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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWEE: Mary Safer
INTERVIEWER: Samuel Proctor
November 25, 1989
P: My name is Sam Proctor, and I am with Mary Safer at her home
in Jacksonville at 10412 West Bigtree Circle. It is
Saturday afternoon, and today's date is November 25, 1989.
We are going to talk about her family and the development of
the Jewish community of St. Augustine, since she was born
S: Well, I was not born here. I came to St. Augustine when I
was four years old.
P: Where were you born?
S: I was born in Newark, New Jersey.
P: What was your birth date?
S: November 3, 1904.
P: When did you arrive in St. Augustine?
S: In May 1907. I remember that because we had been there one
year when they formed the congregation.
P: Let me ask you about your mother and father. What was your
S: Morris Friedman.
P: And your mother's name?
P: What was her maiden name?
P: Were they immigrants to the United States?
S: Yes, they came to the United States in 1888, I think it was.
P: Where did they come from?
P: Were they already married when they arrived?
P: Tell me the names of your brothers and sisters.
S: I have no sisters. My brothers were Max Friedman, Abe
Friedman, and Pete Friedman.
P: Were any of them born in the United States?
S: They were all born in the United States.
P: So there were no children born to your parents in Europe.
They came over, then, as a young married couple, and they
came through Ellis Island, through New York. Why did they
move to New Jersey?
S: I have no idea why they came. They did not move to New
Jersey. They came to New York, and later, when my brother
Max was born--he was born in New York City--they moved to
Newark, New Jersey in 1901. That was the year that my
brother Abe was born. I was born in Newark, New Jersey in
1904. We moved to St. Augustine in 1907, and my brother
Pete was born in St. Augustine on August 22, 1908, I think
P: So your mother was pregnant with your brother when she came
to St. Augustine?
P: Now, what business was your father in in Newark?
S: He worked in the leather factory producing leather goods.
He was a foreman in that company. Then the disaster or
depression of 1907 or 1908 hit, and he lost his job, and he
lost his home because he had lost his job. Well, my brother
Max had contracted polio in 1902, and the doctor said that a
warm climate would help him physically. His left leg was
completely paralyzed. It so happened that I had an aunt and
uncle living in St. Augustine, and they wrote to my folks
and asked them come to St. Augustine to help my brother Max
physically and my father economically. They rented a store,
and my father was put in a fruit stand in St. Augustine on
P: Now, let me find out what the names of your aunt and uncle
S: Dave and Ida Gerstel.
P: They were on your mother's side?
S: She was my mother's sister. They were running a hotel
called the Lynn Hotel on St. George Street.
P: What kind of clientele did it cater to?
S: They had room and board. It was a regular hotel. This was
before the big fire of St. Augustine [April 2, 1914]. My
folks, of course, were in the store, and we were in the
fruit business for only about a year.
P: I want to get a little information on the hotel itself, the
S: They stayed in the Lynn Hotel until the Dixie Highway Hotel
was built on St. George Street.
P: Now, the Lynn Hotel was on Cathedral Street?
S: No. The Lynn Hotel was on St. George Street, right by the
corner of Treasury and St. George streets.
P: Can you picture the hotel and describe it to me?
S: Oh, yes. It was a building that once had a bar and a
saloon. There was the one store, and the hotel had a
downstairs lobby. That was the building, that was the whole
building. I guess there may have been about thirty rooms
P: They did serve meals there?
S: They served meals.
P: And they catered, then, to the tourists?
S: Right. Across the street was the Florida Hotel, which
burned in the big fire, and they had a richer clientele. My
aunt's hotel had a cheaper clientele, that is, people who
had less money to spend.
P: Is the Lynn Hotel still standing?
S: No. The building is still standing, but I think it has been
rebuilt. I think that corner has been rebuilt. I am sure
P: Now, the Gerstels then moved from the Lynn Hotel to the
Dixie Highway Hotel?
S: Yes, after it was built.
P: Where was it?
S: St. George Street, right across from where I used to live,
about two blocks away from the city gates.
P: All right. And it was also a hotel that was set up to cater
S: Tourists without meals.
P: They came in to spend the night, and then they ate in the
restaurants in the area.
P: It was a larger hotel than the Lynn?
S: Not particularly. I do not think it was any larger, but
they just did not bother with meals. There were so many
hotels in St. Augustine because it was a tourist camp.
P: When do you think the Gerstels came to St. Augustine?
S: I think it was about 1901.
P: What Jewish families were living there when they came?
S: I can only talk from when I got there, which was 1907.
These were the families that I remember: the Tarlinskys, the
Lews, the Garfins, Max Eff, the Pinkosons.
P: And perhaps the Mehlmans.
S: Yes, I think the Mehlmans. I am almost positive the
Mehlmans were there. I am trying to remember who else lived
P: Let us get first names also. Start back with the first one.
S: Jacob Tarlinsky, Max Eff, and W. A. Pinkoson.
P: What does the W. A. stand for?
S: He went by his second name, which was Arthur. That is the
only one I know. I think J. A. Lew's first name was Jacob,
and A. S. Garfin, I think, was Abe Garfin. Then there was
Morris Friedman and the Mehlmans, Dave Mehlman. I do not
know what the Botkowsky's first names were. The Suraskys,
Nathan Surasky, were there at that time. And, of course,
there were Dave and Ida Gerstel. That is it.
P: Do you have any knowledge or remembrance in terms of your
childhood of who might have been considered the leader or
the founder of the community?
S: Mr. Tarlinsky. He had a store on the corner of Bridge and
Washington streets and evidently had at one time probably
lived upstairs. He had the store there, and he kept his
stock in the stock rooms upstairs over the store.
P: What kind of business did he have?
S: Mercantile business. We did not have Friday night services,
but on the holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he would
take two of the stock rooms and form a synagogue: one room
for the men and one room for the women.
P: Now, this was upstairs?
S: Upstairs, over the store. And that store later became
Morris Pincus's store. He bought Tarlinsky's out, and he
ran his mercantile business there in the same store.
P: Do you think the Tarlinskys might have been the first Jewish
S: Tarlinsky and Lew were the two that I was told were the
first ones to come to St. Augustine, that we know, and
possibly the Garfins. They would be the three Jewish
families that probably were the very beginning of the Jewish
P: Do you know where the Tarlinskys came from or any of the
others, except from the North.
S: They came from the North. In fact, most of them probably
came from Europe. They just stopped somewhere and then came
on to St. Augustine. I do not know what the origin was.
P: All right. Let us get your family located in St. Augustine.
You came down to live with your aunt and uncle because your
father needed work and also because of your brother's polio
condition. Where did you live when you arrived in St.
S: Well, we had rooms over the store where our fruit place was,
which was on Cathedral Street, right across the street from
the former post office. We had rooms upstairs, and we ate
in the back of the store. We had the fruit stand in the
front part. We were there for only about a year, and then
we moved to what we called Hospital Street, which is Aviles
Street now. The public school was right across the street
from our store. My mother and father rented two stores on
Hospital Street. The library was just down the block from
us, and the store was across the street from the old public
school. We used one side of the store for our sleeping
quarters and our home. The first store was a cleaning,
pressing, and tailoring store.
P: So your father left the fruit business and went into the
cleaning and pressing business. Did he have any background
S: No, none. But my mother was a seamstress in Europe, so she
did a lot of the alterations. She used to alter for the
stores that were open that were selling men's merchandise.
She would work for them.
P: Was it unusual for people to have their residence in the
same place that they were doing business?
S: I do not know. I lived that way until I was sixteen years
old--that is all I can tell you. Every place I lived until
I was sixteen, we lived right where the business was--we did
not have a house. We lived there and had the store there
until I was eleven years old; that would be 1915. In 1915,
my mother rented Chautauqua Hotel. The building is still
there, but it is not a hotel anymore. It is right across
from the Plaza Park on King Street.
P: Describe that hotel. You say it is right across from the
plaza on King Street.
S: King and Aviles, right on the corner.
P: Which corner is it on? The bay side?
S: The bay side. There were stores downstairs, and the hotel
was upstairs. We did not serve meals. We had thirty rooms
in there. We served the tourists there, but we did not
serve meals. We just had tourist rooms.
P: And if they wanted to stay, then, they walked up the stairs.
Was there a little lobby on the second floor?
S: The lobby was on the first floor.
P: Because there were stores downstairs.
S: That is right. The stores were on the ground floor, and
the entrance to the lobby was up some stairs; you had to
walk up the stairs to get to the lobby. Then the rooms
were on the next floor, so there were really two upper
floors for the hotel.
P: Did the stairway face the plaza, or did it face the other
S: It faced the plaza. It had two big open porches on the
front which are not there anymore. The hotel had two
P: So it was a three-story building.
S: Yes, that is right. There was a big front porch on both
levels, and oftentimes we would sit there on the porch and
listen to the concert in the park, because we were that
close to the bandstand in the park. We lived there in the
hotel for five years.
P: Do you recall the stores that were on the first floor?
S: I do not remember what was on the one corner, but the corner
of Hospital and King streets was J. Lew's Department. They
had moved off Washington Street and rented two big stores on
that corner where they had men's and ladies' clothing.
P: And your mother had given up the seamstress business to run
S: Oh, yes. That is when my father quit the tailoring and
cleaning and pressing. There was a store downstairs where
my father went into the hat business, but he was in that for
a very short time.
P: So he was in one of the stores, and he and your mother
together ran the Chautauqua Hotel.
P: Where did they get that name Chautauqua from?
S: That was the hotel before we got there. We did not set it
up; it was a hotel. My mother rented it from the people who
ran the hotel before.
P: So she rented it presumably with the furniture?
S: Yes, all complete, because it was a hotel. We had a five-
year lease, and we ran the hotel for five years. Then my
mother wanted to renew the lease, but they would not renew
it because they wanted to take it back and run it
P: Have you any idea what they charged guests for the night
S: I think it was fifty cents a night for a room.
P: No wonder [my father] Jack Proctor could afford to spend his
S: We rarely ever had Jewish people there. But I do want to
tell you this: we were honored. Groucho Marx's mother
stayed with us. She was visiting in St. Augustine, and she
rented a room in our hotel. I must tell you a cute story
P: That was Minnie Marx.
S: Yes. In fact, she gave my brother Max a letter. When he
went to New York, he saw Groucho Marx and told him that his
mother stayed at our hotel.
P: So you had two celebrities there--Minnie Marx and Jack
S: But I must tell you something cute. You see, the Ponce de
Leon and the Alcazar [hotels] were open for only three
months out of the year, I think, and they were closed the
rest of the year. Their clientele was really hoi polloi,
and they would dress to dinner. When they would eat dinner,
they would eat dinner in evening clothes. They would eat in
the hotel. They had to dress for dinner.
Well, one year (I do not remember what year it was) there
were so many tourists in St. Augustine that every room in
the hotels were taken. We were just loaded--every place was
loaded. Well, one couple was registered at the Alcazar, but
they had no room for them. They called all the hotels, and
it so happened that one of our residents had moved out that
day, so we had one room available. This wealthy couple that
was supposed to be staying at the Alcazar came and rented
our room, supposedly for the night. I was so excited. I
used to help my mother in the office when I came home from
school, and I would be in the office all afternoon. Here we
saw this couple dressed with a tux and their evening clothes
going to the Alcazar Hotel. But they loved staying with us
so much that they they stayed with us for a whole week, and
they ate at the Alcazar.
P: They liked the hospitality.
S: That was one of the things I remember.
P: Do you remember the swimming pool at the Alcazar?
S: Yes. In fact, believe it or not, when I was getting
married--I got married in May when the hotel was closed--we
were trying so hard to rent that area of the swimming pool.
P: The casino.
S: Yes, the casino, because they had a lot of area space. We
wanted so badly to rent it for my wedding. There was no
other place in St. Augustine that was big enough for my
wedding, but they turned us down. They would not let us
rent it, so we had a horrible time.
P: Did you swim in that pool?
S: No, nobody went to the Alcazar except rich people.
P: Oh, I thought they opened it to the St. Augustine public,
and people could pay to swim in there.
S: Not that I remember. I know my brother Max used to go to
the YMCA to swim. They had a swimming pool, and my brother
Max went there quite a number of times. I did not get there
anyway. They may have allowed it later on, but not in their
heyday, they did not.
P: Now, talk about growing up in St. Augustine as a young
Jewish girl in a community that had very few Jewish
S: It was rough. My brother Max was crippled, and he walked on
crutches. And these kids were so mean. I always remember
that; throughout my lifetime, I will remember. They would
pick on anybody who could not fight back. My brother Max
was in the park one time when I was there, and they took his
crutches away from him, picked him up head and foot, and
started banging him across a tree. Why? Because he was a
Jew. Now, that is the truth, and I will never forget it as
long as I live. In fact, I can see one of them, the head
one, the one that did all the planning. I can see him today
because it was so cruel.
Let me tell you another story. The Catholic school was down
on St. George Street on the south end of town, and they had
built a new public school. I went to the new school the
first year it was open--I was in the first grade. We had to
walk from Hospital Street all the way down St. George Street
to Orange Street to this school. The Catholic kids would
pass us--while we would be going one way, they would be
going the other way--and they used to be so mean.
Evidently, they knew who I was. There is a narrow sidewalk
on St. George Street right past the Catholic church, and one
day one of the Catholic boys threw me off the sidewalk and
said, "Do not dare walk on this sidewalk. You are a Jew!"
And he slammed me in the street. We did not have a lot of
that, but we did know that we were Jews and that we had to
watch our p's and q's.
P: Enough of it so that you remembered it.
S: We were reminded. However, there is something else I will
never forget. I took music at the Catholic school when I
was already grown up, and my teacher was little Sister
Vencentia. I told her about it, and she said, "Please do
not blame all Catholics for one boy who was just mean."
P: Did you have any consciousness growing up that you were
living in a historic city?
S: Yes. I loved history, so of course I enjoyed it. I must
tell you, now that you mentioned it, that the fort [Castillo
de San Marcos] was one of the big attractions in St.
Augustine for the tourists, so we had tourists in my hotel.
They would go to the fort and see the other attractions in
St. Augustine, and they would always insist on my going with
them because I could tour them around the whole fort. I had
been there so many times I did not need the tour guide, so I
would be their tour guide. I would take them all through
it. Captain Smith was the guide there, and he used to get
so angry because I would take them. Naturally, they did not
have to pay him because I would take them.
P: They were guests at the hotel?
P: Now, as a young Jewish girl, did you have girl friends?
S: Yes. There was Annie Ross (Payne), Ida Fagan, Sarah
Tarlinsky, and Mary Friedman. That was it.
P: Was your family a very Jewish-oriented family?
S: Oh, yes, strictly kosher.
P: How did they get kosher food in St. Augustine?
S: I guess the best part of my growing up (until we owned a car
to drive to Jacksonville) was we did not have anything to
eat in the meat line except for chicken. Mr. Tarlinsky had
learned to kill kosher chickens, so we used to take live
chickens to his house for him to kill. Then we would take
them home and clean and kosher them. That was the only meat
we had for the first years of my growing up.
Once in a while, when a Jewish family would go to
Jacksonville on the train and go to Safer's Market--Safer
had a kosher market there--they would come back with a piece
of meat from Safer's Market. They could do it only in the
wintertime when it was cold, because in the summer it would
spoil before they would get back on the train because it was
so hot. We did not get any more meat until we started with
P: What about the holidays? You walked to the synagogue where
you went to services.
S: We only had that place on Washington and Bridge.
P: Which was not very far away from where you were living.
S: Well, we lived on Hospital Street. We all walked; we did
P: So you grew up in a strong Jewish tradition.
P: And that was true of the Jewish families in St. Augustine?
S: Absolutely. No one was allowed to interdate, certainly not
intermarry. That would have been the disgrace of disgraces.
We never dated a gentile boy; we were not allowed to.
P: Did businesses close for the holidays?
S: Yes, everything closed. Even the Lews, who were the wealthy
people in St. Augustine, always closed their store on the
P: But not on Shabbat?
S: No, just on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
P: What did you do about the other holidays? Did these
families get together for Sukkot, Hanukkah, and so on?
S: I cannot remember that. I do not think we ever did. We
celebrated them in my own home, but never with any
congregational kind of activity.
P: Between the time that the congregation was formed in 1908
until you got a synagogue in 1924, I was wondering what if
anything happened in the in-between years that you can
S: In the in-between years, before our schochet Mr. Max
Jaffe's father came to St. Augustine, we had several
schochets who came to the community. They were schochets,
P: A schochet was a person who could butcher the kosher meat
S: I would say we had maybe three or four different schochets
who came between Jaffe and the rabbi when we had the
synagogue opened. I guess it was probably from around 1910
that we would have the schochets. He would go out to the
country and kill a cow for Chauvin's Market. He would take
those schochet out in the country and kill the cows, and
they would bring it back to the store. Then one morning the
schochet would come to his market, take that front part of
the cow, get a separate area where he would cut everything
up, and he would put all the chuck in one place and all the
different cuts in the different places. If Mrs. Friedman
wanted five pounds of meat, he would take a piece of this
and a piece of that and wrap it up. That was your meat.
Then you did not get any more meat until the schochet killed
again, which was probably a week later. But he would kill
chickens at your house. He would come to your house and
kill chickens. He also taught the boys for bar mitzvah.
P: So as a result, your diet at least broadened a little bit
when the schochets appeared on the scene.
S: Yes. I cannot remember that part of it, but there were not
many years that we had to rely on the schochets. I remember
my brothers Max and Abe had to go to Hebrew school. They
must have started when they were ten or something like that,
because they were both bar mitzvahed.
P: In St. Augustine?
S: In St. Augustine.
P: When you needed a rabbi for a funeral or a wedding, where
did the rabbi come from?
S: The only thing we needed a rabbi for was for a mohel when a
baby boy was born, and they would get Rabbi Safer from
P: Who conducted the wedding ceremonies?
S: They probably got somebody from Jacksonville. I am trying
to remember the weddings--there were so few.
P: And so few bar mitzvahs.
P: When your two brothers were bar mitzvahed, that was before
you had a synagogue, so presumably they were bar mitzvahed
in the makeshift synagogue upstairs from the Tarlinskys.
S: Evidently, because that is where they kept the Torah.
P: When did St. Augustine get its first rabbi? Was that
S: When I got married on May 2, 1926, there was a rabbi.
P: There was a rabbi in St. Augustine?
S: Yes, but I cannot remember what his name is now.
P: Let us go back a little bit. Do you remember anything about
any celebrities coming into St. Augustine? The presence of
the Ponce de Leon Hotel attracted a lot of people. Minnie
Marx, of course.
S: She was not a celebrity at that time because Groucho was on
the stage, but there were wealthy people who came to the
Ponce de Leon.
P: There are two people that I remember my mother telling me
about. One was the movie star, Theda Bara.
S: Theda Bara was there.
P: She was the one who planted a tree in the plaza, and there
was a ceremony associated with that.
S: She was making a movie in St. Augustine, and they were
looking for extras. They asked my mother for me to be an
extra, and Mama said yes, so I stayed out of school that day
and went down there. Unfortunately, they could not do the
picture that day because the weather was not good, and they
postponed it for the next day. Well, that next day my
mother said, "You do not have to be in the movies. You go
to school." That was the end of my movie career.
P: Warren G. Harding also came.
S: Oh, I was just going to tell you about that. Warren G.
Harding and one other president came. My brother Max, at
that time, did photography, and he used to take pictures.
Harding and I think there was another president who came to
P: Calvin Coolidge, perhaps?
S: No, I do not think so; I cannot remember. But my brother
Max used to take pictures for the Ponce. He would go to the
golf course--that is usually where they were--and take
P: Warren G. Harding came a couple of times and stayed at the
Ponce de Leon Hotel. He played golf, so I presume he was
photographed there by your brother. I wish we could find
some of those photographs.
S: I wish we could, too. I do not know where they are. In
other words, he made a living out of it. He was a moving
picture operator to begin with, and then he went into
photography. He was in photography until he went back to
P: What kind of role did your father play in the Jewish
S: Well, my father was president of the congregation for so
many years he ran the congregation; that is all I can tell
you. He picked out the lot for the synagogue. He and Isaac
spent more time taking care of synagogue work then they did
their own businesses.
P: So your mother had to be the business lady of the family.
S: Right, exactly. My father spent more time at the cemetery.
I am telling you, he would close the store to go take care
of things at the cemetery. Also, when they were planning
the synagogue, they spent more time with the plans than with
P: How did your family make a living after they got out of the
hotel business at the Chautauqua Hotel?
S: My mother--I say my mother, but it was really mother and
father--bought this house that I told you I lived in. It
had been a plumbing shop at one time.
P: Tell me again where that house was.
S: That was at 57 St. George Street. She also bought the
building next to it, which had two stores on the lower level
and rooms upstairs. She rented the stores, and she rented
upstairs rooms in the house where we lived, too, because it
was a big house that had two stories. That is how they made
P: It sounds to me like they were pretty well off if they were
able to buy two properties on St. George Street.
S: Well, that was after the hotel. They did well in the hotel.
P: I see. They made money in the hotel, and then they invested
in the property. So she continues, then, running what
amounts to a rooming house hotel. What was the name of it?
S: We did not have a name. It was just rooms upstairs and
rooms in our house. We just rented rooms.
P: You just rented them out like that?
S: Yes. It was not a hotel.
P: And you were referred to by somebody who knew that you had
S: Yes. It was usually rented to people who worked, not
tourists. These were not tourists. They were people who
worked in the city.
P: I see. So they were there for a long period of time. And
your mother was responsible, then, for taking care of the
rooms and collecting the rent.
S: Right. Some of them had light housekeeping where they had a
little stove in there. The rooms were set up so there would
be like two rooms, one of which was made into a kitchen, and
the other was a bedroom. It was for local people, not
P: Was there anyone in your family or, as far ar you know, any
member of the Jewish community who played a political role
in the community in those years?
S: No, not that I remember. Not in my early years. Later on,
a few of them did.
P: But not in the earliest years. Certainly not until the
1930s and 1940s.
S: I must tell you something that I am very proud of. I worked
for Victor Chauvin; his wife's father was Sheriff Boyce of
the county. He knew all the Jews who were in St. Augustine.
In all the years that I was living there, a Jew never spent
a night in jail. Usually, the prisoners were bums or hobos.
Most of them were hobos.
P: Snowbirds, my father used to call them.
S: Well, he would arrest them. They would be taking free rides
on the train or something like that. But as soon as the
sheriff would hear that it was a Jewish fellow, he would go
to my father, Mr. Eff, Mr. Tarlinsky, or any of the Jews who
were there and tell them, "I have one of yours in jail."
Right away they would get together and collect the money
they needed to take them out. Then they would buy a him a
ticket to go to Daytona.
P: Send him on to the next stop!
S: They were very proud to say that a Jew never spent a night
in the jail and was not a burden to the community, because
they would send them on.
P: In terms of my own family, we know that the Mehlmans were
the first to arrive.
S: Yes, of your family.
P: David Mehlman and Sarah Snyder Mehlman arrived. They were
married in Baltimore before they came to St. Augustine, and
you think, based upon your own recollection, that they were
already living there in 1904?
S: They had to be. They had to have moved to St. Augustine
before 1908, because we did not get there until 1907.
P: I see. So they preceded you. The fact that David Mehlman
and Abe Snyder are on the list as charter members of the
synagogue when it was incorporated in December 1908 means
that they had to have come in 1908 or earlier.
S: That is right.
P: Tell me about them. What did they look like, and what did
they do, as you recollect it?
S: They were very quiet people is all I can remember. Mrs.
Mehlman was very sweet. Mr. Mehlman was ornery.
P; By ornery, what do you mean?
S: Well, when the men would get together, he never agreed with
anybody. He was a very good fellow, but ornery. If there
was an argument come up, he would always take the opposite.
A lot of the men would come to our house or our hotel--
usually it was the hotel--and have meetings there and things
like that. And if there was any discussion, your great-
uncle was at the head of the discussion.
P: Would you say that the Chautauqua Hotel, after your folks
took it over, became in a way the social center of the
S: Well, we had a lot of friends who used to come up. The
Fagans used to come up at least two or three times a week.
My mother had to be in the hotel all the time, so they could
not go anywhere. All the Jews who visited came to the hotel
because they knew my mother would be home.
Let me tell you something. When there was a simcha in St.
Augustine, everybody was there, and everybody helped. In
other words, it was not separate families--it was one
family. If we had a wedding, everybody was invited. If we
had a funeral, everybody was there. If we had any kind of
bris or bar mitzvah, everybody was invited. Not only was
everybody invited, but the women would go over to wherever
the thing was being held and help prepare the food for
everybody. It was not like "this is my family" or "that is
my family." We were one family.
P: One big family.
S: One big family.
P: You had to stick together because there were so few Jewish
families in the community at the time.
S: Absolutely. We were all together.
P: Now, the Mehlmans come first, and they are followed then by
the Fagans, Abraham and Lena Fagan, who come in around 1911
or 1912. When they arrived, they already had four children:
Ida, Joe, Molly, and Manny. Two of their children, Sam
Fagan and Rachel Fagan, now known as Rae Edelstein, were
born in St. Augustine. They were twins.
S: They came from Baltimore.
P: They came from Baltimore, and they came as children to St.
S: Yes. I am trying to remember what grade I was in. I must
have been in third grade. Joe was in my class.
P: I see. He was your age, then.
S: Yes. In fact, he and I are the same age. I think his
birthday is in September. Ida's is October, a year earlier.
P: So Ida is the oldest in the family.
S: Ida is a year older than I am.
P: And Joe and Manny came later. So if you were in the third
grade and Joe was in the third grade, then Ida would have
been in the fourth grade.
S: We were in school together until I was in the eighth grade.
Joe and Ida moved to Jacksonville when I was in the eighth
P: Now, they lived, as far as you can remember, immediately on
S: Yes. I think the Mehlmans had probably rented that house
when they came down, because they moved right into that
P: Do you remember their saloon?
S: Yes. It was on Washington Street.
P: The same block as the Mehlman's pawn shop.
S: Yes, on the same side. He was in there for a relatively
P: For several years, until Florida went dry, which was before
the Eighteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution.
S: Then he went into the dry goods business.
P: Yes, in Jacksonville. I think before he came to St.
Augustine, Abraham Fagan had been a tailor, but he came to
St. Augustine as a saloon keeper.
S: That is right. Mr. Mehlman had made the arrangements,
because that was a saloon before he came in.
P: It was already a saloon, so through some cooperation, they
bought or rented or whatever it was. And you and Ida Fagan
became very good friends.
S: We were like sisters.
P: She was the closest Jewish girl in St. Augustine?
S: She and Annie Ross. Annie Ross married a Payne. There were
four Jewish children in my class: Annie Ross, Isadore Gamse,
Joe Fagan, and myself. We were in the same class, all
through and through.
P: Was Annie Payne the mother of Morton Payne? Morton is
married to my cousin Sylvia Spevak [Payne].
S: Morton's mother was my friend. Morton's mother married when
she was sixteen years old in 1917.
P: My mother was married in 1918, which is not very long after
S: No. That is right.
P: Tell me about the Fagan family. You were probably closer to
them than you were the Mehlmans because of Ida and Joe.
S: That is right. I spent so many nights there I cannot even
P: Try to describe Abraham Fagan to me.
S: He was a very nice gentleman. He was a man of very few
words; he was not a very talkative person. But he was very
nice. That is all I can tell you about him.
P: He was short and dark.
S: Oh, yes, he was not tall at all. If anything, he was an
introvert rather than an extrovert. Mrs. Fagan was more
outgoing than he was. I know my parents were crazy about
them, and they felt that the Fagans were their best friends
in St. Augustine.
P: So they socialized together and played cards together?
S: Oh, yes. He liked to play cards, and my mother and father
both liked to play cards.
P: What kinds of card games did they play?
S: They never played for money. They only played for fun.
Usually it was pinochle.
P: Or casino?
S: Or casino.
P: Did they have regular card games?
S: They would come to the hotel, and that is where they would
play cards. We had a lobby where guests would sit and play
cards. From the time I was eleven till I was sixteen, I
could play any card game you could mention. When I was in
there, I would play the piano for them, and I would take
them to the fort. I was the social director of the hotel
from the time I was eleven until I was sixteen. Oftentimes
there would be some people who wanted to play bridge and
needed an extra hand, so they taught me to play bridge.
Then there would be some people who wanted to play hearts
and needed an extra hand so they taught me how to play
hearts. I would fill in wherever; I had to learn all these
games because they always needed a fill-in.
I must tell you something cute. We had a salesman who used
to come to our hotel about once a month. He used to travel
the state. On this certain day he would be in St. Augustine
to do his work, and we would reserve this room for him. He
would come winter and summer. It was not like he was a
tourist. He was a salesman on the road. Well, he liked to
play cribbage. Nobody knew how to play cribbage, so he
taught me to play cribbage. The night he came, I knew I
could not study or go anywhere. I had to stay home to play
cribbage with him.
P: With the salesman.
P: What did you, Ida Fagan, and the other Jewish girls do for
fun when you were growing up?
S: Well, we always got together. We went to the beach
together. There were four boys and four girls. I told you
who the four girls were. Let me tell you the four boys--my
brother Abe, Harry Pinkoson, Isadore Gamse, and Meyer
Tarlinsky. Those were the four boys, and we would pair off.
I would pair off with Isadore, Meyer would pair off with
Annie, Harry would go with Ida, and my brother Abe would go
with Sarah Tarlinsky. That was our eight. When I was
fifteen, I had a birthday party, so the eight people were at
the birthday party. We played kissing games.
P: How did you get to the beach?
S: We had cars by the time I am talking about. When we were
little, we used to go by bicycle. That is when we went to
St. Augustine beach. Most of the time we went to Capo's
Beach. You could only get there by boat, so Capo had a
little ferry. In fact, there were two beaches that you had
to go to by boat. The one farther north was called Usina
Beach, and Capo's was the one that was closer, so we mostly
went to Capo's. We usually went every Sunday. We would get
on this ferry--I guess you would call it a ferry--that would
take us over to the other side of the north beach. Then
there would be a little donkey that would pull a little
wagon through the sand until we got to the ocean. We could
get there by water, by Matanzas Bay, but we had a long
distance to go to the beach. So that is what we used to do
P: So you would spend your Sunday there, taking your lunch,
S: Oh, sure, we took a lunch and our bathing suits. There were
rooms to change, and we would spend the day at the beach.
P: That is what you did in the summertime.
S: We did not even look at the beach in the wintertime.
P: Yes, it was a summer resort throughout there. What else did
you do? Were there movies in St. Augustine yet?
S: Oh, yes. There were two movie theaters. In fact, when I
was thirteen years old, I was a cashier in the Plaza Movie
Theater for a whole summer, and my brother Max was a movie
picture operator. That theater was right across from where
the slave market is, across the street on Cathedral Street.
The other theater was called the Florida Theater, I think.
It was on the west part of Cathedral Street near the Ponce
de Leon. We also had road shows, and they would come to the
Let me tell you something about Max and the road shows. We
used to have road shows that would come in, and, of course,
Max was in the theater all the time. This was before 1915.
One year there were two Jewish boys in the cast of the show,
and he brought them to our house. I told you we always
lived behind a store, so we had the table behind the store.
My father had a cleaning and pressing room where he worked.
They came to our table, and we had a seder. We always had a
seder; we were strictly religious. Maybe the Lews were not,
but I think all the Jews were very kosher and religious.
Well, we had to have the seder early because they had to get
to the theater by 8:00. I will never forget what they said:
"Tonight we are having a Passover seder, and then we will be
dancing with shiksas." That was a funny incident.
P: When did your family get its first automobile?
S: Oh, I must have been about seventeen, so that would have
been probably around 1921.
P: Can you remember whether the Fagans or the Mehlmans had an
S: The Mehlmans did, but the Fagans did not have. The Fagans
had one in Jacksonville, but not St. Augustine.
P: If they came to your parents' hotel, they walked from Bridge
S: Everybody walked.
P: So it was not the least bit unusual to come and spend the
evening and then walk home after.
S: Not at all.
P: What about the Catholic school there? You said there was a
public school, and then you mentioned that you went to the
S: It is still there: St. Joseph's Academy.
P: It was not a public school, then.
S: No. I took my music lessons there, and I took a business
P: Is the public school still in the same location?
S: Yes, on Orange Street. It was built when I was six years
P: That is the school you entered when you started the first
grade, and it is still standing today. But the public
school and St. Joseph's School are two separate schools?
S: Yes. The public school, the one I am talking about on
Orange Street, was the school for the whole community. The
Catholic School, St. Joseph's Academy, was run by nuns. It
was a girls boarding school and a parochial school, and they
catered mostly to the Catholic children. However, they
would take in non-Catholics as boarders, because there were
several girls who were not Catholic that went to this
P: And they also took in non-Catholics to take special courses
S: That is right. Anybody could go there for music.
P: You studied piano?
P: All right. I want to ask you if you remember when my mother
came to St. Augustine.
S: I remember their coming, but please do not pin me down to
when. I always associate your mother with Jacksonville for
some reason. I do remember their coming to the hotel for
their honeymoon, and I do remember when she lived with the
Mehlmans. See, your mother was older than I was, so we did
not have any social contact. But we knew of them. We knew
that Minnie [Spevak] was there, and we knew when Celia
P: Minnie came first, and I am not sure how she met Alexander
S: I have no idea, because I did not associate this.
P: Yes, I understand. He lived in Jacksonville. She was
living with the Mehlmans who had no children of their own.
They later adopted two children. They brought Minnie
Snyder, their niece, down from Baltimore to live with them.
When she got married, she was married in their home in St.
S: The more you talk about it, the more I recall. I seem to
remember that wedding.
P: It was a well-known wedding because it was written up in the
S: Well, the only thing I remember is going to his [the Spivak]
house in Jacksonville, because I remember they broke a plate
for the engagement. I was a young kid then, but that was
impressive to me, and that is why I remember this. I
remember their breaking the plate.
P: It was accidentally broken?
S: No, no. It was a simcha, like the Greeks break plates.
Years ago, when you had an engagement, you broke a plate.
P: It was almost like breaking the glass now under the huppah.
S: Yes, but it is breaking a plate to celebrate the simcha.
P: You went to Jacksonville presumably with your family on the
train, then, for their engagement party?
S: Maybe. I do not even know how we got there, to be honest
with you. What year would that be?
P: That would have been about 1916.
S: I was wondering, because my aunt had one of the first
automobiles, and we might have gone with her. I know she
was the first. We did not have an automobile. I started
driving when I was twelve years old, but I drove my aunt's
car because we did not have any for years after that. So we
could have gone to Jacksonville with them, but my uncle
would have driven. I know I would not have driven to
P: Talking about the Spevak's, Alexander Spevak's brother, Joe
Spevak, was married to one of the Effs. Tell me about all
of that, because that is lost in our records.
S: Well, Tillie lived with her brother, Max [Eff]. Tillie was
a lovely young girl, and Joe was much older when he married
Tillie. The reason I know so much about Tillie is because
my mother could not take me to school when they entered me
in school when I was six years old, and Tillie took me to
school. She was going to school at that time--she was in
the upper grades--and I remember her taking me to register
me in the school because my mother was busy and did not have
time. So I have always had a soft spot in my heart for
Tillie, and I remember her very well. I think she was very
unhappy with her sister-in-law, Max's wife Mamie. She was a
tyrant, and Tillie was very sensitive. (This is really
talking about secrets.) I do not know whether anybody knew
it as well as I did, but Tillie was very unhappy with Mamie
Eff. When Max died later, Mamie married a Rose, so she was
Mamie Rose then. Tillie wanted to get out of the house by
hook or by crook just so she would not have to live with
them any longer. I do not know how she met Joe, but that is
how she got married to Joe.
P: Were they married in St. Augustine?
S: That I do not remember. The only thing I can tell you about
Tillie was that she was not a good-looking girl. She was
tall, skinny, and had buck teeth--but her heart was bigger
than she was.
P: She did not live very long, did she?
S: No. She lived for a very short time in Jacksonville. They
had been married only three or four years when she died.
Sadly, they had no children. I think she died in
childbirth, and the baby died, too.
P: I do not even know where she is buried.
S: She is buried in Jacksonville. She died in Jacksonville; I
know that because I know where they lived. I lived two
doors away from them when I moved back to Jacksonville from
Orlando. Joe still had his house there.
P: Do you recall David Mehlman's business in addition to his
S: Eyeglasses. He used to sell eyeglasses. He was always
trying to fit people. He was not an optometrist, but he was
always trying. If you ever walked in his store, you never
went out without buying something. You could not because he
would not let you. That is what I meant by ornery.
P: He was a salesman.
S: He was. If you wanted to enjoy yourself, you would go into
his store and watch him with his customers. He never let
them out until they bought something.
P: It is my understanding, too, that he operated a small taxi
service and would meet people at the FEC [Florida East Coast
Railway] station because there was no way for the tourists
to get into town.
S: They had to go by carriage.
P: And he owned a couple of the carriages, or rented a couple
of the carriages.
S: If he did, I knew nothing about that.
P: That does not ring a bell at all?
S: No, not one bit.
P: Now, let us go into the list of the people who were in the
community and talk about the businesses they were in. Would
you please identify those people again?
S: Jacob Tarlinsky was in the mercantile business until he sold
it to Morris Pinkoson. Then the Tarlinskys bought an inn.
Mr. and Mrs. Tarlinsky had three daughters, Lena, Florence,
and Sarah, and they bought a place called the Cozy Inn. It
was a hotel on St. George Street. I do not recall the
number, but it was about where the Spanish restaurant [the
Columbia Restaurant] is now, in that area. They bought the
Cozy Inn, and they bought the land, all that land in that
area. They built stores in front of the Cozy Inn and rented
rooms. That is where they finished their lives, in that
P: What happened to their three daughters?
S: The oldest daughter was Lena, and she married somebody named
Benjamin Lichter. He came from New York, and they lived in
New York for a number of years. She moved down here after I
P: One of their sons, Joe, lives in Gainesville.
S: That is right. Joe lives in Gainesville, and two others,
Sidney and Irving, live in St. Augustine. They have a
daughter, Rosalyn Baranovitz, in Atlanta, I think.
Florence, [the second Tarlinsky daughter,] married Israel
Feiden, Mrs. Wolfe's brother. They had a children's shop.
P: Oh, yes, I know who you are talking about.
S: I am so surprised I can remember all this. I do not
remember what I did yesterday.
P: You are doing magnificently well. What about Sarah?
S: The third daughter is Sarah, and she married Lester
Bernstein. Their son still runs the store in St. Augustine.
They lived away from St. Augustine for a short while, and
then they came back. That is their complete family.
P: That is the Tarlinskys.
S: Yes. Max Eff and his wife Mamie had no children. I think
Max Eff had a shoe repair place on St. George Street. His
sister, Tillie, lived with him until she got married to a
Spevak. When Max Eff died, Mamie married Max Rose, a
salesman on the road, and they opened a department store on
the corner of Washington and Grenada. Then she died, and he
was left with the department store. What happened to him I
do not know. That is really going back.
Arthur Pinkoson was married to Mr. Tarlinsky's sister, and
they had three sons and one daughter, Libbie, who lived in
St. Augustine. Libbie married Max Jaffe. The three boys
moved away. One moved to Boston, one moved to Chicago, and
one was killed in the First World War. He was an aviator
and was killed in that war. That takes care of that family.
I cannot tell you anything about J. A. Lew except that Mrs.
Lew's sister lived in Tampa.
P: Was Mrs. Lew related to Mr. Tarlinsky?
S: No, they were not related at all. The Lews were not related
to anybody in St. Augustine. They had no children. In
later years, she had a nephew who came down and went in the
business with them in the men's department when they opened
the store on King Street. But she had no children, and she
died without any relatives.
I cannot tell you anything about A. S. Garfin because
shortly after we moved to St. Augustine they moved to
Jacksonville or to Fernandina. At any rate, they did not
live in St. Augustine very long. They had no children,
Mr. Botkowsky had two daughters. The oldest daughter,
Rebecca, worked at the St. Augustine Record; she was one of
the editors there. She also had a prominent job with the
St. Augustine Evening Record. He had two sons, but I do not
know what happened to them. They went away. He also had
another daughter who married and moved out of town. Dave
Price came after us. Now, I am talking about the people who
were there while I was there.
Mr. Nathan Surasky also moved to Jacksonville shortly after
we moved to St. Augustine.
P: What business were the Suraskys in?
S: I do not know, because they moved immediately. They had
been there maybe a year when I was four or five years old,
and they moved away before I even remember them. David
Gerstel was my uncle. He and his wife Ida had no children.
P: What business was he in?
S: They were in the hotel business.
P: Oh, you told me about them. We talked about them earlier.
S: So that is it. Those are the ones who were here when we
came. Of course, more people came after that. The Rosses
came right after we were here. We were here for two years,
I think, when they came. I think they may have come in
P: Now, I have heard about a Mr. Snyder who was in the cattle
business. Tell me about him.
S: That is Mr. S. A. Snyder. He and Mr. Ross both came from
Europe, from the same area in Russia, and they came to
Fernandina from Russia to work for the Garfins.
P: The Garfins had a business in Fernandina?
S: Yes. But they were very unhappy there, so both of them,
before their families came, moved to St. Augustine. Mr.
Ross opened an ice cream parlor where he made and served ice
cream. It was like a candy or confectionery store. Mr.
Snyder went into the grocery business. In later years he
went into the cattle business and became quite wealthy. He
had a very large grocery store, and he had a big ranch with
quite a few cattle. He was a big cattle man.
Mr. Ross had three daughters and two sons. The two sons
moved away. One son was born blind, and the other son moved
up to Philadelphia. The three daughters were in St.
Augustine. Annie [Ross] Payne is one of the daughters, and
she lives in Palatka. Jennie Feigenbaum was Rosalie Gold's
mother, and they lived in St. Augustine. So did the
P: Tell me again who their mother and father were.
S: Jacob Ross was their father. I do not recall who their
P: Did the Snyders have any children?
S: Let me tell you about the Snyders. Mrs. Snyder came later,
and I think all her children were born in St. Augustine.
The only child who was born in St. Augustine to the Rosses
was the youngest one, and he was born blind. The Snyders
had Harry, Aaron, Mamie, and Rita. You know Rita Kass in
St. Augustine. She is one of the Snyders.
P: She is a daughter.
S: Yes. Mamie got married, but she never lived with her
husband. She is still living in St. Augustine. Harry died,
and Aaron just died. So that was the four children that the
P: And there were no sons, so there are no descendants to carry
on the family name. Did Harry have children?
S: That I do not know, because he moved away. Aaron did not
ever get married.
P: I was just wondering if there were any Snyder names still
S: No, not that I know of.
S: Rita would be the only one who had an offspring, because
Mamie never had any children, either.
P: I want to go back and ask you a question I should have asked
you earlier. When you moved with your family from Newark to
St. Augustine, how did you travel? Did you come by train?
S: By train.
P: The train came in to St. Augustine.
S: Yes. In fact, we had to change in Jacksonville. We had to
get off one train and get on another.
P: Can you recall how long that trip took?
S: I do not know how long that one took. But I can tell you
this. When I was six years old, I had some kind of blood
condition, and the doctor said that my mother should send me
up North because I could not stand the climate in the South
during the summer. So as soon as school closed, my mother
would send me up to New York, and I spent the whole summer
in New York from the time I was six until I was grown.
P: Whom did you spend the summers with?
S: With my aunt up there. I have a lot of relatives up there.
P: So you went up by train.
S: I was going to tell you that I would go up by train. We
would get on the train one morning and get to New York the
next evening, so that would be about thirty hours.
P: It was a long, hard trip in those days.
P: But probably exciting for a young girl.
S: Well, yes. One year I went up by ship. I went up by Clyde
P: Out of Jacksonville?
S: Yes. But that is when I was a little older.
P: I remember my father's saying that he would come to St.
Augustine. He obviously had some friends in St. Augustine
while he was still single, and he would play cards also at
S: That must have been my uncle's hotel, because all of them
played cards at my uncle's hotel. I do not think it was at
our hotel, but my uncle had a headquarters for all the
gamblers. They were all in his crowd.
P: And my father would have been included.
S: How do you think I learned to drive a car? Because my uncle
started playing cards early. They should have Atlantic City
or Las Vegas at my uncle's hotel, because there was a game
going on almost twenty-four hours a day, and most of the
time he would play. Well, my aunt would want to go out for
a ride, so he taught me how to drive so I could take my aunt
out for a drive. Anyway, if your daddy played cards, it had
to be at my uncle's house.
P: Maybe I should not put this on the tape, but my mother
claimed that is how she got an engagement ring--he won it in
a card game.
S: It had to have been at my uncle's house.
P: My mother claimed that that is how she got an engagement
ring: he won it in a card game! And she let him know about
that several times during his lifetime--more than once.
S: Well, I will tell you, there was no gambling at the
Chautauqua Hotel. I told you I knew every game, but we
never played for money at all. It was just for sport.
P: Any gamblers you sent to the next hotel.
S: But if you wanted to gamble, you went to my uncle's hotel.
P: My Uncle Mehlman, David Mehlman, owned a building on St.
George Street, but I do not know where it was.
S: That was later years, and I really do not know where it was.
P: Nobody seems to be able to identify that for me.
S: I could not tell you.
P: Do you remember the First World War period?
S: Oh, sure. We were in the Chautauqua Hotel. We moved in
when I was eleven.
P: You were born in 1904, so that would be 1915.
S: That is when we moved into the hotel, and we were there for
P: 1915 to 1920.
S: Right. So we were in the hotel when the war was over. I
remember that Chauvin, the sheriff's son-in-law whom I
worked for, was dead drunk, and he was riding on a horse.
They were parading down King Street, and we were standing on
the porch and looking at the parade. This was when the war
was over, so I remember the war very well.
P: This would have been November 1918.
S: That is right.
P: Now, my mother and father were married in May of 1918.
S: We would have still been in the Chautauqua Hotel.
P: They were married in my aunt's house in Jacksonville on
Beaver Street. Now, you remember the Spevak engagement
party. Do you remember anything about that wedding?
S: No. I may not have been there.
P: You have no recollection of that at all?
S: No, I do not.
P: By the time they were married, the Fagans had moved to
P: So they were living in Jacksonville by the spring of 1918.
S: Yes, because, as I told you, Joe left for Jacksonville when
I was in the eighth grade. I was twelve years old.
P: That would have been 1916, then.
S: That is right. That is when they moved to Jacksonville.
P: I want to ask you about my great-grandmother, Etta
Schneider, who lived in St. Augustine off and on with her
S: She lived with Mrs. Mehlman. She never lived with Mrs.
Fagan. She had her room at the Mehlman's. I can even see
the room that she lived in.
P: It was a two-story house.
P: You knew her as a child knows an older person?
S: Oh, yes. I loved her, and she liked me, too. I was at the
Fagan's so much, and I always would go in to see her, so I
knew her very well.
P: Did she speak English that was recognizable?
S: Yes. But if she spoke Yiddish, it did not make any
difference because my mother spoke Yiddish to us more than
P: So it was a second language for you.
S: Yes. It was normal for her to speak Yiddish, but she spoke
P: What did she look like? Describe her as you remember her.
S: Exactly the way that picture is.
P: But describe her from your memory.
S: She was a little gray-haired lady, not tall, a short lady.
Now, she could have shrunk with age. To me, she was an old
lady, but today I would say she must have been a young lady.
P: Did she have white hair?
S: Oh, yes, all white hair. And she was just the sweetest
thing you ever met.
P: I understand that she dressed well.
S: Oh, she was immaculate. I never saw her when she was
disarrayed. Her hair was perfect.
P: In the picture that we have of her, she is wearing a white
S: Well, that was what a lot of women wore at that time. My
mother did, too. Those blouses had a high neck.
P: And she is wearing a dark skirt. That was the way she was.
S: Yes, always.
P: Then she later lived in Jacksonville with the family. Do
you have any recollection of that?
S: I do not remember that part of it. I just remember her
living there and my going to visit. You see, when Ida lived
next door, I would go over to see her. She would go over to
see her grandmother, and I would go, too. That is how I got
so well acquainted with her. But after they moved to
Jacksonville, I used to visit with Ida, but I never visited
with the Mehlmans because they lived further out. They did
not live where Ida lived.
P: Where did Ida live?
S: When they first moved, they lived in a little house on
Monroe Street. It is still there on Monroe and Jefferson.
They lived there for a couple of years or so, and then they
moved out to Oak Street, 1230 Oak Street.
P: And you visited them at their 1230 Oak Street home?
S: Oh, I have. Until I got married, Ida and I were very close.
She was my maid of honor when I got married.
P: Do you recall an uncle of theirs by the name of Harry Fagan?
Does that name ring a bell?
S: No. I did not know any of Mr. Fagan's family.
P: He lived for a while with them in St. Augustine.
S: No. If he was there, I do not remember him at all.
P: What did Ida Fagan do after she moved to Jacksonville?
S: Well, she was still in school, so she finished high school.
P: She was in the ninth grade, then, if Joe was in the eighth
S: That is right. She was in the ninth grade, and she went
through high school. Then she took a business course
because she started working at 666. That building was just
P: The Roberts Building.
S: Is that what it is called, the Roberts Building?
P: Well, the Thurston Roberts family owned it, and they made
the patent medicine 666.
S: You remember the building. The Fagans had a wholesale
grocery there, and Ida worked there. That was where she
worked until she got married.
P: They call her now Idy, rather than Ida.
S: She was Idy even when she was little. I never called her
Idy. I always called her Ida, but the kids when they were
small called her Idy.
P: Tell me who you married.
S: Max Safer. He was the third child of Rabbi Safer.
P: How did you two meet?
S: A friend of mine from Jacksonville had mistakenly brought
something that belonged to somebody else. It was a holiday,
Rosh Hashanah, and she was going to West Palm Beach. She
had to send it down to Miami. Well, the only thing she
could think of was to stop at my house. See, in those days,
the road went right through St. George Street when you came
from Jacksonville. That was the highway; Dixie Highway ran
through St. George Street. So she stopped at my house and
left this package. She called up Makey Safer because she
knew he was going to Miami, and she asked him if he would
stop at Mary Friedman's house--she told him where it was--to
pick up this package and take it to Miami. So he came to my
house to pick up the package. He arrived about 5:00 and
left about 12:00.
P: You called him Makey Safer.
S: That was a nickname that all the family has always used.
His name is Max, Max J. Safer.
P: What does the J stand for?
P: Max Jacob Safer, but they called him Makey.
S: That is right.
P: So you two met at that point and began going together.
S: Well, he went to Miami, and we started writing. When he got
there, that evening he wrote me a letter, and I answered it.
We had three dates, and then we got married.
P: You were married when?
S: May 2, 1926.
S: The synagogue in St. Augustine. I was the second one to get
married in the synagogue.
P: When was this synagogue built?
S: Well, I was married in 1926, so it had to have been built in
1924 or 1925. I think it was 1924, because Florence
Tarlinsky Feiden was the first person to get married in the
synagogue, and I was the second.
P: I want you to tell me about your wedding.
S: Please do not ask.
P: I want the story of the lady from Hastings and of your
mother's insistence that everybody come in.
S: I do not want to tell that story. [laughter]
P: I will have to tell it on the tape myself.
S: I will tell you that my father-in-law ran the kosher meat
market in Jacksonville, and the Jewish people around were
his customers. When I sent the invitations out, I had to
send an invitation to every one of his customers in
Jacksonville and to every Jew in St. Augustine.
P: And the surrounding area.
S: And the surrounding area. We had room enough for about 50
or 75 people in the synagogue, and we had about 400 people!
P: It is not a large synagogue.
S: I cannot even tell you whatever happened to the wedding.
P: It is all a blur.
S: I do not even want to think about it.
P: Where was the reception?
S: Oh, that is part of the story. We had no place to take care
of these people, so we rented the 20th Century Restaurant.
We went to the hardware store and rented all the dishes and
all the pots. All the Jewish women in St. Augustine came to
my aunt's place and did all the cooking for the wedding for
about 400 people. Well, they could not get 400 people in
the restaurant--it could hold 200 people--so we had to have
two shifts of wedding dinner. Half of the people ate and
then had to leave so the other half could get in the
building to have their wedding dinner. From there we had to
go to the (I do not remember the name of the place on Bay
Street) for the reception, but even it could not hold all
the people, so they all went home.
P: I hope nobody went home mad.
S: If they did, it was not our fault. [laughter]
P: Tell me about the Safer family. That name appears in the
historical records a great deal. Identify Benjamin Safer
S: Do you have enough time?
P: When did they arrive in Jacksonville, and from where?
S: His papa came to Jacksonville in 1902, I think it was, and
Mama came in 1903. His wife came with the children. They
had four children. Eddy was the baby, Makey was next, Jake
was next, and Bluma was the oldest. She ended up with
twelve children. [The others were Doll, Ida, Pearl, Perry,
Israel, Abba, Joe, and David.]
P: He came to minister to the Orthodox congregation?
S: That is right. He was the schochet, he was the morial, he
was the rabbi.
P: But he was not an ordained rabbi.
S: No, he was the schochet. He did the duty not only for
Jacksonville, but for all the surrounding areas of Georgia
P: He became kind of a legend.
S: Right. He even went as far as Miami for a bris, and he
would go into Georgia--not to Atlanta or Savannah, but all
the Georgia cities that were close to Jacksonville. He
would go there to perform brises or weddings.
P: He married my mother and father.
S: Yes, that is what I was going to say. He did everything.
P: I suspect he was probably, for his time, the best-known Jew
in north Florida.
S: That is right. He was; he definitely was. He serviced the
P: The Safer family, then, became in many ways the best-known
Jewish family in Jacksonville.
S: All his brothers--he had four brothers and two sisters--all
came to Jacksonville, and they all settled in Jacksonville.
One sister married a Wittens, and the other a Falis.
P: Where did they come from?
S: From Lithuania.
P: They came directly to Jacksonville?
S: No. Some of his brothers went to Africa, and from Africa
they came to Jacksonville.
P: One of his brothers, Jake Safer, lived and prospered in
Jacksonville. His daughter, Celia, became my aunt by
marriage to my uncle, David Snyder. But that was not
unusual for the Jewish families to intermarry at that time.
S: Well, they would never intermarry with gentiles. Do you know
Joe P. Safer? Well, his father married his niece.
P: I see. So you were a part of the Safer family, a close
member, obviously, of the Safer family. Where did you go on
S: We went to New York and Miami.
P: That was kind of a big operation, then.
S: Right. First we went to Miami and spent a week down there,
and then we took the Clyde Line and went to New York for a
P: My mother and father came to St. Augustine on their
honeymoon. My mother said my father was the last of the big
S: Right. I remember her saying that. I can hear her saying
P: Where did you live when you got married?
S: When I got married we lived with my mother-in-law.
P: In Jacksonville?
S: Yes. That was for just a few months. Then we rented a
house on West 6th Street. I rented an "apartment," but we
were there for only a few months when we bought a business
in Orlando. Then I lived in Orlando for twelve years. That
was where my son was born.
P: What was your business?
S: Meat market and grocery.
P: Tell me who your children are.
S: We had only my son, Edwin Safer.
P: Does he have a middle name?
S: Edwin David Safer.
P: When was he born?
S: In 1929.
P: Where is Edwin now? Tell me about him and his family.
S: Well, he is teaching now at FCCJ [Florida Community College
P: What was his profession?
S: He was a veterinarian, but he is not practicing. He is
P: Where did he go to school?
S: We went to the University of Florida. He also attended the
community college at Savannah, Georgia. I cannot think of
the name of it right now. He also went to Auburn
[University in Auburn, Alabama], and he went to the
University of Georgia for a while.
P: Where did he get his veterinary degree?
S: Auburn. He went to about eight schools. I cannot mention
all of them.
P: I know. But he became a well-educated man as a result.
S: First he went in for farming. What did he call it? Farming
is the name for it. Remember, I only had an eighth-grade
education, so if I do not do very well in grammar, you will
P: You are doing very well. Now, Edwin got married?
S: Yes. He married Harriet Tanner, a girl from Fort Myers, and
they had two children. The two children are married. One
lives in Pennsylvania, and the other lives in Atlanta.
P: Give me their names.
S: Marsha is one, and she is married and is living in
Pennsylvania. Steven is married and lives in Atlanta, and
they are expecting in December.
P: Do you have great-grandchildren?
S: Two--a little boy, Joshua, and a little girl, Hether.
P: How long did you live in Orlando?
S: Twelve years.
P: And then?
S: We moved back to Jacksonville and went into a kosher meat
P: When was that?
S: Edwin was eight years old, and he was born in 1929, so that
would have been 1937.
P: Right in the middle of the Depression.
S: Right. We were still in Orlando during the Depression, and
we came back right afterwards.
P: Even though it was still part of the aftermath of the
Depression. Nobody had gotten very rich during those years.
What have been your continuing connections, after you were
married, with St. Augustine?
S: Well, my brother, Abe, lived in St. Augustine. He worked
for the commercial bank for a while. I do not know the name
of it. He had a daughter in St. Augustine. They lived in
St. Augustine until after my niece was married--until he
died, in fact. He died in St. Augustine.
P: Your mother and father continued to live in St. Augustine
the rest of their lives?
S: Yes. They are buried in the cemetery.
P: When did they die?
S: Edwin was five years old. Father died in 1934, and Mother
P: They are both buried in the Jewish cemetery in St.
S: My aunt, my uncle, my mother, my father--all in one row.
P: One of the earliest burials there was my great-uncle, Abe
Schneider, who was killed in March of 1911. That cemetery
had not been used up until that time.
S: I think they bought it at that time or within that time.
P: Now, I understand that an early grave had been discovered
there, that a Jewish person had died there earlier. The
newspapers in 1911 said that the remains date back to about
the time of the Civil War.
S: Right. They said that it was a soldier in the Civil War.
It had a Mogen Dovid on the stone in the goyisha cemetery.
When they opened the [Jewish] cemetery, they moved that
casket into the Jewish cemetery.
P: Now, the newspaper reports suggest that it had been a Jewish
burial place earlier and had been "reclaimed by the Jewish
S: It was that one body. There was nobody else that they knew
of buried there except this one Jewish body. They moved
the grave. There is a gravestone in our cemetery with his
name on it.
P: Well, when my uncle was buried there, he was the very first
to be buried in the Jewish section.
S: He was actually the first to be buried there, and then they
moved this body that had been dead out of the goyisha
P: Where were Jewish people buried up until then? Were there
no deaths here?
S: Probably there were none. All those people were young when
they came to St. Augustine.
P: Or if they were, they may have been buried in Jacksonville.
S: Possibly. They would have to have taken them on the train
to bury them in Jacksonville.
P: Well, there was a cemetery in Jacksonville dating to 1857.
S: I do not know beyond Tarlinskys; they are the ones who I
knew first. I do not think there was anybody Jewish in St.
Augustine before that, and there were no deaths during that
P: I see. So let us presume that the Tarlinskys came at the
end of the 1890s or during the first decade of the twentieth
century, and that presumably there were no Jewish deaths
until Abe Schneider was interred there.
S: That is right. As far as we know, there were none.
P: All right. Let us talk about the development and
construction of this synagogue building. How did it come
about? It was constructed in 1924. Where did the lot come
from, and where did the money come from?
S: From our congregation. What you see right here contributed
P: It was not a rich congregation at all.
S: No, but Mrs. Lew was very wealthy, and Mrs. Tarlinsky was
P: You think they bought the lot?
S: Oh, yes.
P: It was not given to them as a gift?
S: Oh, no, they bought it. The Weinsteins were very
influential, and they were quite generous in contributing.
This is Arthur Pinkoson right here. The Jewish people were
really very warm and very close, and they were always
P: So this was a matter of theoretically "passing the hat."
S: Mr. S. A. Snyder was very comfortably fixed, too, so there
were enough individuals who were comfortably fixed.
P: Individuals who gave money for the congregation. Then
presumably they took on a mortgage, which was paid for over
S: Yes, of course. But it was just strictly the congregation
that bought it.
P: There was no non-Jewish support, as far as you know, for
S: I am sure there was not.
P: This was a locally built synagogue.
S: Yes, as far as I know. I do not remember much about it. I
do remember that my father put a lot of hours in it.
P: When I was in St. Augustine around two or three weeks ago
and walking around the synagogue, it looked to me as though
there had been an addition onto the back of it.
S: There has. The Weinsteins added all that.
P: Was that for a school for the children?
S: Yes. They did not have anything like that before. They
only built that building. It had a mikveh in it which they
do not have now. I understand they have taken that away.
It was strictly Orthodox. They had the beema in the middle.
P: And there was separate seating for the women?
S: Women were upstairs, and men were downstairs.
P: So there was a balcony.
S: Yes, there was a balcony, and the women were upstairs and
the men were downstairs. There was no place like a school
for children. Maybe in the back room they may have had a
little place for that.
P: At this time, in 1924 when this building was dedicated,
there was no regular rabbi there.
S: No. When we built it, there was not.
P: There was no community rabbi.
S: That is right. But there was when I got married. I cannot
think of his name.
P: But he was the St. Augustine rabbi.
S: Yes, but he was there a very short time. They were never
able to keep a rabbi. We never had enough money to pay a
rabbi to stay steady. But they did keep a schochet, because
Mr. Jaffe was there for a number of years. He used to kill
the chickens and the cattle.
P: He may have worked in a grocery store, also, as a butcher.
S: No, he was our schochet. That is how he made his living.
He would go to the farm to kill the cattle, and the ofall
would be given to him. Then he would go around to the
Jewish people selling a piece of lung, a piece of heart, or
a piece of liver--that was his extra money. But the
congregation paid him a salary all the years that he lived
P: Was there a Jewish area where the families lived?
P: So they lived all over town. There were a few families, I
think, right in the vicinity of the synagogue.
S: Yes, in the later years. That is after I was married. The
Rosses were there. There were about five or six Jewish
families on that street. My mother and father lived on that
P: I recollect coming over to St. Augustine on a Sunday with
the Mehlmans. I would be taken along just for the drive,
and they would be visiting some of their friends.
S: Yes. The Rosses lived across the street, and my sister-in-
law's mother lived across the street. There were about six
Jewish families on that street. My mother and father lived
next door to the synagogue. The building that was next door
to the synagogue belonged to my mother and father. They
built it after I was married.
P: I know the Mehlmans kept in touch with their friends in St.
Augustine. This would have been as late as the early 1930s.
S: Well, they must have been visiting my parents, because they
were next door.
P: It seems that the Fagans and the Mehlmans split after they
moved to Jacksonville and were no longer close as they had
been in St. Augustine. As you saw it as an outside person
but one who was close, how did that come about? I presume
this was a business conflict or something like that.
S: It had to be. I never knew the reason. One thing about Ida
is that she was very tight lipped. So I never really knew
P: We did not, either.
S: But I do know that there was no longer a close feeling.
When they lived in St. Augustine, Mrs. Mehlman and Mrs.
Fagan were very close.
P: They were sisters.
S: That is right, but I mean they were very close. But not
when they moved to Jacksonville.
P: No. There was some sort of a business conflict that
developed between the men, and that separated the families.
S: It separated the women--that I remember.
P: It separated the families forever, right down to the present
S: Now, see, this is Mr. Eff. I am trying to show you the
people we are talking about. This is my father.
P: Your father is right here on the end with the hat?
P: I wanted to ask you about Ida, too. I need to talk with
her. She married Joe Strauss from New York. Did you remain
as couples? What about your move to Orlando?
S: I moved away, and that is when we lost contact with each
other. I was never close to Ida after we moved to Orlando
because she married and lived in Jacksonville and made her
friends here in Jacksonville. When I came back, her friends
were not my friends.
P: You never re-established the kind of closeness you once had
S: Right. We see each other and talk to each other. We went
on a trip together to Hungary. We went to three countries.
P: So it is kind of a nostalgia sort of a thing when you get
S: That is right. Then we played cards for a while on Sundays
together, but we see each other rarely. We are not close
like we used to be.
P: You do not talk to each other on the telephone very often
P: But you have happy memories, obviously, of growing up
S: Oh, yes. There is no anger between us. It is just that she
has gone into one circle and I have gone into another
circle, and the two circles did not meet.
P: Now, when you and your husband came back to Jacksonville,
what business did you go into?
S: In the kosher meat deli.
P: How long did you stay in that business?
S: Until he passed away.
P: You lived in Springfield. Then did you move to Riverside?
S: When we moved back from Orlando, we moved to Riverside.
P: That is right. You moved directly to Riverside, on the
corner of Delwood Avenue and Acosta Street.
S: We moved to 2704, and then we moved to 2604.
P: I remember all of that, but I want it on the tape.
S: Yes, we moved to 2704. That is where Joe Spevak lived when
Tillie had passed away already. Joe Spevak lived in the
house next to where I lived at 2704.
P: He built that house, I believe.
S: That is right, and he built those other houses. There are
three of them that match. He lived there with Tillie until
she died, and he lived there afterward. That is how I knew
about Tillie. Then we moved to 2604, which is on the
P: That was another block away. That was a two-apartment
building, was it not?
P: I have forgotten who lived upstairs.
S: Of the people who lived upstairs, he was salesman. There
were two brothers and two sisters. The two sisters had a
children's shop down on Laurel Street, and the two brothers
were salesmen on the road.
P: And Eunice [Davis Gross] lived there with her aunt.
S: Yes. I think you have everything.
P: That was a real ghetto area through there, was not it?
P: That whole neighborhood.
S: Oh, Delwood? And how! That was Jew neighborhood.
P: And do not forget West Street and Ernest Street.
S: And Ernest, I was just going to say.
P: My father claimed he was the mayor of West Street.
S: All the Jews were there. That was really Jewville then.
P: Of course, it was very nice because the children grew up in
that kind of an area.
S: I remember Sol's [Proctor] being at the house a lot. Sol
used to play with [my son] Edwin when they were in scouts.
Sol was a little bit older than Edwin, but he used to hang
around. They all hung around my house.
P: Sol was not much older than Edwin.
S: No, just a year.
P: Because Sol was born in 1928.
S: And Edwin was born in 1929. I know there was just a year's
difference. When they were on West Street, that whole gang
played a lot together. It was great.
P: They used to play ball in that empty lot next to Stanley
Kanner's house. They all recall that now when we get
What have we not said?
S: I do not know. I think I have talked myself out.
P: Have you remembered a lot that you thought you had
S: Yes. As we talked, things did come up that I did not think
I would remember. I cannot remember my granddaughter's
P: Well, we are not going to worry about that, because you are
going to get this transcript, and you are going to read it
over, and you will then be able to fill in all of the gaps.
S: I am not going to read all of that! Berkman is her name.
P: That is wonderful. We have it now. Marsha Berkman, from
S: No, this is my granddaughter we are talking about. Oh, my
daughter-in-law's name is Tanner.
P: That is good. We have it on tape now, so everything is
complete. I want to tell you how much I appreciated all of
this and how much I have enjoyed it.