CNHI/Southeast Iowa

October 3, 2013

History Walk spurs history talk


“Dad said when [he was a teenager] they used to take things to Chicago, and that it was dirt road the whole way,” he said.

By the late 1920s, or perhaps very early 30s, the associated businesses begun 40 years earlier were closed. Mike and Diana now search out Celania Brothers items, and learn more and more about family history.

Nearby, another, perhaps more familiar business name hit Ottumwa for the first time: Bookin Jewelry Company.

“Oscar Bookin came to the United States from Lithuania in 1907,” said Sheri Bookin.

Her late husband, who ran the store for years, was a direct descendent of Oscar’s.

Oscar moved in with family in Des Moines upon his arrival in the States. He already had a vocation, Sheri explained.

“He himself was a watch repairmen. He went to watchmaker school in Lithuania,” she said. “Family in Des Moines recommended he set up shop in Ottumwa, where a lot was happening at the time.”

So in 1914, he and his wife Hannah came to town, starting Bookin Jewelry Company on East Main Street. It’s where most recently, a bar called “The Salty Frog” served patrons. In case you’re uncertain, added Zesiger, just look down: Nearly 100 years later, the name Bookin can still be seen, engraved in the sidewalk.

Two of Oscar’s sons followed him in the business, Sheri said. Mike Bookin’s father Nathan, as well as Uncle Robert, eventually sold the business to Mike Bookin around 1962. Another of Oscar’s sons became an attorney, and two more became optometrists, with one having his shop in the back of the jewelry store. That wasn’t an unusual location in the early part of the 1900s, she said.

“The watchmaker could help, he could fix your glasses,” she said. And Oscar Bookin wasn’t afraid of extra work, she added, explaining that he often worked 15 hours a day. He worked hard, and taught his children to work hard.

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CNHI/Southeast Iowa
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