The lure of family lore can tighten up families and sometimes be true


Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

How true are your family’s legends and lores? Most have at least a grain of truth in them. If my family lore is true, as the firstborn son of a firstborn son, I should be King of Hungary by now.  I currently am not. I also should have inherited Al Capone’s car; I’m a member of the Jewish aristocracy “kohanim,” the priests who once served in the Temple of Jerusalem; I shook hands with Meyer Lansky as a baby and I’m the nephew of both Arnold Palmer and Jim Palmer, although my paternal grandfather’s original last name is Pollack, and neither Arnie nor Jim is Jewish.

But perhaps the favorite of my family lore is the story behind this 19th-century organ, which once belonged to the family of Jesse James. Yes, that Jesse James.


The lore isn’t whether this organ really belonged to the James family. It did and I have the notarized documentation, but rather this is about how my grandfather came to own it. I’ve talked about my grandfather before. Walter “Baba” Deitchman, seen here pretending to be bored at my bar mitzvah in 1981 at Congregation Temple Israel, was a master storyteller.

Baba had me believing a million different tales. But the real truth is that each story brought me closer to him no matter if the lore was true or not. It was his way of bringing me into his life, his own perceived legend and the mystique of his own being. The truth in these cases really didn’t matter. According to him, he won the Jesse James organ in a poker game in a Kansas City gin joint but in reality, he bought it from a collector. But where is the fun in telling that story to an 8-year-old kid?

Lore is the spice of life 

Apparently, I’m not alone in having tall tales spun from generation to generation.

“I should be cruising on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean right now. I am the rightful heir to a fortune worth billions of dollars,” said Bill Motchan, a regular freelancer for the Jewish Light. “According to family lore, my great-grandmother, Pauline Rosenbloom Nissenson, invented a formula for Pond’s, the cold cream manufacturer. Pauline had the résumé for it; she was originally from France and a beautician by trade. By the early 1900s, she was living in New Orleans.”

Motchan did a little checking and found that in 1930, Pond’s did, in fact, add some new product lines. There was a liquefying cream and some glop called Pond’s Angel Skin. Were those the result of Pauline’s alchemy? Was she paid, or did a big corporation take advantage of a helpless widow?

“There’s no definitive answer to those questions, so I guess I’ll hold off buying that mansion in Frontenac,” said Motchan.

Like me, Motchan too was intrigued by Jewish family lore and in May of 2019 tracked down the stories of other Jewish St. Louis families.

Click here to read Bill’s story.