Saturday, January 06, 2007

Yip Harburg And Louis Ferman

Louis Ferman was my grandfather on my mother's side. He died sometime in the early-mid 1920's. I've never seen a picture of him. My cousin Lois is named after him. Shortly before my mother died I had asked her about where she lived on the lower east side. Any talk about her childhood was difficult, since was one filled with hardships. The story goes something like this: Louis seemed to be more interested in spending time at the Tompkin's Square Library (secretly) on 10th Street rather than providing for his family. When pressed by my grandmother as to why he never brought home any money, he said he couldn't find work. One day she followed him and discovered his scam. The rest is confusing. Either she threw him out or he had a nervous breakdown and returned home to his family in Philadelphia. She subsequently went to work using his furrier's union card leaving three young children at home. The picture above shows where they lived in 1920, at 621 E. 9th Street. I have recently found the census records, using soundex variations on the spelling. The name is listed as Fireman. In 1920, there is a son, Aaron, who is one and a half. He would die sometime in the next 3 years after being hit by a bus on Avenue B. My aunt Lilly was to be born in 1923. She would spend several years in an orphange on Houston, near Avenue C, since my grandmother couldn't take care of her with my grandfather gone. Aunt Lilly recalls it being a horrible experience and doesn't say much more about it. Here's a portion of the 1920 census.

One other fact that my mother told me of her time on 9th Street was that when my grandmother left for work early in the morning, she was left to be babysat in one of the stores across the street from PS64 until school started. This is what those storefronts look like today.

So what does this have to do with Yip Harburg? Yip lived down the block from the Fermans (Firemans) in 1910. I don't know whether their days on 9th Street overlapped or not. However, Yip's son Ernie told me that Yip spent a good deal of his time at the same Tompkin's Square Library, the reading roomm there is now named in his honor. Maybe they were there at the same time.

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