Unlike the slick, undignified bargaining in London's
Sotheby's and Paris's Hotel Drouot, art
auctions in Manhattan's
American Art Association-Anderson Galleries are conducted with éclat.
Dealers and bidders sit in a somber Italianate hall as big as a small
theatre while the auctioneer intones numbers from his pulpit. Across a shrewdly
lit, velvet-hung stage Negro attendants parade the objects to be sold. If
the objects or their owners are of sufficient importance, the sale
becomes a major date in the Manhattan
That it was on both counts for five days last week. Fully
2,000 people at a time crowded the gallery. So many socialites jammed the
front rows that one eager bidder at the rear of the hall had to perch on
the back of a chair with a pair of binoculars and signal his bids as he
got the range. On sale were the furniture, jewelry, silverware and
clothing of the late Edith Rockefeller McCormick, eccentric daughter of
pious John Davison Rockefeller.
The life & times of Edith Rockefeller McCormick are Chicago
history. Most colorful of the Rockefeller children, her wedding to
Harvester Scion Harold McCormick in 1895 was only surpassed in national
interest by the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of
Marlborough the same year. In Chicago
she succeeded Mrs. Potter Palmer as social arbiter, gave vast and lavish
parties, and backed the Chicago
opera for years before Insull. She used to buy
dresses six at a time, all the same model. She thought nothing of
spending $25,000 for roses to bower her ballroom. Suffering from a
nervous disorder in 1912, she met Psychiatrist Carl Jung in Manhattan,
followed him with her family to Zurich
where she lived as his pupil and assistant for eight years. Returning to Chicago
in 1921, she picked up a pudgy little Swiss architect, Edwin D. Krenn,
brought him home as her social escort. Efforts to make a commercial
success of the Krenn real estate firm in Chicago
cost her most of her fortune. She died in a small apartment in the Drake
Hotel in 1932 (TIME, Sept, 5, 1932) leaving five-twelfths of her estate
to Escort Krenn.
On hand to participate in the auction of her relics last
week were Mrs. Edward H. Manville, Mrs. Walter P. Chrysler, Mrs. John
North Willys, Actor David Warfield, many
another great name. Present, too, was Muriel
McCormick Hubbard to buy as many of her late mother's belongings as she
could afford. She spent $60,000 and got,
among other things:
16th Century Gothic hunting tapestries, each $6,100
After pausing for
two weeks at the door of a bedroom in Chicago's Drake Hotel, last week
Death came, as it must to all women, to Edith Rockefeller McCormick. Once she
was called the world's richest woman. But cancer makes no distinctions. Two
years ago she had a growth removed from her breast. It reappeared in her
liver. When she moved to the Drake from her mansion on Lake Shore Drive in
June (TIME, Aug. 1), she and her doctors knew the end was near.
Beside her in the
last two weeks, during which her indomitable rallies amazed every one, were
her onetime husband, Harold Fowler McCormick, their three living children,
and her brother John. They had all come to her after years of an
estrangement that was more of her making than theirs. A chief cause of the
estrangement was also in devoted attendance—the plump little Swiss named
Edwin D. Krenn with whom she had shared her last
eleven years. Her brother John did not wait for the end. Itching painfully
with an attack of shingles, he rejoined their father, John Davison
Rockefeller, in the East. Long estranged too, and querulously jealous of
his own health at 93, Father Rockefeller had not gone to see her at all.
"He travels only between Florida and his home," John D. Jr.
explained. In her last days, with the flesh fallen from her face and the
death mask showing. Edith Rockefeller had come to resemble her father
As near to royalty
as it is possible to come in the U. S. was Edith Rockefeller when, in 1895,
she married that most handsome and eligible of contemporary Princetonians, Harold McCormick. The newspapers called
her the Princess of Standard Oil. He was the Prince of International
Harvester. She was a demure little blonde, with a high forehead, grey eyes
and a mass of ringlets under her hat. She swam, skated, rode a horse and
bicycle, but preferred to read and study. The newspapers wrote of a regal
wedding but actually it was a quiet, private ceremony in a parlor of
Manhattan's old Buckingham Hotel. The first two years of their life
together were spent in the quiet little river town of Council Bluffs. Iowa, and it was not until the McCormicks
moved to Chicago that her imperiousness began to assert itself and the strange
things that happen to the very rich began to happen to her.
The massive grey
stone house on Lake Shore Drive, with a cone-topped tower that she called
the "bastion," was not a wedding gift from her father. Harold
McCormick bought it, and later she bought it from him. Late in her life the
bastion was one of her favorite haunts. The other was a group of trees on
her lawn which she called the "bosky." New, lusty Chicago loved
display. Edith McCormick fed her guests off Napoleonic gold plate. She
brought grand opera to Chicago, spent $5,000,000 keeping it alive. When her
eldest son died of scarlet fever she gave the John McCormick Institution
for Infectious Diseases. The scarlet fever germ was isolated there. Upon
retirement of beauteous Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mrs. McCormick with her
$2,000,000 string of pearls became Chicago's social dictator. Before the
opera she served 35-minute dinners, timing each course by a jewelled clock beside her plate, allowing the men ten
minutes for coffee & cigars. She opened conversation at her table by
asking someone : "What has been interesting
you lately?" After the opera she drove home always by the same route.
Her chauffeur had police orders never to vary the route and to drive last.
She was the first woman in Chicago to wear an anklet.
In 1911 she
recalled 120 invitations to a cotillion without an explanation. Then
Chicago heard she had had a nervous breakdown. With her husband she went to
Italy, moved up to Switzerland. In Zurich she became a pupil of
Psychologist Carl Jung, conceived the notion that her mission was to teach
psychoanalysis. She claimed Jung had thrice cured her of tuberculosis
through psychoanalysis. To practice humility she scrubbed the floor of her
hotel. She took 99 patients, one of whom was her small, plump gardener,
Edwin D. Krenn. Krenn
improved his position, returned with her to the U. S. in 1921. When she
landed she announced that her husband was coming by another boat.
McCormick had spied GannaWalska
on another boat, bet Alexander Smith Cochrane he
would meet her first. Cochrane won the bet, married Walska.
When Mr. McCormick reached Chicago he went to his Lake Forest home and
announced to the Press: "Mr. & Mrs. McCormick are not living under
the same roof." Edith Rockefeller divorced him on grounds of
desertion. Later Walska divorced Cochrane. Harold
McCormick had a gland operation by Dr. Victor Lespinasse
and married her.
:: Addendum ::
Fowler McCormick & Edith Rockefeller, 1895
Rockefeller McCormick, 1927
Adams Platt, 1882
Platt in his atelier during the late 1800’s.
ELITE SPORTSMAN REQUIRED FLYING BOATS:
April and July, 1913, Glenn H. Curtiss built two flying boats for Harold
F. McCormick; the first, the 4-passenger "spoonbill" tractor F boat. McCormick's
second flying boat, which he took to Chicago, was a more conventional
Model F "English-type" pusher.
Harold F. McCormick and C.C. Witmer
“Edith” on Lake
Michigan at Villa Turicum,Lake Forest – 1913
McCormick watches her father taking off over Lake Michigan
Muriel, Harold, Harold
“Fowler” Jr. and Mathilde McCormick in 1922
EDITH & HAROLD
Mrs. Harold McCormick at
the beginning of the 20th century
McCormick in 1917
A rare shot: Edith takes a
stroll on Lake Shore Drive in August, 1922
Rockefeller McCormick in 1927. Edwin D. Krenn
and Frances Jewett Jahuson, wearing top hats,
are standing beside her.
McCormick at the beginning of the 20th century
and second wife GannaWalska
in the 1920’s
Capitalist: Harold Fowler McCormick Sr.
Engaged to Max Oser, a young Mathilde
vacations in Hot Springs, Virginia, March 1922
Mathilde was a
woman who would not be intimidated by the social mores of the times;
criticized harshly and alienated by her mother, she married a man 27
years her senior.
Fowler in the early 1930’s
Mr. and Mrs. Fowler
McCormick arriving in New York, May 9, 1935 on the S.S. Conte DiSavoia.
Fowler McCormick, 1946
Muriel McCormick with her father Harold Fowler McCormick standing behind
her, outside a building in a group of unidentified people in Chicago,
McCormick in 1922
as a young socialite
last portrait of the McCormick family taken together. Seated: Muriel and
Edith. Standing: Mathilde, Fowler, and Harold
after Edith’s death in 1932, an ornate hall clock awaits the auction
Villa Turicum in
January of 1934; photographed on the day of the auction.
A handsome walnut writing desk from one of the Villa Turicum auction lots today.
Edith Rockefeller McCormick
1872 – August 2, 1932)
pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion,
than fade and wither dismally with age. –James Joyce
Out of a black velvet case appeared the high spot of the
jewelry sale—Mrs. McCormick's diamond necklace, a glittering plastron of 1,801
stones, 40 inches long ending in a sort of jointed breastplate of
Dealers, many of whom were unable to get in the room,
shouted bids through the door, raising the price $250 at a time. A quiet,
unassuming woman in galoshes who sat with her husband on a bench against the
wall finally bid it in for $15,000. Said she: "It's beautiful. It
all comes apart, you know, and makes lots of bracelets and brooches and
things." Known to every Chicago
gossip columnist was the historic Bonaparte-McCormick gilded-silver
dinner service of 1,600 separate knives, forks, plates, dishes, platters,
etc., weighing over 11,700 ounces.
Made by Napoleon's
favorite goldsmiths, Martin Guillaume Biennais
and Jean Odiot, executed after the design of
Architects Percier & Fontaine, the service
was a wedding present from the Emperor to his sister Pauline on her
marriage to Prince Gamillo Borghese. In 1892
the Borghese family sold it intact to Prince Baucina
who sold it to Dealer ErcoleCanessa who sold it to Mrs. McCormick for $80,000.
Last week it was subdivided in 146 separate lots and sold, after a block
bid of $20,000 by Mrs. Hubbard had been refused, to dozens of different
owners for a total of $57,565. Unnoticed by most in the room was a plump
little man who kept nervously wiping his forehead and gazing first at Auctioneer
Otto Bernet, then at Mrs. Hubbard as she bid
$100 at a crack with the raise of a pencil. It was Escort Edwin Krenn. "All this is breaking my heart,"
declared this beneficiary under the McCormick will, with a wave of his
hand. "It cuts into me, you know, it cuts into me!''
What cut into him deepest was that the sale of objects
valued at well over $1,000,000 brought a total of $330,617.50. Of this
the gallery extracted its customary 20% for advertising, cataloging and
use of the hall.
at her greystone Lake Shore Drive
palace and in her Lake Forest, Ill.country home; Villa Turicum,
the rest of Mrs. McCormick's private belongings were to go on sale next
week. Auction gapers in Chicago
were discouraged by a $10 admission fee, redeemable on the first
Back in the Lake
Shore mansion, Mrs. McCormick never spent a night out of it until she went to
a hospital in 1930. No guest ever spent a night in it. She became more
imperious, more eccentric. She practiced astrology, celebrated Christmas on
December 15. She believed in reincarnation, decided she had been King
Tutankhamen's child-wife Anknesenpaaten.
"Then they opened the mummy chamber and when I saw the pictures of it,
I knew. There was my little chair." She wrote the words to a Love Song
Cycle and a play in Italian, collected Persian rugs. She took daily walks,
always over the same route. When someone suggested another route she said:
"It doesn't matter. I am not really here." She developed phobias,
kept six detectives in the house. She feared water, seldom bathed. Like Anknesenpaaten, she was not buried. Her body was put in
a receiving vault next to that of her son John, which had been there for 31
years, the cemetery people never having had any instructions what to do.
Her son Fowler had married Mrs. Anne Urquhart ("Fifi")
Stillman, 19 years his senior; her daughter
Muriel, Major Elisha Dyer Hubbard, 24 years her senior; her daughter Mathilde, Swiss Riding Master Max Oser,
30 years her senior. Each of these marriages upset her. In her will she
left Muriel only four-twelfths of her estate. Mathilde
two-twelfths, faithful Fowler only one-twelfth.
All the rest she
gave to curious Edwin Krenn. Upon him she had
depended entirely in her fading years. She forced him upon Chicago society,
planned with him a $45,000,000 empire of realty. Last year she had to sell
$18,000,000 in securities to protect her small householders. The faithful Krenn threw in his all—$1,260,000. Her brother John was
said to have guaranteed her $1,000 a day for life, but neither he nor his
father could swallow Krenn.
Last week came one
more ironic twist in her story, about which she never knew. Krenn's business partner was a Russian, Edward A. Dato about whom Chicago knew nothing until last week
when, bristling and important, he explained to newshawks :
"Krenn and I went to school together in Zurich. His
family liked him to associate with me. . . . Then I came to this country. I
worked for the International Harvester Co. as a consulting engineer. One
day in the papers I read of Mrs. McCormick's divorce. The papers mentioned Krenn. I think: That is my schoolmate. I will look him
up. . . . Mrs. McCormick wanted to put her money into civic projects which
would be great things for the community. Of course it was against my wishes
that I was drawn into it. We formed a trust, the three of us. Mrs.
McCormick and Krenn said to me: 'Here is
$5,000,000 to start with.' Krenn carried on the
social end of it. I carried on the practical end."
He said that a few
days before Mrs. McCormick died he had bought from Krenn,
for $2,000 a month for life, his five-twelfths share of the estate and his
interest in Krenn & Dato.
Asked a newshawk: "Why?"
"That is a
delicate matter. Krenn was not friendly with the
Rockefeller or the McCormick families. It was for the good of the firm. I will
attend to the business. I am a fighter. I like to be in the thick of
things. I like to take a chance. I like to make decisions. Maybe I am like
Mussolini. . ."
The Press: Names in the News -
Monday, June 15,1931Timemagazine:
During the past decade no U.
S. families have appeared more sensationally in the nation's newspapers
than the McCormicks of Chicago and the Stillmans of New York. Last week, both families made
one big story. At Poughkeepsie, N. Y., Mrs. Anne Urquhart Potter ("Fifi") Stillman, 52,
obtained an amazingly secret divorce (grounds: infidelity) from James
Alexander Stillman, 60, onetime president, now
director and largest stockholder of National City Bank. A few hours later
Mrs. Stillman married, at Pleasantville, N. Y.,
Harold Fowler McCormick Jr., 32.