Americans have a particular interest in animal welfare, which is evident in the establishment of Be Kind to Animals Week in 1914. American Humane created Be Kind to Animals Week in response to the deaths of millions of horses during the First World War. Its purpose was to educate Americans, especially children, about how to care for animals with kindness and respect. This theme was an easy sell for Mainers, who have always had a special relationship with animals.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a frequent visitor to Maine, wrote about Be Kind to Animals Week in her newspaper column, My Day, in 1943. With World War II in mind, she wrote:
Though it may seem to a good many people that a time when the world is hardly a kind world is not a time to emphasize kindness to animals, and that we should think primarily of our attitude toward human beings, I believe there is great value in continuing to train children in the proper attitude toward their pets.
Her message continues to ring true. Teaching children about caring for their pets is a way to prepare them for caring for people as they mature and enter society as adults.
In 1927, children gladly posed for Portland Press Herald photographers with their dogs, cats, and horses. It is clear that these animals were special to the children who cared for them.
Treating animals with respect is not limited to pets and domestic animals. Since there are rural areas in Maine, it was, and is, fairly common to run into wild animals in populated places from time to time. Some of the animals Mainers encountered in the 1920s and 1930s included deer, turkeys, raccoons, and foxes.
In the photos below (ca. 1925), several fawns follow a little boy, who may be proving their meal, through a meadow. In another instance, a man feeds a young fawn with a baby bottle while a small child watches.
Raccoons also interacted with Mainers in different ways. Sometimes they were hunted for their pelts, but other times they were treated more as beloved pets.
More recently, in 1993, President Bill Clinton made a proclamation at the start of Be Kind to Animals Week. He said:
We celebrate this week in order to remember the many ways that animals help us. By serving as guides, animals aid the blind. As lookouts and detectives, animals assist in our military, customs, and law enforcement efforts. As friends and companions, pets befriend our children, ease the loneliness of the elderly and the ill, and entertain our families in our daily lives. We also salute the veterinary professionals and animal protection organizations that help us provide food, shelter, and medical care for animals and pets.
Garden lilies: L. testaceum, L. washingtonianum, L. humboldtii, and more – they came by the dozens from across North America, and they came to a small corner of mid-coast Maine.
Their destination? The gardens of the Spite House in Rockport, Maine.
Despite some plants having come thousands of miles their travels are not nearly as impressive as that of the Spite House itself. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, the Spite House owes its existence to a family dispute from the early 19th century.
When Captain Thomas McCobb returned from a long voyage at sea, he discovered that his relatives had broken his father’s will and moved into the fine house his father had built in Phippsburg. In retaliation, or “spite,” he had an even more ornate home built strikingly close to his father’s usurped house.
The house was completed in 1806. By the early 20th century the house had seen better times and, in 1925, it was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Donald D. Dodge.
Shortly after purchasing the home, Mr. Dodge arranged for it to be moved (completely intact) from Phippsburg to Deadman’s Point in Rockport. The house was braced, lifted onto a barge, and shipped 85 miles to its present location. Once safely back on dry land, two more wings were built.
The following year, Mr. Dodge had gardens installed according to a design by the landscape architect Robert Wheelwright. Now, thanks to a recent donation to the Maine Historical Society, we know just what bloomed!
Relatives of Mr. Dodge donated his documents pertaining to the gardens of the Spite House to the Maine Historical Society. Among the papers are purchase orders, receipts, plant lists, notes on plant care and propagation, catalogs, and letters.
Looking through the correspondence with over half a dozen plant nurseries (most of which appear to no longer exist), you discover the wide variety of lilies, roses, and alpine plants ordered and planted by Mr. Dodge and his gardener, Henry B. Williams, during the 1950’s. Mr. Dodge kept carbon copies of his letters detailing their successes and failures. It’s clear that he was an avid gardener with a keen interest in learning all he could about lily propagation.
Reviewing the papers, you’re regaled with their struggles to control a common plant disease, Botrytis, that plagued particular species, especially during wet and damp periods of weather. Controlling the local woodcock population also took precedence, as it’s assumed the gamebirds – primarily an insect eating species – rooted around in the flower beds, disturbing young seedlings and causing general havoc to the flower beds.
Here’s a passage from a letter addressed to A.D. Rothman of Strawberry Hill Nurseries, dated October 15th, 1954:
I am having a wonderful time in my garden now preparing the planting arrangements for these lilies and planning where to put them. You can be assured they will have every care possible. They are planted amongst shrubs – Azaleas, Kalmia, Rhododendron, Mahonia, Bayberry – but I have learned to give them plenty of room and I have also learned to restrict the roots of the Mahonias and Bayberries by putting in sheets of zinc to give the lilies a head start. The Kalmias and Rhododendron are no problem and the same applies to most Azaleas but some of the Azaleas do have runners. However, I am having a hard time keeping up with my woodcock shooting and getting the lilies planted too!
By all appearances, the time period covered in the collection marked one of the high points in the history of the Spite House Gardens. While under the care of Mr. Williams, the gardens underwent an extensive expansion with a lily and wildflower garden planted in the woods south of the house, installations of a rock garden, an enclosed rose garden, island gardens in the lawns surrounding the property, and the construction of a greenhouse.
All in all, the collection provides a glimpse into what it took to plan, execute, and nurture flower gardens on the coast of Maine nearly 70 years ago!
By Jessica Vogel, Simmons College Library Science intern, Fall 2018
Recently, I have had the pleasure of processing the Poor-Parsons-Frellick family collection. The family spent many years living on Peaks Island and in the Portland area. The collection includes a great deal of correspondence between husbands and wives, as the men worked out at sea. Letters illustrate the difficulties of being away from family, the endless assault of weather, and the often futile search for fish.
David Poor was born in Portland in 1818 and went to sea at the age of 11 working first as a cabin boy. He rose up over the years finally becoming a captain of his own ship. He worked for many years as a Portland Harbor Pilot. Captain Poor married Hannah Haskell of New Gloucester, Maine in 1843 and together they had three children: Frances Ella, Melissa Aurora, and Truletta.
Life as a family in the maritime profession could be difficult and lonely as a letter from Captain Poor to his wife Hannah illustrates.
October 5, 1857 New Bedford
I have had a hard long day this time hard luck and everything seems to work against me. I shall loose more this trip than I have made on any other but I must make the best of it. I think that when I get home I shan’t go away more this fall. You spoke of some money but I can’t get aney until I get to dischargin my cargo and then I will send you some and when you write again I don’t want you to rite such melancholy letters for you must now dear that it is very unpleasant to me. I don’t now what I have done that makes you feel so down hearted and speaking of promises I have not broke any that I now. of what folks say about me I can’t help when I am away but dam them I can when I am at home. I am very sorry to hear that Francis is no better and that lotty is sick to but my dear these troubles we can’t help I hope that they will soon get better I wish I was at home with you but I must finish out this trip and do the best I can and then I will be with you
I right as often as any man that goes to sea and when I make up my mind to run away and leave you I will right twice a day. these long and lonesome letters are not very cheering to any one so I hope that when you rite again you won’t have so much lonely in it now you won’t will you dear say you won’t and I don’t think you will break your promise.
Following his retirement, Captain Poor and Hannah spent their winters in St. Augustine, Florida. Captain Poor also found time to charter boats for residents. The Poor-Parsons-Frellick family collection includes stereoscopes of Florida and letters from their grandchildren during this time.
Captain Poor’s second daughter Melissa married Edward L. Parsons in June of 1865. Parsons, like Captain Poor held a variety of maritime jobs. Parsons worked for a time alongside his father-in-law as a Portland Harbor Pilot. Edward Parsons many letters to his wife describe battles with weather and the endless search for fish from Calais, Gloucester, Portsmouth, Provincetown, and beyond.
Sunday October 4,1868 Portsmouth
Dear Wife, It is with pleasure that I write a few lines to let you know that we are all well and hope you are the same. We have not got many mackerel for the weather is so bad. We have got 5 and if the weather had been good we should have done well but we was one day to late the day we came from home some of the vessels got as high as 90, your father, or our father was in the fleet but I don’t know how many he got we expected to have been at home to day bit I don’t know now when we shall be. We shall keep with the mackerel until we get some if we have to go to Cape Cod. I have felt some worried about you since we left but I want you to write as soon as you get this and let me know how you are and the baby how is she and has she got any big?
Edward L. Parsons and his wife Melissa had five children in total: Arlette, Arlette, Charles, Truletta, and Charlotte, however only three lived past childhood. Their second daughter Arlette, enjoyed a courtship with fellow Peaks Islander William Frellick before their marriage in 1893.
Peaks Island October 26
My dear Will, So you have really left the home of your childhood- but for a short time only, I’m so glad of that. Thought I’d send this to you it’s been waiting for you since the 9th. I made it for you and every stich was a prayer for my dear Will. Mama asked me why I was so still when I worked on it. Hope you will like it well enough to wear it. Ellen A. advised me not to send it, ‘He’ll wear it to see some other girl” I replied I can trust him anywhere. Your letters are a great comfort to me. Sat. Eve. I looked and I looked thought I heard you coming twice and went to the door. Did not know then that you were not coming home. Evelyn told me yesterday in S.S. It was rather hard yesterday to say goodbye and to miss you of so much. I just sat and cried about all the time in church yesterday
Lawrence, Mass October15 1891
Dear Arlette, your letter was most welcome and comforting. It is nice to travel but when a fellow is still he begins to think. This is a nice country but there is no place like home. Wednesday eve is a hard eve with me, I can think of nothing else but the pleasant times we have had on that particular evening.
Lawrence Mass. Nov 8, 1891
Dear Arlette, I bless the man who invented writing for that is the only outlet I have for my feelings. You in Portland and I in Lawrence. What would we do without pen and paper. Your last was quite pleasing to one who hasn’t seen a familiar face for a whole moth. Still it is quite pleasant to go away a while and have folks tell you how they miss you. I was sorry for your sore throat. Hope you are well by this time, see plainly that I am not to blame for all your sore throats though I have been to blame for a good many.
Arlette and William were married in October of 1893 on Peaks Island by Rev. B. Freeman who had married Arlette’s parents. According to news reports of the day the couple was well-known to residents and generally popular on the island. Frellick held a variety of positions over the years working at carriage and sleigh manufacturers, Zenas Thompson & Brothers on Elm Street in their blacksmith shop, the Post Office on Peaks Island, and was licensed to sell milk from a cart on Peaks Island.
In her later years, Arlette helped start the Calends Study Club on the island and was known as a local historian. She wrote a History of Peaks Island and Landmarks of Peaks Island in which she remembers the island of her youth.
This collection was generously donated by Arlette and William’s granddaughter Elisabeth Smith.
In the 1920s and 1930s City Hall was the place to enjoy special events in Portland, Maine!
Parades and processions marched to City Hall, presidents and politicians spoke from its front steps to crowds gathered in the street, and honorees received awards and recognition outside of City Hall. Essentially, when something exciting happened in Portland, at least a part of it took place at City Hall.
Below are event images at City Hall in the 1920s and 1930s from the Gannett Glass Plate Negative Collection (Coll. 1949) given to the Society by the Portland Press Herald. These images are being digitized and made available on Maine Memory Network thanks to a grant in 2016 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
At the Maine Centennial celebration in 1920, several high-ranking Naval officers visited City Hall during the celebration. City Hall was decorated in patriotic colors, and a large crowd was gathered around the officers.
From left to right: Commander Joss Manoel de Carvalho of the Portuguese battle cruiser, San Gabriel; Rear Admiral E.W. Erbele, U.S.N. commanding Battleship Division 5, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and U.S.S. Utah, Flagship; Rear Admiral Allan F. Everett, R.N. of M.M.S. Calcutta; Captain Henry H. Hough, U.S. commanding the U.S.S. Utah; Captain P.N. Olmstead U.S.N. commanding the U.S.S. Florida. This image appeared on page six of the Tuesday, June 29, 1920, issue of the Portland Evening Express.
In the summer of 1921, President Warren Harding visited New Hampshire and Maine. In Maine, Harding addressed a crowd from the steps of City Hall in Portland and concluded his visit with a game of golf at the Poland Spring House. People congregated on Congress Street during the President’s speech. He was joined by the First Lady and other politicians during his address.
In 1925, the annual convention of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (NFBPWC) was held in Portland. Delegates from all over the country came to Portland for the event. Many arrived by train at Union Station and traveled by special train cars for delegates. Two women (below) from Wyoming posed for a photograph beside their car and outside of City Hall.
Franklin D. Roosevelt also made a trip to Portland and City Hall on October 31, 1932. Governor-Elect Louis Brann (right), introduced him to the crowd. Presidential candidate Roosevelt gave a campaign address to the people of Maine at this event. In his address, he explained his plans to work with Democrats and Republicans and to work in harmony with the other branches of government. Roosevelt went on to win the 1932 presidential election; although Maine was one of the six states he lost.
Memorial Day parades and celebration in often concluded at City Hall in the 1920s and 1930s. Many military officers and their spouses were honored for their service or honored those who died in service. Families often attended these events and gathered on Congress Street outside of City Hall.
Large-scale celebrations usually happened at City Hall, but smaller events often happened here as well. Many group photographs were taken on the front steps throughout the years: Boy Scout troops, Portland High School clubs, winners of Miss Portland Beauty Pageants, etc. often posed on the steps.
We hope you have enjoyed this brief walk down memory lane to Portland’s City Hall almost a century ago!
All photographs in this post are Collections of Maine Historical Society/Maine Today Media
Over the centuries, the human impulse to leave behind a record of our lives has taken many forms. Cave painting is perhaps the first, chronicling successful hunts or bountiful harvests. From clay tablets to illuminated manuscripts to bound diaries to blogs, we have found a way to preserve a bit of ourselves in the records we leave behind.
The diaries of Doris Blackman Merriam in the recently processed collection of the same name in the Brown Library are a shining example of this inherent feature of the human experience. Writing nearly every day from 1975 to 2001, Doris created not only a record of her life, but a record of the world around her – providing a fruitful study for social historians. Entries range from discussions of daily activities like baking treats for a school fundraiser to her opinions of global conflicts to the latest fashion trends. Her diaries not only open a portal into the life of a devoted mother of seven, her opinions and views reflect major cultural and social movements spanning four decades.
A Rockland native, Doris married and raised her family in her hometown. She first began keeping a daily journal at the urging of her son Kendall, who, as Rockland’s Poet Laureate, recognized the value of keeping such a record for posterity. Over the years, Doris became more comfortable keeping a diary, and a strong narrative voice emerges as she demonstrates a flare for describing international catastrophes with the same detail as the latest trend in hair perm techniques. Her unique perspective of the world around her reflects an acute awareness of events occurring thousands of miles away, prompting mindfulness in her readers of the way in which people and events far removed from us still have the power to arouse sentiment and personal reflection in relation to our own lives.
Doris’s diaries offer endless possibilities for anyone interested in social history, with potential research topics including parent-child relationships, fashion, sports, shifting gender roles, political and economic conditions – all set within the context of four decades that saw radical changes in societal norms and major dramas set on an international stage, including armed conflicts and assassination attempts.
As Doris wrote in her opening entry to her 1976 diary, “I hope that whoever reads these in future will enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.” Now that the diaries and supporting materials are available for researchers in the Brown Library, we hope that you will stop by and take advantage of this truly exceptional collection.
For more information, see Coll. 2767 in the Brown Library Minerva catalog.
The online exhibit “Anshe Sfard, Portland’s Early Chassidic Congregation” written by Susan Cummings-Lawrence can be found on the Maine Memory Network.
There is something compelling for certain people in the stories of absence and loss. I am one of those people, it seems. The why’s and how’s that are more or less easy to figure out¾well, they are too easy. When a building stands and images of its life are accessible, where is the mystery? Sometimes it is the ghosts that are more enticing than the breathing. How did these once living souls and institutions arrive at their eventual ethereal state? What changes took place and how did they come about? What social forces were in play that would cause a community and its institutions to be born and to die and to be reincarnated “at a new address,” as Simon Schama would say?[i] What memories of the past helped to shape the lives of those whose present and future were to be so shockingly new?
In the course of my community history work in Greater Jewish Portland in recent years, I have always been eager to hear stories about everything and everyone. Having grown up here, however, I recalled a synagogue of which, it seemed, no one I met had been a member; no one I met talked about it. The shul that wasn’t there. Except it was there.
My initial explorations turned up a demolition photo. That was it! Eventually I was able to learn more about the founding of this congregation, Bas HaKnesses Anshe Sfard. But primarily what I uncovered, in this case, was how easily and completely even recent memory fails. Instead of a cache of interesting images, I found dismal urban renewal and demolition photos. Anshe Sfard Judaica was scattered here and there and was unrecognizably assimilated into other synagogues’ Judaica, or was hiding in plain sight. Descendants of founding and more recent members also were scattered and memories were few. Architectural drawings had completely disappeared. In fact, much of the neighborhood to which members had immigrated had disappeared, destroyed by poverty, the blight of urban renewal and a lack of will and vision on the part of local government to resist the tide of urban renewal ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s. Coupled with apparently little institutional planning and foresight on the part of Anshe Sfard, and with normal assimilation patterns piled on, it was a trifecta. Anshe Sfard was born and died in barely fifty years.
Let’s take a closer look at the memory of this world.
In the beginning
Although not much is commonly known about the United States presence of pre-World War II Chassidic Jews, there were many communities of Chassidim all over the US and Canada.[ii] Portland had such a community, with its own synagogue in the Bayside area of the city.[iii]
Bas HaKnesses Anshe Sfard (House of Assembly of the Men of Spain) members coalesced around traditions slightly different from those of their Orthodox contemporaries. These practices were associated with their homes of origin, in this case primarily Poland. Eastern Europe had been influenced by Jewish diaspora populations, originally from Spain, as they moved into and through Arab countries and beyond. As is typical of many religious practices, it is also likely that certain of these communities sought to differentiate themselves further from other Jews by adopting the Sephardic style of nusach.
The prayer book used by this congregation is the same type that is still used by the Chabad Lubavitch, but it actually contains only a few minor differences distinguishing it from a typical Modern Orthodox siddur. Chabad Lubavitch, was founded in the late 18th century by Shneur Zalman of Liadi and takes its name from Lyubavichi, the Russian town where the group was based until the early 20th century.[iv]
So, what is the connection to Sephardic practice? Chassidism owes much to Kabbalah and to 16th century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Yitzhak ben Shlomo Luria Ashkenazi (Isaac Luria).[v] Although whether Luria is of Sephardic descent is debated, he lived in the land of Israel and in Egypt, and was thus surrounded by Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews. He almost certainly had an entirely Sephardic style of prayer.[vi] Luria is considered the father of contemporary Kabbalah, elemental in Chabad thinking and practice. Because of their mystical background and outlook, some Chassidim follow the liturgical rites taught by classical Kabbalistic rabbis such as Luria. Nusach Ari is a liturgy based on Luria’s custom, and Nusach Sfard is a similar liturgy based on Sephardic custom. For the most part, however, rather than having been descendants of Spanish Jews, both Anshe Sfard members and the Lubavitch community were Eastern European Chassidim, not Sephardim, and use the Nusach Ari.
The original Portland group, most of whom either came directly from Poland and Russia or had other Eastern European ancestry, met before the turn of the century in different locations in the India Street area, including Bet HaMidrash HaGadol , known as Abrams’ Shul, on the corner of Hampshire and Fore Streets, and after 1904 when it was built, in the basement of the old Shaarey Tphiloh on Newbury Street. Led by Abraham Seigal, Abraham Isenman and David Finkelman, in 1917 they constructed their own synagogue at 216 Cumberland Avenue. It was designed by the well-known Portland architectural firm of Francis and Edward Fassett.[vii],[viii] Drawings and blueprints have been lost,[ix] but the City of Portland building permit offers the most basic information.
The sixty years of reconstruction following the Portland fire of 1866 and the devastation of the Civil War, and coinciding with European immigration in Portland and WWI, made for an exciting time of change and variety on the Portland peninsula. Architects, builders and investors were busy erecting hundreds of new buildings to replace and improve upon those that were destroyed. According to the Portland Directory, by 1917, there were approximately seventy churches and synagogues in the city, many of them in the Bayside neighborhood where Anshe Sfard was built.[x] Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Armenian groups, as well as Jews, were busy creating communities in Bayside that were self-sustaining, and in many cases included their own places of worship, business and communal gathering. Others, such as the Chinese and the Irish, maintained businesses and attended churches and schools in Bayside.
Maine Jews were predominantly Orthodox during this dynamic period of growth, immigration and early assimilation. Many, though, had other thoughts and plans even while attending an Orthodox synagogue. The year that Anshe Sfard was built, the Modern Synagogue Society, led by Elias Caplan and a few other men, worked with the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary of New York and obtained the services of a rabbi. They called themselves Temple Israel and met at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association hall on Wilmot Street. But internal conflicts and outside pressures from the Orthodox were too powerful to overcome and the group’s efforts subsided in 1919. Many of them met afterward at the synagogue that became Etz Chaim. They remained relatively quiescent until the 1940s when Conservatives gained strength and numbers and were thus able to make the transition from marginality to provisional acceptance.[xi]
Even before 1920, the assimilation process was well underway. The nation-wide Americanization movement, which was intended to mollify citizens feeling threatened by foreigners and to boost immigrant assimilation, began in post-war 1922 and continued through 1945. In Portland it manifested itself through classes offered at nearby North School at the foot of Munjoy Hill and at the Woolston School on Chestnut Street in Bayside attended by many Jewish immigrants.[xii] Many Jewish businesses and mission-driven organizations for both men and women were being established at this time. Synagogues, including Anshe Sfard, developed their own sisterhood groups and various chevrei kadisha, but the community-based groups drew membership from the local Jewish population.
From the turn of the century, there were both a Young Men’s Hebrew Association and a Young Women’s Hebrew Association. Undoubtedly, men and women from Anshe Sfard were involved in these associations. They met on Wilmot Street around the corner from the shul until the late 1930s when the Jewish Community Center was established on nearby Cumberland Avenue. The YMHA then became the Center Women’s Group. Although the first board of directors was composed of just one woman and several men, it was these women who were responsible for the development and founding of the Jewish Home for the Aged, now The Cedars.[xiii]
In general, membership in non-Jewish civic groups came later, but the groundwork was being laid for the nearly full integration of the 1960s.
Portland Orthodox communities worked hard, as others did nationally, to negotiate the territory between traditional religious practice and adaptation to new societal demands and influences.[xiv] They were people “…struggling to remain who they are while becoming someone else.”[xv] In spite of the energy required to achieve and maintain this balance, both Orthodox and Conservative groups continued to expand, reaching high levels of institutional affiliation and activity through the 1970s. Anshe Sfard continued to grow from the 1920s through the 1940s, and established itself as an active congregation striving to meet the needs of its members. In 1924, the membership of Anshe Sfard purchased property on Hicks Street in Portland for its own cemetery. Thirty-five years earlier, in 1889, a group of men had formed a burial society, later referred to as the Alte (Old) Chevra Kadisha. (When another Chevra Kadisha developed in 1916, it was called the New Chevra Kadisha.) It was supervised by Isaac Santosky and was associated with those who later formed the larger group that was to become Anshe Sfard. [xvi]
When it was founded, this chevra kadisha of the founding Chassidic families had purchased a small plot in the same Hicks Street location; it was later incorporated into the larger cemetery. Mt. Carmel Cemetery, adjacent to Mt. Sinai Cemetery founded in 1894, shares part of its eastern boundary. It currently has over 350 burials, the latest in 2013.[xvii] Longtime trustees, cousins Gerald and Arthur Cope, still maintain oversight.
Anshe Sfard’s arc was brief. The synagogue, erected in 1917, was closed for good in only fifty years. In the 1940s and 1950s, the thriving Jewish communities of Bayside, Munjoy Hill and India Street began to disperse, making their way off the urban peninsula to the Woodfords area. Temple Beth El, a Conservative congregation a long time in the making, formed in 1947, met briefly at 509 Forest Avenue before moving into its forward-looking modern building at 500 Deering Avenue in 1950. As Carol Herselle Krinsky points out, assimilation in general culture and assimilation in architecture often go together.[xviii] Recognizing the need to keep up with his own members’ move to the suburbs, which signaled a change in social status, Rabbi Bekritsky of Shaarey Tphiloh urged the construction of a new building on Noyes Street in 1954—another “modern” building.[xix] The designs of both Temple Beth El and Shaarey Tphiloh were a giant step into the future and away from the typical European style they had shared with Anshe Sfard.
Furthermore, Rabbi Bekritsky’s response to Conservative Judaism in the community was swift and sharp. Orthodoxy was far more threatened by Conservative Judaism than by Reform Judaism because they were very similar. Reform Jews were not regarded as real Jews, whereas Conservatives were seen to be in need of merely a course correction; they had to be redirected to the correct path from which they had slightly, but dangerously, strayed. Bekritsky was dedicated to thwarting the creation of this community and no doubt hoped that proximity to Beth El would have a salutary effect.[xx] The Jewish Community Center stayed at the old Pythian Temple building at 341 Cumberland Avenue, acquired in 1938, until 1985 when it also moved to the same neighborhood, 57 Ashmont Street in Woodfords. The Portland Jewish Funeral Home had moved from 15-17 Locust Street to 471 Deering Avenue in 1974.
Anshe Sfard remained for several more years at its spot where Franklin Street, Quincy Street, Wilmot Street and Cumberland Avenue met. As the Portland Jewish community suburbanized, Anshe Sfard fell on hard times. Members left to join synagogues in locations more convenient to their new homes or for other reasons. Records and Judaica were rescued by Morris Isenman and stored in his garage for forty-five years, until they were donated in 2010 to Maine Historical Society.[xxi] Four Torahs were given to Beth Israel synagogue in Old Orchard Beach and Shaarey Tphiloh, according to Isenman. Another three went to Temple Beth El and were handed on to synagogues in Jerusalem through Rabbi Harry Sky. The silver Judaica—menorah, kiddush cup—may have gone to Temple Beth El, but no records confirm that. [xxii] In any case, no one is able to identify it or the Torahs. Although the ark ornament was rescued by Isenman and is currently at MHS, the ark itself was moved to the small chapel at Mt. Carmel Cemetery. According to Arthur Cope, when the chapel was torn down in recent years there was “nothing of significance left.”[xxiii] The two yahrzeit plaques went to Etz Chaim Synagogue at 267 Congress Street and are currently hanging in the first floor chapel. Sometime in the 1960s, Anshe Sfard was abandoned and boarded up. It disappeared from the Portland Directory in 1967, and on August 5, 1983 the building was razed.[xxiv]
Besides the expected immigrant drift to suburbia, by the mid 1950s the blight of urban renewal had hit the adjacent India Street and Bayside areas hard. Whole neighborhoods were devastated¾among the first to go were Vine, Chatham and Deer Streets, below the other side of Congress Street, in 1954.[xxv] Later in the 1960s, more would go to accommodate a cross-town throughway, Franklin Arterial, and a large housing complex, Franklin Towers. On Franklin Street itself, many families in this ethnically diverse area were forced to leave as their multi-family houses were demolished. Only two or three buildings on this street were spared out of approximately one hundred.[xxvi] Upper Wilmot, upper Chapel and Quincy Streets, among others in the Bayside area of Portland, were also erased. All around Anshe Sfard, which had been abandoned sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, apartments and small businesses vanished leaving the boarded-up synagogue in decrepit solitude amid parked cars and whizzing traffic. Today, a parking lot and a long stretch of asphalt have taken the place of this once lively neighborhood that for a hundred years had seen homes, churches, synagogue, Chinese laundries, stables, civic organizations, schools, barber shops, coffee houses and family businesses on streets lined with elms.[xxvii] According to Ada Louise Huxtable, the aim of urban renewal to eradicate slums was synonymous with eradicating history. In the case of Portland, this was at least partly true.[xxviii]
There were a few other owners of the Anshe Sfard building after its board of directors sold the property around 1967.[xxix] The first was Pritham Singh, a Massachusetts man who became a Sikh, and whose organization claimed he wanted the building for a rehabilitation center. Portland was abuzz, especially the Jewish community, when it was revealed that Anshe Sfard was destined to become an ashram. According to Gerry Cope, there was great relief when the dreaded transformation from synagogue to ashram did not occur and the building passed to other owners.[xxx] Finally, EC Jordan Engineering purchased the building and oversaw its demolition.[xxxi] Many in the Portland Jewish community, and certainly the general public, have no idea that the congregation—or indeed the neighborhood—ever existed.
The synagogue building itself—a flat-roofed brick box with a pointed façade and concrete steps—was not very interesting. Although there were a number of stained glass windows, it has not been possible to ascertain the design and colors, assess the workmanship or identify the artisan. The interior of the synagogue was typical of the Ashkenazic style of the time, set up in the same way that Adat Israel, later known as Etz Chaim, on Congress Street, and Shaarey Tphiloh on Newbury Street, were arranged; ark in the front of sanctuary, facing southeast toward Lincoln Park, and the bimah in the middle. The second floor was a three-sided loft seating approximately one hundred women; there were 150 seats below for the men and boys.[xxxii] The kitchen was in the basement. There probably was no mikvah; if anyone needed the use of a ritual bath, the one at the rear of Shaarey Tphiloh a few blocks away was available, and later there was one at Etz Chaim up the street.[xxxiii] There was a heated vestibule that cheder Rebbe, Mr. Modes, who lived a few doors away, used for the Talmud studies that the neighborhood boys attended.[xxxiv] The interesting and unusual aspect of this synagogue, besides the aforementioned minhag and nusach of the congregation and the liturgy, was the interior design.
A photo taken on demolition day, August 5, 1983, shows amid the rubble, two wall paintings located on the north-facing interior wall of the building, the façade.[xxxv]
Although difficult to make out, one appears to be a rendering of an aqueduct, perhaps meant to evoke the one at Caesarea on the coast of Israel between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The other may be olive trees.
In his book, Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth Century Polish Community, architectural historian Thomas Hubka describes in great detail the history of Polish wooden synagogues and their fantastical paintings that often covered the interior of the synagogues from floor to the tip of the domed ceilings. The many color plates and black and white photographs comprise a wide range of illustrations taken from many sources. Common motifs are animals, including those never seen by Eastern Europeans, calligraphic painted prayers, and the signs of the zodiac. The Gwozdziec Synagogue, which is the focus of his study, has around the uppermost tier of its domed ceiling, all twelve of the symbols.[xxxvi] These can be seen in detail at www.handshouse.org.
Hubka posits several theories about the possible historic associations and antecedents of the Gwozdziec wall paintings. What meaning the Anshe Sfard paintings might have had for the artists and the Portland congregation, or what role they may have played in Jewish tradition at the time, is not clear. We can nevertheless imagine that they are connected, however tangentially, to the artistic and religious traditions of the Polish communities that Hubka describes and from which Anshe Sfard congregation members likely emigrated.
Carl Lerman, a former Anshe Sfard member, recalled that there were paintings of the zodiac symbols on the walls of the sanctuary. Although that assertion has not yet been confirmed by other interviewees, an engineer overseeing the demolition did recall a “mural.”[xxxvii] Gerry Cope describes a blue ceiling painted with clouds. Coupled with the images of the paintings in the Schechter photographs, we may conjecture that they did exist, especially with the knowledge that they were commonly used in both the Polish synagogues of the 18th century and on mosaic synagogue floors in Israel built in late antiquity, in the 4th to 6th centuries. (Their function was not strictly decorative, but served as a representation of the calendar and a framework for annual synagogue holidays and rituals.)[xxxviii]
Although it is not known if there were any animal paintings in Anshe Sfard, animals¾ real, and eschatological, such as behemoth and leviathan¾were very common among Polish synagogue wall paintings.[xxxix] Anshe Sfard did have a carved wooden nesher that sat atop the ark. The eagle is one of the creatures used to represent among other things, air, one of the four elements that are significant in Kabbalistic sources such as the Zohar. The eagle is also an important Biblical creature. Such carvings were commonly made by Ashkenazic artisans and used both religiously and commercially in items such as aroneikodesh and cigar boxes.[xl]
The American Folk Art Museum, Manhattan, in 2007, mounted an exhibit, ”Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel,” featuring many representations of carved wooden animals, from ark ornaments to carousel horses, created by Eastern European Jewish immigrants to America between 1880 and 1920.[xli]
To the artisan who carved the Anshe Sfard eagle and to this congregation, the eagle could have been merely a type of decoration to which they were accustomed. Was the artisan local or was the carving commissioned to a New York craftsman? Were these men who devotedly pursued the study of Kabbalah? Were they knowledgeable of its enormous complexity and mysteries, or were they simply aware, as so many are today, of its most superficial symbology.
This investigation has revealed some important areas for future inquiry; there is much to discover about this synagogue and its congregants. First, it has been difficult to find information about the religious practices of this congregation. A few of the members probably were genuinely Chassidic, but no siddurim or other liturgical sources have been located. Respondents, who were very young when they last attended a service, are not able to describe the liturgy. It is agreed that there certainly were differences in the traditions from other Orthodox groups, but they were probably very small ones.[xlii]
Further, we want to know more about its founders and members over its fifty year lifespan. What Eastern European towns did they call home? A local woman reports that Anshe Sfard was referred to as the “peylisher” shul.[xliii] That at least lets us know that some members had emigrated from Poland.[xliv] Why exactly did they leave? Was it the pogroms? A wish to be with family who had previously emigrated? Why did they choose Maine? How did they make their living? Isenman describes this congregation as very poor, and that there were people who attended because there was no membership fee, as was the case then in other synagogues. He recalls that as many as 300 people attended Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services; this may have been the case because otherwise they would have had to purchase tickets to attend elsewhere.
What were the women up to? Did they maintain the home, care for the children and run small businesses, as is the case in other immigrant Jewish communities in Maine and elsewhere? There were a number of boardinghouses and corner shops in this section of Portland, types of business frequently owned and managed by women. Tax assessment photos from 1924 show many Bayside buildings being owned by women. Why and how did this ownership status occur? What role did they play in this local economy?
Why exactly was this only Portland synagogue that seems to have had long-lasting amicable relations with other congregations? There are many stories, both documented and apocryphal, of synagogue wars, stand-offs in the local butcher shop and pews being ripped from the floor. None of these involve Anshe Sfard members getting into trouble or fighting with their co-religionists in other congregations. It appears that they kept themselves to themselves from the start and any splinter groups go unnoted in available resources.
The building itself presents yet another area of investigation that is far from complete. Who designed the synagogue interior? What were the walls really like and what was their story? What did the members think about the paintings? What purpose, if any, besides aesthetic, did they serve? How did they come to be made? Who fashioned the ark?
As with so many other extinct synagogues, both nationally and in Maine, little is known. Preservation and documentation were often rudimentary at best. In fact, such tasks frequently occur under difficult circumstances, well after a congregation’s demise. There may have been interdicts regarding photographs being made in the sanctuary. Photographs of the interiors of synagogues were not de rigueur then as they are today. Where would synagogue websites and Facebook pages be without highly pixilated images of the latest window designed by a famous artist or the most recent rescue of a once beautiful and thriving Lower East Side shul? New synagogues, even in Maine, are designed and constructed for millions of dollars and photographed within an inch of their lives. Every event is recorded. But this is usually not done for historic or preservation purposes.
It is a fact that humans think and act ahistorically. Sticky photos are piled in cardboard boxes stored in basements, “junk” is tossed into the Dumpster, documents are indiscriminately selected to be hidden in genizot and forgotten, and valuable objects make their way to garage sales and are sold for pennies.
We think we invented everything. No matter in which century we live, we read or hear tales of long ago and ask ourselves why they didn’t see things then the way we do now. And so on. We know this. And we know that life moves inexorably forward. Still, it can be sad and frustrating to look back at the slow death of a congregation and its home¾dwindling membership, the vacant building, the stacks of moldy prayer books. Thirty years after the destruction of its home, it is as though this dynamic congregation of forward-looking women and men never existed. No building, no images of the building except for demolition photos taken by the local paper and an art student who happened by, very few surviving former members and even fewer stories. There is no historical marker to jog memories or to prompt investigation. Just a parking lot.
Adat Israel – Community of Israel (Jews). Ark – Chest in which a Torah (See Torah) is housed. Aron kodesh – Holy ark. Aronei kodesh – Plural of aron kodesh. Ashkenazic – Pertaining to European Jews, especially Yiddish-speaking, who settled in central and northern Europe (AHD). Bas HaKnesses Anshe Sfard – House of Assembly of the Men of Spain (Spanish Jews). Behemoth – A huge animal described in the Torah (AHD). Hebrew plural for “beasts.” Bet HaMidrash HaGadol – School of Midrash (See Midrash). Chassidic – Pertaining to a Jewish mystical movement founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe by Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name) that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that G-d’s presence was in all one’s surroundings and that one should serve G-d in one’s every deed and word (AHD). Cheder – A school for Jewish children in which Hebrew and religious knowledge are taught. (OED.) Chevra kadisha – Holy society, often a burial society. Chevrei kadisha – Plural of chevra kadisha. Etz Chaim – Tree of Life. Genizot – plural of genizah, a repository where sacred Jewish artifacts are stored prior to cemetery burial. Kabbalah – Kabbalah is a set of teachings meant to explain the relationship between an unchanging and mysterious eternal and G-d’s creation, the finite universe. Leviathan – Monstrous sea creature described in the Torah (AHD). Midrash – Any of a group of Jewish commentaries on the Torah compiled between 400 and 1200 CE and based on exegesis, parable and haggadic legend (AHD.) Mikvah – Ritual bath. Minhag – Accepted tradition or group of traditions in Judaism. Nesher – Eagle. Nusach – Traditional order and form of prayers. Sephardic (Sfardic) – Pertaining to Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal during the Middle Ages until persecution culminating in the expulsion of 1492 forced them to leave (AHD). Shaarey Tphiloh – Gates of Prayer. Siddur – Prayer book. Siddurim – Plural of siddur. Talmud – A central text of Rabbinic Judaism. Torah – Five books of Moses. Yahrzeit – Yearly anniversary of a death (Yiddish). Zohar – Foundational text in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah.
AHD – American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006)
OED – Oxford English Dictionary
ZODIAC SYMBOL CORRESPONDENCE WITH HEBREW MONTHS
[i] Simon Schama, The Story of the Jews. Written and presented by Simon Schama BBC, Thirteen Productions LLC. 2014 [ii] Ira Robinson, American Jewish Archives Journal, “Anshe Sfard: The Creation of the First Hasidic Congregations in North America,” 2005, pp. 53-66. [iii] There were at least two other “Anshe Sfard synagogues” in Bangor. [iv] Steven Steinbock e-mail. [v]Ibid. [vi] Ibid. [vii] Benjamin Band, Portland Jewry: Its Growth and Development, (Portland, ME: Jewish Historical Society, 1955) p. 29. [viii] City of Portland, Maine building permit, 1916. [ix] Earle Shettleworth telephone conversation. [x]Portland Directory 1920, p. 911. [xi] Band, op cit [xii] Rachel Miller, “Twenty Nationalities and All Americans”, Maine Memory Network. www.mainememory.net [xiii] Young Women’s Hebrew Association minutes. [xiv] Michael R. Cohen, Maine History, “Adapting Orthodoxy to American Life: Shaarey Tphiloh and the Development of Modern Orthodox Judaism in Portland, Maine, 1904-1976”, (Maine Historical Society) 44:2 April 2009, pp 172-195. This article provides a thoughtful and detailed description of Shaarey Tphiloh’s evolution during this period. 16 Earle Shorris. Latinos: A biography of the people NY: W.W. Norton, 1992 in Ed. Joseph Conforti. Creating Portland: History and Place in Northern New England, University of New Hampshire Press, 2005. [xvi] Band, op cit [xvii] Gerald Cope e-mail. [xviii] Carol Hershelle Krinsky in Sara Ferdman Tauben, Shuln and Shulelach: Large and Small Synagogues in Montreal and Europe, Hungry I Books, 2008. Also, see http://video.forward.com/video/Montreal-s-Synagogues In “Traces of the Past: Montreal’s Early Synagogues” Sarah Ferdman Tauben documents the development of Montreal’s Jewish community from the 1880s until 1945. Much like a detective, she has pored over historic city maps and directories, sepia-coloured photos, brittle newspaper articles and long forgotten anniversary publications to track the locations of Montreal’s early synagogues. In this video interview Ferdman Tauben tells the fascinating story of Jewish immigrants in Montreal through the architectural traces of its culture. The contemporary pictures were taken by photographer David Kaufman. Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/the-arty-semite/198239/video-the-synagogue-detective-of-montreal/?#ixzz32Ai9TL54 [xix] Band, op cit. [xx] Shaarey Tphiloh minutes, 1946. [xxi] In 2012, the trustees of Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Gerald and Arthur Cope, and Helen Isenman donated several administrative books (pinkasim) written in Yiddish, a gilt carved eagle ark ornament and a mortgage deed dated 1917 to the Maine Historical Society. These items were saved by Helen’s husband, Morris Isenman. They were the property of the cemetery associated with Anshe Sfard and the synagogue itself. 19 Morris Isenman, oral history. Jewish Bicentennial Oral History Program, Portraits of the Past: The Jews of Portland, Konnilyn Feig, Director. Commissioned by the Jewish Federation of Southern Maine. September 1, 1977. [xxiii] Arthur and Gerry Cope’s telephone conversation. [xxiv]Portland Evening Express, August 5, 1983. [xxv] Abraham J. Peck and Jean M. Peck, Images of America: Maine’s Jewish Heritage, Arcadia Publishing, 2007. This book shows a 1924 tax photo of a private residence at 36 Deer Street that was used as a shul in starting in 1883. Tax photos, 1924, of the City of Portland available on Maine Memory Network, Maine Historical Society, www.mainememory.net. [xxvi] Scott Hanson, History of Franklin Street, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrp5FSGjME4 These images, along with a brief overview of the history of “slum clearance” in Portland, were presented by city Historic Preservation Program Manager, Scott Hanson, at the first meeting of the Franklin Street Redesign Committee. The historic photographs shown here are from the City of Portland’s 1924 tax photo collection. As part of a tax re-evaluation in 1924, every taxable building in the city was photographed, including dozens of the historic buildings that would be destroyed to make way for the Franklin Arterial. [xxvii] Abraham Schechter, Director of Special Collections, Portland Public Library, Portland, ME conversation. [xxviii] Ada Louise Huxtable, New York: A Documentary Film, Ric Burns, Episode 8. [xxix] Cumberland County Register of Deeds, Portland, ME. [xxx] Morris Isenman, op cit., and recollection of author. [xxxi] Alan Piecuch, EC Jordan Engineering, conversation. [xxxii] Morris Isenman, op cit. [xxxiii] Gerald Cope conversation. [xxxiv] Irving Grunes conversation. [xxxv] Abraham Schechter photo. [xxxvi] Thomas C. Hubka, Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth-Century PolishCommunity, Brandeis University Press, published by University Press of New England, Hanover, NH. 2003. [xxxvii] Alan Pietciuc, op cit [xxxviii] Walter Zanger, Bible History Daily, “Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols: Zodiac Mosaics in Ancient Synagogues”, (Biblical Archeology Society, 8-24-12) [xxxix] Thomas Hubka, Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth-Century PolishCommunity, Brandeis University Press, published by University Press of New England, Hanover NH, 2003. [xl] Ibid [xli] Martha Schwendener, New York Times,” Sacred Skills Thrive on a Merry-Go-Round”, October 5, 2007. [xlii] Ira Robinson, op cit. [xliii] Hazel Brenerman conversation. [xliv] Stephen Simons, PhD, conversation.
THANK YOU TO:
Maine Humanities Council
Maine Historical Society:
Nan Cumming, Director of Institutional Advancement
Elizabeth Nash, Marketing and Events Manager
Holly Hurd-Forsyth, Registrar
William D. Barry, Research Historian
Candace Kanes, Project Scholar
Kathy Amoroso, Director of Digital Projects
Bayside Neighborhood Association
Mt. Carmel Cemetery Association
Hillary Bassett, Greater Portland Landmarks
Gerald Cope, Mt. Carmel Cemetery Association
Arthur Cope, Mt. Carmel Cemetery Association
Earle Shettleworth, Jr., Maine State Preservation Commission
Darrell Cooper, Portland Jewish Funeral Home
Dorothy “DeeDee” Schwartz, Project Evaluator
Eileen Eagan, Project Evaluator, University of Southern Maine
Stephen “Shimon” Simons
Sara Ferdman Tauben
Steve Hirshon, Bayside Neighborhood Association
Deborah Van Hoewyk, Bayside Neighborhood Association
Abraham Schechter, Portland Public Library, Special Collections
Chris MilNeil, Portland Press Herald Gary Nathanson
Alan Piecuch, AMEC
Matt Jude Barker, Irish Heritage Center
Paul Giguere, State Department of Transportation
Harris Gleckman, Documenting Maine Jews
Rabbi Harry Sky
Howard Reiche, Jr.
Mark Adelson, Portland Housing Authority
Rick Knowland, City of Portland Planning Department
Being outdoors in the Maine woods in the fall is the best time – crisp cool nights, warm days, colorful autumn foliage, and, best of all, no mosquitoes or black flies. In northern Maine there are many sporting camps that lure folks from afar to where hunting and fishing opportunities abound. At the turn of the 20th century one of these camps, owned by the Parmachenee Club, offered expeditions into these northern woods.
The Parmachenee Club was formed in 1890 by a group of (mostly) New York City lawyers. The members obtained a lease of 120,000 acres of land, from the Old Aziscohos Dam above Wilson’s Mills to the Canadian border. They hunted and fished within these acres, and built a camp, called “Camp in the Meadows,” along the Magalloway River in Oxford County, where they lodged. Maine Guides assisted the members on their hunting and fishing expeditions.
In 1910, the Berlin Mills Company and the International Paper Company built a dam in the leased territory to move cut lumber. Club members were able to penetrate further into the woods due to the new dam, but it also placed the Camp in the Meadows under twelve feet of water. The Parmachenee Club was re-established on Treat’s Island on Parmachenee Lake.
The membership, which included women, loved the woods and the streams. Their ideal was sportsmanship, and their goal the preservation of the woods and the wildlife within it. Henry P. Wells, a member, invented a lure called the “Parmachenee Belle,” named after the club. Harris D. Colt was the oldest member. He fished there for 41 consecutive seasons.
It wasn’t easy to get to the camps – you had to travel by train, steamboat, canoe, and on foot, along rails, rivers, and roads. But it was worth it. The season started as soon as the ice melted in the spring and went through October 1st, “but as always, the Club will be open as early and as long as the members desire it.”
Harris D. Colt wrote to his grandson Harris S. Colt, “The first time I visited the club was in 1896. With your grandmother Colt we spent two or three weeks there in the month of September.”
The club disbanded in the 1960s. Many sporting camps still exist today and may be visited. Although they’re still not easy to reach, it’s not the arduous journey of 100 years ago.
For more information, search “Parmachenee” or items 19381-19387 and 19389 on the Maine Memory Network.