Friday, March 21, 2014


Right at the front of Gate 16 - Anshe Knesses Israel #2 at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois is a very unusual monument - and even more unusual for a Jewish Cemetery.  It is a tall, ornate monument that has a representation of an Egyptian sun disk across the top.

It marks the grave of noted Chicago manufacturer August Turner. Before we take a closer look at his monument, let's see what we can dig up about the man who lies under it.

August Turner was born August L. Tarkovsky in Russia, the son of Jacob Turner and Pesse (Bessie) Malke Rattner.  The date of his birth is given as circa 1863.  We know that August Turner came to the US in 1886. He had been married in Russia, and his three oldest children (Clara, Kate and Oscar) were born there. Family lore says that the wife left behind in Russia was called "Baba Alta".  She was said to be a cousin of Bernard DeKoven, who was the future husband of Clara Turner.  I assume that "Baba Alta" died in Russia because her three children ultimately end up in Chicago but there is no record of her ever joining them.      

August L. Tarkovsky shows up in the 1887 Chicago Directory as a partner with Louis Salganick in a picture frame business at 384 S. Halsted.  In 1888/89 August married Fannie Meisler (1868-1960), she, herself a recent immigrant from Russia.

On June 10, 1890, August and Fannie had their first child together. They named her "Bela".  She was joined on March 3, 1894 by a sister "Minee". By the time Oscar was born on December 11, 1895, the family name was Americanized from "Tarkovsky" to "Turner".

The picture frame company shared in the prosperity that was in Chicago after the Fire.  The firm was later known as the Globe Molding Company, with headquarters at 14th and Sangamon. In March of 1895 after suffering a particular devestating fire, the Globe Molding Company was declared insolvent (Assets $10,000; Liabilities $20,000) and was assigned to Edward S. Elliott as Trustee.

Today there is a park and university housing at 14th and Sangamon, but if you Google it, you find that it used to be known as "Dead Man's Corner" because of all the homicides that took place there between 1880 and 1920. 

On May 18, 1895 when workmen were dismantling what remained of the Globe Molding Company plant, a brick wall collapsed killing one man and severely injuring two others.  Since the company had been taken out of Tarkovsky's hands, he was not held responsible.

By 1896 August Turner was able to reorganize and regain control of the property at 14th and Sangamon,  He now opened his doors as the Great Northern Molding Company and within a short time business was booming again.

The 1900 US Census shows the Turner family living at 112 West Twelfth Street (now Roosevelt Road).  August Turner said that he had been born in September of 1869 and was then 30 years old.  Fannie was listed as having been born in August of 1868.  Then there were their three children:  Bella, Minnie and Jacob.  Fannie's father Falek Meisler was also living with them.  August listed his occupation as "picture frame maker".  They owned the property on Twelfth street free and clear.

Meanwhile, the family firm, now renamed the Turner Manufacturing Company was thriving.  They opened a second office in New York and would become for a time the largest manufacturers of picture frames in the United States.

The 1910 US Census shows the Turner family living at 1835 S. Turner (now Christiana) Avenue in Chicago. Unfortunately all that is there today is a vacant lot.

1835 S. Christiana Avenue, Chicago

The family consisted of August and Fannie, Belle, Minnie and Jacob. This time it was August's mother Bessie who was living with them, as well as a servant, Mina Helwig.

There are some other interesting facts that can be gleaned from this census.  August's mother Bessie said that she had given birth to twelve children (!!!) but only two were still alive in 1910 (August, and his brother Oscar).

August admitted that his marriage to Fannie was his second marriage, so there is an oblique reference to the mysterious Baba Alta.

Interestingly, they were renting at 1835 S. Christiana - they had owned the property on Twelfth street.

Any mentions of August Turner in the Chicago Tribune from 1910-1924 were charity related.  He was involved with the Federated Orthodox Jewish Charities, the Jewish Home for the Aged and the Chicago Hebrew Institute, among others.

On November 21, 1922, the Chicago Daily Tribune carried the following article:

There is no record of how the suit turned out.

August Turner died December 25, 1924 of heart disease in Los Angeles, California.  He was reported to be 63 years old.  Here is his Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of December 28, 1924:

His funeral took place on December 30, 1924 at the (Jewish) Home for the Aged, 1648 S. Albany Avenue. Rabbi Sol Silber conducted the service.

He was buried at the front of Gate 16 - Anshe Knesses Israel #2 at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois:

It is interesting that his gravestone has his year of birth as 1861 instead of the often-reported 1863.

So that's the story of August Turner.  So what about the symbol on his monument?

According to Google, it is the representation for the Egyptian sun god Ra.  Here it is in several forms:

August Turner's grave is not the only one at Waldheim that uses this symbol - I just featured his because it is the most prominent.  I don't understand why a Jewish cemetery would allow a grave to be marked with a representation of a pagan god.  I am sure that if August Turner had wanted to mark his grave with a cross that would not have been allowed.

Much was said about murder victim Ron Goldman's tombstone with an ankh on it, but he is not buried in a Jewish cemetery.

In 1924 many people were caught up in "Egyptian Fever" caused by the discovery of King Tut's tomb in November of 1922 - but I am surprised that this was allowed to spill over into a Jewish Cemetery.

August Turner - May he rest in peace.

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