J. Elmer Spyglass

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Spyglass in 1901

James Elmer Spyglass (November 1, 1877 - February 16, 1957) was a United States consul in Germany.

Life and career[edit]

He was born in Springfield, Ohio. In 1897 he became a founding member of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church in Springfield. After that, he dedicated his life to music and became a cabaret singer.[citation needed] He was chorus director at Bethel A. M. E. Church in Pittsburgh until 1901.[1] He was a baritone vocalist[2] and in 1905, he graduated from the Toledo Conservatory of Music.[3] He also attended Western Pennsylvania University.[4] At the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he accompanied a 25 piece orchestra and a 200 member choir in singing Strauss's "An der schönen blauen Donau".[citation needed]

In 1906, he went to Europe and established himself as an interpreter of "Negro Spirituals". For 20 years, he sang in the Netherlands to cheering audiences. In 1930, he retired to Sachsenhausen, a suburb of Frankfurt am Main, Germany.[citation needed] His house in Sachsenhausen was bombed in 1944. and he moved to Schwalbach.[4]

After World War II, Spyglass became an interpreter and receptionist in the US consulate in Frankfurt.[4] His job was to greet visitors to the consulate—many of them intending to become emigrants to the US—and to direct them to the appropriate office. Spyglass was fluent in five European languages. In Sachsenhausen he opened up language classes and taught English to local townspeople for a number of years.[citation needed]

In 1947, he had an interview with Will Lang Jr. of Life to discuss his life and his role as a receptionist. According to Lang, Spyglass's "pleasant coffee-colored face" greeted everyone who came "to do business with the US." Lang mentions that the consul general, Sidney B. Redecker, was one of the few people who addressed the "colored man" by his first name, Elmer. "To others he is known respectfully as 'Mr Spyglass.'" Will Lang's article appeared in Life on November 3, 1947.[citation needed]

On November 9, 1954, Spyglass became an honorary citizen of Schwalbach, Germany.[4] Spyglass died February 16, 1957. His ashes were returned to Yellow Springs, Ohio where he was buried beside his parents.[5]

Spyglass Prize[edit]

On January 8, 1995, a student in Schwalbach was the first to receive the "James Elmer Spyglass Prize" for contributions to intercultural relations.


  1. ^ Notes for the Afro-American, The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) October 13, 1901, page 11, accessed April 24, 2017 at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/10508417/
  2. ^ Baritone Gives Recital, The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh Pennsylvania) April 11, 1906, page 10, accessed April 24, 2017 at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/10508570/baritone_gives_recital_the_pittsburgh/
  3. ^ [No Headline] The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) June 24, 1905, page 16, accessed April 24, 2017 at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/10508526/no_headline_the_pittsburgh_press/
  4. ^ a b c d Stone, Tom. Ohio Negro Made an Honorary Citizen of West German Town, The Daily Reporter (Dover, Ohio) December 2, 1954, page 7, accessed April 23, 2017 at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/10508742/
  5. ^ Famed Negro Dead at 79, The Indiana Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania) February 21, 1957, page 5, accessed April 24, 2017 at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/10508890/famed_negro_dead_at_79_the_indiana/