It was really nice that so many family members reached out to me and commented on my first Howard Clothes article. This yielded a good deal of insight and information, which inspired the desire to write this epilogue. Based on my communications with family members, I found out Elaine Winik is the sole surviving child of Samuel and Minnie Kappel. I also discovered she wrote a book entitled Still Looking Forward, published in 1996. I decided to purchase a copy on Amazon and gave this to my dad to read first. After all, it was his family with the connection to Howard Clothes and to Minnie and her mother Mollie Sennowitz. Elaine’s book filled in a lot of blanks including first names of people who were unknown to me when I wrote the first article, and had escaped my dad’s memory at this point in life – he is 92 after all. A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of talking to Elaine on the phone, and she graciously sent me a few clippings and photos that I have added to this blog.
My dad got a real kick out of this passage from Elaine’s book:
After living with us, grandma came to my parents and said that although we all were wonderful to her, the house wasn’t kosher, and besides, she missed her Yiddish-speaking contemporaries. If mother and dad would pay rent to “the greenie,” (all immigrants were referred to as greenhorns) her newly arrived cousin from Russia, she would live with him and his wife. Of course we could come and visit her there. She also mentioned that it would be very nice if my parents would furnish the apartment for the “the greenie” as he had no money at all. They did, as they asked.
A few of points of clarification. First of all, my dad is positive that Minnie Kappel was my grandmother’s cousin, not my grandfather’s. Second, while Mollie may have viewed my dad’s parents as greenies, my grandfather came to America for the first time in 1905, and by the time he brought his entire family over in 1921, he was a U.S. citizen. I suppose they could have been viewed as greenies since they primarily spoke Yiddish and maintained a lot of the traditions of the old country. It is true my grandfather had no money. He tried buying and running a little grocery store in Brooklyn right after bringing his entire family to America, but this venture failed. He was an embroiderer in Poland (Part of the Russian Empire until 1918) and worked in the garment industry on his stints in America. Thanks to the generosity of Sam Kappel, he was hired to work at the modern Howard Clothes factory, which must have been a world away from the conditions he worked in years before.
Sam was considered a trailblazer in the garment industry, recognizing the union and providing a clean, safe environment for workers. The first store in Brooklyn opened on Saturday, July 19, 1924, as announced gleefully in the ad below.
The Sennowitz Side
Mollie Sennowitz, the woman who came to live with my grandparents, had a tragic, difficult life prior to her son-in-law Sam becoming a wealthy man. Married in Russia, her first husband and two young sons Moshe and Aaron died of an unknown raging fever. Julius Sennowitz met her and fell in love, they married and had a baby boy who died in infancy in Russia. They had another son, Charlie, who accompanied them when they immigrated to America, traveling in awful conditions in steerage class. Mollie was pregnant at the time with Yankel, the first child to be born in America. When Yankel was 2-years-old and Mollie was delivering Minnie, Yankel got hold of a button hook (used to tie shoes) and poked out his eye. What should have been a joyous occasion was overshadowed by this horrific tragedy, as Yankel died of the resulting infection a week after the ghastly accident.
Julius saved enough money to buy a live chicken market in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. My grandmother’s brother Yankel worked at the store. Both sides of the family were generous and employed any relatives who needed work. I enjoyed reading about Mollie working at the store well into her ninth month of pregnancy, still waiting on customers, hand and foot. The event that led to Mollie coming to live with my grandparents was also tragic. Julius had already been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, which sparked his devout faith in Judaism. He was leaving his synagogue deep in prayer, did not look across the street while crossing, and was hit and killed by a truck. Elaine said that she was about age 8 when this happened and age 11 when Grandma Sennowitz died. Elaine is five months older than my dad, so we now know that my dad was nearly age 8 when Mollie came to live with them, likely in 1931. Mollie had a stroke and died at my grandparents’ house after living with them for about three years.
The Kappel Side
Sam Kappel was age 16 when he and his older brother Louis immigrated to America. Given my calculations, this would have been around 1905, the same year my grandfather came to America the first time. Sam and Louis must have done quite well because they were able to fund the trip for the rest of the large family to come over, some years later. The photo above was taken before Sam developed acromegaly – the date is smeared, so hard to decipher.
Elaine refers to her paternal grandparents as Bubba and Zayda, which is Yiddish for grandma and grandpa. As Elaine recounted, “…they lived in Bensonhurst which was about ten minutes and many light years away from ours.” Zayda worked for his son at the Howard Clothes factory – in fact, Elaine stated that, “Going to my father’s huge factory where they manufactured men’s clothing was like going to a family reunion.” Elaine was age 10 when Bubba and Zayda Kappel died within 24 hours of each other.
Sam did incredibly well for himself – a true rags to riches story. He was able to move his family out of an apartment and into a rather nice house in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. They built an addition when sharing a bathroom with four daughters became too much. Elaine recounts riding in a chauffeur-driven Packard and later a Cadillac, and always having housekeepers. Elaine’s two older sisters were married at the elegant Waldorf Astoria. When Elaine was married at age 18 on August 15, 1941, she chose the garden of their palatial Mount Kisco home as the setting, which inevitably had to be moved inside due to a rainstorm.
When I spoke to Elaine on the phone, she clarified the residence discrepancies between her book and my dad’s recollection. The Kappels only lived in Great Neck for two years, which would indeed have been at the end of Mollie’s stay with my grandparents. Their primary residence was a luxurious apartment at Central Park West, while the Mount Kisco abode was a summer home on 72 acres of land. At the time of his death, Sam and Minnie had an apartment at the Lombardy, a residence in Palm Beach, as well as their home in Larchmont, which Elaine told me had a connection to Edward Albee’s family.
The Chicago Connection
While I was looking for an unrelated vintage photograph of Chicago, lo and behold, this wonderful photograph by Gordon Coster popped up in my Google search. When I was writing the first Howard Clothes article, I searched in vain for the location of the Chicago store. My dad claimed that it was at 230 South State Street, but I had already researched and written about the Benson-Rixson store at that location. It turned out my dad was pretty darn close. I not only found the photograph, but a Chicago Tribune article dated June 2, 1936 that yielded invaluable information. Howard Clothes made its first foray into the Midwest market with a store at the northwest corner of State and Quincy Streets in the Consumers Building at 220 South State Street. I don’t know what the numbering system was back in 1936, but the article stated that Benson-Rixson, the store that occupied this space, would move to 206-12 South State Street to make way for Howard Clothes. Sam and his partners must have envisioned great success in Chicago, because they signed a 15-year lease with the option to cancel after completion of the 10th year. Benson-Rixson moved to 230 South State Street at a later date. The odd thing is that the Consumers Building, completed in 1913, is 21 stories and the 1940 photo with Howard Clothes looks like a low building.
The reason I could not find anything but the small obituary is because they have not been digitized. Thanks to Elaine, I have added The New York Times obituary and a tribute to this post. Although it does not state the cause of death, Elaine confirmed that Sam died of cancer. Minnie remarried and lived another 25 years, dying at the age of 85.
As I mentioned in my first article, the massive Brooklyn-based Howard Clothes factory is being put to an admirable use as the Chapel Street Community Based Outreach Center, a hub for services related to homelessness, primary care, substance abuse, and mental health. Although modestly priced, Howard clothes were so well made, many of them have survived in immaculate condition and are being offered on eBay and Etsy!
The real legacy, however, is Sam and Minnie’s family members who have endeavored to live a great life and make a difference in the lives of others. A Brandeis Fellow, Sam was devoted to the Jewish community, embracing values of fairness and social justice – a noble tradition that continues into subsequent generations.