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Collection Documents Time of Rampant Marijuana Growth Across NYC

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There are now places where you can legally buy marijuana, like Colorado, but few remember a time in New York when "grass" was growing all around town, like, well, grass. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.

A Boerum Hill house was featured in a 1953 newspaper article because of 100 pounds of marijuana growing in the backyard. The caption reads "weeding out operation." The now defunct Brooklyn Daily Eagle documented the rampant marijuana growth and the city's effort to destroy it.

"In the course of one summer alone, the Sanitation Department in Brooklyn uprooted about 86 tons of wildly grown marijuana, which is about 17,200 pounds," said Ben Gocker, a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Clippings and pictures from the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper are part of the Brooklyn Public Library's archives. These were found filed under crime, drugs, marijuana from 1940 to 1953.

"You would often see accounts of people smoking marijuana that they said that they had just found growing in the streets in vacant lots," Gocker said.

However, it was illegal, and Sanitation was in charge of getting rid of it.

"As part of this eradication, the Sanitation system had created a special group of workers that they'd dubbed the White Wing Squad," Gocker said. "They traveled all over the borough in their trucks and gardening equipment, just uprooting the stuff and then incinerating this stuff out in Ozone Park."

This effort was citywide. There were 41,000 pounds of marijuana growing wildly across the boroughs.

Gocker works in the Library's Brooklyn collection department and wrote an article about his findings on the library's website, brooklynology.org. A project is underway to get all of the Brooklyn Eagle's archives on the web, including 250,000 photographs.

"We've been working on a continuing project to digitize those photos and make them available in our catalog, so about 20,000 of those are available online," said special collections librarian Ivy Marvel.

A browsing collection is also available for library visitors.

The Brooklyn collection is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

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