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Friday, March 4, 2016

Brooklyn Before BAM: Whitman Weighs In

Walt Whitman courtesy of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection,
Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress
by Sarah Gentile

Brooklyn native Walt Whitman is one America's best-known poets. His words often inspire modern artists, as they did for BAM's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry music festival in 2012 and 2013. A comprehensive Whitman resource,, contains "the veracious pen-jottings" of Whitman—not just about early Brooklyn, but on the Brooklyn Academy of Music not a year after it opened in 1861.

Whitman wrote for a number of Brooklyn newspapers, including the Brooklyn Standard. In late 1861 and early 1862, Whitman penned a series of nostalgic pieces entitled Brooklyniana, telling readers about the olden days. For the eighth article in the series, Whitman details what life was like before the establishment of the Academy's more formal spectacles. During the cold winters, Whitman recalls the "…'frolics', balls, sleigh rides" of yesteryear. In later years, Whitman was able to enjoy more sophisticated entertainment thanks to the new Academy, like the 1870 opera production of Poliuto starring the famous soprano Clara Louisa Kellogg.

The scholars behind the Walt Whitman Archive were able to update their research on Whitman based on the new identification we at the BAM Hamm Archives provided for a revised footnote to this article. This new insight into Brooklyn life pre-dating BAM, and other discoveries of BAM's rich history, are currently being catalogued for the soon-to-launch BAM Digital Archives, a project made possible by the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

Advertisement in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1870.

Sarah Gentile is the Digital Project Archivist for the BAM Hamm Archives.

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