I have no date or location for this photo of my great great grandfather John Henry Rapp, but he was born in 1858 so you can do your own assessment; to me he looks about 60 here, so maybe this photo was taken during or a bit after the First World War.
On a visit I made to Baltimore in 1992 when my mother’s dad, my grandfather John Lewis Dowell Jr., was still alive, I had a rare fit of good sense and sat down with a pad and pen and asked him about his ancestors. Among other things, he told this story about his grandfather:
John Henry was a master cigar maker in Baltimore, Grandpa said, but before that — before the turn of the century — he had been a performer on the vaudeville stage in an act called the Brilliant Quartet. The quartet played on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit around the East Coast. It was a hard way to make a living and the quartet often barely earned enough to survive on. Once when they arrived in town so broke they couldn’t even afford to claim their luggage, they convinced a theater operator to add them as an extra act. They closed with the number “Home Sweet Home” and their rendition inspired an old man to get up and walk to the front and toss a silver dollar onto the stage. The quartet finished with each man fixing his eyes on that coin, and as soon as the curtain fell in front of them they all pounced on it and started wrestling each other in order to win possession of it. The curtain came up again a moment later,and when the audience saw the quartet scrapping on the floor the house erupted in laughter. So delighted was the crowd that thereafter the four men incorporated the gag into their act. A stooge would come up and throw the coin for them. Looking at his face here, I can see it all going down.
Actually, John Henry Rapp was a cigar maker twice, for he was also a cigar maker before he was a performer. According to the notes I took as my grandfather was talking, “he left cigar making the first time because of the big strike of 1886, during which the magnates decided to move their operations out of town, to Hanover, and Manchester, Redline. He didn’t strike, but he quit and went into vaudeville.” Later he returned to cigar making, but this time went into business for himself. I scribbled two notes in the margin, the first: “made cigars on his own time while he worked at bank”; and the second: “Ironman”. About the first note I wonder whether it was a clarification about J.H.R.’s early cigar making period or of his late. About the second note I have no idea at all. Maybe the name of his cigar product? Maybe a nickname he had for some reason? I don’t remember and I’ll never know now, because his grandson, my Grandpa, is dead these fourteen years and there’s no one left to ask.
John Henry was born in Maryland in 1858, and married Sophie M. Rosenthal, who was born in 1860. My mother remembers her great grandfather as “a tall, lanky man”, and she remembers the row house on Baltimore’s West North Avenue that he lived in in later years with his daughter Jeanette and his sister-in-law Ella Rosenthal after Sophie died. Mom said the place smelled strongly of cigar smoke. She recalled that her great grandfather had a friend from his vaudeville days named Jimmy Marin (or Maron, she never saw the name spelled and the second syllable was unaccented), and that this Jimmy would try to teach my mom how to tap dance like Shirley Temple. But because he was from New York Jimmy always said “Shoily Temple”.
One last delightful and incongruous tidbit that Grandpa Dowell told me and I wrote down: “John Henry Rapp taught Sunday school for a while”.
Click the image above for a larger view. For an even higher-resolution, printable version, click here. – mdf
Image archive ID:
About the physical photograph:
Written on back:
“John Henry Rapp
Note: the photo is printed on a post card.