Museum the New Llano Colony



Marcus Mardfin

Birth: He was born in Russia around 1861. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1882 and his naturalization papers were witnessed and signed in August 1888.  

Description: He shaved frequently and was always very well-accoutered, with a merry twinkle in his bright eyes, and a patient, consistent spirit in his soul.

His alert mind was very logical and his voice was often heard in meetings, asking for important information or offering counsel colonists did well to accept.

A practical, hard-headed optimist, he was a worker of exceptional loyalty and fidelity, missing very few days from active labor. He was a reader of good books, a careful student and generally a good colonist.  

Pre-Colony History: The influences that shaped Mardfin into a cooperator were perhaps deeply buried in Jewish history -- when monied Jews were fair game for marauders, why wouldn't they develop a powerful tradition of mutual aid? In the early 1880s a European committee of Jews and other philanthropists began helping Russian Jews emigrate to America.

From all over Russia, Jews assembled at Amsterdam and took ship to America. All sorts of people, including Mardfin, went -- ex-students, Socialists, Nihilists, anarchists and, of course, a ship at sea was an excellent place for the exchange of ideas and so the young man from Kiev discovered a world of new ideas.

After landing in New York, a group of five including Mardfin, attempted communal living on a parcel of land in Kansas but that fell through and he soon returned to New York and joined a club for the study of co-operative principles.

He and a friend found two sisters who were good to look upon. They married them, took an apartment and began co-operative housekeeping for themselves.

Over the years, he continued to experiment with co-operative groups -- he acquired some stock in Equality Colony on Puget Sound; lived in the Ruskin community for one year before it collapsed; and joined a small group from the Ruskin community who attempted to start again at Duke, Georgia, but all were short-lived and the Mardfin family again returned to New York.

In 1892 he was living in New York with his wife and children and working as a newsdealer. In 1905 and 1920, he was still living in New York with his family and owned a store.

He visited Newllano in 1922. Burton pointed him out to fellow colonists as unquestionably a spy. (Burton was later asked to leave the colony for unrelated issues.) In 1925 he was living in New York with his son, Emile, and his family, and listed as retired. At some point that same year he joined the colony and remained until his death.  

Family Information: He had no family with him in the colony -- his wife, Mary, remained in New York, though she is mentioned occasionally in colony newspapers. Two sons and a daughter (married to Marvin Loewenthal, distinguished scholar and author) also remained near the metropolis.

He was, however, very close friends with Theodore Atworth.  

Job in Colony: Primarily he was one of the colony gardeners -- he and Atworth were devoted to cleaning up the old, burnt sawmill from Harriman Circle and landscaping it with flowers and shrubs -- he was listed as a farmer in the colony on the 1930 US Census. He often worked for hours at a time, in the hot sun with bare back and seemed to possess a robust frame and stamina.

In June 1928 Tom and Alex Davidson, Hough, Waters, McClurg, Dougherty, Rosenburg, Mardfin, Weislander and Harold Kemp were working hard to make up for time lost to rainy days.

In 1929 he was helping Dr. Kimmel finish up some work in the bindery. They not only kept the colony library and school books in fine repair, but also did orders for regular customers on the outside.  

Home in Colony: In 1930 he was listed as a boarder with the Ima Glasscox family.  

Other Info: In 1933 Ida Ann Bartlett began promoting a better social life for colonists who did not dance. She organized Monday night gatherings which would feature cards, dominoes, chess, checkers, etc. Hikes and other outdoor activities would be included as the weather improved. The first party was held in her home and featured Victrola music as the entertainment. Among those present were Marcus Mardfin, Theodore Atworth, C.W. Fields, Ed Schott, H.G. Starkweather, Chester Page, Mr. and Mrs. Hardy, John Black, S.E. Broyles and Boyd Bartlett.

In June 1936 Mardfin returned from a visit to New York and brought back with him a "go-devil" which he presented to Atworth, making him a very happy man. Atworth followed it around the garden and reported that he could do ten times more work with the gadget than with the old hoe method.

In January 1937 Atworth reported to the colonists that Mardfin had finally undergone his third and last operation which he had come through with "flying colors" and that he was being "waited on by two prepossessing young lady nurses." Some thought this might cause him to want to remain at the hospital indefinitely.  

Post-Colony History:  

Death: He died in February 1937 at Shreveport, Louisiana with family members at his side.

His death came as a surprise to colonists, he had been in the hospital for several months, but was believed to be recovering very nicely. In fact he had been hopeful of returning to the colony in the very near future.

His son, Emile, visited the colony after his death and was introduced around the colony to many friends of his father.

After his death, Atworth remembered their first meeting in 1925, when Atworth had been in the colony for only a few days -- as he'd walked through the orchard where Mardfin was working, Marcus hailed him; after a little conversation Mardfin stated, "I'm glad to meet a man who does some thinking!" That was in 1925 -- the following year they teamed up to improve the looks of the place, and started their work on Harriman Circle, where they'd remained ever since.  

Sources: New York State Census: 1892, 1905, 1925; US Census: 1920, 1930; New York City Directories: 1894, 1902, 1915, 1925, 1926; New York State and Federal Naturalization Records; "Llano Colonist": October 29, 1927, June 30, 1928, January 5, 1929, May 20, 1933, September 16, 1933, June 16, 1934, November 10, 1934, June 13, 1936, January 23, 1937, March 6, 1937; "Can We Cooperate" by Bob Brown; US Census: 1930; Louisiana Statewide Death Index  

Photo: Marcus Mardfin