The original owner, Ernest Manheim, was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1900. School interests were in chemistry. His remarkable gifts in music were discovered by his sister’s piano teacher, who would later become a renowned American conductor, Fritz Reiner. In 1914 World War I broke out. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was aligned with Germany against the allied powers, Britain, France, Italy, and later the United States. Manheim volunteered as a cadet officer in the Hungarian Army at age 17 and saw combat on the Italian front. He volunteered again to an army mobilized in 1920 to defend against Czech and Romanian forces attempting to carve off pieces of the defeated Hungary.
Dismayed by the strange human behaviors that had toppled the 400-uyear old Austro-Hungarian monarchy and cost millions of lives. Ernest went to Germany to study sociology. He participated in the famous Sunday Circle, led by the Hungarian writer and leftist philosopher Gyorgy Lukacs. The circle included Ernest’s more famous older cousin, Karl Mannheim, Bela Bartok, Bela Balasz, and Tibor Polanyi.
At Leipzig University, where he would complete his PhD dissertation, Ernest met and married a fellow student, Anna Vitters – a blonde descendant of the Vidukind Saxons from north Germany. They moved to England, where Ernest’s better known older cousin, Karl Mannheim (a well known pioneer in sociology) had become established at the University of London. In 1936 Ernest moved to the University of Chicago, later followed by wife and young son Frank. In 1938 he took up his post at the University of Kansas City. Later, he quipped to friends: “ I lost two wars before I was 21. I determined that in the next war I’d be on the winning side!” (and he was).
Marcel and Ose Schwab purchased this house in 1952
The Ernest Manheim House began as a modest bungalow purchased in 1952. It was picked out for the Manheim family of Kansas City by Rita Benton, wife of regionalist painter and longtime Chilmark summer resident, Thomas Hart Benton. The Benton and Manheim families were friends from Kansas City. During the academic year Benton worked at the KC Conservatory of the Arts. Ernest Manheim was Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology at Kansas City University. Manheim, an avid music lover and composer, and Benton were drawn to each other by interest in folk music and both families’ mutual interest in culture and politics.
The Bentons had become legendary on the Vineyard in the 1930s and 40s for Saturday night parties featuring folk music and flowing booze. Though he never published his collections, Benton was a pioneer along with the Lomax’s in discovering the riches of American folk music in the early 1930s. At this time prominent musicologists claimed that American folk music did not exist. Benton had become a skilled harmonica player and also entrained students like Jackson Pollock to learn harmonica and play in his band.
The modest house reflects Ernest Manheim’s unassuming, renaissance man personality He was not only one of the most broadly informed intellectuals in America, but had but had been a superb athlete who might have qualified for the 1920 Olympics had not Hungary been torn by conflict after World War II. He made much of the furniture in the house. His wife Ann, taught French and ceramics at a prep school in Kansas City, and contributed to joint effort in lamp making – as can be seen. After the death of Ann Manheim Ernest – at age 91 – married again. The new Dr. Sheelagh Manheim was 45 years Ernest’s junior! Now the house is owned by Frank Manheim and managed by Ose and Marcel Schwab, Ernest’s granddaughter and grandson-in law.
This house reflects its owners spirit - of intellectual curiosity, love of nature, music appreciation, and a love of books. The book collection reflects the breadth of interests of the Manheim household. Music is a major item. Guests can follow recordings of all Mozart symphonies on Dover edition miniature scores. Those who have never listened to classical music with scores might be surprised at what a fascinating treat this can turn out to be. The variety of books in the large living room and the bedrooms defies simple description. The symphony scores contrast with a coffee table history of the Rolling Stones; there are natural history handbooks (mushrooms, trees, etc.), books by Dionne Riggs and Vineyard mysteries by her daughter, Cynthia; books by and about Tom Benton, novels, biographies, and Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book.
The newly renovated bathroom offers a welcome modern touch, and new landscaping along Edgartown road includes tall European elderberry bushes that will reach 30’. To connoisseurs the spring flowers of the elderberries provide exhilarating drink and jellies, and the ripe dark purple berries are among the highest in vitamin C and antioxidants of any fruit or berry.
The Manheim and Schwab family welcomes you. We hope that the Ernest Manheim house will provide you with a friendly home and base for enjoying Martha’s Vineyard.