JMM Insights: Shammes or Shamus?*
From May 1 to July 10, 2016, our Historic Jonestown neighbor, the Carroll Mansion will be transformed into a showcase for some of the most innovative manufacturers and craftsmen in Baltimore and across the nation. The Mansion has been designated the “All American House” by the MADE: In America organization. To celebrate, the city invited other historic sites to participate in presenting “Baltimore’s American Treasures.” We couldn’t resist recognizing our own Lloyd Street Synagogue as the “All American Synagogue.”
Built in 1845, the Lloyd Street Synagogue is the third oldest Jewish house of worship still standing in the United States. The building was designed by Robert Cary Long Jr., a prominent architect of churches during that time. Nearly every component of the original building along with the 1860 renovation and addition were the result of American craft and manufacturers.
For several months a great team of interns and staff have been scouring through records and photos related to the material culture of the building and its contents. By “material culture” we mean the physical evidence of a culture; and the interpretation of objects and the social context in which they were made and employed.
Our research included Baltimore City Directories from 1843-1845; newspapers, congregational minutes, Maryland Historical Society archives, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Archives, and the JMM’s own thorough research files, etc. The building has had such an extensive history, serving first as a traditional synagogue founded by German immigrants, and transformed later into a congregation that embraced reform traditions. The building was later sold to a Lithuanian Catholic Church and years later sold again to immigrants from Eastern Europe that transformed the building into a thriving center for Jewish tradition in East Baltimore. Each of the congregations used local manufacturers and craftsmen to build and design many of the elements featured in the buildings like the Holy Ark, the organ, and the pews.
We’ve come up with many fresh insights, but found ourselves still struggling with a few unanswered questions. Where did the original torah scroll come from, what happened to the church’s bell, and how did we get conflicting stories of how the current chandeliers were acquired? We decided that the best way to resolve these mysteries was to “crowdsource” the clues. And that has led to the idea of putting together – “The Book, Bell and Candle Mystery” experience, a tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue with an interactive twist. Part of the Book, Bell and Candle Mystery, will be to share with you the new stories and clues we’ve uncovered about the ritual objects used in the building. But part will also be to get your input on unanswered questions that we still have pertaining to the objects, so we can crack the mysteries.
The Book, Bell and Candle Mystery will debut on Sunday May 1st @ 3:00 p.m., and continue at that same hour every Sunday through July 3. Whether you identify with a synagogue shammes or an investigative shamus, you’ll find something in this experience that opens a new window on this great historic site. So put on your “gumshoes” and your thinking caps and join us in our search for answers.