Brooklyn History Helper
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
“This is not a completist book,” Leonard Benardo, co-author with his wife, Jennifer Weiss, of “Brooklyn by Name: How the Neighborhoods, Streets, Parks, Bridges and More Got Their Names”(New York University Press), said. Speaking at a book launch at the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Park Slope resident said jazz aficionados often talk of “completism,” as in, “having the entire John Coltrane discography at their fingertips.” By contrast, their Brooklyn reference book doesn’t cover every street, place, and name in the borough. Rather, it focuses on what the authors felt to be the culturally curious and historically interesting.
The reading was held on Pierrepont Street, and the authors started off the evening by first reading the entry about that street. Mr. Benardo, who is also author of several chapters to “The Big Onion Guide To Brooklyn: Ten Historic Walking Tours” (New York University Press), noted that the street’s name comes from Hezekiah Beers Pierrepont, a businessman who helped develop Brooklyn Heights into a residential area.
Mr. Pierrepont, who lived in France where he witnessed Robespierre’s beheading, helped back Robert Fulton’s ferry. His grandfather, Reverend James Pierrepont, a founder of Yale College, anglicized the family name to “Pierpont,” but, as Mr. Benardo noted, “Hezekiah returned the surname to its original spelling for his own family, though he kept ‘Pierpont’ for business purposes.”
Ms.Weiss maintained the Pierrepont theme, as she read about Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an English writer and feminist who was a member of the Pierrepont family, and after whom nearby Montague Street was named.
Mr. Benardo said that one finds, when reading acknowledgment pages, apologies of spouses made to their partner for spending many hours away from home. But, he said happily, there was no need for that kind of apology with this book because he collaborated with his wife. The book is dedicated to their son Felix, who traversed the borough with them “on foot, subway, bus, and stroller.” The youngster was there at the reading, tugging on his father’s pants leg.
The Knickerbocker spoke with Mr. Benardo’s parents, Leo Benardo, a professor of comparative literature and modern languages at Baruch College, and Helene Benardo, a former English teacher at Bronx High School of Science.
Also in the crowd was a smattering of urban chroniclers: Neil Feldman, publisher of Not Only Brooklyn Arts & Events Newsletter, an email publication known by the acronym “NOB”; Greg Trupiano, artistic director of the Whitman Project, who has led Walt Whitman tours; architectural historian Andrew Alpern, who co-authored “Holdouts” with Seymour Durst; mapmaker Peter Joseph; Lawrence Stelter, author of “By the El: Third Avenue and Its El at Mid-Century”; and Brian Merlis, author of the forthcoming book “Brooklyn’s Flatbush: Battlefield to Ebbets Field” (Brooklynpix.com).
And nearby was a former Gray Line tour guide, Cornelia Marthon, with her husband, Roy. Ms. Marthon has lived in Manhattan for two years, after having resided for the prior half-century in Brooklyn. She recalled detailing her Brooklyn defection to Borough President Marty Markowitz, who reportedly replied, “Just think of it as Brooklyn North.”
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BEECHER BOOK Leigh and Carrie Abramson hosted a reception on the Upper East Side last Wednesday for Debby Applegate to celebrate the publication of her book,” The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher” (Doubleday).
How did Ms. Applegate first become interested in the topic of Beecher, the famed abolitionist and Brooklyn minister, who became mired in a sex scandal? While an undergraduate at Amherst College, she worked in the archives on a display about lesser-known, notorious alumni, including Mr. Beecher.
At the party was the head of archives and special collections at Amherst College, Daria D’Arienzo, who told the Knickerbocker,” Debbie was an insightful and energetic student assistant who dove right into her assignment and has clearly made a 20-year success of it.”
And editor Gerry Howard offered his own take on the book’s significance: “It’s nice to publish a book about Brooklyn that’s not about the Dodgers.”