It was mere chance that found Jamaica Plain Historical Society member Fran Perkins on Boylston Street that November day in 2009 when she met a group of people from New York, looking a bit lost, who were trying to find a house at 257 Lamartine Street where one of them had lived in 1930. Fran’s conversation with the group led to our story “A Holocaust Survivor Returns to Jamaica Plain” in which the house at 257 Lamartine plays a prominent role.
Soon after the writing of the Holocaust story began, another coincidence emerged. We received an inquiry from a family in Connecticut seeking information about one of their ancestors, a German immigrant, who lived and died in Jamaica Plain in the 1920s. The ancestor, Jacob C. Becker (aka Carl Becker), a veteran of the Spanish American War, lived at 267 Lamartine Street in 1920. His daughter, Emily, married a Lawrence R. Grove and they lived, of all places, across the street at 257 Lamartine Street, which became the home of our Holocaust survivor some ten years later! We tried, but failed to find a connection between the Groves and the Lessings, the family in the Holocaust story, other than they lived in the same house, 10 years apart. The Groves, of 257 Lamartine, had a daughter Lorna, who was the mother of our Connecticut respondent.
Moving from Lamartine Street, the family tradition says that Carl Becker lived in the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home. Sadly, after he moved to the Soldiers’ Home, the tradition says that during a visit back to 267 Lamartine in the late summer of 1924, a tenant there provided Carl with more homemade beer than he could handle and he wandered to Jamaica Pond, fell in, and drowned.
There is a Becker family plot at Forest Hills Cemetery with a headstone listing Carl along with his wife Paulina but the Cemetery has very little information about Carl. As the Becker descendants continued their search for information about Carl’s death they learned that their original belief that Carl lived in a Sailor’s Home near Egleston Square was incorrect. We had found no record of any such institution in Jamaica Plain, nor did the Naval History Library in Washington whom we queried about it. We suggested to the descendants that it might have been the Home for Aged Couples, near Egleston Square, that the Becker’s oldest living descendant (92) remembered as Carl’s residence after leaving Lamartine Street. We eventually learned that Carl did indeed live at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home which was probably reached by public transportation from Egleston Square, which established the Egleston connection in the elderly descendant’s memory.
The coincidence of the house at 257 Lamartine playing a part in two family’s lives 80 years ago and then their stories coming to light almost simultaneously is, we think, very interesting, to say the least.
April 15, 2010