Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday: Trail Heating Up Part II

Before I continue with Max's surprising beating, I must clarify an important point raised by a couple of my readers. Those of you who have been following Max Crane's story, know that a big part of the fascination with this particular 2nd great-uncle, is the story of how he died. In earlier posts, I discussed the suicide and the taboos around it. There is very little we can describe as "fact" in family history research. We try to document our family stories with actual records. These documents are often problematic and contain many conflicting dates, names and other details. We reconcile the information and try to come up with the best picture possible. A date of birth can be very complicated to determine, as many of our ancestors didn't know the exact date themselves. Max's suicide, therefore, is not a "fact". What I'm trying to do is to document the facts surrounding his death and the details of the suicide. I learned of the tragic suicide from various family members including Max's grandson. This is a story he grew up with, told to him by his father—Max's son—who lost Max when he was about seven. At the Kranowitz family reunion in 2009, the suicide was news to me. Most of the Kranowitz stories I knew, came from Minnie's journals and she omitted her brother's death. Though the story was news to me, it was an old news to the elders in the family and long dropped from conversation. As far as a family story can be certain, I'm certain of the suicide, but remain frustrated at my inability to document the incident. So far, I have not located records of his death. I do not know where and when exactly he died and I can find his grave.

A couple of months ago, when I was re-examining Max's file, I realized I had marked a NY death certificate which seemed promising. Ordering records for a large family gets pretty pricey, but this particular record seemed important to examine. The Indexing information on German Genealogy Group seemed promising. When the certificate finally arrived, it was disappointing. Though the Max H Crane on the record committed suicide, neither the occupation nor his parents names matched my relative. I posted the death certificate on this blog (Mystery Monday: Max Crane) and together with my readers, was able to absolutely prove that, that particular death certificate did not correspond to "my" Max Hyman Crane.

This is where I think the confusion arose. Even though this was not Max's death certificate, the fact he committed suicide was not refuted. The erroneous death certificate concluded that my Max Crane may not have died in NY like I previously assumed nor did he die on March 24th, 1925. He may have died in NY and he most likely died by 1925. All I now know for sure is that his wife and son were listed on the NY State Census of 1925 as widowed and living in  New York City with her siblings. The last citing of Max is on the 1922 Hartford City Directory. I hope this clarifies the mix up.

Now, for Part II of Tuesday's post. In part I, I shared my excitement as Max's treasure trail was heating up again. For fear of writing a very long post, I left you guys hanging with the rest of the discovery.

ImageChef.comWe left off the young Max Crane, on September 17th, 1909, when he took a severe beating for standing his ground on a street corner, claimed by Sam Berkowitz and Sam Waskowitz. If you recall, the newspaper reporter promised a follow up: "An interesting story is promised in the police court today."

Four days after the initial story broke, the paper published the promised court proceedings and the plot thickened!

Berkowitz Was Discharged

Special to The Hartford Courant; September 21, 1909
ProQuest Historical Newspapers

"The adjourned case of Samuel Berkowitz, charged with assaulting Max Kranowitz was tried in police court yesterday. P,F McDonough appeared for the accused. Kranowitz first testified and he implicated  Samuel Waskowitz, who was likewise charged. Waskowitz is brother-in-law of Berkowitz. Judge F. B Hungerford defended him. The alleged assault took place last Thursday evening at the corner of North and Willow Streets. Kranowtiz alleged he was attacked because he stood in front of Mr. Waskowitz's  new block. He formerly worked for Waskowitz. He said both men assaulted him. They ordered him off the curb, and he declined to go, so they pitched on to him. Mr. Berkowitz said that Kranowitz and some others stood in the doorway of the block, as he was about to enter. He ordered them away and all moved except Kranowitz. He  showed fight and trouble began between him and Waskowitz. Berkowitz tried to make peace. Waskowitz gave similar testimony. The accused men were discharged. 

A few things jumped out at me. Sam Berkowitz spent three days in jail, but released along with his co-defendant brother-in-law Sam Waskowitz. Though they admitted to beating Max, they were not made to pay him a penalty for the inflicted pain and suffering. There is no clear explanation why a person can not stand on "a block", though it seems the word block might not have meant street block in 1909, since street blocks do not have doorways. Perhaps Max and his friend were standing at the entrance to Waskowitz's new store, which would explain why he owned the "block." If this is the case, than Waskowitz certainly had the right to ask the men to stop loitering at the entrance to his store, though I doubt he had the right to severely beat anyone. Most likely, today the Berkowitz/Waskowitz duo would be required to pay some kind of damages for this thuggish behavior.

What changes the entire picture of this interaction is the fact that Max worked for Waskowitz.  I knew there was more to this story than initially met the eye. My first impression of two Jewish "street gangs" has shifted to something a bit different. Either way, it's difficult to tell who the instigator was. For some reason, Max seemed to be pushing his limits with his former boss, and therefore paid for it dearly. Waskowitz's brother paid the price of a few days in jail and had enough money to obtain a good lawyer who bailed him out.

Once again, I am left with many more questions and again, my daily post has reach it's length limitations. I promise not to make you wait too long for the next installment, so check again soon!


  1. I noticed that too, Smadar! Hopefully, that little detail will guide you to further information. Thanks for the additional explanation in the comments to your previous post. That helped sort things out.

    1. Such a gem hidden there between the other stuff no? I love it! I'm glad you had raised the question about the suicide in the last post, because if it wasn't clear to you, it was probably not clear to other readers. Thanks, Jacqi!

  2. Very interesting, Smadar! I am curious to know what constitutes a "block" back in those days.

    Incidentally, I was curious about the location, and I found this:,+CT&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x89e65311f21151a5:0xcc8e4aa8e97d5999,Hartford,+CT&gl=us&ei=zMVdUeaUJ5Do9gSk5oCoAg&ved=0CLEBELYD

    It looks like a run down little bodega now, but perhaps back in 1909 it was Waskowitz's store? I guess it could be considered a "block" of some sort. It looks like there are some doorways along the side of the building. And it does appear to be very block-y looking. Worth a shot.

    I might look up Waskowitz in the city directory as well - and see what sort of business he was running (if it's listed). It's also interesting that his co-assaulter was his brother-in-law. Perhaps there is some personal tension there? It might be worth checking out how Berkowitz and Waskowitz are in-laws. Love triangle? Hmm ... juicy! I can't wait to hear more!

    1. Jenny, hunting for treasures is always better with company and it's great to have you and Jacqi join me on the this particular trail! I have been looking at the cuban bodega corner as well. I'm sure they may have change Hartford Street to Martin Luther King Street at some point, and it's the same corner. New Britain is high on my genealogy travel spots and I might be able to visit next week. After spending some time in the library, I'll go check out the corner.
      Before the road trip though, my next stop is back to the city directories to look for the two Samuel's like you suggested. It is pretty juicy isn't it! I'll have more tomorrow!

  3. I'm really enjoying following this story, even though it's painful and filled with foreboding. We know that whatever happened to Max in later years, it ended in a premature death/suicide.

    I'm also surprised that Berkowitz and Waskowitz were discharged. As you said, a good lawyer bailed him out. Surely Max showed signs of being beaten? There must be many explanations of the "bad blood" between them, and maybe it intensified through the years. I wonder what Max's personality was like, including his political beliefs -- I think you gave some hints about this earlier.

    I guess I was being facetious about Max being murdered, especially when your family so clearly has fixed upon suicide. I hope you find the answer! Unknowns are so vexing, just sitting there waiting to reveal themselves.

    It must be so vexing that you found another Max H Crane who committed suicide but was not a match for yours!

  4. Hi Smadar -- this is great stuff that you and your helpers are finding. Utterly fascinating. I come to this from the standpoint of being Max Kranowitz's grandson. My father was Max's only child, Milton Crane, and I am the younger of Milton's two sons.

    First, I think it is beyond any reasonable doubt that it was my grandfather's death certificate that you obtained: dead by inhaling illuminating gas. It defies credibility that there could have been two Max H. Cranes, both immigrants from Russia, committing suicide in Brooklyn at the same time.

    I'm not troubled by the seeming discrepancy in the names of the parents. Remember that you have a language barrier here, for one thing, an English-speaking official and a Yiddish-speaking widow, my grandmother, who probably wasn't in a condition to communicate very well. It may also be that you had an official who, rather than leave a blank space on the form and be told to go back, filled in what sounded like Old Testament names. Note that he was supposed to supply the father's given name and the mother's maiden name. "Rebecca" is nobody's last name, so you know that something was out of whack there.

    Did Milton's father Max commit suicide? Yes. I learned that about 1960, at the age of 13 or 14. Milton was then working for the State Department, in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and there were threats of a "reduction in force." Concerned that his job might be eliminated, he applied to CIA. I happened to walk past his chair as he was filling out the application to CIA and saw that in the block for the cause of his father's death, he had written "Suicide." This was the first I knew of it. I asked him later why he had never told me: was it to protect me or himself? "Probably both," he said. He told me that on that day, his father had said to him, "What a beautiful day -- it makes a man want to live." Sounds like the words of a very depressed man.

    Incidentally, he stayed with the State Dept. until he returned to teaching, at George Washington University, in 1964.

    I had always thought that Max (born Mottel Kranowitz) had changed his last name to Max Crane on arrival at Ellis Island. The 1909 news story of the beating in New Britain reveals that isn't so. He may have changed Mottel to Max, but not yet Kranowitz to Crane. He evidently became Max Crane sometime between that year and 1915, I believe, when he married Frieda Levitt. (My father was born in 1917.)

    So did he change his name and/or leave town because of the assault?

    The theory that these were rival hoodlums may be valid, but there may be a simpler answer. Aunt Minnie says in her memoir that Max worked for a grocer, and that women customers liked the attractive young Max to make the home deliveries. We know also that Max was capable of having love affairs with married women. Was that the problem with Berkowitz and/or Waskowitz?

    On Max's political beliefs, he was a member of Poale Zion, the left-wing Socialist Zionist organization. He was militantly anti-religious, holding parties on Yom Kippur at which food was served.

    His marriage to Frieda Levitt, whom I met once or twice but barely remember -- she descended into some kind of senile dementia, and what a husk of a person when I met her in the mid-50's, a few years before her death in 1957 -- was unhappy. She was a neurotic person, according to Herb Crane, Milton's first cousin, who remembers her. I think my father's take on the marriage was that she drove Max to suicide.

    -- Peter Crane, Seattle, born 1946


Thanks for sharing your comments!