Posted on March 18th, 2015 by Rachel
If you’d thought we were finished with answering the questions that pile up inside the Question Box at the end of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit, you would be wrong. In fact, we have a particularly juicy set of questions and answers for you this time. In this edition of Questions About Mendes Cohen, our topics range from the sartorial to the existential, and with plenty of other deep subjects in between!
47.22.2 Mendes I. Cohen
1) Did he know how to daven?
We believe that the Cohen family were observant Jews and, therefore, would have known how to daven. Because there were no established Jewish synagogues at the time of their move to Baltimore, they most likely worshiped in private homes. The family was involved, however, in the establishment of Baltimore’s first Sephardi congregation, Beth Israel, in 1856.
2) What did he wear on his first journey?
Unfortunately, we don’t know what he wore on his first journey. In one of his letters home, he did provide a detailed list of what he brought with him to prevent sea sickness (gingerbread, mint drops, mint lozenges, lemons, limes, pickles, and a medicine package of powders!). The one article of clothing that we do know about is the ornate Middle Eastern style jacket that he’s seen wearing in his portrait. He purchased the jacket during his travels, so he most likely wore it during his travels in the Middle East. We have this particular jacket in our collections, and it’s on display in the room with with the Egyptian antiquities he brought back.
3) Was Mendes educated? If so, how did Mendes Cohen becomes educated? Who taught him, etc.?
We can tell from Mendes’ writing style that he was highly educated, but we don’t know how he was educated. Since public schools did not yet exist, children of wealthy families (like the Cohens) would have been taught either in religious schools or at home. Mendes’ younger brother, Joshua, attended a religious school run by an Episcopalian minister.
Mendes’ travel writing desk.
4) What happened after he died?
Since he had no children, Mendes left most of his belongings and estate to his nieces and nephews. One nephew, also named Mendes, received his collection of Egyptian antiquities which he donated to Johns Hopkins University and is now a part of the university’s Archeological Museum. The younger Mendes Cohen also served as president of the Maryland Historical Society where he donated his uncle’s papers, including the many letters he wrote home during his travels. This is how we know so much about Mendes Cohen!
Selections from Mendes’ archaeological collection.
5) Why was Mendes a “Family Man”?
Mendes spent the majority of his life living with or in close proximity to family members. According to the 1850 and 1860 censuses, he lived with his brothers Jacob and Joshua. Even when he lived on his own in 1870s, he lived nearby his other siblings in Mount Vernon. And while he was away from his family traveling, he wrote many letters home keeping them updated about his adventures.
A letter home from Mendes.
Are there still questions percolating in your mind? Let us know!
Posted on February 19th, 2015 by Rachel
For the second consecutive year, the JMM education department was invited to participate as judges at various school-level competitions for National History Day. For those of you who don’t know, National History Day (NHD) is a lot like a science fair, but for history. According to its website over half a million elementary and middle school students participate in the competition each year. Students can work by themselves or in small groups to research an historic topic that fits each year’s theme. They can then present that topic in a number of ways: an exhibit (the classic trifold), a poster, a website, or even a theatrical/dance presentation. A winner is chosen from each participating school, who then goes onto regional competitions, and then finally, the national competition, which is held each year at University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
The contest encourages students to develop not just research skills, but also critical thinking and presentation skills. I think it’s a wonderful idea for getting kids excited about history—since they get to choose their own topics—and to practice or be introduced to these crucial skills that are often skimmed over in schools that are strapped for resources and time.
Similar to last year, JMM was invited to judge at several of our partner schools, including Morrell Park and Mount Washington Middle. We are truly honored that these schools consider us to be such an important part of their communities!
Last year, Ilene Dackman-Alon and I both participated as judges in the Mount Washington Middle School contest, but this year, Morrell Park’s conflicted with it, so we divided to conquer. She went to Morrell Park, and I went to Mount Washington.
Being a veteran judge was helpful this time around. I remembered that I’d run out of space to write my notes last year, and so I made sure to have some spare paper to write on. The teachers at Mount Washington also found their experiences from last year to be helpful because they announced some organizational changes this year that definitely helped make things go a bit smoother. For example, this year, instead of being assigned to judge several different types of presentations in different rooms, my team of three judges was assigned to judge only exhibitions which were all housed in the gym.
It was clear that the school had made an effort to reach out to all kinds of community partners for the event, which was great to see. Just in my little team, we had an educator from the Maryland Historical Society as well as the Director of Programs at the Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL).
As always, I had a great time seeing what these students could accomplish! The year’s theme was “Leadership & Legacy”, and there were even a few students who decided to be very creative with that theme. One in particular stood out because the group decided to research McDonald’s as an example of bad leadership and legacy! Their project detailed how McDonald’s was a leader in the fast food industry by peddling cheap and very unhealthy food, which in turn was affecting the national childhood obesity rate. I was impressed with their ability to look at varied sources and to create a supportable, but still interesting, argument.
Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in my duties as a judge (it’s not easy!) that I completely neglected to take pictures!
A blog by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.
Posted on February 13th, 2015 by Rachel
This month’s Performance Counts comes from Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik!
Today is Maryland’s “Tourism Day”—an event organized by the tourism industry to make the case to our state legislators that recreational and cultural attractions have an important impact on the economy and quality of life in Maryland. In keeping with the spirit of the day, we decided to take a look at who comes to the JMM and where they come from.
This is a more complicated question than you might think; there are countless ways to categorize our guests. We usually divide our on-site visitors into four main categories: general visitors, school groups (including summer camps), public program participants, and adult groups (e.g. mah jongg clubs or sisterhood visits that book in advance). School groups are traditionally the largest segment of our visitors, but in the last two years general visitors have been catching up and program visitors are not far behind.
John Ruarah Middle School students explore The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit.
School groups come to us in a handful of main categories—public/private/parochial/homeschool; Jewish/non-Jewish; and Day School/Hebrew School. Within these groups, our single largest draw is from Baltimore City public schools, but this year we’ve had increasing success in attracting the local Jewish schools (both Day Schools and Hebrew Schools). We’ve also expanded our educational outreach in Baltimore County, and we are making efforts to recruit more parochial schools. We have even received a grant from the Delaplaine Foundation to extend programming, outreach and onsite visits to Frederick County schools. Our programs are aligned with the Common Core standards, which helps to attract the interest of teachers and principals. While we work with students at all grade levels—from Pre-K to even college level—the average group that visits us is in middle school, particularly 7th grade (when all the city schools teach “The Diary of Anne Frank”).
City Springs Elementary School students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
General visitors can be subdivided in several ways as well. The most obvious is, of course, geography. We don’t have data on 100% of our visitors’ points of origins (not everyone chooses to leave us a zip code), but we have enough data to give us a pretty good sample. It is true that a lot of our visitors come from Northwest Baltimore and the immediate suburbs, but there is also a significant segment from downtown Baltimore as well as Columbia, Md. We can tell when we’ve received coverage in the Washington Post Weekend section because we can see the boost in visits from Montgomery County, DC and Northern Virginia.
Many of our visitors come from a much farther distance. I love telling people that we get visitors from pretty much everywhere in the world! Just over the last year we’ve hosted guests from such far-flung and exotic states as Alaska and Oklahoma, as well as visitors from at least one country per continent (not counting Antarctica), including—but certainly not limited to—El Salvador, Argentina, Italy, Rwanda, Japan, and Kyrgyzstan!
For our public program attendance numbers, we are careful to not double count program participants as general visitors. For example, our raw number for general attendance last December was 517, but to get the right number for “on-site attendance,” we subtracted the number of participants in our programs that took place during our normal open hours, which left us with 222 as the general attendance. Our #1 best attended program in 2014 was the Joanie Leeds Chanukah concert—we counted more than 175 guests (though a few of them were in strollers)! Program attendance is probably the category with the greatest variability. Not only is it affected by the attraction of the topic or speaker, but also by the weather and the Ravens’ game schedule. There’s just no competing with football in Ravens’ Nation!
Some spirited dancing at our Joanie Leeds Chanukah Concert!
In addition to our on-site data, we also try to track off-site contacts : how many students we reach in the schools, or how many people who come to see Mendes Cohen at an event or who come up to our booth at a festival. Still, our focus is on the JMM as a destination, and that is the data that we are monitoring most closely. It helps us make sure we spend our limited resources wisely, and it tells us something about the success of our initiatives.