My Grandfather’s Notebook: A Post-Script, And Merry Christmas to All Who Celebrate!

Although I do not celebrate Christmas, I always enjoy the lights and trees and music and spirit of these days, and it struck me as entirely consistent with that spirit when I received the following comment on my last post from TK, a fellow genealogy blogger:

Amy, I enjoyed your post, and I’ve staged a little concert for you based on your grandfather’s list of musical pieces. It’s on my blog, Before My Time. It’s video-intensive, so it takes time to load. I found videos for all but four of the songs. Enjoy!

You can see TK’s blog post here and listen to all the music yourself. What a truly generous and kind gift this was—a compilation of the music listed in my grandfather’s little pocket calendar.  Thank you so much, TK!  I truly enjoyed listening to every piece of music.

One thing that struck me after reading TK’s blog post and listening to the music was that many of these pieces of music seemed to be student pieces, fairly short and simple pieces of music that a student taking piano lessons might play. But my grandparents certainly did not have a piano in the house, nor had I ever heard of anyone in the family playing the piano.

But I then thought about my cousin Beth’s comment on Facebook that her father, my uncle, had played the violin for many years and was quite accomplished.  Were these pieces that he played?

I decided to go back and examine the handwriting more carefully.  After comparing the writing to that of my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle, and mother, I now think that my uncle probably wrote the list.  What do you all think?

Here is the music page (you will have to click and zoom to see the handwriting clearly enough):

Grandpa notebook music

Here is my grandfather’s writing:

Grandpa notebook page 7 more notes about Maurice and hospital

This is what I thousht was my aunt’s handwriting as a child, which also looks somewhat like that on the music page: adult:

Grandpa Notebook 3 aunt elaine playing school

But this is her handwriting as an adult, and it’s very different, so maybe that’s not my aunt’s writing above?


Grandpa notebook Aunt Elaine names 1


My uncle wrote this page:

Grandpa notebook 8 maurice hunting notes 1934

This is my mother’s handwriting as a young child:

Grandpa Notebook 2 Mom note about teacher

And my grandmother wrote this page later in life in her 60s and probably wrote some of the entries on the page below it when she was in her 40s:

Grandpa notebook 1964 notes by Grandma

Grandpa Notebook 5 more addresses

So who wrote the page with all the pieces of music listed?  Anyone care to venture an opinion?


For all of you who celebrate, I wish you a wonderful and joyous Christmas.  And if I may borrow and paraphrase the traditional saying, may there be peace on earth and good will to all.



My Cousin, the Musical Star

ad dec 1 1917 for selma selingerWhen I spoke with my cousin Ellen Kleinfeld last week, she asked me whether I knew that there had been an opera singer in the family.  I said that I had not yet run across any family members who were opera singers.  She thought the cousin’s name was Sylvia, but wasn’t sure.  I told her that I would keep researching and would let her know if I found anyone that might fit that description.  I was skeptical of the claim that we had a singing star in the family, knowing how family myths can grow beyond the basic facts, but I figured I’d keep my eyes open for anyone who might be this musical “Sylvia.”

Well, it did not take long to find her, and it was not because I was looking for her specifically.  The fourth child of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta Cohen after Augusta, Myer, and Jacob was Fannie Cohen.  As written earlier, Fannie married Alfred Selinger, the assumed relative of Julius Selinger, who had married her older sister Augusta.  Fannie and Alfred had one child, a daughter Selma.  Selma was the mysterious singer my cousin Ellen had heard about as Sylvia.

Selma, who was born in 1894, was already performing as a singer at a Fourth of July celebration in Washington, DC, by 1905, when she was only eleven years old, and she is mentioned as a singer in numerous articles in the Washington area newspapers over the next 20 years.[1]

On September 14, 1912, Selma married William Danforth, who was an actor who worked under the stage name Billy L. Wilson, according to his passport application.  Three years later they had a daughter Mildred, but the marriage did not last.  An article from the Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Leader on April 10, 1917, told of a trip that Billy L. Wilson was making to Australia with his vaudeville partner, Joe F. Willard.  The article said that Billy and Joe had been on B.F. Keith‘s vaudeville circuit in the eastern and southern parts of the US.  (This is the same B.F. Keith who had married Ethel Chase, the sister-in-law of Ruth Cohen Chase, Selma’s first cousin, in 1913, six months before he died.  Ethel Chase later married Ruth and Selma’s other cousin, Jerome Selinger.  Perhaps Selma met Billy also through Ruth’s connection to B.F. Keith, or maybe Billy introduced Ethel to B.F. Keith.)

Apparently being on the road was not good for the marriage between Selma and Billy, and by 1920, they were divorced. She and Mildred were living with her parents, Fannie and Alfred. Alfred was working as a tailor, and Selma gave her occupation as a stenographer for a concert business. Throughout this time, however, Selma had continued to perform.[2]  I could only find one photograph of Selma, however, despite all the news coverage, and it is not a very clear photo.

Selma Selinger New York Times 1919

Selma Selinger New York Times 1919

On June 6, 1920, Selma sang at an event where a young man named Earl I. Klein was also performing and at later events he performed as her accompanist.[3]  Earl also had been a musician since an early age, performing as a pianist and a violinist at numerous events since 1907, when he was thirteen.  He had attended the Columbia Conservatory of Music.[4] What may have started as a professional relationship turned romantic, and on July 15, 1921, Selma married Earl Klein, and the two continued to perform together for some time thereafter.  Selma also sang on some radio broadcasts in the early 1920s.

Unfortunately, I could not find any coverage of Selma and Earl’s careers after 1922. By 1930, however, it seemed that both may have ended their musical careers.  On the 1930 census, Earl’s occupation is listed as the manager of a taxi company, and Selma has no occupation listed.  In 1940, Earl was selling insurance, and Selma again had no occupation listed. Selma’s parents, Fannie and Alfred Selinger, were living with them, as was Selma’s daughter Mildred.  (Fannie and Alfred must have also had a place in St. Petersburg, Florida, as they are listed in the city directories for that city in 1924 and 1934.)

Selma lost her mother, Fannie Cohen Selinger, on August 21, 1940, and her father Alfred Selinger died seven years later on October 11, 1947.   Her husband Earl died of a heart attack on June 9, 1957.  Earl was buried in Washington Hebrew Cemetery where Selma’s parents Fannie and Alfred are buried as well as her grandparents Moses, Jr. and Henrietta Cohen.

Selinger FannieSelinger AlfreadEarl Kline

(Photos courtesy of Ira Todd Cohen and Jane and Scott Cohen)

Sometime thereafter Selma remarried a man named Theodore C. Lewis.  Selma died on January 2, 1973, in Silver Spring, MarylandThe Washington Post published the obituary below, describing some of the highlights of her musical career.

The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 03 Jan 1973:

The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 03 Jan 1973:

Interestingly, Selma was not buried where her long time husband Earl is buried, and I still have not found where she is buried, though I am checking with the cemetery where her third husband is buried, Fort Lincoln.

UPDATE:  I just got confirmation that Selma is buried next to her third husband, Theodore Lewis, at Fort Lincoln cemetery.  Poor Earl–buried with the Cohen family, his in-laws, while his wife is buried elsewhere.

Selma’s daughter Mildred married a musician, Maurice or Maury Hall.  They lived in Las Vegas and then in North Hollywood, California.

Thus, one family “myth” has been validated.  Although Selma did not sing in a traditional opera setting, she was a professional soprano who sang both popular and classical musical works.  In the days before radio and recordings were widespread, hiring musicians for entertainment was much more common.  I can visualize these society gatherings and charitable and patriotic events where my cousin Selma sang to the delight of her audience, sometimes accompanied by her husband Earl.

I leave you with two links to click on to hear two songs that Selma sang (not, however, sung by her in these recordings). Although Selma sang everything from “Madame Butterfly” to Handel’s Oratorio “Judas Maccabeas”  to Kol Nidre at these performances,  I particularly enjoyed searching for these two songs that were popular during World War I, as they reminded me of a time many, many years ago I sat  with my father and a family friend as they discussed World War I songs.  I was probably about thirteen and could not for the life of me figure out why these two men were talking about (and singing) songs written before they were born.  As Mel Brooks said in The 2000 Year Old Man, we mock the things we are to be.

Cover of "The 2000 Year Old Man"

Cover of The 2000 Year Old Man

Roses of Picardy

Keep the Home Fires Burning

[1] For example, for some early performances,  see The Washington Evening Star, July 3, 1905, p. 3; “Dr. Simon Guest of Honor, Washington Evening Star, June 2, 1908, p. 9; “Eastern Star Entertainments,” April 15, 1909, Washington Evening Star, p. 15; Washington Evening Star, May 9, 1909, p. 65; “Have Lively Debate,” Washington Evening Star, April 6, 1910, p. 2; “Casino,”  Washington Evening Star, April 9, 1913.

[2] See “Jewish Women Hear their New Protégé,” Washington Evening Star, January 13, 1916, p. 24 (as Selma Selinger Danforth); “Grotto Will Entertain,”  Washington Evening Star, January 13, 1916, p. 24; “Arab Patrol Host to 1,500 Guests,” Washington Evening Star, April 29, 1916, p. 9; Washington Evening Star, December 9, 1917, p. 54 (‘…Miss Selma Selinger sang several patriotic solos which were so well received that she had to respond with several encores.”); “Liberty Loan Boosted at Patriotic Rally,” Washington Evening Star, April 7, 1918, p. 20.1  This is just a sampling; there were also mentions in the Washington Herald and the Washington Post.

[3] See Washington Evening Star, June 6, 1920, p. 53; “Florida Society,” Washington Evening Star, January 9, 1921, p. 25; Washington Evening Star, November 5, 1922, p. 63.

[4] Washington Evening Star, July 5, 1908, p. 26. Also, numerous other articles about Earl Klein’s performances can be found by searching for Earl Klein in the District of Columbia.

My Grandfather and Alma Gluck

In a recent conversation with my mother about her father, my grandfather Isadore Goldschlager, she said that one of the things that my grandfather remembered fondly about Iasi was the music.  From the photograph of the house where he was born, you can see a cathedral towering in the background.  My mother wondered whether that was where her father heard the music he loved.

One of the other stories my mother recalled was that my grandfather used to say that he babysat for Alma Gluck.  I knew nothing in detail about Alma Gluck, except that she was a famous opera singer and recording star, so I decided to do some research and see if I could figure out a link between my grandfather and Alma Gluck.

Alma Gluck

Cover of Alma Gluck

In reading a number of biographies online, I first learned that Alma Gluck was born Reba Fiersohn, daughter of Leon and Zara Fiersohn in 1884 in Romania; some sources say she was born in Bucharest, but others say she was born in Iasi.  Perhaps her family and the Goldschlager family were friends or at least acquaintances.   Since my grandfather was born in 1888 in Iasi, he obviously did not literally babysit for Alma Gluck herself since she was four years older; he must have babysat for her child.

Reba Fiersohn arrived in the United States in 1890, brought to the United States by her older sister Cecile, according to a biography from the Jewish Women’s Archive.  They lived in the Lower East Side, where Reba went to school and then worked as an office clerk.  On May 25, 1902, she married Bernard Glick, with whom she had a daughter, Abigail Marcia, who was born on June 9, 1903.  In 1906, Reba was discovered by an associate of her husband and began training to become an opera singer.  She debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in 1909 and became a very successful concert performer and recording star under the name Alma Gluck.  She traveled throughout the United States and was considered the most successful recording star of the time.

Here is one of her best known recordings, Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.  You can find several others online.

She divorced Bernard Glick in 1912 and subsequently in 1914 married Efrem Zimbalist, the violinist, with whom she traveled, performed and recorded.  She and Zimbalist had two children, Maria, born in 1915, and Efrem, Jr., the actor, director and writer.  Although she continued to tour and record for a few more years, her voice had become strained, and she retired in 1924.  Alma Gluck died in 1938 from cirrhosis of the liver.

English: Russian-born American composer, condu...

English: Russian-born American composer, conductor and violinist Efrem Zimbalist (1890-1985) with his wife American opera singer Alma Gluck (1884-1938) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So where in this story might my grandfather fit? My best guess is that he babysat for Abigail, Alma Gluck’s child with her first husband Bernard.  As noted above, Abigail was born in 1903; my grandfather arrived some time in 1903 or early 1904.  In 1905 he was living alone at 2213 Second Avenue in New York, working as a grocery store clerk.  He was seventeen years old at the time.  That same year, according to the 1905 New York State census, Bernard and Reba Glick were living with their two year old daughter Abigail at 2 St. Nicholas Terrace in New York.  Bernard was an insurance agent, and Reba, the future star, was doing housework.  Could Isadore have been babysitting for little Abigail? St. Nicholas Terrace is crosstown from where my grandfather was living, about a half hour walk according to Google Maps.  It does not seem likely that the Glicks knew Isadore from the neighborhood, unless the store where he was working was located in their neighborhood north of Morningside Park.  Unfortunately, that’s a fact I will not be able to determine.

In 1909, Isadore was living at 440 East (?) 147th Street, according to the ship manifest for his father Moritz.  Google Maps could not find such an address in Manhattan, only in the Bronx, so perhaps it was 440 West 147th Street, about a mile north of where the Glicks had been living in 1905 and on the same side of Manhattan.  In 1910, Isadore was living with his aunt Tillie Strolovitz and her children on East 109th Street, back on the East Side.  The Glick family was living at 325 West 93rd Street, two and half miles away crosstown from where Isadore was living.  Again, unless there was some other connection—from back in Iasi or some Romanian community connection, it is not obvious how Isadore would have ended up babysitting for Abigail.

By 1912, Reba Fiersohn Glick had become the famous Alma Gluck, divorced from Bernard and traveling around the country.  One source reported that she fought Bernard for custody of Abigail and prevailed after a bitter court battle.  I cannot find where Abigail or either of her parents were living in 1915, but since by that time her mother was famous, wealthy and remarried, Abigail herself was twelve, and Isadore was 27 and working full time as a milkman, I doubt very much that he was babysitting for Abigail in 1915 or thereafter.

So is there any truth to the story that my grandfather babysat for Alma Gluck?  I, of course, am inclined to believe my grandpa—who wouldn’t? And it is entirely possible that he had a connection through ties in Iasi to the family of Reba Fiersohn.  He was a new immigrant when Abigail was just a toddler and himself alone and just a teenager.  Perhaps there was some outreach from former residents of his home city who arranged for him to earn some money as a babysitter for the future Alma Gluck, even if he was living crosstown.  We will never know with any certainty, but I believe that my grandfather babysat for little Abigail.

If he did, I wonder whether he knew how famous Abigail herself became.  Abigail Glick grew up to become a well-known writer under the name Marcia Davenport.  Among other works, she wrote the novel East Side, West Side, which became the basis of the well-known movie by the same name.  She was on the staff of The New Yorker for several years and wrote a very well-regarded biography of Mozart.  She also wrote an autobiography entitled Too Strong for Fantasy.  I have just ordered a copy—maybe she will talk about the young teenage boy who babysat for her when she was a young child? Unlikely, given all the other much more glamorous and interesting things that happened to her in her life, but I will be reading it with an eye open for any such reference.

We may never know a lot of things with absolute certainty.  Sometimes we just have to accept the versions of the truth we have learned.

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