Monday, September 27, 2010
I was wrong about several things in the preceding posts. I said that Kessler owned American Distillery but that's wrong. American was a long standing distillery in Pekin IL that had been doing business as American Commercial Alcohol Corporation during Prohibition.
As it prepared to enter the new spirits industry when Repeal went into effect, it would need a New York sales and marketing agent to bring its whiskey brands to the market. This was similar to how other fledgling liquor companies like Seagram's and Schenley were organized, matching up refurbished distilleries in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois with smart, mainly Jewish, businessmen inventing a new industry.
American Distillery had brought in a seasoned executive Russell Brown as president. I believe it was his strategy to create a subsidiary called American Spirits. The first president of American Spirits was Joseph H. Kraus. Peter Siskind was vice president of sales. Walter Ruby is referred to as advertising manager in one article but that may have been descriptive of his role but not his actual title.
Now a new liquor company needed a full range of liquor products. They produced their own bourbon and rye whiskey, but they needed import deals for Scotch and Irish whiskey, wines and liquors from around Europe, and rum from the West Indies.
In two 1937 articles from the NY Times business pages we see the company rolling out new strategies for their line of Scotch whiskeys and Puerto Rican rum. For the Scotch deal, they are distributing existing brands of whiskey, but for their rum play they worked with a new supplier and decided to establish a new brand.
That was Sidney Kessler and Carioca. He had taken over a rum making plant in Catano, outside of San Juan, just down the road from the main Bacardi distillery, and there he established his new Compania Ron Carioca. Doing so must have required some substantial resources, so I wonder if American Distilling didn't back the project and own a piece of it from the start.
Walter appears in that July 31, 1937 article. The Carioca Cooler is one of three drink concoctions that the company will be promoting. As far as I know, we don't have a date for when Walter left the company, whether it was shortly after the campaign launch or later that year or next. The date of his death is July 23, 1939.
The next several years show rapid growth in sales for American Spirits, especially the rum business, where it has had a hit with its new rum drink, the Carioca Zombie. The partnership between Kessler and American had gone so well that now it made sense to actually tie the knot, or at least that was what Peter Siskind thinks. The ambitious salesman engineers a deal for American to acquire Carioca for a 50 percent interest in the combined company, with the 50 percent to be split between Kessler and himself.
Peter Siskind becomes president of American Spirits on February 20, 1941 (see the NY Times clipping above). The business continues to grow, though shortages loom as the government puts all distilleries on producing industrial alcohol for the war effort. Kessler begins dreaming about his hotel and thinks it's time to cash in.
The buyer is Schenley, one of the big four liquor companies, for a rumored $4 million. Schenley continues to sell Carioca alongside other rum brands. American goes back to its knitting as a distiller for a time, though it makes a belated unsuccessful attempt to take over Schenley in the 1970s. Eventually, Schenley will be acquired by Guinness, the U.K. beverage giant.
We know that Kessler's million went into the Virgin Isle, and it paid off handsomely when after a decade of running the hotel he sold Hilton the long term license to operate it.
I haven't tried to track down Peter Siskind yet. He may have made out the best of all, having earned his cut by putting the deal together and by running the company successfully.
That's my current reconstruction of events. I'm sure I still have some things wrong, but this is getting closer.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Well, I turned up all kinds of interesting information about Sidney Kessler. I'll do my best to summarize it here without posting full details on every point.
He was born June 20, 1897 to Polish immigrant parents in New York. I don't find him in early census years, but I do have his have his 1917 WWI draft registration. His mother's name is Yetta. His employer is L.K. Liggett, the drug store, at an address on Broadway in Manhattan.
In 1930, he is in the census at 645 Ocean Ave. in Brooklyn with his wife Frances and daughters Charlotte, age 8, and Louise, 5. His occupation is pharmacist. (Hmm. This is our supposed bootlegger?)
The next records are all from Ancestry's passenger lists database—ship and air manifests documenting more than 30 arrivals in New York from San Juan, Puerto Rico between the years 1936 and 1954. Usually he is traveling alone and carries one or two bags. On several trips he is accompanied by his wife, and on two by Peter Siskind.
The dates of the trips cluster like this: 10 trips between 1936 and 1940; 7 trips between 1944 and 1948; a flurry of 14 trips between February 1950 and April 1952 and then a final trip in September 1954. The trips are by steamship until 1944, after which they are air flights on Pan Am or Eastern Airlines.
Each record includes the passenger's local address. For the early trips, Sidney's home address is the same Ocean Avenue apartment from 1930. In the mid-'40s, he began using 101 Central Park West as his local address. This turns out also to have been the home address of his daughter Charlotte and her husband Henry Kimelman, of whom more later. For the last handful of trips, Sidney is using different hotels for his New York address.
While rich in new detail, this information generally fits what we already knew. Kessler was traveling regularly to Puerto Rico in the second half of the 1930s, presumably establishing distillery operations, arranging product shipment, dealing with officialdom and more. The frequency of his visits falls off during the war years and until the time of the sale of the company in 1946.
I don't know when Kessler first begins spending time during his trips not in Puerto Rico but in nearby St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. San Juan was the gateway city to the eastern Caribbean, so even later when he was shuttling to St. Thomas, he continued to travel through San Juan on the way to New York. I imagine he had come to know the Virgin Islands during his earlier trips and was intrigued with its potential for tourism and development.
After the sale of the liquor business, he decided to go all out for his dream and put together plans to build a grand resort hotel, one of the island's first, near the capital city Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. The investors in the project are Kessler, his two sons-in-law Henry Kimelman and Eliot Fishman, and a fourth man Benjamin Bayles. Plans are laid during the trips in 1947 and '48.
Construction begins in 1949 and Kessler is on scene to oversee things throughout 1950, when the hotel opens in mid December. Baseball star Jackie Robinson is on hand for the opening. Then Sidney continues to travel to New York throughout the next year as he moves his family and wraps up business on the mainland. After 1951, he lives in St. Thomas full time.
Before I leave the subject of passenger lists, I want to note there are no visits to the islands prior to the time of his association with American Spirits. He had not done any business involving Puerto Rican rum before 1935, at least none that required travel to Puerto Rico. My point is that so far we see no evidence of his involvement in the liquor business, either legally or not, before then. It doesn't mean he wasn't a bootlegger, not a mild mannered pharmacist, but we don't see it yet.
There is lots of other interesting stuff, however. Most of it has nothing to do with Walter Ruby, but now that we're getting to know Kessler, we might as well flesh him out.
• On January 5, 1930, Joseph Weber, a 31-year-old broker living at at 75 Lenox Road, Brooklyn, poisoned himself after brooding over losses said to have amounted to approximately $100,000 in the stock market. Before he became unconscious, he telephoned to his friend, Sidney Kessler, 645 Ocean Avenue, informing him that he was "very ill" and attempted to administer an antidote to himself. When Kessler arrived, he found his friend in a coma and Weber died at Kings County Hospital.
• In 1943, there was controversy in Congress over Roosevelt Administration policy in Puerto Rico, where there had been some unrest. The Bell subcommittee of the Committee on Insular Affairs conducted hearings on political, economic and social conditions in the U.S. owned commonwealth.
The following exchange from the hearing is between Cong. Fred Crawford (R-Mich) and a witness named Lee D. Miller:
Mr. MILLER: So then I went to see Mr. Bash and Mr. Bash said he was going to see if there was some way he could stop Carioca Rum.
Mr. CRAWFORD. Who is Carioca Rum?
Mr. MILLER. Carioca Rum is a domestic corporation which is wholly owned by the...
Mr. CRAWFORD. Can you give us the names of any individuals connected with them?
Mr. MILLER. The name of Sidney Kessler, the individual who originated the whole deal. You ought to get Moe Goldman up here. He will tell you.
Mr. CRAWFORD. ...I have spoken to Mr. Moe Goldman, who admits that he was the agent, also admitting that he has not the financial background to swing this deal himself. This was said in front of a witness. The shipment of 10000 empty barrels were filled with this residue grain mixture by the "J. Younge Grain Co.," at Peoria, Ill., and the whole scheme was undoubtedly concocted by one Sidney Kessler of Rum...
Intriguing to be sure. To learn more we'd need to get a full copy of the multi-volume committee hearings.
• The Virgin Isle Hotel was a considerable success as Kessler's vision of a Virgin Islands tourism boom came true. On April 18, 1957, just one month after his winning streak on the game show Twenty One had come to an end, Charles Van Doren married Geraldine Ann Bernstein at the Virgin Isle Hotel, and the couple honeymooned there for a week. The bride, a former secretary Van Doren had hired to respond to his fan mail, was a niece of hotel owner Sidney Kessler.
• A Sidney Kessler was involved in a scandal involving an ambassadorial appointment in the Kennedy administration. However, I just now realized that this was a different Sidney Kessler.
* However, we do get into politics next through Kessler son-in-law Henry Kimelman. Kimelman gained wealth via multiple business interests in the Virgin Islands, where he served as the first commissioner of commerce. He became involved in politics in the '60s, served as chief of staff in Stewart Udall's Interior Department, and became a close confidante to Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota.
McGovern was visiting with Kimelman on St. Thomas in December 1969 when news broke of Sen. Edward Kennedy's accident in Chappaquiddick, and it was Kimelman who convinced McGovern that this gave the senator an opening to run for president. Kimelman became the campaign finance chairman and chief fundraiser.
Kimelman's name was on President Richard Nixon's enemies list.
On February 29, 1972, Sidney Kessler was listed among significant contributors to the McGovern campaign. Kessler contributed $1000. Kimelman kicked in $24,000 and a colleague in his West Indies Corporation added $10,000. McGovern lost.
Henry Kimelman served in the Carter admistration as ambassador to Haiti during the regime of dictator Baby Doc Duvalier.
• Sidney Kessler died in St. Thomas at the age of 94 on July 7, 1991. Henry Kimelman passed away in 2009, leaving wife Charlotte Kimelman, three children and seven grandchildren.
Friday, September 24, 2010
In Walter's "The Early Lives of Stan and Helga Ruby" document, we learn from Sandy Klein's memories that Walter Ruby's "partner" in Carioca was a man named Peter Siskind and that at some point the two men joined American Spirits, presumably bringing their product with them. The document goes on to report that after Walter's death, Siskind and a new partner Sidney Kessler owned the company until selling it to Schenley in 1946.
There are some things right and other things wrong about that account. The following excerpt from "Through the Sands of Time: A History of the Jewish Community of St. Thomas" has lots of detail about Kessler's activities in the U.S. Virgin Islands, including not-so-veiled hints that he made his fortune as a bootlegger. This article says it was Kessler who founded the Carioca distillery in Puerto Rico, which sounds right, but in 1938, which we know is wrong.
[For some reason, I can't get my image of the chapter to display larger than it is at right. Click it twice to read it in full size.]
I think it is likely that Kessler was the main mover behind American Distilling Co., and that American Spirits was the distribution and marketing agent for American Distilling in the United States. In a 1946 legal report on a stockholder lawsuit against American Distilling, the ownership of American Spirits is described as 50% owned by American Distilling and 50% by two of the defendants, Peter Siskind and Sidney Kessler.
Anyway, the excerpt reveals a good deal of fascinating information about Kessler, including his later activities as a major real estate developer in St. Thomas. Enjoy.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Brilliant work! I'm pretty sure thats what got him fired. That's two times Coca Cola comes into Ruby family lore and things turn out badly; let's not forget that our great-grandfather Abraham Bloch (Walter's eventual father in law, who was in the seltzer business in Albany around 1910) was offered the franchise for upstate new York by a small upstart company from Atlanta that offered a syrupy new carbonated drink and he said, "Naw, I've got more than enough business already." For the rest of his life, whenever he had an idea or made a suggestion, people would say, "Yeah, yeah, and you're the guy who said no to Coca Cola." I drank a Diet Coke today (eveybody in Georgia still seems to drink Coke in support of the home team) and it tasted kind of weird to think of all the pain and grief those corporate SOBs caused our family!
On a happier note, see this New York Times article on Bing Crosby's vintage taping of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, which ends, of course, with Bill Mazeroski's epic game winning blast! 50 years ago in just a couple of weeks! Time flies when you're having fun. Certainly that was one of the very happiest moments of my life; the purest ecstasy and exaltation. The unheralded, scrappy Pirates upending the mighty imperial awful Yankees. Sublime justice for at least one moment. Miracles do come true, after all.
You will note an interesting article in connection with the first Fall meeting of the IBA, which meeting was addressed by a well-known wine and liquor authority, Mr. G. Selmer Fougner.
This article leaves no doubt that the Carioca Rum Company is very closely associated with the Coca Cola Company in the promotion of a drink known as the Carioca Cooler. The presence of Mr. Homer Thompson of the New York Coca- Cola Bottling Company, at this meeting, is further indicative of the association.
Naturally, the writer is at quite a loss to understand your statement to him at the time of our meeting several months ago, at which you stated definitely that the Coca-Cola Company had no association whatsoever with the Carioca Rum Company and, as a matter of fact, had secured an injunction against these people for the use of the Coca-Cola name and facsimile of the bottle in their advertising."
Appellee's attorneys, in replying to said letter, denied the association with the Carioca Rum Co. referred to in the letter, but attention is called to it here for the reason that, if appellant's selling agent believed that appellee was interested in a beverage containing rum, it is altogether likely that purchasers of appellant's goods bearing the mark ...
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Believe it or not, the title of this post was one of the advertising slogans that American Spirits, Inc. registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 1935 in support of its premium rum brand, Carioca.
Or how about this one? "Who discovered the Carioca cooler?" That's a gimme for anyone in our family. It's Walter Ruby, the vice-president of marketing for the selfsame American Spirits. But why is he writing advertising copy about himself?
Take a look at the whole list of copyrighted phrases. It's from the Library of Congress 1935 Catalog of Copyright Entries, part 1, volume 32 and it turned up as a snippet in a Google Books search.
Then here are two more snippets relating to the history of this drink, the first from an advertising trade journal in 1938 and the second from a court ruling published in a federal legal register in 1940. Both snippets leave you wanting more, but these excerpts are all that is available without tracking down the full documents.
"That such is the fact is mostly because American Spirits, Inc., who sell Carioca Rum, saw an opportunity to identify their fledgling with mighty Coca-Cola and started plugging a mixture dubbed Carioca Cooler back in 1934. Carioca Cooler ..."
"This article leaves no doubt that the Carioca Rum Company is very closely associated with the Coca-Cola Company in the promotion of a drink known as the Carioca Cooler. The presence of Mr. Homer Thompson, of the New York Coca-Cola ..."
Finally, the great graphical cocktail labels at the top of the post are from a collection on the site Arkiva Tropika. They look to me like coasters, and they have these corny toasts on them. Plus, there's the Carioca Cooler recipe right there. These are for Monday and Wednesday. I wonder if there were five more.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Both documents include lots of annotations and data that I have not yet taken the time to fully interepret, but presumably tells the story of the group's initial stop in New York, where they were denied admission to the U.S., but where they gained the documentation that allowed them to enter later through Miami from Cuba. More analysis to come.
In the past, when I saw Seymour listed on the family's 1930 census, I thought that perhaps that was brother Seymour Rabinowitz who might have been boarding with them. However, the age is not right since this new Seymour seems to have been born in 1903. Also, there is another 1930 census record with Seymour the truant officer living alone. That Seymour, Harriet's father, was born in 1887.
I had left that alone, but now I see that the younger Seymour is also listed on the Julius Rabinowitz household in 1920, when the elder Seymour is still residing with Lena and a couple of other siblings.
The census pages are shown below. In both cases, only some of the family members are shown since they are on the top lines of the form and the missing family members are on the previous page. I have checked that they are there so you can take my word.
Anyway, from this, I feel we have to conclude that Julius and Anna Rabinowitz had a third child, actually their first, and they named him Seymour. And no he didn't die as an infant, as Harriet theorized, since he appears at age 27 in 1930. We'll have to search and see if we can find any other evidence of his life after that. Since the younger children changed their name to Robbins, perhaps Seymour did as well.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Readers of this blog know that we've been trying to track down all the lines of the Joseph and Lena Rabinowitz family to find any living relatives and learn what became of our various cousins. A big step ahead came when Harriett Berkowitz, the daughter of Seymour Rabinowitz, came forward. She provided fantastic new information, including her memories of her cousin Arthur Zimkin, who was the only child of Sadie Rabinowitz Zimkin, the oldest daughter of Joseph and Lena.
I was able to follow up on that with some Internet research and learned that Arthur had a son Mark, who lived in Toronto, where his mother Frieda Zimkin passed away in the late '70s. I covered that information in the blog.
Then early this year, I received an email from an Isolde Goldman of Hornell NY, who had read the blog and wanted me to know that she was a member of the Zimkin family and that her older cousin, a Rebe Colman Eisenstein of Hackensack NJ, knew Arthur well and would be willing to share information with me.
I contacted Rebe by mail and within days she reached me by telephone. I could immediately tell that, though elderly at age 90, she was sharp as a tack and full of memories about Arthur and other Rabinowitz family members. I said that I would be in New York in July and she invited me and Walter to come for a visit.
We did visit Rebe at her home in July (she the photo at left). She served us a lovely lunch and shared stories and photographs about Arthur Zimkin and his family, as well as of her own interesting history.
Last week I received just such a hint for our great-grandfather Abraham Ratner pointing to an inter-European voyage from Hamburg to the Port of Hull near Liverpool. At first, I was inclined to disregard it: There were many Abram Ratners, and importantly we thought the Ratner name didn't come into use until Abe's arrival in America. Thus, a pre-arrival record for that name would not be him.
The 1890 date was the right year, however, and I clicked through to read more and view the actual document—the "directory" of passengers aboard the Esperanza sailing out of Hamburg on July 2, 1890. My excitement immediately grew as I saw the names of Abram's travel mates, listed as Schifre, age 42, and Rosa, 18. Abram was listed as 20. Exactly the right three names and ages for Abe, his bride Rose and mother-in-law Sophie. Here's the document (click to view close up):
At first, I thought the Esperanza sailed through to New York after a stop in England, but reading closer I realized that they disembarked at the Port of Hull and must have taken a different ship to New York. My quick reading about the Port of Hull supported that thought:
During the period 1836 - 1914, Hull developed a pivotal role in the movement of transmigrants via the UK. During this period over 2.2 million transmigrants passed through Hull en route to a new life in the US, Canada, South Africa and Australia. Originating from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Russia and Sweden, the transmigrants passed through the port, from where they would take a train to Glasgow, Liverpool, London or Southampton - the UK ports which offered steamship services to the 'New World' they had dreamed of.
On the document, New York is listed as "the aim of the emigration." But where was the record for the second leg of the journey? Easy. Now having the correct last name, the right month and year and departure port, another Ancestry search quickly came up with this passenger manifest for the July 16, 1890, sailing of the SS Teutonic.
Page 1 is included so you can see the cover information and column headings. Schrifre and Abraham Rattner appear about one-third of the way down on the second page, which is actually Page 3 of the manifest.
You'll see Sophie (Schifre) and Abe have the right ages. Oddly she is shown as a citizen of Finland, but that looks to be a random anomaly. More surprising is that Rose is not listed together with her family members. I've taken a quick scan of the rest of the manifest to see if she is listed elsewhere but didn't find her name.
So that remains as a loose end, but still we've made a big step forward in documenting our ancestors' journey to America, including finding an important clue to their previous lives that Walter follows up on in the next post.
Oh, here's a couple images of the Teutonic and a link to the Wikipedia article. She was a new state-of-the-art cruiser at the time of the voyage.
One last comment on why we hadn't found this information before. First, we weren't searching on Rattner. Second, the Esperanza record was not in any database we searched. Third, Ancestry's ongoing acquisitions in its international collections has exposed more existing records to its excellent search technologies. I'm pretty sure that Teutonic manifest must have been discoverable all along but we had missed it because the tools were not as good then as they are now.
Here is a belated posting, with historical records that should have been placed on the blog three years ago, but that is relevant again following Dan's discovery of the Rattner passenger lists.
Just over three years ago, Tanya and I went to Rostov-on-Don to look for records of the Tulbowitz clan, which we had known from family lore to have lived there prior to Raizl (Rose) (the daughter of Shlomo-Aron and Sifra (Sophie) Tulbowitz) and her new husband Abe Bloch heading out to America in 1890 with Sophie. Shlomo-Aron and their son Eduard follow several years later and the family ended up in Albany.
Tanya and I had hoped to find a good number of documents in Rostov, including their address, synagogue membership, a record of the tavern that Shlomo-Aron and Sophie ran—and perhaps something to authenticate the story of Rose having been kidnapped by Cossacks as a child. However the first class genealogist we took on, who worked with us for two days, Yevgeny Gimodudinov found only the two documents seen here, which show in reverse chronological order, the death of Shlomo-Aron and Sophie’s son Isai in 1879 and the birth of another son Gavrill (Gavriel) in 1878.
Somehow, we forgot to put these precious records up on the blog, so are doing it only now. Sorry, everyone. See directly below the English translation of these records done by my life partner and wonderful translator Tanya:
In the Rostov-on-Don metric book of vital records, which listed deceased Jews of 1879, there is a record #41 about the death that occurred on 8/13/1879.If one reads my postings from Rostov at the time and then the follow-up postings in the ensuing few months (under Tulbowitzes of Rostov-on-Don, Tulbowitzes of Rezhitsa), one shares the excitement we felt then over the following information gleaned from these two short accounts:
The son of Rechitza Meschanin, Isai Solim-Aronovich Tulbovich, 3 years and 5 months, died of scarlet fever.
Search data: GARO; fund 72; list 1, case 27, Pages 19 - 20.
In the Rostov-on-Don metric book of vital records of 1878, there is a record #100 about the birth of the son Gavriil on 9/28/1878.
Parents: Rezhitsa Meschanin (Vitebsk Gubernia) Solim-Aron Peysakhovich Tulbovich and his wife Sifra-Ita Meerovna.
Search data: GARO; fund 72; list 2; case 14; Page 54.
Shlomo-Aron and Sophie Tulbowitz were registered as meschaninee (a social classification that could be translated as ‘townspeople’) from Rezhitsa, a place we were eventually able to identify as being modern-day Rezenke in Latvia (a genealogist in Minsk Belarus, Maxim Mill was able to find records of Shlomo-Aron’s parents Peisach and Sora in the 1850 census in Rezhitsa, together with Shlomo-Aron himself then aged 5.)
So thanks to Gimodudinov’s discovery of these precious documents in the Rostov municipal records, we were able to determine that Shlomo-Aron and Sophie had moved nearly 1000 miles from the northern climes of Latvia to the southern plains of Rostov as a young couple (presumably around 1870 and then depart for the U.S. 20 years later). Until my trip with Tanya to Rostov, no one alive today had any idea where the family had lived before moving to Rostov, which was a late 19th Century boomtown, on the Don River near where it flowed into the Black Sea and a place to which a lot of people, including many Jews, came in search of economic opportunities and increased social mobility, outside the more constricting Pale of Settlement.
We can imagine the family's decision to leave for America about 20 years was greatly influenced by the growing anti-Semitism in the area, which was also the center of the Don Cossacks and had been made a Cossack military province in 1888 by order of the Czar. But first and foremost there was the salient fact (which came to us through family lore) that Abe was apparently in danger of being drafted into the Russian army, a fate he wanted desperately to avoid—and emigration may have been the only way out. They may also have left in search of increased economic opportunity, although they were likely making a better living with the tavern than most poverty-stricken Russian Jews.
Certainly, their meschanin status and other indications that come down to us through family lore give the impression that the family was not without means or upward mobility. Sandy Brenner, our father Stan’s cousin, and the only member of the family who knew Rose who is still with us today, remembers that her grandmother Rose used to tell her proudly that Rostov was the most beautiful city in the world. Also, Rose was said to have preferred speaking Russian, not Yiddish, an indication that as a young girl she wanted to be part of the world of high Russian culture, of Tolstoy and Dostoyevski, and not the shtetl world of Shalom Aleichem. Of course, when she and her husband arrived in the Lower East Side of New York in 1890, Rose saw a real shtetl world and was deeply unhappy, leading Abe, Sophie and Rose to pick up stakes and move to the more all-American, less overtly Jewish environment of Albany, even before Shlomo-Aron and Eduard come over. (We are not sure what happened to Gavriel.)
But to bring this story up to date, several days ago we received startling news via Dan Ruby, who, unlike me, actually peruses Ancestry.com, Jewishgen and the other sites. Here is what Dan found:
In subsequent postings Dan finds other records which show that the Esperanza took them only from Hamburg to Hull (near Liverpool in England), from which they sailed to New York two weeks later aboard the ship Teutonic, from Liverpool to New York. Dan, can you put that stuff up on the blog as well?
This just popped up in my email. It looks promising for Abe, Rose and Sophie's ship manifest, which we've been missing. It shows that they sailed aboard the Esperanza from Hamburg on July 2, 1890, bound for New York via Liverpool. Among the passengers are Schifre (age 42), Abram (20) and Rosa (18) Rattner.
Surprises, if this is them: Their previous residence is listed as Czerkask, not Rostov. Also, they are already using the name of Ratner before their arrival in New York.
So Dan’s find brought us not only the exact story of the Tulbowitzes voyage to America—from Hamburg, not Bremen, Germany as had come down to us, with no previous mention of the stopover in England, with some strange added details, such as Schifre being identified as a citizen of Finland, which was then a province of the Russian Empire, not an independent country. It shows that they chose the name ‘Ratner’ for reasons unknown even before they arrived in America; not that it was given to them by a U.S. immigration official at Ellis Island, as we had believed earlier.
Why Abe would have changed his family name from Bloch to Ratner is not known to us, but given that he was of military age and desperate to avoid being conscripted, securing fake documents with a different family name even before he left Russia made eminent sense (According to family lore he crossed the border on a wagon under a haystack, whereas Rose and Sophie came out in normal fashion and met up with him once they were all out). In fact, I knew a fellow in 1990 in Moscow who secured false papers and hid out in his dacha to avoid being taken into the army so such behavior still happens today.
The document unearthed via Ancestry.com also lists the emigrants' hometown not as Rostov as we had always believed, but ‘Cherkassk’ which likely referred to one of two smaller towns close to Rostov; Starycherkassk (Old Cherkassk) or Novocherkassk (New Cherkassk). It happens that I have visited both places, the first in 1992, on my first visit to Rostov to report on the resurgence of the Don Cossack movement in the region in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union, and the second in 1999 when I was doing some similar reporting. Starycherkassk is a tiny, largely agricultural, stanitza or Cossack village—and so seems unlikely to have been the home of any Jews, including during the late 19th century when anti-Semitism was at its peak.
But Novocherkassk, which was founded in 1805 and is located maybe 30 miles north of Rostov, was, then as now, a larger and more cosmopolitan place, with a large Cossack population, but with a mainstream Russian majority and quite a few Jews, most of whom were rapidly emigrating to Israel and America (that was true in the 1890s as well as the 1990s). For more on Novocherkassk, see the Wikipedia article.
When I visited in 1999, I hung out with Anatoly Iasenik, a fearless Jewish activist and newspaper editor who had built personal and communal ties to a particular local Cossack ataman (leader) who was friendly to the Jews (several of the ataman's competitors had renewed longstanding Cossack anti-Semitism). Several years later Anatoly, whose own life was threatened by powerful business interests whose corruption he had exposed in his newspaper) fled to America and found me by complete accident when he met with Tanya, who then worked at NYANA, a not for profit agency that helped resettle arriving Russian Jews. Anatoly showed her my picture as someone he wanted to locate, and the amazed Tanya said, ‘That’s my significant other.’ When I met Anatoly, he informed me that the ‘good’ Cossack leader he had taken me to meet was later murdered by his rivals.
So Novocherkask was a dicey place in 1999, just as it had been 110 years earlier when Rose (who according to family lore had been kidnapped and held for ransom by Cossacks as a young girl—as an adult she would show family members scars on her legs from an incident when she was accidentally burned by hot water from a samovar during her captivity), Abraham and Sophie presumably left the place and began their ‘honeymoon’ escape to America.
So the historical parallels are compelling and not a little chilling and ESPish, and I feel privileged to have been able to go back there a century later and gain some inkling of the life they must have had then. (I guess that is the book I need to write before too long).
But in any case, if the Tulbowitzes lived in Novocherkassk instead of Rostov, that would explain the dearth of records concerning them in the Rostov archives. Likely they came to Rostov (the capital of the province) for Sophie to give birth to Gavriel in 1878 in a decent hospital, and maybe came back a year later to try in vain to save the life of Isai. That would explain why those two mentions of the Tulbowitzes are found in the Rostov municipal records today, but no other mention of the family, which was presumably living and running their tavern in Novocherkassk. Tanya and I are now going to re-contact Gimodudinov, the Rostov archivist to see if he can go to Novocherkassk to check the records there for mentions of the Tulbowitz family.
But why would Rose have left her grandchildren Stan, Sandy and their descendants with the impression that she came from Rostov, “the most beautiful city in the world”, rather than the decidedly less renowned and glamorous Novocherkassk 30 miles away? Probably for exactly that reason. In Russia, even today, there is a phobia about being ‘from the village’, or ‘from the sticks’ and thereby be seen as a ‘peasant’. Tanya, who was born and raised in the provincial town of Shostka, Ukraine, 300 miles northeast of Kiev, used to tell Americans who would ask where she was from that she hailed from Kiev (where she went to college and subsequently as a young adult) without mentioning Shostka, a rather rough and tumble, working class place about which she had decidedly mixed feelings.
Tanya points out that if she mentions ‘Kiev’ to Americans, they would have heard of it and be able to relate to her origins, but would not have heard of Shostka. But it is also the case that Tanya left Shostka at 18 for Kiev and a better (more cosmopolitan) life, and didn’t necessarily want others to know from whence she came. It seems to me likely that Rose might have been animated by the same way of thinking.
In the meantime, thanks to Dan, we are much closer to figuring out the ‘Tulbowitzes in Rostov (province) story”. We’ll post the news of Gimodudiov’s search of the Novcherkassk records as soon as we have them.