Miriam S. Konigsberg, 96, longtime city resident

April 01, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Only the onset of Alzheimer's disease managed to move Miriam S. Konigsberg from her Ashburton home, and not the tides of ethnic change that had swept through the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood where she had lived for more than 60 years.

Mrs. Konigsberg, who was 96, died from the disease Saturday at the Stoneleigh home of a daughter.

Born and raised in Baltimore, the former Miriam Schwartzman was a 1927 graduate of Western High School.

"She worked one day at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and for a little while at O'Neill's Department Store," said daughter Janis K. Ellis of Stoneleigh. "In 1932, she eloped to Elkton and married my father, Dr. Wilfred K. Konigsberg, then a University of Maryland medical student, who became a well-known Baltimore obstetrician."

The Konigsbergs moved to Ellamont Road in 1941.

"When we moved in, Ashburton was all Christian, and it didn't take long for them to run away from `the Jews.' When African-Americans came to the neighborhood, I again witnessed a flight. I stayed and couldn't imagine living anywhere else," Mrs. Konigsberg told The Sun in 2001.

When her husband died in 1955, Mrs. Konigsberg didn't consider leaving the neighborhood where she was raising her four daughters.

"She never remarried and the thread that kept us together was her sense of humor. Also, everyone came to our house to dance and listen to records. We had so many kids coming over to dance that the Oriental rug almost became threadbare," Mrs. Ellis said.

Four years later, when the Saturday Evening Post focused attention on Ashburton in an article, "When A Negro Moves Next Door," Mrs. Konigsberg rejected the notion that the neighborhood was headed for a downward spiral, and again refused to join the flight to the suburbs.

"She stayed because she loved her house and she saw no reason to leave. She was an extremely tolerant person and saw no difference in the people moving in from herself. They weren't a threat to her or of a lower class," Mrs. Ellis said. "Plus, she remembered how the Jews felt when the Christians fled. She simply didn't want to be a part of that."

Eventually, she became the only white resident on Ellamont Road, her daughter said.

"She had wonderful neighbors and that enabled her to continue living there even as she grew older," the daughter said.

"We've lived next door to her for 41 years, and we shared everything. She'd go to the library and get books for me, and my husband took care of her yard," said next-door neighbor Clara C. Jones, a retired Baltimore teacher. "She was always very much at home with African-Americans, and everyone respected and watched out for her."

Mrs. Jones added: "She looked upon my husband as the son she never had, and all of our children just loved her."

Mrs. Konigsberg was described by family members as a "very liberal Democrat" and "independent-minded." At age 91, she purchased a new black Honda Accord, but only drove it until she was 92. Still, she would not sell the car - which remained parked outside the house.

It was only when Alzheimer's began to rob her of her ability to continue living alone that she agreed to move in with her daughter three years ago.

"Her home sat empty for three years, and it was only in November that she finally agreed to let it go," Mrs. Ellis said.

Mrs. Konigsberg had enjoyed attending concerts of the Baltimore Symphony and Philadelphia Symphony orchestras. She also liked reading novels and listening to classical music on the radio.

Services were Wednesday.

She is also survived by her other daughters, Betty K. Ellyn of Los Angeles, Nancy K. Wolfson of Chevy Chase and Anne Konigsberg-Fishman of Irvine, Calif.; 10 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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