JMM Insights: Dear Abby – The Mendes Cohen Edition

Posted on September 12th, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

My wife and I have an unfortunate tendency of putting things off—even past the last minute, sometimes! It’s quite a problem in our lives, as you might imagine. But what saddens us the most is when we just barely miss seeing an exhibit at the JMM.  And it’s always like that—we came to see the Civil War exhibit just a month after it closed, and we came to see The Electrified Pickle just one week after that closed.

We really don’t want to miss this next one—the Mendes Cohen exhibit—so, for once in my life, I’m going to (gulp!)…plan ahead! Unfortunately, my wife and I will be out of town this weekend, when the exhibit opens. I hope the exhibit will be here for more than just a few weeks! Please tell me, how long will the Mendes exhibit be on display?

And while I’m asking about it, could you clarify for me what the exhibit will be like? Nothing against mazes, but that sounds like the exhibit is geared more towards kids than adults. Is that true?

Thanks for your help!

Always A Little Late 

 

Dear Always Late,

I can certainly relate to procrastinating every once in awhile (OK, maybe it’s a little more than just “once in a while”!). Fortunately, The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen is going to be with us for a long time. We will have the exhibit on display here for a whole nine months! It opens this Sunday, September 14, 2014 (just in time for the Star Spangled Spectacular celebrations), and it will close on Sunday, June 14, 2015. That should give you plenty of time to plan a visit here. Also, if you are on our email mailing list, you will receive several reminders each month of all the wonderful public programs we’ll be having.

We always strive to have something for everybody in our exhibits, and this is no exception. The Mendes exhibit includes both artifacts and thoughtful content about the life of Mendes Cohen in the context of what was happening in Baltimore, in the country, and in the world. While history is not always enough to capture the attention of some, we hope that the interactives scattered throughout the maze (and the very concept of the maze itself) will do the trick.

See you soon (I hope)!

Abby

Deborah and Ilene hard at work!

Deborah and Ilene hard at work!

Editor’s note: The following letter to Dear Abby arrived in the form of a telegram. We have reproduced the message as authentically as possible. We previously had no idea telegrams were still possible.

TO: DEAR ABBY

FROM: MRS. JACOB B. FANCYPANTS, III.

MESSAGE: Have not yet received my pass to the members opening [STOP] Not a member, but should be OK [STOP] You know who I am, right? [STOP] Will be on 0500 train from NYC Fashion Wk. to Balt. Penn [STOP] Am looking forward to private tour of Mendes exhibit [STOP] Pls. confirm w/my P.A. at jane.smithATgmail.com [STOP] Thanks [STOP] Ta! [STOP]

END OF MESSAGE

 

Dear Ms. Smith,

I received the telegram from your boss, Mrs. Jacob B. Fancypants. Wow, who knew you could still send a telegram? It must be really interesting being her personal assistant. But I digress…

Please inform Mrs. Fancypants that, while the opening is only open to current members of the JMM, she is more than welcome to—in fact she is encouraged to—buy a membership when she arrives at the Museum. We will be happy to have her at our event!

While the exhibit, with its small spaces, does not lend itself easily to docent-led tours, groups may call in advance (to me) by at least a week to book a docent to take them through. However, I believe that the exhibit has so much detail and information that walk-in visitors who self-guide through the maze will come out with just as rich an experience. Additionally, we are developing a special tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue in honor of the Mendes exhibit. Because Mendes Cohen and his family were always at the forefront of using the latest technologies available, the tour will shed light on technological firsts in Baltimore and at the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

This tour will take the place of the 3:00pm tour and will debut on November 9, 2014.

I hope the two of you will be able to come to our members’ opening this Sunday evening, and many other programs as well! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if either of you have any questions (though perhaps email or phone would be easier than telegram.)

Best Wishes,

Abby

Mendes Intro Panel_v4

Dear Abby,

All my life, I have been inexorably  drawn to the intricacies of the physics of the time-space continuum, and over the years, I’ve become a self-educated expert on the topic. Therefore, I was delighted to hear that your museum will be displaying an exhibit dedicated to the truly extraordinary life of Mendes I. Cohen.

You are probably wondering right now what does Mendes I. Cohen have to do with the time-space continuum. And well you might ask that! This unique individual has come to my attention through my studies because of his uncanny appearances all over time and space. Not only is he present at the pivotal Battle of Baltimore in 1814, but he also serves as president of the Maryland Historical Society in the early 1900s. Since he was born in 1796, that would make him at least 104 years old at the start of his tenure at the historical society—a feat that was virtually impossible in those days! It is my belief, then, that Mendes I. Cohen was—or rather, is—a time traveller.

I am further supported in my belief by other “impossible” sightings: just last weekend, he was sighted at the anniversary celebrations of the Battle of North Point, and I have reason to believe, from careful scrutiny of contemporary photographs, that he was present at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy! There is clearly something very mysterious about Mendes I. Cohen. In fact, he will be the subject of my next scholarly book, Mendes I. Cohen: Secrets of the Universe and its Time Travelling Assassin, which will—fingers crossed!—be published sometime next year. You will probably hear from me then about having a book talk at the museum. (Please see attachment with 1000 page excerpt from the manuscript.)

In the mean time, I would be much obliged if I could request some assistance from you. Judging from the level of detail contained in your exhibit, it would seem that you have some special connection or knowledge of Mendes I. Cohen and his whereabouts. Again, I would be much obliged if you would arrange a tête à tête for the two of us. We have so much to discuss! When we do have this meeting, is it permissible to take photographs? It would be purely for purposes of scientific evidence, I assure you.

Sincerely,

Doc D. Lorean 

 

Dear Doc,

While your theory about Mendes Cohen is fascinating, I must point out at least one part of your argument that I know to be incorrect. The Mendes Cohen who was president of the Maryland Historical Society is not the same Mendes Cohen who fought in the Battle of Baltimore—the former was the nephew of the latter! It can be very confusing when close relatives have identical names, so the mistake is an understandable one.

Barring a sèance, I probably can’t arrange a meeting between you and the real Mendes Cohen. Probably. What I can do, however, is arrange a performance of our living history character version of Mendes Cohen, played by the very talented Grant Cloyd. Mendes Cohen has joined our lively lineup of living history characters based on real Baltimoreans, including Ida Rehr, Saul Bernstein, and Bessie Bluefeld. Each of them can be hired to perform a one act play based on their lives that lasts about 45 minutes (with 15 minutes for questions) for either adult or school age audiences.  They can also be hired to walk around in character at an event. If you want to book them, or just find out more information, please contact me and I will do my best to help you!

Photography at these performances is generally allowed—though please don’t use flash as that can disturb the actor. At the exhibit here at the Museum, it’s a similar guideline (photography without flash is allowed), with a few exceptions: the case of Egyptian antiquities, the travel documents, and the passport are all items that we have borrowed from other museums, and so we cannot give general permission to photograph them.

I hope this was helpful to you. I look forward to reading your book when it comes out!

Best Wishes,

Abby

_RWK3797

Greetings and Salutations Mmlle. Abigail,

I sincerely wish you do not think me too forward for sending you a letter without a formal introduction, but I am told that you are the one to approach on matters regarding visiting the Jewish Museum of Maryland and its lovely souvenir and books shop. Although Baltimore is my homeland, these days I am but a weary traveler of many places and dimensions, and am no different than the majority of tourists who enjoy collecting mementos from the various stops on their journeys.

Word has reached my ears that your historical establishment is about to present an exhibition dedicated to the life and works of one Mendes Cohen (or have you done so already? Forgive me, I sometimes get confused about this sort of thing). I must confess, I am unusually familiar with this particular character, and I would care to have some memento of his new-found general notoriety.

If it would please you to catalog the items relating to Mr. Cohen that will be for sale in your shop for the duration of the exhibition, I would be most grateful. In addition to a desire to expand my own collection of sentimental trinkets, I believe that it never hurts to have a store of potential gifts for future occasions.

Ever your humble friend,

M.C.

 

Dear M.C.,

Of course I don’t think you’re too forward! I receive letters, emails, and phone calls from perfect strangers all the time. It’s just part of my job.

I would be happy to tell you all of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen themed items we will be selling in the giftshop. Esther, our gift shop manager, is very excited about our offerings! We’ll have early 19th century children’s toys and games as well as a more modern artistic take on Mendes Cohen in paper doll form. Going off of the maze aspect of the exhibit, we will be selling maze games for all ages—several of them are 3D mazes, and one even has lasers!

For those who think they’re too old for games and lasers (not sure who could possibly be too old for lasers, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere!), we’ll be offering the special opportunity to buy a vintage edition of our publication, Generations, which includes an article by Dr. Deborah Weiner on the life of Mendes Cohen.

And, most excitingly, we will be selling beautiful mugs with the exhibit logo and an image of the flag that Mendes Cohen made to hoist on his boat as he floated down the Nile. This is not an item you can get off Amazon.com!

Hopefully, at least one of these items will tickle your fancy or strike you as a worthy gift for someone!

Happy Travels, my friend!

Yours Truly,

Abby

Mendes-Blue-Rim-Handle-Mug-v2

abby krolikDear Abby is written by our Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Travels with Mendes

Posted on July 23rd, 2014 by

My husband and kids were having a wonderful time on their first day of vacation in San Francisco. They had visited the Japanese Tea Garden, hung out with an old friend of my husband’s and dined on dumplings in Chinatown. And then my husband, Jonathan, called with a crisis. “We forgot to pack Flat Mendes” he announced sadly.

For those of you unfamiliar, Flat Mendes is a paper doll cutout of one of Maryland’s most accomplished Jew and the subject of an upcoming exhibition, The A-mazing Mendes Cohen (opening September 14). Because the real life Mendes spent three years as an intrepid traveler throughout Europe and the Middle East, we have created a virtual Mendes so that he can continue his travels in the 21st century visiting places he may have visited more than 150 years ago and places that we are sure he would have loved to had he had the chance.  For the Cardin-Willis Family, this meant bringing Flat Mendes with us to California and photographing him in every iconic spot we could find.

Flat Mendes

Flat Mendes

But first, we had to overcome this crisis. My husband and children flew out to San Francisco while the laminated version of Mendes was in Baltimore. Fortunately, I knew how to resolve this problem and directed Jonathan to a downloadable version of Flat Mendes on the JMM website. (You can do this too, go to http://jewishmuseummd.org/2014/06/flat-mendes/). Because the hotel did not have a color printer, my ever resourceful husband stopped at CVS, bought some crayons and the girls had fun coloring him in.

Jonathan and Mendes

Jonathan and Mendes

Then the fun really began. Mendes fit in quite a bit in his one-week jaunt through California.

First stop, Alcatraz, the famed prison off the coast of San Francisco. Here he excitedly holds his own ticket.

First stop, Alcatraz, the famed prison off the coast of San Francisco. Here he excitedly holds his own ticket.

Behind Bars - While the real life Mendes did have a brush with the law when he was fined for violating Virginia law by selling out of state lottery tickets there, thankfully, he never actually did time in prison.

Behind Bars – While the real life Mendes did have a brush with the law when he was fined for violating Virginia law by selling out of state lottery tickets there, thankfully, he never actually did time in prison.

Mendes enjoyed his trip up hilly San Francisco streets traveling by cable car.

Mendes enjoyed his trip up hilly San Francisco streets traveling by cable car.

Mendes even made some new friends!

Mendes even made some new friends!

With the Willis girls as his guide, Mendes got in some exercise biking over the Golden Gate Bridge. We have records of Mendes traveling by boat, train and horse but this mode of transport was surely a first for him.

With the Willis girls as his guide, Mendes got in some exercise biking over the Golden Gate Bridge. We have records of Mendes traveling by boat, train and horse but this mode of transport was surely a first for him.

 What better way to refresh after a long and arduous bike ride then with a stop at San Francisco’s beloved Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory. Mendes proved to be quite the San Francisco fan and even picked up a souvenir baseball hat.

What better way to refresh after a long and arduous bike ride then with a stop at San Francisco’s beloved Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory. Mendes proved to be quite the San Francisco fan and even picked up a souvenir baseball hat.

On the way down the coast, Mendes stopped to admire the beauty of California’s Redwood trees.

On the way down the coast, Mendes stopped to admire the beauty of California’s Redwood trees.

I met Jonathan, Madeline and Julia in Pismo Beach, CA, along California’s central coast where we had a blast taking surfing lessons. Mendes had to get in the action too. I think he may have even started a new surfing trend. The next day we saw many surfing dudes wearing turbans!

I met Jonathan, Madeline and Julia in Pismo Beach, CA, along California’s central coast where we had a blast taking surfing lessons. Mendes had to get in the action too. I think he may have even started a new surfing trend. The next day we saw many surfing dudes wearing turbans!

Mendes’s final adventure was kayaking in Morro Bay where he enjoyed viewing sea lions and otters.

Mendes’s final adventure was kayaking in Morro Bay where he enjoyed viewing sea lions and otters.

Mendes is now home in Baltimore recuperating from jet lag. But he will soon be ready for new adventures and we can’t wait to see where else he goes!

deborahA blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts by Deborah, click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Looking for Cohens in All the Wrong Places

Posted on December 23rd, 2013 by

Last week Joseph Abell, our professional researcher, shared some of his adventures in pursuit of the life of Mendes Cohen, defender of Fort McHenry.  But even amateur detectives, like me, can get in on the hunt:

It was a cold morning early this November.  I woke up and realized that this would probably be the last day I could really see fall foliage in all its glory.  After making my way through morning chores, I pointed the car towards Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia…my absolutely favorite autumn view.

The autumn view

The autumn view

On the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the town, an image flashed through my mind – a rather odd connection.  Just before I had left work for the weekend, I had been perusing a genealogical chart of the Cohen family.  Israel Cohen, the founder of the clan arrived in America on September 21, 1787 (four days after the completion of the US Constitution).  In addition to Mendes, Israel had eight sons and one daughter.  In the middle of the chart I had glimpsed the childhood deaths of two of Mendes’ great-nephews:  Solomon Etting Cohen and Benjamin Denny Cohen.  It now occurred to me that the place of death was listed as “Harper’s Ferry”.  I decided that as long as I was here I would go the ranger station and ask if anyone had knowledge of a Cohen family living in Harper’s Ferry in the 1840’s.

Now this was my tenth or eleventh trip to Harper’s Ferry so I knew that the ranger station was across the street from the 1850s clothing store.  I had never paid much attention to the name on the store, “Phillip Frankel”, but in light of my current search it took on a new meaning.  The Cohens it was clear weren’t the only Jews in historic Harper’s Ferry.  The ranger had no information on the Cohens but directed me over to the bookstore where he said there was a guide to regional cemeteries.  I opened up the guide – I found the Cohen Boys were buried at Harper’s Cemetery up the hill.  But another listing sparked my curiosity…there was a Ella Harper Cohen buried at the cemetery in nearby Shepherdstown, WV.  The date of death was 1920.  Was it just a coincidence that there was another Cohen in the neighborhood?  After all, it’s a pretty common name.

Now I was hooked.  The clerk in the bookstore said that if I wanted to find out more about the Cohens, I might try the Jefferson County (WV) Historical Society.  The organization was housed in the library in Charles Town just 15 minutes up the road.  It was past 3:30 – I might just make it before the library closed.  What started as a casual search that afternoon became an obsession.  I caught the shuttle bus back to my car and made a bee line for Charles Town.  I ran towards the library and went through the open door.  But I was too late, the library had already shut its doors – but off to the side I noticed an opening to something called the Jefferson County Museum and one docent was still inside preparing for end of day.  I told him my whole story.  He searched a database and found obituaries for the kids and for Ella Harper Cohen.

It appeared that the children had died within weeks of each other.  He speculated that this was probably the result of an epidemic that swept the town in 1847.  Diseases like Typhus were still a problem in this part of the country then.

Ella Harper Cohen, known as Sally, was the wife of Benjamin I. Cohen, a first cousin to the boys.  She had her body shipped back from Portland, OR to West Virginia when she died.  With a little more on-line research at the National Archives, I was able to determine that Sally was a direct descendant of Richard Harper – the man who created the ferry.  She converted to Judaism in 1876 and married Benjamin in Portland in 1881 in a ceremony officiated by a rabbi.  Their marriage lasted 34 years until Benjamin passed away.  This new data raised so many more questions than it answered.  How did this Jewish boy from Baltimore meet and fall in love with this girl with roots in Harper’s Ferry?  What pushed/pulled them out to Portland, OR?  Why did she send her body back to a home she hadn’t lived near in at least forty years?

That’s the great thing about exploring history, every mystery you unwrap leads to another one to be revealed.

We have not yet found any living descendants of Israel Cohen and his ten children.  The last name on the genealogical chart passes away in the 1990s.  If any reader of this blog post has a clue to a descendant we might have missed I invite you to contact us.

Civil War cropped 1A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more post by Marvin, click here. 

 

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