This is a passport picture of Albert and Laura Alice Martz. She is the reason Charlotte, his first wife, hired a detective. I find no pictures of Charlotte in the box and this is the only picture I can find of Laura. In describing Laura my mother’s scrabbled notes say this - (Small feet + Hands – Small in Stature –well built – smoked imported cigars – smelt good –.) I’m not sure why my mother uses capital letters. My mother notes that Laura was half Albert’s age. She’s not far off. Laura was 27 years younger and outlives Albert 25 years. An internet search reveals she was born in Oklahoma and had nine siblings. Three brothers, William, Edgar, and Theodore, come into play when the Kansas City Star publishes the scandal on the front page.
I promise I’ll get back to the scandal, but first we have to go back thirty or more years and deduce how Albert gets to this country.
After severing ties with the French Emigration Company in Marseille, Albert tried to increase his considerable savings by speculating in various Italian securities. This information comes from a reporter interviewing Albert for a retirement article. At that time in Italy there was a great deal of speculation in bank notes, gold, silver, and commodities. Albert gambles and loses his entire savings before you could say Jack Robinson.
At 25 years of age Albert was a seasoned, although disillusioned trans-Atlantic traveler. Understandably, he would want to avoid the hazards of entering the country through Ellis Island. Often, all passengers and crew members were quarantined if an infectious disease was discovered. There were other ports of entry. I suspect Albert entered through the port of New Orleans, Louisiana. It was the second-leading port for emigrants entering America. Many Italians entered there and it was serviced by French steamships that Albert would have been familiar with. Travel through New Orleans wasn’t without risks. Yellow fever and malaria were recurring hazards between the months of May and November. The Port of New Orleans was basically deregulated because the business community wanted it that way. There was much less chance of Albert being detained by picking this port. In addition, there were railway connections to New Mexico in1880, which is where Albert first finds employment.
His first job was in a print shop looking after a small engine for six dollars a week. There’s a Santa Fe, New Mexico online exhibit that includes a Virtual Print Shop. The museum has six vintage printing presses, and more than 200 objects found in early printing shops. I‘m unable to find a small engine in the exhibit that Albert might have maintained. He was soon promoted to general utility man. That job may have included keeping the presses clean and in top shape. Albert doesn’t name the print shop or shops he worked in, but mentions that he continued to find higher grades of employment and better pay. There were possibly more unnamed jobs. As a side income, he translated various foreign languages for one of the New Mexico unnamed newspapers.
In 1885, at the age of 30, ill health compels a move to Hot Springs, New Mexico. New Mexico was known as a “salubrious spot” to explorers and traders in the early 19th Century. When rails were laid into the region, the small stream of early health seekers turned into a flood. Albert was among them. Again and again, during the next 55 years of his life, he seeks out towns with mineral treatments for his health issues. There were numerous hot springs in the territory of New Mexico in 1885, but since he specifically notes Hot Springs, it may have been the town that re-named itself Truth or Consequences, in 1950, after the television show of that name.
New Mexico came a little late to statehood, so technically Albert was not actually in the United States in 1885. It became a state in 1912, when Howard Taft was president. The state has several amusing laws. Idiots are not allowed to vote, specifically those “mentally deranged.” Call it voter suppression if you like. The state voted democratic in 2016. It is also illegal to dance while wearing a sombrero.
Albert’s actual comings and goings between 1884 and 1890 are a little murky. The newspaper article on him is full of errors, condensed, and not exactly a model of investigative reporting. For my sake, I wish it had been. Albert’s proclivity for alternative facts didn’t help. Somewhere in 1884 Albert finds his way to Saint Louis and meets Charlotte Sarah Block (or Bloch). He may have been boarding with the Block family. She is one of Rabbi Aaron Block’s fourteen children. She is 16 and Albert is 29 years old. Their first child, my grandfather Wilford Alberti, is born in 1884 in Saint Louis. It doesn’t take a math major to figure out what may have occurred. The article notes Albert had been granted a vacation from the Hot Springs Company. It seems that while in Saint Louis a pregnancy may have materialized. Do rabbis have shotguns? He weds Charlotte, but there is no mention of a Jewish Wedding Ceremony. He does return to New Mexico, with his young wife Charlotte Sarah in tow. Two more sons are born in the New Mexico Territory. Ralph is born in 1886 and Paul in 1888. Paul only lives five years in one account, but my mother’s notes say he died of typhoid at 14. Ralph doesn’t live to be forty, but my grandfather Wilford lives to be 87.
Albert’s shenanigans between 1885 and 1890 are the ones he entertains his guests with at his swanky retirement party in 1916.
At the party, Mr. Fiske, the senior vice-president of Metropolitan Life refers to Albert’s short employment in New Mexico with the Acheson railroad as “a mysterious episode.” As a side note, in yet another of Albert’s alternative facts, he tells my mother he was one of the vice-presidents of Metropolitan Life. He was a very successful superintendent but never a vice-president. Mr. Fiske preceded Albert at the speaker’s podium. Several other speakers gave laudatory remarks on Albert’s service to the company. A fourth vice-president presents him with a diamond medal and a deputy superintendent presented him with a “loving cup” to commemorate his service. The cup was probably a smaller version of the two handled cups given to winners of athletic competitions.
When it came time for Albert to speak, maybe the good food and expensive wine loosened his tongue. To some degree he clears up the “mysterious episode” Mr. Fiske referred to earlier in the evening.
Here is an exact quote from a reporter attending the party: “Mr. Alberti created a great deal of amusement by reciting incidents from his early career in America, especially when he was Chief Engineer for the Acheson road without any training in civil engineering.” The actual railroad and proper spelling was the “Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.” It took six months for the railroad executives to discover that the Chief Engineer they hired probably had little clue to what a civil engineer actually did. I wish I had a time machine. I would like to have heard details about the other incidents.
Let me digress for a moment. This lavish party orchestrated and primarily funded by Albert himself is an attempt to save his retirement pension after being fired or forced to resign after twenty five years of service.
I may have mentioned Albert’s first wife Charlotte Sarah hired a detective, suspecting that Albert was philandering. This was the year previous to the retirement party. Albert and Charlotte were living at 1100 Bales Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. Albert was working for Metropolitan Life in the American Bank Building in downtown Kansas City. The detective was good at his job and caught Albert and his secretary (Laura) in a downtown hotel. Supposedly, the well paid detective was overzealous and marched Albert and Laura naked into the streets. This is scandalous news indeed if it occurred. I’ve tried to access newspaper files of the incident with no success. In any event, it was an embarrassing situation for the prestigious Metropolitan Life Company. Mr. Stewart, Albert’s direct supervisor, fires Albert for misconduct two days before Christmas. We know Albert paid dearly for this expensive tryst. Albert had $75,000 dollars in multiple bank accounts. Calculating that value in today’s money it comes to well over a million dollars.
According to my mother, Albert got up in the middle of the night and spent $25,000 dollars in an attempt to buy out the entire Morning edition of the Star. Maybe he was successful, since I can’t find any evidence of the article. As the story goes, it headlined the news on the front page. Charlotte Sarah, his wife, was paid second. She had his bank accounts at First National, the Commerce Trust Company, the Southwest National Commerce Company, and the German-American Bank frozen. Albert and Miss Clayton failed to show up at the court proceedings and were fined twenty six dollars and fifty cents. In addition Albert had to pay Charlotte Sarah the twenty five thousand dollars she had sued him for. So far Albert’s peccadilloes have cost him fifty grand. But it’s not finished.
The brothers of Laura I mentioned earlier come to town. Remember Edgar, William, and Theodore? They force Albert to settle the remaining twenty five thousand on her. The court order signifies Mrs. Laura Clayton, so Laura was evidently also married. Her maiden surname is Martz. As it turns out Albert divorces Charlotte Sarah and marries Laura. Whether he was encouraged by the collective weight and persuasive measures of the three brothers, or if it was the easy path to re-join some of his money, is not evident.
To be continued next week: