Friday, March 14, 2008

June 27, 1926 - Buffalo

[Note: To see full-sized scans of this letter, click the thumbnail images on the right of this page.]


Please pardon
my abrupt script
and corrections

June 27, 1926.
1:55 a.m.

My dear Jeanie:

This is the third time that I am writing
to you today1, and believe me this certainly
was an adventurous day for me.

I shall try to describe to you in my way of
today's events.

The day was very fair when a group of
us started out in a big car from the hotel
for the falls, which are twenty-five miles
from here.

After an hour ride we reached the
stormy Niagara river, and soon afterward
the beginning of the American rapids and
a few minutes later we've reached our destination.
We came to a spot where the most bewitching
most enchanting (believe me I haven't got
enough words to describe it) spectacle presented
itself before my eyes.

If I were a poet perhaps I'd be able to give



you a fair description of the view, however
I will make an attempt to do it in my
meagre way.

The American part of the falls were before
my eyes, a picture of unsurpassing beauty
and splendor, On a stretch of about 5 city
blocks streams from the Niagara river falling
into a depth of about 200 feet and the suns
reflection makes it look like an endless
stream of pearls, the reaction on the bottom
of the falls makes it look like a huge
white cloud.

After recording things on my camera2
we boarded the car again headed for the
international bridge, after paying a toll
to the American officers of for leaving the country
we reached the Canadian side where
I had to produce my citizen papers
(I took it along as I've been told that I'd
need them)3 in order to be let through,
Well in Canada the falls presented themselves
in their full beauty and the Canadian
horseshoe falls are yet more beautiful
than the American.4



There I stood as in a haze I could
hardly believe my eyes, I saw Gods
wonder which no artist can paint, I
would travel to the end of the world to see
another such sight, I shall relate to you
in person about this sight.

Now while I Canada I thought it was the
proper time to quench my thirst (Canada
is not a dry country) and revenge myself
on old Volstead,

Yes I drank three glasses of honest to
goodness beer, enough to last me until
the prohibition act is repelled.5

I also brought a little bit of Canadian
candy for you,

Of course by the time you receive this
you will have received the card that
I mailed in Canada.

Well after speeding through some Canadian
Villages we returned late in the afternoon
to the dear old U.S.A.

Here at the hotel we are busy all evening
with receptions tendered in our honor.


I hope that the pictures of the falls that
I've snapped come out O.K. especially
the one of myself with the falls as a

I believe that I have faithfully
described to you my experiences, and
now I will call it a day.

You may read this letter to your folks
to whom I'm sending my kindest regards
I expect to be very busy the next 3 days6
however if I should have time I shall
write you more.

Hoping that this finds you in best
of health I am as ever




Matt's Notes

1 - Papa had already sent two postcards to my grandmother after his arrival in Buffalo for the Zionist Organization of America's annual convention, one immediately before he left his hotel for a tour of Niagara Falls and one a few hours later from the Canadian side of the Falls.

Papa wrote this letter at 1:55 AM on Hotel Statler stationery, presumably in his room. (Little amenities like stationery and pens usually associated with higher-priced hotels helped cement the Statler hotel chain's reputation among travelers of modest means.) His excitement and exhaustion are evident in the "abrupt script and corrections" for which he apologizes at the top of the letter:

2 - As mentioned previously, I have had Papa's No. 3A Autographic Kodak (Model C) camera in my possession since I was a kid, and it may be the camera he refers to in this letter. However, the few amateur photo prints I have from this period of Papa's life are too small to have come from a 3A Autographic, so he may have had a different camera at the time. Alas, I'll probably never know for sure unless photos from his Buffalo trip turn up somehow.

3 - In July of 1924, Papa wrote in his diary of his frustration with the glacial pace of the naturalization process, so he couldn't have been a citizen for that long when he visited Canada in June of 1926. Did he feel a little rush of pride when asked to prove his citizenship, or was the commotion at the border (surely all the Zionist companions with whom he rode to the Falls were immigrants and had to produce their papers as well) too distracting?

4 - I've seen the Horseshoe falls from the Canadian side and, though the cynic in me wants to say the whole thing is a cheesy tourist trap, I cannot help but agree with Papa. They Falls really are spectacular and I remember them fondly. Alas, not everybody has the same experience:

5 - I love this passage because it comes so unexpectedly and places Papa so squarely in the 1920's. Alcoholic beverages would have been a real attraction for American tourists who visited the Canadian side of Niagara Falls during Prohibition, and here we have Papa, who wasn't a big drinker, hitting a bar and downing three beers out of pure excitement. (In later years, according to my mother, he liked to stroll on hot days from his Brighton Beach apartment to a Boardwalk bar and enjoy a glass of bock. I wonder if, having experienced Prohibition firsthand, he had a little more fun than other people did when he ordered a beer legally.)

I had a similar, though less satisfying, experience at the Canadian Falls a few years ago when I bought and smoked a dry, disgusting Cuban cigar just because it was legally available. I suppose, if American-Cuban relations ever normalize, the only harmful vice worth traveling to Canada for will be poutine.

6 - The Zionist Organization of America's conference in Buffalo had 1000 attendees that year, and Papa was one of 200 from New York. The agenda set forth by Chairman Lewis Lipsky in his opening remarks (delivered, most likely, at one of the "ceremonies" Papa refers to in this letter) included the need to address Britain's recent lackluster support of the Zionist cause in Palestine and the condemnation of a Joint Distribution Committee effort to designate a region of the Ukraine for Jewish settlement, which the Z.O.A. saw as an attempt to distract Jews from the Zionist cause.

Most absorbing for Papa would have been the the Z.O.A.'s rejeection of a resolution adopted by his own fraternal organization, Order Sons of Zion (a.k.a. B'nai Zion) to push the Zionist movement toward the aggressive, nationalistic, "revisionist" Zionism advocated by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Interestingly, though B'nai Zion had adopted this stance at a conference attended by Papa a few weeks earlier, several prominent B'nai Zion leaders, including the writer Maurice Samuel, objected to it and said so at the Z.O.A. convention. I'm not sure where Papa would have stood, but we know he admired Samuel and may even have been friendly with him (he mentions Samuel several times in his 1924 diary and refers to him as "Maurie" at one point) so I would imagine he joined Samuel among the dissenters.

A final note: In this letter, Papa starts using this symbol at the bottom of every page except the last:

I assume it means "turn the page" or "more to come". From now on I'll include it in my transcriptions and write it out as "./."



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