Found: Brooklyn’s First Hipster at Naval Hospital Ca. 1920

12/29/2011 8:57 AM |

(Courtesy Building 92)
  • (Courtesy Building 92)

Yesterday the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center, Building 92, posted four new photos to its Facebook page that will somehow be incorporated into a new series of works by the Navy Yard-based artist Thomas Witte. Among the archival photos is what may be the earliest documented sighting of the Breuckelen hipstosapian, or Brooklyn hipster.

The mysterious, mustachioed amputee, a Sartorialist shoe-in nearly a century ahead of his time, is identified simply as “Gustafson.” Information included at the bottom of the unattributed portrait—evidently the work of a proto-Diane Arbus—reveals that the photograph was taken on March 9th, 1920.

(Courtesy Building 92)
  • (Courtesy Building 92)

It was taken at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Naval Hospital, whose buildings could one day house a university science campus and whose cemetery will soon be a public park. Gustafson was amputated for unspecified reasons on December 18, 1919, was walking with a “temporary hospital peg leg” by January 4, 1920, and getting around with the permanent artificial limb that appears in the photo by March 3, six days before the picture was taken. Where Gustafson went with his new leg, or why his original one had to be removed, remain tantalizing mysteries.

One also wonders how he was able to keep his hair so elegantly tousled despite hospital conditions presumably not conducive to such high-end haircare, and how he managed to roll his skinny jeans so high up his leg to accommodate the cumbersome but not unattractive laced leather brace for his new artificial limb. Oh, Gustafson, we have so many questions for you, and all you have for us are your dreamy eyes.

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