Contact with members of the Kessler family

Contact with members of the Kessler family

Last month, I was contacted by several members of the Kimelman and Fishman families, grandchildren of the Sidney Kessler I have written about in this blog. They had discovered my posts about Kessler and wondered about the reasons for my interest in their grandfather. After explaining Walter Ruby’s connection to Kessler at the American Spirits company in the 1930s, I think that their concerns were mostly alleviated.

Grandson Bob Fishman helped me correct several errors in my narrative, taking time during his busiest month of the year as the executive director of NCAA March Madness coverage for CBS Sports. As a result, I have corrected Kessler’s birth and death dates in place in the previous posts.

Another correction deserves specific mention. Fishman questioned my information that baseball star Jackie Robinson was present at the opening of the Virgin Isle Hotel in December 1950. He noted that as a lifelong Dodgers fan, it was not possible that his grandfather would not have told him that if it were true.

When I went back to my source document, this December 10, 1950 article in the New York Times business pages (click to enlarge), I see where I made the mistake. Note that the last two paragraphs of the long article about the hotel opening are unrelated and concern other Virgin Islands tourism news, including an separate item about Jackie Robinson playing the first round at a new golf course.

So Bob is absolutely right and the family’s Dodger bonafides are intact. He noted in his email that though Robinson was not part of the opening, several years later, another baseball great, Hank Aaron, visited St. Thomas as guests of the Kesslers.

The other family members I was in touch with are John Kimelman and Susan Edwards, both children of Henry and Charlotte Kimelman. Charlotte, still living, is Sidney Kessler’s daughter. (Her sister Louise, also still living, is Bob Fishman’s mother. A third sister, Audrey, born after 1930, was previously unknown to me but now fills out the family tree.

One thing I learned from John Kimelman was that his father Henry had in 1999 published a memoir of his life in business and public service. In fact, Henry’s was the second autobiography in the family, as his grandfather Berl Kimelman had in the 1920s set down the details of his life in the old country (eastern Galicia). Henry later had that manuscript translated and published in a limited run.

Checking Amazon, I found that used copies of Living the American Dream: The Life and Times of Henry L. Kimelman were available. I ordered a copy, autographed by the author, from a bookshop in Maryland. It arrived in pristine condition with a plastic cover over the dust jacket. I have now had the time to carefully read Henry’s amazing book. While it provides little new information about Sidney’s activities before Henry marries into the family in 1943, it has much to tell us about Sidney’s later life that helps to illuminate our quest.

I will present what I learned from the book in the next several posts.