The History of Our Future
Seven generations connect.
A few years ago, I proudly introduced my grandson to his great-great-great great-grandfather Levi Spiegelberg, depicted on a monument in the Santa Fe rail yard (Levi is 2nd from the right seated with his hand tucked into his jacket) The monument shares a brief history of the Spiegelberg accomplishments in the early frontier town of Santa Fe.
As a child, I was captivated by my mother's stories of the young Levi Spiegelberg who, in 1848 at the age of 17, traveled from Prussia to join his brother Solomon in Santa Fe, NM. They started the extremely successful Spiegelberg Brothers mercantile company. The New Mexican territory offered the Spiegelbergs opportunities that were unavailable to Jews in their German homeland. Four other brothers joined the business in the following years.
In 1852, Levi had gone to Independence Missouri to lead 25 ox drawn wagons loaded with merchandise, back to New Mexico. Somewhere along the Santa Fe Trail, Levi fell deathly ill. Thinking he might have cholera, the teamsters left him to die in a small sod hut by the side of the trail.
Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the future archbishop of Santa Fe, was in a wagon train behind Levi’s. From his vantage point, Lamy could see the stalled wagons and a fallen man being carried into a hut. Lamy, who was returning to Santa Fe with a group of nuns from the Sisters of Loretto, stopped to assist. Recognizing that Levi did not have cholera, Lamy loaded Levi onto his wagon, where the clergy nursed Levi back to health.
They traveled on to New Mexico where they laid the spiritual, educational and economic foundations of modern Santa Fe. Lamy forged the religious and spiritual center of his new home with the construction of the St. Francis Cathedral. On the keystone above the cathedral entrance is carved a Tetragrammaton with the inscription of Yahweh in Hebrew. It is believed that Lamy was honoring his friendship with the Spiegelberg family as well as all the Jewish merchants and immigrants living in thier frontier town
The Loretto nuns went on to build the Loretto chapel, with the "Miraculous Staircase", for the girl’s academy they founded.
The Spiegelberg Brothers Company Store
Levi Spiegelberg went on to build his financial and mercantile empire on the Santa Fe Plaza. In 1858 he went to Philadelphia, I think he was inspired and began thinking about a building for his company. He consulted, gathered materials, and had cast (in Pittsburg, PA) iron columns and a beam inscribed with Spiegelberg Bros. The materials were shipped via horse drawn wagons, then onto a train and finally loaded onto ox carts for the months long trek along the Santa Fe Trail. A little of Philly comes to Santa Fe. Levi and the Spiegelbergs built one of the first Philadelphia style store, iron front, brick, block, tiles and lots of glass amongst the traditional adobe structures made of mud and straw.
Coming even further full circle, Levi bought the land along San Francisco Street on the Santa Fe Plaza from Archbishop Lamy, as the property had formerly been part of a Spanish military chapel La Castrense, Our Lady of Light. The "Spiegelberg Bros."building still stands today but unfortunately it was "adobified" in the 1960's and the facade was stuccoed over to make it look like an adobe. In the late 1860’s Levi and his wife Bette and their family, that eventually became twelve children, moved to Brooklyn, NY where Levi became the east coast supplier for "The House of Spiegelberg Bros."
Jean Baptist Lamy
Today, Santa Fe is a fusion of cultures and a celebration of the arts. It’s an extremely creative, vital and progressive community. Sadly, we are not immune to the recent stirrings of hatred in our devolving humanity, spurred on by our political leaders. I share my ancestor’s stories to humanize the Spiegelberg Brothers recently defaced monument. Its destruction is personally painful to see as these remarkable lives are degraded. The rising anti Semitism and racial hatred are signs of a sick society.
Perhaps the cure can be found in the moment of compassion that changed my family’s life, when the future archbishop of Santa Fe saved the life of a Jewish merchant along the Santa Fe Trail. That compassion has lasted generations and is partly why I’m here today. In fact, compassion might be the reason many of us are here.
History helps us understand the future; the options are clear. We will either devolve into hatred or evolve with compassion. Either path will affect us for generations. When humanity is under attack, we are all falling. As it is written in the Talmud: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”
The monument vandalized
I moved to Santa Fe in 2015 and set to work building a sculpture to commemorate a moment of compassion. The future archbishop of Santa Fe saved the life of a Jewish merchant along the Santa Fe Trail. The two-part sculpture "Signs of Life" consists of "In His Eye" when Jean Baptist Lamy saw a "Falling Man", Levi Spiegelberg. The sculpture is now complete and is currently on display till May 2020 at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden as part of the exhibition "HUMAN NATURE". My eight sculptures are part of a series titled "Stories From My Ancestors" are exhibited along with the sculptures of the late Alan Houser and David Pearson.
"Signs of Life" with "Falling Man" and "In His Eye" currently at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, will be available for exhibition after May 2020.
Great-great-grandson of Levi Spiegelberg