In this post I told you about some of the noteworthy descendants of the Class of ‘61’s Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. Continued research at the prompting of friends Jim Morgan and Teej Smith has turned up some more info on the progeny of Kil-Cavalry. Strap yourself in, things could get a little bumpy…
Of course these forays into family histories need some sort of Civil War background, so let’s start with Kilpatrick’s role as the commander of a cavalry brigade in the Army of the Potomac during the Gettysburg Campaign. In particular, during the pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after the battle, Kilpatrick was involved in a night-time fight in Monterey Pass, on the grounds of the Monterey Inn at Blue Ridge Summit. You’ll be able to read all about it in One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863, by Eric Wittenberg, J. D. Petruzzi and Mike Nugent. Now, keep this fight in mind for later.
Judson and his Chilean wife Louisa had a daughter, Laura, who married US diplomat Harry Hays Morgan. Harry Hays Morgan was the son of Philip Hicky Morgan, a Louisianan who remained loyal during the war and was rewarded by the Republicans afterwards with various state and Federal positions including the ministry to Mexico. Philip was the brother of Sarah Morgan, whose writings were published as The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman (AKA A Confederate Girl’s Diary), and also of James Morris Morgan, author of Recollections of a Rebel Reefer. For some reason, Philip is listed as buried here in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Cemetery, though he died in New York and as far as I’ve been able to learn never lived in the Steel City (see update here). I couldn’t find any images of Philip, but here are Sarah and James:
Laura and Harry had four children, including the twins, Gloria and Thelma (at left), Consuelo, and Harry Hays Morgan, Jr. Harry Jr. was a non-descript film actor in the 1940’s. Gloria, as discussed, would marry into the Vanderbilt family and give birth to Little Gloria of tight blue jeans fame. Thelma would eventually marry Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness and chairman of a shipping company. This 7 year marriage gained Thelma the lifelong title of Viscountess Furness, though she was also known as Lady Furness. She dabbled in film acting and producing, and also in rich men. More on her later.
Consuelo, like Thelma, also married well and often. She married a French Count and a president of Colonial Airlines who was also a Democratic National Committee bigwig. But it is another of her marriages that at least gives a hint as to why Consuelo’s grandfather Morgan wound up in Pittsburgh (again, see update here).
One of Consuelo’s husbands was diplomat Benjamin Thaw, Jr., of the Pittsburgh coal family. His father, Benjamin Thaw, was a member of the now notorious South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club. The club was comprised of about fifty super-wealthy Pittsburgh families like the Carnegies, the Mellons, and the Fricks (here’s a member list). The club purchased an abandoned reservoir in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania on the Little Conemaugh River near the town of South Fork. The South Fork Dam formed Lake Conemaugh, the centerpiece of the Club’s secretive retreat of cottages.
On May 31, 1889, after days of heavy rain, the South Fork Dam burst, sending an estimated 20 million gallons of water down the Little Conemaugh River to the point where it joined with Stony Creek to form the Conemaugh River. At that confluence was a steel producing settlement of 30,000; Johnstown, PA. Over 2,200 people perished. Many survivors blamed the catastrophe on the changes made to the South Fork Dam by the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club. Read about the Johnstown Flood here.
Consuelo’s father-in-law also had a brother by the name of Harry Kendall Thaw (left). Harry was the black sheep of the family, having attended Western University (the future University of Pittsburgh) and Harvard with little distinction, unless you count his expulsion from the latter institution as noteworthy. Mentally unstable and a drug abuser, Harry really, really liked women, particularly showgirls – though he treated them very, very badly. This led to an infatuation with a transplanted Pittsburgher and Broadway chorus girl (and Gibson Girl) named Evelyn Nesbit.
Harry pursued Evelyn (right), against the protestations of his family. Evelyn enabled the pursuit, against the advice of her powerful friend and sometimes paramour Stanford White, the famous architect who had designed the second Madison Square Garden. (As a setting for his lavish libidinous escapades, White had a tower apartment at The Garden which featured numerous mirrors. He had another “love nest” that showcased a red velvet swing.) By this time, White had moved on to other conquests but appears to have maintained a fatherly relationship with Evelyn. Evelyn moved on to the actor John Barrymore and Harry Thaw. After a stormy continental courtship, Evelyn and Harry were married on April 4, 1905.
Apparently Evelyn’s past physical relationship with White (left) ate at Thaw, and either out of rage over that past or suspicions of an ongoing affair on June 25, 1906, in the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden, Harry K. Thaw fired three pistol shots into the face of Stanford White, killing him instantly, to the tune of I Could Love a Million Girls. The typical high profile socialite New York murder trial ensued. Thaw was committed to an asylum, but was judged sane and set free by 1915. Read about the murder & trial here and here. Listen to a PBS American Experience clip here.
The affair has been the subject of Hollywood films such as The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, starring Joan Collins as Evelyn, and Ragtime, which was based on the E. L. Doctorow novel of the same name. I read that book and also liked the movie, which featured James Cagney in his final film role, the late Howard Rollins in his finest, Elizabeth McGovern (a big crush of mine back then) as Evelyn, and Robert Joy as the insane Thaw, shouting his mantra: I’m Harry K. Thaw, of Pittsburgh! Even later, Doctorow’s book was the basis for a Broadway musical.
OK, back to the wife of Harry’s nephew. Consuelo Morgan Thaw and her sister Lady Thelma Furness were, as well as I can figure, living in England when the stock market crashed in 1929. Another American woman who, like Thelma and Consuelo, married well and often was living there, too. She was Bessie Warfield, the wife of the half-American shipping magnate Ernest Aldrich Simpson, and through Consuelo she became friends with Thelma.
Also around this time, Lady Thelma had taken up with a happy bachelor by the unlikely name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David. Everybody called him The Prince of Wales, or simply Royal Highness. Things were going along smoothly enough, and on January 10, 1931 Thelma introduced Bessie Warfield Simpson to her boyfriend, the Prince. In 1933 Lady Thelma took a trip back to the States, and Bessie, whom everyone called by her middle name, Wallis, swooped in to fill the void in the Prince’s life. The rest, as they say, is history.
Prince Edward became King Edward VIII of England in January, 1936, watching his accession ceremony in the company of his married girlfriend, Wallis Simpson. Edward made known his plans to marry Wallis as soon as her divorce was finalized. But the British government, headed by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, opposed the union, in part because the position of the Church of England – which one could argue was born to facilitate divorce – opposed remarriage after divorce. Presented with the prospects of abandoning his love or accepting the resignations of the governments of the United Kingdom and the Dominions, Edward chose Wallis and a third option, abdicating his throne on December 10, 1936. The two lived out the remainder of their lives as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Here’s a wonderful Philippe Halsman photo of the Windsors jumping (for joy, I suppose):
One other thing: Bessie Wallis Warfield was born on June 19, 1895 (or 1896), in Square Cottage at Monterey Inn, Blue Ridge Summit, PA, the very ground on which Hugh Judson Kilpatrick – the grandfather of the women who led Wallis to the love of her life – had fought a night battle in July, 1863.
It’s funny how these things work out.
UPDATE: See Part III here.