The third child of Moses, Jr., and his wife Henrietta was Jacob G. Cohen. As I wrote previously, Jacob had married Ida Siegel in 1894 and had moved to New York City, where he first worked as a bookkeeper. Just this week I received a copy of their marriage certificate.
Jacob and Ida had two children, Aimee and Gerson, and by 1910 had moved to Yonkers, New York, where Jacob worked as the manager of a dry goods store, according to the 1910 census. In 1912, Jacob and Ida traveled overseas, and in 1915 Jacob’s occupation was an office manager for a business that is not legible to me. Maybe someone else can decipher it? Ida’s obituary said he was the treasurer of a department store at some point, so perhaps this says department store?
UPDATE: Thank you to Gil Weeder! He read it as Dry Goods, and now that I look at it, I think that’s right, and it makes sense!
On February 12, 1917, their daughter Aimee married Lester Wronker, who was working in the leather goods industry. Aimee and Lester had a son, Robert, who was born in April, 1919. In 1920, the family was living in Manhattan.
Ida and Jacob’s son Gerson was a student at New York University at the time he registered for the draft in 1917. He was inducted into the US Army on October 1, 1918, and was discharged on December 19, 1918, without ever serving overseas. He was part of the NYU student training corps.
In 1918, Jacob G. Cohen ran as a Democrat for New York State Treasurer on the same ticket as Alfred E. Smith. Although Smith won the governor’s seat, Jacob was defeated in the general election, losing to the Republican candidate, James L.Wells, 839,777 votes to 1,028,752 votes. Although Smith and the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Harry C. Walker, were victorious, all the other Democratic candidates on the slate were defeated by the Republican candidates.
Al Smith served four terms as governor of New York State and in 1928 became the first Catholic nominated by a major party as a candidate for President of the United States. He was soundly defeated by Herbert Hoover. But imagine if Jacob had won and served as NYS treasurer with Al Smith—and imagine if Smith had won in 1928—my cousin Jacob G. Cohen might have become the US Treasury Secretary. If he had won the election for New York State Treasurer, he would have been one of the first Jews to hold statewide office in New York.
Instead, Jacob returned to civilian life as a businessman. In 1920, Jacob and Ida were living in Chicago as lodgers in what appears to have been a very large boarding house or hotel. Jacob was working as the manager of a department store. Did he leave New York to escape after losing the election? In 1925 Jacob and Ida were back in New York, living in Manhattan, and Jacob was working as an insurance agent. Their daughter Aimee and her husband Lester and their son Robert were now living in Yonkers, and Lester was working in the silk industry. I was not able to locate Gerson on the 1920 US census or the 1925 New York State census.
Jacob died on February 13, 1930, according to a death notice in the New York Times.
(Obituary No. 5, February 15, 1930, New York Times, p. 17)
For a long time I could not find any records for Jacob or Ida after 1925, but then by searching for “Wronker” in the New York Times archives, I was able to find this death notice for Jacob, which revealed why I had not been able to find them: they had changed their surname from Cohen to Cole sometime between 1925 and 1930.
Gerson had also changed his last name to Cole and also his first name to Gary. (Even searching for him under Gary Cole has not provided me with any information about his whereabouts between 1918 and 1930 or after 1930.) After Jacob died, Ida moved in with Aimee and her family in Yonkers, where Lester continued to work as a sales manager in the silk industry.
Gerson, now Gary Cole, finally reappeared in 1930 in Detroit as a credit manager for a furniture business. I believe this is the same Gary Cole/Gerson Cohen based on his age (30), birth place (New York), and birth places of his parents (Washington, DC.) He was living in what seems to be a hotel as a guest.
In 1940, Ida was still living with Aimee and Lester in Yonkers. Lester was now an executive in the silk business, according to the 1940 census.
Robert, now 20, was a student at Princeton, although he was still listed as living in his parents’ residence on the 1940 census. (Although the Princeton yearbook lists his address as being in the village of Tuckahoe, the census considered that same address to be in Yonkers.) According to several editions of the Princeton yearbook, Bric a Brac, found in the ancestry.com database, Robert played the oboe in the university band, was on the editorial staff of the Princeton Tiger, was a member of the Princeton Liberal Club and a member of the Nassau Literary Review (“the oldest undergraduate literary review in the country”), and was on the executive committee of the Princeton Anti-War Society in 1939, presumably a group arguing against the United States’ entry into World War II. Robert graduated from Princeton in 1940. The photo below is of Robert as an associate editor of the Nassau Literary Review.
Despite his anti-war feelings, Robert enlisted in the military on March 18, 1941, listing his occupation as an “author, editor, reporter,” not surprising given his activities at Princeton.
During the war, Robert served in the medical corps in Italy and then became an editor of the Mail Call column in Stars and Stripes, while stationed in Naples, Italy. After the war he wrote several short pieces for the New York Times, and in 1955 he was working as a feature writer for the publicity department of 20th Century Fox.
After that he, like his uncle Gary Cole, disappeared. I could not find anything, which was surprising given the unusual name and his interest in writing and journalism. I wondered: Did he also change his name? Did he die? He is not listed under Robert Wronker on the SSDI or anywhere else. Once again, I was left with a loose end, a brick wall.
So I called on my mentor Renee Steinig once again for some direction, and damn, she found him so fast I was blown away. She was able to find a death notice for Robert in the New York Times as well as a death notice in the Princeton alumni magazine that I had not found. Robert had died on August 20, 1956, after a long illness. He was only 37 years old.
Here is what the Princeton Alumni Weekly wrote about him:
(Princeton Alumni Weekly, Volume 57 (1956) )
What a waste. Such a young and bright and talented person taken so young. His mother Aimee died only three years later in January, 1959, when she was 64 years old. His father Lester lived until October 1976, having survived both his wife and their only child.
Renee also helped me find this obituary of Ida Cole, who died July 25, 1949.
Since Ida was survived by three grandchildren and Aimee only had one child, Robert, Gary must have had two children. I will continue to try and find Gary Cole/Gerson Siegel Cohen in hopes that the line of Jacob G. Cohen/Cole and his wife Ida did not end with the untimely death of their grandson Robert Wronker.
When I think about all the “what ifs” with Jacob and with his descendants, I feel very wistful about how this line might have ended.