Archive for August, 2008

26 Aug

Aimee Crocker (1863-1941), born Sacramento, CA, was an heiress to gold and railroad fortunes and a daughter of Judge Edwin B. Crocker (1818-1875), legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad, Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1865 and founder of the Crocker Art Museum, the longest continuously operating art museum in the West. Her father was a brother of Charles Crocker, one of the “big four” California railroad barons.

The family embarked on a grand European tour from 1869 to 1871 then returned to Sacramento to move into the mansion that had been built for them during their journey. Aimee (originally Amy) married five times beginning in 1887. She wrote of her family in her 1937 memoirs, Without Regret, “The Crocker family needs neither introduction nor comment. For those who never read the papers I might say that we were exceedingly wealthy.”

In her teens she was infatuated with several suitors in her first trip abroad. She became engaged to one, a German prince in uniform, after a relationship of one month. She broke the engagement and later wrote of the Prince, “I recall that he did not commit suicide.” She was retrieved from Europe by her mother after presentation at court in Dresden. Back at home, two friends, R. Porter Ashe and Harry Gillig, played a game of poker for her hand and Ashe won with four aces. She married him in 1887 and divorced him one year later. Aimee then chartered a yacht and sailed to Hawaii having met its King, David Kalakaua, in Europe. She remained there almost a year and the King gave her her own island where she was named Princess of its 300 inhabitants.

Returning to San Francisco, she then married Harry Gillig who had earlier lost her hand in the poker game. That marriage, too, ended in divorce. Traveling abroad years later with her daughter, Gladys Ashe, she met two brothers, Jackson and Powers Gouraud. She married Jackson Gouraud and he died several years later. Her daughter Gladys (born 21 November 1885) married his brother Powers Gouraud (thus becoming her mother’s sister-in-law) and they also divorced.

On 11 June 1914 Aimee married Prince Alexandre Miskinoff, a Russian nobleman. They separated in 1915 and he divorced her the next year when she contested the suit. He alleged cruel and inhuman treatment as well as desertion and that her actions had made him ill. One of his written charges was that, although he “always behaved in a calm and respectful manner,” toward his wife she made great scenes “and arrogantly claimed that her great fortune gave her the privilege to abuse her husband.” Her reply was that her husband had become infatuated with a 15-year old girl in her family and that he had misled her prior to their marriage concerning his social standing. The strangest allegation in the suit was that a baby girl was born to the couple on 11 April 1915, a charge his wife denied. Miskinoff replied that he had a letter in his wife’s own hand announcing the baby’s birth but that his wife immediately left their home at the Hotel McAlpin with the baby because she did not want her daughter from an earlier marriage to know of the child. He alleged that his wife then kept the baby at the Hotel Endicott in the charge of nurses. He stated that he purchased a baby carriage for $80 and for several weeks proudly pushed his daughter around the sidewalks near the Hotel but his wife then became jealous of his attentions to their daughter. He asked for visitation rights to the child but his wife continued to deny her existence and the divorce was granted.

On 22 September 1925 in Paris Aimee married Prince Mstislav Galitzine, Count Ostermann of Russia, born Kiev 21 January 1899, died Paris 28 February 1966. They were divorced in 1927 in Paris when she charged infidelity. Opposing the suit Prince Galitzine said that their marriage “was purely a commercial one, animated by the American woman’s desire to be a Princess,” adding that he “married for a financial settlement on condition that the union be one in name only.” After their 1927 divorce he remarried a Frenchwoman and had a daughter and Aimee retained the name Princess Galitzine.

She later became very active socially in New York City and had her gowns designed in Paris. While in Java she “wore the native costume and lived in a native hut.” During her stay in Japan she lived in a paper house. While there a young British officer reportedly stole for her a sacred Buddha from a temple and “the affair was hushed up.” She died at 78 at the Hotel Savoy Plaza in NYC in 1941. Her daughter, Gladys C. Ashe, died in Santa Barbara in 1947 having lived in Beaumont, France, at her Chateau de Baudiment and left a son, Gerald Morgan Russell.


19 Aug

Lucy Cotton, born in Houston, TX, approximately 1891, daughter of Adelaide Wisby Cotton and Warren Jefferson Cotton, was an actress who performed on Broadway and then in a series of early movies. In 1916-1917, her first stage appearance was in Turn to the Right! She was then given a starring role in Up in Mabel’s Room in 1919 and afterwards left the stage for good. The titles of her successive movies give a fair indication of the type of roles in which she was cast: Blind Love, The Devil, The Misleading Lady, Divorced, Life Without Soul, Roses and Thorns, and The Sin That Was His.

She married on 10 October 1924 in Paris Edward Russell Thomas, owner of the New York Morning Telegraph, a Yale graduate whose father, General Samuel Thomas, left a fortune of twenty million dollars enabling an annual trust fund of $180,000 for Edward. The son reportedly made two million dollars on his own by creating a corner in the cotton market. In the 1907 financial panic he was forced to sell his renowned racing stables but eventually recovered his fortune. In 1902 Thomas was the first driver in America to kill someone with an automobile when his Daimler, formerly owned by William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., struck a seven year-old child and dragged the body three blocks. Years later Thomas would be seriously injured in another auto accident from which he took months to recover and his daughter also died in the same manner.

Edward R. Thomas first married in Newport, RI, a 17 year-old Virginian, Linda Lee. After their divorce she took her sizable financial settlement and married the composer Cole Porter. The story of their highly-social relationship, largely financed by her funds, was told in the movie DeLovely. Edward R. Thomas’ second wife, by whom he had a son, Samuel Finley Thomas, was Elizabeth Finley.

Thomas and Lucy had a daughter, Lucetta Cotton Thomas, in May of 1925, the year before he died on 6 July 1926 at the age of 52. For a short while his widow assumed management of his profitable newspaper. His extensive estate included a $50,000 bequest to his sister’s husband, Rhode Island Governor Livingston Beeckman, and his second wife sued the estate to increase the amount left to his young son (who was eventually to become chief of neurology at New York’s St. Luke’s Hospital). Thomas’ infant daughter by Lucy received a trust fund of approximately two million dollars with the remaining amount, slightly over one million dollars, to his wife. She frequently entered into litigation with his estate over the succeeding years in an effort to receive some of her daughter’s income.

In 1934 Lucy gave a ninth birthday party for the girl at her fifteenth-floor apartment at the Hotel Pierre. The party lasted twelve hours and more than 500 guests paid $2.50 each to join the festivities with the proceeds going to a pianist who was a protégé of Lucy. Two singers from the Metropolitan Opera performed during the party and Lucetta was seen clutching a big doll before being led away to bed by a governess while the party continued for seven more hours.

Lucy Cotton Thomas married Lyton Grey Ament in 1927 and Charles Hann, Jr. in 1931. Both marriages were performed by the same minister in Towson, MD, and both ended in divorce. In 1933 she married William Magraw, president of Manhattan’s Underground Installations Company. Immediately after that marriage kidnappers demanded $150,000 in ransom not to abduct Lucy’s daughter, Lucetta. Lucy moved to south Florida where her late husband owned substantial property and, in 1934, she purchased the Deauville resort at Miami Beach consisting of a hotel, casino, swimming pool, and bathing beach. The sales price was said to be three million dollars. She ran it for two seasons before leasing the resort to the owner of True Confessions magazine. During World War II it was used by the Coast Guard for anti-invasion beach patrol, never recovered its glory days and was demolished in 1956.

On 3 May 1941 Lucy divorced William Magraw and, three hours later, in Key West, Florida, married Prince Vladimir Eristavi-Tchitcherine, born 19 October 1881 in Orel, Russia, who had been working in a jewelry store at the time of their meeting. The Tchitcherines were a Russian noble family with medieval roots, although not a royal one, while the Eristavis were a Georgian royal family, and Vladimir added the second name to his own after his first marriage before World War I to Clementine de Vere. She was divorced from her first husband and the father of her son, Herman Wirtheim, a tiger tamer and circus artist known as Herman Weedon. Prince Vladimir married second in March 1929, Diane Rockwood who was from Indianapolis, IN, and they were also divorced.

Lucy and Prince Vladimir were re-married in a religious ceremony on 15 June 1941 in New York City’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral officiated by the church’s dean. Afterwards a reception was held in the penthouse of the St. Regis Hotel. The couple lived in Miami and were divorced there on 12 October 1944. On 12 December 1948 her butler found her unconscious in her bed with an empty bottle that had held 100 sleeping pills. Lucy Cotton Thomas Ament Hann Magraw Eristavi-Tchitcherine was declared dead upon reaching the hospital. Prince Vladimir died in February of 1967 in New York City.

Lucy’s daughter, Lucetta Cotton Thomas, left home upon reaching her majority and had no further contact with her mother. Having been taunted for years by the nickname, “Miss Cotton Panties,” she changed her name to Mary Frances Thomas and married Kenneth Oscar Bailey. They lived in Luray, Virginia, where she died in an auto accident on 20 January 1980. She had no children and most of her estate went to charity.


06 Aug

Clara Ward, born Detroit, MI, 17 June 1873, died Padua 9 December 1916, was a daughter of Captain Eber Brock Ward and his second wife, Catherine Lyons Ward. Manufacturer Eber Ward of Detroit, called “The King of the Lakes,” was reportedly the wealthiest man in Michigan. At his death in 1875, his property alone in Michigan was valued at more than $3 million and he served as the first president of the American Iron and Steel Association. He was largely responsible for having developed shipping lines across the Great Lakes and later built rolling mills in seven cities near Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee.

Clara met in Nice and was married by the Papal Nuncio at Paris 20 May 1890 Joseph de Riquet, 19th Prince de Chimay, Prince de Caraman, born Paris 4 July 1858 (he was 15 years her senior) died Chimay 25 July 1937, of a Franco-Belgian house. She was given a marriage settlement of $2.5 million by the estate of her father. Prince Joseph was a member of the Chamber of Representatives in Belgium.

Clara was supposedly bored by life in the little village of Chimay and was even reported to have thrown gold coins from the battlement of her castle to watch the villagers fight for them. He and Clara were divorced 19 January/20 June 1897 (annulled at St. Siege 28 June 1911) and she “enjoyed a gay and scandalous career which gossips compared to that of Lola Montez” according to the New York Times. They had a daughter, Countess Marie, born 1891, who married in 1918 Georges Albert Leon Decocq, and a son, Joseph, who would have succeeded his father but he died in 1920 at the age of 25 having never married. The father remarried in 1920 a French woman and had another son, Prince Joseph, born 1921, who succeeded his father as 20th Prince but renounced his titles upon becoming an American citizen when the titles passed to his next brother, Elie. Clara’s husband’s grandson is the current 22nd Prince de Chimay, Prince de Caraman.

Clara remarried in 1898 Rigo Janczi, a Hungarian violinist who referred to himself as a Gypsy prince. They became Hungary’s beautiful couple in 1905, sometimes requiring police protection from the crowds who surrounded them. He told of their meeting by insisting that “the night I saw her first she turned from King Leopold to smile at me. Ten days later, like two gypsies, we stole from her palace in the dead of night” when he took her to his mother’s hut in the mountains. To that mother Clara gave a pearl necklace with a diamond clasp which hung on a nail by the fire. Supposedly Clara then bought the mountain on which the hut sat and gave it to her new mother-in-law. They moved to Egypt and for her new husband she “built me a white marble palace on the Nile. An Italian architect designed the stables for the sixteen jet-black Arabian horses she bought for me. … She bought a menagerie of baby elephants, lions and tigers to amuse me. She gave me my $5,000 violin and caskets of jewels. Her allowance of $500 a month for me has not failed once since she started it twenty years ago.” By the time he wrote that account Clara and Rigo had divorced and she pursued other loves.

As Cornelia Otis Skinner wrote of Paris in Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals, “The midnight resort par excellence for the Horizontals was, of course, Maxim’s….Few society ladies would have dared to be seen within the art nouveau interior of that naughty place, with some emancipated exceptions such as Princesse Caraman-Chimay, née Clara Ward from Detroit, Michigan, who eventually ran away with the violinist Rigo and appeared at the Folies Bergères in pink tights and a series of ‘Plastic Poses.’” Clara was painted by Toulouse-Lautrec in “A Princely Idyl, Clara Ward,” now at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

After her 1911 divorce another American woman, Mrs. Casper E. Emerson, Jr., left her husband for Rigo and he played the violin in the Little Hungary Restaurant, a small tea room opened by his new wife, before dying near destitution in 1927. Rigo was buried in the National Vaudeville Association plot at Kensico Cemetery in Westchester County, NY. On a visit to Paris Clara deserted Rigo for a Spaniard. In the end, she married an Italian named Peppino Ricciardi who was a stationmaster on the Vesuvian Railway. She sued him for divorce after the court’s unsuccessful attempts to bring about their reconciliation.

In 1915 her mother, Catherine Lyons Ward Morrow, died leaving Clara only $1,000 of her own one million dollar estate. Clara, formerly Princess de Chimay, died at her villa in Padua 9 December 1916. Her estate of $1.2 million was divided into trust funds and left to her son, Joseph, her daughter, Marie, and her last husband (wth the corpus reverting to her children at his death), and a small bequest to a cousin in Chicago. There was a rumor that she died a pauper with nothing left except a few jewels, but the American Consul at Venice stated publicly that Clara “was in possession of a very large income and lived in a manner befitting its possessor. At the time of her death she occupied the best suite at the Hotel Stella d’Oro. During her sickness she had the assistance of expert physicians, and everything that money and medical science could do in her last illness was done. Her funeral was elaborate and costly.” Prince Joseph’s brother, Prince Alexandre, married American Mathilde Lowenguth.

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