Forging the businesses of Flagstaff: The impact of Marianna Herman and Mary Costigan
Rows of glass vitrines stand inside the Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum. They contain the clothing, books, letters, hockey sticks and shoes of 21 women and non-binary people featured in Resilience: Women in Flagstaff’s Past and Present. These objects on display in the creaky-floored building with its tall windows and hundreds of years-worth of history in many ways define the lives and the impact these people made in Flagstaff.
Three simple objects represent Latvian immigrant and late Flagstaff resident Marianna Herman: A silver compact mirror, a letter wilted with age and a lease agreement. Round and embossed with floral ringlets, the mirror sits below the lease papers for 114 E. Route 66, one of Herman’s properties she leased to The Western Auto Company for $150 a month in the 1940s. MartAnne’s Burrito Palace, a bustling Mexican restaurant with colorful walls and packed weekends, now occupies part of that address. Below the lease is mail from Herman’s cousin by marriage, Rudy Sommer. Sommer’s letter, sent in 1946 from Shanghai, thanks Herman for helping him relocate to the United States after he spent World War II in China.
Sommer’s letter is in many ways an entry into what Herman did for her relatives, both by blood and by marriage, as she helped many escape Nazi rule in Germany and other parts of Europe.
Herman moved to Philadelphia and then to Prescott, Arizona, in the late 1800s where she met and married her husband, Julius Herman. A primary impetus for her leaving Latvia was the mounting anti-Semitism there, a dark preamble for what was to come.
According to Resilience exhibit research, Herman wrote at least seven affidavits offering financial support to members of her husband’s family so that they might leave Germany. Herman also managed to obtain visas for others. Some didn’t make it through the US immigration system, however and perished in Nazi death camps. For those who retained their own visas, several stayed with Herman upon arriving in the US. Herman’s husband died in 1913, but in 1933, when Hitler came to power, Herman wrote affidavits on behalf of his family.
“Marianna understood the lethal danger for the German relatives in her family, and she tried the best to assist them in obtaining permission to enter the U.S.,” Bjorn Krondorfer, director of the Martin-Springer Institute, said.
Herman and her husband ran three businesses: The New York Store, J. Herman Dry Goods and the Economy Store, all of which she would take over upon his death. She is credited with constructing three buildings, including two on San Francisco Street, which today house Bright Side Bookshop and Criollo Latin Kitchen.
“Marianna exemplifies the entrepreneurial opportunities independent women in the West could seize while maintaining caring relations to family and community. Determination and perseverance were required, especially if one belonged to a group perceived as ethnically or religiously different. Without women like Marianna, I think Flagstaff wouldn’t be where it is today,” Krondorfer said.
One part of Martin-Springer’s mission is to tell the story of Holocaust survivors, and Herman’s is told in the organization’s 2016 publication, Flagstaff Jewish Lives During and After the Holocaust and World War II.
Herman’s grandson, Maury Herman lives in Flagstaff; As with others featured in Resilience it is the still living relatives and friends that help remember and embody the legacies of these 21 women.
Marianna Herman died in 1949. Hers was, according to historical records, the first Jewish family in Flagstaff.
CARVING SPACE FOR THE ARTS
Mary Costigan (1879-1960) is remembered in part for being the first female radio broadcaster in Flagstaff, who also helped to run the Orpheum Theater for many years.
NAU junior Martha Martinez was one of a handful of students who focused their research on Costigan’s life.
“It was really easy to empathize with [Costigan] and her situation because she was a business woman and she was so strong but she had a lot of hardships in her life. I almost felt bad for her. I wanted to comfort her,” Martinez said.
Costigan would end up losing several family members, including her brother, mother and nieces and nephews in a short time span--often to illness. Despite that, she went on to accomplish a great deal before leaving town for California, where she spent the rest of her life.
Costigan started KFXY, the first registered radio station in northern Arizona. The station was housed in the Hotel Monte Vista, whose construction was overseen by Costigan, the only woman in the Flagstaff Chamber of commerce.
Costigan was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, where, as a child and teenager, she helped run the family store. Like Herman, tragic circumstances thrust Costigan into the role of a business woman. In the latter’s case, the death of her father had her mother running the store, where Costigan and her brother would work every day after school. Later, her brother, who ran the Orpheum Theater died of tuberculosis, and Costigan took over his duties.
According to the exhibit, in Costigan’s words, she left Flagstaff in 1931 for fear of witnessing yet another family death.
“With as many people as I’ve buried here, I’m not losing you,” Costigan is quoted to have said.
In addition to helping run the Orpheum, Costigan opened Flagstaff’s first beauty parlor and a florist shop.
The Orpheum, called the Majestic Opera House when it was built in the 1910s, celebrated its centennial in August of 2017. At the time of its opening, it included a stage, a movie screen and a dance floor. It hosted plays, dances, movies and musicals until the fateful morning of Jan. 1, 1916 when the roof caved in due to heavy snow and the theater was forced to close temporarily. Since reopening in 1917, the same year Costigan came to town to help her brother run it, the Orphuem has become a Flagstaff institution, hosting big names in music and film for years, even helping to raise money for soldiers during WWII. The Orpheum continues to give space to musicians and films to this day, harkening back to its beginnings without losing sight of its founders and their impact on the arts.
“When Mary was alive Flag was a bit smaller, more like a pass-through town,” Martinez said. “But Mary, she kind of put Flagstaff on the map in that day and age. She played a huge part in why the arts have thrived here for so long I think.”