Chocolatespoon: Emily’s Musings

Archive for the ‘Family History Project’ Category

Clips from one more article Mom had sent a while back about my great uncle, Eugene Sheffer, the crossword constructor:

No Cross Words, Please
by Sidney Fields
New York Daily News
Monday, May 31, 1971

There was really no way of knowing where an expert knowledge of French and French literature could lead a boy from Baldwin, L.I., with a severe handicap.

Even with dystonia, which afflicted him at 19 and deprived him of most muscle control, it led Eugene Sheffer to a full and happy life as a college teacher, an author, a friend of Franch art, movie and literary luminaries and a crossword puzzle expert. He sold his first crossword puzzle when he was 15. They now appear in 175 newspapers around the world.

“He sold his first crosswords to the papers for $5. Before he was graduated from Columbia they were being syndicated.”

Among the papers Mom sent was also a letter postmarked October 25, 1974 forwarded to Gene from the editors at the Seattle PI who had received it from a reader. It begins, “In the interest of the perversion of the English language I would like to cast my vote for Eugene Sheffer. He has not only puzzled me but in many cases baffled me completely…. As a solution to the energy crisis I suggest we send such puzzle editors to the Middle East as diplomats. They would at once be boiled in oil and shipped home. We could then separate the fertilizer from the oil, and unless we ran out of puzzle editors be assured of an ample supply of fuel.” I wonder if Will Shortz gets similarly helpful suggestions from fans…

Some other random mentions I’ve found:

An adventure in textbooks, 1924-1960,
by James M Reid
on page 19:
p. 20:

Mom sent a fantastic article clipped from the September 15, 1977 Roanoke Times & World News, “The Cruciverbalists” by Mag Roff. Here’s a bit from the article:

Cruciverbalist is a 14-letter workd, soon to enter dictionaries, for one who crosses words.

It also defines Eugene Sheffer, creator of the puzzle in the morning edition of the Roanoke Times & World-News, and Thomas Joseph, author of both Word Sleuth and the evening crossword.

As different in background and personality as the slant of their puzzles, Sheffer and Joseph have in common intelligence, wit and stunning vocabularies.

Scholarly yet whimsical, Sheffer, 72, is a retired professor of French at Columbia University. During the winter, he designs puzzles in the study of his apartment on Morningside Drive near the campus, but he spends summers at Amagansett near the tip of Long Islrand, fitting words as he works in his living room overlooking the ocean.

Although his family background is Austrian, Sheffer said, he began studying French at 13 and “never stopped” until he had two degrees from Columbia, a doctorate from the University of Grenoble in the snow-capped French Alps and a teaching career of 43 years.

For 25 of those years, he directed Columbia’s Maison Francaises, welcoming to New York a variety of French artistic, literary and theatrical personalities, as well as “some gray-bearded professors.” he much preferred the former.

Among them was singer Edith Piaf and she and Sheffer became “fast friends.” They met for two hours daily prepring her American debut in 1947, with Sheffer writing English summaries of her songs for the concert program and teaching her some English. Maurice Chevalier was another close friend.
The French government awarded him its Legion of Honor medal in 1960 for promoting Franco-American cultural relations.

Sheffer began constructing puzzles as a junior in college and King Features Syndicated asked him to work professionally when he received his doctorage in 1929. He has produced six puzzles a week since then, but Sheffer said he thinks it may be about time to consider retirement.

With a career as a professor, he acknowledged, puzzles have never been his livelihood, but have been “a very convenient addition to my income.”

[it goes on about how they each create their puzzles, which is very cool]

Sheffer aims at a public he described as “middle society.” Age and sex are irrelevant, he said, and the educational level is at least high school and preferably college. he keeps below the level, though, or the New York Times, which he called the hardest in the nation and full of tricks, anagrams and puns.
Sheffer occasionally tackes the Sunday New York Times crossword, especially if he is visiting his brother’s [that’d be my Grandpa!] home where it becomes a family undertaking. It is usually his only venture as a solver.

Sheffer said he doesn’t think it matters where a solver begins so long as he starts with a word of which he is sure. Then, he said, there are letters to help.
Sheffer also thinks fans should look things up if it gives them the satisfaction of finishing. but he aims at people riding commuter trains to work who don’t have books handy.

Thank you to Mom for sending the clippings and a pile of original puzzles he wrote!

As I’m collecting information for our upcoming crossword puzzle tournament, I of course keep coming across mentions of Eugene Sheffer (my grandfather’s older brother) and his puzzles. So here is a bit of information collected about him for future reference.

Dr. Eugene Sheffer, 76, Ex-Columbia Professor (NY Times, 5/4/81)

Dr. Sheffer, a native of Long Island, had been associated with the university’s French program virtually since his arrival at Columbia College as a freshman in 1922 until his retirement in 1966 after 25 years as director of the Maison Fran,caise. In 1960, the French Government awarded him its Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honor for his work on behalf of French-American cultural bonds.

(I remember when Mom went back East for the funeral, I guess I was 6 1/2)

Puzzles syndicated by King Features all over are still given his name.

There is apparently a tape of him in the Columbia University. Oral History Research Office. The description includes: “Foundation of Maison Francaise at Columbia in 1913; director of house from 1942 to 1966; demoliton of original building, numerous visits from French artists; recollections of Edith Piaf and others.”

In “Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings” by Jack Kerouac, an excerpt reads:

I wrote movie reviews for the Columbia Spectator, covered the varsity track team in the winter; ran a one-man typing agency, did some more ghost-writing, was elected Vice-President of the class, tutored French, and worked as private secretary for Prof. Eugene Sheffer of the French department. I helped Prof. Sheffer edit and translate his French textbook, typed out the whole manuscript, and even ventured definitions for his daily Journal-American crossword puzzle. We became fast friends; I wrote voluminously and took all my plays and stories to him.

Possible correspondence with Dwight D. Wisenhower over “a hand-tooled leather desk blotter given Eisenhower by General Juin”? (in the presidential archives.

Putnam’s Two-Way Question Book (1927)  With Interlocking Answers. A book of crossword puzzles. By Eugene Sheffer. The Knickerbocker Press. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. p v-vi.  [EPBLIB

Much more to come over the day… and Mom’s sending some additional clips to add later in the week.

Here are a few more old photos that I found and scanned in:

My great grandfathers 75th birthday

Doug, Nana Betty, Mom, Uncle Harry (Grandpa’s brother who went out for cigarettes and came back 10 years later), Vera (?), Aunt Isabelle (Grandpa’s older sister) and Cousin Sally Frank (Isabelle’s daughter)


Grandpa (in his navy uniform) and his brother Gene

Grandpa, Nana Betty and Mom

Grandpa, Nana Betty and Mom

Grandpa, Nana Betty, Mom, Jonathan and Doug at Aunt Susan’s wedding

Great photo of Grandpa at his office surrounded by some of his sports programs (he sold sports advertising and things)

Grandpa as RTM moderator
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Posted on: April 3, 2006

Via Research Buzz comes a cool Archive Grid. According to the description:

ArchiveGrid is an important destination for searching through historical documents, personal papers, and family histories held in archives around the world.

Thousands of libraries, museums, and archives have contributed nearly a million collection descriptions to ArchiveGrid. Researchers searching ArchiveGrid can learn about the many items in each of these collections, contact archives to arrange a visit to examine materials, and order copies.

ArchiveGrid is available to both individuals and institutions free of charge through May 31st. If additional grants funds or sponsorship are obtained, ArchiveGrid will remain free of charge; otherwise subscriptions will be available for institutions and individuals alike.

So, naturally, I tried out some queries and here are some of the things I learned:

Aaron Rabinowitz business records, 1938-1980 are at the Cornell University Libary. You can even see the container list of what is included (of course this was one of the top google hits for him anyway, so its not a new find) I wonder though what “The White Block” was?

Mary Steichen Calderone Papers. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College were apparently “Accessioned From Aaron and Clara Rabinowitz Greenhut” or possilbly paid for by the “Aaron and Clara Rabinowitz Greenhut Fund” but I can’t find any other mention of a connection there and one of the pages is broken.

and I bet there’s tons more to discover…

I found a great new source of Siegel Cooper photos and advertisements at the NYPL Digital Gallery. NYPL Digital Gallery provides access to over 415,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the collections of The New York Public Library, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.

Women reading, April 30, 1910, Siegel-Cooper Company.

(via NYPL’s Best of the Web)

I was playing around with the new genealogy databases at the library (available remotely with your SCCL card) and found my great grandfather in The book of New York: forty years’ recollections of the American metropolis by Julius Chambers (Book of New York Co: New York, c1912) From page 430:


“Every owner of rentable property understands the desirability of having a competent and watchful agent to collect his rents and see that the character of his houses in maintained. Many excellent buildings, with advantageous sites, have been allowed to deteriorate owing to inattentive owners or negligent agenets. Aaron Rabinowitz belongs to the ever-watchful class of agent who makes his principal’s interests his own. He was born in this city and derived his education from the public schools and the University of the City of New York. Through the advice of Henry Morganthau, one of the leading realty owners and operators of this city, he entered the real estate business in 1903. Through only twenty-seven years of age he became president of the long-established Spear & Co., real estate agents, in 1905…”

I wonder if that was the Henry Morganthau, Sr., who was a banker and American ambassador to Turkey during President Wilson’s administration.

I know, I should be working on my YA paper or sleeping, but I was curious about Captain Greenhut (I believe he’s my mom’s mom’s mom’s dad’s dad) after a conversation at dinner the other night, and since our library is testing a new database that gives access to old NY Times issues, I thought I’d add in JB’s obituary to my family history project page. Here’s an excerpt – I think I learned 87 new things about him.

New York Times 1857-Current; Nov 18, 1918; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2001)
pg. 15

Capt. J.B. Greenhut, War Vertan, Dies
Was Second Man in Illinois, His Early Home, to Answer Call of President Lincoln.

Career as Merchant Here

Held Out for Years in Northward March of Trade — His Home Once “Summer Capital.”

After an illness of more than a month, Captain Joseph B. Greenhut, merchant and civil war veteran, died yesterday morning of heart disease in his home at 325 West End Avenue. The Captain’s career, from the time he roamed the streets of Mobile looking for work to the final liquidation of the Greenhut Company, of which he was President, in the Spring of thus year, had been full of adventure in all its phases. He enlisted in the civil war as a private, and by the end of the war had risen to the brevet rank of Colonel. He was wounded at Fort Donelson and barely escaped having his arm amputated as a result.
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Borrowed this photo from Aunt Susan’s house today, but Mom will have to tell me again who everyone is. In the middle is my great grandfather Aaron. The Kodak paper stamp on the back says Dec 1964.

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