Saturday, August 18, 2012

Oldest Pullman porter dies

LA Times: For more than three decades, Ben Isaacs worked as a Pullman porter, one of the uniformed railway men who served first-class passengers traveling in luxurious sleeping cars — a much-coveted job for African Americans between the 1870s and late 1960s.
Isaacs, a charismatic centenarian who was believed to be the oldest surviving Pullman porter, died of kidney failure Wednesday at his home in Victorville, according to his brother, Andrew Isaacs. He was 107.

Ben Isaacs gushed about encounters he had with the rich and famous, such as prominent silent film actresses Anita Stewart and Gloria Swanson, while working as a porter. His said his favorite celebrity he met was cowboy singer and actor Roy Rogers.
This brings the past back to life for me. Those trains were wonderful and the men who worked on them were a joy to encounter. More than anything, the African-American railway staff were the reason that train rides were so pleasant. Yes, it was racism that they were all black. But hey, it was a coveted job in those days. I'm sure Ben Isaacs didn't mind his inclusion in this workforce. I salute him and mourn his passing.