Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure, Pt. 10

Calumet-Hecla Mine, Michigan

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

Travelling salesman

While working in St. Paul, Minnesota, David meets a travelling salesman, who tells him that the “Copper Country” is “a real paradise for tailoring trade to a willing worker.” David decides to rent an upstairs apartment in Calumet, in the Upper Michigan Peninsula, where the Calumet, Hecla, and Tomrak copper mines were then located.


But he found [it hard] to make ends meet, as the inhabitants were mostly Italians and Finnish people and very clannish. He found the country overrun with solicitors [peddlers] from the larger cities in every kind of work, soliciting from house to house for the little that was there. Food was very costly, for nothing grew there. Everything had to be shipped in from the Twin Cities [Minneapolis/St. Paul].

Saloon in the mining community of Red Jacket, Calumet

David became disillusioned. The house-to-house begging [for tailoring work] and delivering work, the heavy cold, deep snowdrifts –- all these had put a crimp in his ambition.

One day a medical student from Bombay appears at the door and asks for room and board. He is selling maps in the area to pay his way. The family takes him in for a few weeks to add to their meager income. Despite the disappointing results of the last advice David took from a stranger, he is desperate enough to be convinced by the man to

[take] up the map selling business and ...set aside his tailoring ways. The Hindu then taught David the game for a few days, showed him how it worked, and departed.

The first three months things were fairly good. ...But after four months David came up against stiff competition as newspapers began to give away maps as subscription premiums. The driving and jumping about among the farmers in the rural section, the irregular meals, loss of sleep, and the like soon began to tell on David’s health and he came home sick physically and despondent mentally over the entire Copper Country venture. He said it seemed that luck had deserted him, that if he tried to sell coffins people would stop dying!

David continues to keep “networking” and casting about for new possibilities.

One morning in July, 1902, Mr. Charleston, a friend of David’s, told him that he had located in Hopkins, Minnesota, and advised him to go and try in South St. Paul, as it was only 18 miles distance from Minneapolis. [As the name implies, this town is south of the city of St. Paul proper, where they had settled not long before.] He suggested that David start there from the bottom up and grow along with the community, as that town had a good future, being in the early stage of development as a meat-packing town.

Hopkins, Minnesota, 1898

Ever doggedly optimistic, David and Lena decide to check out South St. Paul...

To be continued…

And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:






  1. Sat, reading this episode, here in the UK, two things strike me. The tenacity and determination of those, like David, to make a living, let alone a life. The other thing is the bleakness that comes across from the photographs of the time.

    Fascinating, no...gripping, as ever, Sean.

  2. Fascinating! Especially since we live in southeast MN & several of my husband's relatives were up in the ST. Paul area during meat packing days. I love the bicycle photo at the start of the blog. It sounds like he had a very rough way to go! And that bicycle could not have served him well in the frigin temps. Will enjoy reading more.

  3. Oh that is supposed to be frigid temps in my comment. I should read before I hit the post button...:)

  4. i don't have much hope for this family but they probably don't either. wishing them the best as they depart the UP. That had to be a wise decision.

  5. Enjoyable reading, as always. You also have a knack for selecting the perfect pictures to accompany the text.

  6. Tenacious, committed.... He just keeps trying. Success is bound to come to him soon!

  7. Thanks for another great instalment, Sean. Looking forward to hearing what happened next (fingers crossed for David & Lena)

  8. Keeps dusting himself off and starting again! Some of my relatives - on my paternal Grandfather's side (Grocholski's) settled in Copper country.
    I'm looking forward to your next installment.

  9. What hard times, very hard and grim, it's a wonder that he could keep trying again.

  10. This is a marvelous evolving story. I'm hooked of course and look forward to the rest of the story.

  11. "that if he tried to sell coffins people would stop dying!"
    quite the statement there, and quite telling about his frame of mind...