In my last post I started to tell the story of Jake Katz, the oldest child of Meier Katz and Sprinzchen Jungheim. Jake was my grandmother’s second cousin. He came to the US as a teenager in 1887 and within ten years had established his own clothing store in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Working with his younger brother Ike and other members of the extended Katz family, Jake helped to establish a chain of clothing stores in a number of places in Oklahoma by 1910.
He married Sophia Salzenstein in 1901, and they had three children: Albert Jerome, Helen, and Margaret. All that success, however, was tempered by a terrible tragedy in 1919 when Albert Jerome died during a boxing match at school.
Albert Jerome (who seems to have been known as Jerome) was a student at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, and, according to several news accounts about the incident, he had gotten into a dispute with another student. As described in an article from the first page of the November 26, 1919, issue of the Wichita (Kansas) Beacon [see below], the other student had taunted Jerome by calling him a “pussy cat,” and Jerome had requested a “fistic bout” to settle the dispute between them. According to the article, at the time it was “a practice of the Kemper School’s discipline to permit such bouts between cadets whose disputes cannot be arbitrated.”
The bout was scheduled and witnessed by not only other students but several staff and faculty members of the school. The newspaper wrote, “Katz, the larger of the boxers, seemed to have the advantage in the first and second rounds. In the third round he staggered and fell on the ground. He was dead before a physician could be brought.”
Although the initial news reports including the one from the Wichita Beacon above suggested that Jerome had suffered from a weak heart, the family later disputed this conclusion. The St. Louis Star and Times reported on December 24, 1919 (p. 3) that Jake Katz had written a letter stating that his son had passed a rigorous physical exam before being admitted to the school and had not been sick since he was a child. He claimed that after the fight there were bruises all over his son’s body and that he had died from injuries sustained in the boxing match. The newspaper quoted from Jake’s letter claiming that the conduct of the school authorities was “inexcusable and even deceitful in their efforts to silence and shift the responsibility of their crime.”
The official death certificate for Jerome shows that the authorities concluded that the cause of death was acute dilatation of the heart, defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a disease of the heart muscle, usually starting in your heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricle). The ventricle stretches and thins (dilates) and can’t pump blood as well as a healthy heart can.” The American Heart Association asserts that one third of those with the condition inherited it from their parents. Disease and other causes are also listed, but physical impact from a fight is not among the listed causes.In fact, the Wichita Beacon article reported that Jerome’s uncle had died from heart disease two years earlier in Kansas City. That was Sophia’s brother Sol Salzenstein, who died of “valvular insufficiency” on February 27, 1918, at age 41: The death certificate for Albert, however, also reported that a contributing cause of his death was “fisticuff exercise,” or at least that’s what I think that says.
Although the November 26, 1919, article from the Wichita Beacon shown above had reported that Jake Katz originally wanted to establish a memorial scholarship in his son’s memory at the Kemper School, by December 25, 1919, he had no such intention, according to an article from the December 25, 1919, Mexico (Missouri) Weekly Ledger (p. 1). According to that article, Jake said, “A better memorial would be to abolish the old and outgrown custom of dueling.”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to imagine something like this being not only allowed, but encouraged by any school today. At least I hope that’s the case. Even if Albert Jerome’s death was caused by heart disease, the idea that a school would condone the use of force to settle a name-calling dispute is very disturbing and obviously was extremely upsetting to the family of this young man.
A year after Albert’s death, Jake, Sophia, and their two daughters were living in Stillwater with Sophia’s mother Carrie and her sister Fannie.
The family did establish a scholarship in memory of Albert Jerome, but at Oklahoma A & M in Stillwater, not at the military academy where he had died:
I find it interesting how the paper described Albert Jerome’s death—that he was killed in a boxing match, not simply that he died during a boxing match.
Ike Katz, meanwhile, was still living in Pawnee in 1920 with his wife Sophia and running the Katz store in that town.
A second tragedy struck the family when Ike Katz died in 1923; he was only 46. According to the family, he left most of his estate to his brother Jake, who used it to acquire land and to expand the family business. Ike’s widow Sophia remarried by 1930 and remained in Pawnee with her second husband, Albert Cohn.
Thus, within four years Jake Katz had lost his son and his brother. In August 1926, his sixteen year old nephew Jack Katz came to live with Jake and his family in Stillwater. Jack was the son of Jake’s brother Aron, who was still living in Jesberg. Jack was following in Jake’s footsteps in many ways—coming to the US as a teenager to help an uncle in his dry goods business. In 1930, Jack was living with Jake and his family and working in the Stillwater store:
Jake’s daughter Helen married Alfred Goldman on February 26, 1930. Alfred was an Oklahoma native, born in 1894 to Michael Goldman, an immigrant from Lithuania, and Hortense Dreyfus, who was born in France. After they married, Alfred and Helen settled in Oklahoma City, where Alfred and his brother Sylvan were in the grocery business. A year later Sylvan would marry Helen’s sister Margaret.Jake and his daughters suffered another terrible loss when Sophie Salzenstein Katz died on October 17, 1930. She was 58 years old.
Meanwhile, the Katz family back in Jesberg, Germany was facing its own crisis with the rise of Hitler and Nazism during the 1930s. Jake would play an important role in rescuing the family back home in Jesberg.