Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure, Pt. 8

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

The emigrant Blumenfeld family is finally reunited in Ludington, Michigan, poised for a rise to success in the new land. But even here life is difficult...

Winter on the Detroit River, c. 1900

Ben-Zion felt acutely the necessity of making a living and a home for eight in a new country. He was a stranger to the customs of the people and without much knowledge of the language. He had no money and was forced to wrestle in a strange environment for a mere subsistence. ...There were Michigan’s severe winter storms to face, drifts that made the roads impassable and peddling out of the question. The boys found some work and the two older girls worked at dressmaking to help tide them over the bitter winter.

Life became almost intolerable for the family. Kosher meat had to be bought in Detroit and delivered by express. In the summer it came by boat from Milwaukee. Sometimes it was delayed and before it was delivered to the home it was not fit for use and had to be thrown out.

...Ben-Zion and Leah could hardly endure ...especially Leah, who ...imagined she had married a man beneath her in dignity. They both felt despondent at their ill fortune in the land of the free and both grew pessimistic. The boys opened a shop of their own and the girls worked with them.

Tailor shop
And now although reunited after all their trials, the unthinkable happens:

Ben-Zion became very arbitrary and insisted that all money earned be handed over to him. The girls wanted some of their money for respectable clothes but Father Ben-Zion could see no need of it and there was much waste of money and he left the family.

According to the Diary, Leah tells David, “There is no need for you to remain here as we are now making a comfortable living and there is enough quarreling without your presence.”

This implies that her eldest son was somehow causing some friction, although it is not explained further. At any rate, after this last straw, David decides “to shift for himself, and he struck out for the ‘wild and woolly west.’ As his money was limited he only went as far as Chicago.”

Chicago, c. 1885
This seems ironically anticlimactic, but considering the alienness of the new country, it perhaps was far enough for the time being. Apparently David gets some work there but soon he is disturbed to find that he is compelled to work on Saturdays, the Sabbath. As soon as he earns enough to be able to continue on, he does, making it to Minneapolis.

After working there (presumably as a tailor) for ten months, he makes enough money to open his own shop! And it is in Minneapolis that he meets one Lena Laser, a Lithuanian girl the same age as him, around 21.

Lena had come to America from Kovno [Kaunas], Lithuania, with her four cousins and [had] lived in St. Louis, Missouri with an older sister, Yette, and her husband. ...Lena was fond of walking with David on Nicollet Avenue or promenading down to Bridge Square and over the old suspension bridge. Occasionally during the summer they took a car ride to Minnehaha Falls where they sat and watched the endless sheet of water pouring over the high crest of the rock with the sun shining and bespangling it with myriads of brilliant colors. Lena used to tell David of her relatives and of an uncle who was a great rabbi and another who was a shochet [a ritual slaughterer, licensed and trained in this religious role], and what great dignified men they were.

Minnehaha Falls
...She was tired of staying with her sister, whose husband was a fanatical and quarrelsome man. She yearned for a home of her own... She was a splendid housekeeper, always neat and tidy. Her aprons, though of the cheapest material, always looked bright and were cleanly starched. Her cooking and preparing of dishes would satisfy the most fastidious epicure. She was clever at dressmaking and her fingers were deft at the finest embroidery. At lacemaking she showed her highest skill. What could David do but propose to such an ideal girl? They were married on May 11, 1887.

The Lacemaker
Perhaps as a married man and removed from the exigencies of his large and troubled family, David would now be able to find success.

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

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:







  1. "After working there (presumably as a tailor) for ten months, he makes enough money to open his own shop!" Not sure that this could be done today, without getting into debt, up to one's armpits.

    Fascinating tale, Sean. History revealed, in the most entertaining manner.

  2. The States in that time must have been a place constantly in flux.So mobile.You would need to develop a strong character to survive it all.
    Splendid Post.thank You.I enjoyed both text+photos.

  3. Wonderful post! Those interminable Michigan winters...I moved to Florida the year after it snowed at the end of April.

  4. I used to live an hour inland from Ludington. winters in that are were worse then those in Detroit. Ludington must have been barely a good sized town in those days. Very interesting story. I'll be back for the rest.

  5. This tale continues to be interesting. I appreciate your additiion of photographs to enhance the story. I'll be back for the next installation!