The Trenton Jewish Project is also the subject of another feature in the current issue of the New Jersey Jewish News. I spoke with reporter Matt Schuman a couple of months ago and suggested that instead of doing a long interview with me, that he should speak with some of our most ardent readers. The story can be found here. Thank you Matt and Managing Editor Abby Kanter.
I hate starting each one of these posts with an apology for how long it has taken to write the most recent post. It reminds me too much of trying to convince my teachers why I didn't have my homework. The past few weeks have been full of legitimate excuses, inclduing a 5 day business trip to Detroit for the Auto Show. While I haven’t been writing, I have been doing a fair bit of research on Old Trenton.
Shortly before the previous post was published, I spent a few hours at the Trenton Public Library in the Trentonia collection. I concentrated on pictures of business in Old Trenton and found a few, including this one of Herman Spiegel’s Furniture store from 1933.
Later that afternoon, I headed up to Lambertville to interview Herb Spiegel. Herb has been in touch numerous times via e-mail, but I had never met him. We spent about an hour talking and there will be future entries with video from that interview. Herb told me stories about the family furniture business as well as giving me some great background on the Trenton in which he grew up. It was fascinating. My knowledge of Old Trenton would fit in a thimble when compared to Herb’s but I was able to give him a little background about the building where his father had started the business. It came from a handwritten note that was attached to the picture that I found in Trentonia. the building was built in 1911 by Louis Cohen. It was located at 33 Market Street, behind the Morton House, which was owned by his Grandfather, Harry Alexander until he lost it during the Depression.
In the year that I’ve been doing this blog, The Morton House, which was a the triangular corner of Union and Market Street has been one of the most talked about locations during my research. Many people had told me that there was a house of ill repute there. One night, Herb watched the interview I had done with Sol “Pumpsie” Weinstein on the Trenton Jewish Project Facebook page, and he added a little insight.
“Pumpsie grew up a block from my family's business and lived in the old Morton House owned by my grandfather Harry Alexander. Harry lost the Morton House during the depression and my father, Herman Spiegel, bought it back.”
When we sat and talked last month, Herb told me that he had no idea what had gone on at the Morton House until much later. He used to eat at the Marrow (?) House, where a waiter by the name of Gus worked. Gus had worked at the Morton House and would tell Herb that “You could always get liquor at the Morton House” during Prohibition. Gus would come back to the table with the next course and say, “You could always get women at the Morton House, too.
That’s when Herb put it together and as he commented on his Facebook posting, “The "rooms" in the building mentioned by Pumpsie, became model rooms for the furniture store.”
The hour flew by and the stories flowed. I don’t want to give too much away in this entry, but his memories of the town where he grew up are sweet. He spoke of his father’s lessons of business ethics and how his father would keep an eye on his store on Sundays, when it had to be closed due to the state’s blue laws. If he saw someone checking out the store, he would walk up to them and explain that they were closed and that if they came back during the week, he would personally take care of them. He also talked about how his father never used the “float’ when people put down deposits on the furniture they ordered. The money would be paper clipped to the order and kept in a file cabinet until the furniture arrived. When I asked him what killed Old Trenton, among the reasons he gave was the installation of parking meters in downtown. Having people pay a “tax” to shop didn’t make any sense at all.
When the decision was made to move the downtown store out to Lawrenceville, his father called Mayor Arthur Holland to see if there was anything that could be done to keep him in that location. According to Herb, the mayor didn’t even know that the store was still located downtown. That clinched it, and Spiegel’s moved to Rte. 1 and stayed there for about 20 years.
After the holidays, I had lunch with Arthur Finkle & Albert Stark, who arrived with a folder full of material about his family’s history in Trenton, which was compiled by his Uncle Emil. During lunch, Albert told me that to really get the feel of Old Trenton, that I really needed to go to the cemeteries. It was a suggestion that Barry Weiner had made last May when I spoke with him on the phone. Between bites of a corned beef special, I lamented that I hadn’t had a chance to go and he suggested, “I’ll take you this afternoon.” We finished eating and headed out to the Brothers of Israel cemetery at Vroom and Dayton Street. In a future story, I’ll tell you about our visit to the second oldest Jewish burial site in Trenton.
Shameless Plug warning!!!
If you want to see video of that visit to the cemetery, please come out to Adath Israel in Lawrenceville on Sunday morning, January 29th at 9:30am-(coffee), 10am start time. I guess you can call it the second annual meeting of the Trenton Jewish Project. Last February we had a great crowd for a lecture by Michael Aron Rockland about the Jews of New Jersey and I presented some of my research at the end of the meeting. This year, I’ll be flying solo and in addition to the videos and interviews that I’ll be showing, I want to make the presentation a chance for many of you to tell your stories. I might even have pictures that correspond with your stories. If there’s a specific place or person that you want to about, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll see if I have any corroborating material. No guarantees, but let’s make it an interesting morning. Thanks to the Adult Education Committee at Adath--or as everyone who I've interviewed for the blog calls it--"The Adath".