08 February, 2011

Divorce - Edith Style

Despite the fact that Valentine's Day is around the corner, I thought I would take a moment to write a bit about Edith Rockefeller McCormick's divorce from Harold. Harold McCormick was a man whom at the time everybody loved, but despite his good nature and sportsmanlike demeanor, he would behave most uncharacteristically. Decisions and fate would have a direct result on his wife and children, and play distinctly into the long term fate of Villa Turicum.

Prior to Edith's return to the United States in 1921 she was well aware of Harold's infatuation with the larger than life Ganna Walska, and in the previous year she started to make the preparations for her homecoming. She would send Muriel (then 17) back to the U.S. with Harold in the fall, followed a few months later by 15 year old Mathilde. Regardless of the pressure from everyone advising her to leave, Edith remained in Zurich well into 1921 and it is here that things probably took their final irreparable turn.

"The moon is my faithful friend, my inspirer" - Ganna Walska

By the time she sailed in September of 1921 it was glaringly obvious that Harold wanted a divorce. As mentioned, everyone close to Edith had practically begged (or ordered if you consider her father) for her to return to the United States for years, and now suddenly everyone was telling her the opposite; that perhaps it would be better for her to remain in Switzerland until matters cleared up. She of course ignored them and made her final trip back.

Edith's traveling companion was a much younger man, in the form of Edwin Krenn, and this did not bode well with anyone in the family. They were not lovers, (as implied by friends and the press) as it was certain that Krenn was gay. Rather, with her troubled marriage Edith chose to travel with him on her arm, (Harold almost certainly aware of Krenn's preferences) and bargained that this scandal would provide even more fuel to the flames and a glorious distraction. What most didn't realize was that Edith's primary reason for returning was to reunite with Harold.

When she finally arrived home in Chicago it was now painfully apparent that Harold would insist on a divorce. In her inimitable way Edith of course refused to acknowledge it; refusing to hire a lawyer, and going on about her day to day business of settling back in. She had (in Krenn) a new project, and she needed to acquaint her protégé with America and set about getting him established.

The more Edith ignored Harold's insistence on a divorce, the more Harold became retaliatory. This finally was to reach an apex when he informed everyone that should she not grant a divorce on the grounds of desertion, he would sue on the grounds of adultery. Edith's smokescreen in the form of Krenn was to backfire in her face. It is highly doubtful that any allegation could have been proven true, but Harold was so desperate to marry Ganna Walska that, for a time, he almost became a different person. He also made it clear that he did not want to give Edith anything; no alimony, no personal property, and certainly none of the houses. Edith, feeling " just that the most natural and heartful thing is for Harold and I to be together" dug in. It was too late.

Finally realizing that it was all for naught, Edith conceded to allow her family and the Rockefeller advisers take over. Chicago consul was hired, and with lightening speed the divorce was granted by December of that same year. During the negotiations the family and the lawyers became fearful of notoriety from contested litigation. Harold had hired Clarance Darrow and George A. Cooke (former Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court) and thus Harold was given everything he wanted. This meant large sums of money from Edith, the result of her having to purchase 1000 Lake Shore Drive and Villa Turicum. Harold was free and Edith would be able to save face; playing the aggrieved party and suing Harold for desertion.

Harold Fowler McCormick

I'm sure that in later years (and perhaps before his divorce from Ganna a decade later) Harold must have looked back on his behavior during this time and regretted some of his actions. His manner of conducting himself had been completely uncharacteristic; this was a fellow that everyone loved, the peacemaker and someone who just wanted everyone to get along. He had acted hastily and deeply hurt Edith and the children in the process. Some said he was drunk with passion, and in later years he would somewhat redeem himself by proving to be a consistent friend to Edith. Still, the damage was done and Harold would further sully his reputation by purportedly undergoing a procedure that was a craze at the time; having his glands replaced with those of a monkey ( or that of a lavishly compensated college student) and suffering pitiless publicity as a result. (The by-product of this would be his resignation from International Harvester. )

After the divorce an amazing thing happened; something that I find enchanting. Chicagoans rallied behind Edith, championing their eccentric heiress with love and devotion of their own. They delighted in her antics and dramatic behavior, and benefited from her carefully chosen civic contributions in the process. In this atmosphere, (with her ever present Krenn in tow) she flourished on her own by practicing Jungian analysis and giving lectures.

Edith Rockefeller McCormick

Behind the iron gates of 1000 Lake Shore Drive, Edith held court with the most fashionable of people. When she would leave, it would invariably be with Edwin Krenn, and on the most glamorous of nights (let us now think Valentine's Day) Edith would be wreathed in her jewels and wrapped in her ermine cape of 275 skins from Ishima as they stepped into her plumb colored Rolls Royce. Ever the enigma and doing as she pleased, it was during this time that she canceled an event for 200 at the last minute. "Were you taken ill?" she was asked. "No." "Then perhaps some member of the family was indisposed?" "No."


During these long winter evenings I can imagine Edith and Edwin Krenn talking until all hours, most likely discussing Jung's philosophy, money to be made in real-estate, and assuredly gossiping. He was her confidant after all; making the the short trip from the Drake every day, ignoring the ever increasing traffic of Lake Shore Drive with fresh flowers in hand. She would have a good run for a decade, before the Great Depression and illness would interfere.

No comments: