Sunday, March 14, 2010

More Family Memories- Uncle Harry

These photos are of Uncle Harry Bloomingdale (Blumenthal) the second oldest son of the family.  One shows him with the patriarch, Louis, his father. (at least I think that is Harry...hope I am right cause there is no one to correct me if I am wrong.) (If I am wrong, it might be Uncle Barney.....I don't think it looks like Uncle William who was not as handsome and whose facial bone structure was quite different. )     

I don't know if you can tell that I am going crazy trying to fit this text properly around the photos......I  have never yet gotten the hang of doing this right, dammit, so please forgive these weird page arrangements.                                                                                                                  

The lovely lady is his wife, Essie.   As I have mentioned before, in an earlier blog, when Uncle Harry went north to New Bedford, Mass. he changed his name from Blumenthal to Bloomingdale.  I must assume that it wasn't anti-semitism on his part as much as a fear of possible negative sentiment up in New England, and in order to make his way more comfortably in the commercial world he made the switch. In the same vein he also married
Essie, a Gentile, (yes, a Goy) but no shame to him......she was a wonderful woman and a fine addition to the family. 

They never had children, but their household was enhanced by a niece of Essie's named Flora Pearce who lived with them to the end of their long lives.  Flora was a gentle soul who loved birds and nature and, late in life was active in the New Bedford Community in those areas,  I corresponded with Flora for years after Harry and Esie were gone and I seem to recall that she told me that a Nature Walk in the area had been named after her.  When they came to visit she was always with them....they treated her like their daughter and so did we.

Uncle Harry opened a very successful Department Store in New Bedford called Bloomingdales.  I do not think that the current "Bloomie's" came from that store, but who knows.  He may have been the most successful of the brothers and was quite wealthy, enough so that he was able to buy or build a vacation home on Horseneck Bay which was his pride and joy.  Sadly, an enormous hurricane in the 30's or 40's totally destroyed the house and nearly did Uncle Harry in too.  No, he wasn't there when it happened, but the loss of Horseneck broke his heart and he was never quite the same afterward.  I have many photos of Aunt Jen, Mamie and my Mother which were shot, I believe,when they visited him and were taken to Horseneck.  I will try to locate them and publish a few because they were so evocative of the romantic style of the period.  Uncle Harry was also quite a photographer and had a darkroom and did all kinds of inventive things with his photos.

However, the most awesome story involving Uncle Harry, Essie and Flora came from much later when Harry was in his 80's and very ill and infirm and his wonderful women not only rose to the occasion, but almost surpassed the Blumenthal quality of sacrificing for Love.  At this point in time all of Harry's wealth was gone.  The three of them lived in the same house/mansion in New Bedford that they had occupied for most of their lives, but it was a very meager existence.  Harry, at this point, was quite portly, but could not walk. The only bathroom in the large house was up a long flight of stairs on the 2nd floor where the bedrooms were so there was little use in relocating him to a bed or couch on the first floor.  Consequently, each day the two women would somehow carry him on their backs, up the stairs to the bedroom and back down next morning so he could spend the day with them.  I  have no idea how they managed this incredible feat since both of them were very spare and had never done manual labor, but manage they did for I don't know how many years till Harry died.  Wow.

After that they kept each other company, both incredibly hunched over from their labors, till Essie was well into her 90's I believe.  And remained remarkable, resourceful and awe-inspiring.  I remember calling one winter and talking to Flora who told me that Aunt Essie couldn't come to the phone right now as she was up on the ladder hanging the winter drapes to keep the house warmer, or outside shovelling the snow off the walkway or something extreme.

I visited them once in the 60's when I was sent to a seminar  in Boston from one of my Computer jobs, and I had the time on the weekend to catch a bus to New Bedford.  For years I had heard about the grand old house from my Mother and knew some of it from old photographs and I was thrilled to have the chance to see it.  It did not disappoint except to break my heart at the signs of poverty where there had once been opulence.  I took them a new little table radio because I had heaard that their had recently died and that they missed it.  They, in turn, treated me to a wonderful lunch from Kentucky Fried Chicken and we had the most wonderful visit.  I still tear up and get a lump when I remember Aunt Essie saying wistfully, " Oh, Edna." and when I gently said, "No, I am Lois." she was miffed and said, "Oh, I know that, I was just remembering your wonderful Mother."   Sob, sniffle.

Sigh!   What a family!



  1. I love this kind of stuff. My mother's maiden name was Blum -- perhaps it was shortened from "Blumenthal" and we are related.



  2. More 'handsome dudes'- and a lovely looking lady! Shame we don't seem to 'pose' for photos any more (except at weddings!)The give the viewer a sense of 'dignity' I feel that is somehow absent from the 'candid' shot.(I guess it was all to do with the long exposures needed during those times for 'studio' photography)Heroic story too! Those ladies certainly had the 'frontier spirit' didn't they? There is always something particularly sad about genteel poverty I think. All poverty is awful; but for those who once had the good life, then somehow I feel the reversal must come harsher (altho' I know a lot of folk are very 'philosophical' about this - again often reflected in their dignity in destitution)
    Thanks again for an insight into another age, and another culture Lo. An inspiration to us all to 'remember our ancestors'. The Ancient Egyptians had a saying - "To speak the names of the dead is to make them live again". You've certainly done that, so well done!

  3. What strong and special women run through your family history! You really know how much love people have for each other when they stick by each other no matter what adversity they face. I can just imagine you all sharing a KFC together too. I love the idea of your Aunt Essie being reminded of your Mum when she saw you. Lovely family memories. :-)

  4. Pearl.....I would be thrilled to pieces to be related to you. From now on I will definitely consider you my cousin in spirit if not in fact. Who might even be true.

    Willie....thanks again for the back-pats and for sharing my memories. Love 'ya.

    Frog.....So glad you are enjoying my trip back in time....your comments make it even more fun for me. Thanks.

  5. I think so many folks wanted to Americanize their names, to fit in, to avoid problems down the road..It's a long evolution that's taken place here.
    Can it be that the Bloomingdale's stores are not connected?
    What an interesting family!
    I too have problems placing photos and print!!!

  6. I did a google search and found that the name of the store was actually 'Harry Bloomingdale’s Surprise Clothing'. I thought that was an odd name for a store. What's the surprise?

  7. Those are wonderful photos - always a treat to see a smile from the early days of photography!

  8. Ken.....Thanks for the research....I have NO idea what the surprise was. Too bad...I would love to know.

    TT,,,,thanks for the boost and for stopping by.

  9. Lo - Some of my fondest memories were of trips in the fall to visit Uncle Harry & Aunt Essie...I have this amazingly clear picture of Aunt Essie Climbing the stairs with Uncle Harry's bulk almost making her invisible, his back on hers, with Flora helping her by pushing from below...I remember my Dad, Bud, wanting to help, and their refusal, for they had it down pat...they were both amazing women, deserving of the tribute you paid them...

    I always thought Uncle Harry had a stroke or some debilitating nerve disease since he had difficulty speaking as well... I do have some shots of Horseneck, if you can't find yours...

    Keep up the great work -

    Love you -


  10. Excellent recollections of some people that were very more ways than one! :)

  11. I recently purchased your uncle Harry's old house. I have some old glass plate negatives that have initials HB on them. I tried to contact you through Facebook. Check your messages. I'd loved to learn more about the house and the family that lived here many years ago. We still have Flora's piano.