Chapter 1 - Family Tree
Excerpted from 'John Kerry: The Complete Biography by The Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best'
To his friends and neighbors, Frederick A. Kerry appeared to be the model of a successful businessman and family man. He lived with his wife, Ida, and their three children in the fashionable Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts. They owned a rambling three-story stucco home a few blocks from the trolley line, counted their live-in servant, a German immigrant named Elise, as one of the family, and attended the local Roman Catholic church.
The nation of immigrants that Fred Kerry epitomized was prospering in 1921, while the Europe that he had left behind sixteen years earlier was coping with an assortment of crises, from the onset of communism to the gathering storm that would become known as Nazism. The grandfather of the future Senator John F. Kerry had earnedand had losttwo fortunes. Now he was working on his third.
Weighing nearly 200 pounds and towering an imposing six feet, two inches tall, Kerry cut a striking figure as a businessman. He had helped reorganize some of the nation's retail giants, including Sears, Roebuck and Co. Local papers described him as an important community leader, first in Chicago and then in Boston, where he had worked for seven years. Everything about Fred Kerry and his family bespoke success and an easy assimilation into the American way of life. In the nation's most Irish state, they fit in comfortably, and a newspaper article even suggested, incorrectly, that Fred Kerry's father came from Ireland.
But appearances could be misleading.
When the family responded to a U.S. immigration worker at Ellis Island or a census taker in Brookline, they did not hide their family background: Kerry and his family were Austrian, from an area then part of the Austrian Empire and later known as the Czech Republic. Austrian records tell the full story: Frederick Kerry was born a Jew with the name Fritz Kohn, to a family of brewers and shoemakers. This was a secret he apparently did not want his Brookline neighbors to know.
In fact, Fritz Kohn was born on May 11, 1873, in Bennisch in the Austrian Empire, now known as Horni Benesov in the Czech Republic, according to Austrian records. Fritz's father, Benedict Kohn, is described in Austrian records as a Jewish beer maker from Bennisch, and his mother, the former Mathilde Frankel, is described as the Jewish daughter of a royal dealer, someone licensed to trade throughout the empire. The tiny Silesian town of about 4,300 people had only a few dozen Jews, and in 1896, Fritz moved to a suburb of Vienna called Modling, where he managed a shoe factory owned by his uncle, Alfred Frankel.
Fritz Kohn married a Jewish woman from Budapest named Ida Löwe, and they had a son named Eric. Although the family appears to have been reasonably well off in Vienna, this was a time of rampant anti-Semitism in the city. The City Council was run by the Christian Social Party, which treated Jews harshly. Jews had legal rights, but it was difficult or impossible for them to attain high rank in business or the military, and they had little hope of becoming teachers, judges, or officers. In 1900, Kohn applied to change his name to Kerry.
But why was the name Kerry chosen? According to family legend, Fritz and another family member opened an atlas at random and dropped a pencil on a map. It fell on County Kerry in Ireland, and thus a name was chosen. In fact, though there are many immigrants from County Kerry, it was not a common surname. The couple would heretofore be known as Frederick and Ida Kerry.
But the name change apparently was not enough. On October 9, 1901, Kohn and his wife and newborn son went to the St. Othmar Catholic parish in Modling and were jointly baptized as Catholics. They remained in the Vienna area for another four years. The name change was in effect by December 17, 1901, according to a notation in the Jewish marriage records of Vienna.
At this time, relatively few Jews from Vienna were immigrating to America; most came from Eastern European villages. But the newly christened Kerrys apparently felt that their opportunity lay across the ocean. They departed from an Italian port aboard the ship Königen Luise and arrived at Ellis Island on May 18, 1905. Fred Kerry and his wife, Ida, and their child, Eric, were listed in immigration documents as Austrian.
They soon moved to Chicago, where they prospered. Kerry ran an ad in a city directory that described "Fred A. Kerry & Staff" as business counselors, and Kerry himself was in the Chicago Blue Book, which listed city leaders.
By 1915, the Kerrys lived in Brookline with Eric and their two children born in the United States: Mildred, and a newborn, Richard, the father of the future Senator Kerry. By all accounts, they lived a prosperous life at 10 Downing Road. Inside, the walls were lined with elegant wood paneling, and the ceiling was spaced with finely carved wooden beams. The house, newly built when the Kerrys moved in, had a long porch in front, from which the family could see similar homes owned by the town's well-to-do. The family acquired a Cadillac and was able to travel to Europe.
But by 1920, the Kerrys appeared to have suffered a financial setback. They sold the house at 10 Downing Road and moved into a nearby apartment building. Still, the Kerrys could afford to go to Europe, and Ida and two of her children, Richard and Mildred, did so in the fall of 1921. The reason for the sea voyage is not known, but they returned to New York City on October 21, 1921, and then presumably went back to their home in Brookline, rejoining Fred. Perhaps something happened on their trip. Perhaps they learned bad news. Perhaps it was nothing more than a sentimental journey. But the timing seems extraordinary, given what happened next. On November 15, 1921, Kerry filed a will. He left everything "to my beloved wife, Ida Kerry, to her own use and behoof forever."
Eight days later, with rain clouds hanging low in the sky on a raw, cold day, Fred Kerry apparently stuck to his usual routine. He traveled from Brookline to his downtown office on Boylston Street, probably taking the trolley. Around 11:30 a.m., Kerry arrived at the venerable Copley Plaza Hotel, near his office. Opened in 1912 to rave reviews, the Plaza was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, as was its sister hotel on New York's Central Park. With its distinctive bow-shaped front, the Copley was known for its double-P insignia. The hotel's Oval Room, which at that time featured an angel painted by John Singer Sargent on the ceiling, was the place to be seen. Kerry, as a leading businessman in the city, was likely a frequent visitor.
But on the morning of November 23, Kerry was in despair. It was just before lunchtime, and the Copley was bound to be busy. He made his way to the washroom, pulled a handgun from his pocket, aimed it at his head, and pulled the trigger. The lunch crowd heard a sharp blast as he slumped to the floor.
Frederick Kerry was dead.
The story was front-page news in many Boston papers, including the Boston Globe, the Telegram, and the Transcript. The Boston Globe headline said, "Shot Himself in Copley PlazaF. A. Kerry, Merchant, Died Very Soon," and later articles included speculation about the reason for the suicide. Some noted that Kerry suffered from severe asthma, and one suggested the possibility of financial difficulties. The death certificate states that Kerry was "suicidal during temporary insanity." A Boston Herald article said: "F. A. Kerry Ends Life in HotelShoe Dealer Weakened and Depressed by Severe IllnessReorganized Many Department Stores," and notes that he had left a note to his wife in his pocket, the words of which were not disclosed. The story included a quote from Kerry's attorney, who said Kerry "suffered severely from asthma and in consequence had become weakened and depressed from loss of sleep. This is the sole reason ascribed for his taking his own life."
But one of Kerry's granddaughters, Nancy Stockslager, said she was told the real reason: "He had made three fortunes and when he had lost the third fortune, he couldn't face it anymore."
The explanation makes sense. A probate court record said that Frederick Kerry left behind a Cadillac, some clothes, two stock shares worth $200 from the Boston Chamber of Commerce, $25 in cash, and "shares of stock in J.L. Walker Co. and Spencer Shoe Manufacturing Co. worthless." A newspaper story said that Kerry's work involved Spencer, so he clearly was more than a simple stockholder. If this was his third fortune, as Stockslager was told, then the probate records leave little doubt he had lost it.
Kerry also left behind the family he treasured, including his younger son, six-year-old Richard, who would become a foreign service officer, and who one day would have a son of his own, John Forbes Kerry. John Kerry would not learn the details of his grandfather's Jewish ancestry or the circumstances of the suicide until 2003, when he was preparing to run for president of the United States. Indeed, even some of Kerry's closest associates and family members assumed the senator was Irish on his father's side and a Brahmin on his mother's side, which included the Forbes and Winthrop families. The combination was a potent mixture that was to prove useful in Massachusetts politics.
In 1763, the Reverend John Forbes, the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Senator John Forbes Kerry, was given an important job by the British Empire. The Scot was named minister at St. Augustine, an important post in the British control of East Florida. For the next twenty years, Forbes lived in Florida, serving on the Governor's Council and as chief justice. He married a wealthy Boston woman named Dorothy Murray, who preferred to remain at the family estate of Brush Hill in Milton, Massachusetts.
Then came calamity. When the American Revolution unfolded, Forbes remained loyal to the British Crown. A distraught John Forbes fled Florida in 1783 and returned to England, where he died within months. Such was the inauspicious beginning of this great Forbes family in America.
One of Forbes's three sons also returned to England James Grant Forbes, the great-great-great-grandfather of Senator Kerry. The other two sons, John and Ralph, stayed behind in America and would play a crucial role in the transformation of Massachusetts. John was a Harvard classmate of future president John Quincy Adams, who later named him ambassador to Argentina. Ralph was a merchant whose own son, Thomas, helped establish the Boston-China trade in the early 1800s. In the course of just fifty years, the Forbes family had gone from being reviled loyalists to leaders of the American mercantile class.*
(* All of the Forbes in this group are unrelated or only distantly related to another famous Forbes clan, which includes former presidential candidate and magazine mogul Steve Forbes.)
With the Forbes family prospering in the China trade, other family members were attracted to the business. Francis Forbes, the great-grandfather of Senator Kerry, lived for years in China and then in Europe. He was prosperous, excelled in business, promoted the Shanghai Country Club, and devoted many hours to his hobby of botany. But Francis's greatest legacy was that of his son, James Grant Forbes, who would outdo most of the family when it came to business. This man, Kerry's grandfather, would become perhaps the most successful member of the clan, working not only in the Boston-China trade but also in the establishment of postWorld War II Europe.
Kerry's grandfather was born in Shanghai on October 22, 1879, educated at Harvard and graduated in the class of 1901, and went into banking in Boston. In a twenty-fifth anniversary book on the Class of 1901, the author noted that "the prize exhibit of the report goes to Jimmie Forbes. No one will dispute his claim to having the most fascinating family in the Class, after examining the proof he submits." The only regret, the author wrote, is that Forbes said little in his class report about the extraordinary woman he married: Margaret Winthrop of Boston.
If those in the Forbes family of Massachusetts were famous for their business acumen, the Winthrops of Massachusetts were their equal in politics. The marriage of James Grant Forbes to Margaret Winthrop had the air of a royal union, bringing together two of the Bay State's most famous families.
The Winthrop family history is the history of Massachusetts, starting with John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Winthrop is the great-great- great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of Senator Kerry. The Winthrop Society, which is devoted to the family's genealogy, modestly says in its charter that "Governor John Winthrop and the Puritan colonists who came with him to plant the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 were the most important and influential single group of Europeans ever to arrive in North America."
Winthrop, born in 1588 in England, believed that the Anglican Church should be "purified," calling for a removal of Catholic ritual and saying that the monarch should not head the church. Winthrop and about 1,000 other Puritans left England for Massachusetts, where he was selected as the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop believed his mission was not just to settle in the New World but also to save the Old World. In a sermon during the sea voyage, he said: "We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us."
On June 6, 1630, Winthrop and his followers arrived at Salem, Massachusetts, not far from where Kerry later would spend part of his youth. But many of the Puritans found the conditions difficult and deadly. Dozens died, and Winthrop sought to shore up morale by issuing a document titled "A Model of Christian Charity." "We must be knit together in this work as one man," Winthrop wrote. "We must delight in each other, make one another's condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, having always before our eyes our Commission and Community in this work as members of the same body."
Winthrop believed that only those he considered "godly" should be allowed to hold office: only Puritan men (and no women) were allowed to hold office. Winthrop was elected twelve times as governor, but he used his power to isolate potential opponents. Most famously, he banished religious reformer Anne Hutchison from the colony on the grounds that she wanted to subvert moral law. Other dissenters, such as Roger Williams, left to establish a colony in neighboring Rhode Island, where there was separation of church and state, and Jewish traders were allowed to do business.
From this beginning, the Winthrops have played a major part in Massachusetts and U.S. politics for many years, setting the stage for the later arrival of John Kerry. Kerry's great-great-grandfather, Robert Charles Winthrop, is one of the most notable figures. Born in Boston in 1809, he served as speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Then he was elected as a U.S. representative and served at the federal level as Speaker of the House from 1847 to 1849. He then was appointed to serve as U.S. senator from Massachusetts from 1850 to 1851, filling the term of his longtime friend Daniel Webster, who resigned to become secretary of state. Thus, John Kerry is the second U.S. senator from Massachusetts from his family.
Robert Winthrop was defeated in a bid for reelection, as well as in a subsequent race for governor of Massachusetts. He then refrained from running for public office, devoting himself instead to historical pursuits, including writing a history of his most famous ancestor, John Winthrop. He had a son he named Robert Charles Winthrop Jr., Kerry's great-grandfather, who in turn had a daughter named Margaret. This was the woman who would marry James Grant Forbes, merging these two great Massachusetts families and producing a daughter named Rosemarythe mother of Senator Kerry.
The much-celebrated marriage between Margaret Winthrop and James Grant Forbes on November 28, 1906, was graced by eleven children. Forbes, in keeping with his family's history and his roots in Shanghai, was drawn to foreign business, and he was soon working on railway ventures in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. When World War I began in 1914, he was living in Paris, and he remained in France working on U.S. relief projects and business ventures through the conflict.
There is a hint from the Forbes historical papers that James Forbes played some kind of role in U.S. intelligence or security matters. In his Harvard class history, he said that he had worked "with American security business and . . . been on several interesting special missions, notably in 1922 to Moscow and Albania, and in 1924 to Persia. More recently, I have spent considerable time in Germany and Italy," he wrote in 1926.
Two years later, Forbes acquired a magnificent estate named Les Essarts in the Brittany resort town of Saint Briac, where he and his family spent many summers. During the 1920s and 1930s, Forbes played a major role in setting up the coal and steel business in Europe, as well as working in locations from the Balkans to Iran. Most notably, he worked closely with the famed Jean Monnet, who had played a role in the development of the failed League of Nations after World War I and tried to forge a union between Great Britain and France at the beginning of World War II. Failing in that venture, Monnet worked with U.S. officials on postWorld War II recovery plans and on a scheme to unite European effort that eventually led to the creation of today's European Union.
The Forbes family says that Monnet and Forbes had a business relationship, although the details are unclear. One hint of their relationship comes from a letter that Forbes wrote to a relative on April 22, 1938, from Shanghai. Forbes was concerned about the effort by Communists to take over China.
"Monnet has been in Paris, but is now in New York," Forbes wrote to one of his relatives, W. Cameron Forbes in Boston. "We have been working on a plan which may be helpful to the Chinese, but it is a very long shot, and probably won't meet with the favor of Washington, so please don't say anything to anybody about it. The railway contract with the French, to connect the Indochina system with Nanning [China], has at least been signed after many postponements. I am planning to stay here all summer to relieve Mazot, Monnet's regular Shanghai representative . . . ." Forbes then expressed thanks for inviting his daughter, Rosemary, "to keep house for you."
Rosemary had just met a handsome young man named Richard Kerry, who was spending his summer at Saint Briac as an apprentice in a sculptor's studio. The two had fallen in love.
Kerry was a dashing, adventurous figure, the sort who one day sailed a ketch across the Atlantic and would serve as a U.S. foreign service officer in Berlin after World War II. It is not clear how much the Forbes family knew about Richard Kerry. He was not a Brahmin like them, but he certainly seemed to have all the right New England upper-crust credentials: He had graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and Yale University, and now he was attending Harvard Law School, as James Grant Forbes himself had done. And he was from Boston, completing the fit with the Forbes and Winthrop families.
"My grandmother heard there was a young American in the village and invited him to lunch," Diana Kerry, Senator Kerry's sister, said. Richard Kerry was immediately drawn to Rosemary: "My father did say he had eyes for none of the other sisters." Rosemary had planned to become a nurse. Richard was on the way to becoming a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot, but an ocean of distance separated them. Rosemary was in France, looking out over the waters from the Forbes family compound like some sea captain's wife. To the north loomed the English Channel. But to the east, the Nazis were preparing to attack.
From the book, JOHN F. KERRY by Michael Kranish, Brian C. Mooney, and Nina J. Easton. Copyright (c) 2004 by The Boston Globe. Reprinted with permission of PublicAffairs, New York. All rights reserved.