If you’ve been reading The Armored Satchel, my World War II spy serial on JukePop Serials, you know that the main character, Max Volcker, thinks of himself (rather passionately) as a native Brooklyner. Never mind the fact that he was born in Germany or that the action of the story never shifts to Brooklyn itself, but after 18 chapters there have been a lot of references to Max’s adopted borough. In this post I thought I’d explore some of them on Google Earth and YouTube.
I did some research on Brooklyn in the 1940s before I began writing the story. For a number of reasons I decided that Max should be from a neighborhood called Bushwick. In a 1943 survey of the city, Bushwick is noted as having a lot of foreign-born residents, and there was a high concentration of Germans there. In the story the Volcker family is said to have immigrated to Brooklyn in the early 1930s, where Max’s father ran a small hardware store.
For Chapter 18, I finally gave Max a home address. It’s 1084 Hancock Street–and the Street View of that address appears at the top of this article. I did a bit of exploring in the neighborhood, looking for a small family-owned hardware store, and found the one below which is located on Wilson Avenue. This is exactly the kind of shop I envisioned Max’s family running, and while I have no idea how long the real-life Nat’s Hardware has been here, it could easily have existed there 70 years ago.
One of the very first biographical details I came up with for Max is that he went to Brooklyn Technical High School. That school, called “Brooklyn Tech,” still exists today. Here is a shot of it.
No Brooklynite teenager of the ’30s and ’40s would be complete without having spent a lot of leisure time at Coney Island. The amusement park has been here since at least the turn of the 20th century, but it obviously looks a lot different than it would have in 1940. Here’s the famous Boardwalk today.
Finally, I went scouting on YouTube to see if I could find any film footage of Brooklyn in that era. What I found was a home movie, taken in 1941, of a family that lived in Bushwick and owned a business–a laundry–not unlike Max’s family. Most of the shots are them at dinner, but you see the little laundry in a couple of shots.
This is all fictional, of course. Max Volcker is a made-up character, although his story is inspired by something that really happened (and follow that link to an article where I show you the real-life locations). Still, imbuing a character with a strong sense of past and belonging to a particular place is a very good way to make him or her real for readers.
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