A Headline Grows Old in Brooklyn

Little did Betty Smith know that her novel about Irish immigrants living in Williamsburg would go on to inspire hundreds of articles that have nothing to do with her book at all, like this story in the New York Post headlined: "A tree (pose) grows in Brooklyn."

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Today in the New York Post, we find this headline: "A tree (pose) grows in Brooklyn." This indicates a story about The Cobra Club, a yoga studio that opened this summer in Bushwick and merges the concept of drinking with the concept of exercise. They have happy hour specials and baskets of cheese balls. They have not a "holier-than-thou attitude," writes Maridel Reyes. All well and good, except, what's with that headline? We will take a holier-than-thou attitude about it. It's an all-too common conceit, growing commoner by the day.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a classic coming-of-age novel by Betty Smith about a girl, Francie Nolan, who grows up in Williamsburg in the early 1900s. The tree in the title refers to the Tree of Heaven, hardy trees that "grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps.... it was the only tree that grew out of cement," writes Smith. "It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.... It liked poor people." The tree is an analogy for human struggles in the book—for Frannie and her family's struggle to thrive in their environment. It's a great, moving book. You should read it.

But in the time since the book was published in 1943, adaptations of its headline have been used over and over again to describe anything ranging from a livable Brooklyn treehouse ("A Treehouse Grows in Brooklyn") to the new Barclay's Center (tag: "An Arena Grows in Brooklyn"), to, more acceptably, the book itself ("The Tree Still Grows in Brooklyn") and new works riffing off of it ("A Jew Grows in Brooklyn"). And now, a yoga studio-bar hybrid. We can in part blame the spate of articles about ever-trendifying Brooklyn and the ever-trendifying Brooklyn trend story—subjects which actually contradict entirely the original meaning of the book's title—for this encroaching popularity. Nonetheless, this is some lazy headline writing indeed.

Here are a few. Note: We are excluding headlines that refer directly to the book or movie, as well as the unending websites using the trope (A Cook Grows in Brooklyn, A Child Grows in Brooklyn, A Tee Grows in Brooklyn, A Shoe Grows in Brooklyn) for the purposes of this post. But they are all part of the problem, and they are spreading like artisanal mayo on freshly locally baked bread:

"A Gourd Grows in Brooklyn," September 2012, New York Times

"Envy grows in Brooklyn over proposed observation wheel for Staten Island," September 2012, Staten Island Advance

"A 'Burgh sandwich grows in Brooklyn," August 2012, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Giant Sinkhole Grows in Brooklyn, Swallows Car," August 2012, ABC

"A Natural-Gas Pipeline Grows in Brooklyn," August 2012, Grist

"A Union Grows in Brooklyn," July 2012, Labor Notes

"A Très Grows in Brooklyn," July 2012, Daily Intel

"A Jungle Grows in Brooklyn," June 2012, Mother Nature Network

"A School Grows in Brooklyn," May 2012, Huffington Post

"A Scene Grows in Brooklyn," January 2012, ArtNews

"Queer Art Grows in Brooklyn," January 2012, Hyperallergic

"A Venture Capitalist Grows in Brooklyn," January 2012, Crain's

"A Drinking Temple Grows in Brooklyn," October 2011, Wall Street Journal

"A Campground Grows in Brooklyn, Bringing a New York Edge to Roughing It," August 2011, Wall Street Journal

"A Twee Grows In Brooklyn," July 2011, The Observer, which reprised its own headline, "Twee Grows in Brooklyn," from May of 2006.

"An Occupation Grows in Brooklyn," January 2011, New York Times

"A Creative Movement Grows in Brooklyn," c. 2011, Fast Company

"A House Grows in Brooklyn," March 2010, Dwell.com

"A Scene Grows in Brooklyn," May 2009, Bon Appetit

"A Tree Grows in Panama," December 2008, New York Times

"A Swamp Forest Grows in Brooklyn," March/April 2008, Orion Magazine

"Lettering Grows in Brooklyn," January 2008, AIGA

It goes on, all the way to "Arthur Miller Grew in Brooklyn" in the New York Times in 1949, but, alas, we cannot. The fact is, the Brooklyn-grown headlines are spreading faster than the trees can grow, being churned out mass-market in a way that's anything but hand-crafted. So many things have ostensibly grown in Brooklyn that there may be more news value in considering what has not been. And note, from this piece in the Times, the tree itself was dying all over city back in 1996. Its headline, however, has weathered on.

Just as there are other boroughs, there are other worthy headlines just waiting for an eager and industrious young journalist to stumble upon them. Consider "A _____ Grows in _____" to be a headline banned in New York City, or even, I dare say, America, and we'll all be for the better. And read the book.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.