Posted on June 24th, 2015 by Rachel
Unfortunately, not all exhibits are permanent, and in the case of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, there was an expiration date. That date was Monday, June 15, 2015 when Minotaur Mazes (hyperlink: http://www.minotaurmazes.com/) came to pick up their traveling exhibition, and Mendes Cohen would be on his way to a new adventure in Texas. The morning began early as everyone from the museum’s Deputy Director, Deborah Cardin to the summer interns were breaking down the a-mazing maze.
First, Joanna Church, the Collections Manager, and the conservators, moved out the fragile and valuable objects such as Mendes’s flag. Pictured here is Sanchita Balachandran, curator & conservator, using nitrile gloves to handle objects.
Next came down all the panels, both graphic and green, and they were carefully rolled as to not leave any crease marks.
The interactives that all the visitors love to play with were unscrewed from the exhibit, and packed carefully in Styrofoam or even blankets. They were placed in the crate carefully and strategically so that damage would not occur during transportation.
Things got serious when Tracie Guy-Decker, the Associate Director for Projects, Planning and Finance (right), began using a power drill like a boss.
Then the poles were strategically unscrewed and pulled apart bit by bit. For people without a lot of arm muscles (me), the struggle was real.
The poles were also placed in the wooden crates tactically so that when it would be ready to set up in Texas, the poles that would be going on the floor (the foundation) would be the first to come out of the box. That way, the exhibit can literally be built from the bottom-up.
Once we were sure everything was loaded, the top of the crates were screwed in. By Tuesday morning, Mendes Cohen was ready to leave the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
For a smaller museum, we often rely on each other to succeed, no matter what position you have. This was made clear when almost every department head, conservator, intern, and a museum educator, graciously set aside their day to pack up an exhibit. It may not necessarily take a village to de-install an exhibition, but it’s certainly more fun to.
Stay tuned for our upcoming exhibit, Cinema Judaica, opening Wednesday, July 1st!
A blog post by Education and Programs Intern Eden Cho. To read more posts from interns click HERE.
Posted on June 22nd, 2015 by Rachel
Last weekend I gave one final tour of the Mendes Cohen exhibit and the finish to our story is as bizarre and awesome as the life of Mendes himself.
Some very special visitors to The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen.
In our penultimate Mendes Cohen program we invited Dick Goldman, co-chair of the Jewish Genealogical Society to speak about the Cohen family tree. Dick looked at our statement that “Israel Cohen has no known living descendants” as a challenge rather than a fact. Using somewhat unorthodox methods he was able to uncover the fact that Alan Mordecai Cohen III was not the end of his family tree! It seems that Mr. Cohen married a member of Hungarian royalty (surname: Buda) and in compliance with her wishes converted to Catholicism and changed his family name to Clarke.
The newly-named Clarkes raised a son and a daughter, both of whom went on to have children of their own. Alan’s daughter Bertha is still very much alive today, enjoying her eighth decade. The man in the photo above is Bertha’s son, Ronald A. Brown. When Dick contacted Ronald last Wednesday, he discovered that Ronald was in the process of moving from Baltimore to Gettysburg. Dick told him that the exhibit was closing on Sunday – what a piece of timing! So it turns out that the very last visitor to the exhibit was a direct descendant of Israel Cohen, Mendes’ father.
But that isn’t the most incredible part. The most incredible part is that Ronald’s cousin Richard Clarke and his uncle Alan Clarke formed a business called Marcor Remediation here in Baltimore in about 1980. Here is a description of Marcor from the Baltimore Sun in 2006. I have highlighted the part that floored me in red.
Marcor’s primary business is garden-variety asbestos removal and demolition. But in recent years, the company has been the Forrest Gump of environmental cleanup, stumbling into some of the biggest headline-grabbing disasters in recent memory.
Some people make history, and others are witness to it.
Marcor is its janitor.
The company was tearing down walls and removing asbestos in the basement of the Pentagon when terrorists struck with an airliner on Sept. 11, 2001. Days later, its crews were first on the scene at the Fresh Kills landfill in New York’s Staten Island, where hundreds of workers labored for 10 months to sift through every scrap of rubble from the World Trade Center.
During that period, they assisted contractors decontaminating the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington after a second anthrax attack forced lawmakers and staff from their offices. And with about 700 employees spread nationwide, Marcor has been on the scene after just about every major hurricane of the past two years, from Ivan and Charlie to Katrina and Rita.
It’s all in a day’s work for a company that got its first job – removing asbestos from a Baltimore County elementary school – on the day Mount St. Helens exploded in Washington state in 1980.
“It’s almost like, `What is it that needs doing that nobody else is doing?'” said Richard Clarke, who founded the company with his father, Alan Clarke. “And that’s where we want to be.”
It is the ultimate a-mazing finish to the story. Mendes was sent into the powder magazine at Fort McHenry when America is under attack in 1814 to secure the facility from harm. His familial descendant Richard Clarke went into the World Trade Center 187 years later to remediate the explosion when America is attacked again. I thought that this type of coincidence only happened in the movies.
I also learned from Ronald Brown that his grandfather Alan Mordecai Cohen was 6’5” – suggesting he was a beneficiary of the same gene that produced Mendes’ impressive height. Ronald also said that his son possessed a documented history of the Cohens that his uncle created in the 1980s. We’re hoping to get a copy for our collection.
We hope everyone has enjoyed following along with The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen and his continuing adventures as much as we have – he is certainly going to be missed here at the Museum.
A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.
Posted on June 19th, 2015 by Rachel
As the nation celebrated Flag Day this past Sunday, the JMM made one last connection to the life of Jewish Baltimorean extraordinaire, Mendes Cohen, through activities and a talk with conservator Michelle Pagan that explored one of the most iconic objects on display in the exhibit, the flag that Mendes. Mendes created the flag in 1832 as he sailed up the Nile River proudly displaying his love for his country. This event marked the culmination of our ten month celebration of the life and times of Mendes Cohen and his family. We were thrilled by the positive response we received from visitors, many of whom expressed their surprise at never having heard of Mendes before, as well as their delight in finally ”meeting” this amazing man.
The following is a summary of exhibit highlights:
Accolades – Coverage of the exhibit on WYPR and MPT, as well as in articles in the Jewish Times, the Forward and Humanities (the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities), helped spread the message encouraging people to come and discover the story of Mendes Cohen. It was hard to top the Forward’s review which encouraged readers to “Forget the National Aquarium: The Cohen exhibit – along with the museum’s permanent exhibit, “Voices of Lombard Street” makes the Jewish Museum of Maryland a must visit for tourists to Baltimore.” To cap things off, the JMM was a recipient of the 2015 Leadership in History Awards Winners for The A-mazing Mendes Cohen by the American Association of State and Local History.
On the cover of the Baltimore Jewish Times
Partnerships – The A-mazing Mendes Cohen is an example of a model collaborative project and was brought to fruition through several important partnerships. We opened the exhibit during weekend festivities celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore which gave us the opportunity to partner with several local agencies and to be part of such anniversary events as the commemoration of the Battle of Bladensburg and the Defenders Day Celebration at North Point.
Mendes at Bladensburg
The Maryland Historical Society, as the repository of the bulk of the Cohen family papers, was vital to the exhibit’s success. We are so grateful to Burt Kummerow, president of MHS and his staff, for granting us access to their rich collections of material and to lending us such important documents such as the firman that Mendes received from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire allowing him entry into Palestine and his travel diary.
Travel Firman, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.
As we began planning the exhibit, JMM executive director Marvin Pinkert had a brainstorm that proved transformational. He reached out to Kelly Fernandi of Minotaur Mazes and the notion of capturing the twists and turns of Mendes’s life through a physical maze design was born. Kelly became an enthusiastic member of the Mendes Cohen Fan Club and contributed not only to the exhibit design but also to content and image research. Thanks to weekly meetings (by phone as Kelly is based in Seattle) we enjoyed a high degree of collaboration with our designer whose strong vision for the exhibit helped shape its final outcome.
New Findings – Each new exhibition involves extensive research in the JMM’s archives and collections as well as at other repositories. While we thought we knew a lot about Mendes Cohen and had previously created an educational resource kit exploring his connections to 19th century Palestine as well as published an article in Generations, our knowledge about Mendes and his family continued to expand as we uncovered new information through many different sources. Thanks to the painstaking efforts of researcher, Joseph Abel, Ph.D, who transcribed the bulk of the letters that Mendes wrote home from abroad, we were able to place Mendes at many seminal 19th century events including the student revolts in Paris, the coronation of a new king in England and the installation of a new Pope in Rome.
A couple of very special visitors made it to the last day of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen!
The most wonderful new piece of research was unveiled at our penultimate program, an exploration of the Cohen Family Tree. The exhibit claims that there are no known descendants of Israel and Judith Cohen. Genealogist Dick Goldman decided to challenge this assertion and was able to find new branches of the family descended from Alan Cohen III who changed his name to Clarke (hence, our difficulty in finding relatives) after he converted to Catholicism. Alan’s grandson Ronald Brown was one of our very last visitors to the exhibit on Sunday.
The Ghost of Mendes Cohen – The exhibit served as inspiration for the development of the JMM’s newest living history character, none other than Mendes himself, who comes back from the grave to revisit select moments from his incredible life. After debuting performances during many of the War of 1812 commemorative events that took place last summer, Grant Cloyd, the actor who portrays Mendes, has been busy visiting schools, synagogues and other venues. We look forward to continuing to offer performances even beyond the duration of the exhibit.
Grant Cloyd as Mendes
Education – More than 300 teachers and 2100 students participated in field trips and living history performances in conjunction with The A-mazing Mendes Cohen. Students from local public, private, parochial along with Jewish day and congregational schools visited the JMM. We also had student groups visit from the outlying counties, including Howard, Montgomery, Prince Georges, and Anne Arundel County. Students visited from Forest Hills, New York and Philadelphia, and also came from Ashkelon, Israel – Baltimore ‘s Sister City in Israel.
JMM educators created a rich array of educational resources including archival exploration activities (giving students the opportunity to explore primary sources related to his life), puzzle making games and scavenger hunts. Because Mendes’s life connected with so many important worldwide events, we were able to tie in school visits and resources with a wide array of curricular objectives.
The Powder Magazine Challenge
All of the students loved the interactives in the exhibit- especially the powder magazine and the world map stringing activity. Students loved racing against the clock to ensure that the magazine did not explode. Students loved learning where Cohen travelled and learned names of countries and cities throughout Europe and the Middle East. Students also loved hearing about Cohen’s journal entry of July 4, 1832, documenting his travels on the Nile River, hoisting the flag made by Cohen’s Egyptian crew. Students also thought that it was “very cool” to see the actual flag that was hoisted on Cohen’s ship as well as some of the Egyptian antiquities that Cohen brought back to Baltimore.
Mendes’ hand-made flag, 1832
Programs – The JMM held a record number of public programs this year and many of them were inspired by the life experiences of Mendes. Through panel discussions, scholarly and author talks, performances and family workshops, we explored such topics and themes as the War of 1812, 19th century travel, Egyptology, the fight to pass the Jew Bill, textile conservation and genealogy.
Hieroglyphs from our hands-on Egyptology Family Day.
We were especially pleased with our Mitzvah Day program, inspired by Mendes’ attempts to piece together his identity, we made puzzles for children spending the holidays in The Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital. It was a wonderful day that saw families work together to create something really special. In total we made enough for all of the children visiting the hospital over the holiday period.
Senator Ben Cardin address the Annual Meeting crowd inside the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Photo by Will Kirk.
This year our Annual Meeting was also inspired by Mendes, specifically his time spent in office. We were honored to welcome Senator Ben Cardin to the museum to be our keynote speaker. A surprising success was our Sephardic Lecture Series, inspired by Mendes’ own heritage. We had two great programs exploring Sephardic history and Ladino.
During the course of the exhibit we started to record some of our programs, if you missed one of the lectures above check our website, you may still have a chance to explore a little more of Mendes Cohen’s life.
The maze is packed and out the door, the flag and jacket are back in our vaults – Mendes, like Elvis, has left the building – but the legacy is still with us. As a team, we had so much fun with this project. Don’t be surprised if Mendes and his siblings join us again in a future project.