The Rest of the Trip: Thoughts on My Country

This post was originally written before the horrific event in Orlando, Florida, last weekend.  I’ve rewritten it in part as I reflect on what is happening in the US these days and how the opportunity to see another part of the country affected my views.

The Road to Taos, Taos, and the Road Back to Denver

Because we had taken the “low road” or “river road” from Taos south to Santa Fe when we arrived, we decided to take the “high road” back to Taos when we left Santa Fe.  Although some commenters on TripAdvisor had made it seem as if this was going to be a very scary ride, it wasn’t at all.  It was, however, incredibly scenic.

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We stopped at the Santuario de Chimayo on our way.  It is an important Catholic pilgrimage site and a pretty adobe church on lovely grounds.  I was particularly taken by this painting, which reminded me of Da Vinci’s Last Supper; the people surrounding Jesus are quite obviously Native American and Spanish in their ethnicity.

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We continued north, and the scenery just got better and better.

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Finally, we arrived in Taos.  As you can see, there was some kind of motorcycle event going on that weekend, and everywhere we turned, we saw and heard motorcycles.

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Taos is actually quite a small town, and we realized pretty quickly that we had seen a good part of the town when we’d stopped to stretch our legs on our way south to Santa Fe four days before.  In fact, Taos seems like a down-sized version of Santa Fe.  There is a plaza and even a hotel called La Fonda on the plaza.  There is an old street called Ledoux Street that has some galleries and historic homes, like a much smaller version of Canyon Road in Santa Fe.

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On the outskirts of Taos, a few miles south of the town, there is a church named for St. Francis, just as in Santa Fe.  This one, however, is an adobe church, and it has been painted by Georgia O’Keefe and photographed by Ansel Adams.  You can see why even in my photographs.  The way the light hits the various planes of the church’s exterior gives it a sculptural feel that goes beyond its architectural and religious aspects.


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The scenery around Taos also makes you stop and appreciate where you are:

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Despite its small size, Taos has four museums that we found well worth visiting.  Two reflected the importance of Taos as an art center.  First, on Ledoux Street, we visited what was once the home of the artist Ernest Blumenschein[1] and is now a museum of his works and those of his wife Mary Shepherd Greene Blumenschein and his daughter Helen Greene Blumenschein. Ernest Blumenschein was one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915 and is considered one of those who drew other artists to Taos, making it an important art center.  Blumenschein himself was considered one of the leading artists in the Taos art community.

English: Ernest and Mary Blumenschein, New Yor...

English: Ernest and Mary Blumenschein, New York, 1910. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d never heard of any of the Blumenscheins before, and although their art was worth seeing, what was more interesting to me was the house itself.  It was created from what had once been a fortress surrounding the town made up of interconnecting rooms.  Over time the Blumenscheins acquired a fair number of these rooms for their home.   The rooms are all connected end to end (with a few exceptions), and it was interesting to see how the family had decorated them and turned what had been a fort into a home.


The second museum we visited was also on Ledoux Street, the Harwood Museum of Art, where we saw a really fascinating exhibit about Mabel Dodge Luhan, another person whose name was unfamiliar to me, but whose life was quite remarkable.   As described on the brochure for the exhibit, Mable Dodge Luhan (1879-1962) “brought modern art to Taos, New Mexico, putting it on the national and international maps of the avant-garde and creating a ‘Paris West’ in the American Southwest.”  Among those whom she invited to Taos were Georgia O’Keefe, D.H. Lawrence, Edward Weston, Martha Graham, and Ansel Adams.

Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Mabel Dodge Luha...

Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962), 1934 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mabel was born in Buffalo, New York, and lived in Paris, where she met her first husband, Edward Dodge, and then in Florence, where she and her husband established a salon attended by Gertrude Stein and many other artists and writers of the early 20th century.   When she and her husband returned to New York City, they established another salon and became instrumental in introducing modern art to the United States in the 1910s.  Mabel left her first husband for John Reed (subject of the movie Reds) in 1913, and in 1915 she established the Elizabeth Duncan [sister of Isadora] School of Dance in Croton-on-Hudson, New York (where 50 years later I would go to a music and arts camp).

English: John Reed, American journalist and ra...

English: John Reed, American journalist and radical political activist, c. 1917. Portrait published in USA prior to 1923, public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mabel then met her second husband, Maurice Sterne, and spent the summer of 1915 with him in Provincetown (a town I know well, having visited there every year since I was ten years old).  She and Sterne married in 1917 in Peekskill, New York (where my husband and I were married just about 60 years later and almost 40 years ago).  Shortly after, Mabel and Maurice moved to Taos, where she lived for most of the rest of her life.  She married her third husband, Tony Luhan, in 1923, and that relationship seemed to endure for the remainder of her life.  She died in 1962 and is buried in Taos.

I was tickled by the number of geographic parallels Mabel and I shared (Croton, Provincetown, Peekskill), and the exhibit was very effectively organized to show the impact she had on Taos by displaying works of the artists she drew to Taos and various quotations and other writings by or about Mabel and her role in the Taos art community.

In the other two museums we visited we learned more about the general history and culture of the region.  First, at the Kit Carson Home & Museum, we learned something about the real man behind the myth of Kit Carson (1809-1868).  Although he is best known for his role as a trapper and scout who helped with the exploration of the American West, he was also a family man.  He was married three times, each time to a Native American woman.  His first wife, with whom he had two daughters, died; his second marriage did not last; his third marriage to Josefa in Taos lasted until his death.  With Josefa he had eight children; Josefa died in 1868 giving birth to the eighth, and Kit died just a month later.

Christopher 'Kit' Carson (1809-1868), American...

Christopher ‘Kit’ Carson (1809-1868), American explorer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Kit Carson is known as someone who fought in many battles against the Indians, he also served as an agent for the Native Americans in the Taos area. However, he is known for leading the relocation of the Navajo people from Arizona to New Mexico at Bosque Redondo.  I found this description of that event and Carson’s role in it quite disturbing:

Although his orders were to capture women and children and kill all men, Carson chose to disregard the orders.  He ultimately gained the submission of the Navajo people by destroying their food sources at Canyon de Chilly.

Escorted by U.S. troops, over 9,500 men, women and children were led on foot to Bosque Redondo, a reservation in New Mexico 400 miles from their homes.  The march was brutal and many Navajo died on The Long Walk.

Realizing the utter failure of the Bosque Redondo reservation, Carson was influential in urging Congress to grant permission to the Navajo peoples to return to their homeland in 1868.  Today there is a memorial to the Navajo people at Bosque Redondo.

[From the guide to the Kit Carson Home & Museum]

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Thus, Carson had conflicting roles and relationships with the Native American people. He married three Native American women, but he also fought to take the land from Native American people.  He led a forced relocation of the Navajo people, but then acted as their agent and argued to obtain permission for them to return to their original land.

Finally, we visited the Millicent Rogers Museum.  Millicent Rogers (1902-1953) was another name that I’d not heard before.  Her grandfather Henry Rogers founded Standard Oil with John D. Rockefeller; she herself was an artist and a collector, and she moved to Taos in 1947 in the aftermath of a relationship with Clark Gable.  She designed jewelry, and she supported the artistic careers of many Native American and Hispanic artists.  The museum not only displays her own work, but also (and primarily) the work of those local artists.  I found an exhibit comparing Native American weavings with Hispanic weavings quite interesting as it showed how the two styles influenced each other over time.  An exhibit of baskets revealed how different tribes used different basket making techniques and styles.

Decorated bowl from the ruins of the former Ho...

Decorated bowl from the ruins of the former Hopi village of , circa 1400-1625 AD; now located at the Millicent Rogers museum in Taos, New Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following photos were taken on our way to the Millicent Rogers Museum, as we started our drive north from Taos towards Colorado.

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From these four museums, I developed a perspective not only on Taos, but on art, culture, and history.  All four museums focused on how individuals can influence history and culture and effect changes in both: Carson, through his explorations and through his role in the mistreatment of Native American peoples; Blumenschein, Luhan, and Rogers through their efforts to support and encourage the creation of artistic works.  Rogers helped to preserve the local culture of the Native American and Hispanic communities in and near Taos.

I also was struck by the painful disparities that exist in this country: people who have incredible wealth and power or perhaps just one or the other, like Carson, Blumenschein, Lujan, and Rogers, and people who are poverty stricken and powerless.  People who abuse their power and people who use their power for good cause.  People who respect the diversity and cultures of others and people who believe that only they know what is right and good.

Traveling back from Taos to Denver, we again marveled at the open spaces, the gorgeous vistas, the limitless sky.  The views from the Rio Grande Bridge north of Taos are breathtaking.  Crossing through the mountains east of Fort Garland was incredibly uplifting.

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Looking back on this trip and all that we saw, especially in light of what is happening across this country, I am struck by the contrasts and incongruities that riddle our nation. This is such a beautiful country.  Everywhere you look, there are sights to inspire you and make you realize how small we are and how majestic nature is.  Everywhere you go, there are signs that we human beings recognize that beauty, that majesty, especially in the art we are inspired to create and to appreciate.

But there is also much ugliness in us, so much hate and disrespect and intolerance. There is not enough understanding of diversity; there is not enough empathy for those who live in poverty and feel powerless.  There is too much ignorance and prejudice.

In light of this weekend’s hate-filled massacre in Orlando, in light of the electoral process which has produced a candidate who promotes hate and intolerance, in light of the continuing paralysis in our government over issues like gun control and climate control and so many other critical issues, it is hard not to feel hopeless and disgusted and despair about our country.

But then I look back on my photographs and remember all that we saw and felt and learned, and I remember that people can appreciate each other and can be sensitive and tolerant.  People can be filled with awe and inspiration and love and respect.  Yes, we have much to be ashamed of in our history, but we also have much that should give us pride. We have moved forward in many ways. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen much social progress; the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the LGBT movement, and the environmental movement have all had major impacts on our society, making this a better place for all of us to live.

We can make the right decisions. Yes, too often we have chosen the wrong path. But I want to believe that we can more often do what is right—that we can live in peace, that we can love and respect one another, and that we can appreciate the beauty that surrounds us all, inside and outside.






[1] Blumenschein was born in Pittsburgh in 1874, and his father was a German immigrant.  I wondered whether his family had any Jewish roots or whether he might have crossed paths with my Schoenthal relatives in Pittsburgh, but I’ve found nothing to support either notion.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

About 45 minutes outside of Santa Fe is a true natural wonder, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  It was not a place that we had on our original itinerary, but while in Boulder with my college friends, one of those friends suggested that we take the side trip to see this place.  She described it in ways that made it seem like something we shouldn’t miss, and she was right.  I am so grateful to her for making this suggestion.  This had to be one of the most awe-inspiring places I’d ever seen.  I will let my photographs speak for themselves, but keep in mind that these were taken with an iPhone 5s camera and that the colors and the textures are even more amazing in real life.


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My Ancestral Town: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Sign for Santa Fe National Historic Trail.

Sign for Santa Fe National Historic Trail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over 160 years ago, three Jewish brothers from Gau-Algesheim, Germany, left their homeland as young men and somehow ended up on the frontier, traveling the Santa Fe Trail, bringing goods to the towns of the New Mexico territory just recently acquired by the US after the Mexican War, and eventually establishing a store on the plaza of Santa Fe: Seligman Brothers, a store that lasted over 70 years before closing in the 1920s.  One of those brothers was my great-great-grandfather, Bernard Seligman (born Bernhard Seligmann), father of my great-grandmother Evalyn (later Eval) as well as Arthur, who would become governor of New Mexico in 1930.

Santa Fe Trail around 1845 plus connecting tra...

Santa Fe Trail around 1845 plus connecting trading routes to commercial hubs and ports in the USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written a great deal about my Seligmann ancestors—too many posts to try and provide links to here. (Just look in the Seligman category to see those posts.)  I’ve had great fortune in finding sources not only about the three Seligman brothers who came to Santa Fe, but also about their other siblings, their parents, their grandparents, their descendants, and many of their cousins.  And I’ve been especially blessed to find a number of current living descendants, including my cousin Pete Scott (grandson of Arthur Seligman), my cousin Wolfgang Seligmann, my cousin Angelika Oppenheimer, my cousin Steven Seligman, and so many others.    The Seligmann/Seligman line seems to have a strong interest in family history; perhaps this is where my own passion for genealogy comes from, my Seligman DNA.

So it should not be surprising that Santa Fe was a city I wanted to visit.  It’s a city where my family left a substantial mark and a city that left a substantial mark on them.  It’s a city with a long and rich history of its own, one of the oldest cities in the United States, and as I learned, one of the most beautiful.

My cousin Pete was born and raised in Santa Fe, and he has done a lot of research and writing about the history of the city including about our family’s history there.  He and his good friend Mike Lord have provided a wealth of information on their website Voces de Sante Fe, and Pete arranged for Mike to meet with us for one of the days that we would be spending in Santa Fe.

By the standards of most major US cities, Santa Fe is quite small.  We walked the whole plaza area many times, and most of the major sites in the city are in an area that is no bigger than about two miles square.  There are no skyscrapers, and the tallest building we saw in the central part of the city aside from the St. Francis Cathedral was our hotel, which is five stories high.

Below are various shots of the cathedral, which was built between 1869 and 1886:

St Francis Cathedral

St Francis Cathedral

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The sky over Santa Fe feels wide open, and the uniformity of the color of the buildings gives the place an aesthetic unity that is both appealing and quite unreal.

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When we met with Pete’s friend (and now our friend) Mike to learn about the history of Santa Fe, he likened Santa Fe to an adobe amusement park.  He pointed out that it was not until the 1950s that the uniform adobe look was mandated; historically there was a great deal more diversity to the architecture of the city, as you can see from this photo that Mike shared with us, dated in the 1890s.

Santa Fe 1890s

Santa Fe 1890s

For a city of this relatively small size, there is an incredible amount to see far beyond my genealogical interests.  We loved the Georgia O’Keefe Museum; not only did we get to see that her artistic style had evolved over the years and that that style had a much broader range than the works with which we were already familiar, we also learned about her fascinating life.  Having driven through the New Mexico landscape, we could understand what drew her and so many artists to this place.  Santa Fe has long been a place that has drawn artists to its light and its scenery and its independent spirit, and we enjoyed strolling through the galleries along Canyon Road and in the plaza area itself to see what today’s artists are creating.

We also enjoyed seeing the miraculous staircase in the Loretto Chapel.  It was built in the late 1870s by a carpenter who claimed he could provide a way to reach the choir loft without taking up too much space in the church’s main level.  Somehow he built it without any central support.  It’s quite fascinating to see—almost like an optical illusion.


Loretto Chapel from our hotel room

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Santa Fe’s long history was evidenced by what is claimed to be the oldest still-standing home in the US, the De Vargas Street house, as well as the first church in the US, the San Miguel Chapel.  Both date back to the early 1600s. The Spanish came to this area in the late 16th century, making it the earliest European settlement in the US west of the Mississippi River.

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oldest house in the US

oldest house in the US

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Among the earliest European settlers were what we now call Crypto Jews, that is, hidden Jews.  We went with Mike to see a very comprehensive exhibit about the Inquisition and the Crypto Jews at the New Mexico History Museum in the former Palace of Governors in Santa Fe.  When the Inquisition began in Spain in 1492, Jews were forced either to leave Spain, convert to Catholicism, or be punished, including by execution.   Some of the Jews left with Spanish colonists to go to Mexico, but because they were still within the realm of the Spanish empire, they still had to convert or face prosecution as infidels.

In the 1600s, some of those “conversos” who had gone to Mexico migrated to what would later become New Mexico, but even there they were still subject to the rules of the Inquisition.  Many, however, continued to follow Jewish laws and honor Jewish rituals, such as lighting candles on Friday nights, covering mirrors when someone died, abstaining from pork, and going to worship (at church) on Saturday instead of Sunday.

Thus, long before German Jewish merchants like my great-grandfather arrived in Santa Fe in the 19th century, there was a population of people with Jewish roots in Santa Fe and other places in New Mexico, even if they did not outwardly (or even internally) identify as Jews.

Of course, my principal historical interest was in those German Jewish merchants, the Seligmans as well as their fellow pioneers, the Spiegelbergs, the Staabs, and others.  What was Santa Fe like when they started arriving in the 1840s and 1850s?  It is hard to imagine what my great-great-grandfather and his brothers thought when they arrived in this place, having come from Germany where there were so many old and grand cities with towering cathedrals and castles.  And what did my great-great-grandmother Frances Nusbaum think when she moved from Philadelphia, itself already quite an established city, to be with her husband Bernard Seligman in Santa Fe?

English: "Arrival of the caravan at Santa...

English: “Arrival of the caravan at Santa Fe” — Copy of original lithograph ca. 1844 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mike shared with us this photo of Santa Fe from 1855 that conveys just how primitive the town’s architecture was at the time that Bernard Seligman and his brothers arrived there.

Santa Fe 1855

Santa Fe 1855

And where did my ancestors live and work when they settled in this frontier town? When we were making our travel plans, I had asked Pete where we should stay in Santa Fe, whether there was a place with a connection to the Seligman history there.  He suggested La Fonda Hotel.  Although the current building was built in the 1920s, it sits on the site of the first hotel in Santa Fe, at one time called the Exchange Hotel.  The Exchange Hotel was the building on the other side of the Santa Fe Trail from Seligman Brothers on the plaza in Santa Fe.  Here is Pete’s post about La Fonda and the history of the hotels built on that site.

Old Fonda, courtesy of Pete Scott and Voces de Santa Fe

Old Fonda, courtesy of Pete Scott and Voces de Santa Fe

etching of santa fe

Etching of Santa Fe showing the Exchange Hotel and Seligman Brothers store on the Plaza

On this map dated 1912, you can see that the street to the right (east) of the Plaza running between San Francisco Street (where La Fonda and Seligman Brothers store are/were located) and Palace Avenue was then called Seligman Street.

Map of the City Plan, showing Street, Park and River Improvements Proposed to the City Planning Board.” N. L. King 1912 Thanks to Mike Lord for sending me this map.

Map of the City Plan, showing Street, Park and River Improvements Proposed to the City Planning Board.”
N. L. King
Thanks to Mike Lord for sending me this map.

Thus, we decided to stay at La Fonda.  It was a wonderful hotel, and we are very grateful to Pete for his suggestion.  From the moment I walked into the lobby, I knew that I was in a very different part of the country.

La Fonda Hotel today

La Fonda Hotel today


View from the bar on the roof of the hotel

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La Fonda lobby

La Fonda lobby

Below is the building located where Seligman Brothers’ store was once located, across the street from La Fonda:

location of Seligman's Store

location of Seligman’s Store as it looks today

I walked into the store that is currently located where Seligman Brothers’ store once stood, thinking about the fact that I was standing where my great-great-grandfather and his family had once sold dry goods to residents of the area.


Although census records indicate that the Seligmans at one point lived on Palace Avenue, there are no longer any visible signs in the city to show where Bernard Seligman and his family lived.

There is, however, a street that was named for his brother-in-law Simon Nusbaum, who had moved to Santa Fe around 1880 and lived with his sister Frances and her husband Bernard Seligman for some time before marrying and living in his own home, which sadly no longer exists.


In the New Mexico Statehouse, a quite grand and beautiful building built in 1966 and renovated in the 1990s, there is a gallery of portraits of all the governors of New Mexico from statehood in 1912 through today, and there on the wall was a portrait of my great-great-uncle, Arthur Seligman, governor from 1930 until his death in office in 1933.


Arthur Seligman portrait in State House

Arthur Seligman portrait in State House

Mike took us to see Arthur’s mud wagon in the New Mexico History Museum and drove us past the house where Arthur and his family had lived in Santa Fe.

Arthur Seligman's mud buggy

Arthur Seligman’s mud wagon

Arthur Seligman's home in Santa Fe

Arthur Seligman’s home in Santa Fe

Then he took us to Fairview Cemetery, where many of my Seligman and Nusbaum relatives are buried.



Otis Seligman, son of Arthur and Franc Seligman


William Seligman, son of Adolf Seligman, and his wife Mae Leeper



James Seligman, my great-grandmother’s brother and son of Bernard Seligman and Frances Nusbaum


Beatrice Seligman, daughter of James Seligman


Ruth V.B. Seligman, wife of James Seligman


Simon Nusbaum, son of John Nusbaum, my 3x-great-grandfather and brother of Frances Nusbaum Seligman


Dora Nusbaum, Simon’s wife; their son John Bernard Nusbaum and his wife Esther Maltby


Nelle Nusbaum Healy, daughter of Simon Nusbaum


Although there was nothing on any of these stones to indicate that these were the graves of Jewish people, I left a stone on many of them, as is Jewish custom when visiting a grave to mark that someone was there to remember them.

Thus, our days in Santa Fe were a wonderful blend of history, art, architecture, and family history.  They call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment, and Santa Fe is an enchanting place even if you have no family ties to the place.  But for me, it was more than that.  Although at times it was hard to imagine what is now very much a tourist-filled place as the old settlement of native Americans, Spanish and Mexican settlers, and then later Anglo settlers like my ancestor, when I could time-travel in my mind to the years when my great-great-grandparents and their children roamed those same streets around the plaza, it was quite magical, and yes, enchanting.


Thoughts While Driving from Denver to Santa Fe:  A Northeasterner’s View of the Southwest

Before this trip, I’d never been to Colorado or New Mexico before.  I’d never seen the Rocky Mountains, and although I had been to Arizona, it was almost 20 years ago, and I didn’t get the same perspective that I had this time.  This time I found myself truly marveling at the landscape, the mountains, the desert, the overall expanse of land that exists in so much of the United States.

After all, I am a Northeasterner: born in the Bronx, raised in the suburbs of NYC, and a resident of New England since I was eighteen years old.  I’ve never lived in the country; I’ve never lived more than 90 miles from a major metropolitan area.  I now live a few miles from Springfield, Masschusetts, and about 25 miles from Hartford, Connecticut.  Although Springfield and Hartford aren’t huge cities, they are densely populated urban areas without much open space.

It’s true that from our home we can drive thirty minutes or less and be in fairly rural places—farms are nearby, and the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire are just two hours away.  But even in those places, you don’t see miles and miles of empty road surrounded by undeveloped land with barely a sign or gas station or store to be seen.

So driving through Colorado and especially New Mexico was eye-opening for me.  We took I-25 south from Denver and headed to New Mexico.  Here we were on an interstate highway, the speed limit 75 miles an hour, and within a short distance from Denver, we began to see mountains.  I snapped photo after photo as we sped by, trying to capture the Rocky Mountains from the car.

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Fortunately, we decided not to take I-25 all the way to Santa Fe, but stopped overnight in Raton, New Mexico, the first town over the state line from Colorado, about three hours south of Denver.  It was not a scenic place.  We stayed in a Best Western right off the highway, and the highest rated restaurant in town on TripAdvisor and Yelp was the place right in the Best Western.  It was not good.  But it was edible.   There was no nightlife in Raton, so we rose early to get started on the rest of our journey.

Before we left Raton, however, I’d spotted a brochure for “Historic Raton” in the motel lobby and asked the person at the front desk how to get there.  She very pleasantly gave me directions, though I have to think she wondered why I wanted to see the town.  The town consisted of two parallel streets of buildings (with two or three cross streets) about maybe a quarter mile long.  And almost all the buildings were empty, boarded up, out of business.  It was depressing.



downtown raton

Downtown Raton

But it was important for us to see.  This was a town that had once been an important mining town, according to the brochure.  Even more recently those stores and building must have been occupied.  What did the people who lived in Raton now do for work, besides work at the Best Western and the few fast food places near the highway?  Is this why so many people in this country feel so disenfranchised, so angry? Sure, there is poverty in all kinds of places all over the country.  Springfield itself has a large population of people who are unemployed or underemployed, living in desperate conditions.  But a whole town of almost all empty buildings? What must it be like to live in such a place?

We left Raton with a sense of gratitude for all that we have and with a sense of embarrassment that we generally take so much for granted.

And then we ventured on towards Santa Fe.  This time we took Route 64, a two-lane road running southwest into New Mexico.  For the first forty miles or so, the road ran straight and flat through miles and miles of ranch land.  The endless fields of dry beige and green grass, speckled here and there with cattle, were mesmerizing.  We both just kept saying, “This is incredible! Look at how much land there is.”  I wish my little iPhone camera could capture the scope of open land we saw.  There were mountains in the distance, but overall the land was flat and wide as far as we could see.

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Then we entered the Cimarron Canyon area, and the terrain suddenly changed.  We were surrounded on both sides by walls of tall evergreen trees and then incredible stone formations above and in front of us as we followed the winding roads up and down and up and down the terrain.  It was like going from a huge empty room into a tiny dark hallway that twisted and turned so that you couldn’t see where it would end.  And it was gorgeous.  It was truly gorgeous.

Entering Cimarron Canyon

Entering Cimarron Canyon

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And then it got better.  We passed through the canyon and emerged at the top of hill overlooking the Eagle Nest area with a large blue lake below us to the left and the mountains shadowing us to our right.  In just over sixty miles we had seen three very different types of terrain.  And barely a town or even many cars.  Who owned all those ranches? Who worked on them? Where did they live? We didn’t know.

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From Eagle Nest we drove another thirty miles to Taos, passing through more open land and more mountain roads.  We stopped briefly in Taos to stretch our legs, but we knew we were coming back there after our stay in Santa Fe, so we did not take the time to look around.

Quick stop in Taos

Quick stop in Taos

After following Route 64 for about 100 miles (and for just over two hours), we picked up Route 68 in Taos to take the “low road” or “river road” to Santa Fe.  The first portion of Route 68 was awe-inspiring as we looked down at the Rio Grande and climbed high and twisted roads over the mountains and back down again.  In front of us and to our left we could see the white snow-covered peaks of the mountains while to our right we could see the deep gorge that the Rio Grande had carved into the land around it.

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Finally, after passing through the rather non-scenic section of Route 68 near Espinola, we arrived in Santa Fe by lunch time.  And there we settled for the next four days, having now seen both how beautiful and inspirational our country can be and also how sad and empty it can be.



Denver and A New Portrait of My Grandmother

About 110 years ago, my great-grandparents Isidore and Hilda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal and their four children, Lester, Gerson, Harold, and my grandmother Eva, moved from Washington, Pennsylvania, to Denver, Colorado.  Gerson had allergies and asthma, and doctors had suggested that the air in Denver would be better for him.  My grandmother was only a few years old, her brother Harold only six, and the two older brothers were teenagers when they moved.  My grandmother spent her childhood in Denver, leaving when she was eighteen to marry my grandfather, John Nusbaum Cohen, of Philadelphia.

As I wrote about here, my great-grandfather had several jobs in Denver, but spent most of his years in Denver working for Carson Crockery, a major distributor of china and other related products.

isidore schoenthal mgr carsonsBy the early 1920s, the family members began to leave Denver. My great-uncle Harold left to go to Columbia University; my grandmother moved to Philadelphia after marrying my grandfather in 1922.  Lester, the oldest son, and his wife Juliet Grace Beck, moved between Indiana and Colorado and back again over the years.  And my great-grandparents moved back east by 1929, settling in Montclair, New Jersey, where their son Harold had moved after finishing college. Eventually Lester and his wife also settled in Montclair.  Only Gerson stayed behind in Denver after the 1920s; he remained there until shortly before his death in 1954 in California, where he and his wife Maude had moved just a month beforehand.

Thus, for about twenty years, Denver was home to my great-grandparents and their children.  So when my friends and I decided to have our reunion in Boulder, Colorado, this year, I knew I had to spend some time in Denver to see the city where my Schoenthal family had lived in the early years of the 20th century.

My husband and I didn’t have much time in Denver—just one afternoon and evening and the following morning.  Nevertheless, I think we got a fairly decent feel for the downtown section of the city.  We walked through the downtown area all the way from the Civic Center and State Capitol building to Union Station and the bridge over the river at the opposite end of Sixteenth Street.  Denver is quite obviously a city that has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades, as the mix of older and newer architecture reveals.  Everywhere you look you see new, shiny glass skyscrapers next to older buildings, some of which could date from the era when my great-grandparents lived in the city.  I tried to capture that contrast in these photos.

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Although we arrived on a weekday, expecting the bustle of a big city, Denver felt strangely quiet even in the downtown area during a Monday workday, at least as compared to cities like New York or Boston.  Not that the streets were empty, but there was definitely a slower pace and fewer people on the streets than we would have expected.

When my great-grandparents were living in Denver, they belonged to Temple Emanuel, where my grandmother and two of her brothers were confirmed. Temple Emanuel was then located on 16th Avenue and Pearl Street, a location about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel.  The building is still there, and it is beautiful. Although the Pearl Street building is now a church, the original building’s exterior has been preserved. (We did not see the interior.) The Star of David still appears in several places on the building, as does the name Emanuel, as you can see from these pictures.

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Apparently the years that my family lived in Denver were years of growth for Emanuel as a substantial addition was built in the 1920s.  But after the war, the congregation left this downtown location and built a new building further out.

Before arriving in Denver, I had contacted Steve Stark, the current executive director at Temple Emanuel, to ask whether they would have any records or photographs from the era when my great-grandparents had been members.  He wrote back and told me that the confirmation class photographs from that time period were on the walls of the current building and that I was more than welcome to come to the building to see them.  So we drove out to Temple Emanuel’s current building after leaving downtown that morning.

I was very excited when I was able to locate the photographs of the confirmation classes of three of Isidore and Hilda’s children: Gerson, class of 1908, Harold, class of 1916, and my grandmother Eva, class of 1919.  I was struck by how formal and how elegant they all look.  It’s hard to imagine a class of fifteen year olds looking like this today.

Temple Emanuel 1908 confirmation class with Gerson Schoenthal

Temple Emanuel 1908 confirmation class with Gerson Schoenthal


Temple Emanuel 1916 confirmation class with Harold Schoenthal



Temple Emanuel 1919 confirmation class with Eva Schoenthal

Although I was easily able to identify my grandmother in her class photograph, I will need to get my father’s help to pick out Harold and Gerson in their class pictures.

My grandmother Eva Schoenthal, second from left

My grandmother Eva Schoenthal, second from left

We then stopped by the Temple library to see if there were any other records from the early 20th century, but we learned that all records from that time period are archived in a separate storage facility.  However, Rita Dahlke, the assistant principal of the religious school and librarian at Emanuel, very generously gave me a copy of Temple Emanuel of Denver: A Centennial History by Marjorie Horbein (1971).  Although my family is not mentioned in the book, it does describe the years from 1900-1930 as years of significant growth for the congregation.

We also asked Rita about the history of their current building, which was built during the 1950s and officially opened in 1960.  I had seen a photograph of their sanctuary on their website and noted the similarity to the sanctuary of our synagogue, Temple Beth El in Springfield.  We were curious as to whether their building had also been designed by the noted synagogue architect, Percival Goodman, and Rita checked and confirmed that in fact their building was designed by Goodman.  She then took us into their sanctuary so that we could see it for ourselves.  The resemblance is striking.

Percival Goodman sanctuary, Temple Emanuel, Denver, Colorado

Percival Goodman sanctuary, Temple Emanuel, Denver, Colorado

Percival Goodman sanctuary, Temple Beth El, Springfield, Massachusetts

Percival Goodman sanctuary, Temple Beth El, Springfield, Massachusetts

It was a poignant moment for us as our current synagogue is considering changes to our sanctuary to accommodate today’s smaller crowds.  Temple Emanuel took a different path and built a separate smaller chapel in the late 1980s rather than compromise the beauty of Goodman’s design.

I also wanted to see if I could find any of the houses where my relatives had lived, but after checking, I realized that two no longer existed. The one closest to downtown must have been torn down when the Denver Performance Center was built, and the other address no longer has any structure on the site at all.

Then we found this lovely building at what I thought was 1550 Downing Street, the address listed as my great-grandparents’ residence in the 1908 Denver directory.  I got out of the car and took a lot of pictures of this building, thinking that this was my grandmother’s home in 1908. Here are two of them:

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But I wasn’t sure when the building was built, so in writing this post, I googled 1550 Downing Street to see if I could find that information.  But Google kept showing me a very different house.  I was confused.  So I looked more closely at the house I’d photographed.  You can see that I took pictures of 1530, not 1550.  SIGH.


Here, however, courtesy of the internet, is a photo of 1550.  According to Zillow, it was built in 1888 and sold in March, 2016, for $798, 200.  It appears to have been totally gutted and renovated, and probably the only thing left from the time my grandmother lived there is the claw-footed tub.  You can see more pictures here.

1550 Downing Street better


Our visit to Denver was a touching one—to be able to see the building where my grandmother had been confirmed and acted in plays for the Jewish holidays, to see her photograph on the walls of the new building, to pass the addresses where she and her family once lived.  In my head I could envision my great-grandparents and their four children living in this place a century ago.

Below is an interactive map showing the places where my family lived in Denver and the location of their synagogue.  Click on the red balloons to see more about the location.

In a recent conversation with my father about his mother, he commented that I had presented only a partial representation of her in my writing about her.  In my limited times with her when I was child (she died when I was ten), she had seemed quiet and fragile and somewhat withdrawn.  But my father pointed out that in her youth, she had been very outgoing—someone who had performed in plays both at temple and at her high school.  He described her as very social—someone who had many boyfriends after my grandfather died; she also worked outside the home to support my father and my aunt once she was able to care for them again, working in the china business, making lampshades, and doing drafting for the military during the war.

Grandma Eva 1915 Denver Post photo

Eva Schoenthal, top left, 1915

Eva Schoenthal high school yearbook picture

Eva Schoenthal high school yearbook picture, 1922

John and Eva Cohen c. 1930

John and Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen

Hilda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal, Eva Schoenthal Cohen, Eva Hilda Cohen, and Harold Schoenthal

Hilda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal, Eva Schoenthal Cohen, Eva Hilda Cohen, and Harold Schoenthal

And although I had thought that her parents had moved to Philadelphia to help her care for my father and aunt, in fact the opposite was true.  They moved to Philadelphia so that she could care for them, as they both had become quite ill and needed help in their daily lives.  They moved next door so that she could cook and care for them.   My grandmother was not a timid or weak person, but a woman who had survived the tragic illness of her husband and her own troubles to come back to take care of others.

Fortunately, my father shared these thoughts with me before my trip out west, and so as I walked the streets of Denver, I imagined my grandmother not as I knew her in the later years of her life, but as a young, vibrant, beautiful and happy little girl and young woman, surrounded by her parents and three older brothers, performing on the stage, and actively participating in her school activities.  I am so glad that my father corrected my impressions of her and thus allowed me to envision her childhood in a more positive way.





Coming Back Soon

As our vacation winds down, I am looking backwards at all I’ve seen and done and looking forward to writing about it.  Here’s a sneak preview of our adventures in Colorado and New Mexico.

First, I spent four days with three of my best friends in the world.  We met our freshman year in college and spent four years living in the same dorms, talking, laughing, debating, consoling, sharing, and confiding in each other.  Although it was hard to get together in the years we were all raising families, in the last ten years or so we have gotten together every couple of years.  We got together this time in Boulder, Colorado, where one of my friends now lives.  It was my first time in the Rockies, and we hiked and walked all over Boulder, ate great food, and enjoyed good company and beautiful views.  And as if not one day had passed since we graduated over 40 years ago, we talked and laughed and debated and consoled and shared and confided in each other.






Then I met up with my husband at the Denver airport, and we began our travels together.  We spent about 24 hours in Denver, and in that time we explored downtown Denver and then explored my genealogical roots in the city where my paternal grandmother spent much of her childhood. More on that to come.



From Denver we drove all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, stopping in Raton, New Mexico, for a night, and arriving in Santa Fe the next day by lunch time.  I had lots of thoughts during that drive as we observed a part of the United States I’d never seen before, some of it incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring and other parts that made me appreciate the struggles that so many Americans experience day to day.  More on that to come as well.




And then we got to Santa Fe, the main destination of our trip.  Santa Fe is a city with an incredibly long and rich history, including my Seligman family’s own personal history there, about which I’ve written extensively.  Being in this place that had been the home of my great-great-grandfather and his family—and where they had contributed so much to its commercial and political development—-was very moving and exciting.  And then there is the art, the glorious landscapes, the architecture.




The last leg of our trip took us to Taos where I again was inspired to think about the history of this country as well as its amazing landscapes and vistas.  It’s no wonder that so many artists were inspired by the scenery and the light and the skies over New Mexico.



I will be writing about the trip in the days that follow, and then I will return to the story of my family.  I have much to do after all these days away from research and from blogging.  I have missed the work and my family, my cats, and my friends, but as always, it’s good to get a break, some new perspectives, and a chance to reflect on all the wonders that life brings.