Maybe…Maybe Not. Part 2

Projection:

The tendency to ascribe to another person feelings, thoughts, or attitudes present in oneself, or to regard external reality as embodying such feelings, thoughts, etc., in some way.

Projection:

The act of visualizing and regarding an idea or the like as an objective reality.

Projection:

The casting of the powder of philosophers’ stone upon metal in fusion, to transmute it into gold or silver.

Head:Jennie Markson obit

When I first saw Jennie Markson’s obituary photo, I projected an entire personality based on one grainy microfiche image.

I assumed that she was a good mother. That she was a leader in the community – supporting a wide range of issues. I assumed she was passionate yet humble. Driven but inclusive.

Based on her list of accomplishments (cut short by an early death from pneumonia at age 46) I wondered if we would have been friends.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Even after meeting with members of her family, there was no way to verify what she was really like or how she felt about what she had achieved in her life. I am only left with my projections.

There is a photograph of my grandmother in which she appears as a well made-up older woman with tight curls and a string of pearls – an archetypal image of a grandmother. She was anything but.

Widowed at an early age, she was left with 2 small children. Although encouraged to give up her children to increase her chances of re-marriage, she chose instead to find work. According to the family story, she was the first woman hired at the Social Security Administration in Maine.

She never made cookies. She didn’t pass on any recipes. She wasn’t a great cook – except for tomato rice soup – that I never have been able to duplicate – (probably because I have never ascertained what flanken is.) She worked into her early 80’s. Following a stroke in 1968, she resided at the Jewish Home for the Aged. lunchroom

Anna Sapiro also lived at the Jewish Home for the Aged before she passed away in 1968. (She was instrumental in creating the Home. http://www.jta.org/1928/09/23/archive/campaign-in-maine-for-home-for-aged) My grandmother may have passed Anna Sapiro in the hallway or sat with her in the dining room….they might have traded stories of grandchildren or early life exploits …

Maybe. Maybe not.

Between the lunch crowd and the dinner rush, I sit with Dan Rubinoff at his Back Cove Deli in Portland, Maine. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Back-Cove-BBQ-Pizzeria/225128054168382

Anna Sapiro was his grandmother. She and her husband owned the Portland Candy Company. (A cousin I interviewed remembers barrels of penny candy from which she ‘sampled.’)

Their candy store was located on Plum Street. In 1972, not only was the block demolished to make way for Canal Square, but Plum Street became a ‘ghost street.’ http://strangemaine.blogspot.com/2008/02/city-has-ghost-streets-part-2-plum.html

Dan’s reminisces about going to his grandmother’s home after school and sampling one of the myriad of baked goods she had made that day. (Maybe this is what led Dan to be in the deli business. That thought, of course, is a projection on my part.)

His brother Stephen wrote:

…She once admonished: “remember to give what you can to those in need. Manage well but worry not about your personal affairs. The bills and taxes will be with you always. What matters most is what you do for others – the quality of what you do (for the community) with what you have.”

…She also made the best molasses cookies, pies, lokshon and potato kugels- to say nothing of her fish chowder and baked haddock. (He did NOT open a deli. So much for projections.)

Aside:

Simon Rubinoff, the police officer who interpreted for Bela Gross after being rescued from jumping into Casco Bay, was possibly the first Jewish police officer in Portland and their uncle.

Feet:

I walk to reduce stress – but in winter, in lieu of walking, I get a pedicure in order to avail myself of their massage chair. (I go to Princess Nails – a Vietnamese family owns and operates it. They ask about Mom and I ask about their children.) http://www.princessnailsalon.com

pedichairs_313x236I walk to the shop via the Bayside Trail. http://trails.org/our-trails/bayside-trail/ Past the Whole Foods, Planet Dog and other recently opened stores that are part of the ongoing gentrification of Portland is a large fenced area that encompasses an entire city block.

I make my way past the entrance. Outside of the gate are groups of men – some carrying metal objects, some waiting to drive their trucks laden with scrap into the yard.- A sign on the front door reads:

E. PERRY IRON & METAL CO., INC.

EST. 1896.

Lena Perry was credited with setting up the kosher kitchen on House Island. Lena Perry’s husband, Eli, was a junk and scrap metal dealer.

Eli Perry 4Perry junk

As I entered the office, I was greeted by two young men.

I was sure they were descendants of the “Perrys.” After all, the sign did say ‘since 1896.’

Eli Perry was the original owner of the scrap metal business. Working alongside him was Louis Lerman – who purchased the business in 1926. The Lerman family continues the tradition. http://eperry.net

ASIDE: A childhood friend whose family lived directly across the street married into the Lerman family– and the 2 helpful young men in the office are her 2 sons. So much for that projection.

After Perry sold the business, he and Lena moved to Bethelem, N.H. and purchased a hotel. Bethlehem, known as the “ Star of the White Mountains,” was a summer destination for Jewish families beginning around 1916.

… a few Jewish families became summer visitors seeking relief from their hay fever symptoms. As a matter of fact, the National Hay Fever Relief Association was founded in Bethlehem a few years later. By the mid-1920s, the Jewish community grew significantly, helping to keep hotel rooms full. Although in much fewer numbers, Chassidic Jews can still be seen today, traditionally dressed, taking a summer stroll on Main Street. http://bethlehemwhitemtns.com/history.php

Aside: The synagogue that the Perry’s attended is closed for the winter. However, proof of their residence was provided to me from the President of the synagogue.

Perry plaque

Before relocating, Lena was listed in the 1923-5 Portland Directory as the proprietor of the Peaks Island House – a hotel-boarding house located on Peaks Island when it was still known as the Coney Island of Maine.Peaks_Island,_Maine,_Boardwalk,_postcard

Since the start of the House Island research, I have wondered how the PCJW women had the knowledge of transporting food on ships, traveling between House Island and Portland…and the vagaries of tides and wind…

Lena’s experiences on Peaks Island could have been the key to the entire endeavor.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Heart:

I possess very little memorabilia from my own life. When I moved my mom into assisted living a year ago, I retrieved my yearbooks and a few photos. I added them to my Decade Boxes. Each box is the size of a scrap book – filled with some ephemera, special cards, mementos, articles, some videos. Most everything relates to my accomplishments, my art, and my close relationships.

my boxes

Four of the 7 original women were alive when Selma Black wrote the history of the PCJW from 1920 – 1955. They were probably middle aged by that time. Maybe even grandmothers. Although the interviews of their grandchildren provided memories of recipes, anecdotes from their own childhood and a few family stories, there was no sense of the complete person – what they were like before marriage, before children – what drove them to help others – what beliefs did they possess that compelled them to ‘welcome the stranger.’

A Jungian view of projection is that we place on others that which we don’t see in ourselves – both good and bad characteristics.

My projections of the women – caring, compassionate, innovative, organized – are probably based on own desire to be seen as I see them.

And I wonder …when someone examines the contents of my Decade Boxes…what conclusions will they make about me?

Epilogue:

I sorted and organized 6 additional boxes of PCJW papers. The documents represent data – moments frozen in time – edited down to salient points, agreements and understandings. But, once again, the 1920 meeting notes establishing the House Island kosher kitchen and immigrant assistance programs were not there.

I am hoping that the papers will be archived at the University of Southern Maine (USM) Judaica Collection so others who may be interested in writing this history will have a place to start.

I am putting my search to rest. It is time to make Art.

Maybe.

And…there is still the unsolved mystery of what happened to Bela Gross…

Well. Maybe not.

House Island Update:

Following the November 25 hearing, Planning and Zoning recommended House Island for historic district designation.

On January 5, 2015 (6 months to the day of the stop work order), the vote was unanimous and the 3 remaining structures of the Immigration and Quarantine Station will be protected. Future development can only take place with approval from the Historic Preservation and Zoning divisions of the city. Thanks to everyone who supported theses efforts.

http://www.pressherald.com/?s=House+Island++city+council+meeting

*

* When I realized I wanted to find out more about the seven women who founded the Portland Council of Jewish Women, the fates delivered me a student majoring in Arabic studies, minoring in art, and a passion for genealogy research.

You Should Have Been Here Yesterday – Part 1

You Should Have Been Here Yesterday – Part 1

If oral historians had a bumper sticker it would read:

“You should have been here yesterday.”

My hopes of interviewing Aunt Bunny were dashed – she is too ill for visitors. I had driven 10 hours to meet with her. However, her sister was willing to meet with me. So, I made a detour to Massachusetts.

A woman of a “certain age” i.e. over 90, Bobbie lives in a two-story home, bowls twice a week, plays mahjong. She had spent the day before my visit with her son pouring over a 100 years of family photos – and still able to name every person. She handed me a faded photo of Millie.

Mildred Markson. Wife of Maurice. Born 1880.Died February 10, 1966.

Millie is somewhat serious looking. Thin. She was known as the “beauty of the family.” She was a founding member of the Portland Council of Jewish women.

Aunt Bobbie has many stories, especially of her childhood at the family summer compound in Maine. Millie was alive during those years. She often slept on the porch as she had suffered from TB. No stories were told about immigrants or House Island or even the good works that Millie had done. Aunt Bobbie ended our conversation by saying:

“Millie was the most generous person I ever met. She didn’t wait to be asked. She helped everyone in the family – sent me to college, provided for widows, and never expected anything in return….”

You should have been here yesterday…Brandeis Law Library

Generosity: Kindness – willingness to give money, help or time freely.

I had hoped to Bobbie would be able to provide more information but instead, I left with one word – generosity. Millie and the other women who provided assistance to the immigrants were generous with their money, their help, and their time.

I was still in Massachusetts so I checked the map and made another detour.

“Chief Justice Louis Brandeis was born to Jewish immigrant parents. After graduating from Harvard at age 20, he established a law firm and became know as the “People’s Lawyer.” Brandeis later fought against powerful corporations, monopolies, public corruption, and mass consumerism, all of which he felt were detrimental to American values and culture.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Brandeis

Brandeis University was named for him. I am hoping that the Brandeis Library will have a link to the case files related to Bela Gross’ habeas corpus decision. His plight might have been reported in Jewish newspapers or law related periodicals of the 1920’s.

It is summer. The campus was virtually empty. There was a smattering of students following signs to a conference center.  The library didn’t open until noon. I waited. As I entered, I looked around and noticed there were 3 of us at the research desk:  me, the research librarian, and a delivery guy trying to find out who had ordered Indian food for the library.

I handed my list of topics and questions to the librarian. He would research the Brandeis databases. I headed to the stacks.

Many universities are no longer purchasing books or are de-accessing their collections. Colby College in Maine has moved 170,000 of its books to storage. There is even a campaign to bring back the books. 

Button

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/05/college_libraries_should_keep_their_books_in_the_stacks.html

However, the stacks are often where I find what I am seeking — even when I have no idea what I am looking for.

The shelves at Brandeis hold treasures. There are large leather bound books whose content I cannot understand – books written in Hebrew, Islamic texts, Yiddish newspapers. There are Jewish periodicals, Jewish newspapers. Titles refer to Jewish history, Jewish politics, Jewish film.

I am drawn to the film lists. I am looking for films that re-create the sounds and feel of the 1920’s. After an hour of reading film synopses that span the years from 1920 to 1994, I return to the front desk.

The librarian looked deflated. He was an ‘on-line research wizard’ and had pursued multiple avenues to locate the information I wanted. He was stymied. After apologizing profusely he added:

“The Law Librarian just left for the summer. He’ll be back in the fall. (…You should have been here yesterday.)”

You should have been here yesterday… Portland Press Herald

           When we die, we leave behind a midden: photographs, bank accounts, letters, clothes, teeth, bones.         Whatever patterns the artifacts in these piles of rubbish carry are usually and mercifully lost as they are mixed into the compost heap of time past. Biological artifacts are especially evanescent: as fire eats wood by oxidation, so air eats paper. Librarians call this process “slow fire.**”

Without the help of research librarians, I would be lost amidst the miasma of continually expanding information. Fortunately, every library has at least one “gem.”

The Portland Room at the Portland Maine Public Library (PPL) is ‘the city’s hub to preserve and provide access to Portland history.’ The growing collections include printed books and periodicals, maps, archives, manuscripts, photographs, digital records, as well as microfilmed and digitized Portland newspapers. http://www.portlandlibrary.com/locations/main-library/portland-room/

The ‘gem’ at the PPL is Abraham Schechter, Special Collections Librarian and Archivist. http://laviegraphite.blogspot.com/search?q=living+history

Abraham

The day I arrive, Abraham was scanning glass negatives rescued from the basement of the former home of the Portland Press Herald newspaper founded in 1862. These negatives will become the Portland Press Herald Still Film Negative Collection. “….The collection measures approximately 310 linear feet, shelved. There are approximately 550,000 negatives in the collection.” It is a Herculean task.

Within the special collections are Census Books, Federal Court Records with applications for Naturalization, Tax Records, Marriage Licenses, and Obituaries. It is a virtual treasure trove chronicling human existence spanning centuries in the city of Portland, Maine.

To access the information, you must have a name, a birth date and a death date. The best place to find that information is in the obituaries. Although most city data since 1924 is digitized and on-line, the only way to read the 1923 news is via microfiche. There are no newspapers existent.

Scrolling through reel after reel of scratched, dimly-lit microfiche, I find myself reading ads and articles that reflect life today as yesterday. Corrupt politicians, murders, scandals, wars….and sales of the day.

In 1924, the City of Portland tax division took photographs of every building in existence at that time. Markson’s Clothing was one of those images. Beginning in 2011, this same process is being replicated by Ted Oldham. His goal is to photograph each of the 20,000 buildings in Portland. He has already completed 13,000.   He believes that…“Our buildings are a physical expression of what our values are.”

http://www.pressherald.com/2011/12/28/new-collection-takes-shape-man-photographing-20000-buildings_2011-12-28/

Dollar Down and a Dollar a Week.

Markson Bros. Clothing store became known throughout New England for both men and women’s clothing. Bunny/Bobby’s great aunt Millie’s husband, Maurice. – founded Markson Bros. with great aunt Jennie Markson’s husband, Elder. (Whew…family trees are confusing especially if they are someone elses.)

March 10, 1925.

Mrs. Jennie Markson , a prominent Jewish woman, died last evening of pneumonia, after an illness lasting a week….

Mrs. Markson was a prominent club woman and an interested and active worker in all community affairs. She was a member of the Council of Jewish women, a director of the United Hebrew Charities, a past president of the Etz Chaim sisterhood, a ….

Jennie died at age 46 from pneumonia on March 10, 1925. Only 2 years after starting the Portland Council of Jewish Women with her sister Millie. Only 2 years after establishing the House Island immigration assistance program.

At the end of a very long day, I had only found obituaries for 2 of the NCJW women. I did find obits for some of their husbands. (If a husband died; a wife sent in an obit. The reverse was not necessarily true.)

You should have been here yesterday…NCJW documents

Faith Rogow’s book: Gone to Another Meeting, chronicles the history of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) from 1893 – 1993. It is a fascinating read because the organization’s history mirrors the trajectory of women’s rights and roles in American society – not just the history of Jewish women.

Cover Rogow

http://www.amazon.com/Gone-Another-Meeting-National-1893-1993/dp/0817306714/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405784278&sr=1-1&keywords=gone+to+another+meeting

The Library of Congress has 48,000 items; 216 containers and 91.8 linear feet of the NCJW documents. The Portland Maine chapter documents are NOT included.

So I write letters:

National Council of Jewish Women Headquarters– DC

Nothing

National Council of Jewish Women Historian – NYC

Nothing

Mary Herman, former president of southern Maine/Portland area

Nothing

ASIDE: Angus King is her husband, Maine Senator and former Governor

Mary directed me to the current NCJW Portland president: Lynn Goldfarb.

Lynn Goldfarb

Nothing

However, Lynn remembered a story about a fire in which the records were destroyed.  MAYBE Gail Volk (several time past president) might be holding some documents “for safe keeping.”

Gail Volk

I call her. She has 2 “clipping” albums. One labeled 1920-1948; the other labeled 1948-1980. They have been in her attic for ‘safekeeping.” Although she summers at the lake and is inundated with relatives and friends, Gail is willing to drive the albums to Portland.

I contact Nina Rayer – a paper restoration and conservation expert – in case the documents need stabilizing before we review them.  We arrange to meet at the Maine Jewish Museum.

We cover a table with plastic, don gloves and masks. Nancy carefully opens the bag and removes 2 scrapbooks. They are literally falling apart.

We document each step in the process. How a document appears; how it is packaged; how it comes apart and goes back together; which items are next to each other…all this matters to an archivist and conservation specialist. It is their ‘art.’

CU album

ribbonThe most recent album is in better condition. Nina recommends we number the pages, separate them carefully and have them scanned.

The older album is held together with yellow ribbon. The front cover is detached from the pages. We carefully remove it and set it aside. We read the first entry. It is a newspaper clipping of an event that took place in 1926.  The first entry is not 1920 but 1926. The primary source materials describing the work of the NCJW on House Island would span the years from 1920-23. Those pages are missing.

First page

We reviewed both albums again, hoping the missing materials might be misfiled but to no avail. (I did, however, confirm that in 1969 I received a college scholarship of $500.00 from the NCJW of Portland.)

 

You should have been here yesterday…House Island sold!!

House Island has been sold. There is an excavator and a bulldozer visible from the deck of the ferry as you approach Peaks Island.

Courtesy Gregg Bolton

Courtesy Gregg Bolton

Rumors abound. Condos. Helipad. No one has seen plans. It will not be retained as a historic site.

Once the existing structures are removed, we will have lost the opportunity to honor those who made the immigrant journey – those who were detained – and those allowed to remain….as well as those who ‘welcomed the stranger.’

We should have been here yesterday.

 

 

 

**A slow fire is a term used in library and information science to describe paper embrittlement resulting from acid decay. The term is taken from the title of Terry Sanders’ 1987 film Slow Fires: On the preservation of the human record.