Legacyby Christopher Ogden, Christopher Ogden
From the bestselling biographer of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman comes a multi-generational saga of one of America's wealthiest and most controversial familiesthe Annenbergs.
From the bestselling biographer of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman comes a multi-generational saga of one of America's wealthiest and most controversial familiesthe Annenbergs.
The Washington Monthly
The New York Times Book Review
- Hachette Book Group
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.56(d)
- Age Range:
- 13 Years
Read an Excerpt
* * *
Sheva Annenberg remembered screaming the first two times she gave birth. Moses, though, was her eighth child, scrawnier than the others and so eager to be born that she had scarcely felt the tug of a contraction turn to a convulsion when she saw him, thick black hair smeared with mucus, cradled in her own mother's calloused hands. It was just past 3 P.M. on February 11, 1877, but the sun had already set in Kalvishken, a tiny hamlet in East Prussia, near the border of present day Lithuania. Baltic Sea gales pushing snow across northeast Europe rattled chill and wind through the chinks in the roof and walls of the one-story timber-and-stone house, guttering the two bedside candles and raising wisps of steam from the newborn's mottled shoulders.
In the next room, where he ran the village's sole grocery store, Sheva's husband, Tobias, eased a birch log onto a low fire, as Moses later recounted. Tobias was not worried about the activity beyond the curtain. His widowed mother-in-law, Leah, had delivered each of his and Sheva's five daughters and two sons on the same split-plank bed. His wife was healthy and her mother preternaturally calm. No problem was expected and there would be none when Moses began life. Later that would change.
For nearly a century Tobias's ancestors had lived quietly in East Prussia, but only for the past half-dozen years did the family have a surname. Until 1871, Tobias was known simply as Tobias, son of Israel. That year, King Wilhelm I of Prussia became emperor of a unitedGerman empire and his first chancellor, Otto yon Bismarck, began consolidating the new state by ordering a census. When the imperial census takers arrived in Kalvishken in late 1871, they found twenty-four residents, half of them illiterate. Four, including Tobias and Sheva, could read and write Plattdeutsch, or low German. Tobias could also speak Swedish, from living in Sweden before marrying, and some Russian. To improve record keeping in what would become that most precise of nations, the German officials assigned formal patronymics. Tobias, son of Israel, became Tobias "of the hill" on am berg in local colloquial German because his house nestled in the lee of two hills known as Pertebargh and Umerbargh.
The Annenbergs owned their own home, which consisted of half a house and two acres of land for which Tobias had paid the equivalent of $400, according to notes for an unpublished memoir that Moses made a half century later. He earned the money by working his own plot as well as buying and selling produce from neighboring farmers, carrying milk, eggs, chicken and fish to market on a cart and bringing back clothing, rope, tools, thread and salt to sell from his house. The closest town was Insterburg, fourteen miles north by rutted dirt road. Inland from the port of Koenigsberg, capital of East Prussia, Insterburg was small and sleepy yet modestly prosperous, a military garrison town and the center of the region's horse-breeding industry. Eight days after his birth, just as his brothers, Jacob, ten, and Max, three, had been before him, Moses Louis Annenberg was circumcised in the synagogue on Forchestrasse.
Jews were still relatively new to Insterburg; the synagogue was only twelve years old. There had been Jewish settlements in the old German cultural centers farther west along the Rhine, Danube and Elbe from the earliest Middle Ages, but Prussian law in those years prohibited the residence of Jews. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Jewish tradesmen were allowed into Prussia after paying hefty fees for "ducal protection" but only after promising they would not practice their religion. In 1786, a small group of Jewish goldsmiths and copper engravers was awarded a royal concession to work in Gumbinen, capital of the administrative district which incorporated much of the northern portion of East Prussia. Not until 1812 were Prussian Jews granted citizenship and the right to travel. At that point, there were seven Jewish families in all of Gumbinen, including Tobias's grandfather. At the time Moses underwent his bris, fewer than fifty Jews lived in Insterburg.
Back in Kalvishken after the ceremony, the Annenberg family continued to grow. During the five years after Moses's birth, Sheva bore three more children. Each time, her mother stood by the bedside and helped deliver the newborn. Each time, she prayed for long life for the child, none of whom would live as long as Leah, who helped raise them all and was 104 when she died.
Moses was five when Sheva's last child was born. Most of the children had a nickname. Eldest son Jacob was "Ashmadie," after King Solomon's magic eagle. Because he had a dark complexion and penetrating eyes, Moses was known as "Schwarzer Zigeuner," the black gypsy. Max had no nickname, but as the most eager to please, he was his father's favorite. Almost every time Tobias went to market in Insterburg, he returned with a "buntetute", a small, colorful bag with a surprise, for Max. Rarely did anyone else in the family get a gift, much to the annoyance of Moses, who recalled the affront a half century later in notes for an unpublished memoir.
(These notes, it should be established, comprise forty-one manuscript pages covering the period from the family's life in Kalvishken to 1904, when the account breaks off in mid-sentence. Yellowed, but carefully typed, the document was dictated by Moses in the 1930s, filed away in family records and apparently forgotten. There is little reason to dispute Moses's recollections. For the most part his anecdotes are not self-glorifying. On the contrary, many are painfully honest, self-deprecating and deflating. Yet they reflect the impressions and interpretations of Moses, not those of his parents or siblings.)
Sheva and Tobias were Orthodox Jews. Every morning, Tobias would pull on a prayer shawl and affix to forehead and left arm his phylacteries, the two small leather boxes which contained strips of parchment inscribed with verses from Scripture. With the prayer ribbons wound around his arm, he stood in the corner of the store facing east and recited his prayers for up to two hours, all the while refusing to speak with anyone. If unknowing neighbors or travelers entered seeking supplies, Tobias looked bizarre bobbing, chanting and appearing trussed up. There were other oddities. The Annenbergs stocked lard because rendered pig fat was commonly used in Prussian dishes. But no Annenberg could touch it. If a customer wanted lard, Tobias called Frau Murbrey, the lady who occupied the other half of the house, to come weigh it out.
Such unusual habits aroused the attention of the village bully, a blacksmith named Harder, who was inspired repeatedly to offer Max and his sister Eva pork sandwiches, which they wolfed down in ravenous delight. When he discovered what Harder had done, a livid Tobias confronted the blacksmith, who retaliated by dropping a ham hock down the Annenberg well. Tobias was so distressed that he walked to Insterburg to report Harder to the police. From there, he went directly to the synagogue, where the rabbi, after accepting a donation, granted the Annenbergs a special dispensation to drink their well water. When the police fined Harder ten marks, then about $2.50, the blacksmith struck back by building a fence to obstruct the road to the Annenberg home. "Harder became our nemesis," Moses recalled decades later. "He was the recognized menace and we had to contend with him."
The feud was between Harder and Tobias and his then teenage son, Jacob. The younger Annenbergs were not affected, and the hamlet was so small that the families could not avoid one another. When he was five, Moses often visited the Harder house to play with Bertha, the blacksmith's daughter. The atmosphere was far different from the calm he knew at home. Neither Tobias nor Sheva drank alcohol and both tended their marriage and family with care. Moses learned at the Harder house, where the blacksmith drank heavily, that not all parents behaved like his. During one visit, Moses stared in horror as Harder pulled the coffee pot off the fire and poured grounds and hot water over his wife's head. A half century later, Moses could still recite the blacksmith's drunk, idiomatic cackle over the cries of his scalded wife: "Ich taufer dir mit kaffee grund, du sulz sier mir poodle hund." (I christen thee with coffee grounds so thou wilt be my poodle dog.)
Anti-Semitism in Kalvishken was merely the local manifestation of a larger problem growing worse by the day. On March 13, 1881, a month after Moses turned four, an assassin named Sophia Perovskaya, the daughter of an aristocrat, had flung a bomb and blown up Czar Alexander II in St. Petersburg. An enlightened reformer who had freed serfs, eased Jewish taxes, allowed Jews to become military officers and introduced limited local self-rule, though not enough for some revolutionary groups, Alexander II had governed Russia quite benignly for twenty-six years. "The kindliest prince who ever ruled Russia," Disraeli called him. His thirty-six-year-old son who succeeded him was anything but kind and launched a monstrous effort to root out dissension that spilled over into eastern Europe.
No sooner had the gallows trapdoor sprung on the conspirators, hanged before a crowd of eighty thousand, than the new czar issued a manifesto: "The voice of God commands us to rule with faith in the power and the truth of the autocratic authority." A military officer of limited intelligence and education, Alexander III discarded his father's reforms and cracked down hard, rigidly repressing minorities who had fared well under his father. As a senior adviser, he selected Konstantin Pobedonostev, a fanatic who believed in a church-guided police state and whose motto was "Russia for Russians."
There were already some 650 laws in force restricting Jews that had been in place for years before Alexander III took over. That spring the government added more. The May Laws barred Jews from owning or renting land outside cities. Jews could not practice law or vote. New quotas kept Jews from schools and universities. The alcohol industry was later taken over by a government monopoly which halted sales to Jewish proprietors of restaurants and inns and forced thousands out of business.
Vowing to kill a third of Russia's Jews, drive out a third and convert the remainder to orthodox Christianity, Alexander III next launched a series of pogroms, or organized massacres, the impact of which spilled over Russia's borders. Across the Pale of Settlement, from Odessa and Kiev to Minsk and Vilna the area set aside by the government since 1791 for Jews to live in troops and police looked the other way or joined in the brutality as shrieking hordes ransacked and burned tens of thousands of Jewish homes and hundreds of synagogues. Mobs chanting "Christ killers" beat Jews to death. On Christmas day in 1881 the pogrom gangs struck the Jews of Warsaw, destroying forty-five hundred homes, shops and synagogues and killing hundreds. Jewish history turned on the barbarous events of that horrible year. Beginning that summer and continuing for thirty years, until the 1914 outbreak of the First World War, millions of Jews tailors, cobblers, jewelers, traders and their families poured from the brick ghettos and wooden shtetls of Russia and Eastern Europe and headed west in search of safety and new opportunity.
In 1882, Tobias Annenberg joined the exodus. At market and at synagogue in Insterburg, he had heard about the horrors of the pogroms firsthand from wretchedly poor, homeless Jews fleeing west in long, tattered coats and broad-brimmed hats with their few belongings on pushcarts or on their backs. He had been antagonized enough by the blacksmith Harder to realize that the Annenbergs would never be able to avoid the spreading violence. An intelligent man of action as well as a man of prayer, Tobias reviewed the family's options out of earshot of the children. "Life and strife continued to be hard and soon we realized that there was no real future for us in Kalvishken," Moses wrote later. "About that time I noticed quiet confidential whisperings between my oldest brother Jacob, father, mother and grandmother. Soon after that, my father departed one night for the golden land, America."
The pogroms were not all that Tobias heard about from Russian Jews passing through Insterburg. The image of America as the Golden Land, the Goldeneh Medina, came burnished in letters from the earliest emigrants to those desperate relatives and friends who remained behind. Many were terrified by the prospect of leaving homes where they had lived for generations. Most had never been more than a few miles from their own neighborhood or town. They had little concept of what Moscow or Warsaw would be like, let alone the incomprehensible foreignness of New York.
When a letter arrived from the New World, neighbors packed into the house of the recipient for a public reading. "In America you can say what you feel. You can voice your thoughts in the open streets without fear. Christians and Jews are brothers together," a woman named Anzia Yezierska wrote her Russian cousins in 1882. "There are no high or low in America. Even the President holds hands with [an immigrant named] Gedalyeh Mindel. Plenty for all. Learning flows free like milk and honey." Little wonder that two million Jews would ultimately leave for America and that the U.S. population of fifty-three million would jump 10 percent by the end of the decade.
Tobias went alone, leaving Jacob in charge. Then seventeen, Jacob had been summoned that year by Prussian authorities for compulsory military service, but was rejected for physical deficiencies. His lung capacity was diminished and his hearing was impaired, the latter a problem that would affect later generations of Annenbergs. He spent most of his time fishing in the lake in the center of Kalvishken, catching the family's dinner and, on good days, an extra lake bass or two to sell to neighbors. For the next year and a half, the Annenbergs survived on Jacob's skills and the five dollars Tobias sent each month along with reports about his life in his own Goldeneh Medina of Chicago. "Father told us how people in America throw out the cake and meat which they cannot eat into the alley," Moses recalled. "We actually thought father had lost his mind in writing such unbelievable things."
After living alone and saving as much as he could for eighteen months, Tobias asked Jacob to join him. Happy to spend most days hunting, fishing and being the man around the house, Jacob was strong-willed, self-centered and reluctant to leave Kalvishken. It was only when Tobias insisted and promised him a bright future, possibly as a bookkeeper in a multi-storied building, that Jacob handed down his fish nets and traps. Max, who was ten, did not like the solitude of fishing. So the gear went to Moses, who assumed angling duties for the family in late summer 1883 when he was six and a half years old. The assignment was a major responsibility because the ten remaining children and their mother and grandmother had little to eat except fish, vegetables and potatoes.
Jacob had hunted for meat to sell, but the family ate none because it was not kosher. Kosher meat was available only in Insterburg and Gumbinen. Once a year, for the ten days between Rosa Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Tobias had loaded the entire Annenberg family in a wagon and taken them to one of the other towns for high holy day services. They ate meat on those occasions and a few other times a year when Tobias trudged back with salt beef from his solitary trips to market. Once he left for America, both family trips and the occasional meat supplement ended.
Fishing was never a chore for Moses. He took pride in being depended upon and he loved the solitude, the peace and quiet away from the house, which was crowded with noisy brothers and sisters. Moses set fish traps and, until the lake froze in early November, fished daily with such joy that the pastime would become a lifelong love. The pleasure never extended to saltwater or deep sea fishing. But the combination of a fly rod, with which he later became expert, and a trout, bass or pike-filled stream or lake was as close to heaven as Moses could imagine.
Jacob's regret at having left the lake increased when he arrived in America, close to collapse with fatigue, and discovered there was no bookkeeping job. Norman Stone, a nephew of Tobias, who was in the secondhand furniture business, hired Jacob to clean stoves for five dollars a month and a place to sleep in a corner of the store basement. On occasion, without the knowledge of her husband, Mrs. Stone would slip the seventeen-year-old a sandwich. Desperately unhappy, Jacob begged his father to be allowed to return home, but Tobias had already made plans to send for the rest of the family.
The Annenbergs were barely making ends meet in Kalvishken. With no adult men to farm, almost no income and letters from Tobias planning their move, Sheva sold their half-house and two acres of land and moved the family to Aldumbloken and into the home of her eldest daughter, Augusta, a prosperous dressmaker. The prospect of integrating nine siblings plus her mother and grandmother must have been terrifying for Augusta, or, at the very least, her husband. Moses, however, was unhappy that he had to give up his independence, put away his fishing poles and for the first time attend school, which bored him no end. "My remembrance of school," he said, "is limited to threats of the teacher who kept telling me, `Were it not for the fact that you are a new pupil, you would be struck with the ruler so you would remember your lessons.'"
In early summer 1885, three years after Tobias emigrated, he sent extra money for tickets to supplement the property sale proceeds and Sheva made final preparations to leave. The family had little to pack: a change of clothes, a few pillows stuffed with goose feathers and several sacks of bread. Emotions were high. "I remember my sister Augusta crying as if her heart would break," Moses recalled. "She was sobbing, `Mother, Mother, I shall never see you again.'" Augusta was wrong. There would be a reunion in America.
At Insterburg, the eleven Annenbergs boarded a steam-engine train for the twenty-four-hour ride to Berlin. There were no compartments or soft seats. They traveled in freight wagons that looked like American cattle cars with hard plank benches. Soot and dust poured through the open windows. As they chugged across Poland, men, women and children urinated and defecated through a single hole in the corner of the carriage.
By the time the Annenbergs reached Berlin, they were exhausted from tension and excitement as much as lack of sleep. None of the family had ever been on a train. No one knew what problems they might face at border checkpoints, whether they might be separated from one another or stranded on some remote siding. Would they have to bribe anyone? Would sister Rosa's skin rash make the family medically unacceptable? Were there simply too many of them?
Such anxieties were put aside as the train chugged into Berlin. The outskirts hinted at a massive place. The children were amazed at the number of houses and shops along the tracks. The mammoth central station towered over the platforms, and with the cacophony from whooshing steam, shrill whistles, shouts and the heaving of hand and horse carts, not only was it the biggest, noisiest, most confusing experience any of them had ever encountered, but the city was almost unimaginable.
Frantic that a child might rush off and be lost or crushed under a train, Sheva and Leah ordered the children to hold hands, tied the three youngest ones together with the sleeves of their shirts, and anchored themselves on each end of the human chain. They changed trains and, nibbling on the bread they had brought from Augusta's, Sheva and her children pushed on for another twenty-four hours to Hamburg, the great North Sea port bursting with tanners and carpenters, butchers and bakers, cobblers and tinsmiths, all eager to exit the continent for a safer life.
By 1885, steamships had largely replaced sailing vessels on the transatlantic run. The price of passage ranged from $12 to $35, including food for the two-week journey. With so many family members traveling, the Annenbergs could afford only the cheapest accommodation because the total passage price was more than Tobias had been able to save during the previous three years. Sheva understood that no kosher meat would be served. Before boarding, she stopped at a fishmonger's on the wharf and purchased salted herring to augment a ship's diet that would rely heavily on celery or cabbage soup and thin slices of bread.
Moses did not remember the ship's name, but that was all he forgot when he began to record the family experience. Demand for places was so high that ships were loaded from keel to smokestacks. On a typical ship such as the German vessel Amerika, 220 upper-class passengers traveled in cabins with four beds and were fed in two seatings in a comfortable dining room. Nearly ten times that number traveled below on three decks of steerage, where the throb of the ship's engines set thin shoes vibrating, homesick hearts pounding, seasick stomachs churning, and shook mess tins clattering onto the metal deck. On the Annenberg vessel, the third-class steerage bunks were three high with sweat-soaked straw mattresses.
There were no pillows, so Sheva was pleased that Tobias had warned her and that they had brought their goose-feather treasures from Kalvishken. There was no dining space below decks. No public rooms to stretch out in. No showers or baths. Low partitions between bunks offered no privacy. For the two thousand steerage passengers there were forty toilets and sixty washbasins. They bathed in cold sea water. Passengers ate food prepared in two twenty-foot-square galleys at their bunks or standing in gangways or on decks open to the elements.
Conditions notwithstanding, "everything went along satisfactory for the first week or so," according to Moses, but their luck would not last. "One day the sea was very calm, as smooth as glass. We were playing on deck and having a good time generally when I overheard a sailor say in German to my older sister that, `Vert fund hinter blazzen.' Sure enough, that night we ran into a terrible storm."
The steerage passengers were ordered below deck, into the near pitch dark of their living quarters. The storm was ferocious. Adults and children wailed. Gasping sobs mingled with snatches of prayers.
"The ship rocked from side to side and every time it went over on its side, we would think it would be the last, that surely it would turn over," Moses recalled. "The waves were so high that the water poured in through the smokestacks, putting out the fire in the engines. The ship began to drift aimlessly off course. Every time the boat went on its side, there would be pandemonium. The screaming and hysteria was indescribable. Dishes and trunks were thrown from side to side. There was at least three or four feet of water in the ship's hold. My mother went into one faint after another. Every time she revived, she asked for rope so we could all tie ourselves together and be together as a family to the end."
For forty-eight hours the storm raged. Sheva was certain they were doomed. His mother's mumbling frightened Moses until he realized she had not lost her mind but was praying. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, the storm subsided. Exhausted engineers relit the ship's boilers and the journey resumed. Below deck, spirits began to rise even as the smell of wet wool clothing and unwashed bodies made it difficult to breathe. Eating was another problem. The storm and the water in the hold had destroyed much of the ship's food supply. Crates of meat, bread and vegetables burst, and the supplies rotted in the damp. The crew added vinegar to make the drinking water potable. "Our family suffered terribly because we had been eating so much herring," wrote Moses. "We were parched for water." The last four days at sea, the Annenbergs lived on bread dust washed down with a rationed mouthful of briny water.
When the ship approached New York Harbor, the steerage passengers rushed onto the deck to get the first glimpse of the golden land. On the port side of the ship, the sun reflected off the copper plates of the still unfinished one-hundred-fifty-foot Statue of Liberty, which soared above Bedloe's Island. The dedication of the gift from France was still a year away in 1886. The pedestal would not be inscribed until 1903 with the words of philanthropist Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me: / I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
As they steamed past the construction site, the Annenbergs and their fellow storm-tossed travelers could have been the models for Lady Liberty's welcome. Clinging to railings, tears streaming down cheeks into thin scarves and great untrimmed beards, fathers wearing broad-brimmed hats and mothers in ankle-length skirts lifted children onto hips and shoulders. Shading their eyes, straining and pointing, they shouted, "Land, land," and "America! We're in America!" Children danced. Strangers embraced. Men and women clutched their babies and fell to their knees in prayer. An excited babble of Russian, Yiddish, German and Polish mixed together in relief and joy. Whatever the language, the sentiment was the same. They had made it.
Moses was on deck barefoot. His only pair of shoes was wooden and had floated away during the storm and could not be found. Later he recalled more about the pain in his stomach than he did his first sight of land. "We were all famished." Sheva had train tickets for the journey on to Chicago, but when the ship docked, she asked Leah and the children to search their pockets. No one had a single penny. Seeing the Annenbergs' distress as they moved toward the gangplank, a passenger with whom they had been friendly during the crossing gave Sheva five dollars. She asked if he had an address, so she could repay him. He did not and told her that when she got to Chicago and joined a synagogue, she could make a donation and consider the debt erased.
Ellis Island, a twenty-seven-acre site southwest of Manhattan, was the primary processing center for immigrants arriving in the United States from 1892 until 1943. When the Annenbergs arrived in 1885, the gateway, as it had been since 1855, was Castle Garden, a former amusement hall and opera house where Jenny Lind sang, in Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. Processing at Ellis Island would become terrifying for nervous arrivals. Jammed in rooms for days and sometimes weeks, wearing the same filthy clothes because baggage was not delivered, the immigrants underwent medical exams, had their travel papers scrutinized and endured a barrage of questions: Where are you coming from? Why? Where are you going? Who are your relatives? How much money do you have? Some days hundreds of new arrivals would be denied entry and in tears of anguish or frustrated fury would be put back on ships and returned to Europe.
The procedures were not as rigorous when the bedraggled Annenbergs entered Castle Garden. Sheva had the answers. The family was hungry, but everyone was healthy. Tobias and Jacob were waiting in Chicago. Their paperwork was in order. At Ellis Island they would have been sent back to Kalvishken because they did not have the $25 apiece that later arrivals would be asked to show they possessed to be allowed entry. Castle Garden had no such requirement. The Annenberg processing was smooth. In less than twenty-four hours, they crossed the Hudson by ferry and boarded the coach train bound for Chicago, the world's fastest-growing city in the 1880s, chaotically vibrant, a metropolitan magnet for people who wanted to see the future.
The Pennsylvania Railroad's elegant Chicago Limited Express was the most comfortable way to traverse the eight hundred miles between New York and Chicago. The trip took twenty-five hours in Pullman Palace Car Company coaches with thick carpets, gilt-framed French mirrors, tufted footstools, frescoed ceilings and velvet curtains. The $28 fare included a sleeping berth, access to smoking and reading rooms, a barbershop, a toilet with full bathing facilities and a world-class restaurant in which waiters in starched white jackets served woodcock and roast beef on tables set with Belgian linen and handpainted English china.
That was not the way the Annenbergs traveled. Sitting up again all day and all night on hard benches on a "day coach," named because it offered no beds, the family nonetheless had a good view of the sights along the way. Their train traveled at thirty miles an hour and stopped regularly at crowded depots where passengers bought food.
Sheva insisted the children remain in their seats and not wander around or get off the train. Moses tried not to think about his freezing bare feet, but the knot in his stomach was too much to ignore. A row ahead, a man peeled an apple with a penknife and threw the peeling under his seat. Moses could not resist.
"I looked at the peelings with covetous eyes, my mouth watering. The temptation for those peelings became irresistible. I crawled under the seat, retrieved the peelings and began to eat.
"When the man discovered what I had done, he felt sorry for me. He called over a fruit seller and bought me two bananas. I had never seen bananas before in my life and thought they were a species of long, yellow pear. Before he could stop me, I bit into them, peel and all."
The train ran through the farm country of central and western Pennsylvania, through tiny towns where onlookers came out to wave, over the Alleghenies and into the rolling ridges of Ohio, before hitting the flat farmland of Indiana and Illinois. Closing in on the outskirts of Chicago, the boss town of America, as the porters called it, the engine slowed as the engineer's bell clanged faster. His nose against the window, Moses saw grain elevators and iron mills spouting flame and soot, plateaus of slag and coal, factories and slaughterhouses. At railroad crossings, pedestrians and freight wagons pulled by horse teams waited under clouds of bituminous black-and-white smoke. When the engine pulled under the barrel-vaulted steel-and-glass-roofed rail shed of Union Station, Moses could hear over the hiss of released steam and squeal of hot metal brakes the repeated bellow of the conductor, "She-caw-go, She-caw-go."
To service hundreds of trains a day, Chicago had six major railroad stations in the mid-1880s, more than any other city in the United States. Four of the six stations were within a few blocks of one another near the Chicago River. Thirteen rail lines fed into Union Station, the world's busiest terminal. None of the tracks was elevated and the neighborhood was a warren of belching trains, sidings, platforms clogged with handcarts and freight sheds. The cacophony was unending, terrifying and confusing to some visitors, thrilling and energizing to others.
Tobias and Jacob were waiting at Union Station with a horse and wagon. The family piled out of their carriage and Tobias hugged Sheva, Leah and each child and offered a prayer of thanks right on the platform for their safe journey before helping with their baggage. The children could barely sit still in the wagon as they clip-clopped through dizzying activity to the house of a friend on Pacific Avenue near Polk Street on the city's South Side. They kept snapping around to marvel at buildings as high as ten stories and to stare at steam shovels digging foundations for even taller structures. Given the length of the family's separation and the drama of their journey, one would hope that Moses recalled more of the emotion of the reunion. But he did not, so there is a certain sense of anticlimax about his account of the final stage of their epic journey. What was clear was that the Annenbergs, crammed into two rooms of the friend's small house, were exhausted, bedraggled, flushed with excitement and anxious to find their own place.
Four days later, Tobias borrowed the wagon again and moved everyone to permanent quarters, an apartment on Fifth Avenue between Polk and Harrison streets near the old Allen B. Wrisley Soap Works. "From this point on," Moses wrote later, "the real problems for the future began."
What People are saying about this
Jessica Seigel, Brill's Content
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >