Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bobba Hannah Sandusky

My Great-Great-Grandmother, Hannah Sandusky, was a rather unusual woman. Having immigrated to Pittsburgh around 1860, she became known as “The Angel” to those she helped. To everyone else, she was known as “Bobba Hannah.” “Bobba”, or “Bubbe” is Yiddish for grandmother. It also means “Midwife”, which was her profession -– although she never accepted fees for her services. Over her lifetime she delivered many thousands of babies for the poor in the Pittsburgh area. Although she was horrible at keeping records, she managed to register over 3500 deliveries – and probably far more remained undocumented. Hannah also spent a lot of time doing other charity work, as well as the duties expected of Jewish grandmothers, such as matchmaking.

Thanks to some major legwork by several of my cousins (Kudos to Miriam Baker in particular) this last weekend in Pittsburgh we had the first ever reunion of the descendents of Bobba Hannah. Hannah and Louis Sandusky had eight children: three boys and five girls. Only four of the daughters had offspring, so the Sandusky name died out, and the clan became divided into Raphaels, Gordons, Schugars, and Simons. The clan is now spread out around the world, and until this last weekend, I had only met a tiny fraction of my extended family.

During this weekend I heard a number of interesting stories. There was the story of the funeral crashing cousin who ended up being locked in a closet by the undertaker; and there were many stories of my grandfather, who was frequently on the wrong side of the law but managed to always evade the feds one way or the other. But perhaps the most interesting story was how my grandmother met my grandfather.

In 1913, shortly after immigrating to Pittsburgh from Lithuania via South Africa, Eva Grabowski was told that an unusual event would be taking place: a funeral procession which was made up of both Jews and African Americans. Needless to say, this was Bobba Hannah’s funeral.

Here I quote from a transcript dictated by my grandmother a few years before she passed away:

I was standing on the verandah watching the funeral procession... On the other side of the road a young man was also standing on a balcony watching the procession where he spotted me. We became acquainted and his name was Ike Simon. He was a big man with a heart of gold and when he asked me to marry him I decided to accept, having in mind, if it didn’t work out, I would leave him and return to South Africa.

Well, it did work out, and I’m sure Bobba Hanna, the part-time matchmaker, would have been very pleased.

[Note: There is some confusion in the story as to whether they met at Hannah's funeral or some other funeral. It makes a better story this way].


Tony said...

Hahah, that is a delightfully sweet story, and your g-g-gma sounds awesome. That being said, my favourite part was the thoroughly unromantic and unconventional "if it doesn't work out" bit. Awesome. The mantra of our age, she was way ahead of her time.

Julia S. said...

That's the Simon's for you. Never Boring

franjo said...

Thanks for the stories about your Grandmother Hannah. I recently read a book by Ted Gup about the depression and her name was mentioned. Mr. Gup's great grandfather immigrated to the Pittsburgh area from Romania. My Mother is Lithuanian, so it caught my eye. What an amazing giving person Bobba Hannah was, you are lucky to be related to her! Very cool and inspiring.
Cincinnati, OH

Joel Zendel said...

Great story. I'm a descendant of her on the Raphael side.

Anonymous said...

I am a descendant on the Raphael side. My Great Grandfather was Benjamin Raphael (B.R) The reunion was wonderful. I love this story about your Grandmother.. Beautiful ♡