Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brooklyn Blackie, the Electric Rembrandt and me.

I grew up in Coney Island, during the 40’s and 50’s. Tattoos were big there, sailors soldiers and all sorts would come to have a great time and some to have tattoos. There was a stretch of Surf Avenue and Stillwell Avenue that had a slew of tattoo parlors.

As a kid they all seemed very sinister and dangerous.
They all had great names, Brooklyn Blackie, the Electric Rembrandt being the most famous, but his brother, I think was El Greco, they obviously saw themselves as artists and they were.

As a kid I liked to draw, I would copy the flashes (the samples of the designs they did) that hung up in the windows and entranceways to the parlors.

It was hard to see what was going on inside but you could see into the waiting areas. It was always young guys waiting for their first tattoo, as well as some older guys with many tattoos already. I am sure the young guys, when they got home to Iowa or someplace would have to explain the nudes with sailor hats, tattooed on their arms, with the name of the ship they were sailing on, to their Moms.

I do not remember if I copied the nudes, but I did copy the sailing ships, the horses and the anchors.

Ballpoint pens were new then, but available. They came in colors as well, black, red and blue, good tattoo colors. I used to draw tattoos on my friends arms and shoulders, little 10-year-old kids strutting around with some pretty cool, ballpoint pen tattoos. They lasted a few days at least, Friday was bath night. If Sharpies were around they would still be on some of those kids.

I think I thought about being a tattoo artist, I would be the Coney Island Greek, tattoos for those in the know.

Years later I got a tattoo, my wife’s name in rope with an anchor.
It wasn’t a Brooklyn Blackie unfortunately. Later I added forever on it, against a friend’s advice, he thought forever should only be added on your deathbed, bring the tattoo guy in instead of the priest. He has been married three times, but I risked it, so far we have been married 48 years, that is almost forever.

My daughter’s boyfriend has quite a few tattoos, and I am encouraged to add a few. We went to a tattoo parlor in Athens. Great guy, really nice work and I like the name of the parlor, Honest Tattoos, it ain’t Brooklyn Blackie, the Electric Rembrandt, but it is a pretty good name, although I wish he played softer music. In Coney Island the tattoo parlors usually had the baseball game on the radio.

It may not be too late to become a tattoo artist, I will ask Tasso if I can apprentice with him.

To be continued...


  1. Terrific story. In Provincetown there was a Cinese girl who did Henna tattoos and she gave me a small one on my ankle. It was the Chinese symbol for love. She did a fancy dragon on Diana's arm. I'll send you a photo.

    Tattoos are great but I never had the stones to get one. I should.

    When is your 50th anniversary? I better get an invitation to the massive party you are giving.