[Note: To see large scans of Papa's letter, click the thumbnail images on the right of this page.]
New York Aug 1. 1926
August 2, 1926
My dear Jeanie: -
I am glad at this time to inform you
that Honey is O.K. I called up Rose
just before, Sally answered the phone
she said that he isn't home any more
he is all well and at this time playing
outside with the kids.1
I tried to call up your father but there
was no answer, I suppose that he must
be in the restaurant now.2
I was in C.I. last night, I took the
Iron Steamboat to the Battery, oh how
it was lonesome, my other friends do
not seem to interest me much now. -- 3
Oh Jeanie, you ought to be glad to
be away from the City, this is another
hot day like those of 2 weeks ago
a little shower would be a great relief,4
I do not write much now as I am a little
fatigued from business, but one of this weeks
letters will surely be a bigger one.
Regards to dear mother.
1 - Honey, as we've mentioned before, was the nickname for Harold, the son of my grandmother's sister Rose. My grandmother and great-grandmother, who were both vacationing at the Lakeside Inn in Ferndale, NY when Papa wrote this letter, would have been anxious to hear about Harold's health if he had been ill. My mother tells me that no one in my grandmother's family liked to use telephones, so this may have been the first news they had of Harold's recovery.
2 - My great-grandfather was, according to family lore, a rather imperious, traditional sort of man. As such, he certainly wouldn't have been able to cook for himself, so he must gone out to eat a lot when his wife and daughters weren't around. I imagine he ate at the same restaurant all the time since Papa refers to it only as "the restaurant" and not by name.
3 - The Iron Steamboat Company started running a ferry from Manhattan to Coney Island in the late 1800's, and at the time Papa wrote this letter would drop its passengers exclusively at Steeplechase Pier. (Steeplechase Pier was was an entrance to Steeplechase Park, one of Coney's most famous amusement parks. The Iron Steamboat Company started bringing passengers there in 1911.) The undated postcards below (from a site hosted at USGenNet.org) show a couple of Iron Steamboats in action:
Papa seems to attribute his loneliness and lack of interest in his friends to my grandmother's absence, but, interestingly, this isn't the first time he's been hit with a blue mood on a Coney Island ferry. His June 22, 1924 diary entry describes a similar experience:
The heat chased me out
to Coney Island, where I
took the first dive in the
cool ocean. Lonely I spent
there several hours and
in the evening I certainly
was refreshed by the cool
ocean breezes on the boat
ride back to town.
I could have stayed on the
island later, but I escaped
the gay throngs on the boardwalk
there was no place for a lone
sad man, to get that boat, but
on the boat again were gay couples
which in my loneliness tended to
make me sadder.
Papa wrote this diary entry a few weeks after his father's death, a time when he was subject to long bouts of melancholy. In subsequent weeks he would visit Coney Island frequently, but he often felt low and would occasionally take leave of his friends to say kaddish in a nearby synagogue. I wonder, then, if he continued to associate Coney Island with those difficult times and if, when he wrote the above letter to my grandmother two years later, his mournful memories triggered his "lonesome" feelings and his seemingly inexplicable desire to separate from his friends.
I've also speculated that crowded boats full of people like himself recalled even more distant memories of his passage to America and, by extension, the family he left behind and missed so terribly. Did all this make his longing for my grandmother even more keen, his loneliness more pronounced?
4 - Temperatures were at 88 and rising on the day Papa wrote this letter, though the late July heat wave he refers to was even worse, with temperatures topping off at 97. The New York Times headlines of the day told tales of massive Coney Island crowds and heat-related deaths and prostrations (see references below). It was certainly a few degrees cooler and less dangerous in "The Mountains", as my grandmother called the Catskills, where the Lakeside Inn was located.
- Information on the Iron Steamboat company appears in How We Got to Coney Island (via Google Books).
- The Wikipedia entry on Steeplechase Park has some good basic information and links to interesting Coney Island sites
- BREAK IN HEAT WAVE ENDS 97-DEGREE DAY IN WHICH TEN DIE; Forty-three Are Prostrated as City Swelters in Hottest July 22 on Record Here. - The New York Times, July 23, 1926
- HEAT KILLS 3 MORE; MERCURY FALLS, BUT HUMIDITY GRIPS CITY; 24 Prostrations Are Reported Here on the Third Day of the Wave. - The New York Times, July 24, 1926
- High Humidity and Heavy Fog Stifle City; Mercury Up to 88; Showers Expected Today - The New York Times, August 3, 1926
- Four Die, 13 Prostrated as City Swelters; Mercury at 92; Some Hope of Relief Today - The New York Times, August 4, 1926