Isadore Goldsmith: A Life of Strife and Sadness Revealed in the Newspaper

As noted in earlier posts, there were some odd things that I found in my initial research of my cousin Isadore (sometimes Isidore) Goldsmith, the sixth child and third son of Levi and Henrietta Goldsmith. For one thing, in 1896 he married the same woman, Mary Wheeler, twice, first in New Jersey and then a month later in Washington, DC. He never seemed to have a job. And then in 1907, he died just six months after his wife Mary died. She died from a stroke on April 17, 1907, when she was 54; Isadore died on October 11, 1907, from a cerebral hemorrhage.  He was only 43. His death certificate revealed that he had died in a sanitarium to which he had been admitted the day before; it also noted that he was afflicted with acute alcoholism.

Isidore Goldsmith Death Certificate, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 16 May 2014), 004008905 > image 483 of 536; Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

I decided to do a newspaper search to see if I could learn more about Isadore. Unfortunately, that newspaper search and the searches to which those newspaper articles then led tell the story of a man whose life must have been very painful and sad. But first, some background on Isadore’s earlier life and what I found before I started the newspaper search.

Isadore Goldsmith was born on May 24, 1864, in Philadelphia.1  On the 1870 and 1880 census records, he was living with his parents and siblings; on these records, I found nothing unusual. 2  Since there is no surviving record of the 1890 census, I tried searching for Isadore in Philadelphia directories to cover the years between 1880 and 1900. He was not listed in the Philadelphia directories until the 1886 directory when he was 22 years old. He was then living at the same address as his father Levi, 1311 North Broad Street, but is not listed with an occupation. His older brother George is listed also, living at the same address and working as a druggist.3

Levi died at the end of 1886.  In the 1887 directory, George and Isadore are both listed again, still living at 1311 North Broad, and Isadore, who now would be 23, is still listed without an occupation, whereas George is once again working as a druggist. I thought this was a little strange—why didn’t Isadore have a job? But I thought perhaps he was in school and thought nothing more of it. In 1889 Isadore is not listed at all in the Philadelphia directory, but George is as well as their younger brother Sylvester.  They were now living at 1709 North 15th Street where their mother is listed as well. George was a druggist, and Sylvester was a clerk.4 But where was Isadore? He does not appear in any Philadelphia directory after 1887 until 1898, nor does he appear in any other directory included in the Ancestry database.

I found Isadore on the 1900 census, as I reported here.  He was now married to Mary Wheeler, the woman he married twice, first on October 17, 1896 in Camden, New Jersey, and then on November 18 in Washington, DC. And as noted in my earlier post, on the 1900 census, Isadore and Mary were living as boarders in Philadelphia, and for his occupation, Isadore wrote that he was living on his income.  There is an Isidor Goldsmith listed in the 1905 Philadelphia directory working as a grocer, and that could be Isadore—which would make the first time he is listed anywhere with an occupation. 5 The last record I had for Isadore was his death certificate, as noted above.

That was all I knew about Isadore’s life until I typed his name into the and websites and turned up a long list of articles detailing Isadore’s struggles.

The earliest news item I found relating to Isadore was a legal notice of divorce:

The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 24, 1891, p. 1.

I had not found any marriage record for Isadore prior to his two weddings to Mary in 1896, but I noticed that in this legal notice he is listed with an alias—Isadore Garrison. I went back to search for listings or records under that name, and I found a record for the marriage of Isedore Garrison to Gean Morris on September 26, 1887, in Camden, New Jersey.6 Obviously, this marriage did not last very long since Isadore and Jean were divorced by May 24, 1891.

There were no other articles about Isadore until September 2, 1893, when the Philadelphia Inquirer published this article on its front page:

“Goldsmith Had Swallowed Laudanum, But It Was Quickly Removed,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 2, 1893, page 1.

Isadore Goldsmith, 26 years old, who gave the address of 1313 Cass street, tried to end his life by a dose of laudanum early yesterday morning at one of the side entrances to the Drexel Institute. Goldsmith was found weak and in a critical condition by Policeman Gill, of the Twenty-first district, who tried to rouse him up and to whom he stated that he was weary of life and had been driven from his home by his parents.

He was removed to the University Hospital, where the stomach pump soon relieved him of the dangerous drug. He was the sent over to the Philadelphia Hospital by the police, where he still remains in a weak condition.

Goldsmith stated to the hospital authorities that his skull had been twice trephined. He was attacked last January by two colored men at Tenth and Morgan streets and beaten with a club and robbed. He had his skull fractured and was sent to the Hahnemann Hospital, and lay there in a critical condition until the beginning of August. His skull had been trephined twice and he had been discharged after his recovery, but had since been in a nervous condition.

According to this website, “Laudanum is an opium drug that is made into a tincture or an alcoholic solution. It was a well-celebrated beverage during the Victorian era. Due to its pain-relieving properties, laudanum was used as a remedy for many types of ailments, from common colds to more complicated conditions such as heart disease. At that time, everyone, regardless of age or gender, had access to laudanum.”

I had never heard the term “trephined” before, but found this explanation on Wikipedia:

Trepanning, also known as trepanation, trephination, trephining or making a burr hole … is a surgical intervention in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull, exposing the dura mater to treat health problems related to intracranial diseases or release pressured blood buildup from an injury.

I searched for an earlier newspaper article that had reported this assault on Isadore, but could not find any article describing such an attack. And believe me, the Philadelphia newspapers had many, many articles about other victims who suffered fractured skulls in various ways, but nothing about this attack on Isadore. Had it actually happened?

Well, sixteen days later, the Philadelphia Inquirer had another article about Isadore on its front page:

“Jailed and Fined As A Drunk Case,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 18, 1893, p. 1

Continuation, p.2 of September 18, 1893 Philadelphia Inquirer

I won’t transcribe the whole article, as it is, as you can see, very lengthy, but the essence of it is that Isadore was arrested for drunkenness and breach of the peace, but he claimed that he was wrongfully accused because his behavior was not the result of alcohol, but an epileptic seizure caused by the January, 1893 assault and the trephining he had endured as a result of that assault. The newspaper investigated the matter and concluded that Isadore was telling the truth; the reporter even witnessed one of Isadore’s seizures while interviewing him.  I will quote some of the more pertinent parts of the article:

Mr. Goldsmith is now in the St. Clement’s Hospital for Epileptics…under the care of his family. He is one of seven children of a formerly great clothing merchant and manufacturer…. One brother is a druggist…His father was a great friend and admirer of ex-Mayor Stokley.

Isadore gave this description of the January assault, as quoted in the article:

“On the 26th of January, at 8 o’clock in the evening I was waylaid at Eleventh and Morgan streets and my watch and $15 in bills stolen. It was a cold, snowy night and few people were on the streets….I was jostled by two men…, and one seized my hands and the other robbed me, and, as they left, I received a blow on the back of the head. I was taken to the station house at Tenth and Buttonwood and then to the Hahnemann Hospital. There they made an exploratory incision in my skull, but failed to find any fracture.

“After this I began to have nervous spasms. I remained at the hospital until May 2, when I asked for my discharge and tried to resume work in my old positon at I.H. Sultzbach’s. On June 27 I was taken ill and was removed again to Hahnemann Hospital, June 30. On July 9 Dr. Van Lennep performed an operation, took out a piece of bone measuring 5/8 x 3/8 of an inch and trephined the skull. Since then I have been in different hospitals.”

The 1895 Philadelphia directory has a listing for an Isadore H. Sultzbach, clothier; I assume this must have been where Isadore was working before his injuries.7

Isadore then described what happened the morning of September 8; he woke up having one of his “spells” and decided to go to Episcopal Hospital for help. Along the way he had a seizure. Some passersby helped him and took him to the saloon for some seltzer water. He also asked someone to get the police to assist him, but instead the police officer hit him with his mace on the sole of his foot. Others in the bar told the officer that Isadore was not drunk, but sick. Nevertheless, the police officer took Isadore back to the station house, where the magistrate did not let him speak and threw him in jail.

Isadore was soon released, however. The bartender corroborated Isadore’s statement that he had not been drinking, and the doctor at the hospital where Isadore was taken after he was released from jail confirmed that he had epilepsy and that he had scars on his head from trephining, but he also said he smelled alcohol on Isadore’s breath. The reporter, however, thought that Isadore’s medicine, tincture of cinchona, smelled like liquor. Isadore’s roommate also stated that he had never known Isadore to be drunk. It was clearly the reporter’s conclusion that Isadore had been mistreated by the police and the magistrate.

But Isadore’s troubles were far from over. On August 14, 1894, he was found unconscious on the street and taken to the hospital.

“Unconscious on the Street,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 14, 1894, p. 5

On September 14, 1894, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Isadore had again attempted suicide by drinking laudanum.8 Then on May 4, 1895, The Philadelphia Times published this article:

“A Midnight Apparition,” The Philadelphia Times, May 4, 1895, p. 2

Obviously, Isadore had severe problems, whatever their origin and causes.

But why did he marry the same woman twice? More on that in my next post.


  1.  Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 16 May 2014), 004008905 > image 483 of 536; Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 
  2. See my earlier post here
  3. Philadelphia city directory, 1886, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. 
  4. Philadelphia city directories, 1887-1898, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. 
  5. Philadelphia city directory, 1905, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. 
  6.  New Jersey, Marriages, 1670-1980,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 6 November 2017), Isedore L. Garrison and Gean Morris, 26 Sep 1887; citing Camden City, Camden, New Jersey, United States, Division of Archives and Record Management, New Jersey Department of State, Trenton.; FHL microfilm 495,705. 
  7. Philadelphia city directory, 1895, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. 
  8. The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 14, 1894, p.2. 

34 thoughts on “Isadore Goldsmith: A Life of Strife and Sadness Revealed in the Newspaper

  1. Poor Isadore Goldsmith! The story of his life is truly a tragic one. I wonder about the causes of all his problems. He did not have a job of any significance, because his mental conditions did not allow him to work. Perhaps he suffered from a mental disorder, which could not be cured at the turn of the 20th century. Very impressive detective work as always, Amy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a sad story indeed, his life seem to have been forever altered by that attack. Looking forward to reading the follow up about why was he married twice though

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a tragic story. I’m glad you were able to find information in the newspaper archives. With the combination of possible mental illness, and brain injuries — no wonder the poor guy had a tough life. I’m fascinated by the double-marriage, so can’t wait for the next installment of this story Amy,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it truly is. But I wonder whether he had mental health issues even before the assault since he had no job for years even before that, unlike his brothers.


  4. What a tragedy, damaged him for life. That aside here sounds like a man
    who had a creative mind and craved attention. His parents must have been weary by his

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s hard to know whether or not his troubles began with the assault. My gut tells me he had mental health issues even before that, but I can’t be sure.


  5. I believe Isadore over the policeman. The poor guy really had a rough go of it. Could you imagine any kind of cranial surgery in that era? Yikes!

    But I’m very curious about his marriage under the Garrison pseudonym. What was his motive?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have no idea why he used a pseudonym. That and his lack of occupation makes me think his problems started long before the alleged assault. I think there is more here than I could find.


    • That’s always my reaction, especially when I see those little news items about who’s visiting who and who’s traveling to where and long wedding descriptions—the news feed of its day!


  6. Pingback: Isadore Goldsmith: A Life of Strife and Sadness Revealed in the Newspaper, Part II | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  7. Pingback: Friday's Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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