The morning was appropriately groggy. So was I. The very first email I opened contained news that at the last minute the Vermont Views website, which was listing our community radio station (which I run) as "non-profit of the month" had changed its mind. As I sank into a resigned sigh, the words "April Fool!" entered in my consciousness. There was an audible low guttural growl which emerged from somewhere within my being. It's April. The poet called it "the cruelest month". The poet may have been right.
Over the last two weeks, I've started many a post for the blog, only to abandon them all for various reasons. I had a cataract removed and was laid low for three days by reactions to the surgery. One partial post was forsaken when there were problems at the radio station which resulted in the rest of my day, and most of the next, being spent in email correspondence. I no longer feel in control of my time. I wonder if I ever really was.
|Unpacking at the new WVEW studio|
|Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 - logging into a computer to|
turn on the transmitter and return WVEW to the air.
|"Jubilee" Jim Fisk|
Today is the birthday of James (Jubilee Jim) Fisk. He was one of the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age. Born on the other side of the state, his family moved to Brattleboro when he was a child. His father became the owner and manager of a hotel on the corner of Main and Elliot Streets, known as the Revere House, in the days when Brattleboro was a resort town famous for its "water cure". At the age of 15, he ran away and joined the circus. There are reports that he made a fair amount of money by smuggling cotton during the US Civil War. He became a stockbroker working in the office of Daniel Drew, another famous thief of the financial world. (Drew's money founded a Methodist Seminary which expanded to become Drew University, which I attended in 1968-1969.) Daniel Drew was the kind of guy who used to have his cattle drink water to increase their weight just before their price per pound sale. His shady deals became known for using phony and unauthorized stocks, thereby lowering their value. Such stock were soon called "watered down" in his dubious honor.
At the offices of Daniel Drew, Jim Fiske hooked up with Jay Gould. Together they assisted Drew in manipulating the price of Erie Railroad stock, which they swindled away from Cornelius Vanderbilt. They eventually swindled the Erie away from Drew for good measure. They were openly allied with New York City's notoriously corrupt mayor "Boss" Tweed in the bribing of judges and legislatures. They also caused a financial panic which ruined many investors when they convinced President Grant to purchase and hold on to gold; they had the United States Assistant Treasurer in on the deal while they manipulated the price. For their offices, Gould and Fiske bought the Pike Opera House building at 23rd Street and 8th Avenue in NYC.
Samuel Pike had purchased much of the old Clement Clark Moore estate and built upon it a five story opulent 1,800 seat opera house which cost over a million dollars, unheard of at the time. Although the area quickly became a theater district, Pike was never able to lure patrons away from the Academy of Music on 14th Street. Within a year of its opening, Pike closed it. Fisk and Gould bought it and spent another million renovating the building, renamed it the "Grand Opera House", and became theatrical impresarios as well as financiers.
|Pike's Opera House|
Mansfield's affections were soon shared with one of Fisk's employees, Edward Stokes. Stokes left his wife and children and moved in with her. Together, they attempted to bribe Fisk through the use of letters which detailed some of his underhanded dealings. Fisk refused to pay up, and started a public relations battle. Stokes was arrested on charges of embezzlement. (It's a long story.) One year to the day of his arrest later, nearly bankrupt and ruined, Stokes shot and killed Jubilee Jim Fisk on the staircase of the Grand Central Hotel. Fisk was 36 years old.
Fisk's body was brought back to Brattleboro for burial in the Prospect Hill cemetery where a large monument was erected to his memory. The monument's central stone is surrounded by four scandalously underdressed (i.e. bare breasted) women, each of whom holds something connected to Mr. Fisk. One holds pieces of railroad track. One, a money bag. Another holds a steamship (another Fisk story). The last holds an emblem of the Opera House.
Fisk's story became the subject of a 1937 movie, "The Toast of New York", bears a great resemblance to part of the plot for the movie "Citizen Kane", and was the subject of several best selling books. Edward Stokes served four years of his prison term before being paroled. Fisk had given freely to charity and was in held in esteem by many - upon his release, there were numerous threats made against Stokes who spent the rest of his life looking over his shoulder and feeling hunted. Fisk's wife died in poverty in Boston. Josie Mansfield made her way to Paris where she married before returning to the states. The rest of her story is unknown. She was rumored to have lived under assumed names in Boston, and in New Jersey where she allegedly died, as per a report in the New York Times. There is one published report that she found her way back to Paris where she died at the American Hospital. There are also newspaper reports that, paralyzed and in dire poverty, she entered a convent in South Dakota to avoid the poorhouse, passed and was buried in an unmarked grave.
The Grand Opera House puttered on for many years, never very successfully. It was purchased and turned into a movie theatre, the RKO Grand in 1938. It continued operating until 1960 when it was closed, slated for demolition when the Ladies' Garment Union began redevelopment of the area into the Penn South residential apartments for union members and their families. Two weeks later, it burned to the ground. It was eventually replaced with a nondescript three story office building, the memories of Robber Barons, the Grand Opera House, Jubilee Jim, his mistress, and the Gilded Age long gone.
|A current view of the corner of 23rd Street and 8th Aveue, New York City|