Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Story Full of Irony

Here’s a story full of irony. But first, I'm indebted to Ken G for turning me on several months to a most interesting and educational web site which delivers a daily recap, from a Jewish perspective, of four important events or people from that day in history. Regrettably, I don't always read the historical notes each day they appear in my email, which explains why I am behind with this blog entry from a missive from last week.

For last Wednesday, June 13, the Jewdayo message revolved around one of the first widely publicized anti-Semitic events in U.S. history. Seems a certain Judge Henry Hilton, in 1877, refused to allow a wealthy and politically influential banker and railroad investor, Joseph Seligman, to stay at the Grand Union Hotel he owned in Saratoga Springs, NY. As Jewdayo explained, “Hilton, a member of the Boss Tweed political machine, had a personal grudge with Seligman, who was a member of an anti-Tweed political faction—but the reason offered to Seligman for being denied a room in the hotel (where he had previously stayed several times) was that business was off because gentile customers did not like sharing the hotel with "Israelites," therefore all Jews were being barred from registering.”

In short order, signs proclaiming “No Jews or Dogs Admitted Here” sprouted up in many hotels across the country.

Here’s irony Number One: Though he shared the same name with Conrad Hilton, who wasn’t born until 1887, Judge Hilton was no relation to the famous hotelier.

Irony Number Two: Some 45 years after Judge Hilton died in 1899, the Grand Union was bought by a syndicate of Jewish investors, Tikvah Associates, Inc. of New York City. Gilda’s father, Irving Barasch, was president of Tikvah Associates. Irving’s family owned two hotels in Saratoga Springs, the Empire and the Brooklyn. Both served kosher food to their Jewish clientele.  But anti-Semitism still ran strong in the village. Within months, civic pressure forced Irving and his partners to sell the Grand Union. 

Irony Number Three: The Grand Union, at one time the world’s largest hotel, was demolished in 1952-3, replaced by (wait for it) .... a Grand Union supermarket. At one time one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains, Grand Union is now just 21 stores and is part of Tops Markets of Buffalo.

Irony Number Four: Conrad Hilton’s hotel chain eventually came to Saratoga. The Saratoga Hilton is at the north end of Broadway, exactly where the Empire and Brooklyn Hotels stood before they were taken by eminent domain in the early 1970s as part of Saratoga’s redevelopment. 

Irony Number Five: Wikipedia says In 1879 Judge Hilton bought a 1,500-acre estate named "Woodlawn" in Saratoga Springs. Following his death “the property was left to decay, and was auctioned off as eight parcels in 1916. A portion of Woodlawn is now the campus of Skidmore College.” Our daughter Ellie is a graduate of Skidmore College.