Julian Hawthorne: Rake, Writer and Jailbird

Julian HawthornePic

My father’s family told many stories about Julian Hawthorne. There was pretty universal agreement that he’d been hard done by the newspapers of the day, during his trial and after his conviction and jail time. They all maintained that he had been a dupe, when he became the leading figure for Hawthorne Silver Mine, which was later revealed to be a stock market fraud. He and his partner, who had initiated the idea, ended up in Federal prison for mail fraud, but behind the scenes investors made off with an estimated $3.5 million.

Newspapers loved the story, since both Julian’s sisters had become nuns and Rose, was popularly seen as a saint, since her service involved the first care for cancer patients (then labeled as “victims”). She founded what became a Catholic order, and also what is now Westchester Medical Center. Headlines were rampant about Saint and Sinner.

Julian later wrote a rather verbose account of his prison experience, with the aim of demanding criminal justice reform and insisted on his innocence. Despite the late Victorian language, it has a contemporary feel to me, since I volunteered and taught in quite a few prisons.

Julian was a busy man. He fathered nine legitimate children, of whom 7 survived. His first marriage, to Mary Albertina “Minnie” Amelung, might best be characterized by the names the two gave to their children. Minnie named the boys: Fred, John Francis (Jack) and Henry. Julian named the girls: Hildegarde, Beatrix, Gwndolyn and Imogen. Supposedly, the marriage was happy for most of its duration, but Julian ran off to California sometime after his prison episode, with his secretary, Edith Garrigues. He married her when Minnie died.

Meanwhile, he wrote continuously: short stories, novels, beginning during his educational career in Germany (engineering school), later winning a $10,000 literary prize for a light romance: A Fool and Nature. $10,000 then would have been worth over $200,000 today. He was also a celebrity reporter promoting the Spanish-American War and opining on a celebrity trial of the day. He also wrote biographies of his father: Hawthorne and His Circle, and Hawthorne and His Wife, as well as mysteries. Unlike his father, he went through publishers every few years, and complained about his lack of money in a time (the Gilded Age) when money animated almost all the intellectual class, most of whom he apparently knew, both in the US and in Europe.

The story I heard from family members was that Julian took the prize money and bought a plantation in Jamaican coffee country, in order to grow tomatoes for the New York market. Unfortunately, there was no way to deliver fresh tomatoes to the city, since refrigerated trucks or ships had not yet been built. My grandmother did tell me of the year in Jamaica, but her favorite story was the pet crow the family had when they came back to live at the family compound in Sag Harbor, Long Island. It landed on the children’s heads.

When I visited Jamaica, I was told there were quite a few “black Hawthornes” as a result of Julian’s one year stay. When my mother met Julian, about the time she married my father (1934), he was quite an old man (87): he died the same year. Still, she described him as “charming,’ and a bit of a rake. His ashes were spread over San Francisco bay in 1934.

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