Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure Pt. 4

Continuing with excerpts from my great-grandfather David Blumenfeld's diary, which I discovered two years ago.

We join David's family as they continue their cross-country wandering as the patriarch Ben-Zion tries to find success in supporting his family of six...

The pogrom

Economic conditions after the pogroms of 1881 went from bad to worse for Ben-Zion Blumenfeld. The new police restriction on the people from different provinces...became effective through the Ignatiev May Laws of 1882 imposed by Czar Alexander III.... Under such restrictions Ben-Zion had to move back to [the province of] Courland, in Latvia, with his family....

He began making every possible effort to raise enough money for transportation to Riga. His eldest son, David, who was working at tailoring, got a job in Libau.

In the meantime Ben-Zion corresponded with some friends in America. They had left [David's birthplace] Tukums, Latvia, for America two years before and were in Michigan. They advised Ben-Zion to come there, saying “America is the land which the gods have built, a continent of glory, filled with untold treasure and here is ample opportunity for you as well.” ...It came about that in April 1883, Ben-Zion packed his satchel with his little earthly treasures, including a new blue velvet talis sack, wherein he kept his prayer shawl, tefillin, skullcap and prayerbook, and he departed for America with high hopes...

Talis bag

Tefillin (on the man's forehead)

Before one could emigrate from Russia many painful and costly formalities had to be observed. A passport obtained through the governor was speeded on its way by sundry tips. It was an expensive document without which no Russian could leave the town.

David's diary does not describe how Ben-Zion gets to America, including the transoceanic trip, but one can imagine the sordid conditions.

On arriving in Ludington, Michigan, his friend Jacob Bloomstock backed Ben-Zion financially for a stock of Yankee notions and tinware, and he blossomed out as a merchant, peddling among the sparsely settled villages, as was the custom of most of the newcomers in those days.

Back in Latvia, the rest of the family waited news of his success...

Jewish peddler in Michigan

To be continued...

And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:






Ghost Forest

A few miles outside the tourist town of Winthrop, Washington, the road we were taking to visit a ghost town devolved into a rutted track. Soon we were in a ghost forest instead.

It took five miles, surrounded by towering peaks of blackened trunks, to reach the road's end--the site of a former campground, the epicenter for the "Thirty Mile Fire" in 2001. Along the way was a shrine, half hidden in fireweed and sage slowly coming back to life, to four young flamejumpers who had been trapped by the blaze.

The Chewuch River was still very much alive, flowing through the dessicated veins of its bed.


Concrete, Washington

Just returned from a week East of Here.
Our first stops were the historic towns of Concrete and adjoining Marblemount, on the North Cascades Highway through the mountains. Concrete, you'll recall, was the site of the book and film "This Boy's Life." And yes, there was a concrete plant there.


Sepia Saturday Interlude: Animal Baseball

Last week, one of the Sepia Saturday entries featured some classic baseball cards. It put me in mind of one of my favorite pieces of memorabilia of my father's. He had always been a fan of the Thornton Burgess animal stories. And he was a baseball fan. Not surprisingly then, when he was about 15 (c. 1933) he invented the Animal Baseball card game. He kept the cards in this box.

He started with a commercial deck based on Burgess's creations, which I gather was equivalent to Old Maid, and added cards sufficient to make up two teams, by both cutting out Burgess characters from books or magazines, and drawing the rest.

The homemade cards were backed with cardboard -- sometimes from cereal boxes or other sources. One is a movie flier of some sort; the blurb for the 1933 Western, "Smoke Lightning," IMdB says "Branded as a killer--hunted, hounded, driven to desperation, he turned on his hunters and shot his way to freedom--and the heart of the only girl." The plot for "Grand slam" is too complicated to go into here!

The numbered cards (from another deck) determine the baseball play. At the bottom of the following stats sheet (he kept meticulous records for every game he played) is the valuable key to scoring runs.

1=Single; 2=Out; 3=Strike Out; 4=Out; 5=Double; 6=Out; 7=Double Play!!; 7=Out; 8=Second Base; 9=Out; 10=Triple; 11=Out; 12=Out; 13=Walk; 14=Walk; 15=Home Run

He would call out the plays as they occurred, as though he were a radio sports reporter. In fact, before deciding to go into English, he wanted to be a sports announcer or reporter. (A future Sepia Saturday will feature excerpts fom his long-running hand-produced "Daily Blah" newspaper, which he singlehandedly issued throughout high school).

He also made some of the cards from photos, including two of his dogs...Mike was supposedly an Airedale, and I have never seen any other photos of him, but this does not look anything like an Airedale to me! Some card illustrations were from other sources. Reynard the Fox was marked as team manager.

Here is the stats chart for the Animal Baseball team.

Buster Bear and Grandfather Frog were apparently hall-of-famers who got special plaques.


Anthem for the Sunflower

Our went local community garden is rife, rife I tell you, with sunflowers of all varieties. I looked rather closely at a bunch of them and got all zen for a few minutes.

Mandala for abundance of commiseration with those more fluky than you

Mandala for tranquility of perception in odious context

Mandala for the custody of innocence

Mandala for the robustness of essence while all about you are losing their buoyancy

Mandala for the equilibrium of carriage despite swelling and tenderness

Mandala for the tidiness of array

Mandala for the proper cooking of noodles

Mandala for the paying of full attention to one's manager

Mandala for the elimination of unsightly blots upon one's duvet

Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure Pt. 3

Continuing with excerpts from my great-great-grandfather's diary, which I discovered two years ago.

Tukums, Latvia

A few years pass for Leah Blumenfeld, my great-great-grandmother, and her baby David. It is now around 1870, in Tukums, Latvia...

[Her father] Yanke Hennes had a premonition that something unusual was going to happen in his house this Passover, and with this idea in his mind he was worried all day.

Coming home from evening prayers in the synagogue, Yanke Hennes closed all the windows and shutters carefully, drew down all shades inside, and bolted all doors of the house before taking his seat at the table, for the Damascus Blood Accusation of 1840 was still fresh in the minds of European Jewry ...local communities [still] had to be very careful so as not to incite and to guard against mob violence which was a favorite pastime during Passover week.

Propaganda cartoon depicting the alleged ritual murder of a Damascus Catholic priest by Jews

No sooner had Yanke Hennes ended his Seder singing than there was a soft thud at the door. Yanke Hennes’ heart leaped to his throat for a moment and his face paled. … A second, more harsh knock on the door was heard, and a voice was heard saying, "This is Ben-Zion! Open the door, do not be afraid, this is me!"
With a trembling hand Yanke Hennes unbolted the door. He could hardly believe his own eyes when he beheld Ben-Zion standing there before him. There was an outcry in the room and Leah ran to meet him, falling in his embrace. They both wept and covered each other with kisses.

...Leah was quickly disillusioned and the light of joy soon left her eyes when she took a good look at her husband Ben-Zion, so shockingly changed and no more the man he was before. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes were dim, his entire frame weak and emaciated from the hunger and privation he had endured while in the service.

Ben-Zion was born in 1839, in Koenigsberg, Prussia, now Kaliningrad.

Koenigsberg, Prussia

The only thing he had gained during his four years in the army was knowledge of the tinsmith trade. He had become a good mechanic and, as an honorably discharged solider, had full right to ply his trade anywhere in the empire. Thus he hoped to begin life anew. ...As Ben-Zion had no capital to open a shop and wait until trade should come his way, he decided to become a trader among the peasants in the nearby country villages. He began his life plodding through the country, but he could not make it go. ...He was unfortunate in his business ventures, failure seemed to follow in his wake.

The Ingulez River today, Ukraine

...Ben-Zion moved his family to Zagradovka, near the city of Kherson, in the Ukraine. There he bought out a small flour mill situated on the snaky, treacherous Ingulez River, which was operated by water power, and took to grinding grist and flour. He enjoyed a large patronage from the neighboring peasants and it looked for a time as if Ben-Zion was on the way to financial success. In the spring of the third year, quick thawing of the unusually heavy snow of the winter and heavy spring rains caused the river to swell and overflow its banks. It submerged thousands of acres of early seeded wheat and rye and undermined hundreds of frail farmhouses and sheds.

After the water receded it was seen how the ice had broken up and carried away the entire mill. ...All his hard labor and savings were wiped out by the flood.
...Ben-Zion saw slim chance for a living, so he decided to go to the Crimea where competition was not quite so hard. He hoped to build up a trade, as he was a good worker...

Melitopol, Ukraine

Melitopol was surrounded with large suburban villages on three sides and the river Molochna on the fourth side, spanned by a drawbridge for entrance into the city. Ben-Zion decided to locate there. With difficulty he succeeded in borrowing sufficient capital to open a small tinshop. In a few years he went bankrupt. Despite his persistent efforts, he barely succeeded in keeping himself and family afloat and always felt that his life was a failure, despite the fact that he had worked hard.

By this time there were four children.

...In order to reduce expense at home Ben-Zion decided that David [the eldest, my great-grandfather] ought to learn a trade wherewith he could earn a living independently, though he was only ten years old. [ed.: Thus it is now 1875.] The father contracted him as an apprentice to a master tailor named Bradsky for five years.

...Ben-Zion had one hope. He heard so much of America, the “land of the free,” where everyone might enjoy the reward of his labor, and as the old rabbis have said, “change of location leads to change of luck,” that he urged Leah to bear up with patience. ...They determined with all the power at their command to see America some day.

To be continued...
And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:





Tooled around the town of Startup, Washington today. Among other delights were a number of ancient autos in various states of abstraction.

Studebaker diptych in red

Tour bus, autumn of its years

Mercury, dreaming of the sky

'32 Ford, alla rustica