Ohio History Journal

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Book Notes

Book Notes




The Synagogues of Kentucky:   History and Architecture. By Lee Shai

Weissbach. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1995. xiv + 184p.;

illustrations, tables, appendices, notes, index.) In this second volume in the

Perspective's on Kentucky's Past series, professor Weissbach provides a compre-

hensive survey on Kentucky's Jewish communities and synagogues, and one of

the first works that studies small Jewish communities outside the major American

urban centers. Presenting information about an ethnic group not typically

thought of in connection with Kentucky, this hardbound text provides a detailed

inventory of synagogue buildings built over the last 150 years. Although never

large numerically, Kentucky's Jewish population was centered in 12 cities across

the Commonwealth, organized into many branches and different congregations.

The longer-established central European Jews, first settling in Louisville in the

1840s, functioned differently than the more Orthodox, newer Eastern European

congregations that dominated Kentucky Judaism from 1881-1931. Differences in

synagogue design and interior plan, including Moorish, neoclassical and domed

Byzantine architectural influences, are chronologically profiled. A central theme

of the book is the impact post-World War II suburbanization had on the Jewish

community and synagogue design. Weissbach explains how the Diaspora away

from the center cities, along with social changes in the Jewish community, re-

sulted in a contemporary style synagogue with minimal external iconography. Of

26 pre-World War II synagogues, only 11 are standing, and only 2 are used as syn-

agogues. Generously illustrated with maps and archival photos, Synagogues of

Kentucky also includes a twenty-page bibliographical essay and a series of tables

listing the locations, dates, architects and status of all known Kentucky syna-



Ohio Historical Society                                  Steve Gordon



Lincoln's Unknown Private Life: An Oral History By His Black Housekeeper

Mariah Vance 1850-1860. Edited by Lloyd Ostendorf and Walter Oleksy.

(Mamaroneck, New York: Hastings House Book Publishing, 1995. 563p.; illus-

trations.) This is a singular account. The story goes like this: in 1850 thirty-

one-year-old Mariah Vance went to work as a laundress and domestic for Abraham

and Mary Lincoln in their Springfield, Illinois, home; she worked for the Lincolns

for a decade, until the new presidential family moved to the White House; during

her employment, Vance closely observed the family and witnessed events-in-

cluding Lincoln's secret baptism-that no one else saw, or at least recorded.

Skip ahead forty years to 1900. In that year a seventeen-year-old office worker,

Adah Lilas Sutton, met the eighty-one-year-old Mrs. Vance and became entranced

by her stories of working for the Lincolns. Over the next four years, Sutton

recorded, in "shorthand notes," many of Vance's reminiscences. The project ended

when Mrs. Vance died four years later.

Skip ahead half a century. In 1955 artist and Lincolniana collector extraordi-

naire Lloyd Ostendorf placed an advertisement in Hobbies magazine offering to

purchase Lincoln-related and Civil War items. Mrs. Vance contacted him, and