoint just as word spread that the Confederacy was making its own ironclad ship. Ultimately, the battle between the Monitor and the Virginia, the Confederate's warship, was a draw. But without the Monitor, the Union would have been handed a loss, Cobb said.

► A man who fought the last bare-knuckle heavyweight boxing championship was from Greenpoint. Jake Kilrain is known for fighting John L. Sullivan in a boxing match that lasted some two hours in 100 degree weather, Cobb said. He ultimately lost after 75 rounds, but because of the astronomical length and conditions of the battles, Kilrain's athleticism was worth remembering.

"It's one of the most epic boxing matches ever," Cobb said. "Most people don't know that this guy was from Greenpoint."

Cobb's book, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past," can be purchased at WORD bookstore, at 126 Franklin St., and Spoonbill and Sugartown, at 218 Bedford Ave., and on Amazon.com.