Who Knew? Finding Multicultural Stories in Your Own Attic

Excerpt of an article written in 2006 by Martha B. Katz-Hyman, Independent Scholar

ALHFAM members can access the full text of this article and thousands more though the A.S.K. database. Not a member? Join today!

For many historic sites and living history museums, making collections more relevant to cultures and peoples not usually associated with their regular audiences has become an institutional goal. But in today’s economic climate, where budgets are tight, especially for acquisitions, it makes sense to look at and use collections in different ways by searching for the unexpected stories that will speak directly to experiences and histories not their own.

One such story can be found in Prescott, Arizona. Among the collections of the Sharlot Hall Museum’s Governor’s Mansion1 is a safe, with the name “M. Goldwater and Son,” its owner, written in gold leaf. Michael Goldwater was a merchant and an immigrant to the United States. 2 After living in Paris and then in London, where he married, Michael and his brother, Joseph, who had joined him in London, found their way to the Gold Rush state of California in 1852. After some years in Sonora, they set up shop in 1857 in Los Angeles, but that store failed in 1862, and Arizona was their next destination. Ten years later they were in Phoenix, and now it was time for the younger generation, represented by Michael’s son, Morris, to get involved in the family business. They closed the business in Phoenix and moved to Prescott. They were very successful in Prescott, and Morris ended up as mayor of the city from 1879 to 1927. During this same time period, Morris and his brother, Baron, opened a store in Phoenix, which was to be the first of what became Goldwater’s Department Stores.

Courtesy Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott, AZ

Safe used by Michael & Joseph Goldwater in Phoenix, AZ, during the third quarter of the 19th century and then by Michael and his son, Morris, in Prescott, AZ, in the later 19th and early 20th century.

The family had come a long way from Konin, Poland, near Warsaw, where Michael Goldwater had started life as Michael Goldwasser. He was one of 22 children in a Jewish family that had lived in that little town for many years, but when unrest came to the community in 1847, as it did to many towns in what is now Germany and western Poland, Michael decided that it was time to leave and find a more hospitable home. He was one of thousands of Jewish immigrants who came to this country to make new lives for themselves and who ended up as peddlers and shopkeepers all over the United States. And it is the safe that remains to tell the story—of Jews who fled persecution, came to this country and found success. But it’s not a story that one would come to Prescott to find.

Finding multicultural stories at your site takes time—time to examine collections, time to do the research, time to find the stories. Finding the stories takes desire—the desire to expand your mission, the desire to reach out to new audiences, the desire to add nuance to an established program. And finding the stories and then making them more widely known takes commitment—a commitment from all parts of the institution to spend the money, time and effort to do what is required to make sure that these “Who knew?” stories don’t stay hidden for much longer.

1Nancy Kirkpatrick Wright and Richard S. Sims, “Honoring the Legacy: The Sharlot Hall Museum Today,” in Journal of the West, 44 (Fall 2005), 26-28; Sharlot Hall Museum, “Who Was Sharlot M. Hall?”Today,” in Journal of the West, 44 (Fall 2005), 26-28; Sharlot Hall Museum, “Who Was Sharlot M. Hall?”https://www.sharlothallmuseum.org/who-was-sharlot-hall/ (accessed 11 February 2020).

2 Robert Alan Goldberg, Barry Goldwater (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995); Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, “Mike Goldwater, Townsman,” http://www.angelfire.com/mi4/polcrt/MikeGoldwater.html (accessed 11 February 2020); Abe Chanin, “The Goldwaters: An Arizona Story and A Jewish History As Well: The Contributions of a Pioneer Family on the Southwest Frontier,” https://swja.library.arizona.edu/content/goldwaters (accessed 11 February 2020).

This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared as: Martha B. Katz-Hyman, “Who Knew? Finding Multicultural Stories in Your Own Attic” in Debra A. Reid, ed., Proceedings of the 2006 ALHFAM Conference & Annual Meeting, 66-72.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s