Thursday, July 10, 2008

August 4, 1928 - New York City


New York Aug. 4. 1928

My dear Jeanie:--

I called up this evening at 7 P.M.
figuring that you'd be at dinner, but again
out of luck, it seems that you over there
are also afflicted with the hot spell, for the
propriator told me that all guests went
down to the lake to escape the heat, but
I was happy indeed to hear that you're
getting along fine.1

The heat last night was the most severe
of the season, the city streets were deserted
and I went moonlight bathing, the beach
presented a strange spectacle at mid-
night thousands bathing in the tall waves
of the ocean while tens of thousands were
sleeping on the sands.2



But I enjoyed night bathing
immensely refreshing myself without
the fear of getting sunburned.

As I sat later on the beach thinking
of you a longing betook me as I heard
an orchestra at some building on the
boardwalk play the beautiful tender
strains of Lehar's Merry Widow waltz, I
would have given part of my life to hold
you in my arms just that moment.3

This evening I visited your folks
Everybody is O.K. Rose and the kids were
there, when Shirley saw me coming she
said Maah Shamah go she says to me
gimmie an Jean. Ain't she smart?
I argued with Sally for not writing
to you oftener.



As soon as I will be through with
this I'll go for another dip in C.I. but
there will be little moon if any cause
heavy clouds are gathering now.

If these clouds should bring rain
it would be a relief especially to my
suffering East side neighbors.4

I'm sure that you have already received
the candy package that I mailed you
Thursday morning, this morning I mailed
you some magazines.

If I didn't know you all through
Id get sore but I know that you
at heard didn't mean what you wrote
me that you [were] in a way happy to hear
from me
I know that you were all
happy, and I'm only writing to make
you happy, and nothing would be
too big for me to offer for your happiness.



If you meant to tease me please
don't repeat that, enough about that.

What other news can I write you?
Ma went tonight to sleep at Roses house
that she may be early on the beach
tomorrow with her, and by the way if
it interest you to know Rose bought a
nice black size 50 bathing suit but
it is a little tight.

As I am not writing this at home
(to your luck) I have no poem to add
I cannot memorize what I had in thought
to write and my books are at home.6

So my dear I am closing with
an earnest plea that you may write
a nice long long letter, and remain

Your Ever faithful



Matt's Notes

1 - When Papa wrote this letter, my grandmother was vacationing at the Viola House in Lake Huntington, New York. As we’ve discussed before, my grandmother, like many other Jewish New Yorkers of the Twentieth Century, would spend a bit of every summer at a Catskill Mountain “Borscht Belt” hotel like the Viola.

2 - According to the New York Times, the heat wave of August 1928 was the most severe in 46 years. It would kill at least fourteen people.

3 -

4 - If Papa wound up going back to Coney Island on the night of August 4th as he intended, he would have been caught in a sudden, severe thunderstorm and a resulting 600,000-person stampede for shelter. Oddly, three people would die that night of electrocution: one was a policeman who touched a fallen power line; the second was a swimmer who was struck by lighting; the third was a 16-year-old named Gertrude Neidenberg who fell from the Ocean Parkway subway platform and landed on the third rail.

Here’s a creepy thing: Ms. Neidenberg lived at 36 Attorney Street in Manhattan, just a few doors down from Papa apartment at number 96. It’s grotesquely ironic, but she was literally one of Papa’s “suffering East side neighbors” for whom he hoped the rain would provide some relief.

5 - Remember that my grandmother had been trying to cool Papa’s ardor for three years at this point, so I'm sure she meant to disorient him when she said she was only “in a way” happy to hear from him. I should point out, though, that qualified compliments and other minor jabs like this were not a stretch for her -- they were part of her everyday conversation, and Papa had probably been on the receiving end of them since he first met her.

6 - Papa quoted a love poem by Robert Burns in his August 2, 1928 letter and a one by Robert Browning in his July 31st letter.




Audio Source: The Merry Widow Waltz (1907) recorded by the Victor Dance Orchestra. Via

Papa, as we know, was a huge opera fan, so he would have known the "Merry Widow Waltz" quite well.  Here's a video clip of the scene in "The Merry Widow" in which it appears (via YouTube):

1 comment:

  1. Matt -- Thanks for reminding us that heat waves are nothing new in NYC. I love that image of people, peacefully sleeping on the sand! dina