Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Treasure Trail Heating Up

Treasure hunting is an excellent term as far as my second great-uncle Max Crane is concerned. Remember Max? Since February, Max's trail has gone cold. To find a treasure requires a map, and luckily, I have one—my great-grandmother's memoir—Stored Treasures (pardon the unintended pun):
"...the summer my brother Max came back from living in Pinsk (summer of 1903). Max was the second brother (the family’s third child). Max or Chaim Mordechai, as he was called in Hebrew, was a very sensitive boy. At a very young age, he was sent to study at the Yeshiva in Pinsk with my mother’s brother Hillel. Max went to continue his studies, help his uncle with the younger students, who were rich, spoiled kids, and sort of look after them. Max’s job was to wait on the kids, bring their lunches, run errands, and so forth. Somewhere in the process of study, he became indoctrinated with the ideas of socialism through some young revolutionaries. Uncle Hillel had a small printing press for his school. Max and his radical friends secretly printed propaganda leaflets on the school printing machines. Unfortunately, they were found out.
Pressure was put on Uncle. “Either you send Max away, or we tell the police.” He packed Max off home without any ceremony. Max found our small hometown to be intolerable. There was no one his age in Belitsa with whom he could exchange ideas. He left for America. Max was seventeen when he came to the United States.
...Max arrived in New York. Mother’s brother, Harry Yarmove, was there to greet him, but Max did not like New York. Instead, he headed to New Britain, Connecticut, where father’s youngest brother, Oscar Kranowitz had settled. (Note: Oscar used the name Aaron in the States)
 ...They (Oscar's family) treated him like one of their own boys. He found work in a large food market. He went to night school and worked days as a clerk and delivery boy for the large market. Max was a young boy of seventeen or so, attractive with blond, baby soft, curly hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and a mischievous nature. The women customers liked to have Max take their grocery order and deliver it to them. Yes, in the pre-supermarket days, groceries were delivered. Max’s popularity with the ladies made a nice profit for the owner. Max could always get another job if the one he held did not suit him. Max made a nice living and saved his money. When he had saved enough, he sent for Brother Will (Vevel) and then for the rest of us.
Fairly faint and scant as this treasure map is, it will have to do. X- marks the spot of the treasure, but in this case the X is not end of the story. Max's story ends tragically and Minnie chose to omit it from his story. At times, Minnie filtered her stories through a rose color lens. Max committed suicide. When Minnie sat down to share her stored treasures, the subject of Max's death remained too taboo.

Roots Tech 2013 encouraged us all to improve our stories telling. I'm afraid I've given away the ending of Max's story long ago. My quest is to uncover the missing details of his story, to fill-in the gaps and figure out how this "very sensitive boy" reached a premature death. The gaps are the treasures I'm seeking or the X in my analogy.

Treasure hunters often follow the wrong trail. Not long ago, I was was led off course by an erroneous death certificate.. With the help of +Jacqi Stevens, and +Jenny Lanctot I discarded the New York death certificate which turned out to belong to another poor Max H Crane who committed suicide as well (Mystery Monday: Max Crane). I therefore retraced my steps back to square one, New Britain, CT. New Britain was where Max lived most of his life in America. Max's grave and death certificates continue to elude me, but yesterday, I stumbled across a small treasure—a previously unknown story—by turning to the local papers. Yesterday, the Genealogy Gods were with me, and I found an amazing newspaper article from 1909!

Max Kranowitz's listing from 1909 New Britain City Directory
Source: U.S. City Directories,
1821-1989 (Beta) [database on-line].
New Britain, CT 1909
First, I crosschecked my map, with the New Britain City Directory. The directory confirms Minnie's notes. In 1909, Max lived and worked as a clerk at 459 Myrtle Street. His uncle Oscar (Aaron) was the only other Kranowitz listed in the directory, living and working nearby. Note that Max had yet to change his surname to Crane (he did so when he was naturalized in 1913).

I doubt Minnie knew this story about her big brother. This event, which made headlines, happened four years before she joined her brothers in America. She was about twelve years old in 1909. If she knew this story, she consciously or unconsciously omitted it from our family history.

Picture the twenty years-old Max who by 1909 had been living on his own in America for about four years.

Kranowitz Was Badly Beaten

Special to The Hartford Courant; September 17, 1909
ProQuest Historical Newspapers

"Samuel Berkowitz was locked up last evening on the charge of assaulting Max Kranowitz, by Captain Grace. Kranowitz and a companion called at the station and made a complaint. They had hardly finished telling their story when Sam Berkowitz and his brother-in-law,Sam Waskowitz, hurried in. They were so intent on getting their complaint in first they did not notice Kranowitz and his companion, who were standing over by the window. The captain saw he had a nice kettle of fish on his hands, with the air vibrating with charges and counter charges. He called Kranowitz's witnesses, two others having joined him in the meantime, in his private office, to get as near a correct version as possible. All concurred in the story that Berkowitz had assaulted Kranowitz. According to the story Kranowitz was standing with his friend over by Berkowitz and Waskowitz's new block at the corner of Hartford Avenue and North Street. Waskowitz ordered them away and Kranowitz moved over to the curb. Berkowitz wasn't satisfied, told him that he had no business around there and beat him severely. Berkowitz was taken to the cell room, protesting against the alleged injustice of locking him up. An interesting story is promised in the police court today."
I doubt Max wrote home with news of this beating. A severe beating from fellow Jews may have scared his family from joining him in the States. This article, paints Max not in the pinkish hue of a loving sister. Somehow, despite being the victim in this story, Max seems like a tough guy. He did make it to the police station and not the hospital. Minnie's comment about Max’s revolutionary days comes to mind. The police did arrest the bully, Berkowitz, but the severity of the beating seems disproportionate to the crime of standing on the wrong side of the street. I am beginning to imagine young Jewish hoodlums, marking their territories. Max wasn't alone. He had a companion, and another quickly surfaced at the police station. Why didn't Max and his companion just leave the street like they were told, if they knew this was Berkowitz/Waskowitz territory? Why was Max the only one to take the beating?

There is more to this story, which for now, will just have to wait until Part II of this post. The treasure trail is heating up again and there is surely much more to be discovered. Any leads to obtaining court and police records from this case would be greatly appreciated!

Other posts about Max Crane:
Should Genealogist Spill Family Secrets?
Mystery Monday: Max Crane
Back to Square One
Trail Heating Up Part II
Part III: Why Was Max Hanging Around the Block?
Part IV: The Max Crane Mystery Continues


  1. I'm surprised to read that your Max did die as a suicide, Smadar--even after discarding the other news story. Either I missed something here, or you have more to reveal. If it was a suicide, though, I'm not surprised to see your Minnie omitting that from her memoirs, if she was a strong adherent to her faith. Wouldn't something like that require survivors to view it in such a way? It does seem odd, otherwise, for someone who seemed as positive about her brother as Minnie was, to leave such a vacuum of silence about what became of him.

    1. Jacqui, I guess I should clarify. The "fact" that Max committed suicide comes from various family members, including his grandson. I'm 99.9% sure he did. I just have not been able to document it yet. That was part of what was so intriguing about that death certificate. It was another Max Crane who committed suicide but not the Max I was looking for.
      The fact that Minnie omitted the story from her writing is not surprising like you said. It's not so much a faith thing. The were were brought up as Orthodox jews, as there were really no options in Russia at that time period. But once they arrived in the states, they shed a lot of that. Minnie always loved being Jewish, but she was a reform Jew and I think the reason things like suicide were not discussed were more a generational thing. They never talked about the holocaust either. She lost three siblings in the holocaust. In the memoir there are barely two lines about that.

  2. This really surprises me! Young Jewish hoodlums claiming territory -- something I would have not expected, especially in New Britain. Maybe since Max had gone through a revolutionary period (or still was in it), they were fighting over political differences? Maybe there was a longstanding dispute between different left-wing groups?

    Max's death was too sad and taboo for Minnie to talk about. I also wondered where you learned of the suicide, so I read your comment to Jacqi above. I didn't look back -- depending on the year when Max committed suicide, it might have been an outgrowth of these urban conflicts, which do sound violent. He could have been murdered, or under such a threat that suicide was the only way out. I share your view that there is more story here.

    1. Remember Mariann, that this was the time when large numbers of poor Russian and Eastern European Jews came in droves. They lived in densely populated areas, tenements, of cities like NY and Hartford. Lots of bands of single young men, just like the Italians, the Irish and other immigrant groups at the time. What surprised me, was that I didn't think about Max that way.
      He died about 15 years after this incident. By then he was married with a child so I'm guessing he was somewhat removed from the tough street life.
      I thank you, Mariann for you insight. It ensure I keep an open mind as I examine all the clues.

  3. This discover is really fascinating. I wonder if Herb Crane knew this story. The Atlantic City part of the clan seemed to know more of these stories. It does not surprise me that Minnie did not talk about her brother's suicide, though.

    1. That is a really good thought to ask Herb. I would be surprised if anyone from their generation knew this story. Herb, one of the elders, was born in 1919 and was about five years old when Max died. This incident happened ten years before he was born. Even if Max's siblings heard about this drama, which they certainly may have during their years in Hartford, it was unlikely this incident remained a topic of conversation so many years later.

  4. Max Hyman Crane, aka Mottel Kranowitz, aka Chaim Motke Kranowitz, did indeed die by suicide. I believe he is the same Max H. Crane whose suicide was reported in the NYTimes and elsewhere in March 1925, notwithstanding that the news stories gave the widow's name as Mary. I can't imagine that there were two such people with the same name, both dying by their own hand at the same time. My father, Milton Crane, born in May 1917, was then seven years old. The last thing he remembered his father saying to him was, "It's a beautiful day. It makes a man want to live." Sounds like the words of a depressed and bitter man. Max was unhappily married to the former Frieda Levitt. She had recently moved out, for some reason. My father thought that that had helped push Max over the edge. Frieda was, by all accounts, including Herb's -- he remembered her -- a very troubled woman, severely hypochondriacal, who would visit Atlantic City bringing along a suitcase full of pills and would complain that the food given to her was inedible -- "harte shtayne," hard stones, she would call it. I met her a couple of times when I was a child, but by then she was a seriously ill woman, and I have little memory of her. She died in 1957, when I was ten, but it had been several years since I had seen her. I don't know whether my father knew this, but the incident that estranged Max from the family in Atlantic City was an affair with the young wife of an older relative. (This was when he was still single.) Herb knew all about this. He told me that his mother used to visit the relative's widow in her old age. She had gone blind, and would tell his mother, "God is punishing me for my sins." She didn't have to say which sins she had in mind. Whatever compunctions Max might have had about suicide, they were not religious. He had no use for religion, and -- so my mother told me, and she would have heard this from my father -- would have Yom Kippur parties, and would stand in the doorway of his apartment, eating ostentatiously, so that the fasting faithful on their way to the synagogue would be reminded of their empty bellies. According to Aunt Minnie's account, Max was a ladies' man. If I had to guess, the reason that Waskowitz and Berkowitz beat him up and -- so it seems -- weren't convicted, is that Max had been fooling around with Waskowitz's wife. Why else would they be acquitted of what sounds like a serious assault? By the way, Smadar, bravo for digging out all this information. It turns out that there is a Samuel Waskowitz who is an orthopedist in New Britain in his 50's. Probably a great-grandson. Maybe he has inherited his own lurid family lore on the subject.

    1. Thank you Peter for weighing in and providing your knowledge of the story. It certainly is an interesting theory that Max was messing around with Waskowit's wife. I doubt we'll ever know (unless we get the actual police report).
      I am intrigued that you believe the Max H Crane from the paper is indeed our Max Crane. I'm still troubled by the inconsistencies tough I agree with you that is is strange that two Max H Crane's committed suicide around the same time. I have it on my to do list, to go visit the grave of the Max H Crane from the newspaper articles. I'm hopeful the tombstone will provide some clues such as the father's name.


Thanks for sharing your comments!