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 

The Colorado Coalfields War and Its Effect on the Mansbach Brothers

As we saw, between 1910 and 1920, there was a fair amount of growth in the families of Hannah Mansbach Dannenberg and Louis Mansbach, the two children of Sarah Goldschmidt and Abraham Mansbach who were still living in Philadelphia. Hannah’s daughters had married and had children as had Louis’s daughter, and Hannah’s son Arthur Dannenberg had become a doctor. Julius Mansbach and his family were living in Wunstorf, Germany.

The Colorado siblings—Amelia, Bert, and Meyer—were experiencing similar growth in this decade. Amelia and her husband Henry Langer were still living in Denver. Both of their sons registered for the World War I draft, and as you can see, both were in the field of photography, Joseph for the Denver Post and Lester a self-employed commercial photographer.

Joseph Langer, World War I draft registration, Registration State: Colorado; Registration County: Denver; Roll: 1561841; Draft Board: 5
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

Joe Langer enlisted and was assigned to the intelligence division, “marching away with his camera under his arm.”1

Lester’s World War I draft registration confused me.  For his nearest relative, it says “Mrs. Amelia Langer wife.” But that was his mother’s name, and on the 1920 census he was listed as single and living at home with his parents and brother Joseph. And I can find no record that he had been married to anyone named Amelia before 1920, nor can I find an Amelia Langer elsewhere in Colorado (except for his mother).

Is it possible someone else filled out the form and Lester only signed it and didn’t see the mistake? The handwriting on the form is similar but somewhat different from the signature—especially if you compare the Es in the signature to those on the line where Lester’s name is written at the top. What do you think?

Lester Langer World War I draft registration, Registration State: Colorado; Registration County: Denver; Roll: 1561841; Draft Board: 5
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

Henry Langer and family 1920 US census, Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: T625_162; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 245
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census

As for Bert and Rosa (Schloss) Mansbach, their daughter Corinne had married Herbert J. Kahn in 1909, as noted in my earlier post, and on July 13, 1912, Corinne gave birth to their daughter Rosalynn.2 In 1920, they were living in Trinidad, Colorado, and Corinne’s younger brother Alvin was also living with them. Herbert was a produce broker, and Alvin was an electrician.3 Alvin had served in the US Army overseas during World War I as a regimental supply sergeant on an ammunition train and had returned safely home in 1919.4

Although Corinne and Alvin were thus in Trinidad in 1920, their parents Bert and Rosa Mansbach had moved to Albuquerque, where Bert is listed in the 1917 directory as a dry goods merchant.5 What would have taken Bert and Rosa away from Trinidad where both their children and their granddaughter were living and where Bert had been in business with his brother Meyer for so many years?

In 1912 both Bert and Meyer were still in Trinidad. They were listed in the Trinidad directory for that year as officers of The Famous Department Store, Bert as president, Meyer as treasurer.

Mansbach brothers, Trinidad, Colorado, City Directory, 1912
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

But Meyer also ended up leaving Trinidad; in 1914 he was listed in the Detroit, Michigan city directory as a milliner.6 What had happened?

Well, a search on genealogybank.com revealed the answer. The Famous Department Store had been forced into bankruptcy in the spring of 1914, according to this article from the May 10, 1915 Denver Post (p. 8) describing the sale of the assets of the store to a third party:

According to the first two paragraphs of this article:

One of the largest commercial transactions of the west, and one of supreme importance to the shopping public of Denver has been consummated in the sale of the entire $125,000 stock of the Famous Department Store of Trinidad, the largest and most complete department store in Southern Colorado, to the Golden Eagle of this city.

The Famous Department Store enjoyed the reputation of carrying one of the finest and highest grade stocks in Colorado and was established “many years ago.” Early last spring it was forced into bankruptcy through the general depression caused by the great Southern Colorado coal strike.

This ad, which appeared in the Denver Post on May 23, 1915, also reveals the demise of the Famous Department Store in Trinidad owned by Bert and Meyer Mansbach and its sale to the Golden Eagle:

The strike that caused the failure of the Mansbachs’ store is better known today as the Colorado Coalfields War and the Ludlow Massacre. Much has been written about this tragic chapter in US labor history, and I cannot give it adequate coverage here, but I thought that this summary from the Denver Public Library website provided a good overall description of the background of the strike and its aftermath. Here are some excerpts:

From 1884-1912, Colorado miners died at nearly double the rate of the national average, according the University of Denver’s Coal Field War Project. ….But unsafe work conditions were hardly the only problem Colorado coal miners faced as they headed to work. Thanks to a variety of unfair work practices, miners were paid by the amount of coal they pulled from the mine, not by the number of hours they worked. Even worse, miners were not compensated for the time they spent actually getting down the mine or the time they spent tunneling, laying track and other jobs that they referred to as, “Dead Time.”

By 1900, the United Mine Workers of America was actively organizing Colorado’s coal miners, and in 1913, after a few false starts, they launched a massive strike. … The 1913 strike involved nearly 90% of Colorado’s coal miners and involved an exodus from the mining camps to UMWA-sponsored tent cities that had a devastating effect on the families of the men walking the picket lines.

The strikers’ demands were relatively benign by today’s standards. Their conditions included:

An hourly wage for “dead time” and a 10 percent increase in the price per tonne paid.

The right to shop outside of company stores.

An 8-hour workday

The opportunity to elect their own representatives to operate the scales that weighed their output. (Apparently CF&I’s company men could not be counted on to provide fair and accurate measurements.)

Not surprisingly, the mine owners were not happy about the strike and were more than willing to use brutal force to suppress their rebellious workforce. Rockefeller’s representatives hired private security companies to put down the strike with violent results. .…

Tensions between striking miners and the men hired to put them down came to a head on April 20, 1914, when gunfire shattered the calm of a Sunday morning at a strike encampment at Ludlow. Though there are still disputes as to who started the shooting, there’s no question about who took the brunt of the violence that followed; innocent women and children.

When the gunfire subsided, 25 people were dead, including 11 children. Most of those children died from suffocation when a burning tent collapsed on a makeshift bunker where they’d taken refuge.

News of the murders in Ludlow spread quickly and ignited violence across the coal field as striking miners unleashed their pent-up rage on the coal mines and their absentee owners. The violence continued for 10 more days until Federal troops stepped in to break the warring parties apart.

The Colorado coal strike lasted for another seven months before desperate miners finally went back to work. Though they’d wrangled a few concessions from their bosses, the strike was anything but a victory for the men and women who put everything on the line in hopes of winning fair pay and safe working conditions.

Armed strikers, Trinidad, Colorado. By Survey Associates, Inc. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This terrible event, about which I’d known nothing before, had ramifications most tragically for the miners and their families, but it also harmed those in the community who were not directly involved in mining, including Bert and Meyer Mansbach, who lost their business.

It is not surprising that they both left Trinidad for bigger cities where they could start over. Bert and Rosa were living in Albuquerque in 1920, Bert working as a retail dry goods salesman as an employee.7 It must have been hard to work for someone else after all those years owning his own business. In 1920, Meyer and his family were in Detroit where Meyer was a retail merchant in the millinery business; his son Arthur was in business with him.8

It’s sad that after working together and raising their families near each other for all those years that Bert and Meyer were separated by so many miles in 1920. Amelia Mansbach Langer was at that point the only Mansbach sibling still in Colorado where once five of them had been living there : Amelia, Bert, Meyer, Katinka, and Julius.


  1. “Death Takes Former Post Photographer,” The Denver Post, August 30, 1934, p. 9 
  2.  Number: 181-09-2067; Issue State: Pennsylvania; Issue Date: Before 1951. Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 
  3. Herbert Kahn and family, 1920 US census, Census Place: Trinidad, Las Animas, Colorado; Roll: T625_167; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 136. Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census 
  4.  Ancestry.com. Colorado, Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918. The National Archives at College Park; College Park, Maryland; Record Group Title: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985; Record Group Number: 92; Roll or Box Number: 75. Date Range: 12 Aug 1918-Sep 1918, Ancestry.com. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists 
  5. Albuquerque, New Mexico, City Directory, 1917, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  6. Detroit, Michigan, City Directory, 1914, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  7. Bert Mansbach, 1920 US census, Census Place: Albuquerque Ward 3, Bernalillo, New Mexico; Roll: T625_1074; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 18.  Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census 
  8. Meyer Mansbach 1920 US census, Census Place: Detroit Ward 1, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_803; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 50
    Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census. One thing puzzled me about this census record, in addition to Arthur (23) and Edith (18), the census lists two other children living with Meyer and his wife Ida who are identified as their sons: Harry (16) and Meyer (14). Both boys were listed as born in Colorado. But neither was listed with Meyer and Ida on the 1910 census, and neither was named as a survivor in the death notices and obituaries later published for Meyer and Ida. I cannot find a birth record for either boy in Colorado or elsewhere, nor can I find any other records for a Harry Mansbach born around 1904 or a Meyer Mansbach born about 1906. Was the census enumerator just wrong? Was someone pulling a prank on the enumerator? Or were these boys someone else’s children? I don’t know, but if they existed at all, I do not think they were the sons of Meyer and Ida.