Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday's postcard: The Howard Gould case

I purchased this postcard when Joan and I were at a sprawling antiques store in Bennington, Vermont, earlier this year.

It was mailed to Mr. Daniel Stover in Valley Falls, New York. The cursive note on the front of the postcard, which is dated May 23, 19071, states:
Do you recognize this? While waiting to see a lawyer in the Howard Gould case I thought I would drop you a line. We often think and speak of your fine visit. Wish you would come again. The Goats are running again and things are getting lively. BURT.
So, who was Howard Gould? And what was his case? To answer that question, we need to hop into our DeLorean and channel 1.21 gigawatts of energy through the flux capacitor.

1. It starts with Jay Gould (1836-1892), who made his millions in the railroad industry but was more infamous as a robber baron. Scandals Gould was involved with included:
  • He was a key co-conspirator in some of Boss Tweed's Tammany Hall corruption.
  • He and James Fisk caused the Black Friday collapse in gold prices in 1869.
  • He precipitated an international incident and near war between the United States and Canada when he attempted to have Lord Gordon-Gordon kidnapped in the 1870s. This came in the aftermath of Lord Gordon-Gordon swindling Gould for $1 million.
All in all, you can see why ranked Gould as the eighth-worst CEO in American history in 2009.2

Gould and Helen Day Miller had six children together. And when Gould died in 1892, he left his millions to his children, one of whom was...

2. ...Howard Gould (1871-1959), who lived off his father's fortune and also had his father's penchant for getting embroiled in scandals. Howard Gould built a huge estate in Sands Point, New York (The "East Egg" of "The Great Gatsby").

The mansion had 40 rooms and an 80-foot tower. Based on Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, Gould's own Xanadu was constructed with granite and limestone and cost more than $1 million. A rough estimate is that a similar estate today would cost between $25 million and $35 million.

But, despite all his millions, Howard Gould found that money couldn't buy him everything. One man, in particular, emerged as a thorn in his side.

3. William Frederick Cody (1846-1917) was better known as "Buffalo Bill."3 The colorful Cody was a hunter, scout and showman. In 1872 he was awarded a Medal of Honor for "gallantry in action" while serving as a civilian scout for the United States.4

In the 1870s, Cody moved into the entertainment business with "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" (later "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World"). Cody's show brought him in contact with many adoring and lovely ladies. Here's an excerpt from Brandy Purdy's Book Reviews and News Blog:
"[With] his most expensive mistake, actress Katherine Clemmons, her talent did not match her looks and all Bill’s attempts to make her a star ended in failure, but Katherine picked herself up, brushed herself off, and went on to marry a millionaire."
That millionaire, of course, was Howard Gould. And so we come to a tumultuous marriage and divorce.

4. Howard and Katherine were married on on October 12, 1898. At that time, she was roughly 18, Howard was 27 and Buffalo Bill was 52.

The divorce began in 1907 and lasted for two years. It is those divorce proceedings that constitute "the Howard Gould case" mentioned in the cursive note on today's postcard. (I have no idea, though, who "Burt" is, where he fit into this case, and why he was enamored with his goats.)

The Gould case was a Kardashian-level national sensation. Howard accused his wife of infidelity, naming both William F. Cody and a silent-movie actor named Dustin Lancy Farnum.

Gould lost.

He was ordered, according to Wikipedia, to pay the massive sum of $36,000 per year in alimony. That's the equivalent of $860,000 per year in 2010 dollars. Ouch.

1. Frank Herron's "100 Years Ago Today" blog has a post that contains neat tidbits from the newspapers of May 23, 1907.
2. If you're scoring at home, here are's top 10 worst American CEO's from that 2009 list:
  • 1. Dick Fuld, Lehman Brothers
  • 2. Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide Financial
  • 3. Ken Lay, Enron
  • 4. Jimmy Cayne, Bear Stearns
  • 5. Bernie Ebbers, WorldCom
  • 6. Al Dunlap, Scott Paper Co.
  • 7. Fred Joseph, Drexel Burnham Lambert
  • 8. Jay Gould, 19th century robber baron
  • 9. John Patterson, NCR
  • 10. John Akers, IBM
3. No, not the fictional Buffalo Bill of "It puts the lotion in the basket" fame.
4. Buffalo Bill's Medal of Honor was revoked in 1917 and reinstated in 1989.


  1. Oh, how I love when a postcard leads you on a cool chase :)

  2. There's that evil guy popping in again.

  3. What a great story. Thanks!

  4. As a journalist, you should feel free to call Carolyn directly -- see:

    -- and --