Posted on October 31st, 2014 by Rachel
Happy Halloween, blog readers! I’d thought of featuring some of our photograph collections in honor of the holiday, but many great images of costumed Halloween celebrants were posted last year – so instead I’ll go in a different direction, with a seemingly costume-y (or even frightening) artifact that actually has a sweet story behind it.
Edmund Kahn (1881-1955), from Centreville, Maryland, attended the University of Maryland dental school in the early 1900s. According to family stories, Edmund the student was dating a young woman from Baltimore, Gertrude Fried (1882-1954). When the time came to pop the question, he was unable to afford a traditional engagement ring; instead, he made one himself, representative of his future profession: a small ring of red Plasticine with a gleaming fake molar in place of a gemstone.
Eventually, the story continues, Edmund proposed again with a ‘real’ ring. He graduated from dental school in 1904; he and Gertrude were married at the Madison Avenue Temple, Baltimore, on December 22, 1907. Dr. Kahn went on to practice dentistry in West Baltimore – sharing an office with his brother Howard, a physician – for over fifty years.
Left: Edmund Kahn, 1904 (JMM 1990.191.011). Right: Gertrude Fried with her brother Hiram, 1889 (JMM 1990.191.008).
In his 1904 graduation portrait, above left, Edmund Kahn’s expression is serious and studious – not necessarily the kind of guy you’d expect to give his girlfriend a handmade novelty ring. Gertrude Fried, however (above right in Atlantic City, NJ, 1889), has the rather mischievous, ready-to-be-amused look of someone who might enjoy showing off a molar ring to her friends.
The ring is well-crafted; even if there was a convenient model tooth lying around after class, time and effort went into making the band itself. In other words, this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment creation or gift. Perhaps the idea was based on an inside joke the two shared, or maybe it was a complete surprise. We don’t know how the proposal(s) went down, or if Gertrude ever really wore the ring. Nonetheless we know it was important enough that the family saved it, and the story that went with it, for many years. Eventually Janice Kahn Friedman, Edmund and Gertrude’s daughter, donated the ring to the JMM, along with other family pieces.
…This post got away from the intended Halloween-factor pretty quickly. Let’s bring it back: First, why is the ring that nice reddish color? Take a look at its cousin, a small partial plate also made by Edmund Kahn, for the answer: gum-colored Plasticine was easily to hand, apparently.
Left: JMM 1991.035.023; right: JMM 1991.035.024
And here’s a detail view of a rather macabre photograph from our collections, showing Edmund Kahn’s dental school class posed around an (occupied) autopsy table in 1904. For the occasion, the students added a cheerful skull-and-crossbones motif to the fronts of their smocks, and someone has caused the lab’s anatomical skeleton to strike a pose. Edmund is at the far right; in this setting, he looks more like a person who would make his girlfriend a tooth ring.
Detail view of JMM 1991.035.020e
Still not scary enough for you? Try an internet image search for “antique teeth” or “partial plate.” And then call your dentist.
A spooky blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts from Joanna click HERE. To read even more posts about our collections click HERE.
Posted on October 30th, 2014 by Rachel
We’ve collected the questions our visitors have submitted to the question box at the end of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit. We hope these answers satisfy your curiosity!
1) Mendes’ father was born in Germany, yet his family founded a Sephardic congregation in Baltimore. Was Mendes’ mother Sephardic? Is that the explanation, or is there another reason?
This is a question that stumped the exhibit team for quite a bit of time. We had always been under the assumption that both of Mendes’ parents were Ashkenazi. However, when it was brought to our attention that his mother was from Bristol, England, we conducted some research and learned that there was a substantial Sephardi community there. While we aren’t 100% sure, it is likely that his mother was Sephardi which would have provided motivation for the family’s involvement in the congregation.
2) What was his Hebrew name?
The seal of Mendes Cohen, 1980.3.1
We learned that Mendes’ Hebrew name was Menachem bar Asher Avraham ha Cohain by translating the Hebrew inscription on his seal.
3) Did Mendes Cohen know Uriah P. Levy?
Not as far as we know. But you can learn more about this Civil War figure by checking out his wikipedia page!
Uriah Phillips Levy
4) Did he like Europe or Asia better?
You can take a hands-on approach to mapping Mendes’ journeys in the exhibit!
I’m not sure he ever answers this directly, but Mendes definitely took pride in the fact that he was one of the few American tourists to travel in parts of Asia (as opposed to Europe which was a more common tourist destination) and relished the adventures that he had in Egypt and Palestine.
5) Why does Mendes wear a turban in his portrait?
The original painting, located at the Maryland Historical Society.
One of the most exciting things about this portrait is that the JMM actually owns the jacket he is wearing, and it is displayed in the exhibit in the section that explores his journeys to Egypt and Palestine. We believe that Mendes most likely purchased the jacket while traveling in Turkey. It is certainly not something that someone would wear every day but instead would have been worn for special ceremonial purposes. Turbans, such as the one Mendes is also wearing in the portrait, were customarily worn by men in the Middle East. We can learn a lot by a portrait sitter by the clothing that he or she chooses to wear. By wearing the jacket and turban in this portrait, Mendes wants to be seen as an adventurer and a world traveler.
What questions were still burning in your mind when you got to the end of the maze?
Let us know!
Posted on October 28th, 2014 by Rachel
The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: February 21, 2014
PastPerfect Accession #: 1994.112.006.028
Status: Do you recognize this man and woman at Rose Greenberg’s retirement party in 1974?