Friday, September 25, 2015

Secrets of the Stanton Vault 3: Jessie Mallory Thayer

Gayle Bortz portrayed Jessie (Mallory) Thayer O'Neal during Sunday's Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, "Secrets of the Stanton Vault." She told the story of her stillborn daughter, Louise, interred in the vault, as well as other personal challenges, including the suicide of her first husband and loss of a substantial fortune, during the years she generally was looked upon as among the most fortunate of Lucas Countyans.

Little Louise Mallory Thayer's final resting place now is identified by a funeral home marker embedded in concrete at the site of the vault, demolished in 1959. Here's the text of the script for that presentation.


It’s sometimes said that money can’t buy happiness, and my life is a case in point. I am Jessie Mallory Thayer O’Neal, once the best known woman in Chariton, the only child of its first family, the Mallorys of Mallory’s Castle.

My final resting place is Orlando, Florida, but I’ve come home today because my only child, a daughter named Louise Mallory Thayer after she was stillborn in 1888, is buried here in the remains of the Stanton Vault. Her father --- my first husband, Deming Thayer --- took his own life 10 years later. His grave is over there straight west, just beyond cemetery driveway.


I was born during 1863 in Naperville, Illinois, but came to Chariton during 1867 --- the year the first trains arrived --- when I was 4.

My parents were Smith Henderson and Annie Louise Mallory, and my father built all the bridges on the new railroad between Ottumwa and Council Bluffs. By 1870, he was the richest man in Lucas County. He was a railroad contractor, land speculator and banker and founded First National Bank in 1870. 

I was raised simply, however --- our first home was a frame house on the lot now occupied by Chariton High School. And I graduated from the original Chariton High School with the Class of 1879.

That same year, my parents began to build their mansion, an Italianate house with a tall tower named Ilion --- although most called it Mallory’s Castle --- on the north edge of town. Our farm, Brooke Farm, consisted of 1,000 acres and stretched away to the north.


During 1880 and 1881, while the “castle” was under construction, my mother and I lived in Europe. Much of our time was spent in Germany, where I studied music. In life, I was an accomplished pianist.

We came home to Chariton during June of 1881 and moved into what was the most elaborate house of its time in south central Iowa.

On June 9, 1886, I married Deming Jarves Thayer, a dashing adventurer and accomplished civil engineer some 10 years my senior. Our wedding at the Ilion glittered. Many of the guests arrived on private rail cars from across the Midwest.

Deming was a Cape Cod native who had worked in South and Central America before joining my father’s railroad construction company some years earlier. They were building railroads across Kansas at the time we married and because Deming was general manager, our honeymoon was spent “on the job” in Kansas.


It became clear during mid-summer of 1887 that Deming and I were expecting our first child --- and there was considerable excitement about this. It would be the first Mallory grandchild, too. 

But this ended tragically when little Louise was stillborn at the Ilion on Feb. 3, 1888. There would be no other children.

The rector of St. Andrew’s Church conducted a simple service at the house for the babe and then we brought her tiny casket here, to the Stanton Vault, where it was placed in one of the crypts.


Deming and I never had our own home. Since we were such a small family --- just the four of us --- and my family home was so large, it was agreed that we would live together at the Ilion.

As the 1880s ended, my father shifted his attention to other business concerns and railroading was abandoned.

The four of us lived quite contentedly together at the Ilion --- or so we hoped it would appear --- and Deming became manager of Brooke Farm --- a very large and innovative operation that included commercial orchards and gardens, a dairy and other livestock.

But Deming began to suffer increasingly from mental issues that were little understood then --- periods of deep depression and violent outbursts of temper. One of his outbursts of temper in a Chicago hotel in 1897 was so violent it was reported upon in The New York Times.

Deming was returning by train from Eureka Springs, Arkansas, after undergoing treatment there when he shot himself in his sleeping compartment while traveling upriver toward Burlington from St. Louis early on the morning of June 21, 1898. We buried him on the new Mallory family lot here at the Chariton Cemetery, where he remains.

After that, I built a new life for myself in Chariton. I took over management of Brooke Farm, founded the Chariton Improvement Association --- a group of strong-minded women determined to tackle jobs that the men of our city would not, and promoted all things musical, directing the choir of St. Andrew’s Church myself.

Following my father’s death during March of 1903, my mother and I continued to live at the Ilion --- we were very wealthy women. I continued my work in the community and we traveled extensively across America, in Europe and elsewhere.

During November of 1907, however, financial disaster struck after our trusted associate Frank Crocker killed himself and it became clear that he had destroyed the family bank. Mother and I were aboard ship off Naples at the time, but returned home immediately.

The bank disaster did not cut deeply into our assets immediately, but Mother and I eventually were held financially liable for the misdeeds of Mr. Crocker and in the settlement all of my mother’s property in Lucas County --- including our home and Brooke Farm --- were turned over to the bank’s federal receiver.

After that, we moved permanently to Orlando, where we had wintered before --- I had more than enough to support us both.

During 1914, I married businessman and socialite William R. O’Neal, and he moved into my Orlando home, called Three Pines, where we built a good life based upon my money and his charm.

In 1920, at my mother’s behest, I returned to Chariton, had my father’s remains disinterred and cremated, then shipped the ashes and the towering Celtic cross that had marked his grave to Orlando. But I didn’t have the heart to disturb either little Louise or Deming.

Mother died in Orlando during March of 1923, age 81 --- and then I became ill. Cancer claimed me during November of that year, age 60. Both Mother and I now rest near that big cross that once dominated the west end of the Chariton Cemetery.


Although survived by nieces and nephews, I was the last of Chariton’s Mallorys. And so there was no one left to contact when the decision was made to demolish the Stanton Vault. As a result, little Louise remains here, 117 years after her first interment.

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