Imagination Plus Great Generosity

The following is the second in an occasional series of posts drawn from Generation to Generation, a website I helped compile for the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center. The website profiles more than 150 Jewish families in Western Pennsylvania.

Baruch May was the son of a Bavarian farmer and cattle dealer. His first job was bringing lunch and beer to the field hands, who worked several miles from town. His second job was working in the fields. His third job was peddling trinkets through Quebec and Ontario, where he immigrated in 1858, at fifteen, to join his sister and brother-in-law, who had opened a jewelry store in Montreal. On the road, he learned English and started going by “Barney.” His fourth job was prospecting for gold in British Columbia with his older brother. (This was before the transcontinental railroad. May travelled from Quebec to British Columbia through the Panama Canal.) The brothers established a camp they called Mayville. “Being wise in their generation, the Mays attempted no actual mining operations themselves, but preferred to develop the claims, to which they held title, on a share basis with practical miners,” George M. P. Baird wrote in The Story of Barney May, Pioneer in 1917. They stayed in British Columbia for four years, until an outbreak of “mountain fever” forced them to seek medical care in San Francisco. Barney May’s fifth job was in New York City, where two of his sisters had opened a millinery shop. (This time, to get back across the continent, May sailed to Nicaragua and crossed the isthmus on foot.) The New York hat market proved to be a little too crowded, and so the siblings started over in Williamsport, a growing logging town along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, just northeast of the geographic center of Pennsylvania. Barney May was a travelling salesman for the Williamsport operation. This was his sixth job. He spent time in the western half of the state and took note of the booming oil economy. In 1872, Barney May married Pauline Fleischman, who came from one of the oldest Jewish families in Pittsburgh. They moved to Philadelphia, where the older brother had started a wholesaling business. This was Barney May’s seventh job. The business was destroyed in a fire in 1884.

Remembering wealthy western Pennsylvania, May moved to Pittsburgh. He started a dry goods business with his brother-in-law Solomon L. Fleischman under the name Fleischman & Company. This was his eighth job. The business closed during the Panic of 1893, amassing huge debts. Creditors trailed the former proprietors until Congress passed the Bankruptcy Act of 1898. Fleischman & Company filed in late 1899 and, for a short time, had the distinction of being the largest bankruptcy case in U.S. history. Their 210-page petition listed some 675 creditors. Fleischman told the court he had $300 in assets and $189,160 in liabilities. May said he had $150 in assets and $181,160 in liabilities. The court discharged the former partners in January 1900. But before that, in 1894, May started his last job. Using a series of personal loans, he opened a patent medicine counter in a rented corner of a storefront on Market Street. This became the May Drug Company. Continue reading

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Freda Lazier’s Big Break

The following is the first in an occasional series of posts drawn from Generation to Generation, a website I helped compile for the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center. The website profiles more than 150 Jewish families in Western Pennsylvania.

from Freda Lazier Alexander Papers and Photographs, courtesy Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Freda Lazier and a well-dressed band in Oakland (from Freda Lazier Alexander Photographs, courtesy Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center)

If newspapers notices are any indication, a good singer could scratch out a living in Pittsburgh during the most meager Depression years. The “Bright Spots After Dark” column in the Pittsburgh Press listed nearly two-dozen nightclubs where live bands played most nights. Among them was the Union Grill, just down from the courthouse. That’s where, in the mid-1930s, Freda Lazier sang with Jean Wald and her “all girl orchestra” every evening, at a quarter to eight. Anyone too young, too broke, too busy or too reclusive to catch her act in person could hear it live, over the radio, on WWSW. Continue reading

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Public Notices (week of January 19 — January 26)

2014-01-21 coral

The final Public Notices cartoon. To see all the Public Notices, check out the map.

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Public Notices (week of January 12 — January 19)

2014-01-19 wendys

The Public Notices cartoon for last week.

The final installment is in the issue of City Paper on racks today.

To see all the Public Notices, check out the map.

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Public Notices (week of January 5 — January 12)

2014-01-09 carson

The Public Notices cartoon for last week.

The newest installment shows take out in Lawrenceville. It’s in the issue of City Paper on racks today. To see all the Public Notices, check out the map.

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Public Notices (week of December 29 — January 5)

2014-01-03 walnut The Public Notices cartoon for last week.

The newest installment shows a clean sweep on the South Side. It’s in the issue of City Paper on racks today. To see all the Public Notices, check out the map.

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Public Notices (week of December 22 — December 29)

2014-12-24 liberty

The Public Notices cartoon for last week.

The newest installment shows a rainy connection in Shadyside. It’s in the issue of City Paper on racks today. Public Notices will be ending its run in City Paper at the end of January.

To see all the Public Notices, check out the map.

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