In October of 1964, Thalhimers held a storewide, 12-day celebration of Italy. It was a dramatic event of epic proportions that was 2 years in the planning. The downtown Thalhimers store featured a large re-creation of the Ponte Vecchio, Italian hairstylists and designers held court, an Italian glassblower, ceramist and wood carver were flown in from Italy to demonstrate and sell their crafts, exhibitions included everything from manuscripts from the Middle Ages to a Vatican stamp collection to photographs of Michelangelo, a Pinocchio puppet show and “Casa Bambino” shop catered to children, Fiat cars were on display in the Men’s Department, Italian films were shown in the auditorium, each department sold Italian fashions and imports from Florentine stationary to leather gloves, every day the local paper featured full-page ads and editorials with Italian art, the Fine Foods Shop was turned into an Italian Bottega with espresso, pastries, and gelato, one of the window displays was turned into a pizzeria, and even the Richmond Symphony brought in an Italian conductor to perform classical Italian music from Rossini to Respighi. To top it off, one lucky winner (Mrs. Margaret Poindexter – anyone know her?) received a trip to Italy!
In honor of what Thalhimers did to celebrate Italy, my grandfather was presented the “Cavaliere Ufficiale” order of merit medal from the Italian Republic. He was always very proud of this honor.
Here’s the coolest part of this story…as part of the celebration, Thalhimers sponsored the “Ambassador’s Ball” (held to honor the visiting Italian ambassador and his wife) and all proceeds went to the Crippled Children’s Hospital, now known as the Children’s Hospital. Tonight is the 50th anniversary of that ball, and 730 people are expected to attend in support of the Children’s Hospital. Over the years, the event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the hospital.
In honor of the magnificent work of the Children’s Hospital and in loving memory of my grandparents, I have donated copies of Finding Thalhimers as favors for the guests of tonight’s ball. Bravissima Italia…AGAIN!
People often share stories of unearthing forgotten Thalhimers items while cleaning out their attics, basements, closets, or their parents’ or grandparents’ houses. Mary Almary, a member of one of the book clubs that invited me to be a guest, just sent me a couple photos of some eyeglasses and a sweater she found while cleaning out her parents’ house. She remembers her father wearing the red sweater often.
What Thalhimers items have you come across? What memories do they hold?
A friend and former Thalhimers associate (who works at the fabulous local shop J. Taylor Hogan) reached out to me with the following question. Her friend owns a dress that was purchased by her aunt from Thalhimers. The dress tag says “Thalhimers French Room” and she has the original dress bag.
I have my own guess at the date of this dress. What do you think?
I was planning to give this old security badge to my dad for his birthday, but it makes too cool of a necklace! I happen to be 37, so it’s particularly appropriate. Thank you, ebay! And thanks to Thalhimers Security Officer #37, whoever you are. I’d love to hear your stories…
Last month, I went to New York City with my daughter Lyla, parents, sister Katherine, and two of my nieces. We took a carriage ride through Central Park, sipped frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, and made the requisite little-girl pilgrimage to The Plaza to see the portrait of Eloise. But the reason we were there was far more important than being tourists in the big city. We were there to attend the opening of an exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage entitled “Against All Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe’s Refugees, 1933-41.” Among other stories of heroic Americans who went to great lengths to save the lives of total strangers, the exhibit included the story of Gramps (William B. Thalhimer Sr.) and Hyde Farm.
About a year ago, I helped curator Bonnie Gurewitsch with piecing together this story. While newborn Ethan cried and the dog barked at the UPS man, we spread out lots of archival materials and she chose the ones that best conveyed who Gramps was, what Thalhimers was, and how Hyde Farmlands came about. With the help of Bob Gillette and several Hyde Farmlanders and their children, the story was condensed into a single display involving various artifacts, photographs and documents. And, much to my surprise, the display is punctuated with an enormous photograph of Gramps sitting behind his desk at Thalhimers in 1938.
I lost my camera on the train home (NOTE: now no one will believe me when I say that I had my picture taken with Dr. Ruth at the exhibit opening), so I don’t have any personal pictures to share. Fortunately, a kind journalist from the Downtown Express of Lower Manhattan sent me the following photo of me, my dad, Katherine, and the daughter of the late Werner “Tom” Angress, one of the amazing Hyde Farmlanders. I am so glad to have this one photo to remind me of how grateful my family and I are to have represented Gramps and his brave work to save lives when few others stepped forward to do so.
After 75 years of virtual silence, the story Gramps kept quiet is now being told in a stunningly beautiful way. Visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage anytime before Spring 2014 and see it for yourself.
This past Sunday, April 21, 2013, I attended a ceremony to dedicate a historical marker beside the entrance gate to Hyde Park Farm in Burkeville, Virginia. Surrounded by members of the Thalhimer family, Marsha and Bob Gillette (author of The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer and a Rescue from Nazi Germany), the current owner of the farm, an assortment of friends and neighbors, local dignitaries, and representatives from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the marker was unveiled to great applause. But the most amazing part of the day was a realization voiced by Mr. Gillette: it was exactly 75 years TO THE DAY since Gramps (William B. Thalhimer Sr.) purchased Hyde Farm as a refuge for young German Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. The day Gramps purchased the farm was April 21, 1938.
Serendipity is one of my favorite things, but I wonder if this anniversary was mere coincidence. Bob Gillette taught me a Yiddish word that I think is more fitting: beshert. It means destiny. Fate.
Whether it was predestined or not, I’m certain that Gramps was smiling down on us as his great-great-grandchildren unveiled the historic marker acknowledging his heroic attempt to save as many German Jews as he could at Hyde Park Farm.
After the ceremony, as I sat on the front porch of the old farmhouse eating a deviled egg and chicken salad croissant, I watched my daughter Lyla and her cousins chasing each other in the yard. I thought of the German Jewish teenagers tending to the fields and the chickens on the same land 75 years prior. 75 years before the refugees lived at Hyde Farm, slaves lived in the outbuildings and toiled in the fields. I wonder what Hyde Farm will observe over the next 75 years?