Bertha Schalk, The 1940s Marine Park Environmental Hero

Bertha Schalk, The 1940s Marine Park Environmental Hero
Photo screenshot from Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives.
Photo screenshot from Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives.

In July of 1948, Bertha Schalk was fed up with the city garbage trucks dumping trash into Mill Creek. The dumping caused a stench so bad that it drove Schalk to take to the streets, literally.

Schalk rounded up a group of 150 Marine Park residents comprised mostly of women and children. The Marine Parkers formed a human chain across Flatbush Avenue at Avenue U and held American flags to block the garbage trucks from coming in, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper from the time.

She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. When she went to the Flatbush Magistrate’s Court, she told the Assistant Corporation Counsel Saul Moskoff that unless the dumping is forced to stop, she and others “will take boxes and fill them up with garbage and place them on the steps of Borough Hall and City Hall,” according to the July 23, 1948, issue of the Eagle.

Schalk was 37 at the time and a mother of 13 children. One of her children was seriously ill and described by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as a “bedridden invalid for 11 years.”

“I was only fighting to keep polio and typhoid fever away,” Schalk said at the time.

Her summons was cleared by Magistrate Masterson, who said the area certainly did smell. Schalk became a hero amongst environmentalists for her efforts when a law was passed to stop the garbage dumping.

On August 13, 1948, the “Marine Park Great Stench,” as it was affectionately named by the Eagle, neared its end thanks to Schalk. Moskoff conceded that the dumping in the fill will stop and the garbage will be covered with a clean layer of sand. The stench disappeared shortly after.

So let’s hear it for the local heroes of our neighborhood’s past that contributed to the cleanliness today!

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