The Mysterious Disappearance of the Cleveland Diamond

David Dessau was the type of father who allowed his son Simon to make his own errors, even if that error was as egregious as supporting James G. Blaine in the Presidential Election of 1884. Yet, when Simon suggested naming their newest purchase, a 100 carat diamond from South Africa via London, after the candidate Blaine, his father put his foot down; the gem would be named after Grover Cleveland. For weeks father and son debated the issue, before reaching an agreement; if Cleveland won, they would name the largest diamond in North America after him, if Blaine, then it would be known henceforth as the Blaine diamond. Until the nation decided the issue in November, father and son called the diamond by their preferred candidate’s name, and they discussed the diamond quite a bit.

David Dessau had been a moderately successful lawyer, but as with many lawyers throughout history, getting a client to pay once their case was concluded proved problematic, and often payment would be had in the form of chickens, whisky, and the like. One client even went so far as to pay Dessau in what looked to be fairly valueless diamonds, for they were uncut, murky, and yellow tinged. When Dessau rubbed one on a window, and realized it could cut glass, he had an epiphany; diamonds useless as jewelry could be used in manufacturing. Dessau abandoned the law practice for a career in manufacturing of diamond tipped industrial tools, and in the process made himself a fortune.

Part of this fortune was used to bring over the large diamond from London, it would be the biggest stone ever cut in America, and it proved to cost than the Dessau family wanted to pay; they brought on a third partner, John Rogers, a theatrical booking agent. Rogers, known as “Yours Merrily Rogers” after his habit of signing even his most vitriolic correspondence with a Yours Merrily, was an eccentric who refused to drink water, crossed the Atlantic 111 times, would sneeze convulsively, and had a penchant for showgirls, over whom he would fly into jealous rages.

While Rogers was off hunting up showgirls, either as clients or conquests, the Dessaus had what was now known as the Cleveland Diamond cut down to 42 carats (as shown above) and polished; they displayed the Diamond at the New Orleans World Cotton Centennial. Following the Exhibition, a group of wealthy New Yorkers desired to present the diamond to President Cleveland as a token of their esteem, but they were politely rebuffed; Cleveland had vowed not to accept any gifts, and remained true to his word. He did however announced that he was “highly delighted” to have the diamond named after himself.

With no other takers on the horizon, the Dessaus sold their share to Yours Merrily Rogers, who promptly bestowed it on Minnie Palmer (shown at the bottom of the post). Palmer was more than a passing fancy for Rogers, he was very much in love, and designed for her a contraption to be worn about the waist. Resting in a framework of gold, the contraption could be wound up and rotate for twelve hours, throwing glittering reflections of gaslight from the diamond to the walls of any room Palmer graced with her presence. She even wore the diamond on stage; critics were unsure whether the crowds came to see Palmer or the diamond, but as long as patrons filled the house, Palmer was happy.

A 42 carat diamond could raise the matrimonial interest of all but the most level headed of women, and Palmer loved jewels, which Rogers kept providing. Their marriage was low on wedded bliss, a series of jealous accusations of infidelity culminated one evening with Rogers sitting on the side of Palmer’s bed, calling her endearing names before suddenly pressing a foot long kitchen knife to her throat.  She escaped, and filed for divorce, agreeing to split the jewelry collection with her husband. Rogers kept the Cleveland Diamond, and Palmer fled across the Atlantic.

Without Pamer to draw in box office crowds, Rogers’ finances began to sink, and soon he approached the Actors’ Guild with an offer to raffle off the Cleveland Diamond at a fair being held at Madison Square Garden. Rogers drove a hard bargain only agreeing to put the Diamond up for the raffle if the Actors’ Guild paid off loans secured by the gem, and agreed to split the raffle’s proceeds. The gentlemen in charge of the raffle assented.

His debts paid off, Rogers headed to Europe to reconcile with Palmer. Meanwhile, the raffle went on, but when the Actors’ Guild drew the winning ticket, it was discovered that no one purchased the it. The contract with Rogers called for only one draw, so keeping his half of the raffle proceeds, Rogers agreed with the Actors’ Guild to auction off the diamond, leaving it in their hands as he worked on getting Palmer to call off the divorce. She agreed to reconcile, but a few months later the mercurial Rogers filed for divorce against her, citing an alleged affair.

Never one to keep to close an eye on his business affairs, Rogers realized that he’d never been paid for his half of the proceeds the diamond received at Actors’ Guild auction. When the Guild failed to provide the funds, Rogers filed suit; the Actors Guild’s lawyer claimed that the auction had been held and Rogers paid; but their testimony on the stand was curious. No one could remember who served as auctioneer, how much the diamond had fetched, who bought it, or when Rogers had been paid. With no evidence, the New York Supreme Court dismissed the case.

The Cleveland Diamond was never heard from again after the Madison Square Garden Fair raffle in 1892. The Actors’ Guild did nothing to search for it out of a concern for their own complicity in its disappearance. Rogers, still infatuated with Palmer attempted to reconcile with her once more, an attempt she wisely rebuffed. Nevertheless he went to his grave at the age of 92 in 1936, still claiming to all who would listen that Palmer was his wife. She followed him a few years later.

It was a dark and stormy night…

If you haven’t heard of Moingona, Iowa, then you’ve probably never heard of Honey Creek, along which Moingona  was built. During temperate weather, Honey Creek was plenty rapid, but during the rainstorms of early July, 1881, it rose higher and higher, becoming a torrent of swirling brown water, carrying with it trees and debris.

As the Creek swept downward to meet the Des Moines River, this debris came smack up against the bridges which crossed Honey Creek; twenty one in all. The wooden bridges quickly succumbed to the creek’s relentless assault; only those with stone abutments stood firm.

At about midnight on July 6, 1881, orders came from the headquarters of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway to send out a “pusher” (a engine which pushed trains up steep grades) to check and make sure that the Railway’s bridges over the Des Moines River and  Honey Creek were still standing.  Ed Wood and his crew of three men crossed the Des Moines River Bridge just fine, and as they approached the Honey Creek Bridge, they could dimly make out through the raging storm that it was still standing. It would not be for long; the pusher had just reached the center when the bridge began to crumble, sending Wood’s crew into twenty five feet of water, killing his fireman, and sweeping the tender downriver.

Kate Shelley, her mother and sisters had heard the crash from their house overlooking the bridge. Shelley’s eighteen years of life had given her enough misery and toil to last a lifetime; her brother had drowned while swimming in the Des Moines River, and her father, former night watchman on this particularly dangerous stretch of railroad, had died, worn out by the constant exposure to the elements that his duties commanded. At age 15, Shelley took the night watchmen job over after his death, and already friends remarked that exposure and hard work had given her the appearance of a woman of twenty-five.

Shelley had just returned from letting the livestock out of their barn, which was rapidly filling with water, when she heard the engine bell of Ed Wood’s pusher; almost immediately thereafter the crash had followed and the sound the hissing of the hot boiler striking the water came through despite the wailing of the wind. The family was so poor that family didn’t own a proper lantern, Shelley improvised one out of a miner’s helmet, and started off alone to the bridge, where the two men cried for help. It was normally tough going climbing down the hill to the banks of Honey Creek where pusher lay, through inundated fields, and in the middle of the tempest it took Shelley  a good twenty minutes to get there.

Wood shouted out through the pouring that the express train was almost due; never mind them, she must get to Moingona and warn the station master that the bridge was out. Shelley set off once more through inundated fields and marshland, the mud sucking her downward with every step. Between her and Moingona the only bridge still standing was that over the Des Moines River, already it too was showing signs of strain as floating debris battered against the trestles and piers.  Shelley walked step by careful step from one railroad tie to another River. There was nothing solid beneath her, and the railroad ties were three feet apart, necessitating a jump from one to another with the howling wind all around her and the muddy waters of the River thirty five feet below. She’d almost made the other side when her lamp went out, the remaining steps and the journey to Moingona were made in pitch black darkness. She barely made it in time, the passenger train, filled with 220 men, women, and children was stopped at Boone, Iowa;  few minutes more and it would have been too late.

Now came the task of saving Wood and his fellow crewman, and Kate Shelley proved up to it once more, she guided a rescuing party, and thanks to her intrepid nature, the men were saved.

Shelley’s exploits earned her celebrity status; a subscription was taken up nationwide, and enabled her to go to Simpson College for a year, and later earn a teaching degree. Her $35 salary barely met expenses, and Shelley had to mortgage the family’s farmhouse. When a Chicago paper discovered she was in danger of losing the home because she couldn’t make the mortgage payment, another subscription was raised to pay it off; and the Iowa Legislature awarded her $5000 for her service to the state. In 1903, Shelley accepted a job with the railroad as station master at Moingona; but by now she had a new bridge to watch; the Kate Shelley Bridge, which had gone up in 1900. Shelley passed away in 1909, and is buried in Boone County’s Sacred Heart Cemetery. Her grave stone reads:

Here is a deed bound for legend. . a story to be told until the last order fades and the last rail rusts. On the night of 6th July 1881, Kate Shelley, then a girl of 15 years crossed the Des Moines river bridge at Moingona Iowa, in tempest and flood and prevented a C. and N. W. passenger and express train from plunging into rain-swollen Honey Creek where two men had died when a bridge collapsed under their locomotive. Her heroism saved the train and those aboard and led to rescue of survivors from the Honey Creek disaster.

A Forgotten Stories Buffet

Often when we here at Forgotten Stories have finished a story, and laid our weary head down to rest, there are leftovers that didn’t quite seem to fit, or illustrations that were interesting, but a whole column couldn’t be fashioned around them. So here we present a Forgotten Stories smorgasbord (by the way, smörgåsbord didn’t enter the American lexicon until 1939, when it was a featured entrée at the Swedish pavilion at the World’s Fair.)

First on the menu, some delightful humor from June 9, 1866, just as New York City was meeting a zebra for the first time:

This particular item probably should have found a home in our posts on bicycles, but unfortunately turned up too late to be used. On June 7, 1868, during a Spanish bullfight, a creative picador replaced his horse with a bicycle; explaining that as bicycles didn’t tend to get disemboweled  by an irate bull, the choice was a logical one. To the bull it made no difference, he knocked over the picador, who found safety in flight, leaving his bicycle behind.

On May 27, 1871, the Pittston Coal Mine collapsed in a heap of rubble and fire. Trapped at the bottom of the mine was a minor miner, little Martin Creghan, and some of the more mature members of the mining fraternity, including his older brother. To protect themselves from the rapidly approaching flames and noxious fumes, the miners set to work raising a barricade. It was almost done before they realized that some sort of message should appear on the outside, letting their rescuers know that men were trapped inside. Only Martin could fit through the remaining hole. With a piece of chalk, he used his limited schooling to scrawl, very slowly “We are all in here.” Then, perhaps sensing his own impending doom, Creghan ignored the entreaties of the miners, who were quite anxious to seal the barricade, and laboriously wrote his name in full. They barely managed to pull him inside before the fire arrived. The men were eventually rescued by their fellows, who noted Martin’s sign; but unfortunately help arrived too late for Little Martin.

We’ll finish our tour with a dessert. You may have heard of pneumatic railways, where the cars are pushed along with giant fans. There was an underground one for a brief time in New York City; and illustrations of it were used for the Subway chain of restaurants for years, you can still find them on the walls of a few of them. Our forbearers weren’t merely thinking underground pneumatic transportation, for it would be far easier and cheaper to build the whole thing above ground, So here we present the original idea for New York Elevated Transit (note what appears to be Trinity Church in the background):

For those who want an exhaustive history of the underground pneumatic propulsion project, check out: http://www.damninteresting.com/the-remarkable-pneumatic-people-mover/

On a Tachypodascaphe Built For Two

We here at Forgotten Stories remember when carpenter jeans and cell phones became popular simultaneously; the handy carpenter’s pocket proved just the place to store the phone. Dual fashion trends weren’t a stranger to the bicycle craze either, just at time the bicycle were becoming popular in 1869, long mustaches for men were en vogue, and the ladies took good advantage of the trend.

An inventive Parisian, M. de La Rue, perhaps because he lacked a nifty mustache, instead invented a tachypodascaphe to impress his female friends, which he took out on the Seine. Of course, inviting a proper  Frenchwoman to “Ride my tachypodascaphe” would produce a quizzical eyebrow at best, and a slap in the face at worst, so de La Rue nicknamed his creation “The Insubmersible.” Two pontoons, joined with four iron cross beams, supported a paddle wheel, which could be ridden just like a bicycle. In the event of poor weather, The Insubmersible came equipped with a sail. “As a pleasure craft, this ingenious contrivance will doubtless become popular,” said Frank Leslie’s  of April 24, 1869. We here at Forgotten Stories hope that happens soon, we’re looking forward to riding one.

Meanwhile, the British Army began exploring the uses of the bicycle in military applications. Unfortunately, the multi-cycle, manned by ten to twelve men who carried an ammunition storage cart behind them, proved unsuitable for military use.

*** – Update – We did a bit of hunting in the world of Latin, and Tachypodascaphe means “Rapid Foot Ship,” viz Tachy (Rapid) Poda (Foot) Caphe (Ship)

The Road First Travelled

On the weekend of September 11 and 12, 1879, forty wheelmen gathered in streets of West Roxbury, in Boston. It was the first ever wheelman’s convention, and the Boston Bicycle Club invited fellow clubmen from as far away as New Jersey, to join them in a 100 mile ride around the Massachusetts. Riding a “century” as it was called, was considered quite the accomplishment, and the gather was the largest congregation of wheelmen in history. Several of the men displayed club pride they wore their uniforms; the Worcester Bicycle Club stood out wearing all grey flannel, but were perhaps topped by the white shirts and bright blue stockings, set off with a matching polo cap, of the Hartford Club.

Each rider had his own sobriquet, and the President of the Boston Club, known as the Captain, sounded “Boots and Saddles” on his bugle. The ride began, the wheelmen proceeding two by two out of town. At the very first hill, one rider, known as “Froggie” ostensibly for his efforts to jump ahead of the other riders, attempted to show off; after getting his bicycle up to 15 mph, he struck against a rock, taking a header over the handlebars. The accident did little to dim his enthusiasm.

At Brook Farm, formerly a utopian  farm and the setting of Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance, the travelers stopped for a brief rest, much to the delight of the farm’s current residents, the wards of the Martin Luther Orphan’s Home. A short while later they were off again, wheeling through Dedham. Conversations centered on the lousy nature of the roads; one rider contended that they wouldn’t get any better until Alderman started riding bicycles; a New Jersey man countered that they were  heavenly compared to the Jersey turnpike.

A picnic lunch underneath some pine trees inspired “Champagne,” so called because of his bubbly personality, to rhapsodize on the trees while his comrades lay on their backs looking up at the blue sky, “Massoit and Chickatabut and their swarthy warriors have danced beneath their branches, and here at their feet John Eliot learned the polysyllabic accents of the Indian maids and won the hearts of their brothers of the forest wilds by reciting in their own tongue the war songs of David.”

Again the men mounted up, and away they went.  Two wheelmen, “Ned” and “Muffin” riding side by side, began an impromptu “scrub race” when Ned noticed Muffin had advanced a little ahead, and he passed him, challenging Muffin to return the favor. For a mile the men flew down the road towards Readville, to the cheers of their companions. Ned, two lengths ahead of Muffin, put his legs of his handlebars as he coasted, signaling triumph; Muffin crossed his arms over his chest and pretended not to notice as he rode by.

Towards the early evening, the men ascended Blue Hill, those who made it to the top without dismounting earning the plaudits of their companions; then it was down to Sharon, Massachussets in the receding light of the setting sun.

Arriving at the town inn after a total ride of one hundred miles, the wheelmen cleaned themselves up, dusted off their clothes, and sat down at two long tables for a well earned supper. The conversation centered on past rides, comparisons of roads, and bicycle models, and some jests in the direction of “Masher” who was busily engaged chatting up one of the young ladies who worked at the inn. Songs were followed by dancing; but Masher’s request for a dance was refused by his chosen target, she insisted that her husband always got her first dance. Festivities done, the wheelmen retired to a much needed rest.

The next day was to be harder; they arose early, dusted and oiled their “steeds” and set off through South Canton, Baptist Corners, Randolph, South Braintree, and Weymount. By now, news of the ride had gone ahead of them, schoolboys cheered their passing, and fair maidens waved handkerchiefs out of windows.

At 1pm, the men arrived at Cohasset, settling in for a fish lunch at Kimball’s, complete with their  choice of apple or squash pie. Several of the men let their food digest while lounging in the warm sun on a rock.

There was still thirty miles to go until the ride finished at Boston, and rolling along at 12 miles per hour, aided by a downgrade, and accompanied by school bells in each village through which they passed, the men arrived; well satisfied with a ride well done.

The Colossus of Roads

“Bicycle riding is a good, healthy and invigorating exercise, and is especially valuable to those whose lives are sedentary. Boating, baseball and lawn-tennis are all excellent forms of recreation; but in the wide complexity of modern life there is plenty of room for the wheelman with his graceful iron steed.” – New York Tribune, September 21, 1883.

By 1883, the bicycle craze was already well underway. The velocipede had been introduced into this country in 1869, but had met with miserable failure, doomed by a combination of lack of comfort and horrible roads.

Over in Europe however, the evolution of the bicycle continued, and in the Summer of 1877, Colonel  Albert A. Pope of the Pope Manufacturing Company saw his first bicycle; imported by an English visitor to Newton, Massachusetts. At the time, there were a handful of bicycles in the United States, imported from England, and Pope saw big things in the bicycle. He was off to England on the next boat to learn how the things were made, and in early 1878, the Pope Manufacturing Company began turning out three models of bicycles; the Standard Columbia, the Special Columbia, and the Mustang; the latter designed for the younger bicyclist. For the safety conscious, the Pope Manufacturing Company also turned out the Columbia Tricycle.

Barely anyone knew how to ride the dang things, and so Pope set up a riding academy at the company’s corporate headquarters at 87 Summer Street, Boston.

Demand soon became insatiable, nor was it restricted to men; word trickled back that a daring “aristocratic lady bicycler” and a coterie of companions were enjoying the City’s pleasant streets. Nor were the streets particularly smooth, spills happened regularly.

Pope’s  took over the Weed Sewing Machine Company’s manufacturing buildings outside of Hartford, Connecticut. It became the biggest bicycle company in the world, turning out 50 machines per day, and the company imported leather, iron, steel, and horn in vast quantities.

Pope subdivided the factory into separate rooms. In one, blacksmiths worked pouring metal into specially crafted dies to form the forks which would attached the frame to the wheel; in the “perch shop,” the tubular backbones of the bicycles were bent into shape; and in other rooms the wheels were rolled out, the seats crafted, and the various and sundry parts of the bicycles were welded and lathed. Put together, the bicycles were inspected, and then sent off to yet another room, to be nickel plated and thus protected from corrosion. By the count of one visitor, it took 158 machines to make the 77 parts which went into the Standard Columbia.

Their riders loved their new contraptions, some even wrote poetry about them; bad poetry, but poetry nonetheless. Here’s a typical example by N.P. Tyler from 1879.

There were accessories too, including the first domestically manufactured cyclometer, which would tell the rider exactly how far he’d gone. Indeed, they began to roam far and wide over the countryside; to race each other in long and short distance races; and to try their skill at “no hands” competitions, all of which exciting details we here at Forgotten Stories will be describing over the next few days, so stayed tuned.

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