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.


Thomas Hanlon Flips…Out

While Jules Leotard may have invented the trapeze act, as well as giving his name to the skin tight outfit its practitioners wore while performing, the six Hanlon brothers were the ones who made the trapeze famous. Thomas Hanlon, and his younger brother William were the stars of the show; each would perform the trickiest part of the routine the brothers called “The Zamperllaerostation.” The act coupled grace and beauty with danger, as the brothers performed their somersaults directly over the crowd, and without a safety net. As they flew through the air, the audience held its collective breath, for if the performer missed the trapeze, he would fall directly in their midst.

Eventually, to cover more of the country, the brothers split up three and three, with Thomas heading one troop and William the other. To complete the required six members, the brothers adopted three teenagers to join them; the faux Hanlon brothers were initiated into the arts of the trapeze, and after a few years were able to take full part in the show.

Falls were rare. William missed a trapeze in New York in 1861. Thomas fell in Cincinnati in 1868 while springing for a rope held by his brothers, which he would use to lower himself to the stage. He lay bleeding profusely on the stage, unconscious. In true trooper fashion, once he’d regained his senses, he insisted on going on with the Hanlon brothers tour through the Midwest. Thomas’ resolve masked deeper problems. He performed the show in Indianapolis, but quit suddenly, informing his brothers he intended to go to New York City. He took the three faux Hanlon brothers with him, but Thomas showed up in Harrisburg without them, delirious and wandering the streets. For his own safety, the town police locked him in jail.

They were wise to do so, for Thomas attempted to hang himself by roping his bed sheet round his neck and tying it to a hook above the door. An officer foiled the attempt, and all linens were removed. Thomas broke his pewter dinner plate (a feat in its own), and attempted to slice his throat with one of the pieces. This attempt too was stymied, Thomas’ wounds were bandaged by a local doctor, and officers removed everything which could be useful to one intent on his own destruction from Hanlon’s cell.

The officers had not counted on Thomas’ acrobatic skill, nor the strength of his resolve. On the floor of the cell there was a bolt, topped with a brass nut, used to hold the jail’s heating system in place. Turning a somersault in the air, Thomas brought his forehead down on the brass nut. Bleeding,  he did it again, and again, some fifteen times in all. By the time the officers reached him, Thomas’ scalp hung in ribbons, flaps of skin hanging down before his eyes.

He still had strength enough to fight, and it took six men to hold him down so that a doctor could apply chloroform. The wounds were dressed, and the doctor managed to staunch the blood flowing from what remained of Thomas’ scalp . Thomas awoke for a few moments, appeared to be rationale, then lapsed once more into unconsciousness. A few hours later he was dead; participant in the most acrobatic suicide on record.

If you’re tired of taking off your own shoes, why not give Frederick J. Cullum a try?

When one’s own efforts failed, and parental matchmaking proved unsuccessful, one often turned to the newspapers in an attempt to find a wife.  One such person was Frederick J. Cullum of Saugerties in New York State, whose 1905 advertisement for a wife is certainly unique. As far as we here at Forgotten Stories can tell, we replicate Mr. Cullum’s advertisement in full:

“I here make an offer to marry a lady who can love and aid a well-deserving young man. Maids, widows, and spinsters under forty years might apply. I seek a woman who is in fairly good circumstances and who would cheerfully assist me financially in my aim to accomplish something as a genius.”

Just in case you were concerned that all Cullum had to offer was his genius, he brings a little more to the table:

I will sign agreements with the lady that I marry that I will not touch any intoxicating liquors, turn to whatever religion she may be, attend her church each Sunday, will remove and put on her shoes each morning an night, will install the latest improvements around home and its surroundings, will do all in my power to make her life a happy one, will be a man for home comforts.”

If shoe removal and a new washing machine weren’t enough, Cullum also promised he was a good looking cove, who viewed the world as a glass half full kind of place:

I am twenty-eight, five feet seven, weight 140, blue eyes, dark brown hair, considered to be nice looking, in the best of health, at present in poor circumstances, fairly educated in good common sense, thrifty and believe in an economical and enterprising life; agreeable and always try to look on the sunny side of things.

Just in case you questioned Fred’s motivations, he made it particularly clear that:

I seek to marry first, for love, and wealth a second consideration. I seek to marry a lady who can assist me financially and encourage me on. Anything you care to ask will be cheerfully given. State particulars when you write. Everything will be held strictly confidential to those who answer same. From a lonesome young genius.

Indeed, we can speak from experience that the love life of a good looking, lonesome, young genius can be a difficult one; but we soldier on, and certainly hope Fred found his mate.

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.

Forgotten Person Lou Wescott Beck (and his Forgotten Dog, Rufus)

Populated by kangaroo rats, coyotes, sidewinders, and chuckwalla lizards Death Valley, California was a graveyard for men who’d succumbed to lack water and died with parched tongue sticking to the roof of the mouth, dust choking the lungs, and the sun roasting their very flesh. What little water there was could be dangerous; many of the springs were tainted with alkali or borax, and would kill a man rather than save him. The locals in the scrabbling towns around the desert called those who braved the sun and sand “Desert Rats,” and the desert claimed some twenty five of them each year.

Lou Wescott Beck almost joined their number, he’d been a prospector for most of his life, searching for gold in the Big Horn country up in Wyoming, over into Montana, then down into Nevada until word reached him in the early 1900’s of a gold strike in Death Valley, California. The strike was a hoax perpetrated by colorful conman Death Valley Scotty, but Beck and his four companions didn’t know that, and traipsed far out into the desert in search of gold.

That first trip, Beck and his men weren’t aware of any of the dangers; unused to the desert, they began to run out of water. Their tongues became swollen, their lips cracked, and they became desperate, as the wandered completely lost with nary a sign post or map to guide them. Every hour or two, they came across the skull of an animal or their fellow man, who’d perished in the sands to be eaten by vultures and coyotes. It was only by pure luck, and with but a few scant hours to live, that they’d discovered a tiny spring at the base of the Panamint Mountains, and so were saved the same fate.

When Beck arrived back in civilization, he was a changed man. Perhaps he’d had an epiphany out in the desert, or made a promise to the Divine. He began to travel Death Valley, equipped with tin strips, paint and signposts. Beck wasn’t alone; his faithful golden retriever Rufus; joined him. The two began to mark out the desert, creating signposts signaling the way to good water, and affixing tin strips to piles of rock; the sun shimmering on the tin could be seen at great distances, and provided a blinking marker pointing the way to water and help. Both of them wore specially made boots; Rufus’ went up to his knees and protected his paws from thorns, snake bites, and desert rocks heated by the sun. Rufus served as a sort of desert St. Bernard, carrying water and antidotes for snake bites in modified saddlebags. Rufus had a good nose too; he’d often find travelers collapsed in the desert long before Beck had an inkling they were there. Rufus himself saved at least a dozen men.

Some folks in Pasadena heard about Beck, took up a collection, and donated a Flanders “20,” a small twenty horsepower open touring car which would let Beck move through the desert faster. He called the car “Chuckwalla” after the hearty desert lizard. The year before, Beck had discovered an automobile which had overheated; beneath it were four corpses, who’d died miserably under the car praying for help and trying to keep out of the sun. So Beck took precautions, and to keep his engine from overheating, he placed asbestos coated blankets over the engine Having prepared his tin strips and signs during the winter, Beck and Rufus set out once more, and during the next few years marked wells as having good water or bad, and erected signs directing travelers back to the roads and to safety.

“It is hard for the average man to understand the fascination the desert has for one who has once braved it and come back” said Beck. “He may hold out against its call as long as the hardships and sufferings he endured are fresh in his mind. But sooner or later he finds himself sighing for the heat, the sands, the mountains, the solitudes, and the wind…”

Beck died in July 1917, but not before the U.S. Government took over his work of marking the desert. Rufus outlived him, retiring to a dog sanitarium in Pasadena, where he was cared for by Dr. T.H. Agnew, and provided every comfort his heart could desire. When Rufus passed on at age 16, a friend delivered his eulogy:

I shall always think of him with the background of the desert, and all about him the limitless space. I shall think of the dawn with its wonderful orange and flame, and the desert blues when the morning stars are sinking, the moon has sunk out of sight, and Arcturus is blazing, and through it all I shall hear the musical baying of Rufus, as he called to the distant mountains to send forth their streams of living water, and I shall remember the intrepid dog soul that never faltered, the life saver, Rufus of the desert.

Come Take a Gander at Some Good Ol’ Fashioned Goose Racing

Among the annals of athletics, the sport of Goose Racing is sadly absent. It has no Hall of Fame, it is completely missing from the Olympics, and no trading cards exist trumpeting the statistics of its brightest stars.  Yet, it is a sport, or perhaps we should say “was” for we haven’t had the privilege of seeing a good goose race, or even a bad one for that matter.

Apparently, goose races were quite the thing in the late 1860’s. The goose race above took place in the Lake Basin in Chicago, and as it was adjudged a tie, the two parties split the $200.00 prize. It would probably be more accurate to call it “geese racing” but our forbearers didn’t mind the grammatical faux pas, so we’ll let it slide.

According to the literature, to participate in a race you first need to build yourself  a goose chariot. This can be accomplished by taking a long piece of wood, approximately 6 feet long and 4 feet wide, and carving a large hole in the center. Now, into this hole goes a large washtub, which I’m sure the readership has handy. It is suggested that the wash board be removed from, the wash tub prior to installation. Having secured the tub to the plank, affix a long pole to the front of the tub, long enough to attach six geese. Geese are known to be bad tempered, so the caution is urged in affixing the geese to the poles.

Finally, place the entirety into the water, grab yourself a paddle so that in the event the geese do not propel your chariot with adequate speed, you can make it to shore. Now, climb in, which should wooden plank so that only the tub is above the water, and you’re ready for the race to begin.

We here at Forgotten Stories suggest to the readership a goose race, to be held on the Hudson River, with the challenger to provide the requisite geese. Any challenger may, if they so desire, affix said geese to a tachypodascaphe.

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:

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