Leigh Hecht (1882-1914) – and Family

Leigh HECHT was the fourth child of Solomon and Rachael FRIEDMAN HECHT, grandson of Caroline JACOBOWSKY FRIEDMAN. Caroline was either first cousin to, or half-niece to my great-great-grandmother, Helena JACOBOWSKY LEVY.

Leigh was born on 15 March 1882 in Norfolk, Virginia, and by his mid-teens was a salesman in his father’s dry goods business. One newspaper article from 1900 said that Solomon HECHT’s business concern had made the family “very wealthy”, but there’s little evidence whether or not that was true.

Leigh’s passion wasn’t sales, however, and on 27 September 1900, he opened a dance studio with a partner, Harry WAIKART. It is not clear how long, or to what extent, Mr. WAIKART was involved, as his listing in the Norfolk City Directory continued to list his profession as “presser”. Leigh, on the other hand, began to bill himself as a “dancemaster” and continued to ply this trade throughout his life.

On the morning of 15 January 1902, Leigh and Miss Lillie May (or Mae) JONES left home, ostensibly to visit the Portsmouth Navy Yard, but instead took “the bridal express” to Elizabeth City, NC, and were married a couple of hours later. I am not certain if the “bridal express” phrase is a euphemism, or if Elizabeth City was well-known at the time for lax marriage laws. The Norfolk newspapers made note this this was the second “sensational” inter-faith marriage in to occur in the month, the locals having scarcely finished talking about the first. In any case, the marriage to Lillie May did not last, whether the couple divorced, or if she died young. On 27 August 1906, Leigh remarried nurse Ida Felicita WOOTTON. Leigh and Felicita had two daughters in the next couple of years, while he continued his dance studio.

In the early morning hours of 17 July 1914, a horrific collision in Norfolk between a passenger trolley and a coal-laden freight train injured 42 and killed six, including Leigh HECHT. By this point in time, it appears that Leigh had become somewhat distant from his siblings and cousins, possibly because Felicita was not Jewish. Belief in the family only a few years ago was that Felicita had died not long after, and that the two daughters – whose names were though to have been Felicia and Virginia Mary – were put in an orphanage and never heard from again.

In fact, Felicita had been deployed to Europe during WWI, and died in France in 1919.

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Final resting place of Felicita WOOTTON HECHT, Fere en Tardenais, France.

I had thought perhaps the cause of death might have been the Spanish Flu but Army records indicate the that the cause of death was cancer. Her next-of-kin was listed as her brother, John Jesse WOOTTON, in Charlotte, NC. Perhaps the daughters had been left with John? Unfortunately, they did not appear on the 1920 US Census with John WOOTTON. It seems very strange to me that, when she deployed, Felicita would have left her two daughters – both under 10 years old – in an orphanage rather than with family, but there it is. For a while, that’s where the trail ended.

Then a new batch of North Carolina death certificates were indexed online, including one “Phyllis” Wootton HECHT MARION. I was able to contact the living MARION family, and found that they believed that the sisters had been raised by their uncle, John WOOTTON, but knew nothing about the HECHTs, or what had happened to the Phyllis’s sister.

However, knowing the name Phyllis, I was able to locate her in a 1929 yearbook for Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. Working on a hunch, I looked and also found Virginia Merritt (not Mary) HECHT in the same yearbook.  Both sisters later married and lived into their 90s.  And, while I may be a good 15 years too late to speak with them, the HECHT cousins are now back in the family.

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Phyllis Wootton HECHT and Virginia Merritt HECHT, Maryville College, 1929

 

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