Smalltimore!

A blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink.


In late July I received a phone call from a man named Jay Schloven who was interested in donating the steamer trunk that his mother brought over from Germany in 1937. I explained to him that we already had several trunks in our collection, but we would certainly be interested in collecting the contents of the trunk, photographs, documents and/or stories about his mother’s experience as a refugee. Jay said his sister had the types of materials I was looking for.

Trunks and suitcases from our collections are frequently used in our exhibitions. 
Lives Lost, Lives Found (top), We Call This Place Home

A month later Jay’s sister Karen Manzone came in to donate the leather purse that her mother, Lieselotte (Lisa) Sommer, carried to America from Germany in April 1937, along with photographs, official documents, and letters.

Purse carried by Lieselotte Sommer from Germany to America in 1937.

While Karen was presenting the materials to me, I skimmed the interviews of Lisa Sommer written by her granddaughter, Melissa Manzone and great-neice, Lauren Cissell in 2001.

Lauren’s paper begins, “The name of the person I interviewed is Lisa Ielotte Sommer. Lisa is my grandmother’s first cousin by marriage…. She had five brothers and sisters. Their names were Lola, Arthur, Berthold, Werner and Hilda.”

Family photo

Further into her paper Lauren describes, Lisa became a seamstress. While in Germany, the nuns taught her how to sew. Once in America, she began work in the alterations room of a fancy dress shop on Charles Street called “Maison Annette.”

Maison Annette hatbox, 1987.126.2

Her sister Hilda became a beautician. Her brother Werner became a pharmacist. Her brother, Bert, worked for a company called “Triangle Sign” for his entire life.

“Oh, that’s interesting,” I told Karen. “Your grandmother’s brother worked for Triangle Sign.” And then I flipped back to the front of the document and the name Lisa Sommer sunk in.

Sign created by the Triangle Sign Company, 1998.16.70

“Wait! Your great-uncle is Bert Sommer?!” I asked.
“Yes,” Karen confirmed.
“Bert & Ruthie Sommer?” I double checked my facts.
“How do you know Bert and Ruthie? ”

So, I explained how.

A few years ago a woman named Ruthie Sommer made arrangements to donate Miriam Lodge materials to the museum. At the end of the conversation she asked if I was related to Irv and Becky Zink. Slightly surprised by the connection I said that they were my husband’s grandparents (or more likely I called them my grandparents-in-law). Ruthie said that her husband Bert used to work at Triangle Sign with Irv and they had been good friends.

Sign created by the Triangle Sign Company, 1998.16.82

Triangle Signs made many signs for the shopping centers and businesses in Baltimore.

I remember stopping in to visit Grandpop at the nursing home and telling him that I had regards for him from some old friends. When I said Ruth & Bert Sommer his face lit up and he regaled me with stories of his days at Triangle Sign where he made signs, Bert was one of the managers, and Mr. Hecht was the owner. There was a lot of pride in the company and the work that they did.

Design sketch (above) & letter (below) of approval for work to be completed by the Triangle Sign Co.
Ruthie and Irv remember that the Sommers, who were Jewish, were invited to spend Christmas with the Zinks for many years.

Triangle Sign always took out an advertisement in the newspaper to thank their clients. Perhaps the Sommers and Zinks saw these ads as they enjoyed Christmas dinner together.

Thank yous published by the Triangle Sign Company, 1998.16.97

Karen and I were amazed at the connection (albeit distant) between our families. They don’t call it SMALLtimore for nothing!

At their next meeting the Collections Committee will determine if the Lisa Sommer collection will be accepted. More photographs of signs by the Triangle Sign Co. can be found in our database using the keywords “Triangle Sign.”


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Collections jewish museum of maryland

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