A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from October 03, 2008
Marfa (summary)

The city of Marfa in West Texas had long thought to have been named by a railroad executive’s wife after reading a Russian novel. (“Marfa” is Russian for the woman’s name “Martha.”)
 
It had been assumed that Marfa was named after a character in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, but there are many reasons to doubt this assumption. The Brothers Karamazov was first serialized in Russian in November 1880; the novel wasn’t translated into English until 1912. It is extremely unlikely that a Russian serialization appeared in West Texas by 1882, and neither the railroad executive nor his wife were Russian speakers.
   
“Marfa, with numerous stations along the Texas and Pacific, is named after a character in ‘Michael Strogoff’” was printed in the St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch on September 14, 1882. “The nearest station is at Marfa, so named after one of the characters in the play of Michael Strogoff, and two or three other stations derive their names from Jules Verne’s story” was printed in the Galveston (TX) Daily News on December 17, 1882. Jules Verne (1828-1905)  published his Russian novel, Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar, in 1876. A play version of the book became very popular in the early 1880s.
 
Texas Monthly (December 2017) mentioned a theory that the name “Marfa” is related to the Marfa lights and the word “marfire” (an English dialect term meaning phosphorescence occurring on the sea), but there is no historical documentary evidence to support this. There is no evidence that the railroad executive’s wife was familiar with the word “marfire,” and further explanation is needed to change this to “Marfa.” The Portal to Texas History shows only 13 matches for “marfire,” mostly typos, and none related to “Marfa.”
 
The Big Bend Sentinel (January 18, 2023) mentioned a theory that the name “Marfa” is from the book Marfa the Mayoress, or the Fall of Novgorod by Nikolai Karamzin, published in Russian and French (not English) in 1804. There is no historical evidence to support this, either, and it is extremely unlikely that the railroad executive’s wife was reading this rare book, in Russian or French, in West Texas in 1881.
 
James Harvey Strobridge (1827-1921) worked for the Southern Pacific to construct the track to Marfa. It is believed that his wife, (Hanna) Maria Strobridge (1843-1891), was the one who helped to name the town of Marfa.
     
     
Wikipedia: Marfa, Texas
Marfa is a city located in the high desert of far West Texas in the Southwestern United States. The population was 2,121 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Presidio County. Its ZIP code is 79843.
 
Marfa was founded in the early 1880s as a railroad water stop, and grew quickly through the 1920s. Marfa Army Air Field (Fort D.A. Russell) was located east of the town during World War II and trained several thousand pilots before closing in 1945 (the abandoned site is still visible ten miles east of the city). The base was also used as the training ground for many of the U.S. Army’s Chemical mortar battalions.
 
Today Marfa is a tourist destination, located between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park. Attractions include the historical architecture and classic Texas town square, modern art, soaring, and the Marfa Lights.
 
Amateur etymologist Barry Popik has shown that Marfa is named after Marfa Strogoff, a character in the Jules Verne novel Michael Strogoff and its theatrical adaptation; the origin was reported in the Galveston Daily News on December 17, 1882, after the Marfa railroad station was established but before Marfa received a post office in 1883.
   
The Handbook of Texas states that the wife of a railroad executive “reportedly” suggested the name “Marfa” after a name in the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel The Brothers Karamazov, which she read.
   
Wikipedia: Michael Strogoff 
Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar (French: Michel Strogoff) is a novel written by Jules Verne in 1876. Critic Leonard S. Davidow,considers it one of Verne’s best books. Davidow wrote, “Jules Verne has written no better book than this, in fact it is deservedly ranked as one of the most thrilling tales ever written.” Unlike some of Verne’s other novels, it is not science fiction, but a scientific phenomenon (Leidenfrost effect) is a plot device. The book was later adapted to a play, by Verne himself and Adolphe d’Ennery. Incidental music to the play was written by Alexandre Artus in 1880 and by Franz von Suppé in 1893. The book has been adapted several times for films, television and cartoon series.
(...)
The town of Marfa, Texas was named after the character Marfa Strogoff in this novel.
   
Wikipedia: The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov (Russian: Братья Карамазовы; /‘bratʲjə karə‘mazəvɨ/) is the final novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, and is generally considered the culmination of his life’s work. Dostoevsky spent nearly two years writing The Brothers Karamazov, which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger and completed in November 1880. Dostoevsky intended it to be the first part in an epic story titled The Life of a Great Sinner, but he died less than four months after its publication. 
 
Wikisource
Author: Constance Garnett
(1861–1946)
An English translator whose translations of nineteenth-century Russian classics first introduced them on a wide basis to the English public.
(...)
The Brothers Karamazov (1912, Dostoyevsky)
 
Big Bend Quarterly
How Marfa, Texas Got Its Name
(...)
Called one of the ten greatest novels ever written, The Brothers Karamazov was published in December 1880. Dostoyevsky died January 28, 1881, and the town of Marfa was named on January 16, 1882, nearly a year later. The rumor made sense. It spread like the wind and was soon seen in print. However, within a month or so of that 1977 encounter in Marfa, the author had doubts. There was something wrong with this story. How could a woman sitting on an unfinished railroad track in West Texas in 1882 be reading an English translation of a novel only 13 months following its publication in Russian?
(...)
Who was the woman on the train?
(...)
However, we do know that the team that built the trans-continental railroad in 1869 came out of retirement to build the Southern Pacific: One of them was the husband and wife team of James Harvey Strobridge and Hanna Maria Strobridge. She can be seen in the infamous historical photo of the driving of the “golden spike” at Promontory Point on May 10, 1869. She is the woman in the light-colored, or pale dress, with stripes on her skirt.
 
Strobridge took his entire family with him during the construction, in a special rail car that served as their home. However, when the Southern Pacific was built, his children were grown and he was now 51 years old.
 
It is not known for a certainty if Hanna Maria Strobridge was on the train when it first saw what is now Marfa, Feodora and Marathon. What we do know is that her husband, James, had given her the right to name the different stops in the region, which she did.
 
The Portal to Teas History
22 January 1882, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 1, col. 8:
EL PASO.
Notes on Railroad Building—The
Southern Pacific—Mexican-Central—
Ice Factory.

[Special Telegram to The News.]
EL PASO, January 21. The Southern Pacific Railway is now completed to Marfa, 195 miles east of El Paso. Mr. Strobridge, president of the Texas Construction Company, reports the road in splendid condition, and gives an instance of the fastest track-laying on record—that of laying forty-two miles in thirteen days. Three thousand five hundred Chinamen are now employed in the road.
       
3 February 1882, The Railroad Gazette, “Record of New Railroad Construction,” pg. 74, col. 2:
Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio.—The El Paso Division is extended eastward to Marfa, Tex., 21 miles.
 
3 February 1882, The Railroad Gazette, “Old and New Roads,” pg. 80, col. 1:
Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio.—Trains on the El Paso Division (which is built and operated by the Southern Pacific Company) now run to Marfa, Tex., which is 195 miles east from El Paso and 91 1/2 miles east of Sierra Blanca, the junction with the Texas & Pacific. The latest time-table shows an express and a freight and emigrant train each way daily between El Paso and Marfa, besides two Texas & Pacific trains each way daily between El Paso and Sierra Blanca. Marfa is 1,480.6 miles from San Francisco by the railroad.
 
Newspapers.com
20 August 1882, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 5, col. 4:
Death of a Well Known Actress.
DETROIT, August 29.—Mrs. James L. Carhart, wife of a veteran actor, died last evening at a hospital in the city, from cancer of the breast. When she married Carhart, fourteen years ago, she was a well known actress, under her maiden name, Cadilla Capel. Since marriage she had been on the stage most of the time, traveling last season with the Kiralfy’s, playing Marfa in “Michael Strogoff.” Her last public appearance was in Chicago last March.
 
Newspapers.com
11 September 1882, The Times (Philadelphia, PA), pg. 4, col. 1:
SKETCHES OF TEXAN LIFE
(...)
Special Correspondence of THE TIMES.
EL PASO, September 1.
(...)
The roads in this part of the country are superb—hard, even and only slightly dusty. We soon distanced eighteen miles, nearing Marfa, the railroad station, twenty-two miles from Chihuahua. Marfa, with numerous stations along the “Texas and Pacific,” is named after a character in “Michael Strogoff.”
(...) (Col. 2.)
A. W. J.
 
Newspapers.com
14 September 1882, St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, pg. 3, col. 2:
Slavery in the United States.
El Paso (N. M.) Letter to the Philadelphia Times.
The roads in this part of the country are superb—hard, even and only slightly dusty. We soon distanced eighteen miles, nearing Marfa, the railroad station, twenty-two miles from Chihuahua. Marfa, with numerous stations along the Texas and Pacific, is named after a character in “Michael Strogoff.”
   
Newspapers.com
17 December 1882, Galveston (TX) Daily News, “Texas News Items,” pg. 7, col. 5:
PRESIDIO.
(...)
The fort (Fort Davis—ed.) is twenty-two miles north of the Southern Pacific railroad. The nearest station is at Marfa, so named after one of the characters in the play of Michael Strogoff, and two or three other stations derive their names from Jules Verne’s story.
 
The Portal to Texas History
October 1944, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, pg. 296:
MARFA: County seat of Presidio on the Texas & New Orleans Ry., 190 miles southeast of El Paso. On highways 67 and 90. Elevation 4688 ft. Latitude 30 degrees 19’, Longitude 104 degreees 1’. Named by the wife of the Chief Engineer of the Southern Pacific Ry. on tour of inspection in 1881 as railroad construction reached this spot, from the heroine of the Russian novel Michael Strogoff which she was reading at the time.
 
Texas Monthly
The Marfa Mystique
Outsiders remain fascinated with unraveling the secrets of this place. But locals can explain, one story at a time.

Sterry Butcher
By Sterry Butcher
December 2017
(...)
Here’s what I mean: a visiting writer some years ago was intrigued by Marfa’s name. The old story, at least the one I’ve heard the most, is that a railroad surveying crew turned to the engineer’s wife to name a water stop, and she plucked “Marfa” from The Brothers Karamazov, which she was reading at the time. The visiting writer became convinced this story was false. The novel’s publication in English and its appearance in this country apparently didn’t jibe with the town’s 1880s formation. He argued that the name was actually related to the Marfa lights and had to do with a phosphorescent sea phenomenon called marfire, which was later shortened to “Marfa.” He published his findings in the newspaper, hoping for a lively debate. No one, however, wrote in. No one cared. The story we had suited Marfa just fine.
   
The Big Bend Sentinel
HOW MARFA, TEXAS CAME BY ITS RUSSIAN NAME: Some Afterthoughts and Informed Updates
BY BIG BEND SENTINEL
JANUARY 18, 2023 528 PM
HOW MARFA, TEXAS CAME BY ITS RUSSIAN NAME
Some Afterthoughts and Informed Updates
By Peter A. Fischer, Ph.D.
(...)
In so doing we are quickly drawn to a well-known historical Marfa who, moreover, appears also in Russian literature as the heroine of a short novel (or long short story) by Nikolai Karamzin (pr. karamZEEN) which, soon after its Russian publication in 1802, was translated into English and published under the title Marfa the Mayoress, or the Fall of Novgorod.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary)Marfa (city name etymology) • Friday, October 03, 2008 • Permalink


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