Leo V. Berger Immigrants Trunk:

Bessie Bluefeld

 

Bessie Bluefeld: a Ukrainian immigrant and matriarch of Bluefeld Catering. Bessie is portrayed by actress Terry Nicholetti.

 

Brief Bio:

Bessie Bluefeld was an immigrant who grew up during a turbulent time in Russia in the 1890’s.  Bessie and her husband Charles were born in Novgorod-Volinsk (aka Zvihil,) a large town in the Volhynia region of modern day Ukraine. Bessie’s family, the Biskers, was known in the town as the go- to lodge for Jewish visitors because they ran a clean and efficient house, and would serve delicious kosher food to their guests. Bessie and Charles were married at 16 and 17 respectively.

Bessie Bluefeld

Bessie Bluefeld

Bessie arrived in 1906 on a ship that came directly to Locust Point in Baltimore.  Upon arriving in Baltimore Charles took work in construction, and Bessie spent her time at home, raising the first children of the family.  After a time, Bessie felt that Charles’ work was too dangerous and she told him that things had to change. He quit his job and they used their savings to buy a small grocery store near Fell’s Point. Through the next decade they bought and sold grocery stores and real estate throughout Baltimore city. By the 1920s, the family was also working a stall in Lexington market, and they had earned enough money to purchase two cars, a rarity in that era.

Bessie and her family survived the initial crash of the stock market in 1929, but in 1933 a land deal with Sunoil fell through and they lost almost everything. The Bluefelds were able to scrape together enough to begin working at Lexington Market again, but now they had no choice but to work on Saturdays and to sell pork (as it was the most profitable option). Slowly the family was able to earn back enough money for Bessie to begin volunteering with the sick benefit and relief association at the Progressive Lodge. From here, she bought a stand on the nearby beach for 1200 dollars, and started the business that was the seed of Bluefeld catering. From 1937 to 1941 Bluefeld catering blossomed.

Terry Nicholetti as Bessie

Terry Nicholetti as Bessie

In 1941, Bessie Bluefeld died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage. Though Bluefeld Catering had really only just begun at that point, Bessie’s ideals remained the driving force behind the company long after her death. Years later her son Louis would recall, “She was our charm, she was our mentor, she was the one who had all the foresight. What we did years after was only a matter of doing what she had planned. She had set the guide rules of what our business was to be, the adding the dignity that catering was beautiful, that the responsibility was on us to do a good job for the people.”  JMM was thrilled to introduce Bessie to the public on April 30, 2013.

 

The Leo V. Berger Immigrants Trunk – Bessie Pre-Performance Materials

Bessie Bluefeld Highlights Video:

 

Terry Nicholetti, a former teaching nun and award-winning sales trainer for Washington Business Journal, has written two one-woman shows which were performed by her in DC’s Madcap Carnival of New Works: Dance with Me and Father John Says a Hail Mary. Terry is founder and Chief Encourager of Speak Out, Girlfriend! where she helps professional women overcome the fear of public speaking.

Living History Program performances are available for schools, public and private events and can take place at the Museum or outside venues. The cost for the living history program is $300 plus mileage reimbursement at $0.50/mile. To schedule a Living History performance or to learn more, please contact Abby Krolik, Visitor Services Coordinator, at akrolik@jewishmuseummd.org or call 410-732-6400 x234.