Those who’ve read this amazing story will recall that Daddy rented a house for Peaches Heenan and her mother Caroline to inhabit in Cold Spring, NY in early April 1926 so that he and his child bride could qualify for a marriage license in Putnam County, just out of reach of the child welfare authorities in NYC. After a LOT of digging in the dusty files of the Putnam County recorder’s office, I’ve nailed it down, and the other day I hied my obsessed brain up to Cold Spring and found the house at 37 Paulding Avenue on a sunny day, its owner sitting on the side porch. The genteel young fellow warmly welcomed my inquiry and I was given a house tour where Peaches and Daddy cavorted as the nuptials approached.
Through these arches, 15-year old Peaches tiptoed, in awe of the splendor, her heart undoubtedly fluttering with anxiety and pleasure at the game she was playing. What thoughts flew through her mother’s mind are anyone’s guess…First the dining room, then the arch and stairway up to the boudoir, where I daresay Daddy Browning left the girl alone for the night or two before the actual ceremony, her mother sleeping in a chamber nearby. Two shots of the exterior of the house follow and then one of next-door 35 Paulding Avenue’s driveway that separated the two houses, in which a burly cop stood to ward off the hundreds of curiosity seekers and scribes who camped outside the pre-marital abode as soon as word leaked out of Daddy’s doings.
Here is a shot or two of 40 Birchall Drive in the best part of legendary Scarsdale, NY where Daddy rented the premises in question to try and recuperate from severe pneumonia in mid-1934. His attempts were valiant but unsuccessful, and there he passed on to his eternal reward, surrounded by acolytes, relatives and several well-compensated nurses and sawbones. Whether tears were shed is unknown to this day.
Daddy died with a fortune in the high seven figures, almost all in real estate whose value had already suffered greatly by the depth of the Great Depression. Almost every penny was left to a newly created charitable foundation, designed by its wannabe progenitor to mimic the Nobel Prizes. Seven distinguished men of arts and letters as well as science were appointed testamentary trustees. Five survived Browning, and only one was personally acquainted with him, the Rev. Henry Stimson, who had married Browning to his first wife, Adele Lowen. The others included such luminaries as Nicholas Murray Butler, long-time president of Columbia University, and the heads of City College and NYU. Within weeks after the will was probated, the embarrassed dignitaries all resigned their posts. No one wanted anything to do with the notorious buffoon’s post-mortem self-aggrandizement. A title company took over administration of the real estate and rode its value into the ground as the Depression continued and the portfolio of secondary commercial and residential properties slid for the decades. No prize monies were awarded to the intended recipients for 37 years: awards were designated in seven fields of human endeavor, but a life estate in the income from the trust to Browning’s precious adopted daughter Dorothy “Sunshine” Browning was clung to and litigated by her until her death.
Diligence is a virtue, and same paid off in spades when Jeff Richman at the Green-Wood Historic Fund found a special surprise on e-Bay recently. Jeff told me on the phone a few weeks ago that he had seven special surprises for me for when I next showed up at Green-Wood Cemetery to continue my work there as a volunteer archivist. Special ain’t the word…
For a VERY modest sum, the Historic Fund is now the proud owner of the seven dark pasteboard boxes below, their contents intact and in mint condition. The Browning Foundation had medals designed and struck for the prize winners. Heaven knows whether these were ever given out, even after Sunshine passed away. The first awards began in 1971. But here they are in all their glory. Harry Winston, step aside: the anonymous designer was true to Browning’s personal wishes. The homo-erotic tendencies embedded in his psyche and body-building obsession during his adult life found full flourish beyond the grave: