The Butter Man and the Red poet.

When I was just a little boy living in Philadelphia, my family would drive the stretch of the Jersey Turnpike that goes to Atlantic City and stop just twenty minutes shy of the famous boardwalk and beach to where Walter and Lillian Lowenfels lived.

The Lowenfels lived next to a cemetery in the little town of Mays Landing, New Jersey.

Walter and Lillian were close friends of my folks. Walter was a poet, a scholar of Walt Whitman, editor of the Daily Worker, a communist and a co-defendant of my father and seven others from Philly in one of the Smith Act trials that were taking place in a dozen American cities at the same time.

The Smith Act was a McCarthy Era law that charged dozens of local and national leaders of the Communist Party with advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

Mind you, they weren’t charged with violently assaulting the U.S. Capitol building. They were charged with a crime of having a belief in socialism and advocating, thinking and organizing against cases of social injustice.

On one of our drives to Mays Landing we found ourselves behind a truck with a load of fresh New Jersey corn. Every few feet some ears of corn would fly out the back of the truck on to the highway. Dad would stop right in the middle of the road and Mike and I would jump out and quickly grab some corn.

By the time we got to Mays Landing we had dozens of the freshest corn ever, which Lillian then cooked for dinner.

We slathered it with butter.

As it happens, Walter was the brother of Albert L. Lowenfels who was known as The Butter Man.

Early in the last century, Walter’s brother Albert was president of the Hotel Bar Butter Company and was the first to package butter in quarter pound sticks.

He was also instrumental in promoting the legalization of coloring margarine to make it look like butter.

Colored margarine had been illegal. Legalization of colored margarine might seem to be a strange position for The Butter Man, but Albert thought the law was a hardship on the public. In spite of expectations, butter sales didn’t drop as a result of the change in the law.

Earlier in his life, Walter had left the butter business to go to Paris to write poetry. Not entirely successful at his poetry, he came home in 1934. While in Paris he had hung out with the expats and become a Marxist.

Back in the U.S. he went back to work with his brother Albert, but not for long before joining the Communist Party and editing the Philly edition of the Worker.

Today’s New York Times Magazine features a story about Jeff Lowenfels.

Jeff is the long time garden advice columnist for the Anchorage Daily News.

Lowenfels is not that common a name. I knew Walter and Lillian had four daughters.

But could Jeff be a grandson?

As best as I can figure, Jeff is the grandson of Albert and grand nephew of Walter.

The Times calls Jeff “an accidental climatologist” since his writing and observations over 40 years have documented climate change although that was not the original intent.

3 thoughts on “The Butter Man and the Red poet.

  1. My late wife, Sandy Patrinos, was a Communist leader in Philly.  Your father was her teacher in Volkshule. Jim Williams

  2. I hate to burst your bubble, but Communism is an unworkable economic system and is responsible for the deaths of over 100 million people. How would you like to be a Ukrainian carving up your own children for meat for your next meal because Comrade Stalin decided grain was for the cities? The concern for “social justice” is a fig leaf for people who are control freaks and believe utopia can be achieved on earth. The world is a messy, disjointed, and complex which does not reduce easily to simple solutions. And THAT”S the gospel truth.

    — Catxman

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