The Albertis of Eureka Springs: A tale of Insanity and Inheritance - Part 2
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
If you are a regular reader, and invested in the timeline and history of Albert and Laura, I highly recommend reading Part 1 of this story before you keep going:
Alice is at it again kids. This story, all the research hours and work that have gone in to it have been a beast. I’ve struggled to sit down and write this. I am worried I won’t do it justice and it will consume me whole. It is my Jabberwocky, my Bandersnatch. A pile of documents and facts that I have been staring at for months unclear how to proceed. In Alice Through the Looking Glass, the Jabberwocky is a nonsense poem about a monster that Alice finds in a strange book. It is written in a language that appears to make no sense at all. Eventually she figures out that she is traveling through an inverted land and holds a mirror up to the page and reads the following poem:
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought–
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Even though Alice can read the words clearly they still don’t make very much sense. My hope for this blog post is that it doesn’t leave you feeling like Alice. Confused, bewildered and ready to just go home.
We're All Mad Here
I obtained medical records for Laura back in September from the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Getting them was a bureaucratic maze of a process. No one could legally confirm the existence of the documents without a court order. There is a process in place to request records from the state without a court order, but only if you know they exist in their archive. That makes sense. Deciding the easier path was to try to obtain a court order, I wrote a letter to the Court Clerk of Vernon County (the county the Nevada State Asylum #3 was located) asking for permission to request Laura’s medical records without knowing if they even existed. It was a long shot but the worst they could say was no, right? A few weeks later I received an envelope from the MO Secretary of State containing a signed copy of the court order issued by a Vernon county judge ordering her medical records, minus treatment notes, to be sent to me. A few weeks after that I got a phone call from the MO Dept of Mental Health confirming my email address and just like that, digital copies of the documents were in my inbox. I had no idea what to expect. I only knew from Laura’s probate records that she was declared insane. Not a single clue as to how or why.
Her medical records show that on December 5th she was admitted to the Robinson Sanitarium by her family doctor, Dr.Ketron, to get some rest. While she was resting, her nephew made quick work of having her declared insane by the Jackson County court on December 16th. She spent Christmas in the Sanitarium and three days later was packed in the back of a State Troopers vehicle and driven 94 miles south to her new home at the Nevada State Hospital #3.
The main piece of evidence in proving Laura’s insanity is a letter written by Guy Bowen. I’ve looked a bit deeper at Guy’s history to try to understand why he was so motivated to have Laura committed and become the ward of her $400,000 estate. At the time he was working as a Freight Agent for the railroad in Kansas City. It is either due to luck, poor health or some creative maneuvering that he evaded serving in both WWI and WWII. He met and married Laura’s niece Zora less than a year after the death of his first wife in 1919. He had a five year old daughter from his previous marriage. It’s hard to believe that he spent much time with Laura Alberti from 1920-1943. The Albertis lived on the East Coast for ten of those years, operating among the social elite of the DC area. Then moved to Eureka Springs for the remainder of the those years, traveling south for winter months to take the mineral waters near Tampa, Florida. I imagine they were very occupied with Albert’s failing health and not making too many trips to Kansas City. Guy and Zora Bowen don’t appear on the scene until after Albert’s death when Aunt Laura became the sole heir of a very healthy estate.
Guy Bowen’s letter states that Laura had no health trouble prior to 1936 when an inward goiter (an enlargement of the thyroid gland) developed and started to cause her “much nervousness”. She was hesitant to have an operation as a doctor told her that removing too little or too much of the thyroid could affect her health and mind. Guy also states in the letter that Albert researched the risks of the surgery and was also concerned that the operation might affect her mind. The next part of the letter explains that Laura had her thyroid removed in 1936 and experienced no mental issues. It wasn’t until the death of her husband in 1940 that her “condition” developed.
The letter says this:
“Each winter she would appear to have no interest in life, be very quiet, until late spring, when she would become very talkative, and nervous, which generally would last until fall. She never caused any trouble to the family or outsiders, and it was only this fall - about November 15th - that her mental condition caused us and outsiders considerable concern. She became unmanageable. Her fears are that people are watching her and following her and that the FBI is protecting her. Her husband did some work in Washington in World War I. She now talks of finishing that cause and is eager to work for the government.”
So what do you think? Sounds a little crazy doesn’t it?
New Year in the Mad House
On the first day of the new year 1944, Laura Alberti turned 63 in a room with bars on the window. The day before she was given the early birthday gift of hydrotherapy treatment to try to adjust her “aggravated” and “aggressive” state.
Her patient history states, “Patient cannot explain any reason for being here except to state that she is now working for Uncle US. She refuses to tell us the date of her birth and when we asked her to confirm her Social History she readily did so, stating it was correct, and telling us to talk more quietly as she did not want the other people around here to know how old she was. We feel confident that she knows all about her birth and birthdate.”
Laura was described by her doctors as extremely noisy and talkative, but also restless, agitated, and hyperactive. She was very friendly and happy at times and at other times surly and belligerent. It tooks three people to hold her down for a physical examination. Her records state that she would talk openly about anything but herself. When asked a personal question, “she immediately makes a sign by crooking her thumb and index finger together, snapping it, and making a lisp with her mouth, and tells us frankly that she isn’t going to answer that question.”
She did share however that her married life was very happy. She told doctors that she worked for eight years as a stenographer for Metropolitan Life. Her husband retired three years after their marriage and they took a trip to Europe spending three years in Italy and France. They traveled all over the US and have lived simply near Eureka Springs, Arkansas since 1929. When asked if she drank alcohol, she responded that she did not but that she “did like a highball”.
Her records paint a pretty clear picture of her feisty personality. I have researched the Alberti’s lives extensively and based on my findings I don’t believe that she was as many crayons short of a box as her family thought she was. Instead I think she was a grieving widow, probably suffering from some seasonal depression and anxiety. Just a little over two years had passed since she buried her husband of 26 years. She likely suffered from a thyroid imbalance. It was also the height of WWII, a stressful and scary time for any person who had already lived through a world war, sane or not. What she tells the asylum doctor about working for the government appears to be plausible, if not entirely true, but everyone thinks what she is saying is a delusion.
First let’s establish some of the timeline and major events in the Alberti’s lives leading up to 1943. These events were found in a mix of newspaper articles, passport applications, census records and of course good old history books.
-1913 married in Niagara Falls, NY
-1916 Albert has official retirement ceremony from Metropolitan Life in Wilmington, Delaware
-Feb 1917 Albert and Laura travel to Tampa, Florida to take the waters
-April 1917 United States officially enters WWI and Albert’s son Ralph joins the Navy
-1918 WWI ends on November 11
-1920 census, Laura and Albert live in the Forest Glen area of Silver Spring, Maryland
-1924 Albert and Laura apply for passports to travel to Italy and France
-1925 they are living in Italy. Ralph is killed in a hit and run accident in DC and Laura’s mother passed.
-1928 they return from Italy through San Francisco
-1932 a large stone fireplace was added to 41 Vaughn houseka Springs, Arkansas
1932 a large stone fireplace was added to 41 Vaughn house
-1933 Albert’s 78th Surprise Birthday Party is held at 41 Vaughn house
-1936 Laura has her Thyroid removed
-1939 Hitler invaded Poland - WWII begins in Europe
-June 1940 Italy enters the war on side of Axis powers
-1940 Albert dies on September 18, a nation wide draft is implemented by Executive order that same week
-1941 US officially entered WWII
These facts are critical in establishing a baseline for you as a reader and painting a picture of the life Laura and Albert lived. It was an active life full of traveling and entertaining friends. It was also a life of loss and coping with chronic health problems. It was a life that saw two world wars. Just think about what that must have been like for Albert and Laura. It turns out, World War I played a larger part in their lives then I could have ever imagined.
A note in Laura’s medical records stuck with me after I read it, “It is impossible to get the patient to directly admit to any of her ideas, but in various conversations with her she has intimated that she is working with the FBI for her Uncle Sam and that she is engaged in some work connected with the war. She tells that she is unable to give out any information about herself because if she does Uncle Sam would soon get her.”
At face value that certainly sounds like something a crazy person would say. In Laura’s case, most of that statement could have been entirely accurate.
The Albertis and the War Effort
In 1917 the Albertis lived in Forest Glen, Maryland. Just a 25 minute drive from Washington D.C.. Albert’s son Ralph was working as a Cashier at the Merchants Trust Company in D.C. He later joined the Navy and was stationed on the USS Henderson transporting troops to the front line in France. According to an internal MetLife publication called The Intelligencer, Albert may have officially retired but he never really stopped working for the company. He is mentioned over and over in the publication. Recognized for acting as a mentor and aid to offices all over the east coast. In 1917 the company was charged by the US government with selling War Saving Stamps, agents and Veteran Superintendents from all over the country were involved in the effort. Any guesses as to who was recognized for their hard work aiding the war effort? That’s right - Albert Alberti. The men weren’t the only ones involved. The women of MetLife were also contributing. In 1917 the FBI hired a number of stenographers for confidential reporting jobs throughout the war. Now how are you feeling about what Laura told her doctors?
Here’s the catch. I don’t have any proof that Laura was one of those stenographers that worked for the FBI, but I do feel like it’s entirely plausible that she did exactly what she told her doctors she was doing during the war. It’s sad that they treated what she was saying as delusional. Even after Albert’s retirement in 1916, he and Laura were still very involved at the highest levels of the company and especially during wartime. Perhaps even involved in confidential work for the government. I’ll make another assumption here. I would bet my lunch money that they weren’t writing home about it. So it only makes sense that when she started mentioning it to her family upon the outbreak of WWII, well... they thought she was nuts.
The last chapter of this story, part 3, will wrap up what happens to Laura and her estate from 1944 until her death in 1965. How it took me to Eureka Springs to conduct some on the ground investigating that proved very fruitful! I know it's hard to believe but the Alberti Saga gets even more interesting. Stay tuned family!