Alexander County

1940 It Happened in Cairo

Arranged for Publication by Anne West 1940

Chapter VIII


Perhaps it was Maud's own warm, vibrant personality that drew such interesting people into her circle of friendship. Or maybe it was just the nature of Cairo then, as now, to have a crosssection of picturesque citizenry. At any rate drama, in one form or another, seems to have touched the lives of most of the friends who frequented the Rittenhouse home. What happened to them after Maud closed the pages of her Journal would be a gold mine for an 0. Henry.

Take, for instance, "the Duke." "The Duke" was none other than George E. O'Hara, a young man in the ice and lumber business, who figured among Maud's admirers. On Nov. 13, 1893, he married Lizzie Shields, a friend of Maud's with whom she frequently records going horseback riding.

Residents of Cairo who were in the city prior to 1893 say that events both before and after the wedding of Miss Shields and "the Duke" were dramatic in the extreme. Friends of Miss Shields had expected that she would marry Dr. W. P. Malone, a young physician then in Cairo. However, Capt. Shields, it is understood, became indebted to Mr. O'Hara for quite a sum of money which he was unable to repay. His daughter, considered by many as the most beautiful and talented young lady in Cairo, was persuaded by her father to marry Mr. O'Hara, who would then be a member of the family and the debt could be forgotten. The engagement was announced to the amazement of all of Miss Shields' friends, and the Citizen of Nov. 16, 1893, tells the story of the wedding.

Married in State

A truly splendid wedding was that which occurred at the Church of the Redeemer on Monday evening, When George E. O'Hara and Miss Lizzie Shields, daughter of Capt. Thomas Shields, were united in holy wedlock. All that could make a scene brilliant and joyful was done. Beautiful flowers and brilliant lights vied with the beauty and brilliancy of the company present to make a scene attractive, and the sentiment of the crowd found expression in the words of the chorus, "God Save the Bride, Long May She Live." The bridal party consisted, in addition to the bride and groom, of Miss Ann Leseuer of Jefferson City, Mo., maid of honor, and Miss Suze Leseuer of Lexington, Mo., bridesmaid, both cousins of the bride; Dr. Sam Dodd of Anna, best man. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. F. A. DeRosset, and then the party repaired to the home of Capt. Shields on Walnut Street, where time was spent in congratulations and preparations for the departure of the bride on the Mobile & Ohio for St. Louis. Mr. and Mrs. O'Hara will sail from New York on Saturday for Europe, where they will spend a few months in travel before returning to Cairo to live. Both Mr. O'Hara and his bride have been leaders in Cairo society. Mr. O'Hara is junior member of the firm of DeMontcourt and O'Hara, lumber dealers, but his natural suavity secured the position of President of the Board of Trade and the leadership when strangers were to be entertained or banquetted. Friends from abroad were in attendance at the wedding."

After returning from their wedding trip Mr. and Mrs. O'Hara went to live in the handsome Shields' residence. Years later the firm of DeMontcourt and O'Hara met with business reverses and Mr. O'Hara left Cairo for Mississippi where his firm had a number of mills. While there one of the children, whose health had become bad, was taken by Mrs. O'Hara to Colorado. The lumber company in the meantime failed and Mr. O'Hara left for Texas.

He carried life insurance to the amount of $20,000. So when reverses closed in about him and he became fearful that his wife and two daughters would be in want, he took his own life in order that they might collect the insurance money.

According to last reports, Mrs. O'Hara and her daughters are now living in the southwest.

One of Maud's most persistent admirers, and one who claimed to have loved her since she was eleven, was William Williamson (WmSm, Jack), a Cairo printer.

On Friday night, April 14, 1882, she attended a reception with him aboard the steamer City of Cairo. This new steamer belonged to the Anchor Line, which had a boat named for every city on its route from St. Louis to New Orleans. The reception took place when the steamer, bound for Memphis, arrived at Cairo on her maiden voyage. The Bulletin for the day following the reception carried this account of the affair.

The steamer City of Cairo arrived last night at 8 o'clock and her appearance was hailed with enthusiasm. Several guns were fired in honor of her arrival, and we might say that several thousand people thronged the levee as she came into port. The rush when she landed was indescribable, for in one common mass regardless of color, race or association everyone was curious to see the City of Cairo."

The arrival here was the occasion of a reception and presentation of a set of colors, tendered by the citizens of Cairo, and it was a most festive event. At the appointed time Hon. T. W. Halliday called the assembly to order and, after fine introductory remarks, proceeded to read the resolution passed by the city council at its last meeting. He was followed by Mayor Thistlewood who, with a very appropriate address, presented to Capt. Vickers for the boat and the Anchor Line Company a beautiful set of colors made of fine Spanish bunting. After the ceremony was over the company indulged in a dance to the tunes of a fine string orchestra and thus spent several hours most pleasantly.

The concluding feature, and by no means the least important part of the grand affair was the supper, spread for the assemblage on a series of tables richly decorated with glittering ware. The supper was pronounced by all who partook of it as one of the most costly and attractive and varied feasts they ever sat down to. It consisted of everything the most fastidious could ask for and was prepared in a masterly manner.

Maud tried to discourage Williamson's attentions that night, and later broke her friendship with him because he was reputed to have taken some drinks while aboard the boat. Cairo people who remember Williamson say that he was very temperate - in fact, anything but a "drinking man." After leaving Cairo he went to St. Louis where, it is understood, he still lives.

William N. Butler, a Cairo lawyer, was likewise a great friend of Maud's. In the Bulletin for July 4, 1884, is the announcement that "Mr. William N. Butler has consented to deliver the oration at the Park today and Miss Maud Rittenhouse will read the Declaration of Independence."

Butler was elected states attorney in 1884 and again in '88, '92 and '96. He married at Fairbury, Ill., in 1885. In 1903 he was made judge of the circuit court, a position he held until his death, June 2, 1924.

It was said of Judge Butler that during dull days in court he often provoked the attorneys, jury and audience to laughter with his imitations of old-time lawyers, politicians and famous statesmen of the past whom he had known. He had a keen sense of humor. Court never convened with him presiding that he did not have a new list of jokes which no one had ever told before. Many of the jokes pointed a moral and were made to illustrate some point in law.

The Rittenhouse home was large and friendly, and newcomers to Cairo practically placed themselves on waiting lists for a chance to board with the family. There was Charles Wenger (so liked as a friend by Maud) who roomed with Robin during the last days of Maud's Journal. He was a bookkeeper at the City National Bank and, in point of service, held the position of trust for a long time. Ill health finally forced him to retire, but he lived in Cairo until his death.

Earlier, Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Menager, friends of the Rittenhouse family, had made their home with them. Mr. Menager was manager of the local branch of the Standard Oil Company in Cairo. Later he became cashier of the Memphis (Tenn.) Savings Bank and left Cairo in April, 1884. It was on a Christmas Day about 1907 that the New York World carried the following item under a Memphis (Tenn.) date line.

The Memphis Savings Bank failed to open yesterday having been placed in the hands of a receiver. It is one of the oldest institutions in the city and carries deposits of over a million and a half dollars."

Rev. F. P. Davenport (Dean) of the Church of the Redeemer, a close friend of both the Rittenhouse family and the Menagers, spent considerable time there also. All of Cairo was heartsick when he received a call to the Calvary Church at Memphis.

Maud records making a hatband for "Blauvi," one of her very dear friends and admirers with whom she often used to go buggy-riding. In October, 1892, "Blauvi" married Ella Armstrong, a Cairo schoolteacher. The Bulletin treats the wedding in this manner.

It was 3 o'clock. The afternoon sun shone brightly through the stained glass windows of the Church of the Redeemer yesterday afternoon, lighting up the beautiful interior made more beautiful on this occasion by the bright costumes of the fair audience and the lovely floral decorations. The sweet strains from the great organ seemed but a counterpart of the surroundings. Five minutes lapsed, and then the merry notes of the wedding march announced the arrival of the bridal party. Treading slowly the long aisle, preceded by the ushers - Messrs. Joe Jackson, Frank Shearer, George E. O'Hara, Harry Hughes, Charles Wenger and Wood Rittenhouse - came the fair bride leaning upon the arm of her betrothed, Miss Ella Armstrong and Mr. William C. Blauvelt. Again the notes of the organ became subdued as the Rev. Pharas of Anna performed the marriage ceremony binding together two hearts in the holy bonds of wedlock. Repeating the solemn vows and receiving the blessing they turned again and as the organ once more pealed forth in glad refrain, echoing the feelings in the hearts of everyone, they retraced their steps down the aisle, and entered carriages and were driven away. Mr. and Mrs. Blauvelt left on the afternoon train for Chicago. After the dedication ceremonies at the World's Fair, they will go to Portland, Ore., and other points in the West, returning to be at home at Mrs. J. C. Hancock's on Tenth Street after Nov. 15th."

(The Blauvelts moved to Chicago years later, where Mr. Blauvelt died. After his death Mrs. Blauvelt returned to Cairo and resumed her school teaching for a time. She now lives in the north part of the state.)

Miss S. H. Risley, another schoolteacher whom Maud mentions frequently and who was at one time principal of the Safford School in Cairo, died in Hartford, N. Y., on Nov. 16, 1939. Had she lived until Nov. 30 she would have been 90 years of age.

Among those who helped wear the carpets thin at the Rittenhouse residence was Erich Schwartze - that is, until the winter of 1887. For on Nov. 17, 1887, the following item appeared in the Citizen.

Last evening at 5 o'clock in the Episcopal church Mr. E. W. Schwartze and Miss Clara White were married by the Rev. F. P. Davenport. Both Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz are wellknown here and much liked by all. A reception was given for them at the residence of Mrs. Seymour, corner of Fourteenth and Commercial. Mr. and Mrs. Schwartze will go to housekeeping at once on Twentieth Street."

(Mr. Schwartze was a bank clerk in Cairo for a number of years after his marriage. Then he and Mrs. Schwartze moved to Arkansas where he was employed in another bank. He later took his own life by shooting himself.)

The society column of the Cairo Citizen of Oct. 24, 1889, contained this item.

The marriage of Mr. E. C. Halliday, of the firm of Halliday and Aisthorpe, and Miss Beatrice Orr, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. S. M. Orr, was solemnized at the Episcopal church yesterday afternoon at 1:30. The ushers for the occasion were Messrs. Buzby, Butts, Fred Galigher, William C. Blauvelt, George Bell and T. W. Halliday, Jr. At the close of the ceremony the bridal party entered carriages and were driven to the Illinois Central depot where they took the train at 2:20 for a short wedding tour."

The E. C. Halliday referred to is the "Ned" Halliday whom Maud disliked because she suspected him of blackballing Elmer at the Ideal League meeting when they voted upon Elmer's admission to the League. That meeting was on Nov. 6, 1883, and Maud at that time expressed to her Journal the belief that a hundred or so Ned Hallidays would never be worth a single Elmer. (As one Cairoite remarked after reading Maud, "Ned Halliday seems to have been the only member of the Ideal League who really had any sense.") The Ideal League Hall is still standing, and over the door is a sign reading, "Safford Lodge No. 26 - I. O. O. F."

After disposing of his interest in the firm of Halliday and Aisthorpe, Mr. Halliday entered the insurance business, which he operated successfully for many years. He retired several years ago, but continues to live in Cairo.

Numbered among Maud's admirers was one "Mr. Kent," whom the Rittenhouse family had taken into its circle of friends. Consequently, the whole household was shocked to read the following account in the weekly Citizen of Jan. 2, 1890.

Short in His Accounts Another Cairo society man (by this time it was getting to be a habit) has turned out to be a defaulter. This time it is Mr. James E. Kent. While acting as assistant cashier of the C. C. C. and St. L. railroad here he succeeded in appropriating $1,436.90 of the company's money. The shortage was discovered earlier in the year by the cashier, Frank Welsh, but Kent begged not to be exposed and Walsh kept the matter a secret, receiving from Kent due bills to cover the amount of the shortage and a written acknowledgement of the crime. Hearing that the auditors were coming to check up the office, Mr. Walsh, fearing that he would be held responsible for the shortage, left for Chicago, sending his brother, Mr. P. Walsh, the paper he held, together with a confession of his own. The brothers made up the shortage and laid the case before the auditors and Mr. Kent was forced to confess. Mr. Frank Walsh was then exonerated and has returned and resumed his position in the office. A warrant was issued for Kent's arrest but he could not be found, having left the city last Friday at 1:10 a. m. for the North, boarding an Illinois Central train at the upper end of the city. Kent came to the city about two years ago and, being well recommended, was admitted to the best society. He left numerous creditors behind him . . . "

What ever became of Mr. Kent no one seems to know (and, as one citizen when asked said, "or care!"). The ironical thing about the whole situation was that Maud, so often in her Journal, had commented on how much he reminded her of Elmer !

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Extracted 25 Aug 2018 by Norma Hass from It Happened in Cairo, arranged by Anne West, published in 1940.

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