by Lei Isaacs
Most regular readers of The Lincoln Eagle (Kingston, N.Y. hometown circulated newspaper) know that Mike Marnell, the founder of this publication, is related to the founders of the legendary Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Founded in 1841 by Isaac Van Anden and Henry Cruse Murphy, it was published as a daily newspaper for 114 consecutive years without missing an issue, an ideal to which The Lincoln Eagle doubtlessly aspires. The first issues were Democratic Party broadsides published October 25 1841 proclaiming dedication to freedom of speech. There are many links connecting Brooklyn and The Brooklyn Eagle to Kingston. Perhaps the most visible is an enormous, quirky house with a blue awning located at 58 St. James Street. Isaac Van Anden had a sister, who had two sons, William and Charles Hester, who eventually took the paper over from Isaac Van Anden, who died on August 4, 1875.
Around 1884, Charles Hester was one of the many tourists who have been drawn to the Kingston area over the decades by the combination of fresh air, access to transportation, and proximity to The City which, in 1884, was not New York City but Brooklyn. Brooklyn had become a city in 1834, and had annexed the surrounding five towns of New Amersfoort, Midwout, New Utrecht, Boswisk and Gravesend. Referring to itself as “The city of homes and churches,” Brooklyn contrasted itself to New York City, “the home of Crime Government.”
There had been several Hester families in what is now uptown Kingston for many decades, including several on Fair Street. In 1883 the Kingston City Directory listed the establishment of the domicile of Charles W. Hester at “58 St. James Street at the corner of Clinton. “ (The building that now stands between 58 St. James Street and the corner of Clinton was an outbuilding for the original grand house.) Marnell recalls that Charles Hester “Built the house for his wife and never worked another day in his life.” The building is still a quirky monument to the best in the excesses of Victorian architecture, embellished with dormers, balconies, lacework and the exquisite wrap-around porch, now enhanced with the modern blue awning.
According to available records, Charles W. Hester retired to 58 St. James Street in about 1896. It was a pivotal time for Brooklyn and for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In 1890 the cornerstone for the new Brooklyn Daily Eagle building was laid at the corner of Johnson and Washington Avenues across the street form Borough Hall. Until then, the paper had been published on Fulton Street.
The Brooklyn Eagle Then: Now, it’s the Brooklyn Supreme Court.
The Eagle moved into its new building in 1892. In 1894, a popular vote was cast to consolidate Brooklyn with the City of New York. The Brooklyn Eagle passionately and vociferously opposed the annexation. In 1897, when Charles Hester was enjoying the view of St. James Street from one of his balconies, Brooklyn was the fourth largest city in the United States. In spite of the warnings in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that annexation would cause real estate values to plummet and would have a disastrous effect on the quality of life, Brooklyn became a borough of New York City in early 1898. Neither Brooklyn nor its daily newspaper would ever be quite as grand again.
Sometime in 1903, Charles V. Hester died, having not lived to enjoy retirement to his mansion for even a decade. His widow, Mary F. Hester, and children Natalie and Arthur, continued to live in the mansion briefly, but they had moved out by 1906. Later, the splendid house became the home of Reverend Hillman, and for decades it has been a quiet apartment house, its exciting history largely unknown by its residents.
Even by the turn of the century, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had lost some of the revolutionary zeal that once led to a Grand Jury investigation of the newspaper’s “loyalty to the union” during the Civil War. In 1854, the Weekly Eagle had become the Brooklyn Daily Eagle; both papers were named in the inquiry as to whether they were guilty of disloyalty, encouraging the enemy, and favoring Southern interests. In a legal discourse familiar to those who have followed recent Federal efforts to control journalistic spin on the news, the Eagle argued it was protected by its constitutional right to Freedom of Speech.
The paper won a Pyric victory—it was not indicted, but the Postmaster General ordered the New York postmaster not to accept copies of the newspaper for mailing. The perception remained among the Eagle’s Brooklyn readers that the paper lacked a certain degree of loyalty to the union, and on April 18, 1861, the paper reported (with unintended hilarity) that its offices had been visited by a “mob”, which, the paper avowed “are all but unknown in Brooklyn, and we had hoped our city was indebted to New York for last nights (sic) demonstration, but we believe our city can claim all the credit or discredit of it.” The crowd of several hundred stormed the Eagle office on Fulton Street, which was occupied at the time only by the engineer and his family who resided there.
Hearing the cries of “Show your colors”, “Up with the bunting”, and “Hang out your flag”, the engineer hastily ran the stars and stripes up the building flagpole. The mob then moved on to the News, calling “Hemp! Hemp! Hemp!” and urging “summary punishment” for “traitors and those who justify or sympathize with traitors.”
Apparently. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s apprehensions about the annexation of Brooklyn into New York City were not groundless. Neither Brooklyn nor its daily newspaper ever again reached the prosperity and influence it had known at the turn of the century. The Eagle bought the Brooklyn Times-Union in 1936, and the name of the combined paper changed to The Brooklyn Eagle, September 5, 1938. The move overextended the resources of the paper and in 1940 the paper was bought at a bankruptcy sale for $400,000 by Frank Schroth and “unidentified associates.”
When the Brooklyn Eagle celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1941, one of their newer and more talented employees was a redheaded Irish colleen by the name of Marian Callahan. While she was young, she had her Journalism degree from Fordham. With so many male reporters covering the war, there was ample opportunity for a talented young woman to shine—or, on a rare occasion, to mess up. Sixty years later that red haired colleen still recalls her most memorable typo—in typing a recipe for Irish Stew (“of all things,” she jokes ruefully, ) the young reporter instructed readers to simmer it for three years (yrs.) instead of hours (hrs.), generating the most reader mail ever received by the publication. (Of course, fans of Irish stew will note that some stews probably have simmered for three years.) As she was promoted within the Brooklyn Eagle, the pretty redhead could not have imagined her future.
Like Charles Hester before her, she arrived in Ulster County, and in 1952, she began The Woodstock Townsman, which went on to become The Ulster County Townsman, the longest continuously published weekly newspaper in our area. In addition to becoming a pioneer in Ulster County journalism, Marian Callighan Umhey went on to become an Ulster County Legislator, and even now she is working as a librarian with a vast wealth of fascinating stories, including many about The Brooklyn Eagle. Recently she recalled that Frank Shroth continued the Eagle’s efforts to enlighten and educate even outside of the journalistic arena. Marian was in charge of designing and producing the educational exhibitions on the lobby balcony of the Eagle building, in addition to her writing and editing duties. When the exhibition featured Mexico, it developed that the only member of the staff who could speak Spanish (thanks to a high school Spanish class) was the fair-skinning red-haired Marian. Dark pancake make up, a black lace mantilla, and a gorgeous high-colored gown decorated with the eagle of Mexico transformed Marian into the Empress Eugenie, carrying a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who liltingly introduced visitors to the beauties and history of Mexico—with perhaps a tiny touch of a brogue!
Two years after Marian started The Woodstock Townsman, The Brooklyn Eagle finally closed in 1955 following a long newspaper strike called by the CIO American Newspaper Guild. It was sold, with all its assets, good will, and printing facilities.
Since then, there have been several efforts to revive the Brooklyn Eagle, although the Lincoln Eagle is the only effort that can trace its ancestry to the original founders. In 1960, a Sunday Paper called The Brooklyn Eagle survived for a few issues. Again in 1976, a former publisher Bob Farrell tried to revive the paper unsuccessfully. Since 1996, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle & Daily Bulletin has enjoyed limited success as a neighborhood newspaper. As the eagle flies, the splendid house at 58 St. James Street is only a few wingstrokes from the publication center of The Lincoln Eagle. The political affiliation and the surnames of the editors may have changed, but the belief in the constitution and the Freedom of the Press are still flying high above the Hudson.