Friday, May 2, 2014

Upper Class Gossip of Old New York – 1886-1891 – The Mrs. James G. Blaine Jr. Scandal

(original copyright expired)

This n'ar Romeo and Juliet tale of young love played out in the streets of old New York from about the middle of 1886 through the middle of 1891.

The aspects of many dysfunctional families usually and eventually ends up spilling out onto the street and or public thoroughfare for all to see and dissect. 

While researching a news clipping of a wedding at old St. Leo’s RC church at 11 E. 28th Street, I ran into the character of the bon vivant pastor in the name of Father Thomas Ducey. His main claim to fame in his Obits, among a few others perhaps not published, was his so-called secret marriage of Marie Nevins originally of Ohio but recently of New York City, married to the son of the former Republican candidate on the 1884 ticket James G Blaine Sr. who lost to Grover Cleveland by a razor thin vote majority but not on Electoral College count.

Secret is a strong word but the bottom line is that the groom presented himself as of age, 18, and able to freely marry his sweetheart.

James G Blaine Jr. - "Gilded Youth" of the "Plumed Knight"

The father of the groom overall treated his son as some sort of property in the little rhetoric bled into the press regarding this embarrassment to him as a very ambitious national political figure - a property rights and or parental rights thing in words of a private letter to Father Ducey not published until after the priest's death. 

James G Blaine Sr. - Mister Republican
The "Plumed Knight"

James G. Blaine Senior was in the political wilderness and no doubt considering his 1888 political options. He even took this wife and daughters on a grand European Tour starting in 1887 which ended with an extended stay at Andrew Carnegie’s castle in Scotland – just to drop a name or two among the lowly.

Blaine Senior was a self-made man. Started a successful newspaper in Maine, backed Lincoln in 1860 and channeled his publishing fortune into Coal Mines in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Not to mention a big bribe or two from Railroads while serving as Senator from Maine before his days as Presidential contender which in the 1876 bid he was dubbed something like not as a dark horse but a “Plumed Knight” (white knight?) to lead the Grand Old Party to new heights of glory etc.

James G. Blaine Junior born 1868, was among his younger children and he, the son, would appear to have met Marie Nevins while her family was vacationing in Maine one summer. One thing led to another no doubt and by the beginning of September 1886 Blaine Junior is presenting himself as a “gentleman” registered at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, the best in the city with few rivals, and telling the priest at St. Leo’s that he wants to marry Marie Nevins, no doubt in a mixed religious ceremony, one Catholic Marie and one Protestant Jamie (and or "Jimmie" by some newspaper accounts) Blaine Junior.

The priest marries them in the standard Rectory Marriage for quick and or mixed marriages, no doubt assuming pregnancy as a factor, along the usual verbal contract that the children of such a union be raised Catholic etc.

I suppose all this happened without the Blaines being aware of it for a while or at least until Jamie’s hotel bill at the Fifth Avenue Hotel came due and became overdue etc. I am not too certain if the Nevins knew too much at first. But the witnesses to Marie’s wedding would appear to have been Nevins servants. The Nevins were in quiet repose I would speculate in the fading grand eloquence of the old New York Hotel 721 Broadway, in retirement or semi-retirement, clipping coupons so to speak. 

[Old New York Hotel.] – 1875 (photographer unknown) From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

(Old New York Hotel was the first major hotel in New York City to have indoor plumbing when it was built in 1844. It was a preferred stop over for Southerners visiting the city. Jefferson Davis stayed there in 1858. Some of his children and his mother in law stopped over there on their way to Canada in 1865. An early long term manager had cultivated this Southern connection to a genteel aristocracy sort of clientele. It was the ideal quiet place to stay for people of means on a budget to stay the season with its table d'hote in house restaurant prices and menu. Torn down in 1894.)

Marie’s father had been a successful printer/publisher in Ohio and a one-time owner of the Ohio Statesman, a Democratic leaning newspaper. Richard Nevins had also married Florida “Flora” Madery, daughter of the original long term owner and founder of the Ohio Statesman. The Statesman by the way changed owners and politics a few times in the late 1860s after I believe Richard Nevins moved on to New York City.

Richard Nevins was born in New York City in 1831 with his father, being a partner with his brother in the Wall Street brokerage firm of Nevins and Townsend before dying in Richard’s infancy.  Nevins moved to Philadelphia to be raised by his mother’s relatives and legal guardians before striking out in his youth to seek his own fortune in Ohio.

Marie (born Mary in 1866 according to the family Genealogy page) was educated in a convent school away from the world until her encounter with the Blaines.

Whatever the families knew, the couple ran off for a short period and set up housekeeping in Marie’s uncle’s house in Pittsburgh while tempers on both sides no doubt flared and James Junior got himself a job as a newspaper reporter, the first of many jobs he got but never showed interest in or held onto for very long. They went back to New York to rent an apartment “uptown”. He of course was cut off from his parents money and allowance in the short term. Finally with the arrival of James G Blaine III in January 1888, some communication with the Blaines and Junior’s $1800 a year normal allowance was temporarily restored.

I don’t know if Richard Nevins was happy about his convent educated daughter being secreted off in the night to marry what was proving to be a n’ar do well son in law and the son of one of the most powerful figures in Republican politics of the day. I believe that Marie is often quoted in the papers as going to see her mother as opposed to her father etc. as intermediary etc.

Blaine Family Mansion - Augusta Maine

Along with the restored allowance to James Jr., the young Blaines made an attempt to live with the Blaine in-laws in Augusta Maine in the summer of 1888 which only lasted a few weeks and until a big blow-up blow-out cat fight between newlywed Marie and her mother in law.

After that, what the press and the public did not know about all this probably came pouring out in sordid details and even in the New York Times – the New York Times – but then again this was a tragedy, a future styled “soap opera” unfolding with each new detail printed in the press. A lot of “He Said…She Said” stuff getting quoted on both sides and printed in the newspapers of the day and not just in New York City.

What I would imagine is that Blaine Senior did not want was any negative publicity to interfere with his future political gamesmanship for the White House that would have gotten lost in the yellow street journalism of the day.

Marie came back to New York and stayed at the old apartment but without James Junior who stayed with mommy, daddy and his allowance in Maine. No letters were answered from Marie to the various Blaines in their Augusta mansion and sent by Marie.

No doubt as a desperate or perhaps clever ploy to gain public attention to her private woes, Marie Nevins Blaine – or Mrs. James G. Blaine Jr. (her stage name) – signed a theatrical contract to go onto the stage and perform in legitimate theatre.

The proverbial muck hit the fan and the press had their field days.

As a side note, this was not something original on Marie Nevins part to try and cash in on her name, a now famous national married name.

There was another well to do Married Lady – Mrs. James Brown-Potter who as a beautiful young American got dumped in England by her rich hubby, one of the Browns of Brown Bros. Wall Street fame, but who managed to turn misfortune into fortune as a bright new young sensation on the London Stage – cashing in on the poor dear, little woman, jilted wife of a cad, taking on an underdog stance to make it against all odds as a woman that is in late Victorian England. 

Mrs. James Brown-Potter - The American Actress
photo source -

With all the stress of trying to maintain a household and not live with her parents who may or may not been giving her support and or cash up to this point and trying to shame the Blaines into taking responsibility for their worthless son, Marie got really sick with an inflammatory attack of Rheumatoid Arthritis that left her bedridden for months and being treated by all the best doctors and treatments, including opiates, in New York at the time. 

Weeks drifted into months and she had yet to make her announced appearance on the stage.  She for a time is noted as with her mother at the New York Hotel before establishing another residence closer to her new show business career, should it ever get off the ground.

Some back and forth on the negotiations and or communications with the Blaines of Maine and with publicity in the press, and with a new circle of theatrical and powerful Democratic leaning friends, Marie moved out of the original apartment and into the Percival Apartments at 230 West 42nd street to be near those new friends in her attempt at recovery. Her child it would seem was in temporary care of her mother in her residence at the New York Hotel.

Remains of the Percival Apartments in 1924
234 West 42nd Street – 1924 – Photograph by Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) - From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

(The above mis-labled I think as 234 W 42nd Street unless new street numbers assigned over time for the Percival Apartments, scraped in this 1924 photo of the previous McKim, Mead & Whites designed exterior decorative work.)

( …but 230 West 42d Street was built in 1872 as a Roman Catholic school for "boys of refined families," according to the 1893 King's Handbook of New York City.
 In 1882 Percival Wood Clement, a Vermont publisher, banker and railroad investor, hired McKim, Mead & White to completely rebuild the school as a bachelor apartment house. They gave the Percival touches that elevated it above the usual apartment house of the period: multipaned windows, balconies with intricate ironwork designs and a paneled main doorway, all in the character of the Esthetic Movement, then at the forefront of educated taste...)

Marie found a cure in the person of Doctor William T. Bull, a young eligible bachelor, well connected socially, of the Rhode Island founding Bulls, and an innovative successful doctor in his own right. No doubt, his attachment in the press to the cure of Marie Nevins Blaine made him more a famous figure, more famous locally than he was before.

Meanwhile at the ranch, James G. Blaine Sr. has become Secretary of State under President Benjamin Harrison and James Junior had found a job as clerk on a House committee in Washington DC. He continues to live as bachelor and party goer and general playboy through all this without according to the other side even shelling out a dime of support for his son.

Which finds us in April 1891, with no doubt Marie Nevins Blaine wanting a divorce, to get rid of dead weight and free herself up for a presumed marriage with Doctor “Right”.

Here is where more gossip in the press speculates about the future coupling of Marie Nevins Blaine and William T. Bull in the bonds of matrimony. Marie assembles a dream team of lawyers that I would presume her father has partly assembled. 

George Hoadley

One is former Governor George Hoadley of Ohio now living and practicing law in New York City.  

Robert G Ingersoll

The other is Robert G.Ingersoll, successful lawyer, famous political orator and free thinker aka “The Great Agnostic” willing to debate against religion anywhere, anytime and with anyone. 

And the darling of the recently lost Anti-Tammany Reform ticket 1887 for District Attorney De Lancey Nicoll.

Governor Hoadley had only handled two divorce cases in his mostly business legal career, one of those cases being for fellow Ohioan Kate Chase Sprague, Civil War Washington DC hostess under her father Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Kate had also once had Richard Nevins on her short list of suitors rich enough to marry in antebellum Ohio when her daddy was governor.

Robert G. Ingersoll was above all a free thinker and something of a nationally known Clarence Darrow type before there was a Clarence Darrow type per say.

De Lancey Nicolls’ family descended from the original English that took New Amsterdam away from the Dutch and made it New York City.

Nicoll was an anti-Tammany democrat that lost for D.A. in 1887 but decided to run and win with Tammany in 1890. So a little publicity, helping a beautiful and wronged Marie Nevins Blaine, could not hurt and only help his public image.

One of Marie’s lawyers had Jamie Blaine Junior followed by detectives in Washington DC. Rather than embarrass herself further in the press and have a record of her husband’s misconducts in DC documented and to haunt her young child in the future, the legal dream team decided that Marie could not divorce under the “moral misconduct” necessary of one or both parties to get a New York State divorce. Instead Marie Blaine was to hop a train to South Dakota, become a resident of a few weeks and get a "quickie" divorce granted solely for “lack of support”.

In the meantime and with the dream team talking to the press officially and unofficially, the other camp in DC decided to send House clerk James G. Blaine Jr. on a an urgent secret diplomatic mission to Spain in the middle of the night in order to avoid being served with divorce papers.

Marie gets her divorce. She does not go on the stage. She marries Doctor William Tillinghast Bull and lives happily ever after etc. etc. 

Doctor William T. Bull (later in life)

End of the story of dirt and gossip on the rich and famous in late nineteenth century New York.

(All images and photos above would seem to fall within the Public Domain or Original Copyright Expired category except for those otherwise noted.)


No comments: