In my previous blog I addressed the general approach the postal historian takes to researching a cover, including a number of web sites available at either no charge or a nominal fee. I would now like to hone in on a cover to demonstrate how this research is accomplished and the amazing results that ensue.
Our cover is a special delivery letter to a Mrs. Edith Straus in care of what appears to be the word “Chromos” at Aeolian Hall in New York City. The letter is postmarked February 12, 1918 during WW I. The reverse of the cover includes a purple censor marking from the US Dept. of Justice on Ellis Island. The letter content of this communication is not present, thus all we have to go on is the cover information.
On searching Ancestry I located an Edith Straus in the 1920 Federal Census, married to an Isaac Straus and having four young children. Going through immigration records on Ancestry I found Isaac Straus, born in 1882, having arrived on the SS Amsterdam in 1914. Then I located Isaac in the 1917-1918 Directory in the City of New York, with an address matching that on our cover on 42nd St. Aeolian Hall, Wikipedia informs us, is the name of the building at this location where concerts were held on the 3rd floor.
Google then located Isaac Straus in an article on February 23, 1918 in a magazine devoted to the print business, informing that he was president of Alpha Omega Publishing Co., and had been taken into custody by US Naval Intelligence and was under investigation at the alien camp on Ellis Island. He was alleged to have been acquiring tuluol, the chief ingredient in the production of the explosive TNT for export to Germany. I then easily located his biography in several Jewish-American publications detailing his birth in Germany, marriage to Edith in the first decade of the 20th century, and arrival in the US in 1914 at which time he entered the newspaper publishing business, establishing the American Jewish Chronicle advocating close ties with the Russian-Jewish community in the US and Germany. At the same time he established the Chromos Chemical Company with two large plants in Brooklyn.
Dr. Straus, for he held a medical degree from Germany, became one of the wealthiest and most prominent members of the German-Jewish community in New York, as would become evident from articles in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and The New York Tribune as well as in papers throughout the US after his incarceration on Ellis Island charged with sedition. The web site, Newspapers.com- with access to hundreds of newspapers over the past 150 years- vividly detailed his having consumed almost $800,000 of German Government monies during the war years to spread German propaganda in the US and to acquire toluol for Germany; as well as having obtained a military contract to construct gas masks for American soldiers, which he planned to sabotage with a defective chemical that would not protect against inhalation of poisonous gases by allied troops.
Newspaper articles inform that Isaac Straus was kept in detention for the duration of the war at the internment prison of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia after a harrowing transfer from Ellis Island. Crowds at the train station during his transport were bent on lynching him. He was released from detention in early 1919 , remained in the US as evident by the 1920 Federal Census, but then returned with his family to Germany sometime in the first half of the 1920’s, since I located him in the 1924 address book of Directors and Supervisory Board Members in Berlin- access obtained by my upgrade from US to world Ancestry account- where he was reported as dealing with radioactive materials.
Interestingly, while still in the US, The Washington Herald reported that he had been indicted in 1920 by a Washington, D.C. grand jury for nefarious financial transactions and tax evasion, yet there is no evidence of his having been subsequently found guilty of the charges. Finally, going through Ancestry, I found him on passenger lists to the US on steamships from Germany to the US on two occasions in the late 1920s.
I suspect that the advent of the Nazis in the 1930s bode poorly for Isaac Straus based on his religion, despite the service he rendered his native country during WWI. Well then, a cover with a fantastic history indeed. An example of how one can research a cover with the world at your fingertips. Have I wetted your appetite?