The People of Pancho

At Play In The Archive

Doing the HAPAG Flip

No, I’m not learning the latest dance craze. I’m trying to interpret this photo from my great-grandpa Leo’s collection. On the back of the photo, someone wrote, “1900.”

Back of photo: "1900"

I spent a lot of time with my loupe on this one, because there are many interesting things going on here.

First, notice that the American flag is hung backward. At first, I thought that the photographer must have simply printed the negative in reverse, but when I flipped the image, all the text (such as on the sign of the shop next door) showed up backwards.

Back of photo: "1900"

So, it seems that the photographer did it right the first time — it’s the person who hung the flag that got it wrong.

Next, I peered in the window to see if there were any other identifying clues, and I got lucky.

Back of photo: "1900"

The sign inside the window identifies the location as an office of the Hamburg American (Something) Company. Unfortunately, part of the company name is obscured, but I think the missing word might be Packet, as in Hamburg Amerikanische Paketfahrt Aktien-Gesellschaft (HAPAG for short). I’m not certain if this office was located in Hamburg or New York, because none of the words that show in the photo are entirely conclusive.

If I really go out on a limb, I think this guy is my great-grandpa Leo. However, if that is the case, then this photo couldn’t possibly be from 1900, because this guy is clearly older than 10 years old (Leo was born in 1890). So, it’s a mystery.

Back of photo: "1900"

My money is on this office being located in Hamburg. It seems unlikely that some passer-by in New York wouldn’t have immediately pointed out that the American flag was hung up backward. How embarrassing!

According to Leo’s HAPAG pin, he worked for HAPAG from 1912 to 1937. Many other members of the family also worked for HAPAG, including Leo’s brother-in-law, Bruno Keil, who was married to his sister Emmi Lessiack Keil, as well his future father-in-law Hermann Spielmann, and future brother-in-law Walter Spielmann/Spellman. Much more on HAPAG to come in future posts — my People just could not stay off the boats.

Happy Sunday, People!

22 comments on “Doing the HAPAG Flip

  1. Amy
    December 14, 2014

    Now I have to go Google Hapag! Never heard of it. One question: if the photo was taken in Hamburg, why would the words be in English? Maybe some immigrant hung the flag and didn’t know it was backwards? Since I don’t know anything about Hapag, I will go read more to see if I can answer my own question!

    Like

    • Pancho
      December 14, 2014

      It was a major shipping company prior to WWII. The ship involved in the voyage of the damned was a HAPAG ship (the St. Louis). There are many, many HAPAG posts pn the way, because it’s a huge part of our family history. Stay tuned!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amy
        December 14, 2014

        You know I will!

        Like

  2. Su Leslie
    December 15, 2014

    I’m tempted to agree with Amy. I think if the office was in Hamburg, the signwriting would be in German. It looks like the sign for the office next door to the HAPAG is also in English – the top line says “… & Co.” One thing I noticed though, the writing on the basement windows is in the sort of gothic script that I associate with German. It’s a fantastic photo: I love these old street scenes. They are so rich in detail 🙂

    Like

    • Pancho
      December 15, 2014

      Could be! In that case, if the guy in the foreground is Leo, then the date of the photo could not possibly be 1900, because he didn’t get to New York until 1912. It’s a mystery.

      Like

      • Su Leslie
        December 15, 2014

        I wonder who wrote the date on the back? If it was done later, then it could easily have been wrong. Fashions didn’t change much in those days, and clothes from 1900 probably looked a lot like clothes from 1910 or later. I did wonder though about trying to find out where the company had it’s headquarters in the different cities and trying to see if there were photos that might help you identify the building. Actually that’s one argument for it NOT being Hamburg; I bet the company probably had a grander building in its home city during that period. Sigh; I’m not much help am I? 🙂

        Like

      • Pancho
        December 16, 2014

        I didn’t recognize the handwriting. HAPAG history is pretty widely available (it was a very big deal back in the day), so finding office addresses shouldn’t be too challenging. The more I think about it, the more I think you and Amy are right–the office pictured is probably not the big one in Hamburg. Thanks for stopping by, Su!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Su Leslie
        December 16, 2014

        🙂 I love the way a single photo can send us off in all sorts of interesting directions! HAPAG-Lloyd must still be a pretty big company; I see shipping containers with their logo on at our port all the time. All the best, Su.

        Like

      • Pancho
        December 16, 2014

        Yes, still huge. We saw them often in the Canal Zone as well. The company underwent huge changes during the war; more on that in coming posts.

        Like

      • Su Leslie
        December 16, 2014

        🙂

        Like

      • Pancho
        December 16, 2014

        There is also a booming market for HAPAG ephemera on eBay. It was probably an important part of many family histories.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Su Leslie
        December 16, 2014

        Yes; I guess they employed thousands of people over the years.

        Like

      • Pancho
        December 16, 2014

        Not to mention all the passengers!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Su Leslie
        December 16, 2014

        True. For years after I flew BOAC and Air NZ as a little kid emigrating to NZ I kept the log books, pins and other things I’d been given on board. 🙂

        Like

  3. Sheryl
    December 16, 2014

    I think that you are on the right track; and, that the date written on the photo is incorrect. I have stacks and stacks of photos with no labels on them. Sometimes I’m not positive who the people are in a photo or the date, but I still write something down because I think that a guess is better than nothing. I try to always put a “?” after what I write when I’m not sure–but I could see that others might not always do that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pancho
      December 16, 2014

      That seems like a very plausible scenario, Sheryl.

      Like

  4. Mom
    December 20, 2014

    About the flag, it could just be a sloppy error. In Panama, the Panamanian flag has a very right way to be hung. Whether it’s hung vertically or horizontally, the blue star must be top left. Recently in November, which is Panama’s “Mes de la Patria”, we were at our optometrist’s office, and she had a Panamanian flag hung in the glass window front. From her side looking out, it was hung correctly, but for anyone looking at it from the outside, it was backward. I wonder if the flag in your photo could be something as simple as that. We’ll probably never know…

    Like

    • Pancho
      December 22, 2014

      I think that is as good a theory as any!

      Like

  5. Mom
    December 20, 2014

    One more quick observation. The flag on the left is quite likely a German flag, so someone may have simply been trying to be artistic in hanging both flags to face the center. Oh, these wonderful mysteries!

    Like

    • Pancho
      December 22, 2014

      You are quite right–that is the German flag, and it’s very hard to hang backwards because the stripes are horizontal. As long as the black one is on the top, all is well. Because it’s a black and white photo, it’s a little hard to tell, but I’d venture to guess that the black stripe is positioned properly. Viewed from inside or outside, the flag would be correct.

      Like

  6. Mom
    December 20, 2014

    Yet another observation. Even on a flag pole, the U.S. flag is occasionally seen from it’s backward side, no? Ok! I’m done!

    Like

    • Pancho
      December 22, 2014

      Yes, probably set up to be viewed properly from inside the office.

      Like

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This entry was posted on December 14, 2014 by in Lessiack People, Spielmann People and tagged , , , .
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