The Maryland Jewish World, At Your Fingertips

Posted on May 9th, 2012 by

A blog post by Research Historian Deb Weiner.

Our library volunteers recently completed a wonderful new resource for anyone researching—or simply curious about—Maryland Jewish history. It’s a listing of all the biographical files in our research collection, with summaries of each person’s significance or accomplishments. All 1,923 of them, from Judge Howard Aaron to Rabbi Meyer Zywicka.

Larry Adler, world-famous harmonica player and Baltimore native.

It’s interesting just to browse through the list. You get a real sense of the diversity of Maryland Jewry: in addition to the rabbis, business people, doctors, and lawyers you’d expect to see, you’ll also find a crab house owner, an internationally famous harmonica player, a bomber pilot, and Gertrude Stein (who lived in Baltimore for awhile), just for a start. And even within the expected categories, there are some unusual and fascinating profiles. Rabbi Michael Aaronsohn spent part of his childhood in Baltimore’s Hebrew Orphan Asylum, was “wounded, disfigured and blinded” in combat during World War I, and wrote autobiographical novels. Hyman S. Rubinstein is described as a neurologist, violinist, and psychiatrist who invented his own shorthand system. Makes you want to read his file, doesn’t it?

Gertrude Stein with Baltimoreans Claribel and Etta Cone (their files are especially interesting).

Keyword searches on particular topics should prove valuable for research projects. We’re currently working on a traveling exhibition on the suburbanization of Baltimore Jewry and we need to find out about the role played by Jewish real estate developers.  I just did a keyword search of the terms builder, developer, contractor, construction, and real estate—it turned up fifty-four individuals. So now we need to go look at those fifty-four files. . . . The summaries on the list just hint at the material that might be found in the files themselves, which range from thick folders on some people, to perhaps a single article on others.

Dr. Hyman S. Rubinstein. 1987.48.1

For students working on history papers, keyword searches will enable them to find particular individuals or gather info on broad topics. Just to see, I did a couple other searches. There are forty-four artists. There are sixteen poets, from Baltimorean Karl Shapiro, one of the most important American poets of the last century, to Hyman Pressman, longtimeMarylandcomptroller “known for his bad poetry.”

The cover of Hyman Pressman’s collected poems.

Not everyone on the list is Jewish. The only entry for “Q” is Allen Quille, whose profile notes that he was an African American parking lot millionaire who supported Zionist causes and was honored by theBaltimorebranch of the Zionist Organization of America around 1980. Thomas Kennedy is there, of course (look him up), and many other gentiles who had some kind of impact on Jewish life in Maryland.

Allen Quille being honored by the Z.O.A., circa 1980. 1995.128.40.1

Anyone doing research should keep in mind that this document is a guidepost, not an end in itself. With a database this large, there are bound to be inconsistencies, incomplete categorization, typos. It’s up to the researcher to be as creative as possible when thinking up keywords to use to search the document, and to follow up by looking in the actual files to get a more complete picture of the person being profiled.

Download the file here: JMM Biographical Vertical Files

Volunteers Harvey Karch and Vera Kestenberg did a fantastic job pulling this project together, spending hours reading the files and typing summaries into an Excel file. Thanks also to Bernie Raynor and Allan Blumberg, who added their talents to the project as well.  Ira Askin, who has been keeping track of our vertical files for years, was also involved. It’s great to have volunteers who can carry out an important initiative like this—which will be helpful for anyone researching Maryland Jewish history, for years to come.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Who Was Sam Eig?

Posted on July 13th, 2011 by

A blog post by Research Historian Deb Weiner.

If you do much traveling in and around Montgomery County, you may have driven on Sam Eig Highway. I found myself on this road recently when I went to visit a friend in Potomac. The odd name stuck with me and I wondered to myself, who the heck was Sam Eig?

Sam Eig Highway: commons.wikimedia.org

I found the answer the other day, when rifling through the JMM vertical files, looking for information on the Etting family (more on them another day, perhaps). Turns out that Sam Eig was a Jewish real estate developer and philanthropist. There was no picture so I don’t know if his head looked egg-like, which was the image I had formed in my mind. Anyway, this is just one example of the useful, fascinating, entertaining, and enlightening bits of information to be found in the wall of library cabinets that make up the JMM research files, known in library-speak as “vertical files.”

The Vertical Files

The vertical files contain clippings, pamphlets, reprints, and other miscellaneous materials on people, places, organizations, and subjects related to Jews in Maryland. These are “non-accessioned” items, so you won’t find them in our collections database. Recently, in order to have a way to search these files remotely, we started a spreadsheet with brief summaries of the contents of each file. So far, we’re working on the biographical files, and have got through the letter P. Our two ace volunteers working on this project, Vera Kestenberg and Harvey Karch, are having fun reading about all these people. At least, they haven’t complained or asked to be put on a different project.

With my new remote search capabilities, I can sit here at my desk (instead of standing up and walking the twelve paces over to the filing cabinets, which I can see from my office) and find info about some of the more appealing characters about whom we’ve collected information.

Kate Coplan: JMM 1987.51.54

 

In the Cs, there’s Kate Coplan, a well-known city librarian who was in charge of the window displays at the Pratt Library for decades. She maintained a close friendship with H.L. Mencken, and the vertical files include a thick folder of photocopies of their correspondence. I had to get up out of my chair to take a quick look. On September 14, 1942, Mencken informed Coplan that “I spent the day as usual—in pious meditation, and emerged from it convinced that the end of the world may be at hand.” A bit further up on the spreadsheet is Izzy Caplan, a professional boxer and boxing promoter in Baltimore in the1920s and 1930s. He changed his name from Leon Luckman, so his parents wouldn’t find out that he was boxing at age 14.

In the Ms, there’s Ken Mehlman, a Pikesville native who became head of the national Republican Party in 2004. He made headlines in 2010, when he publicly came out as a gay man. Several records down from him, there’s Reba Kirson Monness, a Baltimorean who was U.S. Table Tennis Champion and also a regional tennis champ in the mid 20th century. Funds from her estate established a tennis scholarship in Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.

William Fuld: williamfuld.com

Perusing the Fs, I found out that the Ouija Board was invented by a Baltimore Jew. Well, not exactly. William Fuld took out his first patent on a “talking board” in 1892, while working for a company which soon became the Ouija Novelty Company. He became known as the “Father of the Ouija Board.” Everything about the story is a bit complicated, though, including the fact that William was not really Jewish. His father Jacob was a Jewish immigrant, but he raised his children as Christians. William is buried in Greenmount Cemetery, according to an article in the file. Though William would not today qualify as a citizen of Israel under the Law of Return, he qualifies as a Jew for the purposes of the JMM vertical files.

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland