Saturday, October 25, 2008

The tale of the bogus countess

I often come across strange little news items while researching John Morrissey’s life. Recently I found one that piqued my interest. I discovered a story about a bogus Countess, which was stuck in the midst of a long list of drowning victims, petit larcenies and attempted suicides crammed together under the heading "General City News" from the Aug. 27, 1860 edition of the New York Times.
The Countess had been living rent free at several Manhattan apartments and hotels by telling the proprietors a story of illicit love and banishment.

The lady in question went by the name Senora Dona Pedro and claimed she was the only child of a Portuguese royal named Don Pedro. She also said she was the cousin of Prince De Joinville.

François-Ferdinand-Philippe-Louis-Marie d'Orléans, prince de Joinville (1818 - 1900) was the third son of Louis Philippe, ruler of France during the July Monarchy and the last king of that country. Joinville was an admiral of the French Navy and an essayist.

According to Dona Pedro she was banished from her homeland for marrying an Englishman who later died. She was living in New York on $3000 yearly, a little over $52,000 in today’s dollars.

She also claimed to have an estate on Staten Island worth $25,000 ($436,000), with a fine carriage and horses to boot.
The Senora was busted when William Grigg of 1051 Broadway finally got tired of not getting his rent from the Senora. She hadn’t paid in four months.

She has been leasing 884 Broadway at the price of $75 per month and didn’t seem too concerned about the owing.
Come to find out the Senora was actually named Sarah J. Corkery and was a “procuress of loose women for fast men” aka a Madame. She had been swindling hotelkeepers and the like for upwards of nine years.

After her arrest several people came forward to tell how they had been had. Apparently hotelkeepers didn’t talk much amongst themselves in the mid-19th century.

One woman who came forward, Mrs. Susan Ramsey, the proprietress of the European House on Broadway, fell for the same story. After a few weeks with nary a penny from the Countess Ramsey's suspicions became aroused. She asked to see the "charming place" on Staten Island. The two women took a ferry to the island and the Countess pointed out her place, one might assume at random. The house actually belonged to Thomas Monroe, a Manhattan merchant. Ramsey, ever the skeptic, asked to go inside. "No," replied the Countess. "I don't like to put the occupants to the inconvenience of showing it."
Ramsey, apparently satisfied with the answer would later regret not pushing the matter further. She was out $425 for her troubles.

There were two more stories on the case, but after that the paper trail went cold. The last dispatch had our Senora sitting in jail waiting on a lawyer that was indisposed.

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