Friday, March 28, 2014


Last Friday, March 21, 2014 I was able to leave work early to fulfill Find a Grave photo requests at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park. It was the first time I had been at Waldheim since last December 15th because of the harsh winter we had this year.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I was going through cemetery withdrawal.  The time from December 15 to March 21 (96 days) is the longest I have been away from Waldheim since I started photographing graves there almost seven years ago.  It felt great to be back.  

After I took care of the photo requests I did what I always do when I am at Waldheim, I wandered around looking for interesting gravestones to photograph.  Here's one I thought looked interesting:

It was for a woman names Lillian Reznick Ott who died on February 6, 1965.  On the tombstone, in place of a photo of Lillian Ott was this:

Before we take a closer look at the poem that Lillian Reznick Ott wrote, let's see what we can "dig up" about her.

Lillian Reznick was born Lillie Reznick on August 18, 1898 in Russia (present day Belarus) to Moishe Leib Reznick aka Morris L. Reznick (1875-1957)  and Sara Fay, nee Gofseyeff (1875-1940).  Moishe and Sarah had a total of nine children all together - the first six were born in Russia and the last three were born in Chicago:
Lillian (1898-1965), twins Rose (1900-1900) and Mary (1900-1984), Julius (1902-1980), Hyman (1904-1973), Samuel (1906-1981), Sylvia (1910-2005), Michael (1911-1968) and Nathan (b 1916).

Here is a photo of the Reznick family before they came to the United States - probably 1908 or early 1909:

Moishe Reznick came to the United States first, arriving August 1, 1906, and once established sent for Sarah and the children who arrived in 1909.  The 1910 US Census shows them living at 1334 W. Washburne in Chicago.  Unfortunately today 1334 W. Washburne is a vacant lot:

1334 W. Washburne Avenue, Chicago 

Moishe Reznick was a butcher by trade.

On June 26, 1918 Lillian married Frank William Ott (1894-1931) in Chicago.

Frank William Ott was born March 6, 1894 in Chicago to Charles Ott, Jr. and an unknown mother.  Frank had two older siblings:  a brother William (1890-????) and a sister Minnie (1892-????).

The 1920 US Census shows Frank and Lillian Ott living at 3120 W. Fillmore Street in Chicago.  3120 W. Fillmore is today another vacant lot.

3120 W. Fillmore Street, Chicago

Frank listed his native tongue as "German" Lillian listed hers as "Jewish." Frank was employed as a Checker at the Butler Brothers grocery store in downtown Chicago.  There was an addition to the family as well, Little Jacob Marvin Ott had been born on January 27, 1919. (Jacob Ott went on to become a famous rabbi, and was the spiritual director  of Sephardic Temple Tefereth Israel in West Los Angeles, California for 34 years).

There were other additions to the family during that time.  Little Molke (Myra) Ott was born November 27, 1920, followed by Tybie (Tybel) Ott in 1925 and Esther Ott on February 28, 1930.

But all was not happiness for the Ott family.  Myra died on November 20, 1927 at the age of 7.

The 1930 US Census finds the Ott family living at 1312 S. Turner (now Christiana) Avenue in Chicago. You guessed it - 1312 S. Christiana is another vacant lot today:

1312 S. Christiana Avenue, Chicago

Their rent was $37.00 per month.  Frank now listed his job as a Conductor on the Chicago Surface Lines.  Lillian now listed her mother tongue as "Yiddish".

Tragedy was to deal the Ott family a double blow at the beginning of the 1930s.  First, Frank Ott died on September 5, 1931 at the age of 37:

followed by the death of little Esther Ott on August 21, 1932 at the age of 2.

Myra, Frank and Esther are all buried at Jewish Waldheim at Gate #40 - Anshe Motola:

Unfortunately all of their photos which were attached to the tombstone have either been stolen, or disintegrated in the Chicago weather.

Life went on for Lillan Reznick Ott as a single mother.  The 1940 US Census shows her living at 3644 W. Douglas Boulevard, in the heart of the old Jewish neighborhood:

3644 W. Douglas Boulevard, Chicago

Lillian was now 41, Jacob (now called "Jack") was 21 and Tybie was 15. Lillian listed her profession as "Operator in a Leather Factory."

It is not known when Lillian Reznick Ott started writing poetry, but as early as 1941 her poems were being published in The Sentinel (The American Jewish Weekly) magazine.  Here is one of her poems from the December 4, 1941 Sentinel:

Executed Hostages 

No drums, no taps, no bugle corps,
Call to salute at your grave;
Sleep as peacefully

No cannon roar, no flashing guns,
Bloody fields or battle cry;
Sleep as peacefully dared to die.

No sentinel guarding at your tomb,
No colorful banner your shroud;
Sleep as peacefully
Martyrs...a people's proud

Here is a poem she wrote for the birthday of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that was published in The Sentinel on January 27, 1944:

In Honor of the Birthday of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Even the mighty fall,
For God, Who created might,
Created none
To withstand His Own.
Only these
Find favor in his plan,
Mercy, truth and justice,
Among men.  And 'tis these alone
Above all the powers that be,
That shares with God
Of ageless immortality.

Most of the Sentinel magazines from the 1940s contain poems from Lillian Reznick Ott.

Perhaps because of her nationwide exposure, in 1949 Exposition Press in New York published a 176 page book of her poetry called "Teardrops and Dew."  This was before the days of self-publishing - meaning that her poetry must have been pretty good if a New York publishing house decided to print some of it. 

Admittedly poetry is not for everyone, but her book was favorably reviewed by The Saturday Review on September 17, 1949:

TEAR DROPS AND DEW by Lillian Reznick Ott, Exposition Press, New York, $2.50.  In the 176 pages of this volume, there is a range from the prophetic voice of tradition to the sheer doggerel of patriotism and journalism.  Nothing escapes the observing eye of Mrs. Ott.  All is translated in rhymed opinion and indignation.  From a nationalistic point of view, she recounts the tragedy of the Jew in the recent war, and she sings of his hope in a new land under the flag of his own making.  All this is told in enthusiastic and undisciplined rhymes.  In the occasional poem stemming from Talmudic lore, however, there are flights worthy of a prophet, songs which carry the ring of tradition in them.  Her poem of the Hebrew alphabet, in which we hear the child learning by rote, not only the letters, Aleph, Beth, Giml, but the whole history and culture of a people during centuries of oppression and heartbreak, compensates for the welter of words of other poems that are of a low bardic order.

Lillian Reznick Ott died February 7, 1965 (her tombstone says suddenly) at the age of 66 in Los Angeles, California.  She had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles about 1955 to be near her son the rabbi. Although she died in LA, she was buried back in Chicago with the members of her family who had predeceased her - her husband Frank, and daughters Myra and Esther.  Here is her obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of February 9, 1965:

Once she was living on the west coast she had begun contributing poetry to "The Voice" but I was unable to find any to share with you here except the one from her tombstone:

Mortal, Yet Immortal Too

I am I
Knowing that one day I shall die,
Perhaps tremble before the night
Like the sea running shoreward at end of day.
But it will be a momentary fear
A short shudder, then,
Relaxed of all care and all want
I shall slip into poetic oblivion.
Or heaven?  Or hell?  No matter
Save that I who am I
Shall be dead.
Then shall they come forward to speak of me
Kindly, generously, perhaps even lovingly,
And surely charitably -
But who shall have known me?

I am I
And if no one knows I live
Who shall know me when I die?\

Yet I am I,
A body, a soul, a mind;
I think and dream and love and hate.
I hunger and yearn and challenge and vie,
But if no one knows me while I live
Who shall know me when I die?...

Lillian Reznick Ott - may she rest in peace.

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 Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  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.

Friday, March 14, 2014


"Mowing the rows" in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery last fall I came upon an elaborate monument.  One side was filled with Hebrew lettering,

 but the back side had the following in English:

To Our Mother

Tho Ne'ermore
In Life We'll Meet
Our Thoughts
Are With You Ever
And When To That
Great Beyond Our Feet
Shall Stray Our Souls
No One Shall Sever

In Memory of
Our Dearest Mother
Who Passed Away
That Cold and Dreary
Jan. 17th 1918
From Her Children

The Hebrew side of the monument indicates that it is for Ida Malawsky who died January 17, 1918 at the age of 58.  I thought that she might have been a victim of the Spanish influenza, but most of its victims were young.  No matter what she died of, her children have left her a beautiful monument, so let's see what we can find out about Ida Malawsky and her family.

Ida Okercsik was born in Russia about 1860.  We know that she was the daughter of Simon Levy Ockersik, but that's about all we know about her roots.

We know a little more about her husband, Louis Malawsky.  He was born in Minsk, Russia on September 15, 1859, the son of Reuben Malawsky. He came to the United States in 1892 when he was 34 years old.  He became a US citizen on October 10, 1904.

The Hamburg Passenger Lists show that 3 members of the Malawsky family came to the US on March 18, 1892.  They came on the SS Leith via Glasgow, Scotland.  They are: 33 year-old Nissen Malawsky born in Minsk, Russia in 1859, his wife Liebe, also 33 years-old and their 5 year-old daughter Rivke.  Nissen gave his occupation as "Arbeiter" (Worker). Everything fits here but the first names.  Usually after coming to the US, immigrants changed their names to more American sounding names, but the new names they chose were most often close to their names in the old country.  Nissen and Rivke are not at all similar to Louis and Ida, although Rivke is closer to the name of their eldest daughter Rebecca. So, the Malawsky family on the passenger list might be them, or it might not be.

The Malawsky family did not appear to participate in the 1900 US Census, however the 1900 Chicago City Directory shows them living at 642 N. Milwaukee Avenue (now 870 N. Milwaukee Ave,) in Chicago. The apartment building currently at 870 N. Milwaukee was built in 2001. The directory shows Louis' occupation as "Cigars".

On October 10, 1905, the eldest daughter Rebecca (1888-1953) married Edward Max Waterman in Chicago.  

The Malawsky family did participate in the 1910 US Census.  They were still living at 870 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago.  They listed four children living with them:  Lena (1893-????), Harry (1895-1981), Frieda (1897-1994) and Sarah (1899-????).  By 1910 Rebecca was married and living elsewhere with her husband.  Ida told the census taker that she had given birth to 7 children, however only 5 were still alive in 1910, so that lines up with what we know about the children.  

Ida Malawsky died on January 17, 1918 at the American Hospital in Chicago.  She was 54 years old.

She went into cardiac arrest when she was having a procedure known as a cholecystostomy where a tube is inserted into the gallbladder to drain off some of the fluid to reduce the pain and swelling from an inflamed gallbladder.

Even though this was almost 100 years ago, things like this still happen. Just last week, Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, the regional director of Lubavitch-Chabad in Illinois died from cardiac arrest during gallbladder surgery.  

Since her tombstone referred to the day she died (January 17, 1918) as a cold, dreary day, I thought it would be interesting to look up the weather report on that day.  On January 17, Chicago was just recovering from a 14.9 inch snowfall that had occurred on January 6-7. The Chicago Daily Tribune noted for the 17th "Partly cloudy and continued cold, snow flurries, colder at night."  The high was 16 degrees above zero, the low was 6 above.  A typical cold, dreary Chicago day in January.

Ida Malawsky was buried at Gate 54 - Order Brith Abraham at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, where her children erected that beautiful monument as a tribute to her.  I can say without hesitation that you never get over the death of your mother.  My own mother has been gone almost eleven years, but I still think about her every day.  The other day when we were having a bad snowstorm I had a fleeting thought "I better call mother to make sure she's OK".  Old habits die hard.  I'm sure that when Ida's family took her to the American Hospital on January 15th they didn't possibly think she would be dead two days later.

It is safe to assume from the beautiful monument they erected for her, that Ida Malawsky's family loved her very much.  It is impossible to adequately thank our mothers (or fathers, for that matter)  for all they do for us, but Ida's family wanted to publicly acknowledge her love for them, and their love for her.  A beautiful tribute to a beautiful mother.

Ida Malawsky

Ida Malawsky - devoted mother - may she rest in peace.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Readers of the Chicago Tribune from June 27, 1977 were shocked by a story that appeared "above the fold" on the front page:


The remains of movie producer Michael Todd were stolen from his simple grave in a west suburban Forest Park cemetery, it was discovered Sunday.

Elizabeth Taylor had visited the cemetery Friday and placed a dozen long stemmed roses and an American flag on the grave of her former husband.

The rubber bag containing Todd's body, burned beyond recognition when he died in a 1958 plane crash, was removed from its bronze coffin. 

Forest Park police are "more than baffled," Investigator Michael Thompson said Sunday.  No other graves in the cemetery were vandalized over the weekend, he said.

Miss Taylor, who was married to Todd when he died, told police Sunday she had received no threats or ransom demands.  She said she visited the grave Friday for the first time in years while she and her husband were at a stopover at O'Hare International Airport.

Miss Taylor, 45, is married to former Navy Secretary John Warner and lives in Warrenton, Va.

The open coffin was discovered about Noon Sunday by a woman visiting a nearby grave in an unfenced area of the Jewish Waldheim Cemetery.  Todd's grave is about 100 feet south of Roosevelt Road, just west of Des Plaines Avenue.

Police surmise the body was stolen between 5 p.m. Friday, when the cemetery closed, and Sunday morning when it reopened.
The thieves had to dig about 4 1/2" feet before reaching the coffin, buried in his family's plot in the Congregation Beth Aaron section of the cemetery, Thompson said.

Hidden by large branches they placed near the gravesite, the thieves pried open the bronze lid of the coffin and smashed through a glass case to remove the remains.

Thompson said no fingerprints were found, but some digging tools which may have been used in the crime were discovered nearby.

A light brown granite tombstone dedicated by Miss Taylor in 1959 was knocked over, but not damaged.  The stone bore Todd's original name, Avram (sic) Hirsch Goldbogen, and Michael Todd, the name he used when he went into showbusiness.

A spokesman for the Albuquerque, N.M. funeral home where Todd's body was taken after the fatal plane crash said Sunday that after almost 20 years, only "some flaky ashes" would remain.  He said Todd's body had been burned "100 per cent" and had to be identified by dental charts.  No attempt was made to embalm it, he said.

There were no valuables in the grave, the spokesman said.

Todd, who was Miss Taylor's third husband, would have been 68 last Wednesday.

He and three others died when his twin-engine plane, named "Lucky Liz" for Miss Taylor, crashed during a storm in the Zuni Mountains of western New Mexico on March 22, 1958.

Todd spent his boyhood in Chicago and began his show business career here as an impresario for a flame dancer at the Century of Progress Exposition in 1934.

He moved to New York City to  produce Broadway shows, and later to Hollywood, where he produced his biggest success, the movie 'Around the World in 80 Days'.

After his marriage to Miss Taylor in 1957, Todd bought two Chicago theaters, which became the Cinestage and the Michael Todd.

When he died, he was at the high point of his career.  His final year was a continuing triumph, as he circled the world with Miss Taylor to unending fanfare.  He tossed grandiose parties and lived on a lavish scale.

He left an estate, estimated from $3 million to $5 million.  Half of the estate went to Miss Taylor and their daughter, Elizabeth Frances, in the form of a trust fund.  The other half went to his son by a former marriage, Michael Jr.

Wow!  Grave robbing in Chicagoland - and Elizabeth Taylor's husband, no less.  Let's see what we can find (under the circumstances I won't say "dig up") on the life of Avrom Goldbogen who was better known to the world by his business name of Michael Todd.

Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on June 11, 1909 to Chaim Goldbogen (1872-1931) and Sophia, nee Hellerman (1868-1962).  The Goldbogens had eight children:  Joseph (1889-1958), Sadie (1893-????), Carl (1894-1972), Frank (1897-????), Shirley (1901-????), Edith (1904-1964), Avrom (1909-1958) and David (1910-1976). Chaim Goldbogen had many occupations through the years: laborer (1906), peddler (1916), painter (1918), and even a mention that he was a shochet (kosher slaughterer), but I found no evidence that he was ever a rabbi as some sources have stated, nor does his tombstone indicate that he was a rabbi - in Hebrew or in English.  I did find one reference that said that Chaim's father had been a rabbi but I was unable to verify this.

In 1918 the family decided to move south looking for greener pastures and ended up in Chicago, arriving right as World War I ended on November 11, 1918.

None of the Goldbogen family appeared to have participated in the 1920 US Census.

The stories of Avrom (now "Abe") Goldbogen's youth are legion.  Some are undoubtedly apocryphal, but many contain a kernel of truth buried deep.  Some of the more interesting takes are that 1) He was expelled in the sixth grade for running a game of craps inside the school; 2) In high school, he produced the school play, "The Mikado", which was considered a hit; 3) He eventually dropped out of high school and worked at a variety of jobs, including shoe salesman and store window decorator; 4)  One of his first jobs was as a soda jerk. When the drugstore went out of business, young Abe had acquired enough medical knowledge from his work there to be hired at Chicago's Michael Reese Hospital as a type of "security guard" to stop visitors from bringing in food that was not on the patient's diet.  Whether any or all of these are true is lost in the mists of time, but they do add some "flavor" to the story.

Easier to verify are Goldbogen's first ventures into the construction business.  As he told it, he made, and then lost, a fortune. He opened the College of Bricklaying of America, buying the materials to teach bricklaying on credit. The school was forced to close when the Bricklayers' Union did not view the college as an accepted place of study.  Abe and his brother, Frank, next opened their own construction company.

His first flirtation with the film industry was when he served as a contractor to Hollywood studios, soundproofing production stages during the transition from silent pictures to sound.  The company he owned with his brother went bankrupt when its financial backing failed in early days of the Great Depression.  Not yet twenty-one, Abe Goldbogen had lost over $1 million.  But as he once commented, "I've never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being broke is only a temporary situation."

On the personal side, Abe Goldbogen married Bertha Freshman (1905-1946) in Crown Point, Indiana on February 14, 1927.  Having relocated to the west coast, their son Michael Goldbogen was born in Los Angeles on October 8, 1929.

The 1930 US Census shows the young Goldbogen family living at 105 N. Commonwealth Avenue in Los Angeles.  They were renting - paying $75 per month for their apartment.  The Hollywood Freeway now covers 105 N. Commonwealth Avenue.  Abe lists his occupation as "Construction."  They were doing well enough to report a live-in maid "Annie B. Shine."

A young Michael Todd

Abe returned to Chicago for the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933-34. It was at the fair that he produced an attraction called the "Flame Dance."  In this number, gas jets were designed to burn part of a dancer's costume off, leaving her naked in appearance. The act attracted enough attention to bring an offer from the Casino de Paris nightclub in New York City. Abe got his first taste of Broadway with the engagement and was determined to find a way to work there.

After seeing the Federal Theatre Project's Chicago run of "The Swing Mikado", an adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "The Mikado" with an all African-American cast, Abe decided to do his own version on Broadway which he called "The Hot Mikado", despite protests by the FTP.  "The Hot Mikado", starring Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, opened on Broadway March 23, 1939.

We don't know exactly when "Abe Goldbogen" decided to change his name to "Michael Todd", but we do know when he made it official. Abe's father Chaim Goldbogen died in Chicago on September 30, 1931. On that day, Avrom Goldbogen died as well, but was replaced by Michael Todd.  Abe knew that his father would never have approved of the name change, so he waited until his father's death to make the change official.

The 1940 US Census, reports the Michael Todd family living at 25 Central Park West in New York City.

25 Central Park West, New York City

Michael was a "Theatrical Producer", his wife Bertha Todd was a housewife, and their son was Michael Todd Jr.

Bertha Freshman Goldbogen Todd died suddenly at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica on August 12, 1946 of a collapsed lung while undergoing surgery for a damaged tendon in her finger. Todd and his wife had been separated at the time of her death; less than a week earlier, he had filed for divorce.  There were whispered rumors that Michael Todd had arranged for Bertha to be murdered, but nothing ever came of this.

I am not going to cover Michael Todd's extensive career as a theatrical and then a movie producer here. These topics have been more than adequately reported in many other places.  If you want more information, a good place to start is Wikipedia:

After the death of his first wife, Todd went on to marry Joan Blondell on July 5, 1947.  They were divorced in 1950.

Todd's last marriage was the one that was the most famous:  he married Elizabeth Taylor on February 2, 1957.

Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Todd on their wedding day

Todd was 47 and Taylor was 24 (two and a half years younger than Todd's son); he was also her third husband, and she was his third wife. As they say "Third time's a charm."  Todd and Taylor had a daughter, Elizabeth Frances (Liza) Todd, who was born on August 6, 1957.

In 1950, Mike Todd had formed Cinerama with the broadcaster Lowell Thomas and the inventor Fred Waller  to exploit a widescreen film process created by Waller that used three film projectors to create a giant composite image on a curved screen. The first Cinerama feature, 'This is Cinerama', was released in September 1952.

Before its release, Todd left the Cinerama Company to develop a widescreen process which would eliminate some of Cinerama's flaws. The result was the Todd-AO process, designed by Todd and the American Optical Company.  The process was first used commercially for the successful film adaptation of 'Oklahoma!' (1955). Todd soon produced the film for which he is best remembered, 'Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days', which debuted on October 17, 1956. Costing $6 million to produce, the movie earned $16 million at the box office.  In 1957, 'Around the World in 80 Days' won the Best Picture Academy Award.

Michael Todd with Oscar and Elizabeth.  He loved them both very much.

In the 1950s Todd acquired the Harris and Selwyn Theaters in downtown Chicago. The Selwyn was renamed Michael Todd's Cinestage and made into a showcase for Todd-AO productions, while the Harris was renamed the Michael Todd Theatre and operated as a more conventional cinema. The facades of both theaters survive as part of the Goodman Theatre complex, although the interiors have been demolished.

Michael Todd had everything.  He was rich and famous, his wife was one of the most beautiful women in the world, he was a successful movie producer with an Oscar to prove it - Michael Todd was on top of the world  But then it all came crashing down.

On March 22, 1958, Todd's private plane Lucky Liz crashed near Grants, New Mexico. The plane, a twin-engine Lockheed Lodestar, suffered engine failure while being flown, grossly overloaded, in icing conditions at an altitude which was too high to sustain flight with only one working engine under those conditions. The plane went out of control and crashed, killing all four on board.

In addition to Todd, those who died in the crash were screenwriter and author Art Cohn, who was writing Todd's biography The Nine Lives of Mike Todd, pilot Bill Verner, and co-pilot Tom Barclay.  Elizabeth Taylor had wanted to fly to New York with her husband, but stayed home with a cold after her pleas to come along were overruled by Todd.  Just hours before the crash, Todd described the plane as safe as he phoned friends, including Joseph Mankiewicz and Kirk Douglas, in an attempt to recruit a gin rummy player for the flight: "Ah, c'mon," he said. "It's a good, safe plane. I wouldn't let it crash. I'm taking along a picture of Elizabeth, and I wouldn't let anything happen to her."

Michael Todd Jr. wanted his father's body to be cremated after it was identified through dental records  and brought to Albuquerque, New Mexico, but Elizabeth refused, saying he would not want cremation. Elizabeth Taylor had converted to Judaism when she married Todd, and she knew that cremation was frowned upon by observant Jews (although there is no evidence that Todd had been particularly observant).

So, the remains of Michael Todd was buried in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, at Gate 66 - Beth Aaron in the Goldbogen family plot.

But just what was there to bury?  In his autobiography, Eddie Fisher, who considered himself to be Todd's best friend, stated:

"There was a closed coffin, but I knew it was more for show than anything else. The plane had exploded on impact and whatever remains were found couldn't be identified....The only items recovered from the wreckage were Mike's wedding ring and a pair of platinum cuff links I'd given him."

Somewhere along the way a rumor was started that Elizabeth Taylor had placed a diamond ring valued at $100,000.00 on her husband's finger prior to his burial.  Not to be morbid, but anyone who did the least amount of research about the accident could figure out that there wasn't enough left of Michael Todd for Elizabeth to place any ring on.

So that brings us back to the Tribune story at the beginning of this article.  The rumor mill was rife, and although the family said they had not received any ransom demands, the prevailing opinion was that a ransom demand would be forthcoming.

The Chicago Daily Tribune from June 28, 1977 contained a follow up story:


Elizabeth Taylor told police she is baffled by the theft of the remains of her former husband Michael Todd from a suburban Forest Park cemetery, spokesman for the actress said Monday.

"She's been in contact with the police there [Forest Park]," John Springer, Miss Taylor's public relations representative told reporters.  "She is very upset and as baffled as anyone over the motive."

Todd's remains were stolen from a grave in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery, Forest Park, sometime during the weekend.

"It could be the work of sick pranksters, it might be a possible extortion attempt, or it might have been the work of some anti-Semitic organization that wants to attract attention to its cause," said Sgt. Richard Archambault of the Forest Park police.

"Who knows?  Maybe someone thinks he can make some money selling the remains, Archambault said.

Todd, who grew up in Chicago and later became a successful movie producer, was burned beyond recognition in a plane crash in 1958.  His remains, identified through dental charts, were placed in a rubber bag and buried in a bronze coffin.

Archambault said the theft appeared to have been well planned.  The thieves apparently surrounded the gravesite with large tree branches to conceal themselves while digging up the coffin.

The gravesite, in an unfenced area of the cemetery, is 100 feet south of Roosevelt Road, just west of Des Plaines Avenue.

Archambault speculated that at least two, and possibly more, individuals took part in the theft because the tombstone, weighing 250 to 300 pounds, was found 4 feet from the grave.

He estimated it took the thieves as long as five hours to dig up the coffin.  A shovel was found near the grave.

The open coffin was discovered about noon Sunday by a woman visiting a nearby grave.  Police believe the theft took place while the cemetery was closed between 5 p.m. Friday and Sunday morning.

Everyone waited to find out what the thieves wanted.  The Forest Park police tracked down clues as fast as they turned up - still nothing.  And then, what they had least expected to happen, happened.  They found the remains.  Here's the Chicago Tribune from the next day, June 29, 1977:


A plastic bag, believed to contain the remains of movie producer Michael Todd was found Tuesday afternoon under a pile of leaves and branches in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in suburban Forest Park. 

Police said the discovery was made about 75 yards from the gravesite where the former husband of Elizabeth Taylor was buried after his death in a 1958 plane crash.  Todd's remains were stolen from his grave last weekend.

If the remains prove to be Todd's, they will be reburied in a secret location at the request of his son, Michael Todd, Jr., according to Sgt. Richard Archambault of the Forest Park police.

"We don't know if they are the remains of Michael Todd for certain," Archambault said.  "But they have been taken to the county morgue where a pathologist will conduct an examination."

Police were told where to find the remains by Anthony Pellicano, a private detective, Archambault said.  Pellicano said he received instructions on where the body was from an informant.

The bag was covered with dirt, leaves, and branches and possibly could have been missed during an earlier police search of the cemetery, Archambault said.

Pellicano told police his informant suggested that the thieves may have removed the body in the belief that Todd was buried with a 10 carat diamond ring on a finger.  Archambault said Todd's son, who lives in New York City, told police his father was not buried with any jewelry.

"I can only surmise that people made up stories and that this was a rumor someone heard," Archambault said.  He added that the robbers probably became frightened at the publicity resulting from the grave robbery.

Forest Park police Sgt. Gary Doss said the bag probably had not been removed from the cemetery. He said a zipper on the bag had not been opened but that the bag had a tear on one side, apparently caused when it was dragged up a rocky incline near the spot where it was found.

Besides the remains, the bag also contained a few small pieces of what appeared to be a partly burned nylon seat belt, Doss said.

Todd was burned beyond recognition in the plane crash, and his remains, identified through dental charts, were placed in a plastic bag and buried in a bronze coffin.

As quickly as the purloined remains of Michael Todd were in the news, they were just as quickly out of the news after the remains were reburied.  The case remained open, although every lead ended up in a dead end.  That is until 1983 when this article showed up in the Chicago Tribune:


Two criminals were identified in court documents Thursday as the grave robbers who stole movie producer Michael Todd's body in 1977 in search of a diamond ring.

Peter Basile and Glen DeVos, longtime associates of organized crime figures, dug up Todd's body at a Forest Park cemetery in search of a 10-carat diamond ring that Todd supposedly wore when he was buried in 1958, two government witnesses said.

The claim was contained in a sentencing memorandum submitted by J. Kenneth Lowrie, an attorney with the Justice Department's organized crime strike force in Chicago, in connection with last month's conviction of Basile and DeVos on charges of conspiracy to transport stolen property.

Basile, 38, of 2048 Highland Avenue, Wilmette, and DeVos, of Chicago, face sentencing November 21 by federal District Judge James Moran.  The memo was included in the prosecution's request that Basile receive a prison sentence because of his background.

Todd's body was stolen from its grave at Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park on June 28, 1977.  Though the body was found hidden in some bushes 75 yards away a short time later, no one was ever charged in the incident.

Todd, once married to actress Elizabeth Taylor, died in a plane crash in 1958.  He supposedly was wearing a large diamond ring when he was buried.

Salvatore Romano, a government informant, now claims that Basile told him in 1977 that he and DeVos had discovered Todd's grave and dug up his body in search of the rumored ring.  Frank Collotta, a mobster who turned informant, said Basile told him the same story in 1982.

Basile told Romano that he had made a map of the cemetery and found DeVos drunk one night and they both went to dig up the body.

"They went to the grave and dug and dug until they uncovered the casket containing Todd's body," the government memo said.  "Basile told Romano that DeVos did all the digging.

"According to Romano, Basile said that after the casket was uncovered he broke through the top of the casket and he rummaged through a body bag containing Todd's body and was unable to find the ring."

Basile then allegedly dragged the body into some nearby bushes.  A few days later, he was ordered to draw a map identifying the location of the unearthed body and he gave it to an unidentified organized crime leader.

Todd's body was discovered by police after they received information about its location from Anthony Pellicano, a private investigator, who claimed at the time to have received the tip from an informant.

Todd's son said at the time that the late movie mogul wore no jewelry when he was buried.  The body was moved to another location.   

Peter Basile ended up being sentenced to 30 months in prison for charges unrelated to the grave robbery;  I was unable to uncover any sentencing information for Glen DeVos.  To the best of my knowledge, no one every served and time for stealing Michael Todd's body.   

So that's the story of the theft of Michael Todd's remains from his grave at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery. Less than one year later in March of 1978 the headlines screamed that Charlie Chaplin's grave had been opened and his remains stolen from the local cemetery in Switzerland. In Chaplin's case, a ransom demand for $600,000 was made but his widow refused to pay.  Ultimately two laborers were caught and sent to jail and Chaplin's remains were recovered, none the worse for his "excursion."

Michael Todd's remains were said to have been reburied "at a secret location" in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery, but his tombstone was put back in the same spot where in always was.

Michael Todd would be pleased to know that he was still making headlines twenty years after his death.

Avrom Hirsch "Michael Todd" Goldbogen - may he rest in peace.