Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Family History Tour: Park Slope

Over Memorial Day weekend, some friends and I had a picnic in Prospect Park to celebrate our many birthdays (several of which fall in the last week of May). Afterward, I dragged my husband (and he dragged the cooler) on a family history tour of the neighborhood. (That's what you get to do when it's (nearly) your birthday.)

I started out taking excited pictures of St. Saviour's School, where my grandfather, William James O'Hara, attended elementary school. Then I noticed the cornerstone, proclaiming that the building had been built in 1956, the year my 26-year grandfather was married.

We later ran into a gentleman who I think was the parish priest, when he mistook us for a couple searching for the baptism prep class. (Not quite yet, Father!) I asked about the original school, and he told me that a large house that had been used as the school had stood on the same spot where the current building now stands. I found a very brief history of the parish and school, complete with a sketch of what I might guess is the original school building, on the school website, suggesting that my grandfather would have attended grammar school in the old brick house known as "The Little Red Schoolhouse."

St. Saviour's School, Park Slope, Brooklyn
 We also took pictures of the outside of the church, which is where my grandfather was baptized. I tried to get inside to take interior photos, but at 6:30 in the evening on Memorial Day, I wasn't surprised to find the doors locked. (I was surprised that the parish was actually expecting new parents to show up to baptism prep class at that hour on the holiday!)

The cornerstone, dated 1906, shows that unlike the school, the church building was actually standing during my grandfather's childhood.
I also took pictures of 505 6th Street, the building where my grandfather spent his childhood. It was owned by his grandparents, John and Mary (King) O'Hara, and his parents, John and Mary (Quinn) O'Hara were tenants in one of several apartments in the building.
Unfortunately, there was scaffolding on the building next to 505 6th., and so it was impossible to get a picture of the entire building. Instead, I took a photo (above) of the door and address, and a photo (below) of the upper part of the building.
My grandfather used to tell us that because they lived across the street from the hospital (New York Methodist Hospital), there were often cars on their street at a time when cars were not necessarily common on other streets in Brooklyn. He told stories of playing stickball in the street and asking hospital visitors to move their cars, because, "Hey Mister, you're parked on third base!" (In the stories, they always moved their cars. Whether this was because it was a simpler time, with easier parking, or because of rose-colored nostalgia glasses, I'm not sure.)

View of NY Methodist Hospital from outside 505th 6th Street.

My great-great-grandmother, my grandfather's "Nanny," or Mary Gillan Quinn, lived on the next block at 524 5th Street. (My great-grandparents lived with one set of in-laws upstairs and one set around the corner. Blessing or curse?) I took several photos of that building as well. Mary Gillan Quinn lived there in 1940, as well as in 1941, when she died. She lived with "Uncle Terry," her son Terrence Quinn.

I hadn't been to Park Slope since I was a very young child. Growing up, I heard lots of Pop's stories, and when I went back over the holiday weekend, I was able to situate those stories in space for the first time. As Ben dragged the cooler up and down the streets, I was reminded that Pop once told me that they don't call it Park Slope for nothing: when he was a boy, Grandma Molly used to do her shopping at the bottom of the hill. She'd bring a wagon, and the boys could ride in it as she pulled them down the hill to the store. Then she'd fill the wagon with groceries, and they would get to pull it back up the hill. (I'm not sure that Ben found that connection to my grandfather entirely comforting!)