Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Secret Life of a Satanist's Grandparents: Leon Levy

I begin with the Anton LaVey genealogy prepared by noted amateur genealogist William Addams Reitwiesner.  Reitweisner cautions that this material "should not be considered either exhaustive or authoritative, but rather as a first draft." Accordingly, I've done as much checking and cross-checking as possible.  Genealogy generally involves a whole lot of speculating, a good bit of informed guessing, and occasional wild leaps of faith.   This is especially true when dealing with Anton LaVey. Dates can be off by a decade or more: we frequently run into spelling variants and multiple addresses which may be residences or offices.  So like Reitweisner I must consider these efforts a work in progress: I welcome any corrections or additions by knowledgeable people.

On October 7, 1888 the Omaha Daily Bee informs us "Miss Emma R.H. Goldsmith is to be married to Leon Levy on Tuesday, October 23." The October 28, 1888 edition contains this wedding announcement:
LEVY-GOLDSMITH
Leon Levy, of Bennett, and Miss Emma R.N. Goldsmith were married at the synagogue on Tuesday evening. The reception and supper were given at the Esmond hotel, and dancing continued until 2 a.m.
Bennett was approximately 50 miles (80km) west of Omaha, and is presently a suburb of Lincoln. Was Leon just passing through on his way to visit relatives when he met the pretty young girl from Louisville, Kentucky?  (There are Levys, Levis and Leveys located throughout the region, many from the sizable Jewish community in Metz, France).   Did the sophisticated man with the adorable French accent sweep the young girl off her feet?  We can imagine all sorts of romantic scenarios but the exact story of their meeting will likely remain one of those mysteries Leon's grandson so treasured.

Instead of moving on, Leon and his new bride stayed in Omaha. The city had seen a dramatic boom as settlers flooded Nebraska. Leopold Goldsmith, Emma's father, had been a junk dealer back in Kentucky before moving to Nebraska at some point in the 1880s.  There the Goldsmiths had thrived. The 1914 Omaha city directory lists his sons Louis and Samuel (d/b/a Goldsmith Brothers) as partners in several business ventures, including dry goods and real estate.  There were fortunes to be made on the prairie and so Leon and Emma Levy settled down to the business of making theirs.

Based on the census evidence, they did quite well.  In 1900 the U.S. census lists Leon Levy as a "cigar merchant" (and lists an eight-year old student named Michael, better known today as Anton LaVey's father).  The 1910 census lists him as a "Retail Merchant/Grocery Store:" his son Michael is listed as a clerk in a real estate office while his older son Ike (a graduate of the Creighton University School of Pharmacy) is listed as a "druggist."

But perhaps Leon's most profitable sideline was as a liquor merchant.  And here he ran headlong into a midwestern phenomenon which was big and only getting bigger -- the Temperance Movement.  When crusaders against the evils of drink couldn't ban Demon Rum outright, they set out to harass tavern keepers, pharmacists and other Agents of Drunkenness with taxes, regulations and measures designed to drive them out of business.   In Nebraska the Anti-Saloon League lobbied for Sunday closure of taverns throughout the Commonwealth.  On November 25, 1908 we find this article in the Omaha Daily Bee:
"23" FOR SALOON KEEPERS
-- 
That Number of Indictments Returned on Twenty-Third Day of Month by Grand Jury 
Twenty-three indictments on the twenty-third day of the month against saloon-keepers, druggists and keepers of houses of ill fame for alleged illegal sales of liquor, were returned by the county grand jury yesterday. The saloon keepers were all charged with selling liquor on Sunday: the druggists with failing to keep a register for the recording of liquor sales, and the keepers of houses of ill fame, for selling without a license... 
George McArdle, William Silk, Leon Levy, William Hartman, William C. Paulsen, William Burke, Mrs. L. Burke, Max Grim, Charles Palmtag and Frank Bauer are in the list of saloon keepers.
GOES TO JAIL IN LIEU OF FINE
---
Leon Levi Gets Ninety Days When He Fails to Pay Fine for Lid Lifting 
Upon his faiure to pay a $200 fine which was imposed by Judge Crawford, Leon Levi, who conducts a cigar store at 709 North Sixteenth Street, was sentenced to ninety days in jail Tuesday on the charge of selling liquor without a license.  Levi was arrested Friday night, when the police raided his place of business and confiscated a quantity of liquor.
Things weren't going so well for Leon at home either.  In a May 1911 divorce hearing Emma Levy testified loudly "I would rather go to the pen for twenty years than stay with my husband one day!" The divorce decree was finally signed in late May. Leon left to spend some time in Salt Lake City, where his brother Adolph owned the Vienna Bakery.  Perhaps he was hoping to make a new start: perhaps he wanted to take some time to recoup from what had obviously been a rough year.  Whatever his plans, they were cut suddenly short.  On July 5, 1911, at the age of 54 years, Leon Levy died suddenly of an unexplained disease.

Because Leon died before the sixty-day period in which the decree was to be finalized, Emma Levy's attorneys were able to get a decree abating the divorce. This put her in line to inherit Leon Levy's property, which consisted primarily of some real estate and a $2,000 life insurance policy from the fraternal order Woodmen of the World. (Both Levy and his wife were members of WoW: Emma Levy belonged to the auxiliary "Woodmen Circle").  But for whatever reason Emma did not live long to enjoy her inheritance: by April of 1912 she was also dead and at 21 years old, Michael Levy found himself an orphan.

1914 finds Michael Levy still in Nebraska, working as a travel agent in Grand Island.  Sometime after that he moves to Chicago, where he meets a news stand owner's daughter named Gertrude.  But that is a story for another time.