At Play In The Archive
One of the more puzzling artifacts that I came across in my recent scanning binge (oh, but there is still so much more to do, People) is this unlabeled photograph of what appears to be a carved funereal wreath.
Unfortunately, the back of the image yielded no information about who the wreath memorialized, or where it was installed — I say installed because it looks like a rather permanent fixture to me, but I have no real way of knowing. I enlarged the little plaque at the bottom, which yielded an interesting clue. The wreath was signed by one “A. Lessiack, Hamburg.”
I assume this to be my great-great-grandfather, Anton Ludwig Lessiack.
But what does it say? Who does the wreath honor? I typed the inscription into Google Translate and got…utter nonsense. Truly, I could not make any sense of the few words returned, and even trying different letters for some of the more obscure characters yielded nothing that made any sense. So, I once again turned to my friend and translator extraordinaire Maren Namdar for help. To my surprise, Maren was stumped too.
“It says: The wreath that you have tied (or bound) yourself (the last word is “gebunden” – it comes from the verb “binden”) will survive ______ (cannot make out the last two words in this line. Will investigate, however, and get back to you.)”
So, I’m not a complete idiot. Even a native German speaker was stumped by this one. A few weeks later, Maren got back to me with more information, and it reveals a subtle sense of humor on the part of my great-great-grandfather Anton.
“I asked my German friends about the meaning of the plaque and after a long discussion we came up with something that is different from what I first thought.
So, it is “The wreath that you have tied (or bound) yourself will outlive this time (or possibly this ship) because it refers to iron. (It made no sense to my friends and they are saying that the expression that nobody had ever heard of, could well refer to difficult times.)
The dedication line is interesting. At first I thought that Mr. Lessiack was maybe not the best speller, but we came to a different insight with the signature. There is a sense of humor there. The line says that the plaque is dedicated, with admiration, to the grand (or big) skipper from the little skipper (skipper is misspelled). It is well possible that the big skipper was from Southern Germany or Austria, where they pronounce the eu in “Steurer” as “Steirer”, with ei.”
Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere. I replied to Maren with two more clues: I know that great-great-grandpa Anton came from Steiermark, Austria, and I have reason to suspect that he might have been quite short in stature, like his son Leo (In his stocking feet, Leo was 5’5″; I know this from his WWI and WWII draft registration cards).
“This is fascinating. The plaque was definitely crafted by Anton Lessiack and dedicated to whoever the big skipper was. In the pronunciation game, a guy from the Steiermark is a “Steirer”, and a skipper is a “Steurer” – the first one is pronounced “Steirer”, like in “admire” – the second one is “Steurer” which is pronounced as “Stoyrer” (the sound is like in the Jewish “oy vey”. Even today, an Austrian-speaking person never gets the “oy” sound right.)”
So, it turns out that great-great-grandpa Anton memorialized his friend, the mysterious Big Skipper (possibly also from Steiermark), with a linguistic pun, and referred to himself as the “Little Skipper” which was possibly a nod to his rather diminutive height. How clever. Knowing that my great-great-grandfather had a good sense of humor delights me to no end; it’s a trait that my great-grandpa Leo Lessiack and my grandpa Bob Lessiack also shared.
Mystery solved, sort of. Until next time, People.