(The New York Times) When Roman Blum died last year at age 97, his body lingered in the Staten Island University Hospital morgue for four days, until a rabbi at the hospital was able to track down his lawyer.

Mr. Blum, a Holocaust survivor and real estate developer, left behind no heirs and no surviving family members — his former wife died in 1992 and the couple was childless. His funeral, held graveside at the New Montefiore Jewish Cemetery in West Babylon, N.Y., was attended by a small number of mourners, most of them elderly fellow survivors or children of survivors.

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(The New York Times) The most well-known developer in New York today may be a man with national aspirations and a propensity to talk off the top of his extravagantly coifed head, but a century ago, the headlines were commanded by a real estate family with an aversion to publicity and the trappings of wealth.

In the early 20th century, the Wendels were perhaps the most powerful landlords in New York City, a dynasty with more than 150 properties in Manhattan worth over $1 billion in today’s dollars. The Wendels were the delight of the local papers, for, rich as they were, the family — six sisters and a brother, all unmarried — lived together in a shuttered mansion without electricity on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 39th Street, and dressed in grim Victorian garb that had gone out of style half a century earlier. Tour buses regularly pulled up in front of “the House of Mystery.”

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This is an essay that will be appearing in a forthcoming book, Modern Loss, to be published in January by HarperCollins.

If a place can symbolize the missteps one makes in the confusing period that follows a shocking death, then my family’s home in Vermont is the poster child. 

The property, a sprawling edifice that stands alone atop a hill overlooking Lake Champlain, is usually empty. It’s not really a home in the traditional sense, having become, over the years, a family warehouse, the place where we keep our most painful memories.

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