Sunday, March 1, 2015

Elcon Grosser - Part 1

Elcon Grosser about 1902
   When I was deciding who to feature in my first real post, my great-grandfather, Elcon Grosser, immediately came to mind.  He was a larger-than-life figure to me, all during my childhood until he died when I was 25 years old.  He and his wife Jennie were the centers around whom the extended family revolved.  Their passing began the process of our drifting apart.  He was 103 when he died, and his life has so many stories that I will have to come back to him several times.
    Elcon was born in August 1870 in the town of Labun, Volhinya Gubernia, Zaslav District, Russia[1].   This town is now called Yurovschina, Ukraine.  His name at that time was Elkunah Groiskop.  He had at least three brothers, Zise, Moishe, and Jossel, and a sister Perl.  Elkunah was not tall, but he was sturdily built and known for his strength, a trait that lasted throughout his life.
    Labun was a small town in the so-called Pale of Jewish Settlement, in a predominantly agricultural area, but with a significant Jewish population.  In 1897 the nearby town of Polonoye, where the railway station was, had a Jewish population of nearly 8,000, nearly half of the town.  Jews were artisans, specializing in printing, porcelain, and parquet flooring.  All of the Groiskop brothers described themselves as blacksmiths or ironworkers.
    Elkunah served in the Russian army, probably from 1891 to 1894.  Although many Jews tried to avoid conscription, Elkunah was always proud of his service.  He was in the cavalry, probably serving as a smith.  According to the various stories recalled by grandchildren and great grandchildren, he attained the rank of Sergeant, and received a medal for killing an enemy officer in battle.
    When his service was over, Elkunah moved from Labun to the larger nearby town of Baranivka.  Possibly this move was because Labun was too small to support three blacksmiths.  Baranivka had a large Jewish population since the 17th century, and in the 19th century the Jewish population was nearly 2,000, to form a majority of the town.  Here Elkunah found the love of his life, the tall, blond, blue-eyed, Czerna Tepper.
    Elcon described the meeting in a newspaper article in 1970.

       " I had an honorable discharge", he said, 'and in those years when a young man finished the army, he was a valuable piece of property because he had lived through the danger and had the promise of a future.  When I came out it was September, and on Rosh Hashanah I went to the synagogue and my friend showed me a picture of my lovely wife....I went in myself to see her - without a matchmaker, " he bragged, "I gave her my picture and she accepted it...and that's when I began to court my lovely wife."[2]

      They were married in August 1896 in a ceremony in her home. Elkunah worked as a blacksmith in Baranivka, and the couple soon had two children, Chaija born in 1898, and Chaim born in April 1900.
      Shortly after Chaim was born, Elkunah left Baranivka for America.  He joined the stream of emigrants traveling across Europe to Liverpool, England.  In Liverpool he boarded the S.S. Pennland on July 4, 1900, and on Tuesday, July 17, he arrived in Philadelphia,  He listed his occupation on the manifest as "smith".[3]  At that time, Philadelphia was an industrial giant.  "Pennsylvania in general established itself as ...the center of heavy industry, of iron and steel, coal and oil, America's foundry.  Philadelphia became its...chief port for the foundry, nerve center of transportation, producer of finished goods of an enormous variety but particularly of steam engines and steamships."[4]    As Elkunah described it, he arrived in Philadelphia on a Tuesday and by Thursday he had a job paying $6 per week at the Baldwin Locomotive Works.[5]  He began saving to bring the rest of his family to Philadelphia.

[1]  The date of 1890 was reported by him in various documents, census records, naturalization papers, and in many newspaper articles in the Philadelphia Bulletin, Inquirer, and Jewish Exponent.  He generally cited the date of August 16 when a date was specified.
[2]  Jewish Exponent, August 14, 1970. "Couple Will Mark 74th Anniversary, His 100th Birthday at Sunday Fete." copy held by Mary-Jane Roth
[3], Philadelphia Passenger LIsts, 1900-1945, (Provo, Utah, USA, Operations Inc. 2006) Database on-line. Roll T840_32, line:5,  record for Elkan Groskopf .
[4] Russell F. Weigley, editor, Philadelphia: A 300-Year History (New York: W.W. Norton and Company,1982), 471.
[5] "Couple Married 74 Years invite 300 to Celebrate"  Unattributed newspaper clipping in collection of Jennie Grosser, now in possession of Mary-Jane Roth.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your first post! Love hearing from and about Lubiners. Keep up the good work.