Writing is rarely accomplished in a vacuum. Within the writing process, in fact, there is research, notes to jot down, paragraphs to edit, thoughts to mull over and to discuss, books to read and ruminate over, and further research to conduct before getting down to brass tacks. And specific research oftentimes leads to different forks in the research road.
For awhile now, I have been in the process of writing a certain book. It’s a story that’s been floating in my head and as scribbled notes for years in a notebook. And therein comes the research that took me down a different fork in the road.
My book needed some information on women’s makeup, fashion, and grooming habits in the 1930s. I knew a little bit about that – I’m a big fan of fashion and culture from the first six decades of the twentieth century – yet I needed specifics: product names, colors, types, where to buy the beauty products, et cetera. An Internet search led me to the November 7, 1934, archived issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune. It had advertisements and a plethora of useful information.
I turned to the front page where the headlines screamed all the news of the mid-term election in which the Democrats won a supermajority, and as I scanned the bottom of the page, there was the following story of the voting rabbi in New York City:
I was curious why Rabbi Wolf was the only voter in the precinct. Did the election officials know there would be only one voter, or did it just turn out that way? Who was Rabbi Wolf? What kind of poems were in the book he carried to the polls?
Off I went down the magical yellow brick road to more discovery. More digging led me to a 1936 Milwaukee Journal article, “Tinted Toes Help Girls Get Higher Quality Husbands,” from which I culled this excerpt:
The Marriage Brokers’ Association . . . reported Friday that tinted toe and fingernails are getting girls more and better husbands. . . . “Every year there is more business,” announced Rabbi Nathan Wolf . . . For example, the girls say ‘Do men like painted nails?’ I say ‘Listen, they want to marry a lady, a pretty one. So make yourself beautiful. Ruby, rose – they look nice. Color your nails if you want to. Even your toenails. It will be a surprise for him.’…The association believes a girl should be beautiful, young in comparison to the man’s age, well-educated and have a dowry of some kind . . .
The rabbi seems to have had an open ‘round-the-clock temple, too, as I discovered:
He was apparently a bit creative when it came to raising a minyan: In a 1936 issue of the Jewish Floridian: “Midtown New York is being treated to the sight of a sandwich man advertising Yiskor and Kaddish services at the Temple and Centre of Times Square. . . . The rabbi of the Temple is Dr. Nathan Wolf . . .” This is the Garment District in the 1930s, an area crammed full of Jewish immigrants working in garment manufacture. There were quite a lot of shuls in the area servicing the workers; Rabbi Wolf’s “Always Open” temple was quite attractive to shift workers and so on who were trying to cram a bit of communal Judaism into their lives. Best guess is that his shul, like many others of the area, declined as the area ceased to be full of Jewish immigrants.
Moreover, I discovered that in 1939, Rabbi Wolf published an encyclopedia of Jewish festivals and holidays.
And now, to return to the mid-term elections in November 1934. The Chicago Tribune’s article was further expanded by this New York Times article:
As you see, the New York Times article reads a bit differently than that of the Chicago Daily Tribune article. The city’s cost is, it reads, considerably less. Moreover, the precinct number moves from the 49th to the 42nd. We see the addition of 100 spectators, two policemen, and four election officials. And we discover this is an annual event, and why he is the sole voter.
It’s difficult to discern which of the two newspaper stories are correct, and how much is embellished based on missing information and conflicting data. That is, what is true, and what is not?
It sounds a lot like today’s news, doesn’t it?
Lady Susan Marie Molloy
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