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Levi Spiegelberg


Bishop Jean Baptist Lamy

 

In his latest work, all produced in his Santa Fe studio, Hertzel engages his very personal history with New Mexico. His ancestor, the pioneer merchant, Levi Spiegelberg had come from Germany in 1848 at the behest of his older brother, Solomon Spiegelberg.  Solomon was a formidable character who arrived in the United States as a teenager in 1842 and promptly became sutler to Colonel Alexander Doniphan’s expedition to Chihuahua. This would be the first of many such contracts with a variety of armies and expeditions. He was the first Jewish merchant to travel the Santa Fe Trail. Solomon, with Levi at first, followed by his other brothers, made an extraordinary amount of money trading, banking, and mining, first in New Mexico territory and then throughout the Southwest. The Spiegelberg brothers also changed Santa Fe, structurally, by helping to build a money-based economy in place of the age-old barter system and visibly, by building the first Philadelphia-style storefront amid the sea of adobe on the Plaza.

 

 

The House of the Spiegelberg Brothers, built by Levi Spiegelberg in 1858. The steel front beams were and are from Pittsburg, PA. The building still stands but the façade was “adobified” in the 1960’s.



This is a heady narrative indeed. Solomon leaves a Prussia amassing land and power in a bid for a united Germany despite aristocratic resistance. By the time Levi arrived in 1848, the Revolutions of 1848 had spread to Germany with the promise of a more egalitarian future but, after the government quickly acquiesced to liberal demands, the conservatives regrouped and clamped down on reform. Throughout all the upheaval in Europe during the nineteenth century, the avenues open to Jews remained sharply restricted. While a thriving Jewish middle class developed in Germany, occupations and land ownership were still curtailed. When the brothers arrived in western North America during its transition from Mexico to the United States, they were able to do things that were not yet possible in Central Europe such as own land and mines. They had become Anglos in the eyes of their co-inhabitants.

 

The brothers were always on the road, buying or selling. On one such trip in 1852, Levi had gone to Independence, Missouri to lead a wagon train of merchandise back to New Mexico when he fell deathly ill on the Santa Fe Trail.  Thinking that he might have cholera, the teamsters left him to die in a small sod hut by the side of the road.  Fortuitously, he was found and nursed by the future Archbishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy. Lamy was returning to Santa Fe with a group of nuns from the Sisters of Loretto of Kentucky whose order had answered Lamy’s pleas for help in educating his new flock. By the time the party found Spiegelberg, they had already endured a cholera outbreak themselves, losing the Mother Superior to death and with one nun too ill to go on. Recognizing that Levi did not have cholera, he was loaded into Lamy’s wagon. Levi did not die on that trip but was healed by the clergy and went on to forge the link between, Hertzel, his family and Santa Fe.