Reuben & Golda Bernbaum still make bread for WW2 soldiers at Hoyt House.
The Bernbaums d. 1943
Rueben huffed up the wooden stairs leading to the front porch at 927 NW Hoyt Street. He noted to himself that running up a stairway seemed to be easier years ago. Regardless, he had a spring in his step today after work at Northland Bakery. A letter from the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corp in hand, he was grinning from ear to ear. He continued to climb stairs till he arrived on the second floor.
"Hey Goldie! Great news! I have a commission contract with the government! You'll never guess what you and I will be doing for the War effort."
Golda avoided throwing a wet towel on his enthusiasm nevertheless rolled her eyes just a bit. "Okay, what?", she inquired with arms crossed.
"Yeah. We make bread. Been at it for years" She followed with upturned palms, "So what?"
Reuben was so excited. "The so what is this: Northland Bakery cannot keep up with demand from the U.S. army. Our soldiers must eat so they can fight. You and I can make bread ourselves and sell it to the Army. We'll have our own business and I won't be working for wages anymore."
"I love it. But, Reuben, we have only one oven here. And it barely works." She straightened her head scarf. "And, where is the money to buy new ovens supposed to come from? Manna from heaven?"
Reuben adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and smiled, "My uncle Irving. Maybe he can loan us the money."
Golda threw up her hands. "Irving! Ha. That tight wad....no way would he loan us money like that. When it comes to money, Irving is as tight as a corset. Try listening to his sister's diatribe on him. Golda made a chirpy voice to mimic Sarah. 'He has the money for a new Ford, instead drives a six year old rattle-trap till it falls apart. And, there's loads more if you want to hear it. Him loan us money?" Golda followed with crossing her arms again, "Don't think so."
"You're right Goldie. Instead of a loan, this will be an investment opportunity for Uncle Irving. He'll see the light when I show him the return possible on his investment.", he said triumphantly. "There's good money to be had in the bread business."
Eleven months later:
A large rust-colored metal sign hung across the bottom step at 927 NW Hoyt. In black letters was the warning: Quarantine. Influenza Stay Out!
Sounds of heavy coughing punctuated with vomiting were audible from the street. All the neighbors knew: The Bernbaum's were not doing well at all. The city of Portland had been inundated with cries for help from the thousands of victims of influenza. The Health Department was ill equipped to respond to such a crisis.
With little or no medical care, many died in their homes. Neighbors who would otherwise bring food and care to the sick were forbidden to do so if their homes were under quarantine. Regardless, they too succumbed. The virus spread through entire neighborhoods, infecting all. A pall of dingy grayness lingered over houses of the sick.
The day's edition of The Oregonian headline read: Northwest Hoyt Street -- Sick Street Hundreds Stricken with Influenza.
The Public is Recommended to Stay Away!
Months later, after the flu had claimed no more new victims, a long, flat open wagon pulled by an old Chevrolet rattled over cobblestones on NW Hoyt Street and stopped. Two grim-faced workers, a woman and a man. He checked the address: 927 NW Hoyt Street and nodded to her.
They stepped down from the driver seat, canvas respirators in hand, and approached the front stoop. The woman pounded on the front door and yelled out, "Hello! Mr. and Mrs. Bernbaum. Is anyone in there?" She followed up with a few strong kicks with a heavy boot. They both placed ears to the door surface. Nothing.
They looked at one another. The court had granted such workers permission to break and enter a premises to find the dead. The man had a fireman's ax at the ready, but the door was unlocked. The first whiff of the interior was unmistakable.
There were two new corpses in Hoyt House that day.