Posted on December 30th, 2016 by Rachel
Earlier this month you may have read about celebrations of Kirk Douglas’ 100th birthday. Issur Danielovitch (the future Kirk Douglas) was born December 9, 1916 – though it appears that due to his mother’s misunderstanding of American custom, his birthday was always celebrated on Dec. 14th in his childhood. When most people think of Kirk Douglas, they think of Spartacus or maybe Vincent Van Gogh… I think of scrap.
A young Kirk Douglas
As I explained in last month’s JMM Insights we are currently in the process of creating a national exhibit on the transforming business of scrap (update: one of our first transformations was the exhibit title – many people were confused by American Alchemy – so our new, and hopefully final, title is Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling).
Now scrap yards have a significant place in popular cinema – playing “starring roles” in films as diverse as Goldfinger (the car crusher), Star Wars – The Phantom Menace (Anakin Skywalker’s first job), and Stand By Me (with “legendary” junk yard dog, Chopper). Even animated films like Iron Giant and Wall-E feature aspects of the scrap business.
The Ragman’s Son
However, the scrap business also has played a role in “inspiring” people to enter the world of film and television. Kirk Douglas’ first autobiography, The Ragman’s Son (1988) describes his life growing up in Amsterdam, NY as the child of an immigrant junk peddler – his father apparently attempted to make a living with both scrap rag and scrap metal. In Douglas’ case his dad, who he describes as more fond of booze than work, is an unsuccessful peddler. He manages to take all the money Douglas saved from his childhood jobs and all of his bar mitzvah money and invest it in purchasing a load of scrap. Unfortunately, the purchase is made in 1929 and the metal loses all its value in the commodities crash that follows the stock market crash. Kirk Douglas still manages to make his way to college, winning a scholarship to St. Lawrence University. Reading his book, I sensed little nostalgia for his father or the scrap business, except as obstacles he escaped.
Russian-born American film mogul Louis Burt Mayer (1885 – 1957), head of production at MGM, circa 1935. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)
Douglas was by no means the first to make it from scrap to screen – that distinction may belong to Louis B. Mayer, the guiding force behind Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio. According to Scott Eyman’s biography, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Mayer was born near the current Ukranian/Belarus border in July of 1884. Shortly thereafter his parents moved to New York, where his father Jacob was a scrap peddler on Long Island. By 1892 his family had moved on to Saint John, New Brunswick where Jacob and his son Louis would spend nearly a dozen years collecting and selling scrap. Aware of the difference in social status, Louis B. Mayer made the claim that the business was always metal, never rag. Sometimes this meant salvaging shipwrecks that were not uncommon off the coast of New Brunswick – Louis and his brothers learned to dive to scavenge for metal. Like Douglas, Mayer had an overbearing father and a childhood filled with hunger and hardship plus more than a little anti-Semitic harrasment. But unlike Douglas, Mayer was unable to continue his formal education past age 12. He did manage to get out of Saint John, taking a job with a scrap dealer in Chelsea, MA in 1904. His scrap ventures failed but he did manage to land a job as manager at a small burlesque theater in 1907. He had the idea of turning the theater into a movie house – “the home of refined amusement devoted to…moving pictures and illustrated songs”. From then on, his only scrap would be celluloid.
Mandy shows off his trains
For my third scrap to screen story I didn’t have to read a biography. I actually witnessed my cousin Mandy Patinkin working in our family’s scrap yard. Our grandparents, Max Patinkin and Simon Pinckovitch (a pair of brothers-in-law) had founded People’s Iron and Metal in Chicago in the early 1900s. Mandy and I – we’re the same age and in the same class at Hebrew School – both worked at the yard in the summers of our teen years. My recollection is that Mandy as the “extrovert” got the job in the air-conditioned office, kibitzing with the truck drivers when they weighed in and out. As the “introvert”, I had the job operating the hydraulic press bailing metal in the oppressive heat. Mandy and I have lost contact over the years so perhaps he remembers it differently – but my lesson from the scrap business was it’s better to be an “extrovert.” Of course, both of us left the business behind but not without a fair amount of nostalgia. Follow this link to the 60 Minutes piece where Mandy shows off his model train complete with a miniature of People’s Iron.
Now you might think that our generation would be the last to make the leap from scrap to screen but the story doesn’t end with Princess Bride. Those of you following this fall’s history-bending series Timeless may be forgiven for not noticing the name of co-writer and co-producer Eric Kripke. It’s one of several sci-fi series Kripke has helped create. It turns out that when you look up Kripke Enterprises, what you’ll find is Kripke’s father’s scrap aluminum business in Toledo. A long tradition continues.
Blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.
Posted on December 16th, 2016 by Rachel
Opening June 18, 2017
In last June’s JMM Insights I let you know that we were working on a project to draw objects, photos and documents from our rich collection to create the exhibit Just Married! Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland (link: to the JMM insights article). Six months later we are well on our way to our goal. Joanna has combed our vaults for the most interesting invitations, ketubim, party favors and of course, beautiful wedding gowns. We have engaged an innovative design team led by Jeremy Hoffman of Ashton Design, a Baltimore firm. We are working on organizing all of the material into themes, looking at provocative questions about the meaning of the wedding and its symbols, the obstacles couples face and the way we remember wedding days. We even have a section on the business of weddings. Our education team is developing interactive experiences that we will incorporate into the exhibit – can you match the menu item or wedding tune with the right decade?
Rose Shapira of Pittsburgh married Sol Meyer Freedman of Baltimore on November 8, 1921. Gift of Shirley Freedman, JMM 1989.211.9, 6.26
Our collection is particularly strong in items from Baltimore from the late 19th century to the 1950s. Our goal, however is to represent the broadest cross-section of the Jewish wedding experience in Maryland – small towns as well as the big city, early history as well as recent history, and inclusive of all kinds of marriages, from every denomination (and non-denomination). This is where you, dear reader, are called on to help. We’ve now made it easy for you to share images with us through our special new url:
Here you can upload wedding photos and invitations (you can’t upload your gown, but a photo is much easier to store). While not every photo may be displayed in the exhibit, all of them will become part of our on-line catalog…and who doesn’t want the chance to say that their wedding or their parents’ or grandparents’ wedding is preserved in a museum.
Deborah Kaplan, daughter of Dr. Louis Kaplan, married Efrem M. Potts on November 24, 1949 at Chizuk Amuno, Baltimore. Gift of Efrem M. Potts. JMM 1995.192..11, 239
Besides preserving your own family history, you will be helping us build a documentary database of the wedding experiences of Jewish Maryland over time and this database will be of value to future generations. Our highest priority is to get a photo, an invite and basic factual information on as many weddings as you can. It doesn’t have to be your own wedding – but make sure that you have permission to send us the image; we don’t want to hear from Aunt Sadie that she never intended that bridesmaid’s dress to go public.
Florence Hendler married Howard Caplan on January 21, 1932, at the Southern Hotel, Baltimore. Invitation: gift of Naomi Biron Cohen, JMM 2009.58.9; photo: Anonymous gift, JMM 19184.108.40.206
There are no restrictions on the date or type of ceremony… we welcome the quiet elopement as well as the grand ball; the couple could have had fifty years of wedded bliss or ended in a quick divorce (though my “Aunt Sadie” advice applies here too). The only constraint is that there is some Maryland connection and some Jewish connection. This photo for example is ineligible because the bride is from Pittsburgh and the groom from Chicago:
…but I like it anyway.
So help us demonstrate the incredible diversity of loving relationships in our community and in our state. Add your image to the collection this December and we’ll thank you for it on Valentine’s Day!
Posted on September 29th, 2016 by Rachel
At our Board meeting last week, we had our quarterly approval of new accessions to the JMM collection. Just about every item we collect has a fascinating story behind it – but there was one set of items neatly tucked in a folder that really grabbed my attention. It was a collection of “chromolithographs” donated by Myrna Siegel. Joanna explained that these decorative die cut prints were fairly common in the late 19th and early 20th century… but it was the first set she had seen that was exclusively Jewish themed. The collection included die cut “scraps” – typically used for early scrap books and home decorations and three rather elaborate Rosh Hashanah cards.
A beautiful chromolithograph Rosh Hashanah card.
This got me thinking how traditional are Rosh Hashanah cards. Regular readers of this blog post may remember my shock at learning that Dreidels are derived from a 16th century German Christmas toy. Well it turns out that greeting cards/letters for Rosh Hashanah are also of German Jewish origin but have much deeper roots. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia card giving for the High Holidays is documented in the Book of Customs of Rabbi Jacob in the 14th century. That’s at least 500 years before the first secular New Year’s card is mailed. Though, truth be told, New Year’s rituals were explicitly discouraged by Christian churches until the late 1500s… so the secular New Year’s holiday itself is a relatively modern celebration.
The new cards are additions to some fascinating Rosh Hashanah greetings we already hold in our collection.
Some have classic themes:
But others stand out for their novelty, take for example this Jazz Age New Year’s greeting:
Among the most extraordinary items is this elaborate holiday greeting from 1917:
It is filled with symbols of the immigrant experience and filled with blessings in Hebrew and Yiddish, among these are: May you live to be 120 years old”, ”May you be blessed on your coming, and on your going out”, ”May we have a life of life and peace and joy and happiness and pleasantness”, ”May you have peace, substantial earned income, good business success, enjoyment, happiness, salvation, pleasantness and everything good.”, ”Happy New Year, may your be inscribed in the book of life”, ”May you be delivered from all your enemies and plagues on your path… and may blessing issue from all your doings.”
99 Rosh Hashanah’s later – I wish you and your family all of the above.
Blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.