88 Decatur Street is a handsome small apartment building in Stuyvesant Heights. It is one of four similar buildings built as a group in 1889, designed to house well-to-do folk who did not want an entire house, but wanted attractive and suitable apartments in an upscale neighborhood. The building was a Building of the Day last month. In researching some of the people who lived there for the story, I found a remarkable thing: 88 Decatur Street was a hotbed of intrigue and controversy.
Sometimes, when researching a building, there may be one person or family who does something outstanding or newsworthy, good or bad. But here, I found three individuals, who all lived here between 1895 and 1906, who were quite newsworthy indeed. They were three supposedly upstanding, upwardly mobile and respectable gentlemen, with careers in law and finance. But all three ran afoul of the law, got caught, and had big, splashy trials with lots of drama. Who can resist drama? Well, there certainly was plenty here. So without further ado, let’s begin with a tale of love, loyalty and larceny.
D. Edgar Anthony was a lawyer. By 1895, he and his wife and child lived here at 88 Decatur Street. He hailed from upstate Utica, and it was there that he first made the news in a scandal that would have made any opera librettist swoon with envy. The best stories are always true stories, and this one was a classic. Sometime in the 1860s, a wealthy Utica man with the wonderfully theatrical name of Wells Ballou died.
As the family mourned and looked forward to the reading of the will, a former servant appeared at the door with a two year old girl. She announced to the family that she was the legal wife of Wells Ballou, and the child was their daughter.
Apparently, while working in the household, the woman had caught the attention of Mr. Ballou, and one thing led to another, and the child was conceived. They secretly married and she left his employ before anyone knew she was pregnant, and was now raising their daughter. Well, naturally, the family was aghast and didn’t believe it, but there was a valid marriage certificate and witnesses, so they had to accept it. The child, whose name was Jeanette, was taken in and educated at private schools, and grew up to be a beautiful young lady.
As a young woman, still in college, she vacationed at the Griff Evans resort in the Adirondacks. It was there that she met D. Edgar Anthony and his wife Ida. The lawyer and the pretty blonde schoolgirl fell madly in love. It didn’t matter to her that he was much older than she, and it didn’t matter to him that he was married.
Jeanette tenderly gifted him with a photograph of herself, which he took home to Plainfield, NJ. Ida Anthony did not know about any of this, but was slightly suspicious when D. Edgar asked if the young Miss Ballou could visit them at their home.
Jeanette arrived, and it soon became apparent that there was something going on between the besotted girl and her husband. Ida woke up one night to find D. Edgar asleep next to her, clutching the photograph of Jeanette, murmuring in his sleep. She ordered Jeanette to leave her house. She did, but D. Edgar left with her.
The couple went to Manhattan, where they stayed for many months. During this period, Mrs. Anthony got an attorney of her own, did some research, and had Jeanette Ballou arrested and charged with alienating the affections of her husband. She wanted a settlement of $50,000.
Jeanette was confined in the Ludlow Street jail, with a bail of $2,500, but it was soon dropped down to $500, and she was released. And just in time, too, because she was pregnant, and about to give birth. Just then, more drama was added to this story.
Back in Utica, Wells Ballou’s father, the venerable T.P. Ballou died. He was Jeanette’s grandfather. A month later, when the will was probated, Jeanette contested it, under the name “Mrs. Jeanette Anthony.” She told the court they had been married that spring. Her lawyer was, of course, D. Edgar Anthony.
The entire arrest and incarceration, Jeanette and her lawyer charged, was a conspiracy between the Ballou family and the first Mrs. Anthony, concocted when it was apparent that old T.P. was about to die, and tied in with Mrs. Anthony’s divorce proceedings against her husband.
The Ballou family accused Jeanette with unduly influencing her grandfather in his declining years, causing him to change his will. His new will gave her an annuity of $200, until she reached the age of 25. At that time, she was to receive $3,000 and the accumulative interest on the money accrued since her grandfather’s death. The rest of the estate was divided between T.P’s remaining two children. It was worth over a million dollars.
After a lot of legal wrangling, the case was settled in 1888, and Jeanette Ballou disappeared from the Utica papers. She received some kind of settlement on the estate, but the real loser was the first Mrs. Anthony, who lost her husband and her case. The new Mr. and Mrs. Anthony and their child settled in New York and he went back to work, practicing law. By the early 1890s, they moved to the apartment on 88 Decatur Street. But Jeanette and D. Edgar would soon be back in the news.
In 1895, D. Edgar was working as a receiver for the National Mutual Insurance Company. By this time, he had at least twenty years of lawyering in his background. It was his job to move money around for clients, mostly in regards to wills and estates and their respective insurance claims. That November he was arrested for depositing $4,800 in an unauthorized bank account.
The money belonged to the insurance company, and was to be deposited in one of the company’s accounts. Apparently the funds ended up in a new account, one only known to D. Edgar Anthony, and only available to him. Plus, it looked like this was not the first time this had happened.
He was thrown in Manhattan’s Ludlow Street jail, the same jail his wife had been locked up in 10 years before. The irony was not lost on the press, which was eager to tell the story of another feckless member of the professional classes caught dipping into the till. Anthony could not make the $10,000 bail, and spent some uncomfortable days in jail. The case went to trial, and he was acquitted, but not before being jailed again for contempt of court.
He went into the Ludlow Street jail again, in 1886, and this time spent 18 long months there. When he got out in 1898, he was an emotional and physical wreck. Jeanette was waiting for him at 88 Decatur Street. She had visited him every day in jail, and was ready to welcome him home. This would be the end of the story, except D. Edgar just couldn’t stay out of trouble.
(Ludlow Street jail in Manhattan. Illustration via Bowery Boys)