Monday, January 13, 2014

52 Ancestors- #2 The Drama of Abraham Popkin



I am sitting here tonight sourcing the numerous newspaper articles about Abraham Popkin and the marriage records for his daughters. There is a lot of information to go through with just the articles alone. Is he a man to be pitied or is he a crook? Newspapers add a whole new dimension to the life of Abraham Popkin.

I will briefly mention the basics of his life until his immigration. He was born In Lida, Vilna, Russia (now Belarus), 1846 to Wulf/Vulf Pupko/Popkin and his wife Leia.  He married Lenah/Leia Herman in Vilijampole, Kaunas, Russia (now Lithuania) in 1871. They immigrated to New York shortly after their marriage. Once in the U.S. they had the following children that I know of: Louis Harold, married Anne Eva Opferkuch, my second great-grandparents; Bertha, married Max Steuer (yes the famous or infamous NYC lawyer); Michael, died in 1903, never married; Emma, married Harry Michaelson; Rose “Rosie”, married Howard J. Rothschild; and Augusta “Gussie, married Vincent M. Plonsky. There were quite a few other children who didn’t survive as Lenah said Michael was her 10th child when he was born in 1880.

The first mention of Abraham in newspapers is in May of 1878 when Abraham Popkin claimed he was mugged. Not very interesting you say? Well, he stated that he was approached by two men who offered him $1,000 worth of counterfeit money for $300. He was to meet them at a saloon to make the exchange. Popkin brought his brother-in-law, Louis Kram, with him. Kram was married to Lenah Herman’s sister Rose. The men said that they refused to do the transfer in a public place so took Abraham into a hallway with Kram keeping watch. Once there they beat up Popkin and stole his money. My guess since Abraham never actually came into possession of the money he couldn’t be charged. 

In April 1884 he was in the news again when two men robbed his store in a very odd way. The men came in and while one distracted Popkin by asking about a cloak the other shoved $116 worth of fabric into his coat. Abraham said he barely recognized the man the girth of his waist had increased so much. He ended up grabbing the man but was struck in the stomach by the other robber. They ran and were caught by a policeman due to the weight of what they had stolen.

1890 his employees refuse to work and sign with union. Abraham was also applauded for a speech he gave about the strike.

Joseph Barondess was found guilty of trying to extort money from the firm of Popkin and Marks in February of 1891.

In October of 1894 his company was expelled from the cloak manufacturers’ Association for violating an agreement when he acceded to the demands of the strikers.

In November 1894 Abraham sued for $750,000 in damages. He said he was the victim of a conspiracy by the Cloak and Suits Manufacturers’ Association. He signed articles with the association but 4 days later went with the union over the cloak manufacturers. The association claimed that Popkin said to two men that his word and signature were not worth a damn. Abraham said that he meant only in regards to his agreement with the association. The remark ruined his business since he could not purchase the goods to make the product. He also said he was asked to leave a restaurant he had dined in for years. 

Popkin and Co. in 1895 locked out workers who demanded higher wages.

September 1898 Popkin & Marks Bankrupt.

1,500 workers at A. Popkin and Co. walk out in August 1899.

November 1899 he was in bankruptcy court with his business A. Popkin and Co.. He was also arrested for grand larceny. He was apparently buying products in NY and sending it to St. Louis to be sold at auction while he was going through insolvency.

In July of 1901 Abraham and his son Michael were both arrested for trying to bribe a customs official. Apparently Abraham offered an inspector $100 to let his son Michael’s bags go through customs without being searched. The person representing Abraham was actually Senator Grady.

Yet again a petition of bankruptcy was filed in regards to Abraham Popkin and Co. in August of 1901.

If you thought his life was interesting enough…

Abraham couldn’t even die without some drama surrounding it. He died 1 April 1903 and was buried on the third of April. His death certificate, obituary and cemetery records all confirm the first. Not dramatic yet as you have guessed. Well, he was yet again in bankruptcy proceedings. He had a life insurance policy for $24,000. The money was to go to his widow if he died after April 7th but to his creditors if he died before. So Lenah shouldn’t have gotten the money but she did. Max Steuer, their son-in-law, went to court and somehow proved that Abraham did not die until April 8th. I am curious how he managed to do that since Abraham had already been buried for 5 days before he supposedly died.

Whether he was a crook or not is up to you. Even though he was living on the upper east side of NYC with a maid and a cook was he doing what he could to survive in the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to?  The decision he made to break his agreement with the association may have been the start of the end for his business dealings. Did he think the workers were being treated unfairly and went with them or was he just trying to keep his company afloat? Was he afraid he would end up with nothing again? This was a man who left Russia at a time when it was dangerous to be Jewish. He came to the United States with a young bride and a pair of scissors and made something of himself for a time. He was in the same shoes as the people who were striking so I like to imagine that there was some good in him. But the fact a few years later he locked workers out for demanding more money......