Jews in the News, 1896

At the start of 1896, the paper was still a weekly paper.  It became bi-weekly in June and remained so for the remainder of the year.  The infrequency of the paper wasn’t the only thing that shrunk the number of mentions of members of our community.  The tone of the paper also changed as well.  When it had been daily, they had provided a lot of coverage of crime in the town, especially the not infrequent fights of the “Huns” vs. the “Slavs,” and they had covered the town’s sports teams in detail as well.  Now they covered none of that, as though they wanted to use the limited space to paint the best possible picture of the town.  “Yes, we know all about the latest scandal but THE NEWS is not devoted to scandals,” they wrote on 7/22.  Boo!  This is a terribly disappointing statement for a historian to read.

It’s hard to get a sense of how the town was doing at this time.  Though at one moment the paper optimistically reports that things are good (April 4:  “The business situation in Homestead has been steadily improving during the past six months, and the promise for the future is brighter than ever. Since the advent of the electric car lines, our merchants have recognized the fact that Homestead is virtually a part of the city and it has been their aim of late to make their stores city stores in all respects.”), later the paper writes that things are improving, suggesting that they hadn’t actually been good previously (November 4 commentary after a Republican president was elected: “The fear or want of confidence which has paralyzed business for several years will pass rapidly away…Good times are ahead of us, and Homestead and vicinity are certain to share largely in the prosperity that await all.”).  However Homestead fared in 1896, a December 30 article with end of year reflections highlights that Homestead knew it was in a better position than most places in the U.S.:

Homestead and vicinity, have had little cause of complaint during the past year, when the condition of other sections of the country, less favored, is taken into consideration.  Wages have been as good here as anywhere, and work much more plentiful, thanks to the Carnegie Steel company…The outlook for this immediate locality is particularly promising.  New bridges, electric railways, railroads, extensions at the steel works and local enterprises are already projected and underway.  There is in fact much reason to expect a greater boom in business in the near future, than Homestead has ever experienced.  We are located right in the center of a great industrial activity.

At this stage the town was still developing the aspects for which it would be best known, good and bad.  Plans for Schwab’s industrial school and Carnegie’s library and music hall began this year.  Businesses continued to move away from Sixth Ave., the former business district, to Eighth Avenue, which would remain the business center for the next many decades.  There was a “disgraceful” primary election in which African Americans were involved in voter fraud.  As the number of workers increased, there was an increasing demand for houses to rent.  Speakeasies continued to be a problem, as was throwing garbage on the streets and the quality of drinking water.  Train jumping rose in popularity amongst adults and children alike despite frequent, appalling train accidents because the track ran straight through the middle of town with no gates.  Steel mill accidents, of course, remained regular occurrences.

Overall, despite the paper’s less salacious tone, this editorial from May 2 makes clear the town’s troubles are already well established:

Is it not about time that the good meaning, self respecting citizens of Homestead take it upon themselves to set down upon the prize fighting, speak easies, gambling dens, etc. which infests the town.  These institutions appear to flourish here as nowhere else in the state, and are doing more to corrupt the youth of the place and give the town a bad name abroad than the churches, schools and benevolent societies are able to counteract.  A vigilance league of some kind or other is in order.  Let the nest of prize fighters and gamblers be cleaned out.  If the police authorities cannot or will not preserve the peace and good reputation of the town, then it is time they were called to account, and either given the proper backing to help them do their duty, or be removed from office.

And the Second Ward, home of most of the community at this time, had the worst problems, as this article from September 16 relates:

Owing to the speak easies which flourish in the Second ward, the numerous saloons, the frequent street fights and withal the interesting character of the elections held in said ward, many people give it the name of the “worst ward” of the borough. It is the largest of our five wards, and is in the line of travel to and from the steel works, besides containing a large foreign element which for the most part accounts for the reputation it has earned. Yet for all this it is wrong to give the Second ward, as a whole, a bad name. There are large sections of the Second ward just as orderly, quiet and respectable as any other portion of the borough.

I suspect many of our ancestors lived there because it was a common starting place for all new immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish.  Though our ancestors were ethnically Hungarian or Slavic, they seemed not have been lumped into the “Huns” and “Slavs” the newspaper denigrated.  Did they feel more comfortable amongst these familiar types than the other kinds of immigrants, let alone the native townspeople?  Or was it just a question of what was attainable?  The newspaper sheds no light on these questions, least of all in these fascinating clippings from 1896, which mostly highlight the economic progress of the most successful Jewish arrivals.  I’ve organized my findings into the following sections:

Liquor licenses
Peddler licenses
The Leading Jews of Homestead
Reuben Solomon, converted Jew
Homestead Hebrew Congregation
Ad gallery

Liquor licenses

Another year, another go-round in license court.  This year we had three contenders (maybe only two — one version of this list has “Markowitz and Kline” as one listing):

  • Joseph Klein, 624 Heisel
  • Max Klein 616 Heisel
  • Samuel Markovitz 616 Heisel

And it was predicted to be tougher than it had been in the past (not that the past worked out so well!): “The Court has determined upon a full examination of license applicants this year, and it is probable that more discrimination will result in conferring the license privilege than has been the case during the past two years” (3/7).  Indeed, “the forty-eight Homestead applications for liquor licenses, had their innings in court this week. Some of them had rather rough sailing and as a result it is thought some changes will take among those favored last year” (4/4).

On 4/18 the license results came out, and all out contenders were denied, though Homestead had an increase in seven licenses, perhaps due to the town’s growing population.  The paper crowed about the increased revenue to the borough from licenses — they expected $4000 to come in — and predicted that “there should be no room for speak easies in Homestead this year.”  That would very much prove not to be the case (though, again, the Jewish community was not involved with the speak easy business at this time).

Peddler licenses

Another legal hurdle to the preferred employment choices of early Homestead Jews was the law requiring peddlers to be licensed.  Throughout the 1890s numerous men with Jewish-sounding names were arrested for violating this law (though I suspect the actual resident peddlers, like my great-grandfather’s brother, obtained the license).  On June 17, this article was published:

The Borough of Homestead will now have an opportunity to test the constitutionality of the peddler’s ordinance as it is called.  A short time ago, a man named David Zimmerman refused to take out the required license for peddling his wares within the borough, and as soon as he began selling, he was arrested and subsequently fined in accordance with the ordinance.  It is a common thing for peddlers and hucksters to kick and threaten suit, but this is the first instance where the borough has had occasion to enforce the fine.  Zimmerman took an appeal and now the issue will be settled in court.  The decisions on the subject of peddlers’ license are said to be at variance, and the outcome of this case will be of interest, not only to Homestead but to nearly all boroughs through the state.  There are instances where peddler licenses are so high as to be almost prohibitory, and the constitutionality of the ordinances are questioned.  Homestead is said to have a rather high license, yet it is one of the best fields in the state for the itinerant merchants.  A good decision on the merits of the peddlers’ ordinances will be of value all around.

Promising as this case seems, there is no follow-up in the Homestead paper, though it seems that it failed as numerous similar cases did.  An article from October 14 bemoans the behavior of the hucksters — “many other things are done by hucksters which would not be tolerated if done by residents of the borough” — and suggests that they aren’t “individual owners of their outfit, trying to get a start in the world,” but the pawns of a man in the city who employs them all and furnishes them with “rag tag horses and wagons.”  This story certainly does not fit with what I’ve read elsewhere about how the typical huckster operated, though it’s possible some banded together in this way…

The Leading Jews of Homestead

The Skirbolls, Lasduskys, Grossmans, and Segelmans are mentioned a few times in the local briefs, though overall there are far fewer such newsy mentions than there were when the paper was weekly in 1894, both because of the decreased frequency of publishing as well as the change in tone.

  • April 4:  “Jos. Lasdusky has moved the Peoples store from its former location to the Swartz building, a few doors further up Sixth avenue.” (This listing was included in an article title “First of April Changes.”  Apparently this was a common date for businesses to make big changes.)
  • June 17: “David Skirboll of Eighth avenue, attend the class day exercises yesterday afternoon, at the Western University Allegheny. Mr. Skirboll is taking a thorough classical course at the above University and expects to graduate next year.”
  • August 5: “A. Skirboll of Eighth ave, left the other day with his friend Mr. Horace Davis, of Kensington, for Buffalo, and Syracuse, where they will remain recuperating for two weeks.”  (A subsequent article corrects the name to Morris.  Is this his former partner?  And/or brother-in-law?)
  • An article about a “Slavish man” (as in, a Slav, not a slave) newly freed from prison, who boarded a train to return to Homestead, mentions I.S. Grossman in a fascinating way.

On the car were two Homestead men namely Dr. C.C. Huff and I.S. Grossman.  The latter noticed the man acting strange and being able to speak Slavish, Hungarian and other languages thought it wise to ask why he acting in such a manner.  Well he said I’ll tell you why I am so happy, and why I am singing, whistling and dancing, I have just been released from the penitentary (sic) after being in it five years.  You see I was sentenced to stay there for life for being implicated in a murder at Braddock.  Do you think you will ever go back to Braddock asked Mr. Grossman, no sir “I never will.”  Andy could talk no more and commenced to sing again.

  • August 15: “Joseph Lasdusky of the People’s store, is about to add a shoe department to his already large store. His first consignment of shoes will arrive in a few days.”
  • August 19: “A. Skirboll, of Eighth avenue, and his friend, Morris Davis of New Kensington, came in on the limited last evening from a two weeks trip to Syracuse, Niagara and Buffalo…Joseph Skirboll, of Eighth ave, has been granted a vacation of two weeks from the arduous duties in his father’s shoe store. He will sojourn at the home of his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. A. Wayne of New Kensington.”
  • August 26:  “Lasdusky’s store is being improved by putting in new counters, shelving and seats for customers.”
  • December 9: Abraham Segelman the oldest son of Mrs. R. Selegman (sic) of Sixth avenue returned home from Cleveland Ohio Monday evening after an absence of over two years. His return was very much unexpected, and a great surprise to his mother and his numerous friends. He will be here until after the holidays, to assist his mother in the jewelry business.”  (I can’t help but wonder if this was the bad son who caused his parents such grief shortly before his father died?)

Reuben Solomon, converted Jew

On August 15, the paper wrote that “Mr. Reuben Solomen, a converted Hebrew, will lecture in the A.M.E. church, Tenth ave, Monday, August 17 at 8 p.m. The public is invited to attend. Admission free.”  Although the newspaper did not follow up with how that talk went, an article on August 22 reveals how a subsequent talk he gave took an unexpected turn:

A converted Jew, by the name of Reuben, asked and was granted the privilege of making an address before the Epworth League last evening.  He had a letter form a well known person, showing that he was the person he claimed to be.  The understanding was that he was to tell about his conversion and the fulfillment of prophecy.  He told very briefly about his conversion and then proceeded to read a very long document.  Before he had read five minutes, the audience discovered that it was the product of a disordered mind.  They patiently and respectfully listened to the veriest nonsense for one hour till he finished and kindly gave him the collect as they agreed to.  Officers of the Chapter stated that they had no idea of the character of the production prior to the meeting.  The most of what he said was such an outlandish jumble of words, except the quotations of Scripture, that no points could be seen whatever, but the few statements that could be discerned were to the effect that the devil made the body but the Lord created the soul; that the devil would be killed this year and the end of the world also come this year.  He said the angel Gabriel had commissioned him to proclaim these facts to the world.

Homestead Hebrew Congregation

For the first time in almost two years the Congregation is mentioned in the paper on April 11:  “The Hebrew congregation of this place, has purchased a half acre of ground at Homeville for cemetery purposes. It will be fenced and laid out in lots at once.”

Ad Gallery

This is the first year in which the Homestead paper includes many ads for Jewish-owned businesses — mostly for Skirboll‘s and Segelman‘s, though one surprise for Morris Frankel, someone we’ve otherwise seen little of.  I’m particularly impressed by the Segelman ads, as Ralph Segelman died in mid-1894, but clearly his widow and her sons are keeping the business going strong.

Some are text ads sandwiched in the columns between or below news items.  Others are graphical ads as we’re used to seeing in newspapers today.  I’ve listed some of the text ads below, and the graphical ads you can view as a slideshow by clicking on the first picture of the group below.

  • September 23: “Did You Know That Segelman, keeps a professional watchmaker all the time. It won’t cost much to put your watch in running order. Take it to the only repairing establishment who offer low prices and best work. 239 Sixth ave.”  (At this time other watch repairers in town were running bigger ads, but Segelman relied upon these regular, but smaller text ads.)
  • November 28: “Does Your Watch Keep Good Time? If not take it to Segelman’s Jewelry store on Sixth avenue. They make a speciality in this apritcular line, keep the best workman, do work for the lowest prices, and always guarantee their work.”
  • December 16:  On the front page of the paper, the following text ad appeared.  “See our Show Window. Skirboll’s big shoe house on Eighth avenue is a great attraction to passersby. Many styles of fancy makes of shoes, ladies and gents, are exhibited. Our prices are the lowest. To buy from us is your gain. Read our advertisement in another page of this issue.”  You can see this advertisement in the gallery below.  On December 19 the same text ad appeared on the second page of the paper with additional copy, “With every purchase, we have decided, during the holidays, to give a fine box of candy.” A retailer after my own heart:  shoes and candy!

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