Posted on February 16th, 2017 by Rachel
A difficulty of working in such a large and varied collection as ours is that it’s very easy to find yourself on a research tangent, leading off into ever-branching questions that take you further and further from your original point… or, occasionally, lead you right back to it. When looking through my list of “this might make a nice blog post” catalog records, I hit upon this photo of the Washburn Club, about which we know very little other than that, according to the donors, it had one Jewish member: Hiram Herman of Baltimore.
The Washburn Club, circa 1900. Each member is holding an instrument, primarily strings; their logo, featured in the cardboard cut-out in the center front, consists of a mandolin, guitar, and banjo within a lyre. Bonus: spot the disembodied hand holding on to the backdrop in the upper left. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Morton K. Sugar. JMM 1987.193.2
This seemed like a pleasant, and quick, research tangent for today’s blog… but, as can be expected, it wasn’t quite that simple. After spending some time on it, I must report that the club itself – not to mention which musician pictured is Mr. Herman – is, alas, still a mystery. However, a little research into the Herman family revealed the bones of an interesting wedding story. And, conveniently, weddings are what much of my non-tangential time has been spent on, thanks to this summer’s “Just Married!” exhibit. Newspaper wedding descriptions are a favorite of mine, and this photo led me to some nice ones.
Hiram himself was fairly easy to track, but – tangent alert! I wanted a bit more. The photo was donated to us by Mr. and Mrs. Morton K. Sugar; a few other Herman family books were donated by Judith Senker Wise. Curious as to how these donors – and the Senker family material donated at the same time – were related to the childless Mr. Herman, I poked around a bit in newspaper archives, state marriage records, and ancestry.com. If this were a clever modern PBS mystery show, you would now see census listings and web links and gravestones floating about my head while I frowningly piece together the various bits of evidence (who am I kidding; I am absolutely a Watson, not a Holmes) but in the absence of those graphic representations of deductive reasoning, suffice it to say that I eventually came up with this story:
In 1905 Hiram Katz Herman, age 27, and Sarah Whitehill, age 23, were married by Rabbi Guttmacher in Baltimore. After the marriage, Hiram worked as a grocer, and eventually went into real estate. Unfortunately, he died in late 1921, leaving Sarah a childless widow.
“HERMAN-WHITEHILL. Miss Sara [sic] Whitehill, daughter of Mr. Albert Whitehill, 431 North Broadway, was married to Mr. Hiram K. Herman Sunday night at the Lyceum Parlors [1109 N. Charles Street] by Rev. Dr. Adolph Guttmacher, of Madison Avenue Temple [Baltimore Hebrew Congregation]. The bride was attired in a white lace robe over taffeta and carried a shower bouquet of Bride roses. Mr. Solomon Whitehill, brother of the bride, was best man. The ushers were Messrs. Jerome Meyer, Justin Rosenthal, Samuel Fernheimer and Lester Marx, of Washington. A reception followed, after which Mr. and Mrs. Herman left for Philadelphia, Atlantic City and New York. They will reside at 431 North Broadway.” From the Baltimore Sun, August 22, 1905.
Meanwhile, Hiram’s sister Beulah Herman married Solomon Senker in 1910. (The Herman and Senker families were probably neighbors or friends; for example, a list of the attendees of the Majestic Assembly’s first monthly dance of the 1903 season includes Hiram, Beulah, and Solomon’s sister Maud.) Solomon worked for Strauss Bros. clothing as a bookkeeper and office manager; he and Beulah had four children, and lived on Menlo Drive in Park Heights. Beulah died, age 45, in 1932.
“Senker-Herman. Miss Beulah Herman, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jonas Herman, was married to Mr. Solomon Senker at her home, 616 East Baltimore street, at 6 o’clock last evening. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Dr. S. Schaffer [of Shearith Israel], assisted by Rev. Dr. E. Jaffe. The couple stood under a canopy of smilax. The bride wore a hand-embroidered marquisette gown over white satin with a yoke and sleeves of lace. She wore a tulle veil draped with orange blossoms, and carried sweetpeas. A reception followed the ceremony, after which Mr. and Mrs. Senker left for a trip to Atlantic City and the North. They will live at 1717 West North avenue and will be at home to their friends after August 1.” From the Baltimore Sun, July 8, 1910.
Ancestry.com is a helpful creature, and it kept linking the various records for Sarah and Beulah as if they were the same person, despite the fact that each has her own gravesite in Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery; the connection seemed to be Solomon, I checked the obituary of Solomon Senker and discovered that when he died in 1948, his surviving wife was named Sarah Whitehill. Thus, sometime between Beulah’s death in 1932 and the recording of the 1940 census, Hiram’s widow and Beulah’s widower had married each other. (Unfortunately, unlike the original marriages, this one was not described in the Sun.)
Thanks to Solomon Senker’s obituary, we know that Hiram Herman’s photograph and books were donated by his sister Beulah’s children, Harriet Senker Sugar and Judith Senker Wise. From the Baltimore Jewish Times, October 22, 1948.
Without more information, we can only guess at the specific circumstances that would flesh out their history; though useful, wedding notices and census records and obituaries can only tell us so much. Nonetheless, the story of Hiram and Sarah and Beulah and Solomon is a lovely addition to my wedding research, and one that’s a little out of the ordinary. On the other hand, I’m still left with the unsolved problem of the mysterious Washburn Club….
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.
Posted on August 3rd, 2016 by Rachel
After a few hours of flipping through old magazines, flyers, and ticket stubs, I’m convinced that this category of artifacts contains more information about modern history than anything else. I went into the basement collections to find objects for a Rosh Hashanah exhibit this past week, and became distracted by all of the modern history contained in each box. At first, I stayed focused. I knew which objects and manuscripts to locate and followed the directions to the correct box and dividing folder. My second time down there, however, I lugged the needed box onto the table, opened it, and promptly forgot about staying on-task. In looking for a specific greeting card, I stumbled upon boxes filled with my favorite parts of history.
I struggle to appreciate historical vases, instruments, or other objects; I look at them for a few moments and don’t learn that much about the time period. Written artifacts, however, such as magazines, newspapers, brochures, and flyers give me so much to think about. Looking through a magazine from the 1930s, you see the style of advertising, what they advertised (so many cigarette ads), the style of how people wrote, the words they used, the businesses open, not to mention what people wrote about during that time.
Where the goodies live
These specific artifacts speak about historical and approaching modern-day Baltimore, an especially interesting subject in terms of race relations, urbanization, and Jewish communities. One brochure for an art program from the 1930s included a large picture of Black and White children working together at the same table, even though Jim Crow laws still operated in Baltimore during that period. Another magazine included an opinion editorial written by a White woman about her (negative) opinion on Black churches and how they’ll affect the economy; an article disturbing in how similar to sounded to articles still published today, with slightly different wording. I held Baltimore first “colored” magazine and Yiddish bulletins for services.
15 cents per copy!
I had to pause to consider all the knowledge buried in these artifacts. When and how did different words begin to be used? How quickly did cigarette ads begin to decline in publications? When did each individual publication begin to include pictures of Black and White people together? How did two different publications tell the same story? In a Playbill, what did the actors look like? What did they include in their bios? What kind of paper did people use for flyers in different neighborhoods? Diaries, letters, and household objects, especially when combined, certainly speak to many people and contain useful information when deconstructing the past and present. For me, however, publications that include words, pictures, ads, and messages directed at the public, the things people absorbed every day, contain more information than anything. Therefore, the chance to see, touch, and flip through such a variety of these sources, from such an interesting and vibrant city, really excites me.
For the record, contemplating research questions and flipping through magazines wasn’t a complete waste of time; I stumbled upon a calendar to use in the Rosh Hashanah exhibit during my wanderings!
Blog post by Education & Programs Intern Anna Balfanz. To read more posts by and about interns click HERE.
Posted on July 19th, 2016 by Rachel
Like many historical societies and museums, we have a large number of photos in which some or all of the individuals are unidentified. We use a variety of techniques to address this problem, from archival research to crowd-sourcing; we also do our best, when accepting new donations, to ensure that we get the names and stories from the donors straight away.
Perhaps naturally, our focus in these endeavors has been on the Jewish community – but that doesn’t mean that only Jewish people are represented in our collections. Few communities live in a vacuum; we interact with other groups nearly every day, as friends, coworkers, and family, in shops and restaurants and on the street.
Herman Becker (second from left) with three unidentified employees of the Becker Sign Company, Baltimore, circa 1928. Gift of the estate of Herschel Elliot Becker. JMM 1989.102.10
Nurses Mary Mead (left) and Esther Farber Dubin (right) received Sinai Hospital’s Harry Greenstein Nurse of the Year award in 1971. Gift of the Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital. JMM 2010.20.193
Unidentified photos are the bane of a collections manager’s existence. (One of them, anyway.) And yet it’s a perfectly understandable problem; many of us can’t remember the names of people in our own snapshots, let alone those of our parents and grandparents. (As a side note, here’s your reminder to clearly identify all your photos with full names, locations, and dates.) If the people donating the images don’t know who’s in them, what chance do we, the unaffiliated museum staff, have? Happily, there are often clues we can use to recover some names. And once we know the names, we should use them.
The back of this photo is identified only with the date, “June 1907.” Comparison with the rest of the family’s collection tells us that the infant is Klare Lobe, but the African American woman holding her is unidentified. A little digging in the records shows that in 1910, when the census was taken, the Lobes were boarding with the Rayne family on Linden Avenue, Baltimore. In that year the Raynes’ household included three live-in servants, all African American: cook Laura Pitts, 47; “waiter” Eben Pitts, 12; and housemaid Lena Drummond, a 27 year old widow. It’s possible that Lena is the young woman holding Klare in this 1907 photo. Gift of Marjorie Scott. JMM 2002.045.016
Ruth Weinberg Leven compiled a photo album showing her family’s everyday life in the early 20th century. She carefully labeled each image with both the date and the first names of the participants. In this 1907 photo, on the porch of their Baltimore home are Weinberg siblings Martin, Helen, and Leonard, with Lizzie, a young African American girl in what is probably a maid’s or nanny’s uniform, holding Ruth Weinberg in her arms. Unfortunately, Lizzie was not “living in” in 1910, and so does not appear in the census (the servants listed in the household are white); more work must be done to identify her last name. Gift of Jan Weinberg. JMM 1922.214.171.124a
Employees of Wolf Salganik & Sons, a wholesale butcher shop, pose on a rooftop, circa 1935. As in the photo above, we’re fortunate in that someone has noted a few names on the photo itself, including Mabel, Mary, Sophie, and – the sole gentleman in the photo, and also the only African American – Bob. It would certainly be convenient if the original note-taker had also jotted down these folks’ last names and job titles, but historians know that a little clue is better than none. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Salganik. JMM 2004.27.7
Jewish Family and Children’s Services employees, 1971. Though this photo is not annotated, it contains an even better clue: the woman in the center is wearing a name tag. She’s Mrs. Ida Louise Carr, Homemaker and Home Health Aide for JFCS. (The other two women are still unidentified.) Gift of The Associated. JMM 1997.134.147
Unfortunately, what we’re more likely to find in our collections are photos with no known names at all, or – like this photo – with only the white individuals identified. In this case, while on a picnic in Harford County in 1920, Sylvan Eckhaus, Ruth Davis, Henry Hoffman, Miriam Davis, and Joe Naviaski posed with a young African American man, probably the driver. He looks in many ways like he’s part of this jovial group – he even has a cigar to match Mr. Eckhaus’s – but the fact that his name was not remembered hints that he was more likely a chauffeur, whose services and vehicle were hired for the day. Gift of Betty N. Eckhaus. JMM 1992.7.14
Now more than ever we need to do our best by the people – all the people – who can be found in our collections. True, their stories may not be our stories to tell; the goal isn’t to lay claim to them, but to make sure these images are accessible, remembered, and known… and that can start with a name. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but a vital one.
As always, if anyone can help us identify any people, locations, dates, or stories that accompany these images, please let us know!
For more images showing African American life in and around Baltimore, start with the Afro-American archives or the Maryland Historical Society.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.