Select Simon Miscellany

Here are some Simon stories and accounts over the years:

Simon in Various Forms

The Simon name derived from the Hebrew personal name Shimon or Simeon, which means "one who harkens."  Simon developed into a common surname throughout Europe.  Variants of the name are:
  • Jewish, Simeon, Simonski
  • in England, Simons and Simmons
  • in Germany, Ziemen and Ziemke
  • in France, Simonett
  • in Italy, Simeoni, Simonetti
  • in Czech, Schimann
  • and in Poland, Siaspinski.

Simon Arrivals in America by Country of Origin


Louis Michael Simon at Blackheath

The Paragon in Blackheath was Louis Michael Simon’s place of residence for fifty five years.  It lay on a private road, of crescent shape, facing the south-eastern corner of Blackheath, with a private field in front of it.  Blackheath at that time was a country district offering only restricted coach services to London, five miles away. 

There were fourteen houses in The Paragon, built in seven blocks linked by colonnades.  In the Simon family, No. 10 became an institution and at the last became almost legendary.   The Paragon in their mouths meant that house and no other.

By the end of 1829 a family of fourteen children had come into the world.  Four of them died young and the remaining ten (four boys and six girls) were at that time of ages ranging from a few months to nearly twenty years.  The family was wealthy and there were governesses, of whom tradition long survived, and there must have been servants as well. 

Louis Michael was then 47 years old and his wife Matilda 42.  His mode of addressing his wife was the “Til, my love,” which his descendants knew so well, while she would address him as “Simon,” as she did invariably to the end of his life.  She, like all at Blackheath and most in the City, pronounced the name like the first two syllables of the word “Simonian.”  His figure was short and thickset, she was slight but, when young, must have been strong and active.

An excellent portrait of Louis Michael, painted when he was nearly 90 years of age, was treasured in the family.  With his benevolent expression, his flowing white hair falling almost to his shoulders, his long frock-coat, his high cravat, his white top hat and gold-handled cane, he must have been a most picturesque figure.  It was recorded that on his death all the shops in Blackheath were closed as a mark of respect to his memory.

Simons from Hesse in Germany to America

There were two Simon brothers from Germany, David and Samuel, who left their home in Hesse for America in the early 1850’s.

David headed West with his wife Elise and baby son Joseph and eventually came to settle in the town of Portland in Oregon, buying farming land on what is now SE Powell Boulevard.  Son Joseph grew up to serve on the city council and was elected to the US Senate for Oregon in 1898.  He was the head of a notable Jewish family in Portland.

His brother Samuel initially headed for New Orleans, meeting his wife Carolyn onboard the ship that took them there.  When the news of the gold discovery in California reached New Orleans, Samuel took his wife and infant daughter back to Germany and secured a load of goods which he took with his family to Sacramento, California.  However, after a great fire in Sacramento destroyed all his merchandise, they moved back to Germany where six more children were born.  Eventually, on the recommendation of his brother David, Samuel and his family moved to Portland in 1868.  

However, Samuel was always a rover and it is estimated that he made in total thirteen voyages across the Atlantic.

Neil Simon Growing Up in Washington Heights

Neil Simon the playwright grew up in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan at the time of the Great Depression.  In Simon’s household financial calamity was conflated with family collapse and marital betrayal.  

Simon’s mother Mamie, had been disfigured as a young girl, scarred inside and out when her dress caught fire.  The man she married, a garment salesman named Irving Simon, left the household “as least eight different times” for periods ranging from a month to a year, Simon recounted in his memoir Rewrites.  In his absence, Mamie would give up her bedroom in the family’s Washington Heights apartment to two tenants, butchers who paid half their rent in cash and the rest in unsold meat.  She also ran card parties, essentially a small-scale gambling parlor, to make money.  

On the occasions Irving Simon did return home, he specialized in a certain kind of emotional torment, not just to his wife but to Neil as well.  He would buy fireworks for the boy’s birthday, then hand them all out to other kids, claiming he didn’t want Neil to hurt himself.  His means of expressing tenderness was to tell Neil to pull a stick of gum or piece of candy from the stash in his overcoat pocket.  

One time when Neil ran a high fever that his mother’s cold compresses couldn’t break, he recalled in Rewrites: “She would curse my father for his absence and run out to the hallway, banging on the doors of neighbors to help her find a remedy, screaming up to a God who had once again abandoned her.” 

Finally the parents separated for good and the family was further shattered by poverty.  Neil and his mother went to live with cousins while his older brother was sent to live with an aunt.  Neil Simon has searing memories of losing his own home and having to live as a dependent guest in someone else's house.  

It took him a long, very long time, to tell this story in his plays.

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