Milton Goldsmith’s Family Album, Part XV: Childhood Memories

Last spring I began a series of posts1 that were devoted to a family album created by my first cousin, three times removed (my great-grandmother Hilda Schoenthal Katzenstein’s first cousin), Milton Goldsmith. Milton became a well-known author of both adult and children’s books and is perhaps best known for his novel, Rabbi and Priest, which was adapted into a play, The Little Brother, and produced on Broadway as well as many other places. I wrote extensively about Milton and his works on the blog here, here, and here, for example.

Milton’s granddaughter, my cousin Sue, kindly scanned numerous pages from Milton’s family album and shared them with me. The last page I received from her last spring was about Milton’s brother Edwin. Sue told me that there were many more pages and that instead of scanning them, she thought it would be better to loan me the album so I could select what I wanted to scan.

In October, Sue traveled to Massachusetts to visit other family members (unrelated to me) and came to my house with three or four shopping bags filled with albums that were stuffed with photographs, letters, poems, and other documents about her grandfather Milton and his family. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. Some of the letters were written by Milton’s father Abraham—my three-times great-uncle—in the 1870s and 1880s. These are letters handwritten in the old German script; I cannot read them, but I hope eventually to scan them and to ask someone familiar with that script to help translate them for me. I have to return all these albums to Sue, so I need to find the time to scan. And there is a ton to scan and not much time to do it. But I will do my best.

I have scanned the rest of the family album compiled by Milton Goldsmith and some of the pages in the other albums, and I want to share some of those pages on the blog and continue the project I began last spring. I want to start with some of the pages devoted to Milton’s recollections of his childhood.

As discussed in earlier posts, Milton was the first-born child of Abraham Goldsmith and Cecelia Adler; he was born on May 22, 1861, in Philadelphia, where he lived for his entire childhood until marrying Sophie Hyman in 1899 and then moving to New York City. Milton’s mother Cecelia died when he was thirteen years old, and his father remarried two years later. Altogether, Milton had nine younger siblings—five full siblings and four half siblings.

The page depicted below, labeled “First Experiences—Random Shots,” describes some of Milton’s earliest memories—the cries of the patients of the dentist next door, the move to a new home when he was four years old, and the amusing story of how a veil covering his face as a baby combined with the moisture from his “pacifier” and caused his face to turn green. (You may have to click on the photos or zoom in on your screen to read these entries.)

As I read about using a cake-filled cloth to pacify a baby, I couldn’t help but think about the scary dentist next door who must have benefited from those sugar-filled pacifiers.

The final anecdote on this page requires some explanation. Milton talks about being insulted when he is caught eating cake by the family nurse, Maggie, and called a “Fresser.” In German, the verb “to eat” has two different versions. Human beings “essen,” and animals “fressen.” So Maggie was basically calling Milton an animal because of the way he was eating.

Milton shared several anecdotes involving his younger brother Edwin, who grew up to be a successful inventor, as I wrote about here. Edwin was the third oldest child in the family and three years younger than Milton.  You may recall that Edwin’s birth record indicated that he was a girl, a source of some amusement to his big brother Milton. Here is that record; he is the first entry on the page and yes, he was labeled a girl, obviously by mistake:

Despite the teasing, it appears that Milton and Edwin were quite close. Milton wrote about the theatrical performances he and his brother Edwin put on for the neighborhood children. It seems that even as a young boy, Milton had a creative imagination and a love of stories and theater.

Milton and Edwin were involved in several misadventures, as this page describes:

You can see in these anecdotes that Milton was very fond of his younger brother.

There is, however, evidence of more teasing in Milton’s third story about wanting to be a doctor and using a skeleton to scare his brother.

I found it interesting that Milton had at one time aspired to be a doctor. After all, the “other” Milton Goldsmith, his second cousin, did grow up to be a doctor. Given Milton’s success as an author, I doubt he had any regrets about not pursuing the medical profession. On the other hand, Milton’s interest in magic apparently stayed with him for the rest of his life, as reported in his obituary.

The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, October 4, 1957, p.43.

These delightful recollections reveal another side to Milton—the fun-loving, innocent little boy who loved his family. Despite losing his mother at a young age, Milton obviously looked back on his childhood as a very happy time.

This is Part XV of an ongoing series of posts based on the family album of Milton Goldsmith, generously shared with me by his granddaughter Sue. See Part I, Part II, Part IIIPart IVPart V,  Part VI, Part VII , Part VIII,  Part IX,  Part X, Part XI, Part XII,  Part XIII and Part XIV at the links.

 


  1. See the links at the bottom of this post. 

38 thoughts on “Milton Goldsmith’s Family Album, Part XV: Childhood Memories

    • I do feel so very fortunate that Milton preserved all this and that his granddaughter has shared it with me. I now am hoping she can find a safe place to preserve them for posterity. Thank you!

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  1. What treasures of precious photos, documents, childhood memories you have at your fingertips at least for a while! Your task ahead is an arduous one, but worth your time and effort, Amy. My mother wrote a diary about my first two years of life also in German script. I learn to decipher her writing and so had access to a description of my early childhood.

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  2. What an unbelievable legacy that has survived! And a wonderful gift from Sue to share/lend all of this to you. Milton was an amazing man… I can’t help but wonder what greatness he may have achieved if in our generation. We could use a man like him right about now.

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  3. Amy, Thank you so much for sharing this. You can keep my grandfather’s albums as long as you want. I’m enjoying reading what you post more than I liked dealing with the crumbling old pages and I am thrilled that others are getting a chance to read about my grandfather and his family.

    He mentions performing opera and Shakespeare with Ed. He still loved opera as an old man. When I was a little girl and he was old and deaf I remember him sitting at his antique desk leaning over the radio playing opera at full volume so he could hear it. Fortunately full volume wasn’t as loud as it would be on a modern radio today and unfortunately the sound quality was not nearly as good. If you would like I can take a photo of his antique desk and send it to you.

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    • Thank you, Sue! I’d love a photo of Milton’s desk! And I am so glad you are enjoying the posts. Did you see that I’ve contacted the Jewish Archives at Temple University? They are interested in your grandfather’s materials. You need to authorize the transfer—if this is what you want to do. I really would hate to see the papers deteriorate any more than they already have. Please get in touch!

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      • Yes, I saw the email from Temple University and would like to donate my grandfather’s albums. I need to check with my son to ask if he would like to see them once before I donate them.

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  4. What a PHENOMENAL treasure! Wow! I hope that his direct family keeps these items safe in acid-free environs or else donates them as a collection to a library or archives where someone who is interested in studying Milton’s work would benefit from them.
    Interesting about fresser. I never wondered about the origins, just knew fresser is used as a “big eater” in Yiddish. My son had a bib when he was a baby that said LITTLE FRESSER on it hahaha. So the family nurse was a German and not Yiddish speaker? I have long assumed your German ancestors spoke German, but not Yiddish–is that true? Anyway, I am also asking about the nurse in this case. Are you as confused as I am by now? I think I might be getting a complicated migraine. That would explain why I am feeling foggy all of a sudden!

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    • According to what Milton wrote, the nurse was Irish. I am sure it was German, not Yiddish, that they spoke. The old letters are written in German, not Yiddish.

      I am working on getting Sue to donate the albums to the Philadelphia Jewish Archive. I hope she does. The pages are already fraying.

      Hope your migraine goes away!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t end up getting a full blown CM, but thanks anyway. BTW, they aren’t headaches, but a neurological electrical storm.
        That’s what I figured about the language. So interesting though that fresser is such a well-known Yiddish word and here it was used in German. Maybe there are many more similarities than I thought between the languages.
        Oh, WONDERFUL idea for the albums!!! That would be phenomenal. What would be the point of letting them “rot”?

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      • Yiddish is about 90% based on German, not the other way around. Having studied German now for several years, I was at some advantage since so many Yiddish words are derived from German. Yiddish is really a mix of mostly German with some Hebrew written in the Hebrew alphabet. But fresser definitely came from German, not from Hebrew.

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      • I do not speak it myself, but my mother’s mother and her family did. My aunt spoke Yiddish fairly well, and my mother could understand some of it. All I know are all the insults! And lots of words that have been adopted as part of NY English these days—schmear, tush, yenta, meshuganah, etc.

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  5. Milton had a wonderful writing style. I loved the tale of him and his brother playing mail carrier. My heart nearly stopped when I read they dropped them on the neighbors’ doorstep, rang the bell, and ran away. It was good to read the neighbors returned them.
    Good luck with the scanning. I’m glad Sue’s given you more time to get it done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, can you imagine if those letters had disappeared? Fortunately many still exist even today.

      I have scanned as much as I have the patience and interest to scan. Milton wrote so much — poetry and letters, mostly. I have scanned what has the most value in terms of family history and hope that the others will survive in the Philadelphia Jewish Archives. I will take another look before giving up possession though.

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  6. Pingback: Milton Goldsmith’s Album, Part XVI: His Beloved Sister and Fellow Author, Emily | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  7. Pingback: What Happened to Scheshko? | Entering the Pale

  8. Pingback: Milton Goldsmith’s Album, Part XVII: The Contrasting Lives of His Sisters Rose and Estella | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  9. Pingback: The Things You Can’t Learn from Genealogy Records Alone: Milton Goldsmith’s Family Album, Part XVIII | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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