Feed on

Van Loo cigar label

One popular theme for genealogists who post over the weekend is Black Sheep Sunday. And I’ve got an ancestor who definitely deserves the label of black sheep – at least someone thought so. And it was supposed to post yesterday (which was Sunday), but I apparently set the date wrong.

Morris Newlander, my great-grandpa Isaac Kishinevsky’s brother, owned several cigar factories in Chicago (including the Van Loo Cigar Company) in the early 1900s. Well ahead of his time, he diversified horizontally (or do I mean vertically?), and owned land in Iowa and in Kentucky where he grew the tobacco for said factories. In the early 19-teens, a cigar factory was not necessarily a big warehouse converted to the making of mass quantities of stogies. It might have been the third story space in a wooden building, with fifty men rolling out the aromatic leaves of tobacco into a 5 cent bad habit. Morris Newlander’s factory was described in a human interest news story from the Chicago Tribune in August, 1910 as the latter kind of factory. The human interest factor was not the hard working cigar makers, but the pretty young woman Morris had hired to read to the workers – the daily newspaper, de Maupassant short stories, Tolstoy, Upton Sinclair — so they could improve their English.

So why did the FBI investigate Morris in Vanceburg, Kentucky in 1917?

The FBI file is on a thumb drive somewhere safe – meaning, I can’t find it. It made fascinating reading. Apparently a neighboring land owner felt that Morris’ appearance in the small Southern town was suspicious. The file included a photo showing a dandy of a  fellow in a white suit and Panama hat. Was being dapper suspicious? Morris apparently did no work – was being idle suspicious? Or was it just that being Jewish was suspicious?

Morris was exonerated after the FBI completed their investigation. One year later, Morris died on the Vanceburg property – cause of death, intestinal obstruction. Interestingly, according to his death certificate, his first name was Martin. His body was transferred to New York for burial. Thanks to FindaGrave, I just discovered 5 minutes ago that he is buried (as Morris Newlander) in Mount Judah Cemetery in Queens. I’ll plan to visit the grave on my next trip to the Big Apple.

Leave a Reply