Was Bessie White at Robert Allerton’s house?

On Thursday, June 28, 1906, the Piatt County Journal Republican reported:

Tuesday’s papers told of the murder of Standord White a New York architect by Millionaire Thaw. The wife of the murdered man chaperoned two young ladies who visited Robert Allerton last week. The party left here for New York, Saturday.

If the time line for this reporting is correct, Bessie and her two female charges departed Monticello on Saturday, June 23.

This local reporting would contradict the urban legend, even perpetuated by John Gregg in a 1984 interview, that Bessie White had been at the Monticello estate when she received word that her husband had been shot and killed at his Madison Square Garden rooftop restaurant.

Who were Bessie and Stanford White? Who were the two females she escorted to the Allerton estate?

How was Robert Allerton connected?

Washington Square, New York City - designed by Stanford White

Washington Square, New York City – designed by Stanford White

Stanford White was an architect, designer, collector. “Stanny” was an architect and designer of the Gilded Age, (approximately 1870 – 1910).  He designed and oversaw the building of the New York City’s Washington Square Arch and the original Madison Square Gardens.

Present day Madison Square Gardens not too far from the original designed and owned by Stanford White

Present day Madison Square Gardens not too far from the original designed and owned by Stanford White

The original complex housed an exhibition amphitheater which became known for boxing attractions, a roof top terrace restaurant that offered musical and dance performances and Stanford’s famous penthouse apartment where he threw lavish and lascivious stag parties. Stanford’s life was featured in the 1955 film starring Joan Collins in her debut screen performance in the “Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.”

The original Diana, adorned the top of Madison Square Gardens for 25 years.

The original Diana, adorned the top of Madison Square Gardens for 25 years.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City - Diana, by Augustus St. Gaudens - this one is half size of original

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City – Diana, by Augustus St. Gaudens – this one is half size of original

By 1906, Stanford White and his wife Bessie were living nearly separate lives. They owned a brownstone house in New York City on 22nd Street as well as a summer house, known as Box Hill, at St James, Long Island. According to biographies written about Stanford, he maintained the appearances of marriage. In the news buzz after his murder, the lewd details of Stanford White’s appetite emerged. Bessie, however, was never dragged through the press except to portray her as another victim of Stanford’s rakish behavior.

Robert Allerton’s association with Bessie White came through the portrait artist, Ellen Emmet, with whom Robert was romantically linked, especially during 1906 and 1907. Ellen’s connection to Stanford and Bessie came through her maternal uncle, Devereux Emmet. Bessie’s sister, Ella, was married to Ellen’s Uncle Dev. The sisters, Bessie and Ella, had neighboring homes at St. James, both built by Stanford.

Stanford White was shot at his own Madison Square restaurant around 11:00 PM on Sunday night, June 24, 1906. The first reporter to call the house in the wee hours of June 25th was told that Mrs. White was still away visiting friends in the West. Subsequent reporters were told that Mrs. White was asleep having just returned from her travels to the West. According to a great granddaughter’s family biography, Bessie’s son, Larry, slept outside her bedroom door until she woke that Monday morning before giving her the grim news. This same biography reported that Stanford had dined with Bessie, their son and his fiancé at Box Hill on Sunday, June 24, 1906. This family “oral” history contradicts Bessie’s reported Monticello departure on Saturday, June 23, 1906. Even given land speed train records set at the time, it was impossible in 1906 to travel by train from Monticello to New York City and then by carriage to Long Island within this time frame. It is highly likely that Mrs. White had not even returned to her Box Hill home by the time Stanford was assassinated.

It is probable, that Ellen Emmet was one of the two young women being chaperoned at The Farms on that June, 1906, sojourn. Only Robert’s guest books would reveal the names and dates of those in attendance. Robert and John kept chronological guest books in which guests frequently made sketches, penned poems or jotted down thoughts of the visit. According to John Gregg these guest books were one of their most prized intimate possessions. In a 1984 interview, John Gregg observed that the guest books had been heavily damage in the 1982 Hurricane Iwa. The overseer rescued the books from further damage. John Gregg may have returned the books to the House after this significant weather event during his last visit to The Farms in May, 1984. If it was John Gregg’s intention to return the books to the Allerton Archives, he did so in 1984. It is clear from the 1984 interview transcript that the House manager had intimate knowledge of the guest book contents.

 The guest books then disappeared from public access, even though they are listed in the holdings of the Allerton Archives.  One Allerton ‘urban legend’ holds that a former employee took the books when employment terminated. Yet another urban legend offers that this same former employee claimed the guest books were a personal gift from John Gregg.

Regardless of motivation, it is time, however, that these few remaining artifacts of the Allerton Legacy be returned to the University “safekeeping.” Perhaps the Rare Book Room would be the most appropriate storehouse for the probably now fragile ephemera. The House Archives might still be subject to hands wishing to borrow these historic papers for historical research. The locals have seen much positive change to the climate around Allerton artifacts and their legacy to the House and Park during the past two decades. These books would provide an amazing window into the private world of Robert Allerton.

While newspaper accounts of Bessie’s Monticello departure and new York City arrival contradict the urban legend, the guest book would definitely affirm this conclusion or prove otherwise, as well as provide the identity of her traveling companions. The guest books might likely reveal she was accompanied by Ellen Emmet and sister, Ella Temple.

The White’s Long Island estate, Box Hill, is now an historic building and remains in the White family.

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