Posts Tagged ‘Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy’

The Bad, The Powerful, and The Beautiful

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Lewis Thornton Powell, 1865

At lunch a few weeks ago, Paula Scher asked me if I had any criminals in my family history. The British considered most of them criminals and traitors during the revolutionary war. During the Civil War, some ended up in Union prisons. The most notorious family member was Lewis Thornton Powell, a distant cousin (we have common ancestors on the Lewis, Thornton, Powell, and Harrison lines). Powell was convicted and hanged with the other conspirators in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Otherwise, the family scandals or rumors of unorthodox behavior were of a romantic nature.

William Christian Bullitt married the noted communist and ex-wife of John Reed, Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton in Reds). She slowly went mad, had an affair with Gwen Le Gallienne and died alone in Paris. Amelie Rives Chanler Troubetzkoy divorced her first husband; Astor heir Archie Armstrong Chanler, then married Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy. Troubetzkoy was described by the women of New York and Newport society as “a fine specimen of a man.” Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s true love from 1915 until his death in 1945. She was with him the day he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia.

The most controversial story is about the nature of cousin Joshua Fry Speed’s relationship with President Lincoln. If nobody ever discussed Lucy Mercer and FDR at dinner, you can imagine that the Lincoln and Speed issue was never mentioned. The facts are these: Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois as a young attorney. Upon his arrival, he went to Speed’s store to inquire about a room. Speed suggested Lincoln stay with him, as he had a large bed. Lincoln moved in and they lived together for seven years. Speed eventually returned to the family plantation, Farmington, in Kentucky to marry Fannie Henning. Lincoln had a nervous breakdown and went to Farmington to recover. He then returned to Springfield and married Mary Todd. Speed and Lincoln remained best friends, although a cooling occurred during the civil war. Speed was a southern Democrat and opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. He made many confidential trips to Washington to visit Lincoln, and saw him two weeks before the assassination (refer to Lewis Thornton Powell above—see how convoluted this all is). Speed’s brother, James served on as Attorney General in Lincoln’s administration.

Now whether this friendship was platonic or more isn’t particularly important to me. Who knows? Who cares? What matters to me is that this is now an interesting anecdote to be told at cocktail parties.

Joshua Fry Speed, 1840s

 

Abraham Lincoln, 1848

 

William Christian Bullitt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 

Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd, 1930s

 

William Christian Bullitt, Paris, 1940s

 

Louise Bryant, 1918

Louise Bryant, Provincetown, 1916

 

Amelie Rives Chanler Troubetzkoy, 1900

Amelie Rives Chanler Troubetzkoy

 

Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy

 

Attorney General James Speed, 1860s

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Living Large

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Gibson greeting card, 1970s

I often worry that I live a small life. When I read about a great, great uncle who was a United States Majority leader and Speaker of the House, or distant grandfather who was a US President, or even the odd balls who went mad in Paris in the Gilded Age, I think, “Should I be doing more?” This goes to the heart of the neurosis currently affecting designers. “How can I worry about kerning when there is climate change?” My answer is, “The people equipped to deal with complex climatological issues are far better dealing with this than you. But they probably have atrocious word spacing.” Every grain of rice tips the scale a little more.

This morning, I managed to assuage my insecurity about the smallness of my contribution. Then, I was faced head-on with that issue in force. I needed a varnish sample to show a client. We have a bin of “Favorite Things” that is a storage space for anything someone likes. As I dug through the bin, I continued to find wonderful items. “Oh, look at this. It’s a potato gun package,” I said as the designers politely nodded and tried to ignore me. This begs the question, is my little collection of odd items as important as serving as the United States Ambassador to France at the beginning of World War II? I say yes.

Ginza Dai-Ichi Hotel luggage tag, 1968

Potato Gun packaging

Wonder Body Exerciser manual, 1974

Gibson greeting card, 1970s

New York World's Fair Guide, 1964

New York World's Fair card, 1964

Technicolor negative envelope, 1970s

Restaurant Punjab, Paris, card, 1994

Oh baby, when I look in your eyes I go crazy

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Amelie Rives, Princess Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives, Princess Troubetzkoy

One of the benefits of having a family obsessed with old family stories is, just that, many old family stories. My grandmother is from an ancient Virginia family and she often referred to cousins, aunts, and great-great grandparents in polite and obscure language. “Well,” she would say, in a very slow Virginia drawl, “she was a true beauty, and quite eccentric.” And that would be that. As I’ve looked deeper into some of these relatives, the truth is far more interesting.

For example, my grandmother’s cousin Amelie Rives’ godfather was General Robert E. Lee and granddaughter of Senator William Cabell Rives. She was born at the end of the civil war and lived at Castle Hill, built by one of my distant grandfathers Dr. Thomas Walker, near Charlottesville. In 1888, she married John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler, grandson of John Jacob Astor. The marriage was a disaster with details including morphine addiction in France, affairs, and eventual madness. The Astor family claimed that Amelie drove Archie mad, my family claimed that he was already mad. Donna M. Lucey’s biography, Archie and Amelie, Love and Madness in the Gilded Age retells the story, albeit in a salacious way.

In the end, Archie descended into madness, including delusions that he could put himself into a sort of trance in which his face would somehow morph into the death mask of Napoleon. In the meantime, Amelie became the toast of European society, divorced Archie, and married Russian Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, “an artist and an aristocrat,” who possessed more glamour and panache than money. The two settled at the family home, Castle Hill and were together for the rest of their lives. The scandals continued, when Amelie began writing novels and plays including the shocking The Quick and the Dead?, an erotic story. However, as my grandmother said, “Why, she was such a fine beauty.”

Castle Hill, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Castle Hill, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives 1890

Amelie Rives 1890

John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler

John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler as Napoleon’s death mask, and riding
Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy

Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, by Frances Benjamin Johnston (infamous lesbian photographer) 1910

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy by Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy c. 1890

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy by Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy c. 1890 (found hidden after my grandmother died.)