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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Owen Kildare (part 3)

With his death, more stories of Kildare's activities came to light. He reputedly had served in the Brazilian Revolution as Captain of Marines [in 1891-92] and as a Sergeant of the Legion des Etrangeres in Venezuela against President Castro; during the latter [1901] he was captured and sentenced to be hanged, cheating his executioners by escaping. These escapades escaped his memory whilst writing My Mamie Rose and were never mentioned in other early writings or during early interviews.

More believable was a series of remembrances that were published in the New York Times shortly after his burial under the headline "The Bowery Mourns For Owen Kildare". This contained another twist to the Kildare story in its claim that Kildare was not the author's real name, but it does offer some insight into the kind of man he was, quoting friends from his early days in the Bowery.
"He was on de level. He never forgot a friend or turned his back on a stranger wot needed a stake. He could lick three cops at once, but a woman could make him jump t'rough an' play dead. He knowed the Bowery, an' he knowed wot it was to want a drink an' not have de price. But when he pulled hisself up an' outer this place, he didn't forget to come down once in a while to see his old pals an' stake them as needed it."
    Such tributes as this are the Bowery's to Owen Kildare, who died the other day. The real Bowery is not a place where one would seek to find sentiment; least of all would one look for it in No.10, known as "the Doctor's place" to the derelicts who drift up and down. Like his "patients" "the Doctor's place" is not nice to look at. Indeed it is an offense to at least four of the five senses. Its ceiling is low and stained with the smoke of years; its floor is worn until through the begrimed sawdust the knots stand up like stones in a sand pile. Along the right side as one enters runs the bar and here the derelicts anchor, waiting, Micawber-like, for the something which for them never turns up, until the tide sooner or later, but surely, carries them out.
In "the Doctor's place" they remember Owen Kildare kindly," the article continues. But it was not as Owen Kildare but as Tom Carroll they knew him. Some claimed he was related to a famous family of Carrollton, Maryland, and, instead of being born in an east side tenement, he first saw the light on the western shore of Maryland. "But, Kildare or Carroll, it was as Kildare that all but the more ancient of Bowery mariners knew him, and as Kildare he will be remembered there."
"Did I know Owney Kildare? Did I?" "Red" Shaughnessy draped himself over the Doctor's bar and called for a "slug" to burn the cobwebs from his befogged memory. "I knowed Owen Kildare when he was Tom Carroll. He licked me when I was seven years old, right here at Doyers Street corner. After dat we wuz pals an' we stuck togedder on an' off f'r twenty year.
    "At dat time we wuz sellin' poipers down t' Fulton Ferry, an' sometimes t' Catherine Ferry. Dere warn't no Brooklyn Bridges in dem days, an' a kid cu'd make a dollar a day, and have a coupla hours fer a swim in de river. We useter swim from de footer Peck Slip, an' Tom, or Oweny, he was de bes' swimmer of de gang.
    "I remember one Winter day a little goil—Mamie McGloin, she wuz—fell overboard off de ferryboat as she wuz in de slip. Tom heerd a yell, an' he drops his poipers and jumps in de river after her. De slip wus full of ice, but Tom, he dives an' brings her up fin'ly. She wus near dead, an' he wus near froze, but de passengers wot seen it staked him t' fi' dollars f'r de poipers he lost.
    "De gang wus f'r having a good time wid de fiver, but it wus nuthin' doin'. Tom hol's out a quarter f'r poipers, an' toins d' rest of it over t' Mamie's mudder."
Others who told stories about Carroll / Kildare were "Chuck" Conners, who related how Carroll "licked" a pal of Conners' named "Skinny" McCarthy because he insulted a woman in the street.
"Dat," said Mr. Conners, "wus de dame he writ de book about. He give me de book wid his name writ in it.
    "When he begins ritin' f'r de poipers he quits de Bow'ry, but he never f'rgits it. He useter come down here reg'lar an' he'd allus stake any wot wus broke. After dat dame pikes out Owney he wus near daffy. He comes back here f'r a while, but it wus all off. He keeps on writin' f'r de poipers an' den de foist t'ing we knows he gits stuck on anudder dame an' gits spliced up.
    "Youse won't find many saints down here, but I takes me top off t' Kildare. He wus on de level an' a guy wot's on de level d'soives all he gits an' den some."
While there's little evidence for any of this. The 1900 US census includes a watchman named Thomas Carroll, born in June 1864 in New York, and then living in the County of Marbalow, New York, with his wife Maggie and three children, but there is no evidence that this is the Tom Carroll later known as Owen Kildare.

It was under the name Owen Kildare that he was to be found in the 1910 census, an inmate of  Manhattan State Hospital, aged 46. Leita Kildare is to be found in the New York City Directory that year living at Room 500, 939 8th Avenue. Kildare is listed as married when the census was taken on 15 April; Leita Kildare then marries Charles A. Adams the following month.

Charles and Leita Adams were later divorced. The date is uncertain, but I have found a brief reference that might throw some light on it: according to the Oakland Tribune, 31 January 1913, "Leita Russell was awarded a final decree from Charles A. Russell on the grounds of desertion."

Leita Adams reverted to being known as Mrs. Owen Kildare and lived at 570 Webster Avenue, New Rochelle. She appears as Leita (Gildare (sic)) Adams (30) in the 1920 census, married and living with her daughter, Lowen Kaldare (12) and Frances W. Clinton, the 50-year-old president of a hat company, listed as her cousin.

Francis Wright Clinton was born in London on 6 December 1867, the son of Henry Clinton, a hatter who moved to Brooklyn with his wife Flora and family in 1868. Francis followed in his father's footsteps and around the turn of the century was running a hat store in Manhattan. He was married to Edgaretta Olcott in 1898 and had two children, Edgar Olcott Baile Clinton in 1891 and Francis Wright Clinton Jr. in 1899.

He probably met Mrs. Kildare, then a leading light in the Women's Press Club of New York City and a campaigner for suffrage and food conservation, during the teens of the century and may have been living with her in New Rochelle as early as 1917; he was listed as sharing her residence in 1920 and seemingly remained with her until his death on 17 June 1929, aged 62.

Clinton was president of the Danbury Hat Company and had considerable wealth, which he willed the bulk of his estate, valued between $150-200,000, to his wife and Francis Jr—Edgar having died whilst serving in the military in France only days after the end of the Great War. Both Mrs. Leita Adams, described as a "friend", and her daughter, were give $5,000 each, the latter also receiving the testator's library, furniture, paintings and other effects in his apartment at 2,040 Seventh Avenue.

Lowena Kildare had married H. Elliot Christman in 1928 and they remained living with their mother in New Rochelle until after the Second World War. Their son, Peter, was born in 1931.

Mrs. Owen Kildare, as she continued to be known,  continued to be active in a variety of clubs and causes. In 1921, she was said to have been active in 47; forty years later, in 1963, she was a member of 57, over the years holding offices in many of them. She had, for many years, run the Kildare Institute for Personality Development from 205 West 57th Street in Manhattan, which advertised itself widely with such headlines as "Put PUNCH in Your SPEECH" "Be a Personality!"
Speech is the American weapon. CONQUER in business and social affairs through Your Effective Speech. COMMAND in the march of life! WIN personal victories by mastering the method of attraction. 12 easy lessons in your own home, free from embarrassment while learning. These lessons have been prepared for YOU by an author-lecturer, an authority on Personality Development. Write for information.
Mrs Kildare was also a pioneer radio broadcaster and hosted interviews with personalities on her programmes "Personality Period" and "Radio Vues". A lecturer for the National Association of Manufacturers and a delegate at conventions of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, she was an ardent Republican and conservative, delivering 14 quarter-hour radio talks on stations throughout the East on "A Radio-Revue of Herbert Hoover, America's Emergency Man," during 1928. Representative John Q. Tilson called her presentation of Hoover's life "one of the most brilliant I have heard."

As well as her support for women's suffrage and the National Woman's Party, Mrs. Kildare was also the co-founder of the American Dress League, which called for the end to sexy, stylish clothes, replacing them with a drab, universal uniform that would only be abandoned when it wore out. The uniform of a blouse, knickerbockers and slipover achieved a brief vogue in the early 1920s.

Her hobby of collecting fans, of which she had 400, was the source of a number of lecture tours and shows. One prize example was a fan made by Benveuto Cellini for Catherine the Great. This, she said, was given to her by her first husband, Prince Peter Loris Poninski, who had changed his name to Owen Kildare when he came to America at the turn of the century.

Could there be any truth to this claim that appeared in Mrs. Kildare's obituary (New York Times, 23 March 1967)? There is no sign of him in travel records, but census records for Lowen Kildare in 1910, 1920 and 1930 show a curious and consistent record of her father's place of birth being Russia.

A brief biography from around 1913 mentions that she "collaborated with [her husband] in writing five books and three plays. She wrote, individually, two books and one play. Her book "Mamie Rose," which was dramatized and called by its sub-title "Regeneration," is still playing. A recent book, which she is dramatizing for Nance O'Neil to play, is "Such a Woman." Mrs. Kildaire (sic) has been dramatic critic for two New York papers and one Chicago paper. She has also edited a theatrical paper and a financial paper. (American Feminism: Key Source Documents, 1848-1920 by Janet Beer)

That Mrs. Kildare was intimately involved in the writing of the works credited to Owen Kildare is not, I think, in question. Quite how much she contributed would be interesting to know; one question that would have to be asked would be how a Russian émigré to the US could develop such an intimate knowledge of the Bowery in only a year or two.

Mrs. Kildare died  in Pawling, New York, on 22 March 1967, supposedly aged 78 years.

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