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The Mystery of the Cleveland Diamond

Last Updated: 20th Nov 2008

By Daniel Russell

The Cleveland Diamond:
Mugwumps, Madness, Marital Mayhem and Mystery



by Daniel E Russell


One of the earliest large diamonds to be cut in New York City (but not the first!) was called the “Cleveland Gem” a 42¼ carat diamond that appeared in 1884 and disappeared mysteriously in 1892.

The rough diamond was discovered in South Africa in 1873, and originally weighed 78 carats. “It was immediately purchased by a London syndicate, who, in the most approved style of large diamond purchasers, locked it up in a safe until some wealthy potentate should buy it,” reported the New York Times. “The London Syndicate had large offers, and the London syndicate refused them one and all.” (NY Times, 1884a)

Period accounts are somewhat hazy about how the diamond found its way to Manhattan. The New York Times reported that “it was brought to America by a Portuguese gentleman, who had no clear knowledge of its value.” It seems wildly implausible that a large rough diamond, carefully hoarded for more than a decade by a syndicate of diamond rough dealers, would be sold to any person who “had no clear knowledge of its value”(NY Times, 1885a). The Portuguese man carried the stone to New York City where it was seen by John R Rogers, one of the most eccentric and flamboyant theatrical agents of the late 19th Century. At the age of 44, Rogers cut a dashing figure with a large mustache and bushy muttonchop sideburns. His specialty was acting as “avant courier” - an advance man and publicity agent, responsible for creatively promoting upcoming theatrical performances by both traveling theater companies and individual actors. In addition to designing, printing and circulating posters for the acts, Rogers made certain his clients, be they actors or plays, were ballyhooed in the local press (Grau, 1910). Rogers was aggressive and effective, quick to anger and slow to forgive, both in his private and public life.

Rogers took an interest in a rising young actress named Minnie Palmer. Stunningly beautiful, Palmer seemed to always perform to mixed reviews from the serious theater critics in New York, but her singing ability and performance of light comedy made her popular with audiences. Minnie’s father had died when Minnie was only 7 years old. Her mother, Kate, had carefully shepherded her daughter’s stage career. Minnie was brought to Vienna and Paris to study voice, music and dance before returning to the United States to make her debut at age 13 (Wilson and Fiske, 1893). Her forte was was music hall entertainments which combined song and light comedy. As one London critic commented,
“...her voice is so fresh and rich, so melodious and cultivated, that her singing becomes a positive delight. She is pretty enough and engaging in the comedy scenes, and she can command pathos as well as excite mirth. She is clever in her acting, agile in her movements, and spontaneous in her humour. Miss Palmer is endowed with plenty of genuine talent as well as many personal attractions, and it is a pity that she cannot be induced to turn her attention to more serious and legitimate work... She would then discover that refinement meets with more admiration than vulgarity...” (Brereton, 1884)
In 1883, Rogers took over the management of the 23 year old actress' career. Rogers required the actress to sign an extremely convoluted contract, filled with strange clauses. One of these required that she not marry for at least five years. It became apparent to everyone that Minnie and Palmer were more than merely actress and manager, and in May 1884, the Associated Press leaked a story that Rogers and Palmer had in fact been secretly married (NY Times, 1884d).

They made their home in lavish apartments, first at the Westminster Hotel and then the Gramercy. Their lifestyle was opulent. Their apartment was
“ filled with treasures collected from the principal cities of the world, and arranged with perfect taste. Miss Palmer's music-room is a joy. Japanese portieres conceal it from the view of the chance visitor. The walls are hung with portraits of the best known composers; the piano is a superb instrument; dainty bric-a-brac, queer little tables, autograph portraits, and ornaments of all descriptions, are to be found everywhere. The carpets, of heaviest velvet, would make a clodhopper's footstep sound fairy-like; tapestry hangings, and beautifully-tinted curtains rendered the apartment most artistic. The drawing-room is simply gorgeous. It is as full of art treasures as a room destined to be inhabited could be. Rugs, tapestries, lamps, cabinets, silver ornaments, knick-knacks in gold, porcelain, ivory, a Dresden china clock, a bronze statuette of Salome, easels, tables, vases, pictures, portraits of the Prince and Princess of Wales, bisque figures, etchings — all are in this drawing-room... Many people with plenty of money are not artistic enough to know how to spend it. Nobody can thus accuse either Miss Minnie Palmer or her husband. The sleeping-room is as pretty as any other apartment in this charming home. It is furnished in the style favored by Marie Antoinette. Anybody who has visited Versailles will have seen the Marie Antoinette "souvenirs" there. Miss Palmer has copied them as closely as possible. Miss Minnie reposes beneath blue silk bed coverings, which are adorned with filmy Valenciennes lace. The carpet is deep blue; the hangings are of a corresponding hue. (Dale, 1896)
Minnie Palmer indulged her passion for jewelery, and especially for fine diamonds (her theatrical notices on many occasions noted that she would wearing her diamonds during her performances). The Sun newspaper conservatively estimated her collection of diamond jewelry to be worth $250,000 – a princely fortune in the 1880's (quoted in Purtell, 1971). In early 1884, while appearing on the stage in London, Palmer went on a shopping spree and purchased $50,000 worth of jewelry (NY Times, 1884f). One New York Times reporter, seeing Palmer's New York apartment, mentioned “the diamonds and various articles of jewelry that lay heaped upon tables in her rooms... would stock a small jewelry store” (NY Times, 1884b). It is very possible that Rogers intended the Cleveland Gem to be a wedding gift for his new bride.

Rogers considered himself an expert on precious stones. In 1884 he confided to a reporter that if he were to leave his career as a publicty agent, he would probably “do something in the diamond business with a large dealer of my acquaintance. I have always had more or less to do in this line, particularly as a buyer of precious stones. I happen to have pretty good judgment in this line, and that is a gift which is always in demand. Last summer, when Miss Palmer and I visited Paris, I bought a ruby with her, each of us paying half the purchase price. It was a very large, pure stone, and I considered it a fine investment. Inside of two hours I sold it to another dealer at a profit of $1,500…” (NY Times 1884e) Upon seeing the rough diamond, Rogers’ “keen judgment of precious stones enable him at once to form an estimate of its worth.” Rogers partnered with the New York City diamond firm of Simon Dessau and Brothers to purchase the stone (NY Times, 1885a).

Born in St Louis, Missouri in 1852, the son of German immigrants, Dessau had come to New York at the age of 18 and obtained a position working for a diamond dealer (NY Times, 1904a). Eventually he started his own diamond importing business specializing in industrial diamond (carbonado and and bort), earning himself the nickname of “The Carbon King.” (NY Times 1894) The company was headquartered in adjacent buildings at 4 and 6 John Street, right in the heart of what was then New York City’s jewelry and diamond district. (The area east of Broadway, around John Street and Maiden Lane, had been the epicenter of the City’s jewelry industry since at least as early as 1855, before being relocated to Canal Street near The Bowery in the 1920’s, then to the current Diamond District on West 47th Street between Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas in the early 1940’s.) While industrial diamond was their stock-in-trade, Dessau & Brothers also handled gem grade diamonds, making them the perfect choice to supervise the cutting of the stone.

Rather than ship the stone to Amsterdam, Rogers and Dessau agreed to have the diamond cut in New York City, where a fledgling diamond cutting industry had been established only a little more than a decade earlier. The task of cutting the diamond was assigned to John Weiner (also spelled as Wiener), who was born in Amsterdam and, after emigrating to the United States, had worked in the diamond-cutting industry in Boston before moving to Manhattan. [This is possibly the same John Weiner that shows up having his diamond-cutting factory at 37 John Street in the 1900-1906 era (NY Times, 1900; NY Times, 1906)]

The cutting of the diamond coincided with one of the most bitter partisan political battles for the Presidency that the United States has ever experienced. Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland, the former Mayor of Buffalo, New York and Governor of the State of New York was pitted against Republican James G. Blaine, a former Congressman from Maine, in a highly vitriolic campaign. Cleveland stood on a platform of political reform, pledging an end to the highly corrupt system of political appointments throughout the nation. In contrast, Blaine’s reputation had been deeply tarnished by charges of corruption in his dealings with two railroad companies. A significant faction of the Republican party – who became known as the Mugwumps– defected from Blaine’s campaign and threw their support behind Cleveland. It was the support of the Mugwumps that gave Cleveland a victory by a slim margin – and thus gave a name to the diamond then being cut on John Street.

Cleveland (left) and Blaine(right)


Dessau would tell a New York Times reporter:
“Father and I had a disturbance [argument]. He wanted to name it Cleveland before Cleveland was elected. I desired to call it Blaine. At last I said ‘I’ll compromise with you, and if Cleveland be elected we’ll call it the Cleveland gem.’ During the election fracas I spoke of the diamond as Blaine, while father invariably alluded to it as Cleveland. I used to say ‘Blaine wants a facet on his left side.’ While father was accustomed to remark ‘Cleveland’s looking remarkably white and pure this morning. He’s a real gem.’ At last the result was known, and I, who had clung to Blaine with as much persistence as Jay Gould, saluted our diamond as Cleveland, and the Cleveland gem it will be till the end of the tale.” (NY Times 1884a)
Near the end of November 1884 the diamond was still being cut, and Dessau estimated that the finished stone would weight 50 carats (and is so reported in several books on diamonds; see Dickinson 2001). In actuality, the finished diamond actually weighed in at 42¼ carats (N Y Times, 1884a) ─ only slightly smaller than the Hope diamond.

Weiner devoted 10 weeks to cutting and polishing the stone. The Cleveland gem was described as being “double cut and has 120 facets. Even the girdle is faceted, and with the object of increasing the brilliancy of the gem, a result not general supposed to be attainable that way.” (NY Times, 1885b). One London diamond cutter, commenting upon the state of American diamond cutting, stated that “the finest work he had ever seen was recently made in New York by Simon Dessau,” adding that the Cleveland Diamond was “remarkable” and had “made a very great sensation in London, not alone by reason of its size and brilliancy, but on account of the exceedingly skillful way in which it was cut.” (NY Times 1885d) A contemporary gemologist stated the the finished stone “has a yellow tinge, is of great brilliancy, and exhibits a remarkable play of colors” (Burnham, 1888). Henry Hanks, the State Mineralogist of California, had the opportunity to examine the diamond closely, and stated that it was “one shade off absolute white color, but is without any flaw. It has 128 facets, which are more than on any other stone. It is cut according to the rules of Jeffries, the angles being 90 degrees. The present weight is 42¼ carats = 169 grains” (Hanks 1885). David Jeffries was a London gemologist who, in 1750, had proposed new theories on how diamonds should be facetted and valued. Jefferies contended that the quality of the cut and the “fire” it created, rather than the diamond's carat weight, should be the primary consideration in deciding how to cut a diamond. The author has not found a description of the shape of the Cleveland diamond, but the reference to the Jefferies cut suggests it was an English Round-cut brilliant.

President-elect Cleveland was shown a photograph of the diamond, and the New York Times reported that he was “highly delighted with it”. There was talk of a group of wealthy Buffalo, NY Democrats banding together to purchase the stone so that they could present it to President Cleveland – a plan which never came to fruition. (NY Times, 1884a)

The Cleveland Gem diamond was placed on exhibit at the New Orleans Exposition (officially known as the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition), a “world’s fair” held in 1884 and 1885. Hanks made special note of seeing the diamond in his report on the Exposition to the Governor of the State of California. He stated that a C W. Kennedy, who was “in charge” of the diamond, “allowed me to hold it in my hand and to examine it critically, a favor I highly appreciated.” However, Hanks then recounts some history of the gemstone which he claims he was given by Kennedy and Dessau that is seems to be at odds with Rogers' contemporary newspaper accounts. “It was purchased and cut by Mr. Dessau... (the) stone remained three months at the Exposition, when it was sold to a well-known actress for $40,000, and is now in Scotland, where it attracts much attention, being the first stone of its value ever cut in America”(Hanks, 1885) The estimated value may have been inflated, since later Rogers would estimate its value at about $20,000, but a small boast about a fabulous gem can be endured. However, there is no evidence that Minnie Palmer purchased the diamond after it was exhibited at the Exposition, but instead Rogers clearly co-owned the stone with Dessau prior to the opening of the the fair. The New York Times reported that on April 2, 1885 that “the jury of the New Orleans Exposition, at which the Cleveland Gem has been on exhibition, awarded the first prize to this stone, especially commending its brilliancy and color, and complimenting the Dessaus for their work in cutting it” (NY Times, 1885a)

One significantly erroneous comment made by the New York Times was that the Cleveland Gem was “the first great diamond wholly prepared for market in America, the Dessau Brothers, who did the cutting, are naturally proud of their work…” (NY Times 1885c). This slight ignored the earlier accomplishments of one of Dessau’s competitors, Isaac Hermann, a John Street diamond cutter who had, in 1873, cut an 80-carat octahedral crystal from South African into the 39-carat Star of the West, and who had cut other large stones.

Minnie Palmer circa 1885


Upon the completion of the New Orleans Exposition, John R Rogers had the Cleveland Gem sent to an un-named jeweler to be set in a specially designed – and appropriately theatrical – mounting. In early April 1885 the New York Times reported “the stone is now being set in the heart of a rose, the leaves of which are closed over it. By a simple mechanical contrivance the petals slowly unfold, exposing the great brilliant, the intention being to convince a distinct surprise to the audience.” (NY Times 1885a) and, on May 7th of the same year stated “the stone is set in the center of a great rose of purple hue, and is so arranged by the aid of a simple mechanism that the petals automatically unfold, exhibiting the glowing heart of the flower” (NY Times, 1885c)

After Minnie Palmer concluded her year-long theatrical engagement in London – during which time she rebuffed a marriage offer from a minor British aristocrat by saying that she wanted a “real man” and not a “dudelet” (NY Times 1884c) – she set sail for New York City aboard the steamship Oregon for a solidly-booked schedule of stage performances. The newspapers proclaimed that during Minnie Palmer’s upcoming performances in New York City, “she is to wear at her throat the celebrated diamond which has been named for President Cleveland, and which is one of the largest and finest stones in the country” (NY Times, 1885a)

Her arrival in New York was tumultuous. She was accompanied by an amazing baggage train consisting of 150 pieces of personal luggage, which caused a bystander to exclaim “what an immense deal of luggage to belong to so small a woman”. Minnie was whisked away by friends and well-wishers to the Westminster Hotel, one of New York’s finest hotels located at the corner of Irving Place and 16th Street, to be feted before starting her engagement at the venerable Fourteenth Street Theater (NY Times 1884b). Soon afterwards Rogers announced to the press that he would wear the Cleveland Gem at his buttonhole for a special gala charity benefit organized by theatrical manager Townsend Percy held at the Star Theater in New York City on May 10th, 1885. (NY Times 1885c).

Whatever marital bliss (if any) that existed between Minnie Palmer and her manager/husband appears to have been short-lived. It took but a short time for the dark side of Rogers’s personality to surface. While he had long held a reputation in the theater world for his wild eccentricities and taciturn personality, he began to display an increasingly violent turn of temper, and a behavior pattern that would charitably be described today as “bipolar”.

Rogers was a fanatical letter writer, ending every piece of correspondence with “Yours Merrily” (so much so that the newspapers often referred to him as “Yours Merrily Rogers”) but his letters began to take a pathologically venomous and obscene turn. A contemporary newspaper offered as an example the following story:
The latest instance or Roger’s abusive letter writing is furnished in his treatment of Miss Bertha Ricci, the actress, who supported Miss Palmer in “Suzette” at Herrmann’s Theater. Although Miss Ricci was not under Rogers’s management and he was not concerned in the payment of her salary, when she refused to go on the stage unless the money due her by Locke and Davis were paid, Rogers went to her dressing room and abused her so outrageously that Miss Palmer was forced to interfere and protect her. Since that time Rogers has so persecuted Miss Ricci with abusive letters that she has been compelled to employ a lawyer’s services… This thing of writing abusive letters is an old trick of Rogers’s. His communications are always insulting and sometimes obscene.(NY Times 1890)
An especially virulent letter to journalist John W Keller of the New York Times – a fairly respected figure in 19th Century New York City press circles – so provoked the reporter that he made a concerted effort to track down Rogers at his favorite bar and attack him. (NY Times 1885e).

Minnie’s mother, Kate Palmer Stearns, did not approve of Rogers, and Rogers did not approve of Minnie’s mother. The friction between Kate Palmer Stearns and John R. Rogers was more than the traditional mother-in-law versus husband conflict. Certainly, she remained interested and protective of her daughter’s career even after Rogers had taken over its day-to-day management. Rogers no doubt chafed at a meddling stage-mother who was trying to second guess his theatrical decisions. But the conflict evolved into some deeper and far more troubling.

“For a long time Mr. Rogers has made my life miserable by his irritability and by his unreasonable, if not insane, demands that I should have nothing to do with my mother,” Minnie told journalists. “For a cause that I could never understand, he hates my mother, and his greatest satisfaction seemed to be in separating me not only from her but from all the friends I have.” (NY Times, 1890) Inexplicably, Rogers had gotten it into his head that Minnie’s father was still very much alive, and that Kate Palmer’s marriage to businessman Joseph Stearns was unlawful and bigamous. He told ”a wild and incoherent story” of meeting a man who claimed to be Minnie’s father, and arranging a meeting of the two at their Gramercy Park apartment. He asserted that they “mutually recognized each other as father and daughter… and acknowledged their relationship”. He forbade her to have anything further to do with her mother, claiming that it would provoke a scandal that would sully Minnie Palmer’s image as a performer (and decrease her value as a box-office draw). Minnie denied that any such meeting ever occurred. (N Y Times, 1890)

The matter reached a head a little after midnight of the 17th of November, 1890.

Minnie related her version to the press with all the verve of a good Victorian “penny-dreadful” novel:
On Saturday evening my mother and stepfather, Mr. Joseph Stearns, invited me to go with them to the horse show. I told my husband of this and expressed a desire to accept the invitation. At first Mr. Rogers objected, but subsequently he consented to my going and accompanied me to the Aberdeen (Hotel) and left me at the door of the hotel. When the horse show was over my parents took me to my house in the Gramercy flats. The bade me good night at the entrance of the flats and I went up to our apartments. Mr. Rogers had not retired. I was very much fatigued, and as I had not been well for some time, I went to bed as soon as possible.

Mr. Rogers acted strangely and I thought he had been drinking. He kept walking from one room to another and appeared to be greatly excited. Presently he was seized with a fit of severe sneezing, to which he is subject, and he went out into the library and took a heavy drink of brandy. Then he came and sat down on the bed beside me. I told him not to sit there, as he would take cold, and besought him to go to bed. He said that he did not care to retire. He was sitting sidewise on the bed, with his left side towards me. With his left hand he stroked my face, while he called me endearing names. He kept his right hand behind him and out of sight. I wondered at this until I happened to glance at a swinging mirror that was in the room. A burning gas jet that was in the adjoining room threw a pencil of light through the partly-opened door, and this, falling on my husband’s right hand, caused it to be reflected in the mirror. To my horror I saw that he was clutching with that hand a large carving knife, the blade of which was a foot long.

“My God! Johnnie,” I cried out, “do you mean to murder me?”

The next instant he grabbed me by the chin with his left hand and forced my head back, while with the right hand raised the murderous weapon to strike The next instant he grabbed me by the chin with his left hand and forced my head back, while with the right hand raised the murderous weapon to strike. Impelled by an unreasonable sense of self-preservation, I twisted my head from his grasp and made a wild grab for the knife. By the merest chance I caught its handle just as he cried:

“I told you that if you went out to-night it should be the end!”

I hardy know what happened in the struggle that ensued, but I suppose that the twisted position in which he was sitting must have caused him to lose his balance. At any rate he fell over on the bed, and, seizing this opportunity to escape, I sprang out of bed and ran shrieking to the room occupied by my maid.”
In the hallway, with her knife-wielding husband in pursuit, Palmer tripped over the rug and fell, but still managed to make it to her maid’s room. Having heard her mistress’s terrified screams, the maid had the presence of mind to lock the door behind her, then flung open the window and started screaming for help. The apartment house’s night attendant (basically a security guard) came rushing up to find out what the cause of such a commotion could be. He found Rogers still brandishing the knife and used a club to knock it from his hand.

After the police had arrived on the scene, Palmer and the maid hurriedly dressed. During the scuffle with the knife, Palmer had received minor knife cuts to her hand, nose and mouth. Palmer and her maid made their way to her mother’s apartment at the Aberdeen Hotel, arriving around 2 o’clock in the morning.

“I have not the slightest doubt that Mr. Rogers intended to murder me,” she told a newspaper reporter from her bed. (NY Times 1890).

The version of events that Rogers’ offered to the press was best described as “diaphanous”. He seemed rather vague about the incident, claiming only that he had thrown his wife out of the house at 2 a.m., when she refused his demand that she have no further contact with her mother.

Minnie Palmer retained the services of a good lawyer to begin divorce proceedings against Rogers. In her desperation to separate herself from Rogers, Palmer agreed to sign over to him twenty five percent of her earnings from plays in which he had arranged for her to headline, her carriage, all her furnishings – and half of her collection of diamonds. She confided to friends that she thought she got rid of Rogers cheaply. A few months later, in early 1891, she fled to England intent upon placing an ocean between herself and her unstable husband. (NY Times, 1894b).

It is not clear whether the Cleveland diamond returned to Rogers as part of the division of Minnie's collection of diamonds (which would suggest the diamond had in fact been a gift to her) or whether Rogers had retained ownership of the bauble for himself since his initial date of purchase.

In late 1891 or early 1892, it appears that Rogers used the Cleveland Diamond as collateral to secure loans, and the diamond was place in the keeping of the Bank of the Metropolis in New York City.

At about the same time, the Actors' Fund in New York City began laying plans for an enormous fair in Manhattan to raise money for their charitable work. The Actors' Fund was created in 1882 for the benefit of “suffering members of the dramatic profession,” a charity to which “the poor singer or dancer of the music hall or dime museum can turn to this fund and does turn to it in the hour of sickness and distress with as much certainty of relief as would the well known actor and actress of the regular theatres.” (NY Times, 1891) The Fund was intended to provide relief to not only to destitute actors, but also managers, performers, singers musical directors, musicians, scenic artists, carpenters, prop men, and gas men (the “lighting technicians” of theater before that advent of electricity). In its first decade, the Actors' Fund dispersed more than $136,000 to 2,571 theater people, as well as saw to the proper burial of 509 men and women who would have otherwise been relegated to a pauper's grave. As the organization grew, it became painfully apparent that contributions from the public and the proceeds of special matinée performances at theaters in Manhattan and Brooklyn were inadequate.

Actors' Fund president Albert Marshman Palmer (no kin to Minnie Palmer) proposed to hold a week-long fair in an effort to raise at least $100,00. He gathered together between 300 and 400 of the leading female actresses at the elegant King Charles Room of the Holland House hotel for a reception. As tea was poured by natives of Sri Lanka attired in servants' costumes, Palmer made an appeal to the women to take up the cause and take charge of the fair. The “ladies auxiliary” quickly rallied to the cause. (NY Times 1892a)

In short order, it was decided to use Madison Square Garden as the site of the fair. This was the second of three incarnations of Madison Square Garden. Designed by famed architect Stanford White (who ironically was murdered there more than a decade later) it was located at the corner of 26th Street and Madison Avenue, several blocks east of the current site. The main hall was the largest in the world, with permanent seating for 8,000 people and large amounts of open floor space for exhibits. Admission was set at 50 cents for afternoons, $1 for evenings, and 25 cents for children.

Immediately, donations of both money and objects d'art began to pour in from the public in a spirited show of support for the purposes of the Actors' Fund. Everything from lamps to portraits of presidents to banjos were contributed to be sold or auctioned or raffled to raise money for down-on-their-luck thespians.

One of the most interesting propositions came from John R. Rogers. He offered to allow the Actors' Fund to raffle off the Cleveland Diamond at the Fair, provided they pay off the money he owed on the loan (which apparently amounted to about $6,000) and that they split the proceeds of the auction equally (NY Times, 1901). With an estimated value of $20,00, the diamond would be one of the most valuable items to be raffled at the Fair. The Board members of the Fund agreed and the Cleveland Gem was soon ransomed from the bank.

The design and interior decorating for the Fair was executed under the supervision of Stanford White. It was decided that the booths for the fair would replicate historic theaters, ranging from Shakespeare’s Globe Theater to such iconic New York City theaters as the Drury, the Chatham, and the Bowery, or to replicate in miniature the facades of the theater manager’s own theater. NY Times (1892c) “The Actors’ Fund Fair” New York Times, 24 March 1892. Theatrical societies from the city erected booths with similar themes, ranging from oriental mosques to a fantasy based on Dicken’s “Old Curiosity Shop”. Madison Square Garden was illuminated with 7,000 single candlepower and 3,000 six candlepower electric lights, installed by the Edison Electric Company. (NY Times 1892b).

One of the highlights of the Fair was to be an exhibition of diamonds, rubies and precious stones, “the largest ever seen in a single collection.” Centerpiece of the display would be the Cleveland Diamond itself, pronounced by the New York Times as “a stone valued at $20,000 and regarded by jewelers as another Koh-i-noor.” (NY Times 1892c) Stanford White designed a “Moorish booth” - which echoed the Moorish style architecture of Madison Square Garden - in which the Cleveland Diamond and other gems would be exhibited. The booth was under the management of veteran actress Mrs. D P Bowers and Dora Goldthwaite, a relative newcomer to the New York stage (NY Times 1892e) . The Actors’ Fund printed 20,000 tickets for the raffle of the Cleveland diamond, at $1 each, numbers selected apparently based upon the gem’s estimated value.

Other items contributed to be raffled or auction off at the Fair included a jaunty naphtha-powered boat worth about $1,000, donated by the Gas and Engine Company of Morris Heights; a Steinway baby grand piano valued at $1,100; an upright piano from Handman worth nearly the same; paintings by some of the most prominent artists of the day; and a sterling silver punchbowl which, with twelve goblets and ladle weighed an impressive 220 ounces. (NY Times 1892a; NY Times 1892b; NY Times 1892c)

Contributions flowed in from well-wishers across New York City, and even before the doors of the Fair were opened more than $75,000 in cash had been raised. (NY Times 1892f; NY Times 1892g)

The Actors’ Fund Fair officially opened on the evening of May 2nd, 1892, with more than 10,000 people in attendance. (NY Times 1892h). Two days later, the Fair had already raised $35,000, with up to 15,000 people mobbing Madison Square Garden each day. Actresses sold autographed photographs of themselves, buttonhole bouquets, lemonade, gumdrops, and hundreds of other knick-knacks. Visitors “voted” for their favorite actresses by buying 50-cent tickets, with Agnes Booth and Georgia Cayvan vying for top honor. (NY Times, 1892i; NY Times 1892j)

By the close of the Fair, the Actors’ Fund had raised the staggering amount of $180,000.

Oddly, the raffle of the Cleveland Diamond failed to capture the public imagination. Less than half of the chances for the raffle of the Cleveland diamond were sold… by the estimates of the Actors’ Fund executives, only about 9,000 tickets. They continued to sell tickets on the gem for several days after the close of the fair, but with limited success. (NY Times 1892k; NY Times 1892l)

When the drawing was held, on the 14th of May, the winning ticket was number 9,810, a ticket which had not been sold. (NY Times 1892m). By the terms of many 19th century raffles and lotteries, when an unsold ticket was pulled as winner of the item, no second drawing was held for the item (which has become common practice today). Instead, the item reverted back to the people who were raffling it off.

Under the agreement that existed between Rogers and the Actors’ Fund, if the diamond was not won as a prize, it was to be auctioned off and the proceeds divided equally by Rogers and the Fund. Indeed, the Actors’ Fund reported in early June, 1892 that the Cleveland diamond was still in their possession , and that its disposal was to be “left in the hands of Messrs Sanger, Aldrich and Knowles, to be sold as speedily as possible” (NY Times, 1892n). The three men tasked with selling the diamond were all board members of the Actors’ Fund and were from the ranks of the most respected theater management professionals in New York City.

Meanwhile, Rogers had sailed to England intent upon reconciling with his estranged wife. He was successful, and Minnie dropped her divorce suit against him. “Merrily Yours” Rogers returned to his duty managing his wife's career.
But in July, 1893, he stunned the theatrical world in both London and New York when he instituted divorce proceedings against his wife. The New York Times suggested that “his present action is another outbreak of his insane temper against his wife” and recounted his reputation as being a “monomaniac on the subject of filthy and abusive letter writing”(NY Times, 1893) The case slogged through the British Court of Justice for more than a year, making headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. The case took a variety of strange turns, with Rogers claiming that his wife had had an affair with a theater manager named Jerrard, and with suggestions that Rogers had attempted to extort £5,000 from Sir William Rose in return for dropping him as another co-respondent in his wife's infidelity. (NY Times 1895c; NY Times, 1895b). The Court of Justice granted the divorce in May, 1895, and finally, in November, 1895, made the divorce absolute (NY Times 1895d, NY Times 1895a). A few months later, Minnie announced that she was engaged to the Duke d'Estella of Navarre – although whether or not the marriage occurred is unclear (NY Times 1896a)

Rogers continued his career promoting actors and plays in both the United States and England, with more or less success. He also continued to dabble in projects with diamond merchant Simon Dessau.. One of his odder projects was travelling through Michigan, Wisconsin and California in search of mining properties for the “Dessau Mining Company” to purchase (NY Times 1896b). One of these properties was the “Millie Mine”, an iron mine in Michigan which was still being operated by the Dessau Mining Co. in 1911 (NY Times, 1894a).

Nothing further was heard of the Cleveland Diamond for nine years. Then, in April, 1901, Rogers prosecuted a suit against the Actors’ Fund in New York State Supreme Court to recover the $6,500 which he claimed that they owed him for his share of the proceeds from the auction/sale of the Cleveland diamond. (NY Times, 1901). He hired the law firm of Leventritt and Brennan to represent his cause. While waiting for the case to reach trial, Rogers was treated to a brief vacation at the Insane Pavilion at Bellevue Hospital. Old habits die hard, and he apparently had once again embarked upon a campaign of writing threatening and obscene letters to others involved in the theater. After a few days under observation by the doctors, he was released. (NY Times, 1902)

Testifying before New York Supreme Court Justice Vernon Davis, Rogers recounted the terms of the contract which the Actors' Fund had agreed to... that the diamond would be raffled and the proceeds divided 50-50, and if the diamond was not won at raffle, it was to be auctioned off and the proceeds divided equally between Rogers and the Actors' Fund. The board members of the Actors' Fund did not debate this point. But A. H. “Abe” Hummel, a prominent New York attorney apparently representing the Actors' Fund, declared that “the diamond was disposed of in accordance with the contract” and that the Actors' Fund had in fact fully settled with Rogers. (NY Times 1903a) Hummel's role in the case was somewhat nebulous... but there are hints that he had been a supporter of Minnie Palmer both with respect to her divorce and to her career (in 1907, Rogers identified Hummel as one of the chief mistakes that Palmer had made in managing her career). If so, Rogers was probably much pleased a few years later when Hummel was convicted of suborning perjury in 1907, disbarred, and sentenced to a year in prison. Albert Palmer testified as the former President of the Actors' Fund. Frank W Sanger, long-time treasurer of the Fund and former business manager of the Metropolitan Opera House, took the stand and stated that the diamond had, in fact, been consigned to an auctioneer, but inexplicably couldn't seem to recall whether or not the diamond was sold (NY Times 1903b). The auctioneer was never named, nor was he ever called to the stand to testify. It is also odd that no reports of the actual auction have been found in period newspaper accounts... certainly the sale of a 42 carat diamond with so prominent and tumultuous a history would have received public notice!

In the end, the case was dismissed without an effective resolution… the New York Times noted “there was no evidence that there ever was an auction, and nothing to indicate what became of the stone after the raffle.” (NY Times, 1903b). The author has found no further mention of the Cleveland Diamond. A special benefit performance was held at the Lyric Theatre for Rogers in mid-1904, suggesting that he was having financial difficulties. (NY Times, 1904)

In June 1907, Rogers left for Europe aboard the steamship St Louis to once again attempt to reconcile with his ex-wife.(NY Times, 1907a) He announced on his return to New York a month later that in fact they had buried the hatchet and that he would once more manager her career, but this was merely wishful thinking on his part. (NY Times, 1907b)

“Yours Merrily” John R. Rogers died in 1932, at the ripe old age of 92, ironically being run down by an automobile in the street (NY Times, 1932). Minnie Palmer outlived Rogers by several years, dying in June, 1936 at the age of 76 (NY Times, 1936).




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