Suitcase Full of Memories

Unpacking History One Discovery at a Time

The Gambler and The Postmistress

Medora Sanford Todd New Jersey, 1901

Medora Sanford Todd
New Jersey, 1901

As I learn more about my Sanford family, one of the mysteries for me is how my great-aunt, Medora Sanford, a Daughter of the American Revolution, a devote Methodist revivalist, and a Postmistress, came to marry a rogue gambler and hotelier with connections to corrupt political machines; a man who later become a person-of-interest in a gruesome murder.(1)

Medora grew up in a well-to-do family with her parents and siblings in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.  Her father Elam Sanford was Deputy Collector of the Port of Perth Amboy under President Millard Fillmore.  Toward the end of his life, he held the position of Postmaster of Perth Amboy until his death in 1881(2). When Elam Sanford, died, Medora took over his duties and became the Postmistress of the Perth Amboy, N.J. Post Office.  She earned $1800 for the year 1883.(3)  Medora married late in life to Louis Todd, gambler, hotelier, politician and broker.(4)

I don’t know how they met; that remains one of the mysteries. Perhaps Medora and Louis were introduced at a social function, or perhaps they met at a Broadway play or civic event in New York city. Regardless they married in 1892 when Medora was 49.

Proclaimed the Woman’s Century by the Los Angeles Herald, the 1900’s were off to a grand start for well-heeled women and Medora was in the thick of it.  The bicycle craze had taken over the city and became forever identified with Susan B. Anthony and the suffrage movement. Department stores were emerging and as were women’s clubs for socializing, philanthropic work, education , and self-improvement.  This was also  a time of renewed interest in our country’s history and the role of women in our country’s future.

… women engaged in an intense debate over the boundaries that defined women’s public place as well as the values that would govern women’s lives in the future.(5)

During the early years of their marriage,  Medora and Louis must have lived a pretty glamorous life as residents of the grand Hotel Vendome, one of Louis’s hotels.  Medora was active in civic life as a member of the DAR, the Women’s Eclectic Club, New England Women’s Club and the Post Parliament Club, among others.  Her clubs met at the Waldorf Astoria and other posh places.(6)  I like to think Medora supported women’s right to vote.  It is likely she attended lectures and presentations on the subject at her various clubs since The Eclectic Club hosted at least one such meeting:

Mrs Catt and the president were guests of the Eclectic Club one of the fashionable clubs of New York which meets once a fortnight at Delmonico’s The women seemed interested to learn about our work. (7)

Advertisement The Vendome, 1905

Louis’s civic activities tended more toward politics and borrowing money and then appearing before the magistrates over said borrowing of money.(8)  In 1895 he was brought before the courts under a charge of cheating his manager out of the profits of this Hotel Vendome (9).   By 1896 Louis owned both the Vendome and the Marlborough hotels and must have felt flush enough to contribute $1000 to the campaign to bring the 1896 Democratic Convention to New York.  Despite Louis’s money, and the money of many other businessmen, the convent

ion was awarded to Chicago.

New York was at the center of the modern world and the well-to-do and wealthy were experiencing the magic of the industrial revolution.  New York was also home to poverty, disease, filth and corruption.   In 1891 another  great wave of immigrants from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Ireland came through Ellis Island and other immigration centers around the country.  Millions of low-wage workers and tens of thousands of poverty-stricken families crowded into the slums of New York, increasing pressure on the city services.

The nation was gripped in the beginnings of an effort to contain a growing sense of disorder, a sense that immigrants, garbage, unionism, corruption, and vice were all exceeding the bounds of their containment and that those bounds must be reestablished. In New York City, in 1890, Jacob Riis published How the Other Half Lives-a photo documentary of ghetto conditions that would have national impact. The following year, Josiah Strong pointed out that “a mighty emergency is upon us.” (10)

Louis and Medora could not have been ignorant of the horrific conditions in which many of their New York neighbors lived.  It is likely their hotels employed Irish and Italian immigrants for kitchen, custodial and maintenance, and perhaps, bellman or doorman jobs.

Our family story says Louis gave Medora money following a successful gambling event to purchase a home in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a community known for its summer Methodist revivalist meetings.  This home in Ocean Grove gave Medora and her mother, Jerusha Larkin Sanford, a permanent place to stay while attending the services.

English: Ocean Grove, New Jersey (U.S.) in 187...

English: Ocean Grove, New Jersey (U.S.) in 1876 – from Harper’s Monthly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Drawing from the major population centers of New York City and Philadelphia, Ocean Grove became a popular destination during the growth of the camp meeting movement in post Civil War America. Tents and an open-air wooden shelter, or tabernacle, were erected in the 1870s, for the trainloads of visitors arriving by the New York and Long Branch Railroad after 1875.(11)

Medora was generous with her money, and often sent funds to Minnesota for family photographs and hosted her nieces and nephews at her home in Ocean Grove.  In June of 1900 Medora applied for U.S. Passport.  A grand-niece of hers holds the diary from that trip; a trip Louis did not make.

Excerpt Denies he was her husband

Sun Newspaper, Baltimore, Maryland Dec 11, 1905    Page 2

By 1905 Louis was in serious financial trouble and was sued in Bankruptcy Court with nearly $750,000 in debts– mostly held by women, but that’s a different mystery I need to understand.  In 1905 he also came under suspicion for the murder of a Mrs. Todd who claimed to have been his real wife.  She was found dead on the railroad tracks in Philadelphia.

By 1910, Medora and Louis both list Ocean Grove, Neptune, Monmouth, New Jersey as their residence.(12)

I do not know if they had a relationship based on love, or if their relationship was one of convenience and personal politics as so many relationships were among the upper classes in the late 19th Century.

Their civic and political lives narrowed after Louis’ bankruptcy and legal trouble with a more sedate life year-round in Ocean Grove.   My father’s cousin has found memories of visiting and we have photos of the house and the town.

Regardless of the why, our family boasts a marriage between a religious socialite and a rogue gambler and business man.   Was their chemistry?  love? respect?  or was this simply a marriage of convenience with business accommodations laid out before the vows. I don’t know that anyone knows, but if they do, please fill me in.

Sources

1. Gambler designation from family history as told to Val Sanford by Sanford Loomis, grand-nephew of Medora Sanford.  Hotelier and person of interest from numerous newspaper articles, including Sun Newspaper, Baltimore, Maryland Dec 11, 1905    Page 2
2. eMail from Doug of the New Jersey Postal History Society at njpostalhistory@aol.com and Val Sanford, dated 9 May 2011
3. IBID
4. Source Citation: Birth year: 1842; Birth city: Perth Amboy; Birth state: NJ. Source Information:
Edmund West, comp.. Family Data Collection – Individual Records [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.
5. Asher, Florence, Women, Wealth and Power: New York City, 1860–1900, Harvard Library
6. Cunningham Croley, Jane, The History of the Woman’s Club Movement in AmericaH. G. Allen & Company, 1898, page 901
7. National American Woman Suffrage Association, National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection (Library of Congress)
8. New York Tribune, New York, New york, The Courts. The Hotel Vendome Troubles. Conflicting Statements Of The Owner And The Manager Date: Wednesday, November 13, 1895 Page: 27
9. IBID
10. Landmarks Preservation Commission, Urban Cultural Resources Survey, photographic record. c.1981. New York City Department of Buildings; Borough of Manhattan; New Building and Alterations applications docket books and Buildings Information System (BIS).New York City, Department of Taxes, photographic record, c. 1938 (Roll C-8) )http://www.livingcityarchive.org/htm/decades/1890.htm
11.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_Grove,_New_Jersey
12. Source Citation: Year: 1910; Census Place: Neptune, Monmouth, New Jersey; Roll: T624_901; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0099; FHL microfilm: 1374914. Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

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2 comments on “The Gambler and The Postmistress

  1. Rachelle
    October 2, 2013

    I love this story! Louis Todd must have been quite the charmer to have such a smart woman marry him so late life and and so one so different than her. I hope you find a diary or letters that give you additional insights!

  2. Rachelle
    October 2, 2013

    Reblogged this on Ascending the Stairs and commented:
    Forget about famous people…give me an ancestral murder and scandal any day! Read Valerie’s post about her DAR Postmistress great aunt and her gambling power broker (potential murdering) husband!

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