A look at history through a curious lens
To the Editor:
During a bout of housecleaning in my grandmother’s Voorheesville basement several days prior to Christmas, my father, Bill Frisbee, unearthed a curious relic of the past. Concealed within the confines of a Bruegger’s bagel bag were two pairs of ancient eyeglasses.
Intrigued by this stupefying discovery, my father vouchsafed the archaic spectacles, thought to belong to a great aunt who resided in Albany, into my possession for further examination.
One of the glasses, clad in 12-karat gold, was manufactured by Ful Vue, a now defunct optical manufacturer. The less ornate of the two proved to be composed of a silver-colored material and, while it exhibited no identifying markings, closely resembled its sister pair.
Upon careful inspection, I managed to discern the worn inscription on one of the cases in which the eyeglasses were housed: “Meyrowitz Bros. Albany, N.Y.”
My family did not possess any knowledge of Meyrowitz Bros., so, being a teenage amateur historian, my first instinct was to pull out my phone and consult Google for more information regarding the relics.
Various articles on Ancestry.com revealed that the local optical supply store, Meyrowitz Brothers Opticians (also referred to as “E.B. Meyrowitz Opticians,” which was most likely coined after the death of one of the brothers), was located on 68 North Pearl Street in Albany, and founded by Oscar W. and Emil B. Meyrowitz in 1884.
The 1997 book, American Surgical Instruments, by James M. Edmonson, lists the brothers as being “opticians and dealers in surgical instruments.” The aforementioned book also states that the duo established “Meyrowitz Manufacturing Company,” in addition to their optical supply outlet.
Articles on the “Roots Web” community of Ancestry.com revealed that the Meyrowitz brothers were born in either Prussia or Germany (records conflict) and immigrated to the United States (specifically New York City) around the year 1869. The pair was evidently very successful in their endeavors, which were not strictly tied to business. According to Google Patents, Emil Meyrowitz patented several surgical and optical tools before and after his brother’s death in 1902.
Intrigued, I decided to delve into the catacombs of The New York Times online archives for more information regarding the Meyrowitz brothers. A search of the New York Times database divulged several harrowing articles regarding the ghastly fate of Oscar Meyrowitz.
On the fateful day of Jan. 8, 1902, Oscar boarded a train, which would later barrel through the darkness of the Park Avenue railway tunnel, a main artery leading to Grand Central Station in New York City. At 8:20 a.m., two trains collided within the darkness of the tunnel, killing 15 people.
The accident was officially determined to be due to the engineer’s inability to see the warning signals. Among the victims of the tragedy was Oscar Meyrowitz, marking the end of his remarkable life during which he lived the American Dream to the fullest.
Oscar’s brother, Emil Meyrowitz, was much more fortunate. Subsequent to Oscar’s demise, Emil went on to found the Opticians League in New York and developed E.B. Meyrowitz, Inc. into one of the world’s largest optical firms.
According to his 1937 obituary, Emil died of an unspecified disease in his Park Avenue home, not far from where his brother passed away 35 years before. The Meyrowitz brothers built such a vast optical empire that their legacy lives on 76 years after Emil’s death through several E.B. Meyrowitz Opticians vendors around the globe.
Two dusty pairs of antique glasses discovered in Phyllis Frisbee’s basement served as a window into the past that unearthed the remarkable history of two immigrant brothers who became pioneers in the business of vision enhancement in their adopted country.
Next time you are challenged with the seemingly daunting task of housecleaning, keep an eye out for any long forgotten treasures. You may be surprised by what you find.
Editor’s note: Tyler Frisbee, 16, is a student at Shenendehowa High School.