I never realized how colorful my family was – or how colorful the times they lived in were – until I made a survey of the Goldman family in the Cleveland, Ohio newspapers digitized by various commercial entities. I knew that some of my relatives were litigious and I knew that others were maybe a little scandalous, but I never really thought overly much about the day-to-day crime and general seediness that was so close to their everyday lives.
The family of my great-great-great-great-aunt Rebecca Goldie Gottlieb and her husband Jacob Nissl Gottlieb (my 1st cousin 5th removed; they were first cousins) seems somewhat exceptional in its bad luck in that department. Like my great-great-great grandparents David & Bella Rosenstein (Bella was Rebecca’s older sister), Rebecca & Jacob came to Cleveland from Rajgrod, Poland in the early 1870s. I haven’t been able to find their arrival records, but they married in 1872 in Cleveland and at that time, they’d already changed their last names from Gottlieb to Goldman, as did many of my other Gottlieb cousins. They had at least 9 children (5 of them made it to adulthood) and they lived and worked in close proximity to their relatives, sometimes occupying different floors or apartments within the same houses. For example, Berg Street was, in those days, apparently crawling with my relatives: at least 7 households worth of family members lived in the 20-40 blocks in the 1880s and 1890s. Despite the fact that they lived so close to other cousins, somehow Jacob and Rebecca’s family is the one who shows up in the papers the most — and not for good things. Maybe they were a little combative
but they also seem to have had some really strange luck — sometimes weird and sometimes just plain bad.
Two of the strangest and most serious pieces of bad luck occurred just 15 months apart in August 1899 and in November 1900. The second story was widely reported and followed-up by multiple Cleveland news outlets; the August 1899 story, by contrast, was only mentioned twice in Cleveland papers, which tended to paint it as a relatively innocuous occurance. However, somehow the story was picked up by two different New York newspapers (the Oswego Palladium and the New York Sun), who seemed to treat it as a much more serious story.
The story as reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer excludes several details of the story reported in New York, leading me to believe that the New York version is the correct one (which is why I am reproducing it here). In Cleveland, there was no mention of the upcoming nuptials or that Sarah was in the bedroom with Fanny and Tillie (the daughter of a David S. Gottlieb, who I suspect is a cousin) — even though the wedding, at least, was definitely fact. Sarah married Isaac Hurwitz on August 8, just a few days later (and incidentally, her sister Fanny would marry Isaac’s brother Harry in August 1908). I don’t know why the Cleveland newspapers I found would leave this fact out — it certainly makes the story more exciting. But on the whole, it seems to me that they didn’t take this story as seriously as the New York papers did. There’s also no mention of the spurned suitor hypothesis; in The Plain Dealer the erstwhile kidnapper/sex offender is suspected to be “Jack the Hugger,” a man “who a few weeks ago terrorized the women living in the third district by his bold actions. Many instances were reported where he had ‘hugged’ ladies on the street.” The opening paragraph of the story also calls the girls’ experience “exciting,” which I guess it was, but not in the good sense of the word. Interestingly, I couldn’t find any other stories in the digitized Cleveland newspapers about Jack the Hugger, though I did discover that that moniker and its associated crimes (hugging ladies on the street, that is) was a relatively common turn-of-the-century phenomenon.
A year later, in November 1900, the Goldmans had even more bad luck, and this incident was violent enough for everyone to take seriously.
The facts were these: a burglar broke into Jacob & Rebecca’s bedroom at 3am on a Sunday night, apparently with the aim of stealing Jacob’s gold pocket watch. He woke Jacob up in the process (though not before taking the watch) and ran back through the other rooms of the house towards the kitchen, while Jacob began yelling. In the kitchen, he was met by the Goldman’s oldest son, Aaron, who engaged him in a fight.
The Goldmans were all unarmed, but the burglar had a gun and fired it at Aaron, hitting him in the chin and jaw. This of course knocked Aaron to the ground, which gave the burglar time to turn towards the rest of the family (Jacob, Rebecca, Fanny and the two little kids, Libby & Benny) who were standing in the doorway leading to the bedrooms. He fired twice, hitting Rebecca in the chest and in the hand. After taking these shots, he climbed back out the kitchen window and instead of running away, thrust his body through the window and aimed at Rebecca again. Aaron had gotten up by this time and struggled to wrest the gun from the burglar’s hand. When the burglar finally dropped the gun and ran, Aaron passed out in a pool of blood and I’m sure his mother probably had done the same.
They were both taken to Saint Vincent’s Hospital where they were in critical condition, but both survived. This was quite a sensational crime, reported extensively and updated from day to day. Fanny served as an important witness in identifying the suspect, which was a bit of a rocky road: others were arrested before Fred Hall, who was finally found guilty of the attack, was properly identified.
I had never imagined my relatives in such a rough world, but I suppose I am glad to know that even though they may have been the victims of strange crimes and bad luck, they were also strong and gutsy enough to fight back. Rebecca in particular seems like quite a formidable woman and I hope that her older sister Bella had some of those same genes. I would say that I hope she passed them down to me, but I hope never to be tested in the same way that Rebecca Goldman was.
newspapers cited: “Burglar who shot the Goldmans,” Cleveland Leader, November 27, 1900; accessed at GenealogyBank.com (fee) “Local brevities,” Cleveland Leader, January 13, 1885; accessed at GenealogyBank.com (fee) “Chicken fighters in court,” Cleveland Leader, January 17, 1889; accessed at GenealogyBank.com (fee) “Attempt to steal a bride,” New York Sun, August 3, 1899, p. 3; accessed at Old Fulton Postcards (free!) “Burglar shot mother and son,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 11, 1900; accessed at GenealogyBank.com (fee)