1906: Bridegroom’s Past Heads Off Marriage

Thank God, Says Bride’s Father, That I Knew in Time.


Miss Walter’s Husband-to-Be Had Had Another Name and a Previous Wife–Letter Told It All.

Miss Edith Irwin Walter, daughter of Herbert E. Walter, a wealthy Manhattan cigar manufacturer who lives with his family in a beautiful residence on Chestnut Hill, Mount Vernon, did not marry last night Robert H. Downes, a lawyer of Middletown, Conn., who is also Secretary and Treasurer of the Hubbard Motor Company of that place. As The Times told yesterday the 600 or so persons who had received invitations to attend learned only the day before the ceremony that the wedding had been indefinitely postponed.

Last night the members of the Walter family were busy assuring friends who had learned why the engagement had been broken that it was a glorious escape. Referring to Robert H. Downes, who, Mr. Walter declares, was once H. N. Robinson, the father said last night with some bitterness:

“I told him last night over the ‘phone that the only thing left for him to do as a gentleman was to blow his brains out or to throw himself into the Connecticut River.”

He waited a minute. Then he added:

“But he hasn’t done it.”

The story of this shock to Mount Vernon society, in which the bride-to-be was popular, was told quite frankly by Mr. Walter. He is head of the firm of Herbert E. Walter & Co., cigar manufacturers, at 1,295 Second Avenue.

Mr. Walter was directing two men in the repacking of the 300 wedding presents, which are to be returned to their senders. Some are to go back to Missouri and to Texas, in both of which States Mr. Walter lived as a young man when he first came here from England.

“About a year ago,” he said, “my daughter met Robert H. Downes in Mount Vernon. He was about 31 years old, tall and blond and handsome; in fact he was one of the most charming men I ever met. Particularly, he seemed to be a man to whom even petty falsifying was repugnant. I thought him a model of right doing and right living. He moved in the best society of Middletown and Mount Vernon, and he was a general favorite.”

As time went on and Mr. Downes continued to pay court to his daughter, Mr. Walter learned that the young man was thought well of in Middletown, where he had appeared about two years before. He was a lawyer by training, but didn’t practice a great deal. He told at Miss Walter’s home that he had tried to practice law in the West after leaving college, but didn’t make a success of it. Most of his attention was given to the motor company, of which he was Secretary and Treasurer. With him were two brothers. The mercantile agencies rated him high. All the Walter family was satisfied when the engagement was announced.

On Tuesday morning Mr. Walter was sitting with his family, reading the morning mail. His wife and betrothed daughter were gayly discussing the wedding presents and the little notes of felicitation. Mr. Walter opened a letter signed by John L. Thompson of 3,434 Powelton Avenue, Philadelphia. He said last night that it “froze him stiff for five minutes.”

The letter said, according to Mr. Walter, that one H. N. Robinson, a Philadelphian of good family, had married the writer’s daughter, Mary. some seven years ago. She had a baby boy, and then about three years ago Robinson had been arrested; later he had jumped his bail. The writer said he had since found out that his son-in-law had gone to Middletown, Conn., and set up in business, and had not only changed his name to Downes, but also had had all the other members of his family do likewise.

Mr. Thompson had learned further, he said, from two Brooklyn women who had known Robinson when he first married, that he was about to marry again. As he had never been divorced from his first wife, who was then living with her child at the home of her father in Philadelphia, the letter said the father and daughter had felt it to be their duty to save the other girl.

Mr. Walter got Mr. Downes on the ‘phone at once. He acknowledged everything the letter had said, according to Mr. Walter, but he said he had been divorced, and that he could explain fully how it was that he had had his named changed.

Mr. Walter had found out meanwhile that Mr. Thompson was President of the Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Company, and a thoroughly reliable man. He had another talk with him over the telephone yesterday.

“I found out that he had heard about the engagement several weeks ago, and had been to Mount Vernon to see me,” continued Mr. Walter, referring to Mr. Thompson. “But his informant had said my name was Walker, and for that reason he missed me. He saw our daughter’s name in a New York paper last week when she gave some little something to the Ribbon Girls here. He addressed his letter to Mr. Walter, not knowing my initials. Suppose it had got here a day later?”

It was said in Mount Vernon yesterday that Mrs. A. E. Andrews, one of the Brooklyn women who had helped to bring out Downes’s past, went up to Mount Vernon on Tuesday intending to stop the marriage, even if she had to speak out at the altar. It was also said that the entanglement that caused Robinson’s arrest in Philadelphia, according to the Thompson letter, had a serious charge connected with it.

John Engenman, President of the company of which Downes or Robinson was the Secretary and Treasurer, went to Mr. Walter’s office yesterday to see him.

“And he didn’t know the man’s past, either,” said Mr. Walter last night.

From The New York Times, Thursday, June 7, 1906.

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