The first page of the first edition of the Brooklyn Eagle and Kings County Democrat (via Brooklyn Newsstand)

The first page of the first edition of the Brooklyn Eagle and Kings County Democrat (via Brooklyn Newsstand)

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle — also called, at various times, the Brooklyn Eagle and Kings County Democrat and simply the Brooklyn Eagle — covered the goings on of the city and borough of Brooklyn for over a century. The paper was published continuously from 1841 to 1955, and at one point was even “the nation’s most widely read afternoon newspaper,” according to the Brooklyn Public Library. Now the library’s local history division, the Brooklyn Collection, has teamed up with to make the entire run of the Eagle available online for free.

The archive is available without registration through a new site called Brooklyn Newsstand, which will eventually contain more historic Brooklyn periodicals and papers as they are digitized. In the meantime, you have 761,019 pages to start with, and they take on topics from the Civil War to the consolidation of the city of Brooklyn into Greater New York (check out the 32-page “consolidation supplement” explaining the changes in government, from January 2, 1898). There’s also extensive coverage of the creation of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences — see articles on the 1894 architecture competition to design the new building and the formal dedication of it three years later — and of the erection of the Brooklyn Bridge. Regarding the latter, a wonderfully grandiose 1867 letter to the editor proclaims:

It is said Providence furnishes brains for the people according to according to the nature and structure of the country, and the wants and appreciation of its inhabitants. In America we have everything on a more magnificent scale than in the Old World. If then our rivers are wider, have we not a degree of enterprise and skill to be employed in erecting suitable structures across them? Let Europe boast of its towers, palaces, and cathedrals—works of by-gone ages and questionable utility—but let New York and Brooklyn join in the construction of a work of art and real usefulness, so that for centuries to come, “Brooklyn Bridge” will be spoken of in the same category with Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s of London, The Cathedral at Antwerp, St. Peter’s of Rome, and other celebrities.

And what a bridge we got.

The Eagle‘s biggest celebrity was undoubtedly literary great Walt Whitman, who served as the paper’s editor for two years before being fired (scandal!). He penned editorials on public parks in Brooklyn, the Mexican-American War, and more. Here he is in an 1846 editorial on the slave trade:

It is not ours to find an excuse for slaving, in the benighted condition of the African. Has not God seen fit to make him, and leave him so? Nor is it any less our fault because the chiefs of that barbarous land fight each other, and take slave-prisoners. The whites encourage them, and afford them a market. Were that market destroyed, there would soon be no supply.

Another notable employee was Djuna Barnes, who, as a thrilling exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art explained a few years ago, showed up at the paper’s office in 1913 and told them, “I can draw and write, and you’d be a fool not to hire me.” She got the job and went on to write and draw some of the most experiential, experimental, and forward-thinking journalism of her day — although for some reason I’m having trouble finding any of it in the Eagle archive (I did find this great illustration). The Brooklyn Newsstand site is user-friendly and allows you to narrow down a date range, but it also has only one search field, which works by page, and no option to search by author. Making sense of those papers enough to find what you’re looking for is no small task, but it should sent you down lots of fascinating rabbit holes along the way.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...