Elizabeth Gaffney, at BHS, Reads, Talks About Bygone Brooklyn Heights

Novelist and Brooklyn Heights resident Elizabeth Gaffney was at the Brooklyn Historical Society yesterday evening to read from her second novel, When the World Was Young, on the date of its publication by Random House. She read two segments of the novel. The first told how a physician forced to give up her career because of injuries, both physical and emotional, suffered because of an auto accident in which her fiance, another physician, was killed, was courted by and married an old friend from her childhood and youth. Ms. Gaffney concluded this segment by saying, “So began a very bad marriage.” The second was from the 1950s youth of that couple’s daughter, Wally Baker, the novel’s protagonist, and told of her going to the St. George Hotel pool with a friend, Ham, who was black, and of the cicerone who guarded the pool entrance directing Ham to the “colored changing area.”

Following the readings, Ms. Gaffney was joined by Marcia Ely, BHS’s Vice President for External Affairs and Programs (on left in photo) for a discussion. Ms. Gaffney did extensive research for her novel at BHS, using its library and archives. Asked what were the most interesting materials she came across in her research, the author said she found maps of Brooklyn Heights and nearby neighborhoods in which each block was coded according to the number of black people who lived there. These maps were to facilitate banks’ practice of “redlining”; that is, to deny mortgages in places where there was a majority of black residents, and to increase rates in others that were seen to be likely to become majority black.

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  • stuart

    Redlining in Brooklyn? You don’t say?

  • Eddyde

    Yeah Stu, I bet you’d fit right in, back in those days.

  • elemengee

    Ms. Gaffney may be a good writer but she is not a good reader. I guess I’m beyond the stage where I want to be read to.

  • Ann B Chapin

    How sad to be beyond that stage. Being read to is a warm and joyus thing for me personally.
    Elizabeth was in my K class at Grace School and I am very proud of her!
    It was a wonderful evening!

  • Andrew Porter

    The BHS has digitized its collection. Is there a link to the red-lining maps?

  • Ann B Chapin

    “Red-lining” is not such an old issue. Not so long ago a certain well known company was brought to task on the use of such a thing. They were caught by “shill” couples posing as customers. This tactic is used often to keep this kind of thing from happening STILL.