Abe Zimmerman talks Bob's early years and road to fame
Abe Zimmerman in his own words: sourced from Robert Shelton's May 1968 Interview with Abe and Beatty in Hibbing.
It's hard to anticipate Bobby – he might say, “Oh, I don't care,'' but on the other hand, I know that way deep he does care.
Shelton: Do you think Bob will come back to Hibbing?
Abram: - Long pause, no answer.
Shelton note: The irony of this is that three weeks later the father died and Bob came back, reluctantly, for his funeral.
Shelton: Do you think he will come back to Hibbing one day, or don't you know?
Abram: - Continues to look at picture and ignore my question. Here is a picture of him in August 1954 at the Theodore Herzel Camp, outside of Webster, Wisconsin.
I was born in Duluth, in 1911. I went to school there. In those days, you were just required to pass, which everybody did. We were all from immigrant parents, everybody worked when they were seven years old – you sold papers or shone shoes, because that was the thing that was done, and you didn't know of anyone who wasn't doing anything like this. All your friends were doing this. Then you grew up, and tried to play ball, athletics were the big thing. You had to amuse yourself with games, because there was no television, no radio. Like any other town, we did what was common. If you were younger, you played hide and seek, and as you got older, you played baseball – sand lot – differently than you do now, because you played over the rocks and bottles.
My parents came in 1907. They came from Odessa, Russia. They came to Duluth because other people from Odessa had come to Duluth. You always settled where you knew somebody. My father did what everybody did then – he peddled. He had the shoe factory. His name implies – the word Zimmerman – means shoemaker but he was not a shoemaker, he had a very substantial business. Like everybody else, he fled from the Czar.
The Jews were leaving fast because of the pogroms and everything. They lived in the city proper. My mother used to tell me how beautiful it was. Anyway, they came here and there were five boys and one girl in the family. My father's name was Zigman and my mother's name was Anna. He and my mother became citizens early; they didn't stop off on the east coast they came right here. My father came first and my mother came maybe six months later. My eldest brother and sister were born in Odessa. There were enough in the family working at all times to bring in some money but nobody really owned anything. My dad was peddling materials – cloth goods – from farm to farm with a horse and buggy. That was a trade. When you didn't have any other business, or couldn't perform a trade, you went from house to house. All the relatives were in peddling in different areas, in rural sections, house to house. Then he finally mastered the language better and got a job in a department store as a shoe salesman. It was called The Fair Department Store.
My mother and her sisters also came to Minnesota, to Duluth, in 1918. One sister moved to Arizona because she was consumptive. We all sold papers, before school and after school. We lived right across from the high school in Duluth, right near Central High. It was also half a block from tile Washington elementary school.
In fact the area we lived in was predominately Scandinavian, a few Jewish families here and there but there was no ghetto there. There was a section in Duluth, they called it Up On The Hill that was divided equally between Polish and Jewish families: They were small but this is where alI the fruit peddlers would work. This was 9th Street, a pretty street, in fact, I used to feel almost guilty sometimes not living in the area. We spoke Yiddish in the house, like everybody else. My whole family spoke Yiddish. I didn't know any Jewish home that didn't speak Yiddish.
I have only one younger brother, the rest are older. I can't remember all the things they did, but none of them were in any profession. My older brother, in the plush days of Duluth, ran a fleet of private cabs. That was in the early 1920s. During the depression years, there was maybe only one or two of us that were working, which was enough, because, at the prices, you didn't have to make too much to survive. Rents were cheap and food was practically given away. All you had to have was a few dollars and you couldn't carry home enough food for that.