Society of Old Brooklynites celebrates its 138th anniversary

The Society of Old Brooklynites (SOB) has a long and distinguished history dating back to when James Garfield was elected president of the United States.

The group has been part of the fabric of this borough for 138 years and recently celebrated that anniversary with a luncheon on Sunday, June 24 at the Bay Ridge Manor. But don’t let the acronym fool you — SOB is one of Brooklyn’s oldest and most revered organizations.

The venerable boroughwide civic group dates back to 1880, when Brooklyn was an independent city and the third largest in the nation. The club’s first president was John Ward Hunter, the 17th elected mayor of the City of Brooklyn.

Current SOB officers are President George Broadhead, First Vice President Ted General, Second Vice President Michael Spinner, Treasurer Sherman Silverman and Secretary Ellen Haywood.

Broadhead is the 49th elected president of SOB. He is among a long list of notable Brooklynites who have served at the helm of the society. They have included former Brooklyn mayors, members of Congress and the State Senate, military leaders, banking and business executives, attorneys, professors, newspaper publishers and editors.

At this year’s celebration State Sen. Marty Golden administered the oath of office to Broadhead, who was recently elected to his third term.

Broadhead was born in Park Slope and grew up in Gerritsen Beach. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Marines and served in Korea after which he was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action and the Purple Heart.

While attending St. John’s University in Brooklyn he became editor of the college’s literary magazine Epitome. His impressive resume includes a stint as southern manager at Billboard Magazine in Nashville and as a staff member at Newhouse Newspapers.

Broadhead played a major role in the centennial ceremony at the Prison Ship Martyrs monument and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.

Broadhead recalled how he became a member of the society. “Until I received a call from the late Margaret Skinner in 2008, I thought I knew every inch of Brooklyn,” Broadhead said. “Mrs. Skinner was the first woman elected president of the Society of Old Brooklynites, and she told me about the scheduled ceremony at Fort Greene Park to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument. They needed a marching band, and a ‘color guard’ for the ceremony which was a week away.”

Broadhead was able to help them and soon after became a lifetime member of the organization.

The Brooklynites do what they do for the borough because they hold dear everything that pertains to the history and culture of Brooklyn. They devote their time and energy to making sure that Brooklyn’s past is not only remembered but also cherished and celebrated.

The society undertakes various projects to keep Brooklyn’s history alive.

“Our most meaningful annual signature event is the memorial tribute to the Prison Ship Martyrs from the American Revolution,” General said. “In a crypt under the 149-foot towering monument in Fort Greene Park are the actual remains of 11,500 sometimes forgotten patriots.”

General explained that the monument was erected in 1908 with a large delegation of SOBs in attendance. “Funds for the Stanford White-designed monument were lobbied for by the society from the federal, state and municipal governments, and included money raised by the society and the Fort Greene chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). There is a large plaque attached to the monument from the society,” General added.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, SOB will be hosting the 110th annual memorial tribute to the Prison Ship Martyrs, America’s first Prisoners of War, during events marking the 242nd anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn. It is the largest American Revolution burial site in the nation.

Among the more prominent members of the society have been Columbia University President Seth Low, pioneering baseball journalist and author Henry Chadwick, and poet and one-time Eagle editor Walt Whitman.

General is quick to point out that the society is always happy to welcome new members. “I frequently try to drive home the point that while we’re called the Society of Old Brooklynites, it’s somewhat of a misnomer because you don’t have to be considered ‘old’ to join.  Any citizen who was born, raised or worked in Brooklyn for at least 25 years is eligible for membership.”

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