A Tragic (Love) Life: Lyndon Vassar Grover I (1873-1930)

I was shocked to learn of my great-grandfather’s third marriage and the subsequent divorce trial, though I have had a copy of the letter he wrote on his deathbed for years and it did seem to point to some personal disaster.  He wrote:  “But my great mistake is marrying that low, coarse woman—I do not want her at my funeral, or to have her buried with me.  There seems to be no legal way that she cannot claim one-third of what little I have left.”  If the 17 day trial with the courtroom full of gossiping spectators weren’t embarrassing enough, tabloid-style newspaper stories about the whole affair also appeared all over the country.

Lyndon Vassar Grover was born 19 Jan 1873 to Lynn, Massachusetts shoe manufacturer James J. Grover and his wife Ann Mary Brown.  I believe his middle name was a tribute to Baptist missionary John Ellison Vassar (1813-1878).

Grover, Lyndon Vassar I 3

In 1896 he married Louie Garvin Perkins, the daughter of a shoe factory foreman.  Sadly she died just over a year later of phthisis, meaning tuberculosis or a similar lung disease.

In 1898 he married Grace Mabel Fuller (1878-1945).  She was the daughter of New London, Connecticut newspaper dealer Charles Putnam Fuller and his (by then) estranged wife Agnes Delia Saunders who lived in Lynn, Massachusetts and worked in a shoe factory.  It is likely that Agnes worked at the J. J. Grover’s Sons Shoe Company, and that that is how her daughter met Lyndon.

Grover, Grace Mabel Fuller (3)

Grace Mabel Fuller.

This couple had four children: Dorothy Enid (b. 1899), Marjorie Putnam (b. 1900), Elizabeth West (b. 1903) and Lyndon Vassar II (b. 1906).  (Dorothy would become a noted packaging designer and artist under her married name, Enid Edson.  Among other accomplishments she designed the original packaging for Old Spice toiletries.)

Lyndon and Grace’s marriage ended in divorce sometime between 1915, when they were listed together in Lynn, Massachusetts directories, and 1919, when he married “that low, coarse woman,” divorcée Eleanor Cleveland.  By 1920 Grace had moved to Los Angeles alone, where she lived the remainder of her life.

Eleanor Cleveland was born Minetta Eleanor Rietz in Wisconsin in 1873.  She had two daughters—Dorothy (b. 1902) and Phyllis (b. 1904)—with her ex-husband, Alfred Edward Cleveland (1871-1933). The 1920 census lists the blended family and two servants living at 36 Kings Beach Road in Lynn.

4301090-00748 (1)

1920 US Census of Lynn, Massachusetts found on Ancestry.com.

Trouble entered their home in 1923 in the form of an extreme ladies’ man who styled himself Count or Viscount Paul Anatole Leon Montefiore, or Count Monte for short.  He claimed to be a wealthy French nobleman who had invented a way for airplanes to take off vertically, which had put him in line for the Nobel Prize.  He told “stretchers” to the point that people would have to be fairly gullible to believe half of what he said.

In reality he was Nicholas Wiseman, a married man who had quit supporting his wife and child as a clerk in a Boston shoe store in order to gad about with women and con people.  After the Grover drama, Nicholas “Count Monte” Wiseman was jailed for non-support.

It is hard to sort out exactly what happened from the various reports, and it is somewhat of a “he said, she said” case.  It appears that Monte first ingratiated himself to the family by seeming to court Eleanor’s daughter Dorothy Cleveland, but that Eleanor also became infatuated with him and may have had a relationship with him.  At some point Lyndon suspected this and hired detectives who confirmed his suspicions.  It also seems likely that Monte had accomplices who more than once stole money and valuables from the Grover home.

Lyndon’s divorce suit was unsuccessful and Eleanor was awarded separate support in 1926.  He was ordered to pay her the equivalent of about $55,000 a year in today’s money and quickly sold the house at 36 Kings Beach Road.  (It’s likely he was also still paying alimony to Grace.)  He died in 1930 after writing his letter, which also said “I do not regret an early death.”

Grover, Lyndon Vassar 1926 Estate Sold Boston Herald 14 Mar

Article from the 14 Mar 1926 Boston Herald found on GenealogyBank.com.

4 thoughts on “A Tragic (Love) Life: Lyndon Vassar Grover I (1873-1930)

  1. Your presentation of this complex and emotional situation is excellent. I agree this is a heart wrenching situation. I wonder what was the legal basis for not granting the divorce…

    What impresses me is that Lyndon realized Eleanor’s true nature and had at least tried to publicly disassociate himself from her. In that he made a statement and with his letter and more research you may be able to provide the rest of the story.

    In my own life I watched as a divorce on the family unfolded only here was a cheating man. He had no regret or remorse. That is a sign of character. Lyndon sounded humbled which if he had lived might have led to a change in outlook and some way to rise above the past.

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  2. Yes, you must. I agree with you 100%. He must have been some operator to fool so many people. I am sure that if you do piece together a trail you’ll find this was not an isolated incident. Since you have his real name you’re off to a good start. It may take some time but keep looking in the newspaper archives for starters. Maybe you can even trace his family by setting up a private tree at Ancestry.

    When I am researching a key player in a family story, or a prominent person of the period under review, I set up a private tree. Even if I only have one parent’s name I sometimes get lucky. With a few census records you can track whether the family moved around a lot, if spouses came and went and if children appear, disappear and reappear in subsequent census records.

    I have found that sometimes you can spot certain patterns, such as divorce or abandonment, through several generations. It gives a clue to why the person being studied may have been influenced by these events in the background.

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  3. That is so true about patterns repeating themselves. I am very interested in one particular pattern that has repeated itself in my family, which in one case seemed to have skipped a generation, so you would assume the parents broke the chain of dysfunction, and yet somehow they didn’t.

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