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Last Exit to Brooklyn Part Two

Last Exit to Brooklyn Part Two

Inspired by the classic novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, our monthly columnist Dennis Hensley visits the history-rich New York borough and beats the '09 recession blues at the Tenement Museum in NYC.

At the Tenement Museum I saw how the Tree Grows in Brooklyn-era families lived but I was still a stranger to Brooklyn proper. So the next week, I signed my friend Mike and I up for A Tour Grows in Brooklyn, a walking tour of the Park Slope/Prospect Park area. Our fedora-favoring guide Rick Kadlub founded the tour a few years ago after getting laid off from his job on Wall Street. Rick's lived in the neighborhood his entire life and his colorful memories and observations are half the fun. While pointing out the Williamsburgh Savings Bank clock tower, the largest clock in the world from 1929 to 1962, Rick explained that clock was how he told time for most of his life. "I could see it from wherever I was," he said. "I could even see it from my bedroom window when I was a kid."

The Park Slope area is now quite gentrified and very gay friendly but it wasn't that long ago that gangs and organized crime ran the show here. As a teenager, Rick said he used to meet his grandmother at the Fourth Avenue subway so she wouldn't have to walk home alone and risk being mugged or worse. "I used to sit right up here," he said, giving the subway railing an affectionate tap, "and wait for her with an axe under my coat."

Over the course of three hours, I saw where Al Capone grew up, came down with a serious case of Brownstone envy, sampled the pizza at Pino's, and got the heebie-jeebies when Rick told us of a tragic event that occurred in the beautiful mansion belonging to chewing gum magnate Thomas Adams Jr. When the family returned home after a summer vacation, they discovered that their servants had gotten trapped in the home's new-for-its-time elevator and died. Residents have since complained of hearing Irish-accented voices pleading for help. How creepy is that?

The moral of the story is that there are worse fates than living through the recession of 2009, like pressing dresses for 14 hours a day next to someone you can't stand or getting trapped in a elevator with your co-workers and taking turns dying. Maybe Alyssa Milano, who's from Brooklyn by the way, should write a book about that.

Part One | Part Two

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