Posted By Norman Gasbarro on November 24, 2010
About a year ago, longtime friend, Bob Linblad, invited a small group to visit the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. He had just completed his “certification” as a docent and wanted to practice on some of us who he knew would challenge his knowledge of the collection. The tour began in a small room just off the lobby. In that room were two portraits that immediately caught my attention. Both were Thomas Sully portraits – one of Rebecca Gratz and one of her father Michael Gratz. Bob explained that the Rosenbach brothers were collectors of anything “Gratz” and that the museum possessed many items related to the family. Bob had done his research paper on Rebecca Gratz (a paper is a requirement to become a docent) and in the process had consulted with the resident docent expert on the Gratz family, Susan Sklaroff. Bob said Susan would be someone I would want to meet – particularly with my interest in Gratz, Pennsylvania, and my volunteering at the Gratz Historical Society – Gratz being named after its founder Simon Gratz, brother of Rebecca.
An e-mail and a phone call later I was sitting in Susan’s dining room going over genealogies with her and sharing what I knew about the family. The branch of the Gratz family in Gratz, Pennsylvania, was relatively new to her as it was not included in the printed genealogy she showed me of pioneer Jewish families of America. She gave me a list of Civil War soldiers in the Gratz family. I gave her information on the family of Simon’s son Theodore Gratz, including the fact that Theodore’s son John died in the war and that the Gratz Historical Society had copies of wartime letters between John and his mother. Since there was no contact between the children of Simon and Rebecca, it was clear that Rebecca Gratz did not know of John’s death. Religious differences were probably a factor in the separation of the Gratz family. It most likely was not distance that kept them apart, for Rebecca frequently corresponded with relatives in Kentucky and in parts of the South – even as they fought on both sides of the struggle.
Susan Sklaroff is the creator and author of the blog, Rebecca Gratz and 19th Century America. There are two current posts on the Civil War. Both are worth reading and pertain to the Civil War Project of the Gratz Historical Society. Rather than repeating what she has written, I’ve linked this post to “Rebecca Gratz and the Civil War” and “A Civil War Tragedy.”
By the way, Bob was so well schooled in all the details of the collection that he wasn’t stumped on anything we asked of him. And to him, I owe my meeting with Susan. Thank you Bob!
The members of the Gratz Historical Society may have an opportunity to visit the Rosenbach Museum and Library during an upcoming planned trip to Philadelphia. With the acquisition of additional Gratz items and the number of experts on the Gratz family, it certainly should be included.