Today’s news:

Bay Ridge’s ‘Dust Bowl’ park — insensitive to America’s great national tragedy?

The Brooklyn Paper

So what if it harkens to an environmental catastrophe in American history — if Bay Ridge wants to permanently name a once-grass-free section of Leif Ericson Park “the Dust Bowl,” it will happen, according to organizers of a contest to rename the once-gritty area.

But would that be right?

In American history, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was an ecological catastrophe that spanned a decade — and dispossessed thousands in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas while also unleashing a Biblical plague of sand into Eastern cities.

The event compelled John Steinbeck to write “The Grapes of Wrath,” the story of Oklahoma sharecroppers driven from their land: “They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless — restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do — to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut — anything, any burden to bear, for food.”

Great name for a park, right?

At one point, at least, the monicker made a little sense. Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern dubbed the area “the Dust Bowl,” for its seeming inability to grow grass. But this year, the city spent $2.8 million to renovate it — and cover the bald patches with a verdant carpet of synthetic turf.

Hence, the “renaming” contest.

Under the rules, “The Dust Bowl” remains one of the three finalists, battling it out with “Quaker Parrot Park” and “The Parrot Bowl,” both a nod to the birds who have taken up residence in and around the field at Eighth Avenue and 65th Street.

And if Bay Ridgers actually vote to permanently link a beautifully restored greenspace to one of the worst disasters in American history, the local councilman is behind them.

“If our neighborhood chooses to [make official] a long-standing nickname, we are totally and completely supportive of that,” said Dena Libner, a spokeswoman for Councilman Vince Gentile.

Historians are not so supportive.

“There’s a more-innocent name to call a piece of ground that’s dusty,” said Bob Brigman, the coordinator of the historical markers program for the Texas Historical Commission.

“Several generations removed from the event, the emotion and all the physical impact has been forgotten,” he said. “It’s like calling a boat that sinks today ‘Titanic-like’ — and they lost only three people. It’s like an echo or ripple from the original event.”

Andrew Needham, an environmental historian at New York University, agrees that naming a park “The Dust Bowl” at least reveals a lack of knowledge of the grim history of the event.

“People don’t really understand the scope of the Dust Bowl,” he said. “This is something that had people in the East Coast cleaning off dirt from the Great Plains on their window sills in Boston and New York. But it has fallen out of people’s minds. Today, they associate it mainly with the Joad family of ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ or maybe ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ ”

He said that because the Dust Bowl has fallen out of people’s minds as an environmental disaster, the name is not offensive as, for example, naming a regulary flooded wetland, Katrina Park.

Indeed, Needham said he was far more surprised that the Parks Department would want to associate the park with the agency’s failure to properly maintain it. But that’s what Stern intended all along.

It was the then-Parks Commissioner who officially named the field in the 1990s — even having a plaque created.

“It was ironically named in the hope that it would induce people to get money to clean it up. This had nothing to do with the ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ ” said Stern, who had no apologies. “If people learn a little history, so much the better. As a historic event recedes in time, the tragedy is maybe overlooked and becomes more of a folk symbol.”

Stern had a reputation for the quirky and literal names he would give to parks, people and animals. He said he once found a dead dog in a park in Washington Heights and promptly named the park Dead Dog Park.

Residents said the field has been called the Dust Bowl as long as they can remember, and that’s just fine by them.

“They don’t see it as anything bad. [The field] was named that just because it was dirty,” said Peter Scarpa, 79, a member and former president of the Bay Ridge Historical Society. “Some of these things, they just pass into history and they’re forgotten.”

And sometimes, a dust bowl is just a dusty bowl.

“The name stuck,” Scarpa said.

To vote in the contest, go to The voting period will end on Sept. 30, and the winning name will be announced in October.

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Reader Feedback

Rob from Greenpoint says:
Geez, what a bunch of eggheads !
Sept. 7, 2010, 1:24 pm
Pat from Bay Ridge says:
I wonder (if any) contributions Rob from Greenpoint gives to his community.
Sept. 7, 2010, 11:09 pm
John G from Sunset Park says:
I played baseball there back in 1962 till 1995 and it was always called the DUST BOWL, i'm sure if some of you people were around then you would remember the FLYNN CELTICS organization, The Sheridan council, and also the Michaels little league organization.Theres a few more but i can't remember them all
Sept. 8, 2010, 8:23 am
Kevin Walsh from Bay Ridge says:
They're not naming it for the Depression-era Midwest drought created Dust Bowl. They're calling it the Dust Bowl because generations of kids called it that when they had to play in that dust filled play field....that the city refused to fix until now.

Saying they're being callous toward depression survivors is idiotic.
Sept. 8, 2010, 11:58 am
Frank from Bay Ridge says:
Reading comprehension is not Mr. Walsh's strong suit, it appears.
Sept. 8, 2010, 2:12 pm
Rob from Greenpoint says:
Excuse me if I refuse to march in lockstep with a bunch
of politically correct clowns...
Sept. 9, 2010, 12:40 pm
Joey Bots from Dustville says:
Sigh....Liberals......God help us!!
Sept. 10, 2010, 9:02 am
John G from Sunset park says:
I'm all with you Joey Bots, Damm Liberals
Sept. 10, 2010, 10:06 am
Paul A. Toomey from Bay Ridge/Ft. Hamilton says:
I can't believe that people are actually concerned about offending any body that had to undergo that period of our history.Did anybody named Joad complain?? John Steinbeck must be in stiches!! The Cannon Ball Park is still called by that name even though it is listed as John Paul Jones Park. What should Dead Horse Bay be renamed to be politically correct, Equines Passed On Waters?? What a waste of time!! Is there anything else that the powers that be can do to show their stupidity??
Sept. 10, 2010, 1:55 pm
Woody from M&Ms says:
Listen Dick, it is the Dust Bowl, it has always been the Dust Bowl and it will always be the Dust Bowl. If you've ever played there you wouldn't be such a .....Richard.
Sept. 18, 2010, 6:31 pm
Derj from Christmas in Hollis, Queens says:
You have GOT to be kidding me. This isn't the Dirty Thirties. No one is disrespecting the goddamn Okies. Talk about making something outta nothing... Geez Louise!
Sept. 20, 2010, 3:17 pm
don from bay ridge,sunset park says:
the dust bowl period.Soccer, Baseball,football. I remember playing softball from the early to late sixties and the bets on some of those games were as big or bigger than $3,000 and there was not one blade of grass on the entire field. There were plenty of sandlot teams and cyo teams and, how many remember (dan tones) gas station across 8th ave
Aug. 6, 2012, 1:05 am
Al I. from Bay Ridge says:
I remember The Flynn Celtics very well. I played for them from 1959 - 1963. Our biggest games were against Sheridan & Michaels. The was also Del Mar & one other that I can't recall...La something. Those were great days, we played at the 65th st. park & than moved uo to the fields on Shore Road.
Oct. 21, 2012, 11:24 pm
Kenny from Sunset Park says:
Laqueers, LD'ees, Buddys, Colts, Danish Club, Holy Ghost with the beloved Burger Prince across Eight Avenue.
April 23, 2013, 4:42 pm
Kenny from Sunset Park says:
Sorry, left out Porter Post, the league was the 3B league "Build Better Boys" run by the great Harry Pettit, Harry was to little leage baseball what Ray Miller was to roller hockey at 53 Street and Ft. Hamilton Pkwy.
Two great men that we all benefited from !
April 23, 2013, 4:50 pm

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