Meet the Residents of MacDonough Street

When I moved to this neighborhood, there were only a couple of people who were clearly like: ‘What are you doing here?’

—Brooke Vermillion

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Brooke Vermillion, 38Current Owner, Forensic linguist

Lives with: Her husband Benjamin

Moved from: Lived abroad and before that in Williamsburg

I first visited the block on a Sunday. There were all these nice old ladies dressed up going to church. It was peaceful and quiet, just like a small town. That was such a revelation. I grew up in Northern California, and Do the Right Thing and Sesame Street sort of represented New York to me, but I didn’t realize that was Bed-Stuy. And then when I got here, I was like, “Oh, this is New York. This is what I was looking for.” I almost burst into tears I was so happy. 

In some ways, I feel like there was a lot more going on in the neighborhood then. People would have bars in their basements — these 50-year-old women would have bars, would sell food. Probably up until four years ago, each night of the week was a different spot you could visit. That’s something we’ve lost. I was pretty plugged in because I used to hang out at the Casablanca before its current incarnation. It was owned by a woman named Esther. It was a serious old-timers bar — like 70 and up mostly. It was the best bar that I’ve ever known anywhere in the world. You had to ring a doorbell to get in. And people would make little flyers for entertainment in their houses and put them up there. When the Casablanca closed, Esther was put in a home and eventually died. And the people dispersed.

When I moved to this neighborhood, there were only a couple of people who would not say hi to me, who were clearly like: “What the fuck are you doing here?” The real fear that was expressed to me when I moved here was not necessarily about gentrification. It was that people on this block had been here their whole lives, had created the neighborhood, took care of each other, and trusted one another. It wasn’t about race necessarily. They wanted people to come, buy homes, stay, and raise families here, as everyone else had done. They didn’t like people coming and going, because they’re not going to put in time. They’re not going to babysit your kids. They’re not going to be part of your community.

These steps next door are, like, the Spot — the main house in the whole neighborhood. Brother is the patriarch. Then there’s June, who’s often there, and Doc. Doc is one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met and my best friend in the neighborhood. When you talk to him, you try to place him: “Was he a famous rapper in the early ’90s?” He’s like a famous person. He and I have a lot in common. He’s really into African history and African-American history, Egyptian stuff, Swahili. We trade books.

The man who was selling this house, Arthur, was a painter and an interesting character, but he didn’t get along with the neighbors. Arthur haunts the house sometimes. We see ghosts here. And a lot of other people have seen them, including Brother’s son, Jamie. They have really distinct personalities. There’s Ada Youngblood, who used to own the house in the ’50s. She doesn’t like it when we do construction projects. She shows her displeasure by walking back and forth on the third floor really fast — clop, clop, clop, clop, kind of angry. There’s Henry, Arthur’s brother, who’s this really calming, nurturing presence, who kind of looks in on you every once in a while. He spends most of his time in the third-floor closet. There’s a weird trickster ghost that is actually kind of terrifying that is in a bedroom where a friend of mine used to stay. [My friend] woke up in the middle of the night once and saw these two 19th-century boys playing with a ball in the center of his room. And then he saw me as a ghost, as an old lady hovering above him, screaming. And I saw this Elizabethan-style disembodied head, kind of laughing. We also see a lot of light orbs in the house.