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Old Brooklyn Maps Attack!

sorry walt (you blew this one)Junius Van Sinderen leads the charge: Yes, yes, yes everyone makes mistakes & bloggers ain’t an exception (quite the opposite) but ya’ll know that already. What does it say about scholarship, however, when erstwhile “authoritative” sources perpetuate baseless urban legend? Take the case of Buttermilk Channel. According to more than one yokel, the waters between Red Hook & Governor’s– or Nutten– Island were once shallow enough that, at low tide, the future farmers of South Brooklyn could drive their moo cows back & forth for grazing, picnics, rodeo– you name it.

This is, if you’ll pardon my interspecies expression, total horseshit. Why does it persist? Because most people are dubs. Even Whitman, writing his “Brooklyniana” series in 1862 was fooled & it is he– usually a fine journalist– who bears at least some responsibility for promoting this nonsense, even if the articles for the weekly Brooklyn Standard were published unsigned. Uncle Walt didn’t invent this whole cloth mind you, he was merely repeating the confabulation of others but, from Gravesend to Gowanus to Greenpoint, in the words of John Wayne, it’s “getting to be ri-goddamn-diculous.”

cows go glug glug glugFACT: According to the authoritative 1766 British map of Brooklyn, the depth of Buttermilk Channel varied from three to five fathoms. As one fathom is, I recall, six feet, unless it’s Babe the Blue Ox or some Seabring cows who can swim really really goddamn well… they ain’t wading too far into the water. (Walt– an experienced printer & carpenter but no seaman– didn’t understand the ecology of tidal estuaries well either. Come back Pierre, or, The Ambiguities: all is forgiven.)

blogga with attitudeBeadel Debevoise exclaims: There’s a new blog in town! Legendary bookman & recent interviewee Luc Sante (portrait by BZA at left) has entered the interthing affray under the guise of Pinakothek, one of many obscure yet euphonious words from the Old Walloon by which the all seeing may both suggest & obscure certain “intentions.” As a member of the New Utrecht Academy of Ancient Music, I wouldn’t care to speculate further, although some lesser literary dick, hawkshaw or slewfoot might give it a shot.

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