Saturday, December 26, 2020

Why We Never Stamp Out Organized Crime

This story begins in 1951 when two sons of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt--each son born to a different wife and each wife born to a filthy rich father--acquired 35,000 acres in southwest Florida, with the idea of turning it into a cattle ranch. Their youngest brother George did not invest with them, having his own ranch in Hawaii.

Genealogical History in Context

Alfred (son of Cornelius V. Vanderbilt II) had died in 1915 while aboard the S.S. Lusitania, leaving three sons born to two of his wives. 

The eldest of his sons, William H. Vanderbilt (born in 1901, to distinguish him from his grandfather and uncle), was fourteen when Alfred was killed by the German torpedo. A year later, when the United States declared war on Germany, William's mother (Ellen French Vanderbilt) allowed him to join the Navy at age 15, and the Navy gave him the title of Midshipman. One of the friends he made during the war was Paul FitzSimons, Jr., from Washington, D.C., whose father was a career Navy doctor. Paul visited his young friend in Newport, R.I. after the war, met William's mom, and soon married her, although she was nine years his senior. Notwithstanding the age gap, they were compatible and lived together until their deaths in the late 40’s.

Alfred G., Jr. (eleven years younger than his half-brother) had, in the meantime, been growing up in the home of his own mother, Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt, who had married Alfred Sr. in 1911--the same year, incidentally that her own father, Isaac E. Emerson, the Bromo Seltzer king, remarried, after being dumped by Margaret's mother Emily a/k/a Emelie. 

As an interesting sideline, it can be noted that at least four years before Emily formally married C. Hazeltine Basshor of Baltimore in 1912, her name was listed in the Baltimore directory as Emily Basshor at his address, though she was still married to Emerson. The Captain sued her for divorce, naming Basshor as co-respondent, most likely at the urging of Anne McCormack, who was full of schemes.

Isaac & Anne Emerson
In 1910 Emerson used his fizzy antacid fortune to acquire a huge estate in the Green Spring Valley of Maryland hunt country, and before long married Anne, along with her two teenage children--thus setting the stage for an elaborate wedding that was to come in 1913. 

That historic year 1913--when Colonel House, handler for Woodrow Wilson, pushed through the Federal Reserve Act--symbolically linked the new banking system with the old Bank of the United States, whose shareholders primarily lived in that part of Maryland. Thus did the wedding of Emerson's stepdaughter, Ethel McCormack, to Francis Huger McAdoo, son of Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, represent the merger of both public and private wealth ruling the United States. Ethel's marriage--terminated by divorce only after four children were born--barely survived Wilson's presidency. 

Emerson's elder daughter Margaret and her two sons, Alfred Jr. and younger brother, George Vanderbilt, just on the cusp of power, watched from the wings as Ethel divorced McAdoo to marry a Chicagoan named W. Winchester Keith, son of one of the wealthy Brown sisters, who had actually once inhabited Brookland Wood as children, descendants of Baltimore banker, Alexander Brown. 

In fact, Emerson had acquired the Maryland estate known as Brookland Wood soon after H. Carroll Brown (an uncle of Winchester Keith) lost title to it because of a lawsuit filed against him by the estate of his deceased wife, Margaret Daly Brown. The plaintiffs consisted of her brother--Marcus Daly, Jr., son of the Copper King--and Bankers Trust, as executor and trustee, respectively.

 In an agreement to settle the lawsuit, Capt. Emerson agreed to lease the estate for three years, beginning December 1, 1911, and thereafter to purchase it for $400,000. Other parties to the agreement included another Daly sister--formerly Harriot Daly, who had been a close friend of Gladys Vanderbilt, the youngest sister of Alfred, Sr., at that time Gladys' sister-in-law.

Gladys had married Count Laszlo Szechenyi in 1908 when her family paid a $5 million dowry to Laszlo's destitute but "royal" family. Within three years her new husband had lost $7 million speculating on the Bourse. Gladys threatened divorce, but someone must have put his finances in order. He had been the first minister from Hungary to the United States and later served at the Court of St. James.

Two years after Gladys' wedding, the Daly family arranged for Harriot to become a Countess also, marrying her off to Count Anton Sigray of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Another sister was married to Judge James W. Gerard, also parties to the estate's lawsuit.

This was the background of these two Florida ranchers who decided to go into ranching in Florida in 1951. Both of their mothers had been at different times, sisters-in-law of Countess Gladys

William's mother (Ellen French) and Alfred had divorced at about the time all these royal shenanigans began to take place, and she remained with him in Rhode Island while her ex-husband (Alfred Vanderbilt, Sr.) moved to London, taking advantage of his sister's new-found position at the Court of St. James. He was living at Gloucester House the day of his wedding to Mrs. Margaret Emerson McKim, even then fighting off litigation.

 After Margaret had divorced Dr. Smith Hollins McKim in Reno, her ex-husband threatened a lawsuit for alienation of affections against Alfred, Margaret's father (Isaac Emerson) and her future stepmother, who was a real piece of work. According to one newspaper dated February 22, 1911:

Papers were signed which released Vanderbilt, Doctor Emerson, his daughter, and Mrs. Frederick McCormick [Anne Preston McCormack, a widow, who married Emerson the following July] from any legal action resultant from Mrs. McKim divorcing her husband.

In consideration of this release Doctor McKim was given a large sum of money to be paid in semiannual installments, as well as a lump sum awarded chiefly for counsel fees. Attorney Herschfield admitted today that an arrangement had been reached by which Doctor McKim ceased all litigation.

The agreement was the result of a series of conferences. Reports have been circulated that Doctor McKim intended to bring suit against Vanderbilt for the alleged alienating of his wife's affections. There also have been rumors that an engagement existed between Mrs. McKim and Vanderbilt.

Mrs. McKim has been occasionally in the society of Vanderbilt. At the last horse show she was a visitor in his box. During the season at Newport, several years ago, Mrs. McKim met Vanderbilt often in the same social events.

Alfred, Jr. would be born to Margaret in London in 1912, but George's birth was in Newport in 1914, only months before the boys' father's body would sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Incidentally, Margaret's mother (now Mrs. Emilie Basshor) became a widow in 1914, when her husband of two years was rumored to have committed suicide by shooting himself in the neck. Thereafter Emilie sold her Baltimore real estate and bought a residence/hotel near the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she lived until her death in 1921. Rather than completely disown Margaret from  her will, Emilie left her youngest daughter "a portion of the silverware."

In 1918, three years after Margaret's husband had settled into his liquid grave, she married Raymond Thomas Baker, who had recently been appointed Director of the United States Mint by President Wilson. He served in that position until 1922, then ran unsuccessfully in 1926 for the U.S. Senate from Nevada, where some years earlier Baker had struck gold in his western mines.

Margaret divorced Baker in 1928 in order to marry Lt. Col. Charles Minot Amory from Boston and Beverly, Massachusetts. Son of Francis Inman Amory, Sr., Col. Amory had, in 1919, received an emergency diplomatic passport to travel to Europe, at the request of then-Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. That was the year Lodge, according to his Senate biography, "began an assault on President Woodrow Wilson's proposal to establish a League of Nations that ultimately culminated in the Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Versailles." Amory was, therefore, sent to Europe to further Lodge's goal of sabotaging Wilson. Lodge believed the League of Nations would get the U.S. involved in "entangling alliances," which the Founding Fathers had warned against.

Margaret was married to Amory, whose family were long-time residents of Palm Beach, Florida, until 1934. That was her last marriage, and despite her children having the Vanderbilt surname, she changed back into Margaret Emerson.

The Two-V Ranch in Charlotte County, Florida

Called the “Two-V Ranch,” the 35,000 acres the brothers bought had an Englewood, Florida, address long before Englewood had been developed. Somewhere on the estate William and his second wife, Anne Gordon Colby, built a house, and they became winter residents for several years before their divorce in 1969. One source states that he built a large gulf front home on Manasota Key, and another that their home was  in Punta Gorda on Englewood Beach. These descriptions could well be of the same house. 

Alfred, Jr. constructed a residence at Cape Haze but rarely visited the area. Alfred showed no interest in cattle ranching, other than in investing money with his older brother from a different mother. But he did raise horses, which he raced at Hialeah, as did other Vanderbilt and Whitney cousins, who all had mansions in Palm Beach, where they socializing with fellow transplanted millionaires more like themselves. 

Alfred Jr. lived for the most part on Long Island, not far from those same cousins--notably, the more well-known polo playing millionaire C. V. (Sonny) Whitney and John Hay (Jock) Whitney. The Whitneys and their associates had for decades made up a big part of the power elite in politics and diplomacy. In an earlier era, that wealth centered around the railroads they controlled in New York and its connecting links.

The Vanderbilt name undoubtedly helped William get a commission as Commander of Naval Intelligence in WWII, W.H. had been assigned as deputy administrator to Col. William J. Donovan in the Office of War Information (OWI), which became the office of the Coordinator of Information (CoI) and later the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). As the war ramped up, he was re-assigned to the staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. After the war William returned to Rhode Island and was elected as its governor for one term before deciding to become a rancher.

W.H. gave rural Florida—CrackerLand, my friend Daniel Hopsicker likes to call it—a real whirl, getting himself named to local bank boards and fund drives—even joining with citizens of Venice, Nokomis and Laurel in Sarasota County to contribute a grant to Englewood public schools in 1953. 

He had been well-acquainted with the rancher whose property bordered Two-V—a man named Arthur C. Frizzell—who sold the remainder of his land in 1954 to Florida West Coast Land Development Co. of Miami Beach. The Two-V had actually been carved out of a previous sale Frizzell had made to this same company.

Meyer Lansky showed up in Florida in the early 1930s and welcomed all members of the "Five Families" to set up shop in the state, the majority living or working out of Miami Beach. Lansky himself chose Hollywood in Broward County for his home, but operated his clubs and gambling casinos in nearby Hallandale in the southern part of Broward County. The northern part of the county was, of course, Fort Lauderdale.


Florida West Coast Land Development Company (FWCLDC) divided up Frizzell's thousands of acres into numerous tracts and transferred title to General Development Company, comprised at that time of Mackle Construction and Louis Chesler from Toronto, Canada, who had links to Meyer Lansky. The Vanderbilts held onto their acreage for fifteen more years, until 1969--the same year William and his second wife, Alfred Jr.’s mother, were divorced, 1969. 

The following year William, who had bought a large property near Williamstown, Massachusetts, remarried the former Mrs. John Ransom (Helen Cummings) Cook, and they began to spend more time in New England, but also retained a residence at Punta Gorda until William’s death in 1981. Afterwards, Helen Vanderbilt lived for several years in an assisted living home (Harbor Inn at 321 W. Venice Avenue) in downtown Venice, Florida, a mile or so east of Venice Beach.

Was there more to that story we don’t know?

(To be continued )





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