A Brooklyn Dodgers Flag Is Displayed Once Again
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN; New York Times, June 1, 2005
The passage of half a century is but a blink of history for the Textile Conservation Laboratory, a leading conservator for museums and private collectors that was created in 1981 to preserve the 17th century tapestries at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
But a tattered blue and white banner reading "World Champions 1955 Dodgers" inspired an ambitious restoration project at the laboratory. The Brooklyn Dodgers may have gone the way of The Brooklyn Eagle and Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, but the cotton and nylon banner hailing Brooklyn's only World Series title - a seven-game triumph over the New York Yankees - is preening once again in Brooklyn.
The laboratory, on the cathedral's south side, at Amsterdam Avenue between 111th and 112th Streets, undertook a three-month restoration of the banner, a labor of 122 hours, shaping it up as the centerpiece for an exhibition at the Brooklyn Historical Society titled "Dodgers Do It! Celebrating Brooklyn's 1955 Big Win."
"It's more a part of our history than European history, which is a bit more removed," said Marlene Eidelheit, director of the laboratory noted for its conservation of the cathedral's 12 Barberini tapestries on the life of Christ, woven in 17th-century Italy, and its eight tapestries of the Acts of the Apostles from the Mortlake Royal Tapestry in 17th-century England. "This is New York," she said of the Dodger banner. "This is us."
Bari Falese, who performed much of the banner's restoration, observed how "my grandmother would have been thrilled to know I was working on this."
"I remember sitting with her watching baseball," Ms. Falese said. "She was a real fan."
Beginning their work in January, the conservators vacuumed the banner (roughly 8 by 16 feet) to remove 50 years' worth of dirt; rinsed it in detergent and water free of the pollutants that contribute to aging; restored frayed portions of the blue border; and repaired holes and rips in the blue lettering and white background.
The banner, which flew at Ebbets Field in the summer of 1956, accompanied the Dodgers when they moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. But several sportswriters swiped it from a Los Angeles hotel ballroom, where it was displayed during the 1959 World Series between the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. Two of them, Stan Isaacs and Jack Mann, both of Newsday, brought it back East. Mr. Isaacs kept the banner at his Long Island home for a while, then passed it on to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., until a suitable home could be found for it in Brooklyn.
The banner was, of course, still the property of the Dodgers. When the Brooklyn Historical Society held an exhibition on the 40th anniversary of the Dodgers' World Series triumph, Peter O'Malley, the owner of the Dodgers at the time, turned the banner over to it for display, rips and all. The banner was eventually placed in storage at the society, at 128 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights. The banner has a light blue stain, probably the residue of ink from a band that once held the rope carrying it aloft at Ebbets Field. Otherwise, it is once again about as vital as Johnny Podres on the afternoon of Oct. 4, 1955, when he shut out the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series.
A newsreel and a series of panels at the historical society describe the game-by-game action from that glorious October in Brooklyn following five World Series defeats for the Dodgers at the hands of the Yankees.
But the exhibition, which will run at least into November, is also a trip through the history of baseball in Brooklyn, tracing the Dodgers from their debut in the 1880's. It tells of the mid-19th century ball clubs, the Excelsiors, Atlantics and Eckfords, as well as Brooklyn's Royal Giants of the Negro leagues and the current minor league Cyclones, sandlot teams and Little Leaguers.
The Dodger stars of the decade after World War II are remembered in a display of Roy Campanella's road jersey, Gil Hodges' warm-up jacket, an "I'm Rooting for Jackie Robinson" button and an advertisement explaining "why Duke Snider enjoys dance lessons at Arthur Murray's."
A drum recalls the Dodgers Sym-Phony, and the superfan Hilda Chester is shown wielding her cowbell. Three seats have been salvaged from Ebbets Field, their width attesting to a day when posteriors were considerably slimmer. A red, blue and gold usher's uniform harks back to the mid-1940's.
Brooklynites of a certain age could almost expect to be greeted by Happy Felton, the Knot-Hole Gang host, in his oversize Dodger uniform, or the Pitkin Avenue clothing store owner Abe Stark reprising his right-field scoreboard ad with a personal invitation to "Hit Sign, Win Suit."
Red Barber's voice wafts through the exhibition, much as it did through open windows in Brooklyn before air-conditioning, in a broadcast from a 1950 Dodger-Pittsburgh Pirates game proclaiming the bases to be "F.O.B.," or full of Brooklyns.
Much of the exhibition's charm resonates from the bonds between young fans then and their heroes. "There are items here that would never have been seen again," said Kate Fermoile, the society's vice president for exhibits and education. "They were in someone's living room or basement. We took these things off people's walls."
A schoolboy's notebook with the familiar black and white cover, crammed with photos of the 1955 Dodgers where arithmetic exercises were meant to be, was provided for the exhibition by Stephen Schlein, a clinical psychologist living in Lexington, Mass., who compiled the scrapbook as a student at Walt Whitman Junior High School in Brooklyn. A blond freckled-faced "Dodger doll," with a lavender hat, kept by Pauline Selice at her hospital bedside in 1948, reappears after almost six decades.
The entries in the exhibition's guest book reflect the sense of loss.
"The Dodgers were the heart and soul of Brooklyn," Mike Cassara wrote. "It's good to have them back again."
Alison Roth wrote: "We believe in miracles. Maybe one day we'll have an Ebbets Field in Queens."