Saturday, January 30, 2016

great-uncle ben and the cincinnati newspapers of 1904: a yiddish opera: a work in progress

My great-uncle Ben was the oldest of the three, of Ben and Daisy (my grandmother) and Joe. Ben was the one who stayed in Russia, with his father, while the other two emigrated to America with their mother. At least that is one version of the emigration story. But, for Ben, who was six or seven at the time, which is 1890 or so, the particulars of the emigration do not really matter. What matters, and what might best be told in the form of a Yiddish opera, which we’ll get to, is that while my great-grandmother and Fannie and Sussman (aka Daisy and Joe) were in America, my great-grandfather and Ben were back home, in Russia.

As always, what happened after the emigration is just a whole bunch of stuff like kids being born, people moving on and people moving up, setting up house, doing whatever they do to make a living, finding a community, raising children, some children getting lost in the shuffle, some children getting put on trains and shipped to new homes, religions and customs lost, religions and customs held close. Some try to hold on to the past while others try to let go, maybe even hide, but all, always, trying to forge a future. Soon it was 1904, and, without a doubt, Ben was crossing the ocean in search of his past, in search of his brother and sister, and when he landed in Cincinnati, where his mother was living and raising a family with a man Ben did not know, well, the whole thing ended up in the papers.

In the present: a snow photo taken earlier this week.

I had just aborted my registration on genealogybank.com when the phone rang. It was a pleasant-sounding man from the website, and apparently he knew what I was up to: searching out the past, searching out Ben, looking for articles about when Ben came to America looking for Fannie and Sussman. I had already found a few on another site, and, according to the articles, Ben had promised to go to America and find his siblings while sitting at his dying father’s bedside. Once in America, Ben found his mother, and in his effort to get her to tell him where Fannie and Sussman were, he brought in the cops, had his mother and her husband arrested for adultery and bigamy. You see, Ben didn’t believe that his mother and this man she was living with were legally married, and maybe they weren’t, maybe they hadn’t even been legally divorced from their former spouses, but again, try to get a straight story out of anybody. Anyway, by the time I was talking to the guy from genealogybank.com, I already had three Cincinnati Enquirer articles about the event.


The “Trouble” article is more about the ex-wife of my great-grandmother’s second husband, Israel, and I’ll go with the story that my great-grandmother and Israel were married because, after all, they had five kids and were forging a life together. It seems possible to me that this ex-wife was only there to help Ben make his case of bigamy, so perhaps she was an opportunist. (No offense if she is your ancestor.) Whatever the story, though, the lead paragraph of “Trouble” provided me with loads of new information.
Israel White, or Israel Solomayack, as his right name is claimed to be, is having a peck of trouble. Israel is a Russian and conducts a secondhand store at 1559 Central avenue. As Israel White he is married and has five children. As Israel Solomayack, it is alleged that he has another wife and an equal number of offspring.
A busy guy.

But, back to genealogybank.com and this nice man who was calling because I had aborted my registration on the site when a pop-up thingy informed me that the 30-day trail cost $9.95. I had already taken advantage of a 7-day free trial on newspapers.com, which brought me the Enquirer articles and loads of other good stuff, relevant and not, and I had just started a 14-day free trial on newspaperarchive.com, which so far had brought me nothing, so I assumed the 30-day trial membership on genealogybank.com was free, and indeed, I was not asked to pay until I could hazily see the beginning of an article from The Cincinnati Post.

SHE CAME FROM NEW
YORK TO FACE HUSBAND
And Then White Declared They Were Divorced in Russia.
Police Judge Lueders Delivers Caustic Comment
to White and Woman He Eloped With.

How irritating that the article was blocked by this gauzy, attention-demanding pop-up thing asking for money. Was it worth it? Should I pay? For one article? I pondered. Maybe I could find the article elsewhere. And then the phone rang, and it was the pleasant man from genealogybank.com. (How many times will he pop up before I get on with it?) He gave me a spiel about how great the site is, and I told him I was really just interested in that one article but wasn’t sure it was worth $9.95, and he pulled up the article and read me a bit, and I was hooked. I gave him my credit card number. I now have the full article and must remember in 30 days to cancel this subscription, because all these sites can get costly if you forget about them. But, this article is worthwhile. The “caustic” comments Police Judge Lueders made to the Whites, which included ordering them to leave Cincinnati, which they did not do, add much to the story. And all I can say to that judge is: So, what is your family’s story, bud? Please, regale us with tales of your virtuous ancestors.

To give genealogybank.com its full due, through it I learned that one of the Enquirer articles had been picked up by the Grand Forks Daily Herald, way out there in North Dakota. I guess those folks were hard up for news. Of course, in 1904 they didn’t have TV or the Internet.

So, now I had four articles about Great-uncle Ben, May 1904, Cincinnati, Ohio, plus the original article that had led me to search for more. I’ve had that since 1997. It came from the Children’s Aid Society, in New York, as a photocopy of what I assume was an original clipping from The Cincinnati Times-Star. You see, in 1904, the people at the Children’s Aid Society were the only people who could tell Ben where his long-lost siblings were. My great-grandmother thought they were there, at the Society, in New York, where she had left them and written to them, faithfully, all these many years, but Fannie and Sussman were not there, of course, but in Iowa. Had been for nearly nine years. Were now known as Daisy and little Joie. Due to Ben’s dogged search, that included having his mother arrested, the Times-Star article became part of Daisy’s file at the Society. It is short, but it includes a picture, a photo—a studio portrait—of my great-grandmother and her husband Israel and four children, one just a babe in arms. If only I could get a clearer copy of the article, of that picture …

At times, the search becomes obsessive.

The same snow, a day later.

I remember a time when I looked at that Times-Star photo in all its black-and-white photocopy blottiness and thought wow, who are those people? Now, I can tell you everyone’s name. I can tell you when the children were born. And I can tell you about when the picture would have been taken. I can tell you when those kids were married and who they were married to. I can tell you the names of their children and grandchildren and, at a certain point, that all gets a bit creepy. But I think: To have that photo. Wouldn’t that be great? How did the newspaper get it? Who gave it to the Times-Star to print with this scandalous story? Was it Ben?

The photo.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Why can’t I find this article with this photo online?

The website for The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County lists the periodicals it has on microfilm, and the list includes the Times-Star. I sent an email to the reference desk telling them exactly what I was looking for and asking, if it’s not too much trouble, and if it’s something you do for people, could you see if there’s anything else on this story? Within an hour and a half I had two responses from the reference librarian. (Let’s pause now and pay homage to libraries and librarians everywhere. Thank you.) She had attached four articles. Three were the ones I already had from the Enquirer (which newspapers.com seems to claim copyright to, which opens a whole new can of worms in a whole other realm), but the fourth article was new. It was from the Times-Star, and although not the one I was looking for, the one with the picture, what it adds to my great-uncle Ben’s story is immeasurable, because it claims to tell Ben’s story in Ben’s own words. Ben’s own words! The words of Ben, my great-uncle, then a 19-year-old, newly-arrived-in-America Russian Jew (though in this article he is Polish). The copy of the article is dark and blurry and hard to read, and I have no idea who has the right to copy it and who does not, but I type it out here, giving full acknowledgement and thanks to the reporter who wrote it (name unknown), the paper that published it, whoever it was that put the paper on microfilm, and the library that stores the microfilm and provides access to it.

So, with just a little bit more introductory ado, from The Cincinnati Times-Star, May 17, 1904, page 9.

Imagine, if you will, this entire story as an opera, sung in the natural language of each character. For this scene, Ben’s aria, a spotlight, stage left. We see Ben, our young Russian Polish lad, seated, head bowed, cap in hand; to the side, left of Ben, a reporter, in full reporter’s garb, the fedora, the suit, a pencil, a scrap of paper, an avid look; behind Ben, a policeman, in full uniform, portly, perhaps behind a raised desk with one of those lamps that looks like a streetlight. Ben lifts his head and sings the exact words the reporter will write (see article below). At the end of the aria the spotlight dims and a new one appears, center stage, and we see Ben, standing alone. He now sings the exact words he spoke that night at the police station. The spotlight dims, and a new spotlight appears, stage right, and we see Ben, standing alone. Again, he sings, the same story, now in Yiddish, his native tongue, or so I imagine …
MOTHER WAS ACCUSED BY LONG ABSENT SON.
Romance of Modern Life in the Case of Saladuchow, Who Crossed Sea to Find His Parent.

Tuesday afternoon Benjamin Saladuchow, a Polish lad nineteen years of age, swore out a warrant for the arrest of his mother and Israel White. They have been residing on Central avenue, near Fifteenth street. Behind this charge of a son against a mother, there is a pitiful story, and told in tearful voice by the young Pole it is very touching. “I have been in America six months,” said young Saladuchow, sitting in the office of the chief of police, a worried look on his frank, intelligent face. “I arrived in New York, having left my home in Poland a long time ago. My aunt, my mother’s sister, gave me fifty rubles to come to America and find my brother Samuel and sister Fannie, whom my mother brought with her to America when she left my father, fourteen years ago. I was only a little boy when she left, and do not remember the circumstances. Two years ago my father died. On his deathbed, besides which I sat, weeping, for he had been my friend all my life, he took my hand and said to me, ‛My boy, I am going to die. But before I leave I want you to promise me on your honor, that you will some day go to the land called America and find your sister and brother.’ He made me promise before heaven. I have waited two years and my aunt gave me money to come over here. When I arrived in New York, six months ago, I advertised in a number of Jewish papers for some trace of my sister and brother. I got a letter from a man named White, in Cincinnati, telling me that my mother was here and for me to come here, but to say that I was the nephew instead of the son of my mother. I came here and found my mother living with a man who called himself Israel White. I do not believe they are married, and that is why I have had them arrested. I asked my mother: ‛Where is my sister and my brother?’ First she said that she had left them in an orphan asylum in New York, and then again she said that they both died a long time ago on the same day. I told my mother that I did not believe her, and demanded that she tell me where they were. She refused. I hope that by this arrest I can get some information out of her regarding my brother and sister.”
The three-part aria ends, the stage is dark. Light slowly returns. Others come on stage, sing their stories, the stories they know, the stories they have heard, the stories they have lived, and some scenes will be acted out—think of the deathbed scene in Russia between Ben and his father, or the scene where Fannie and Sussman are left at the orphanage, or their train ride west, those corn fields of Iowa, the slums of New York, all of it come to life—but of course, I haven’t worked it all out yet.

Meanwhile, just so you know, all this, including the Yiddish opera idea, is now under my copyright, me, Leslie Allen, grandniece of my great-uncle Ben, year 2016.

Me, just lying on a snowbank, somewhere in America.