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.

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