October 31, 2013
She moved amid the bland perfume
That breathes of heaven’s balmiest isle;
Her eyes had starlight’s azure gloom
And a glimpse of heaven–her smile.
New York Herald, 1838
John Anderson’s Liberty Street cigar shop was no different from the dozens of other tobacco emporiums frequented by the newspapermen of New York City. There only reason it was so crowded was Mary Rogers.
Mary was the teenage daughter of a widowed boarding-house keeper, and her beauty was the stuff of legend. A poem dedicated to her visage appeared in the New York Herald, and during her time clerking at John Anderson’s shop she bestowed her heavenly smile upon writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving, who would visit to smoke and flirt during breaks from their offices nearby.
In 1838, the cigar girl with ”the dainty figure and pretty face” went out and failed to return. Her mother discovered what appeared to be a suicide note; the New York Sun reported that the coroner had examined the letter and concluded the author had a “fixed and unalterable determination to destroy herself.” But a few days later Mary returned home, alive and well. She had been, it turned out, visiting a friend in Brooklyn. The Sun, which three years earlier had been responsible for the Great Moon Hoax, was accused of manufacturing Mary’s disappearance to sell newspapers. Her boss, John Anderson, was suspected of being in on the scheme, for after Mary returned his shop was busier than ever.
Still, the affair blew over, and Mary settled back into her role as an object of admiration for New York’s literary set. By 1841 she was engaged to Daniel Payne, a cork-cutter and boarder in her mother’s house. On Sunday, July 25, Mary announced plans to visit relatives in New Jersey and told Payne and her mother she’d be back the next day. The night Mary ventured out, a severe storm hit New York, and when Mary failed to return the next morning, her mother assumed she’d gotten caught in bad weather and delayed her trip home.
By Monday night, Mary still hadn’t come back, and her mother was concerned enough to place an advertisement in the following day’s Sun asking for anyone who might have seen Mary to have the girl contact her, as “it is supposed some accident has befallen her.” Foul play was not suspected.
On July 28, some men were out for a stroll near Sybil’s Cave, a bucolic Hudson riverside spot in Hoboken, New Jersey, when a bobbing figure caught their attention. Rowing out in a small boat, they dragged what turned out to be the body of a young woman back to shore. Crowds gathered, and within hours, a former fiancee of Mary’s identified the body as hers.
According to the coroner, her dress and hat were torn and her body looked as though it had taken a beating. She was also, the coroner took care to note, not pregnant, and “had evidently been a person of chastity and correct habits.”
Questions abounded: Had Mary been killed by someone she knew? Had she been a victim of a random crime of opportunity, something New Yorkers increasingly worried about as the city grew and young women strayed farther and farther from the family parlor? Why hadn’t the police of New York or Hoboken spotted Mary and her attacker? The Herald, the Sun and the Tribune all put Mary on their front pages, and no detail was too lurid—graphic descriptions of Mary’s body appeared in each paper, along with vivid theories about what her killer or killers might have done to her. More than anything, they demanded answers.
Suspicion fell immediately upon Daniel Payne, Mary’s fiancee; perhaps one or the other had threatened to leave, and Payne killed her, either to get rid of her or to prevent her from breaking their engagement. He produced an airtight alibi for his whereabouts during Mary’s disappearance, but that didn’t stop the New-Yorker (a publication unrelated to the current magazine of that name) from suggesting, in August of 1841, that he’d had a hand in Mary’s death:
There is one point in Mr. Payne’s testimony which is worthy of remark. It seems he had been searching for Miss Rogers—his betrothed—two or three days; yet when he was informed on Wednesday evening that her body had been found at Hoboken, he did not go to see it or inquire into the matter—in fact, it appears that he never went at all, though he had been there inquiring for her before. This is odd, and should be explained.
If Payne hadn’t killed Mary, it was theorized, she’d been caught by a gang of criminals. This idea was given further credence later that August, when two Hoboken boys who were out in the woods collecting sassafras for their mother, tavern owner Frederica Loss, happened upon several items of women’s clothing. The Herald reported that “the clothes had all evidently been there at least three or four weeks. They were all mildewed down hard…the grass had grown around and over some of them. The scarf and the petticoat were crumpled up as if in a struggle.” The most suggestive item was a handkerchief embroidered with the initials M.R.
The discovery of the clothes catapulted Loss into minor celebrity. She spoke with reporters at length about Mary, whom she claimed to have seen in the company of a tall, dark stranger on the evening of July 25. The two had ordered lemonade and then taken their leave from Loss’ tavern. Later that night, she said, she heard a scream coming from the woods. At the time, she’d thought it was one of her sons, but after going out to investigate and finding her boy safely inside, she’d decided it must have been an animal. In light of the clothing discovery so close to her tavern, though, she now felt certain it had come from Mary.
The Herald and other papers took this as evidence that strangers had indeed absconded with Mary, but despite weeks of breathless speculation, no further clues were found and no suspects identified. The city moved on, and Mary’s story became yesterday’s news—only to return to the headlines.
In October 1841, Daniel Payne went on a drinking binge that carried him to Hoboken. After spending October 7 going from tavern to tavern to tavern, he entered a pharmacy and bought a vial of laudanum. He stumbled down to where Mary’s body had been brought to shore, collapsed onto a bench, and died, leaving behind a note: “To the World—Here I am on the very spot. May God forgive me for my misspent life.” The consensus was that his heart had been broken.
While the newspapers had their way with Mary’s life and death, Edgar Allen Poe turned to fact-based fiction to make sense of the case.
Working in the spring of 1842, Edgar Allan Poe transported Mary’s tale to Paris and, in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” gave her a slightly more Francophone name (and a job in a perfume shop), but the details otherwise match exactly. The opening of Poe’s story makes his intent clear:
The extraordinary details which I am now called upon to make public, will be found to form, as regards sequence of time, the primary branch of a series of scarcely intelligible coincidences, whose secondary or concluding branch will be recognized by all readers in the late murder of MARY CECILIA ROGERS, at New York.
A sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” widely considered the first detective story ever set to print, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” would see the detective Dupin solve the young woman’s murder. In shopping the story to editors, Poe suggested he’d gone beyond mere storytelling: “Under the pretense of showing how Dupin unraveled the mystery of Marie’s assassination, I, in fact, enter into a very rigorous analysis of the real tragedy in New York.”
Though he appropriated the details of Mary’s story, Poe still faced the very real challenge of actually solving the murder when the police were no closer than they’d been in July 1841.
Like many other stories of the mid-19th century, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” was serialized, appearing in November issues of Snowden’s Ladies Companion. The third part, in which Dupin put together the details of the crime but left the identity of the criminal up in the air, was to appear at the end of the month, but a shocking piece of news delayed the final installment.
In October 1842, Frederica Loss was accidentally shot by one of her sons and made a deathbed confession regarding Mary Rogers. The “tall, dark” man she’d seen the girl with in July 1841 had not been a stranger; she knew him. The Tribune reported: “On the Sunday of Miss Rogers’s disappearance she came to her house from this city in company with a young physician, who undertook to produce for her a premature delivery.” (“Premature delivery” being a euphemism for abortion.)
The procedure had gone wrong, Loss said, and Mary had died. After disposing of her body in the river, one of Loss’ sons had thrown her clothes in a neighbor’s pond and then, after having second thoughts, scattered them in the woods.
While Loss’ confession did not entirely match the evidence (there was still the matter of Mary’s body, which bore signs of some kind of struggle), the Tribune seemed satisfied: “Thus has this fearful mystery, which has struck fear and terror to so many hearts, been at last explained by circumstances in which no one can fail to perceive a Providential agency.”
To some, the attribution of Mary’s death to a botched abortion made perfect sense—it had been suggested that she and Payne quarreled over an unwanted pregnancy, and in the early 1840s New York City was fervently debating the activities of the abortionist Madame Restell. Several penny presses had linked Rogers to Restell (and suggested that her 1838 disappearance lasted precisely as long as it would take a woman to terminate a pregnancy in secret and return undiscovered), and while that connection was ultimately unsubstantiated, Mary was on the minds of New Yorkers when, in 1845, they officially criminalized the procedure.
Poe’s story was considered a sorry follow up to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” but he did manage to work Loss’ story into his narrative. His Marie Rogêt had indeed kept company with a “swarthy naval officer” who may very well have killed her, though by what means we are not sure—did he murder her outright or lead her into a “fatal accident,” a plan of “concealment”?
Officially, the death of Mary Rogers remains unsolved. Poe’s account remains the most widely read, and his hints at abortion (made even clearer in an 1845 reprinting of the story, though the word “abortion” never appears) have, for most, closed the case. Still, those looking for Poe to put the Mary Rogers case to rest are left to their own devices. In a letter to a friend, Poe wrote: “Nothing was omitted in Marie Rogêt but what I omitted myself—all that is mystification.”
Poe, Edgar Allan, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”; “The Mary Rogers Mystery Explained”, New-York Daily Tribune, Nov. 18, 1842; “The Case of Mary C. Rogers”, The New-Yorker; Aug. 14, 1841; Stashower, Daniel, The Beautiful Cigar Girl (PenguinBooks, 2006); Srebnick, Amy Gilman, The Mysterious Death of Mary Rogers: Sex and Culture in Nineteenth Century New York (Oxford University Press, 1995); Meyers, Jeffrey, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy (Cooper Square Press, 1992)
September 26, 2013
“It seems to me that a leading question ought to be: do the American people want a common libertine for their president?” So wrote a preacher from Buffalo, New York, to the editor of the Chicago Tribune on the eve of the 1884 presidential election.
Maine Senator James G. Blaine, the Republican candidate, had been shamed some years earlier when it came to light that he’d been trading congressional favors for cash, something his Democratic rivals brought up at every opportunity. The Democrats, though, had troubles of their own. A scandalous tale about the misdeeds of their candidate, New York Governor Grover Cleveland, was gaining traction, along with a particularly grating chant directed at him: “Ma, ma, where’s my Pa?”
For on July 21, 1884, the Buffalo Evening Telegraph broke a story many in upstate New York had long known to be true—that 10 years earlier, a woman named Maria Halpin had given birth in that city to a son with the surname Cleveland and then been taken to a mental asylum while the child was adopted by another family.
Cleveland’s campaign, knowing there was no refuting the allegations, was almost blasé in admitting that yes, Cleveland and Halpin had been “illicitly acquainted.” At the time, the campaign provided this rationale: Cleveland was a bachelor, and Halpin had been rather free with her affections, including with some of Cleveland’s friends—prominent Buffalo businessmen all. As the only unmarried man of the bunch, Cleveland, though not certain the child was his, claimed paternity and helped Halpin name the boy and place him with a caring family. Really, he’d been looking out for his friends and for a woman in unfortunate circumstances. The scandal was, of course, unfortunate, but the governor’s involvement was far from nefarious, and certainly shouldn’t preclude him from serving as president (especially not when Blaine had already made it clear he was not a man to be trusted).
Nevertheless, newspapers ran with the story, and it was only a matter of time before reporters discovered Halpin’s whereabouts. Her tale differed from Cleveland’s, substantially.
In an October 31, 1884, interview with the Chicago Tribune, she proclaimed, “The circumstances under which my ruin was accomplished are too revolting on the part of Grover Cleveland to be made public.”
Halpin was a 38-year-old widow in 1874, according to the Tribune, which also reported:
Halpin said that Cleveland had pursued her relentlessly, and that she finally consented to join him for a meal at the Ocean Dining Hall & Oyster House. After dinner, Cleveland escorted her back to her boarding house. In an 1874 affidavit, Halpin strongly implied that Cleveland’s entry into her room and the incident that transpired there was not consensual—he was forceful and violent, she alleged, and later promised to ruin her if she went to the authorities.
Halpin said she told Cleveland she never wanted to see him again, but “five or six weeks later” was forced to seek him out because she was in the kind of trouble only Cleveland could help her with.
The trouble, of course, was pregnancy.
Nine months later, Halpin’s son was born and promptly removed from her custody. Halpin was admitted under murky circumstances to a local asylum for the insane. Doctors from that institution, when interviewed by the press during the 1884 campaign, corroborated Halpin’s insistence that she was not, in fact, in need of committing. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported:
Dr. William G. King, an honored citizen of Buffalo, was then attending physician at the Providence Asylum. When visited by a Telegraph reporter last week he said that he remembered Maria Halpin well. He says she was brought to the asylum without warrant or form of law. When he examined her he found that she was not insane, though she had been drinking. The managers of the asylum had no right to detain her, and she left in a few days—that is, as soon as she chose to after her terrible experience.
Upon her release, Halpin’s first order of business was to locate her son, who had been “spirited away” after she was taken to the asylum.
Halpin contacted Milo A. Whitney, a well known Buffalo attorney, and announced her intent to charge Cleveland with assault and abduction:
Whitney says Maria Halpin came to consult him about instituting proceedings against all concerned in the assault and abduction. She said she knew that Grover Cleveland had plotted the abduction and hired the men to carry it out, as he had previously tried less violent means to deprive her of the child and get her out of the way.
Shortly after Halpin’s initial meeting with Whitney, her brother-in-law arrived from New Jersey to offer assistance. Days later, the pair called at Whitney’s office with a document that would seem to resolve the whole business:
They showed the attorney an agreement which stipulated that upon the payment of the sum of $500, Maria Halpin was to surrender her son, Oscar Folsom Cleveland, and make no further demands of any nature whatever upon his father.
Whitney maintained in all subsequent interviews that the document was in Grover Cleveland’s handwriting.
Oscar Folsom Cleveland (given the middle name Folsom after Oscar Folsom, Cleveland’s closest friend) was adopted by the Providence Asylum’s Dr. King and raised in Buffalo separate from his birth mother.
When interviewed in 1884 and asked about Cleveland’s assertion that any number of men could have been Oscar’s father, Halpin was outraged: “There is not and never was a doubt as to the paternity of our child, and the attempt of Grover Cleveland or his friends to couple the name of Oscar Folsom or any one else with that of the boy, for that purpose, is simply infamous and false.”
Halpin was living in New Rochelle, New York, just outside New York City, and breathless accounts of her looks and disposition filled the pages of the New-York World:
Mrs. Halpin is still an attractive woman, and although said to be 45 or 50, does not look more than 35. A wealth of dark hair and dark eyes of great depth and of strange, fascinating power are in strong contrast to a pale, clear complexion while regular features, and rounded chin, and a classically-cut and curved mouth could not fail to make a pleasant impression on those with whom she came in contact. Although robust, her form still preserves its symmetry, and this rotundity of figure rather adds to her matured charms than otherwise.
The story filled major newspapers during the summer and autumn of 1884—had Cleveland really taken part in the “seduction and ruination” of such a goodly woman? Was he indeed too much of a libertine to lead the nation? Or was his campaign telling the truth—that Maria Halpin was a harlot looking to cash in on a distant dalliance with the upstanding lawyer running for office on a clean-government ticket?
Most observers seemed to agree that Cleveland bore some degree of guilt. Writing to the Buffalo Evening Telegraph in the fall of 1884, Pastor Henry W. Crabbe, of that city’s United Presbyterian Church, condemned Cleveland resolutely:
I am very sorry to say that he is a corrupt, licentious man. He has never been married, and is notoriously bad with women. Cleveland is well known here, and it is a reproach to the city that he ever got into the Gubernatorial chair. I most sincerely and earnestly pray that he will not be our next President. His public life is revealing his true character. It may be said these stories are put in circulation for political effect, but the trouble is they cannot be refuted.
Still, Cleveland was not without defenders—including the famed reformer Henry Ward Beecher, who stood by the candidate in the pages of the Sunday Mercury, a Democratic-leaning newspaper:
Indeed, many of Cleveland’s supporters wrote the affair off as a young man’s folly—even though the man was nearly 40 years old when he became acquainted with Halpin.
In the end, Cleveland’s personal life proved more palatable to voters than Blaine’s political indiscretions: The Democrat won the election, carried by a New York state victory with a margin of barely 2,000 votes. The chant of “Ma, ma, where’s my Pa?” was answered by Democrats: “Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!”
The scandal was soon replaced on the front pages by breathless coverage of Cleveland’s new bride. Frances Folsom, daughter of the president’s best friend, became the first woman to be married in the White House and, at 21 (27 years younger than her husband), the nation’s youngest-ever first lady.
Oscar Folsom Cleveland faded from public record and seems to have come of age in privacy; some people believe he changed his name and became James E. King Jr., a Buffalo gynecologist who died childless in 1947.
Maria Halpin remarried and lived in relative obscurity until her death in 1902, and she seemed to take solace in her privacy to the last. According to her obituary, her last wish was that her funeral should not be public, “for she dreaded having strangers look curiously upon her dead face.”
THE DEFENSE.: A Man of 40 Lusty Summers “Sowing His Wild Oats”, Chicago Daily Tribune, 13 August 1884; THE CLEVELAND SCANDAL: A Fresh Scrutiny of the Charges Affecting the New York Governor, Chicago Tribune, 31 October 1884; THE CLEVELAND SCANDAL.: WHAT THREE BUFFALO CLERGYMEN SAY OF GROVER CLEVELAND–WILL ANY CLERGYMAN TESTIFY ON THE OTHER SIDE?, Chicago Daily Tribune, 11 August 1884; THE CHARGES SWEPT AWAY, New-York Times, 12 August, 1884; CORROBORATION.: A PHYSICIAN’S STATEMENT. SEEKING REDRESS. MR. WHITNEY’ Chicago Daily Tribune, 19 September 1884; CLEVELAND.: History of Wicked Maria Halpin; Chicago Daily Tribune, 13 August 1884; PASSING OF MARIA HALPIN; The Atlanta Constitution, 8 February 1902; Lachman, Charles, A Secret Life: The Sex, Lies, and Scandals of President Grover Cleveland, Skyhorse Publishing, 2011; Presidential Election of 1884 Resource Guide, Library of Congress; Nevins, Allan, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, Dodd/Mead, 1934.
August 7, 2012
America’s first Olympics may have been its worst, or at least its most bizarre. Held in 1904 in St. Louis, the games were tied to that year’s World’s Fair, which celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase while advancing, as did all such turn-of-the-century expositions, the notion of American imperialism. Although there were moments of surprising and genuine triumph (gymnast George Eyser earned six medals, including three gold, despite his wooden leg), the games were largely overshadowed by the fair, which offered its own roster of sporting events, including the controversial Anthropology Days, in which a group of “savages” recruited from the fair’s international villages competed in a variety of athletic feats—among them a greased-pole climb, “ethnic” dancing, and mud slinging—for the amusement of Caucasian spectators. Pierre de Coubertin, a French historian and founder of the International Olympic Committee, took disapproving note of the spectacle and made a prescient observation: “As for that outrageous charade, it will of course lose its appeal when black men, red men and yellow men learn to run, jump and throw, and leave the white men behind them.”
The Olympics’ signal event, the marathon, was conceived to honor the classical heritage of Greece and underscore the connection between the ancient and modern. But from the start the 1904 marathon was less showstopper than sideshow, a freakish spectacle that seemed more in keeping with the carnival atmosphere of the fair than the reverential mood of the games. The outcome was so scandalous that the event was nearly abolished for good.
A few of the runners were recognized marathoners who had either won or placed in the Boston Marathon or had placed in previous Olympic marathons, but the majority of the field was composed of middle-distance runners and assorted “oddities.” Americans Sam Mellor, A.L. Newton, John Lordon, Michael Spring and Thomas Hicks, all experienced marathoners, were among the favorites. Another American, Fred Lorz, did all his training at night because he had a day job as a bricklayer, and earned his spot in the Olympics by placing in a “special five-mile race” sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Union. Among the leading oddities were ten Greeks who had never run a marathon, two men of the Tsuana tribe of South Africa who were in St. Louis as part of the South African World’s Fair exhibit and who arrived at the starting line barefoot, and a Cuban national and former mailman named Félix Carbajal, who raised money to come to the States by demonstrating his running prowess throughout Cuba, once trekking the length of the island. Upon his arrival in New Orleans, he lost all his money on a dice game and had to walk and hitchhike to St. Louis. At five feet tall, he presented a slight but striking figure at the starting line, attired in a white, long-sleeved shirt, long, dark pants, a beret and a pair of street shoes. One fellow Olympian took pity, found a pair of scissors and cut Carbajal’s trousers at the knee.
On August 30, at precisely 3:03 p.m., David R. Francis, president of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company, fired the starting pistol, and the men were off. Heat and humidity soared into the 90s, and the 24.85-mile course—which one fair official called “the most difficult a human being was ever asked to run over”—wound across roads inches deep in dust. There were seven hills, varying from 100-to-300 feet high, some with brutally long ascents. In many places cracked stone was strewn across the roadway, creating perilous footing, and the men had to constantly dodge cross-town traffic, delivery wagons, railroad trains, trolley cars and people walking their dogs. There were only two places where athletes could secure fresh water, from a water tower at six miles and a roadside well at 12 miles. James Sullivan, the chief organizer of the games, wanted to minimize fluid intake to test the limits and effects of purposeful dehydration, a common area of research at the time. Cars carrying coaches and physicians motored alongside the runners, kicking the dust up and launching coughing spells.
Fred Lorz led the 32 starters from the gun, but by the first mile Thomas Hicks edged ahead. William Garcia of California nearly became the first fatality of an Olympic marathon we he collapsed on the side of the road and was hospitalized with hemorrhaging; the dust had coated his esophagus and ripped his stomach lining. Had he gone unaided an hour longer he might have bled to death. John Lordon suffered a bout of vomiting and gave up. Len Tau, one of the South African participants, was chased a mile off course by wild dogs. Félix Carvajal trotted along in his cumbersome shoes and billowing shirt, making good time even though he paused to chat with spectators in broken English. On one occasion he stopped at a car, saw that its occupants were eating peaches, and asked for one. Being refused, he playfully snatched two and ate them as he ran. A bit further along the course, he stopped at an orchard and snacked on some apples, which turned out to be rotten. Suffering from stomach cramps, he lay down and took a nap. Sam Mellor, now in the lead, also experienced severe cramping. He slowed to a walk and eventually stopped. At the nine-mile mark cramps also plagued Lorz, who decided to hitch a ride in one of the accompanying automobiles, waving at spectators and fellow runners as he passed.
Hicks, one of the early American favorites, came under the care of a two-man support crew at the 10-mile mark. He begged them for a drink but they refused, instead sponging out his mouth with warm distilled water. Seven miles from the finish, his handlers fed him a concoction of strychnine and egg whites—the first recorded instance of drug use in the modern Olympics. Strychnine, in small doses, was commonly used a stimulant, and at the time there were no rules about performance-enhancing drugs. Hicks’ team also carried a flask of French brandy but decided to withhold it until they could gauge the runner’s condition.
Meanwhile, Lorz, recovered from his cramps, emerged from his 11-mile ride in the automobile. One of Hicks’ handlers saw him and ordered him off the course, but Lorz kept running and finished with a time of just under three hours. The crowd roared and began chanting, “An American won!” Alice Roosevelt, the 20-year-old daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, placed a wreath upon Lorz’s head and was just about to lower the gold medal around his neck when, one witness reported, “someone called an indignant halt to the proceedings with the charge that Lorz was an impostor.” The cheers turned to boos. Lorz smiled and claimed that he had never intended to accept the honor; he finished only for the sake of a “joke.”
Hicks, the strychnine coursing through his blood, had grown ashen and limp. When he heard that Lorz had been disqualified he perked up and forced his legs into a trot. His trainers gave him another dose of strychnine and egg whites, this time with some brandy to wash it down. They fetched warm water and soaked his body and head. After the bathing he appeared to revive and quickened his pace. “Over the last two miles of the road,” wrote race official Charles Lucas, “Hicks was running mechanically, like a well-oiled piece of machinery. His eyes were dull, lusterless; the ashen color of his face and skin had deepened; his arms appeared as weights well tied down; he could scarcely lift his legs, while his knees were almost stiff.”
He began hallucinating, believing that the finish line was still 20 miles away. In the last mile he begged for something to eat. Then he begged to lie down. He was given more brandy but refused tea. He swallowed two more egg whites. He walked up the first of the last two hills, and then jogged down on the incline. Swinging into the stadium, he tried to run but was reduced to a graceless shuffle. His trainers carried him over the line, holding him aloft while his feet moved back and forth, and he was declared the winner.
It took four doctors and one hour for Hicks to feel well enough just to leave the grounds. He had lost eight pounds during the course of the race, and declared, “Never in my life have I run such a touch course. The terrific hills simply tear a man to pieces.” Hicks and Lorz would meet again at the Boston Marathon the following year, which Lorz won without the aid of anything but his legs.
Books: Susan Brownell, The 1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008; David E. Martin, The Olympic Marathon. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000. George R. Matthews, America’s First Olympics: The St. Louis Games of 1904. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005; Pamela Cooper, The American Marathon. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998; Daniel M. Rosen, Dope: A history of Performance Enhancement in Sports From the Nineteenth Century to Today. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2008; Charles J. P. Lucas, The Olympic Games, 1904. St. Louis, Mo: Woodward & Tieran Printing Co., 1905.
Articles: “The Olympics of 1904: Comedic, Disgraceful, and ‘Best Forgotten.” Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2004; “Marathon Captivated Crowd at 1904 Olympics.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 14, 2003; “New York Athlete Wins Marathon Race.” New York Times, April 20, 1905; “1904 Set Record for the Unusual.” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1984; “The 1904 Marathon Was Pure Torture.” Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 3, 2008; “Marathon Madness,” New Scientist 183 (August 7-13, 2004); “St. Louis Games Were Extremely Primitive By Today’s Standards.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2004; “One Man’s Poison In a Brazen and Forgotten Incident of Doping.” Boston Globe, February 22, 2009.
June 27, 2012
In the spring of 1902 a woman calling herself Cassie L. Chadwick—there was never any mention as to what the L stood for—took a train from Cleveland to New York City and a hansom cab to the Holland House, a hotel at the corner of 30th Street and Fifth Avenue internationally renowned for its gilded banquet room and $350,000 wine cellar. She waited in the lobby, tapping her high-button shoes on the Sienna marble floor, watching men glide by in their bowler hats and frock coats, searching for one man in particular. There he was—James Dillon, a lawyer and friend of her husband’s, standing alone.
She walked toward him, grazing his arm as she passed, and waited for him to pardon himself. As he said the words she spun around and exclaimed what a delightful coincidence it was to see him here, so far from home. She was in town briefly on some private business. In fact, she was on her way to her father’s house—would Mr. Dillon be so kind as to escort her there?
Dillon, happy to oblige, hailed an open carriage. Cassie gave the driver an address: 2 East 91st Street, at Fifth Avenue, and kept up a cheery patter until they arrived there—at a four-story mansion belonging to steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. She tried not to laugh at Dillon’s sudden inability to speak and told him she’d be back shortly. The butler opened the door to find a refined, well-dressed lady who politely asked to speak to the head housekeeper.
When the woman presented herself, Cassie explained that she was thinking of hiring a maid, Hilda Schmidt, who had supposedly worked for the Carnegie family. She wished to check the woman’s references. The housekeeper was puzzled, and said no one by that name had ever worked for the Carnegie family. Cassie protested: Was she absolutely certain? She gave a detailed physical description, rattled off details of the woman’s background. No, the housekeeper insisted; there must be some misunderstanding. Cassie thanked her profusely, complimented the spotlessness of the front parlor, and let herself out, slipping a large brown envelope out of her coat as she turned back to the street. She had managed to stretch the encounter into just under a half hour.
As she climbed into the carriage, Dillon apologized for what he was about to ask: Who was her father, exactly? Please, Cassie said, raising a gloved finger to her lips, he mustn’t disclose her secret to anyone: She was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter. She handed over the envelope, which contained a pair of promissory notes, for $250,000 and $500,000, signed by Carnegie himself, and securities valued at a total of $5 million. Out of guilt and a sense of responsibility, “Daddy” gave her large sums of money, she said; she had numerous other notes stashed in a dresser drawer at home. Furthermore, she stood to inherit millions when he died. She reminded Dillon not to speak of her parentage, knowing it was a promise he wouldn’t keep; the story was too fantastic to withhold, and too brazen to be untrue. But she had never met Andrew Carnegie. Cassie Chadwick was just one of many names she went by.
June 13, 2012
With the Roaring Twenties in full swing and the first talkies on the horizon, Hollywood’s booming film industry already had its share of bankable stars—Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton. But in the summer of 1926, an Italian immigrant named Rodolfo Alfonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla would join them. Known as the “Latin Lover,” Rudolph Valentino would, by summer’s end, single-handedly change the way generations of men and women thought about sex and seduction.
It’s sad Valentino never live to see that autumn. And it’s sadder that he spent his final weeks engaged in an indecorous feud with an anonymous editorialist who had questioned his masculinity and blamed him for America’s “degeneration into effeminacy.”
Born in Castellaneta, Italy, in 1895, Valentino arrived at Ellis Island in 1913, at the age of 18. He lived on the streets and in Central Park until he picked up work as a taxi dancer at Maxim’s Restaurant-Caberet, becoming a “tango pirate” and spending time on the dance floor with wealthy women who were willing to pay for the company of exotic young men.
Valentino quickly befriended a Chilean heiress, which might have seemed like a good idea, but she was unhappily married to a well-connected businessman named John de Saulles. When Blanca de Saulles divorced her husband in 1915, Valentino testified that he had evidence that John de Saulles had been having multiple affairs, including one with a dance partner of Valentino’s. But his refined, European and youthful appearance at the trial had some reporters questioning his masculinity in print, and John de Saulles used his clout to have the young dancer jailed for a few days on a trumped-up vice charge. Not long after the trial, Blanca de Saulles shot her husband to death over custody of their son, and Valentino, unwilling to stick around for another round of testimony and unfavorable press, fled for the West Coast, shedding the name Rodolpho Guglielmi forever.
In California, Valentino began landing bit parts in films and, as he did in New York, building a clientele of older wealthy women who would pay for dance instruction. So charming was the young Italian that he would often show up at movie auditions driving fancy cars his clients had lent him. Impulsively, he married actress Jean Acker, but a regretful (and lesbian) Acker locked him out of their hotel room on their wedding night. She quickly sued for divorce.
By 1921, Valentino was starring in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which became one of the highest-grossing films of the silent era. Also that year, he was cast as Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan in The Sheik—another wildly successful film, which would define Valentino’s image as a brooding but irresistible lover. It was an image he would despise.
In 1922, a writer named Dick Dorgan opined, in Photoplay magazine, opined that , “the Sheik is a bum Arab, that he is really an Englishman whose mother was a wop or something like that.” Valentino was infuriated by the insult to his mother and tried to have Dorgan banned from the studio. He also swore he would kill the writer if he saw him. The magazine apologized and promised some favorable pieces in the future, but a few months later, it published Dorgan’s “A Song of Hate,” in which he railed against Valentino’s “Roman face,” his “patent leather hair,” and his ability to make women dizzy. The article was somewhat good-natured—a common man’s jeremiad against a guy who danced too well and was too good-looking—but Valentino resented its references to his long eyelashes and the earrings he wore in films.
Valentino’s next few films performed erratically at the box office, and contract disputes with various studios forced him out of the movie business for a time. In 1922, he married Natacha Rambova, a costume designer, artistic director and occasional actress, but stood trial on bigamy charges because he hadn’t yet divorced Acker. He and Rambova had to have their marriage annulled; in March 1923 they remarried legally.
To make money until he was free to sign a new studio deal (and to pay off Acker), Valentino joined a dance tour throughout the U.S. and Canada. Sponsored by Mineralava beauty products, Valentino and Rambova performed as dancers and spokespersons, and Valentino judged beauty contests. He returned to films with the title role in Monsieur Beaucaire in 1924, under a new contract with Ritz-Carlton Pictures. Although the Louis XV drama was fairly successful, Valentino had to wear heavy makeup and ruffled costumes in an overtly feminized role. The actor, ever sensitive about his masculinity, was determined to be more careful about the roles he chose. He and Rambova would divorce in 1925, leading to public speculation that Valentino was a homosexual and that he had been engaged in “lavender marriages” of convenience to hide it. There is no definitive evidence in any credible biographies written of the two that either Valentino or Rambova was gay; rather, the speculation reflected contemporary sterotypes and prejudices, and was no doubt inspired by Valentino’s personal style and refined European tastes. Simply put, the man dubbed the “Latin lover” by the studios seems to have sought long-term relationships with women.
In early 1926, Valentino joined United Artists at the urging of Chaplin and Fairbanks. Mired in debt, he was practically forced into making a sequel to The Sheik. Though women continued to swoon over him, and some men imitated his mannerisms and slick-backed hair (they became known as “Vaselinos”), many more men grew skeptical of the foreign-born actor. Fairbanks was dashing and unquestionably masculine, but Valentino, with his dandy clothes, his wristwatch and a slave bracelet?
Photoplay published yet another piece, this one by Herbert Howe, that described Valentino’s his influence on leading men after his stellar tango in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse like this: “The movie boys haven’t been the same,” Howe wrote. “They’re all racing around wearing spit curls, bobbed hair and silk panties.… This can’t keep up. The public can stand just so many ruffles and no more.”
But it was the Chicago Tribune that really set Valentino off. On July 18, 1926, the paper ran an unsigned editorial under the headline “Pink Powder Puffs” that blamed Valentino for the installation of a face-powder dispenser in a new public men’s room on the city’s North Side:
A powder vending machine! In a men’s washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn’t someone quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo [sic], alias Valentino, years ago?… Do women like the type of “man” who pats pink powder on his face in a public washroom and arranges his coiffure in a public elevator?… Hollywood is the national school of masculinity. Rudy, the beautiful gardener’s boy, is the prototype of the American male.
Valentino seethed at the editorial’s insinuations and ridicule. Since The Son of the Sheik was about to open, Oscar Doob, the film’s press agent, suggested that Valentino challenge the “Pink Powder Puffs” writer to a duel. Valentino sent his dare to the Chicago Herald-Examiner, the Tribune’s competitor: “To the man (?) who wrote the editorial headed ‘Pink Powder Puffs’ in Sunday’s Tribune, I call you in return, a contemptible coward and to prove which of us is a better man, challenge you to a personal test.” Noting that a duel would be illegal, Valentino said he would be happy to settle things in a boxing ring. And while Doob was immensely pleased with the publicity, he had no doubt that Valentino was “burned up” about the editorial.
“It’s so unfair. They can say I’m a terrible actor if they like, but it’s cowardly and low to hold me up as a laughing stock and make fun of my personal tastes and my private life,” Valentino told a Herald Examiner reporter. “This man calls me a ‘spaghetti-gargling gardener’s helper.’… As for being a gardener’s helper, I specialized in college in landscape gardening because in Italy, that is as fine an art as architecture or painting.”
The Tribune editorial writer did not come forward, but the actor traveled to New York and arranged to have boxing lessons from his friend Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion. Valentino was actually quite fit, and Dempsey tried to help, getting in touch with sportswriter Frank “Buck” O’Neil. “Listen, O’Neil,” Dempsey told him, “Valentino’s no sissy, believe me…. He packs a pretty mean punch.”
“Cut the crap,” O’Neil told him. “I don’t buy it, and neither does anyone else.” O’Neil then volunteered to take on Valentino in the ring, and the actor quickly agreed to fight him the following afternoon on the roof of the Ambassador Hotel. The next morning, reporters arrived at Valentino’s suite, only to see him decked out in an “orchid bathing suit and lavender lounging robe.”
“I’m going back to Chicago and I’ll have satisfaction,” Valentino told them, still incensed over the “Pink Powder Puffs” editorial. Privately, reporters marveled at Valentino’s bulging biceps and wondered what the star would do if he found out the editorial writer was a woman.
Valentino and O’Neil met on the roof, with reporters and photographers attending, and despite O’Neil’s promise that he would not hurt the star, he popped Valentino on the chin with a left. The actor responded by dropping his larger opponent with a left of his own. Somewhat stunned, Valentino apologized and helped the writer to his feet.
“Next time Jack Dempsey tells me something, I’ll believe him,” O’Neil told reporters. “That boy has a punch like a mule’s kick. I’d sure hate to have him sore at me.”
Still, the match proved nothing, and in the coming days, Valentino continued to fume about pink powder puffs. The more he mentioned the editorial to reporters, the more he invited the judgment that he must be hiding something. Valentino even met with the writer H.L. Mencken for advice, but when Mencken told him to ignore the taunts, the actor ignored him instead. Mencken would later write, “Here was a young man who was living daily the dream of millions of other young men. Here was one who was catnip to women. Here was one who had wealth and fame. And here was one who was very unhappy.”
In late July, Valentino attended the New York premiere of The Son of the Sheik. The temperature was close to one hundred degrees, but a mob of thousands formed around the theater, and as Valentino tried to make his way out of Times Square they ripped at his clothes. He escaped sufficiently intact to read about the melee in the next morning’s New York Times review of his film. More important to Valentino, however, was that the review said the film was full of “desert rough stuff and bully fights” and “leaves no doubt” about his masculinity. Referring to the “Pink Powder Puff” editorial, the reviewer warned any writer to think twice before accepting Valentino’s challenge, as “the sheik has an arm that would do credit to a pugilist and a most careless way of hurling himself off balconies and on and off horses. One leap from a balcony to a swinging chandelier is as good as anything Douglas Fairbanks ever did.”
The film was a hit, and the whispering about the star’s masculinity began to fade. As the sheik, he still appeared to be wearing eye shadow, and perhaps his lips bore a slightly darker stain of rouge, but after all, he was in show business.
Two weeks later, Valentino collapsed in his suite at the Ambassador and was taken to a hospital. After emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix, his doctors were hopeful he would recover. Then he developed pleuritis in his left lung and was in severe pain. At one point, he asked a doctor, “Am I still a pink powder puff?” Some reporters and readers were convinced that the actor’s hospitalization and the daily updates on his condition amounted to yet another publicity stunt. But on August 23, Rudolph Valentino slipped into a coma and died just hours later, surrounded by hospital staff.
On the news of his death, more than 100,000 people gathered on the streets in chaos outside the Frank Campbell Funeral Home. Flappers tore at their own clothes, clutched at their chests and collapsed in the heat. The New York Police Department tried to bring the order to the mob, and there were reports of despondent fans committing suicide. Inside the funeral home, four Black Shirt honor guards, supposedly sent by Benito Mussolini, stood nearby in stark tribute to the fallen star. (It was later learned that the men were actors, hired by the funeral home in, yes, a publicity stunt.)
The Polish actress Pola Negri, who had been having an affair with Valentino, fainted over his coffin. Upon reviving, she announced that she was to have been his third wife and quickly claimed the role of the dead star’s “widow.” For the funeral, she sent a massive floral display with thousands of blood-red roses surrounding white blooms that spelled out “POLA.” His body traveled back to the West Coast on a funeral train, and he was laid to rest in Hollywood.
The hysteria following Valentino’s death did not abate, and when The Son of the Sheik was released nationally months later, it was acclaimed as one of his best movies—a swan song of masculinity. Rumors that he actually died by the gun of a jealous husband or scorned lover kept the tabloids in business. And for decades, a veiled woman in black arrived at Valentino’s Hollywood tomb on the anniversary of his death to place twelve red roses and one white one on his grave. Once it was learned to be yet another press agent’s stunt, competing ladies in black began arriving at the tomb, knocking roses to the ground as they scuffled for position in front of newspaper photographers.
Whether the quality of Valentino’s voice would have killed his career in talkies is a subject of endless debate. Some say his accent was too thick, others who knew him well say his rich, husky baritone would only have helped him reach even greater heights of fame. But nearly a century after he arrived on these shores, his very name remains tantamount to a male seducer of women. In that sense, his work outlasted the biases of his time.
Books: Allan R. Ellenberger, The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol, McFarland & Co. Inc. Pub, 2005. Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars, Knopf, 1999. Michael Ferguson, Idol Worship: A Shameless Celebration of Male Beauty in the Movies, StarBooks Press, 2005.
Articles: “Valentino Still Irate,” New York Times, July 20, 1926. “Why Wasn’t He Drowned Years Ago, Asks Article,” Boston Globe, July 21, 1926. “Valentino Challenges Editor to Fight Duel,” Hartford Courant, July 21, 1926. “Pola Sobs Out Grief During Studio Rests,” Boston Globe, August 22, 1926. “Sheik of the Movies, Wearing Hospital Nightshirt, Beseiged by Worshipping Fans and Press Agents, Even in Grave Illness,” Boston Globe, August 22, 1926. “Many Hurt in Mad Fight to Pass Valentino Bier,” Boston Globe, August 25, 1926. “Pola Negri Prostrated by News of Valentino’s Death,” Boston Globe, August 25, 1926. “Valentino Passes with No Kin At Side; Throngs in Street,” New York Times, August 24, 1926. The Rudolph Valentino Society, http://rudolphvalentino.org/index.html. “Celebrities of the 20s: Rudolph Valentino,: by Anthony Ehlers, http://raesummers.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/celebrities-of-the-20s-rudolf-valentino/.