February 20, 2004
100 YEARS AGO
• More than 10,000 partiers streamed into Madison Square Garden one Saturday night this month to take part in the sensational Forward Masked Ball. It was incredible to look down from the packed balconies onto the dance floor, where thousands of couples danced the night away. The masks and costumes made parts of the arena seem like an art exhibit. The crowd came from all over: the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, Newark and more. And it was very much a mixed one: There were laborers, businesspeople, lawyers, doctors, actors and other professionals. All had a fantastic time until the wee hours of the morning.
75 YEARS AGO
• It was reported recently that Albert Einstein published an amazing new scientific theory. When he was asked by the press to elaborate in layman’s terms, he demurred, saying it was too complicated. There were, it appeared, only about a dozen people on the planet who could actually understand the new theory. As it turns out, one of them is a 13-year-old Jewish schoolboy from Los Angeles. This brilliant child, Leroy Cohen, published an article on the new theory in a local paper. His parents sent a copy of it to Einstein, who responded in a letter that Leroy’s assessment was absolutely correct and praised the boy’s intelligence.
• Herring is very popular with Jews. Litvaks, in fact, have a saying, “The best delicacy is herring with potatoes.” Galitzianers, on the other hand, don’t have a saying, but their nickname for herring is “Litvaks.” In Jewish neighborhoods you can find smoked herring, Bismarck herring, backed herring, kippered herring and schmaltz herring, among others. And it’s for good reason that Jews like herring. After all, everything goes with herring: potatoes, tomatoes, onions. What’s better after a little schnapps than a shtikl herring? Well, schnapps may have been banned by Prohibition, but never could they ban herring.
50 YEARS AGO
• Harold Weinberg, a 25-year-old man who had spent nine years in a mental institution, expressed regret for murdering 60-year-old writer Maxwell Bodenheim and stabbing his wife. Weinberg, who had been living in the subway until Bodenheim rented him a room in his home, apparently fell in love with the writer’s third wife, 35-year-old Ruth Fagen, and killed the two in a dispute over his rent. Bodenheim, famous for his novels and poetry as well as for his reputation as the “wild prince” of Greenwich Village, was an exceptionally talented writer, but was also known for his king-sized ego and scornful attitude. In his later years, after squandering his savings, he was occasionally reduced to begging.