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Bespectacled wonders: Resident’s Web site gains international attention
By Elissa Rosenthal/ Correspondent
Friday, August 4, 2006 - Updated: 01:05 PM EST

Some people go through life wearing rose-colored glasses. David Fleishman, a retired ophthalmologist, would rather wear steel, round framed spectacles crafted circa 1770.
    Through these lenses, he gazes back to the year 1286 when the first eye glasses were probably invented near Pisa, Italy.
    He gazes across the centuries at vision artifacts reflecting the science, art and culture of the people who used them.
    He looks at a future when he might photograph the wild collection of glasses owned by Elton John.
    Seated in the comfortable study of his Sharon home at his indispensable computer, he is on the lookout for optic treasures and their stories for his Web site, "Antique Spectacles and Other Vision Aids."
    "I’m building a puzzle and not a business," he said. "Therefore, I’m able to get all the museums to appreciate the fact that they get free publicity and recognition. All they have to do is share some pictures with us."
    The Wall Street Journal featured Fleishman and his Web site on the front page on April 6. More and more curators, collectors and historians are taking notice. He even received a phone call recently from Dom DiMaggio, the first baseball player to enter the major leagues wearing eye glasses.
    The nonprofit, non-commercial Web site displays more than 2,300 images and 37 slideshows in a virtual museum. Glasses worn by Hans Christian Anderson, Franz Schubert, Thomas Jefferson, Beethoven, and Robert E. Lee are featured.
    There are 405 worldwide institutions that have participated in the Web site including the Vatican, the Louvre and the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. More than 600 people have contributed to the Web site since its inception three years ago. Jacqueline Fleishman helps her husband by translating French text and Tanya Schwartzman, a piano teacher at the Sharon Academy of Music, translates Russian.
    Up until five years ago, Fleishman was the chief of Ophthalmology at Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton. Ironically, Dr. Fleishman’s healthy vision waned as a result of an eyelid growth affecting his cornea and a detached retina requiring an extended recuperation. Later his visual problems were compounded by severe Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in both hands.
    "I had difficulty near the end even holding instruments. Eye surgery is so delicate. I had done 5,000 procedures or so during my 28 years as an ophthalmologist," he said. "When I realized I couldn’t work, I went through a little depression"
    To cope with an unexpected retirement, Fleishman set his sights on his lifelong fascination. Drawing on his small collection of antique spectacles, he wrote a paper based on information gleaned from the newsletters of the Ocular Heritage Society and the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collector’s Club.
    He intended to publish his paper "Eyeglasses through the Ages" in ophthalmology and antiques journals. Fleishman’s son in Chicago suggested starting a Web site as an alternative to print publishing.
    One problem: Fleishman lacked the computer background to manage the volumes of pictures e-mailed to him from museums, art institutes and libraries or those he photographed himself throughout the USA and Europe.
    But, he said, he only need to look within his neighborhood. Neighbor Lee Berkowitz manages Web sites in Watertown at Ritop Trade School and Rich’s Car Tunes.
    Berkowitz began aiding Fleishman, and since then he said he’s been amazed at Fleishman’s success, especially the day when the Wall Street Journal article was published. The Web site received a million hits that spring day.
    "Of all the people I’ve worked with, David is by far the most prepared," Berkowitz said. "He knows exactly what he wants and challenges me to implement it."
    One day Fleishman asked Berkowitz to optimize the full visual impact of photographs for the Web site. To make this happen, Berkowitz said he created the ability to hover the cursor over one area of a larger picture, producing a detailed enlargement of a smaller section.
    Fleishman said his favorite page is called "Suitable for a King," which displays an exquisitely hand painted 19th century functional spy glass made of solid gold in Switzerland. Today, only 12 spy glasses of this kind remain today. A video clip shows a tiny automated scene moving on the outside barrel while the music box plays within this intricately crafted antique.
    Determined to leave accurate information about glasses and vision aids for the next generation, Fleishman said he included a special topics page labeled "Treasures: Missing, Mistaken and Abused."
    In the section of mistakes, there are pictures of glasses attributed to famous owners for whom ownership would be impossible.
    According to Fleishman, glasses from Mount Vernon described as belonging to George Washington’s could not have been his. The reason? That particular style wasn’t worn until 1820 and 1830, at least 20 years after the President died.
    Several weeks ago, Fleishman received a call from 89-year-old Dom DiMaggio, the youngest brother of New York Yankees player, Joe DiMaggio. Dom DiMaggio was an all star center fielder with the Boston Red Sox from 1940-1960, and the first player to enter the major leagues wearing eye glasses.
    Fleishman traveled to Dom DiMaggio’s Marion home, to discuss how this precedent paved the way for other glasses wearing sports figures to play on professional teams. Fleishman returned with an autographed bespectacled picture of Dom DiMaggio to be posted on his Web site.
    Fleishman, once disparaged over his career derailment, now envisions a future of projects and goals. He would like to promote a stamp commemorating Ben Franklin, the inventor of bifocals. He dreams about establishing a World Congress on Vision Aids five years from now.
    "Everyday is an opportunity to be in Aladdin’s cave, and I never know what I’ll find," says this father of four and grandfather of four.
    In September, David Fleishman and his wife Jacqueline are traveling to Italy. David Fleishman is making arrangements to examine a telescope owned by Galileo, at the History of Science and Technology Museum in Florence. To find out if this is an authentic Galilean telescope, visit www.antiquespectacles.com.

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David Fleishman, a historical eyeglass buff, displays a photo of a painting from the Jewish Museum in Paris, France, entitled ’The Rabbi.’ (Photo by Arthur Tsicoulias)
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