Visit New York City’s Tenement Museum and you will hear about the Gumpertz family and their link to Cincinnati. The museum is a restored Lower East Side tenement and its docents immerse visitors in the American immigrant experience through stories of the families who actually lived in the building at 97 Orchard Street.
The first tenants to have their story told in this museum were the German-Jewish Gumpertz family, who lived there during the 1870s. Julius and Nathalia Gumpertz arrived in America sometime around 1860, when each was about 20 years old. Both came from Prussia, although the district they were born in is now part of Poland. They first appear in U.S. Census records in 1870 with two young daughters, Rose, 3, and Nanny, 1. The city directory for that year has them living at 97 Orchard. At the time, the neighborhood was so filled with German immigrants that it was nicknamed Kleindeutschland or “Little Germany.” Julius worked as a shoemaker, and owned $400 in personal property. This was not a huge amount, even in 1870 dollars, but it was a comfortable nest egg. A third daughter, Olga, was born in 1871 and, two years later, a son named Isaac.
As the tours pass through the “Gumpertz” apartment (located on the second floor although the family actually lived on the third floor) the docents relate that Julius abandoned his family. One day in 1874 he left for work at the shoe factory and never returned. Nathalia became a dressmaker to support her family. She spent nine years looking for Julius and then had him declared legally dead so she could collect an inheritance from his father.
No one knows why Julius walked out. There were rumors another woman was involved. There were rumors about alcohol. Perhaps he lost his job and couldn’t bear to tell his family. The Panic of 1873 initiated the “Long Depression” of 1873–79 during which millions of men were out of work.
We do know that, in 1885, the year a court declared him legally dead, Julius appeared in Cincinnati. The city directory that year lists him as a “huckster” living in a tenement at 286 West Sixth Street, near John Street in the West End. A huckster was usually a door-to-door salesman, a peddler of small items. That’s how Julius Gumpertz was described for the next 15 years. Throughout that time, he mostly lived in the area of the West End known then as Cincinnati’s Jewish Ghetto—from Fifth Street north to Court and from Central west to Linn. One year, he listed his address at the Union Bethel, the social service center located on the Public Landing, but he was soon back in the West End.
When Julius was around 62 years old, he entered the Home for the Jewish Aged & Infirm, next door to Jewish Hospital on Burnet Avenue. This charitable home, supported by the Reform congregations of Cincinnati, later became Glen Manor Home for Jewish Aged. Julius lived at the Jewish Home until his death on February 2, 1924. He is buried in the Walnut Hills United Jewish Cemetery on Montgomery Road in Evanston.
While Julius was living in Cincinnati, all of his daughters married and at least two gave birth to grandchildren. There is no evidence he knew this, or that his daughters knew their father lived in Cincinnati. Nathalia died and was buried in New York in 1894. Three of Natalie’s great-grandsons still lived in the New York area when the Tenement Museum was founded and provided family stories to the project.