Minnie Guggenheimer was a director of New York City's Lewisohn Stadium, where she organized summer concerts for over forty years. Her flair for showmanship made her the joy of the stadium-goers, the idol of the newspapermen and a scandal of the grammarians.
Minnie Guggenheimer was born on October 22, 1882, in New York City. Her father, Samuel Shafer, was a member of Shafer Brothers, a banking firm that was founded in 1860. Her grandfather made a fortune in the California gold rush which made it possible to set up his sons in business.
Her parents sent her to most fashionable private schools and she was taught to play the piano. In 1903, she was married to Charles S. Guggenheimer, an attorney, whose father was at one time the president of the N.Y.C. Board of Alderman and acting mayor.
It was during World War I that Minnie Guggenheimer was approached to join a committee to support good music at Lewisohn Stadium. Her participation grew until she was ruling the concerts singlehandedly. Every year she raised money for the concert season because the tickets were moderately priced so that working people could afford to attend.
She hired the artists, handled negotiations with the various unions and worried about all operations, including the weather. Lewisohn Stadium was an open arena and exposed to the elements. She once called the weather bureau about the prediction for the night of a concert about two months later. The forecaster said to her, "Lady, you want to talk to God."
Minnie Guggenheimer always made intermission speeches about the current and coming events. She prefaced her remarks with "Hello everybody! " and the audience of three to fifteen thousand people would answer back, "Hello, Minnie!" If for some reason she was absent or late for the intermission speech, the audience would set up a rhythmic chant of "We want Minnie!"
Despite her mannerisms and speeches, she made it possible for many people to hear good music at very low prices. She also made it possible for young performers to be introduced to the public. Marian Anderson, winner of a city-wide talent search, was one of these young artists who was given an opportunity to perform. George Gershwin played his "Rhapsody in Blue" for the first time at the stadium in 1925. Van Cliburn repeated two concerti that he played to win the first prize in Moscow's International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958.
Minnie Guggenheimer was always having trouble with the reading and pronunciation of words and names. This delighted the audiences. At one time she confessed, "I have a beau in the wings. He is from Junkoslavia." She then proceeded to call upon Lawrence Steinhardt, the U. S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, to take a bow.
Guggenheimer died on May 23, 1966. Her life was dedicated to making it possible for people to hear good music and for young artists to have the opportunity to perform. She unselfishly gave of herself to make these goals a reality.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.