The Langer Brothers: Lives Devoted to Photography

Amelia Mansbach and her husband Henry Langer died in the 1920s and were survived by their two sons, my grandmother’s second cousins Joseph and Lester, both of whom were career photographers, Joseph for The Denver Post and Lester as a dark room technician. We saw that in 1930, Joseph was still living in Denver,1 but Lester was living in Kansas City.2 Neither brother was married at that time. Lester was a lodger in what appears to have been a large boarding house in Kansas City, and Joseph was living in a hotel in Denver. This post will look at their lives in more depth.

It was a challenge to learn much more about Lester, the younger of the two brothers. In 1940 he was still living in Kansas City, working as a photographer, and living at the Washington Hotel. According to the census record, he was married, but I found no other indication of a marriage, and he is not listed with another woman named Langer at the Washington Hotel.3 I believe this was an enumerator mistake, or Lester was lying. After all, he had listed his mother as his wife on his World War I draft registration. Lester was still living at the Washington Hotel two years later when he registered for the World War II draft (he was then 58 years old). And he was still working as a photographer—for Guy E. Smith.

Lester Langer, World War II draft registration, The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Missouri; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System, 1926-1975; Record Group Number: 147; Box or Roll Number: 966.  Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942

I could find no other information about Lester in his years in Kansas City except for this news story about him being the victim of a robbery in 1930:

“Loot Is His By Priority,” Kansas City Star, March 11, 1930, p. 22

The only other reference I could initially find for Lester was an entry on FindAGrave indicating that he died on March 19, 1960, and was buried at Temple Israel Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.4 I contacted the synagogue affiliated with the cemetery where Lester was buried, and the archivist there told me that there are no other Langers buried there and that Lester was not a member of the congregation. I was not sure where else to look to learn more about Lester and how he ended up being buried in Memphis.

So I  joined the Tennessee Genealogy group on Facebook, and a very helpful member named Shannon located Lester’s death certificate, which opened the doors to the rest of his story.

Lester Langer death certificate, “Tennessee Deaths, 1914-1966,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9DL-CF56?cc=1417505&wc=34DM-BZS%3A1580614801 : 15 October 2018), 007552516 > image 33 of 2310; Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.

Lester had died in the Baptist Hospital in Memphis, but was residing at the time of his death in the tiny village of Ridgely, Tennessee, located about 100 miles north of Memphis. Ridgely’s population in 1960 was 1,464. Why was Lester living there? His death certificate indicated that he was still a photographer working as a darkroom technician.

I contacted the local newspaper for Ridgely, The Lake County Banner, and they kindly sent me a copy of Lester’s obituary:

Lake County Banner, March 24, 1960, p. 5

From the obituary I learned that Lester had moved to Ridgely, Tennessee in 1954, just six years before he died, to work with W.L. Glover, a “nationally known livestock photographer,” who had purchased the photography business of Lester’s Kansas City employer, Guy E. Smith (the name mentioned on Lester’s World War II draft registration card) in 1952. The obituary said that Lester had worked for Smith for twenty years, so dating back to 1930 or so, when he was living in Kansas City.

Then I contacted one of W.L. Glover’s sons, Jere, who remembered Lester well and told me that Lester had also spent time in Hollywood where he did photography developing and printing for movie studios. From what I already knew about Lester’s career, I assume that he must have been in Hollywood sometime after 1920, when he was still in Denver, and before 1930, when he was already in Kansas City. Those must have been exciting days in the early years of the movie business. Unfortunately Jere did not have more details as he said that Lester had not talked very much about his Hollywood days.

Jere also told me that Lester “was well liked by everyone in the town. He had a good sense of humor and was a truly nice person.” He thought that Lester was probably the only Jew in the area.  Nevertheless, Lester had held on to his Jewish identity. His funeral was officiated by a rabbi, and he was buried in a Jewish cemetery. I found it particularly touching that a small number of residents of Ridgely, including the Glovers, traveled all the way to Memphis to attend the funeral, as noted in the obituary.

So from knowing almost nothing about Lester, I now have a fairly complete picture of Lester Langer’s life, thanks to the generosity of Shannon from the Tennessee Genealogy group, the Lake County Banner, Temple Israel synagogue in Memphis, and Jere Glover.

Fortunately, it was easier to find information about Lester’s older brother Joseph—largely because Joseph worked for a newspaper. In fact, I was able to find news coverage about Joseph dating back as early as 1899 when he was just twenty years old and won an amateur photography contest with a photograph of the then-governor of Colorado laying the corner stone for a hospital in Denver:

“Joseph Langer Wins The Leslie Prize,” The Denver Post, September 3, 1899, p. 5

Not long after that, Joseph became a staff photographer for The Denver Post. In 1904 he took this photograph:

The Denver Post, January 2, 1904, p. 14

And in 1908 Joseph did this full page layout of photographs of the mayor of Denver, Robert Speer:

The Denver Post, January 19, 1908, p. 46

He also took this photograph of the Denver Post editorial board:

And here is a street photograph he took of a couple hoping to marry:

The Denver Post, July 10, 1909, p. 3

Obviously, these are not very good quality reproductions of the photographs as they are scans of photographs published in old newspapers, but they give a sense of the variety and volume of Joseph’s contribution to the newspaper.

Sometimes Joe Langer was himself the subject of articles, as in this 1911 article written when he broke his leg after slipping on ice. The newspaper wrote of the irony of him injuring himself this way in light of the risks he had taken for his job:

Denver Post, December 20, 1911, p. 7

The strangeness of the ways of fate is here again emphasized.  All newspaperdom familiar with Langer’s record as one of the pluckiest of press photographers and his hair-breadth escapes in the pursuance of his arduous and hazardous vocation, his daring exploits and his proverbial good luck while on perilous ventures—and now a slip and a trifling fall has laid him up in pain for perhaps six weeks!

The article then described some of his feats, including climbing up on the scaffolding on the spire of the new cathedral to get a birds-eye view of Denver and another time climbing up on the tower of a newly completed building, standing in the wind as it swayed, to get another shot of the city.

As noted in an earlier post, Joe served in the armed services intelligence division during World War I. In 1924 the Post published a whole article about Joe, celebrating his 22nd anniversary with the Denver Post:

Denver Post, March 3, 1924, p. 6

This article also heaped high praise on Joe for his work:

“Joe” has been struck by lightning, burned by flashlight powder, his camera has been smashed, he’s been cursed and lauded, rebuffed and welcomed, but he’s never lost his enthusiasm for the press photography fame, and if there is a better newscamera man in the world. The Post hasn’t been able to find him.

… In his twenty two years as The Post’s news photographer, Langer has exposed approximately 90,000 negatives.  If those negatives were placed end to end they would make a glass strip all the way from Denver to Arvada.

The news of Denver, as Langer has seen it thru his cameras, would fill a library. And the most interesting stories, because they are the inside and the most intimate stories of the big happenings of those one score and two years, would far surpass what has been printed.

The article also described some of Joe’s many challenging experiences over the years.

After his mother Amelia died in 1926, Joe retired and began to travel the world.5 In 1930 Joe Langer was one of a number of journalists sailing on the SS Resolute, when this photograph was taken:

Embed from Getty Images

I found one manifest for Joe on the SS Resolute in 1929,6 and Joe also traveled to South America in February 1930 on the SS Samaria,7 and in August he traveled on the SS St. Louis to Hamburg Germany.8 It is thus not surprising that I could not find Joe on the 1930 US census.

While searching on Google for more information about Joseph Langer and for more examples of his photographs, I ran across this image:

Embed from Getty Images

According to the caption with the photograph on the Getty Images website, “JAN 20 1933; Honeymooners are Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Langer of Denver, shown here as they reached New York recently after an eighteen-day cruise of the West Indies. For many years Langer was a photographer on The Denver Post staff. His bride was Miss Bertha Courlander of Denver. Following their wedding here they sailed from New York Dec. 17 on the S.S. Reliance of the Hamburg-American line and spent the holidays sailing the Caribbean sea. (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images)”

Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate an actual marriage record for Joseph and Bertha or even a newspaper article, despite a search done by the Denver Public Library of issues of the Denver Post for that time period. From the caption, it appears that they were married in Denver shortly before departing on December 17, 1932, for their honeymoon cruise to the West Indies. It also appears that Joe was no longer working for the Denver Post, as the caption described him as someone who “[f]or many years… was a photographer” for the Post. (Emphasis added.)

Joe was 53 in December, 1932, when he married Bertha. She was 36. Bertha was born in Chicago on August 11, 1896, to David Courlander and Tillie Oppenheim. Her father was a dry goods jobber in 1900.9 In 1910, Bertha and her parents and siblings were living in Indianapolis where her father was now a woolens merchant.10 Then in 1920 Bertha was a patient in the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives in Denver. She was 24 and listed her occupation as a stenographer for a lawyer. Bertha was also, however, included in the enumeration of her parents’ household in Detroit in 1920, where she was listed without an occupation. Since both enumerations are dated in January 1920, I am not sure how to reconcile this, but my guess is that her parents included her because they still considered her residence to be with them even if she was a hospital patient elsewhere.11

But Bertha Courlander stayed in Denver. She is listed in the 1922 Denver directory as residing at 1356 Pearl Street, in 1924 at 1440 Washington Street, and in 1928, 1929, and 1930, at the Hotel Cosmopolitan, the same hotel where Joe Langer resided.12 It was probably there that Joe and Bertha met. In 1933 they are listed together in the Denver directory as living at 2737 East 13th Avenue in Denver, and Joe was working as an agent for a steamship company. They later moved to 3535 East 17th Avenue in Denver.13

Sadly, their marriage did not last very long because Joe’s life was cut short on August 29, 1934, when he died from complications after a minor operation. He was 54 years old. The obituary published by his former employer, The Denver Post, filled in some of the remaining gaps in the story of Joseph Langer:

“Death Takes Former Post Photographer,” The Denver Post, August 30, 1934, p. 9

Announcement that “Joe” Langer is dead will be received with sincere regret and sorrow by thousands who knew him during his activities as a newspaper photographer. Until he retired to become a world traveler some eight years ago [1926] he was always at the front with his camera in every important story calling for picturization. No day was too long, no task too difficult to curb his enthusiasm or turn his ambition to be the “unscooped photographer.” The great and humble and all in between were to him “interesting subjects: and his files were a clear pictorial history of the times. ….After the death of his mother in 1926 he decided to see something of the world.
He took a world cruise, carrying the faithful camera along, and on his return headlined many club programs with moving pictures and oral descriptions of places he had visited in far lands.

Joe Langer certainly left his mark on the paper and the city of Denver.

Neither Joseph nor Lester Langer had any children, and thus there are no descendants for them or for their parents, Amelia Mansbach and Henry Langer. The two brothers both had such full and interesting careers in photography, one living in Denver all his life, the other living at times in Hollywood, Kansas City, and finally the small town of Ridgely, Tennessee. I am so glad I was able to learn so much about them and keep the facts of their lives from disappearing into oblivion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. Publication Title: Denver, Colorado, City Directory, 1931, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. 
  2. Lester Langer, 1930 US census, Census Place: Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0018; FHL microfilm: 2340928. Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census. 
  3. Lester Langer, 1940 US census, Census Place: Kansas City, Jackson, Missouri; Roll: m-t0627-02165; Page: 81A; Enumeration District: 116-13, Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census. 
  4. MEMORIAL ID 149610799, Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current. 
  5.  “Death Takes Former Post Photographer,” The Denver Post, August 30, 1934, p. 9 
  6.  The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at San Pedro/Wilmington/Los Angeles, California;NAI Number: 4486355; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85. NARA Roll Number: 021, Ancestry.com. California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1959 
  7. Year: 1930; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4706; Line: 1; Page Number: 193. Ship or Roll Number: Roll 4706,
    Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists 
  8. Year: 1930; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4805; Line: 19; Page Number: 14. Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  9. Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, SSN: 573669492. Courlander household, 1900 census, Census Place: Chicago Ward 9, Cook, Illinois; Page: 10; Enumeration District: 0221; FHL microfilm: 1240253,
    Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census 
  10. Courlander household, 1910 US census, Census Place: Indianapolis Ward 3, Marion, Indiana; Roll: T624_367; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0062; FHL microfilm: 1374380, Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census 
  11. Bertha Courlander 1920 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: T625_162; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 244, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census. Courlander household, 1920 US census, Census Place: Detroit Ward 14, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_813; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 428, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census 
  12. Denver City Directories, 1922, 1924, 1928, 1929, 1930, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  13. Denver City Directories, 1933, 1934, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 

20 thoughts on “The Langer Brothers: Lives Devoted to Photography

  1. The story of the two brothers Joseph and Lester Langer is very interesting indeed. Both were professional photographers, were successful and very much liked by the people they worked with and worked for. Looking back at all the other members of your family, iI find such a variety of occupations, in which they earned a living, the list is almost endless.
    The story of the robbery of Lester Langer is bizarre. Lester was lucky to escape this horrible incident with his life. Thank you, Amy, for such a wonderful post! Your family will be grateful for all the work you have done. Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Peter. One of the things I’ve found fascinating as I’ve studied my family history are the trends in occupations. Early immigrants were peddlers or small time merchants. The next generation had bigger stores, and the third generation often became professionals—doctors, lawyers, writers, engineers, etc. The Langer brothers are somewhat unusual for pursuing something like photography as first generation Americans. Have a great weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Joseph also didn’t marry until quite late. Who knows? There are so many reasons people don’t marry even today. In those days if you were gay, you had no choice. And even today sometimes the right person just doesn’t come along. Or some people just prefer to stay single.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I will argue with this, just because, haha. I think that it was very unusual to go against the norm, so it depends on what I would call the microculture. For instance, maybe among their peers it was normal for a man to be a bachelor for a long time or permanently. But that isn’t true of every microculture in the United States at that time. Does that make sense?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am not so sure what the norm really was back then for Jews. I have found a fairly large number of relatives who never married. Sure, most did. But it seems that in almost every family, there was a sibling who didn’t. I think in some cases they had non-Jewish partners, in some they were gay, in some they never found anyone, in some they were expected to care for their parents, and in some they just didn’t want to marry anyone.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’d like to know more about the “norms,” as it could be very interesting. Would statistics show that assimilated Jews in those days had more single people because of more difficulty of finding spouses among the population–or not? I mean, there are SO many questions we could be asking. But asking of whom, I do not know hahaha.

        Liked by 1 person

      • One of the things I had wondered about was if it was a tad more difficult to find spouses for Jews of the period, and I wonder if that bit in the article about “consanguineous marriages” is caused by that?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think that in Europe especially Jews often married cousins, as did my great-grandparents and many, many other of my relatives. There were not many Jews in some of those smaller towns and shtetls so who else could they marry or even find? I am not so sure that practice carried over when they immigrated to the US as I have not seen very many cousin marriages taking place in my family in the US.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you on all counts except that maybe the North America had them too. The gardener’s Canadian relatives had at least one marriage of blood relatives. And for the reason that they lived where there were not a lot of Jews.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My great grandfather was a photographer, too. I have lots of professional photos labeled with his name but I’m not sure if he was a ‘real’ professional or just dabbled in it. The problem I have when I see his photos is wondering if it was just a ‘random’ person or someone he knew and/or cared about.

    Liked by 1 person

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

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