13 February 2007

Of Turtles and Wolfes

Once you leave Brooklyn Heights, literary landmarks in the Borough of Kings are hard to come by. Miller, Whitman, Capote, Crane, Betty Smith—the Heights seems to have them all. That's why I've always cherished tiny Cobble Hill Park, which packs two little-known literary connections—one direct and one indirect.

The indirect connection is to poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His brother, Samuel Longfellow, was pastor at the church that used to occupy the site. Called the Second Unitarian Church, it was better known as "The Church of the Holy Turtle" because of its concave, shell-like roof. It was abandoned in the 1950s and a supermarket was planned. Community outcry led to a park being built instead. (Sigh. Community outcry.)

The direct connection is to squat, little No. 40, the smallest building on Verandah Place, on the south side of the park. Here, in the dank, dark basement space, novelist Thomas Wolfe once housed his massive frame for a few miserable months in his youth. He wrote of the apartment, "in winter the place is cold and dark, and sweats with clammy water, in the summer you do all the sweating yourself." Peer through the narrow basement windows and you can imagine his predicament.

Verandah Place sure looks lovely these days. But, then, its not darkened by the shadow of a tortoise-like church anymore, but breaths fresh park air every day.

P.S.—If anyone out there knows of any other obscure Brooklyn literary landmarks outside the Heights (no living authors—Lethem, Auster—please), please clue me in.


Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? No literary landmarks outside Brooklyn Heights? Do your homework.

Anonymous said...

Well, as a child, Henry Miller lived at 662 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg.