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Abe and Freida Zweigel in New York
City while attending a convention. Store pictured at bottom of page.
Abe Zweigel of Atoka
by Robert "Tot" Calvert
©2001 Tot Calvert
Abraham Zweigel, long time Atoka merchant and property owner, left a very interesting and moving memory to us who knew him. He went from a poor boy in Austria to a millionaire in America.
Stepping off the ship in New York, being in a strange country where he could speak no English, he realized he was out of touch with the people in America.
With what little money he had left, he spent it for some English and German books, and in a short time he was speaking English very fluently.
In 1904, Mr. Zweigel arrived by train to this vicinity in Chockie, spending his first night with E. O. Rich.
After visiting and inquiring about the different settlements around the area, he decided to put down roots in Atoka and boarded with the John Mahnker family, until he could get a place of his own. This didn't take him very long, being the conservative person he was. Zweigel succeeded slowly, but surely.
Being a natural for buying and selling, Mr. Zweigel started out on foot with a pack on his back, containing items such as thread, needles, thimbles, combs, knives, pencils and shoe strings.
His main route was from McAlester to Denison, Texas, with side routes to Antlers and Boggy Depot.
Within a few months he had saved enough money to rent a horse and hack, then he could carry heavier loads and cover much more territory each day.
In the evening after a long day, he would spend the night with some family along the route. They never charged him any board because he kept them informed with current events.
Abe was always looking to the future and every endeavor he undertook turned out to be a good decision. His first business in Atoka was buying and selling used furniture.
With a new three-story brick building in mind, "Was this the correct decision?" he was asking himself. Zweigel decided to go ahead and build
The top floor contained caskets and a funeral parlor. He hired Joe Wagner as his undertaker and was the first solicitor of a burial policy.
The second floor contained farming equipment of all sorts-buggies, wagons, "you name it, he had it." I can still see the old elevator going up and down.
Around 1920, there was a bad train wreck in Atoka. A carnival train was parked on the railroad tracks and a fast moving train came by, running into the carnival set up, causing the heating oil to explode. Some of the crew was badly burned and several killed. Dead people were lying everywhere. That was one of the busiest times Zweigel's Funeral Home had.
The store employed several people, including blacks as well as whites, to work as truck drivers, office people and mechanics.
Mr. Zweigel's brother-in-law, Mr. Weintraub, worked up front and knew where everything was kept. All the customers called him "Weiney."
At times after the new store was built, the young Jew would get short of ready cash. On one occasion when this occurred, my grandfather, T. R. Williams, loaned him several hundred dollars so that Abe could go back to the old country. I guess that's when the Williams and Zweigel friendship began.
Oil and gas mineral talk around the Zweigel and Weintraub store was a very common topic in those days. Mr. Zweigel owned a lot of farms and ranches along with a lot of mineral interests. I lived on one of his farms which joined my present farm and worked for him in 1948 and 1949.
With all of the cars and trucks around the store, Mr. Zweigel never learned to drive. He had a black man named, Tom Crooms, who worked for them for 25 years, who drove him everywhere he needed or wanted to go.
Abe was also one of the controlling stockholders in the Atoka State Bank and he and Barney McCall became good friends.
Mr. Zweigel was a firm believer in soil conservation. I was privileged to receive the Farmers Bankers Award Certificate at the annual banquet the same night Mr. and Mrs. Zweigel received one. Due to illness, they were unable to attend and Bo McAlester took theirs to them.
Abe had a field man to collect the rent and keep up with who lived where. The first one I can remember was Bill Nolan.
There will always be a warm spot in my heart for the Zweigels and Weintraubs. I pass by the old store very often and am reminded of the history that is being left to the next generation.
In my younger years, I had to depend on the Zweigels and other business people in Atoka for credit when I needed it.
Mr. and Mrs. Zweigel worked and saved, advancing from poor Jews to a rich couple in Atoka. They had no children, but left a lot of money to charity and other worthy causes.
This article is unedited, and permission to print granted by Tot Calvert, April 29, 2001.
Mr. Zweigel born 31 January 1878, died Sep. 1968, in Atoka, OK.
Picture submitted by Faye Swinney