Mysteries in Port Townsend: What Happened to Two Jews?

Two of this town’s first Jews came to mysterious ends — one by his own hand, the other simply disappeared.

David C.H. Rothschild was a Bavarian who arrived in Port Townsend in 1858.

Rothschild — who, according to town tour guide Joyce Cox, would say “I got the family name, but not the money” — built a four-story chandlery on Water Street downtown (in Port Townsend, downtown and uptown are only four blocks apart, but in the 19th century uptown was for the ladies and the upper class, and downtown was for the sailors, the saloons and other “service” people). It was so successful that he built a mansion overlooking the sea.

“Everything was done to impress people who arrive by sea,” Cox said, pointing at the house, which is now a museum open to the public. “See those pillars? They’re just two boards, but from the sea it looked like pillars.”

In 1886, Rothschild shot himself in the head with no explanation. His chandlery now houses Nifty Fifty’s Soda Fountain.

The story behind the disappearance began in 1861 when German immigrants Solomon Katz and Sigmund Waterman came to Port Townsend and founded a mercantile both uptown and downtown (the gold W & K letters still adorn the top of the downtown building). After Katz and Waterman died, Katz’s son, Israel, inherited the business.

“At age 36 he decides he needs a proper wife, so he gets hooked up with Adele Moss, a fine Jewish girl in Germany,” Cox said.

But Moss, 17, already was in love with a cavalry officer in Germany who killed himself the day before Katz arrived. When Moss came to Port Townsend, “she was not impressed,” Cox said. The streets were unpaved and the house was not big enough to hold her china and her crystal.

“Anything you want, my darling Adella,” Katz told his wife, and built her a house that hosted many lavish parties.

But after two of her children die, Moss went back to Germany. By the time she returned to Port Townsend, the town had already gone bust, the railroad company having decided only to stop in Seattle.

Adele took up with another man in uniform from the new Fort Worden and divorced her husband. The soldier received a dishonorable discharge; the new couple left for San Francisco and built a successful spa. But then the soldier ran off with one of the blond Viennese girls and stole all of Moss’ money, leaving her penniless.

Meanwhile, Katz served two terms as mayor of Port Townsend. Shortly after his second term ended in 1917, he disappeared without a trace.

“His glasses, his vest and other things he never left the house without were still there,” Cox said.

Rumors of sightings popped up over the years, but no one ever heard from Katz again.

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