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The world’s greatest basso

Here’s an ad from the October 18 1926 edition of the Toronto Daily Star for both Heintzman pianos and an upcoming appearance by an opera singer.

Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) was a Russian basso who often worked with composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. His signature role was the title role in Boris Gudanov. While based in Russia, he maintained two separate families, one in Moscow and one in St. Petersburg.

As a result of the Russian revolution of 1917, he remained outside of his home country after 1921, eventually settling in Paris. His Wikipedia page states, “He was renowned for his larger-than-life carousing during this period, but he never sacrificed his dedication to his art.” Good for him!

He passed away in 1938, and was buried in Paris. In 1984, his body was transferred from Paris to Moscow in an elaborate ceremony. YouTube has some recordings of him, including this one from 1931.

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The first mother

Here’s an ad from the October 18 1926 edition of the Toronto Daily Star in which Bovril was endorsed by the first mother to swim the English Channel.

Amelia Gade Corson (1897-1982) was from Copenhagen, but emigrated to the United States in 1919. She swam around Manhattan Island and from Albany to New York before first attempting the English Channel in 1923. She got to within two miles of her goal before the tides pushed her a further five miles away.

In 1926, Ms. Corson’s swim was financed by a businessman who paid $3000 in expenses and then made a $5000 bet with Lloyd’s of London that she would make it across, collecting $100,000 when she did it. Her feat earned her a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Ms. Corson’s Wikipedia page claims that her husband, rowing behind her, fed her hot chocolate, sugar lumps, and crackers as she swam the Channel. I suppose that the hot chocolate might very well have contained Bovril.

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Masterpieces for sale

Here’s a photo from the October 18 1926 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a 13-year-old boy making his living selling paintings in Paris.

Searches turned up no references to Rene Seguin, either as a child or as an adult. I have no idea what happened to him, but if he was selling paintings at the age of 13 instead of being in school, I fear that life was tough for him.

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From Albany to New York

Here’s a photograph from the October 18 1926 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a woman who was planning to swim the Hudson River.

A search for Charlotte Moore Schoemmell (known as Lotty or Lottie) turned up a number of results, including:

  • Her Find a Grave entry, which indicated that she was born in 1895 and passed away in 1966. By the time of this photo, she was the mother of a seven-year-old child (after having her first child die in infancy).
  • Her entry in the Openwaterpedia website, which mentions that she swam the 251 kilometres down the Hudson River over 11 days, eating lumps of sugar soaked in whiskey for energy. In 1926, she also swam around Manhattan Island.
  • A page with a lot of links to stories about Ms. Schoemmell, including that she floated for 31 consecutive hours, swam for 72 consecutive hours, was sued by her sister for recovery of swimming-related expenses, and left her sister a dollar in her will. She also preferred to swim wearing a bathing cap, a whole lot of axle grease, and nothing else, which some considered scandalous.

The last link is to a page on a site that claims that distance swimmer Diana Nyad is a fraud. Her Wikipedia page doesn’t contain any accusations of fraud, but does mention that she is a descendant of the inventor of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup and that she attempted several times to swim from Cuba to Florida when in her sixties.

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British secretary

Here’s a photograph of a somewhat severe-looking woman that appeared on the front page of the October 18 1926 edition of the Toronto Daily Star.

A search for her turned up the following useful information:

  • A biography of her on the Women in Peace website. Ms. Gardner was born in Leeds, England, in 1863, so she would have been 63 years old at the time of this photograph. She passed away in 1944.
  • A description of a COPEC conference in Birmingham, England, in 1924. Fifteen hundred attendees were at this conference, including Ms. Gardner, who apparently fell out of bed the first night of the conference in a state of ecstatic delirium.
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Son of James Monroe

Here’s a photo from the October 18 1926 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a man who claimed to be the son of an American president and to be 111 years old.

Needless to say, there was no definitive documentary proof that Major Monroe was who he said he was or that he was as old as he claimed to be. President Monroe had three documented children, born between 1786 and 1802; if Major Monroe had been born in 1815, he would have been born when the president’s wife was 47 years old. (There’s no record of whether the major claimed to be a legitimate or illegitimate son.)

A search turned up the following:

  • His Find a Grave entry, which states that he passed away in 1949 at what he claimed to be 133 years old, and that he was buried in Gravely Hill cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • An article that states that Major Monroe is not, in fact, buried in Gravely Hill.
  • A photo of Major Monroe going for his morning swim in 1924, when he was claiming to be 109.

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Direct descendant of Jenny Lind

Here’s a photo from the October 18 1926 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a woman who was a descendant of the famous Swedish opera star Jenny Lind:

A search turned up very little on Lucille Chalfant, except the sad news that she committed suicide in Berlin in 1932. She had the leading role in Greenwich Village Follies in 1922; a recording of her from that year exists.

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Important sale of fine paintings

Here’s an ad from the October 14 1947 edition of the Toronto Daily Star for an art sale:

I looked in the Toronto city directories, and I couldn’t find a reference to anyone named V. E. Rumbell, and there wasn’t anyone living on Russell Hill Road who had a name similar to that. This doesn’t mean that she didn’t exist, of course, but this did remind me of this Jenkins Galleries ad from 1930, which offered art from the estate of a possibly non-existent Comte de Richemont. Malloney’s Art Gallery was just down the street from the Jenkins Galleries, which leads me to wonder whether there was a tradition in Toronto of making up high-sounding names when offering art for sale.

Either way, Grenville Street has been home to many artists and galleries over the years. Franz Johnston, one of the Group of Seven artists, was living next door to Malloney’s Art Gallery in 1937, and the city directory listed a total of 13 artists living or with studios on that street at that time. There were still a number of artists living on the street by the time of this 1947 ad.

Malloney’s Art Gallery was the brainchild and lifework of J. Merritt Malloney. He is listed in the 1920 Toronto city directory as an artist, with a studio on Yonge Street and making his home at the Elliott Hotel. By 1930, his gallery was in existence at its Grenville Street location.

He last appears in the 1951 directory. The 1952 directory lists Malloney’s Art Gallery as being managed by John L. Malloney, with M. Jerritt Malloney as president; presumably, they were his sons.

66 Grenville Street no longer exists. Women’s College Hospital, which was at 74 Grenville in 1947, has expanded to use more of the street.

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A warning!

Here’s a movie ad from the October 14 1947 edition of the Toronto Daily Star that was intended to attract attention:

Monsieur Verdoux was a controversial film because it showed Charlie Chaplin (or Charles Chaplin, as he was referred to here) portraying French serial killer Henri Landru, who met women through lonely hearts advertisements and killed them.

The idea for the film originated with Orson Welles, who pitched the idea of portraying Landru to Chaplin and who received $5000 for it. Chaplin’s portrayal of a murderer provoked outrage – it was banned in some American jurisdictions, and it failed commercially in the United States. Leading critics of the time loved the movie, though, and it was a commercial success in Europe and now often appears on various all-time best lists.

Chaplin was already being criticized by some Americans for his pro-Soviet leanings, and was accused by George Orwell of being a secret Communist. He had always retained British citizenship; in 1952, the United States attorney general revoked Chaplin’s re-entry permit when he sailed to London to promote his most recent film, the autobiographical Limelight. He chose to remain out of the country until 1972, when he was given an honorary award and a 12-minute standing ovation at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony. He passed away in 1977.

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Whodunit raids hospital

The October 14 1947 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contains this brief article that reads like something from a spy thriller:

So what we have here is a man disguising himself as a doctor, extracting the love of his life – who happens to have only one arm – from a Swedish sanitorium, and flying her to Norway in a private plane. The movie script practically writes itself.

I did a bit of searching, and went down a variety of interesting rabbit holes. First off: I could find no evidence that Torsten Akrell (also written as Thorsten Akrell) wrote detective stories. He appears to have been a lieutenant and a special agent of the Swedish Defense Staff during the Second World War, part of a team responsible for smuggling secret agents into Poland and Hungary. He also took on missions for the Allies in wartime Berlin. Given this history, smuggling a woman out of a sanitorium would have been a relatively stress-free exercise.

Louise Forsell, not Torsten Akrell, was the writer of detective stories; she was known as Loulou. There is a Wikipedia page for her in Swedish that provides more details on what happened:

  • Apparently, Ms. Forsell had been saddled with a narcotics habit as a result of being treated for injuries suffered in a plane crash.
  • After being admitted to a Swedish sanitorium, she complained about her treatment there and was then banned from receiving visitors or making phone calls.
  • This is the point at which Lt. Akrell stepped into the picture.

The whole affair became something of a controversy in Sweden at the time, as Ms. Forsell was still married to her first husband, a merchant named Nils Kaage. Not surprisingly, this marriage didn’t make it through the year.

Despite his heroics, Ms. Forsell and Lt. Akrell never did get married. She married a singer named Anders Börje in 1951, divorced him two years later, and then passed away in 1954 at the age of 31. I couldn’t find out what the cause of her death was. She wrote five novels, one of which was co-written by her brother and one of which was published posthumously.

A more complete history of this event can be found on this page about crime in Stockholm (translate it into English and then scroll to the section titled “The Knight and the Virgin 1947”). This page states that Lt. Akrell became a United Nations soldier (presumably peacekeeping); if this is him, he passed away in 1980. A photo of the two of them is available on Wikimedia Commons.

Last but not least: a Swedish movie called The Spy was released in 2019, with an actor named Rolf Lassgård playing the part of Thorsten Akrell. I have no idea what it is about.