By Sam Howe
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Finally, after all these years, the 1907 Brooklyn Daily Eagle Bridge Crush March is heard live by a 21st Century audience in Brooklyn Heights.
Written at the turn of the last century by William E. Slafer, bandmaster of Slafer’s Brooklyn Marine Band, the ominously-titled march could have been simply paying homage to the daily ‘crush’ of commuters who took the trolley over Brooklyn Bridge in the early 1900s.
Or, it could have been written to recall the memories of the fateful opening day panic on the Brooklyn Bridge. When that happened, on May 23, 1883, no structures except church spires were more than five stories tall. Those first pedestrians to risk the Opening Day walk must have been apprehensive, even scared. Popular mythology, expressed in newspaper articles, had even questioned whether the bridge would stand, as nothing of that scale had been attempted. For a dramatic account of that panic, readers should go at once to David McCullough’s brilliant book, “BROOKLYN BRIDGE.” Suffice it to say here that lives were lost and people were “crushed” in the panic.
Back to music: Slafer’s 1907 March was one of numerous pieces of music researched by NEIL CALET to produce a fanciful program for the annual fundraiser to benefit the Promenade Garden Conservancy. The program took place earlier this month, hosted by DR JANNA COLLINS, and featured the voices of TOM STEWART, the well-known station announcer for Thirteen, and his wife, noted cabaret artist MAUREEN KELLEY STEWART.
To prepare for the program, a number of songs from the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries had been researched, unearthed and copied for the duo to perform. A few of them were written by famous composers. Jerome Kern wrote music to P.G. Wodehouse words that resulted in “Nesting Time In Flatbush.”
Then there was the mellifluous, rollicking title, “I’m Gonna Hang My Hat On A Tree That Grows In Brooklyn,” written in 1944 by Dan Shapiro, Milton Pascal and Phil Charig.
There were such memorable tunes as “The Rise of Rosie O’Reilly”, subtitled ‘Born and Bred in Brooklyn’. There was the “Brooklyn Belle Barn Dance”, and a few others that Stewart had described in an earlier Eagle article as “fetching, catchy and delightfully-hokey Brooklyn-centric songs, dating from 1883 to 1948.”
There was even a 1944 piece called “Why Doesn’t Someone Write A Song About Brooklyn?”
The quaint old repertoire, songs rarely heard, was rehearsed carefully with appropriate affection for the home town we all love.
But then, the day before the performance, Tom Stewart and Maureen Kelley experienced their own special panic: their accompanist called in the wee hours to report sadly a death in his family. Stewart and Kelley were placed in a crush of their own—a time crush. They called upon their neighbor and friend, a glorious accompanist: none other than PAUL RICHARD OLSON, Organist and Choirmaster in his third decade of service to Grace Church. A superb sight-reader and quick study, OLSON came to the rescue and saved the Promenade Garden Conservancy fundraiser.
But many observers also felt that STEWART and KELLEY, both seasoned performers, could have survived a cappella. Their delivery was so delightful that the crowd would have enjoyed simple recitation of lyrics and Stewart’s skillful delivery of “back story” on the songs.
But no one present was more delighted to see Paul Olson than DOZIER HASTY, the publisher of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Hasty knew that the 1907 “Brooklyn Daily Eagle Bridge Crush March”, an homage to, well, either the Eagle or the Bridge, might never be heard again if not for Paul Olson.
Hasty smiled as his friends Stewart and Kelley stepped aside to let the accompanist play the wordless, strident Brooklyn Daily Eagle Bridge Crush March. Afterwards Hasty seemed relieved that no one walked out during the march. “When it was clear the singing was over,” he said, “I feared the march rhythm would send our audience out into the streets, row by row…but everyone stayed and celebrated.”
Indeed, funds were raised for another year of new plantings and garden maintenance in one of the city’s largest public attractions. People forget that the Promenade Gardens continue for one third of a mile along the famous Esplanade with views of New York Harbor. Comprising more than two acres in volume, the Gardens occupy the narrow set-back of soil, trees and flowers that separate the public Promenade from private backyards along Columbia Heights.
Among those honored and acknowledged were Brooklyn Parks Commissioner KEVIN JEFFREY, who stated, “Continually, I am heartened by the support and advocacy of the Promenade Garden Conservancy. Their work not only beautifies our landmark neighborhood, it has truly set a precedent for other partnerships within the parks system.”
MATTHEW MORROW, the professional gardener who guides the Heights volunteers, received a huge ovation. He noted that the first gathering of volunteers this spring will take place TUESDAY, APRIL 1 at 9:30 a.m. on the lawn between the Pierrepont Playground and the Promenade. Later, Morrow told a Brooklyn Eagle staff member some impressive statistics from last year’s gardening efforts: An average of 17 volunteer gardeners worked last year, logging more than 21,000 volunteer hours. 60 new shrubs were planted, including witch hazel, golden sumac, ninebark and Fothergilla gardenii. 170 new perennials took root, including Hellebores, Ladies Mantle Solomon's Seal, Virginia Bluebells and Japanese Anemone. A whopping 4,950 tulip bulbs promise spectacular bloom this very spring (whenever that turns out to be). Some 2,000 annuals were planted, and intrepid gardeners raked over 100 bags of leaf litter and organic matter, composting much of this onsite.
Neil Calet then grabbed the microphone. Those expecting another song simply heard the following passionate announcement: “WE ALWAYS WELCOME MORE VOLUNTEERS…COME APRIL 1, HAVE COFFEE, JOIN OUR MERRY BAND….”