A 1981 Dean postcard used as an RSVP for a dinner of the White Birch Club. Doug Wilson writes, “I happen to have a similar card in my collection. Mine was for the Annual WHITE BIRCH CLUB Fellowship dinner on August 8, 1984. Here is a description of the White Birch Club from a 2014 Silver Bay information guide: ‘Planned Giving through White Birch – Consider a simple will bequest, naming Silver Bay as a beneficiary of your IRA, life insurance or real estate. No minimum commitment is needed to join White Birch. Just inform Silver Bay in writing about your planned gift.’ They do not do a dinner anymore, but there is a reception this coming Tuesday. The people on the front of the card are dining in what we today know as Gullen Lounge. Before 1984, when the present dining room opened, this was the main dining room.” Thank you, Doug!
And then there was the week, probably in the summer of 1901, when Walter Watrous parked his mistress in the Silver Bay Hotel, for a stay that had nothing to do with the YWCA.
Walter Watrous was tall, dark and handsome, and pleasant-mannered as well. But in 1899, after his wife left him for another, he turned his back on New York City and his life as a popular “clubman” – a member of the Tuxedo, Metropolitan, Lambs, Westminster Kennel, Carteret Shooting, Staten Island and Racquet clubs – retreating to Lake George where he owned land and cottages along the lakeshore. Walter had been connected with a lumber company, but rarely went to the office; his chief occupation had been asking his mother for money. In Hague, he fished and spent time with his family – a young son, Livingston, his brother Harry and their mother.
But although Walter vowed never to marry again, he did feel the need for companionship, to put it politely. He was a gentleman, but no saint. He combined his yearnings and disinclination for work with an overindulgence in alcohol, and was thus somewhat vulnerable.
Companionship found him in the person of Katherine Ballou, a beautiful young woman with expensive tastes, elastic morals and manipulative tendencies. Born Katherine Bowley in San Francisco, she had been seduced in the first bloom of her beauty by a railroad magnate named Alfred Sully, who persuaded her to live with him in a casual way, as Mr. and Mrs. Belden, and gave her three children to remember him by. He ultimately settled $3,000 a year upon her for their care. Parting from Mr. Sully, she put her children in private schools and went east.
She next married Stephen Winchester Ballou, said to be elderly and wealthy; he died within a year. She was then engaged to a young California physician who took her to Europe, but she instead married Walter Floeckner in Germany. Back in New York, she discovered Walter Watrous – lonely, wealthy and unwise. The new Walter paid for Katherine’s divorce from the old Walter and they sailed for Europe as “Mr. & Mrs. Walker.”
But upon their return, it was clear that Hague was no place for Katherine Ballou. She could hardly wear fine gowns in Hague, and besides, Walter’s mother would not approve. And so Walter put up his lover in an apartment in New York City, a house in Saratoga and hotels in Atlantic City, giving her $1,300 a month to get by, and an open account with a dressmaker. Katherine also kept a cook, a maid, a coachman and a footman.
When Walter and Katherine were apart, she sent letters to “Dear Little Sweetheart” and “My Darling Wallie,” signed “Bebe.” In return, he sent letters to “Bebe Dear,” “Sweet Kate,” “Sweet Lips” and “Beauty Eyes.” One of her letters read, “My Darling Walter, You must be having a good time fishing. I cannot wait until Thursday to see you. My thoughts of you are so strong that at times I can feel you kiss me. I will not let you get an inch away when you return, but will glue myself close to you.”
Walter strained continually to keep both his mistress and his mother happy, trying to spend a majority of his time with each, extracting money from his mother and lavishing it on Katherine, and often drinking himself into a stupor wherever he was. It was more than his body could bear.
In June of 1903, Walter died at a hotel in Atlantic City, and his startled family read in his death notice that he was survived by a widow of whom they had not been aware. “Katherine Watrous” arrived at the funeral in New York, sat by the coffin and wept, and through her lawyer said that she expected to inherit the entire estate. Harry W. Watrous, brother of the deceased and executor of the estate had other ideas, and the will. Walter had left “Katherine Floeckner” $5,000, stated clearly that he had no widow, and the rest went into trust for his 14-year-old son, Livingston Watrous.
Katherine at first insisted that she and Walter had been married, then that they had a verbal agreement, and in the end the family paid her $11,000 to go away.
The details however would have remained private had not a dressmaker, Rachel Oatman, found herself owed $5,825. She took the estate to court, saying that Walter Watrous had paid the other bills and so his estate needed to pay this one. The suit began in 1903; the estate was ruled liable in 1906, but appealed and was ruled not liable in 1907.
Much of the legal sparing centered around whether Katherine Ballou was the common law wife of Walter Watrous, or if she was living with him in “meretricious relations.” In response to questions, Katherine Ballou and/or Katherine Watrous told all, although by the time of the appeal, she claimed to be Katherine Brown, the wife of one William S. Brown, a wealthy young importer and broker from Philadelphia and New York.
Her deposition during the appeal process was enlightening.
“There was a spangled gown; there was a black velvet gown; there were all sorts of gowns; there was a brown velvet gown. I cannot remember all these things. There was a gown of white mull, mull and real lace; there was a black crepe gown, it had real lace on it; there was a blue gown, crepe; there was a gray crepe de chine and lace. I said I wanted a set of Russian sables and he said, ‘All right, go and order them.’”
“He lived in the house with me on and off… He had to stay with his mother a great deal. He stayed more at his mother’s house at nights, but he was at my house all day and sometimes at night.”
When asked if Mr. Watrous had ever “loafed” at her house, she said, “He loafed everywhere.” And then Silver Bay was read into the record:
“I did live at the Silver Bay Hotel at Lake George. I do not remember the name I lived under; I guess it was Ballou. I will not say that I did not live there as Mrs. Watrous, because I do not remember…
“I was at Silver Bay for one week. Mr. Watrous used to come there every day and take lunch with me. I had a friend there with me, a young lady. He used to drive there every day and have lunch and take me out rowing and driving.”
In the end, the estate won the suit, Rachel Oatman got stuck with the bill and life moved on. But it’s worth keeping an eye on Katherine for a few more years.
In September of 1906, William Sanderson Brown sued for divorce, his attorneys noting, “It is alleged by Brown that when the marriage ceremony was performed in Hoboken he was not in a condition to know the significance of passing events.” Indeed, although Mrs. Brown held a valid marriage certificate, the couple had never announced their marriage or lived together.
Mrs. Brown counter-sued, saying her husband begged to keep the marriage secret lest his father disinherit him, and that Mr. Brown had been unfaithful to her. In the end, Mr. Brown was granted his divorce and Mrs. Ballou received another cash settlement. As a part of the deal, she promised to go to Europe and stay there, and also “to refrain from in any way reminding Mr. Brown of her existence.”
In May of 1913, Katherine made one more appearance on the front page. Her daughter, Katherine Cecile Belden, sued E. Clarence Jones, a banker, for breach of promise, saying he had failed in his promise to marry her. The paper noted, “Miss Belden, who brings the suit, is the daughter of Mrs. Kathryn Ballou-Watrous-Fleckner-Brown-Travers.” A few months later, Miss Belden, when announcing her engagement to another man, said she hadn’t realized the Jones lawsuit would actually go to court and thought it would be settled quietly. Her mother’s experience should have told her otherwise.