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How A Lost 1955 Bar Mitzvah Album And Its Owner Were Reunited

On Thursday, September 20, 2018 at the Jewel-Osco supermarket in Chicago, Jenni Spinner, a freelance writer and editor, found a 1955 Bar Mitzvah album on top of a stack of Lagunitas IPA 12 packs in the liquor department. What such an interesting personal item was doing there we still don’t know, but thanks to some Facebook sleuthing by Spinner and her wife and some press by the local news site, Block Club Chicago, the album’s owners have been found and Spinner plans to return it shortly. The Forward reached out to Spinner to talk a bit about the album’s strange saga, her favorite pictures and the internet’s strange power to solve mysteries at lightning speed.

PJ Grisar: How did you find the album?

Jenni Spinner: I’m a freelance writer, and like a lot of freelance writers I have side gigs. And one of my side gigs is handing out booze samples in grocery stores from time to time. It was two weeks ago today. They had me doing tequila and rye whisky on a Thursday night and you’d think people would be just lining up for that but it was a pretty slow night. I was just bored, looking around straightening out bottles of Chardonnay and I looked over and saw what I thought was a stack of maybe football calendars or mouse pads. But then I looked over and I saw a old, very well-cared for photo album that read “My Bar Mitzvah” on the cover. I opened it up and I saw a really nice, definitely old, album with 80-or-so pictures of a really cute Bar Mitzvah boy and his family and people sitting at tables and dancing and there were two clues.

The album as discovered at the Jewel-Osco supermarket.

What were those?

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

One was near the back: the Bar Mitzvah cake. My wife actually noticed it looked like it said “William.” And then another one was the name of the hotel [the Shoreland] and the date, February 20, 1955. We had not a lot to go with but I put a call out on Facebook and made the post public and that got shared a lot. It got covered by a local news site called Block Club Chicago. That got media attention, but what got answers was my wife is super into genealogy and she’s got Jewish heritage so she typed into a couple of Jewish genealogy groups and that broadcast it everywhere.

Jenni Spinner and her wife, Rebecca Kell. Image by Courtesy of Jenni Spinner

Apparently it got all the way to Israel. Somebody in Israel got the message and they were like ‘hey, aren’t you from there?’ And that woman said ‘that sounds familiar.’ Texted her cousin in New York City and that person Facebook messaged my wife and said “yeah, that’s Bill London.”

What a journey!

Bill London apparently was a Jewish kid — well, obviously — not a lot of Catholics having Bar Mitzvahs — but he grew up on the South Side, 1955 and he is still around at the ripe old age of 76. His sister Gail lives not too far from here in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. The photo album was found in Andersonville; Lincoln Square is a little bit west of there. Gail actually reached out to me and said “hey, that’s me [in the album].” Her with her big brother Bill, looking all cute. But it’s really pretty amazing that it took about 36 hours from the time I found this photo album stacked on a bunch of craft beer from the time that I actually had a name and a face and a little bit of a history.

**Do you have any idea how it ended up there? ** That is the one thing! I want to ask [Gail] in person because I don’t want to sound like ‘what the hell happened? Were you like buying liquor and your just, ‘oh I need the two hands to pick up the bottles of Manischewitz’ or whatever. And then just forgot it. Before we knew that the people in the photo album were still around, there were a lot of theories like, there are estate sales all the time. Maybe somebody just picked it up at an estate sale and didn’t really care too much other than knowing these pictures are cute. We thought that, with the age of the photo album, maybe the parents had custody of it and then the kids, Gail and Bill — well, I know their names now — maybe they put the photo album in the ‘giveaway’ box rather than the ‘keep’ box by mistake. The thing that gets me is we still don’t know how it ended up in the grocery store.

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

**Do you have a favorite photo from the album? **

The picture of Bill with his sister Gail is really cute. I’m tickled by the pictures of the banquet tables with trays of neatly stacked cigarettes. This was a thing back then: Pyramids of cigarettes stacked on a table at a party with kids around is just hilarious to me. The best picture though is the picture with Dad and the Bar Mitzvah boy in front of the sign that has the name of the hotel and the date ‘cause the kid is holding fistfuls of dollars and Dad has his pockets turned out looking like a poor sad sack. It’s really funny. That’s part of the touches that got me. Morbid curiosity, I definitely wanted to know how it got there, but also the people were just so full of character and life and funny and that kinda grabbed me.

I’m not actually Jewish but I know that a Bar Mitzvah is a pretty big deal and an important event in a kid’s life and I figured this really well put together and cared for piece of memorabilia was being missed by somebody, at least I hoped. And it looks like that’s the case so I’m pretty happy.

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

Image by Courtesy of Gail London

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected]

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