Photo from Memories of Finntown on Flickr
Here is a bit of my family history as well as row house Brooklyn history. It is a by- product of genealogical research I am doing and a film in production about the Finntown neighborhood of Sunset Park back in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Janna Kyllästinen an imaginative, history-minded filmmaker from Helsinki, (now Brooklyn) is the creator and director. I was born in Finntown 80 years ago in the row house above and Janna is using my life experiences in developing her story. It has been a fun experience to be her live film prop. I just follow her directions.
In addition to genealogical research, I have also had my DNA traced on 23andMe. Along with much other fascinating information, I now have a confirmation that I am 87% Finnish, the rest Northern European.
The woman in the photo above is my maternal grandmother I called Nana. Her name in my lifetime was Aino (aka Aina) Kaartinen. She is most likely the source of my "horticultural genes" and those of my oldest son.
John Kaartinen was Aino's second marriage some years after her first husband Frans Laine died at a young age. Frans was the father of my mother Dyne (Tyyne in Finnish). It is only because of my genealogy research that I now have a perspective on Aino’s early life. See photos of her here and here.
My parents told me very little about my Finnish heritage and they trained me at an early age to not ask questions. That is just the way it was in many immigrant familes back in the peak of Northern European immigration to America.
Incidentally, my real family name was Hyvärinen. My father unfortunately changed it to Hyland, a name that has no connection to my Finnish ancestry. I am now seriously considering changing my name to Bob Hyland Hyvärinen.
It is only now that I realize the full tragedy of Frans’s death. Aino was left as a young widow with a 3-year old and a newborn baby in the strange new land of America. I have discovered that she was only 16 when she married Frans and 20 when he died. How they survived is an unanswered question.
It was many years later; perhaps 20+ years that Aino became a resident/owner of 727 43rd Street. How she accomplished that is an untold story. It is most interesting that my mother sold the row house for $6,800 when her mother died of cancer in 1955. A web search reveals that it sold for $700,00 to the current owner. As we say, "Who knew"?
I wish that the photo were in color so that we could better see the front yard garden that Aino is tending. The photo is not only a bit of my personal history it is a peek into the history of row house Brooklyn early in the 20th century.
Yes there were front yard "community" gardens then instead of the concrete, trash can filled front yards that now plague most of row house Brooklyn.
Instead of permeable urban greenscaping, we now have paved “garbage yards”. Instead of permeable rainwater absorption gardens, we now have impermeable rainwater run-off pads that contribute to flooding problems in some neighborhoods. It also contributes to environmental pollution in all neighborhoods.
Paving these front yards was a dumb idea. How did it start? Can any Brooklyn historians reading this post help answer the question?