Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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The French Nobleman – Podcast #47

And now for today’s story that I have titled The French Nobleman, which begins with the death of an elderly man on September 5, 1946, at the county hospital located in Chicago, Illinois.  Documents indicated that the name of the deceased was A. Terry, aged 67, and the cause of death was listed as heart trouble.  His last known address was a small attic room at 441 Surf Street in that same city. 

Nothing about the man or his death seemed out of the ordinary.  He was a tall guy, 6-foot 2-inches in height and about 200 pounds in weight.  (That is about 1.9 meters and 91 kg for my international listeners.) Just a lonely old man who appeared to be down on his luck for quite some time.

The county hospital called his landlord to let him know that his tenant Mr. Thierry had died.  The deceased had no known relatives in the United States, but the landlord knew that he had associated with members of the late Henry E. Rice’s family.   The landlord contacted the Rice family to inform them of the passing of Mr. Thierry.  And it was at this point that the story turned from mundane to what I consider to be a great love story. 

It turns out that the Rice family had met Mr. Thierry while they were vacationing in France about thirty-five years earlier.  But Mr. Thierry was not your ordinary French citizen.  He just happened to be a French nobleman whose full name was Marquis Pierre Marie Aymar LeBout de Chateau-Thierry Beaunamoir.  Wow.  That is a mouthful.  No wonder his death certificate listed his first name as simply the letter A. 

The famous Chateau-Thierry was named after his family and he was the eldest son of a French Catholic historian.  At the time that the Rice family met him, Pierre was a brilliant mathematician who had the reputation of being able to “add as fast as any adding machine”. 

The Marquis took one look at Henry Rice’s daughter and it was love at first sight.  The family returned to the United States, but her brother Harry stayed behind in France for a bit.  With the help of Harry, the Marquis began to write letters in somewhat broken English to the American girl that he worshipped so much. 

Then in 1913, he decided it was time to pick up and go to the United States to be with the girl of his dreams.  In doing so, the Marquis gave up his title and walked away from the family’s estate.  He was now an ordinary citizen – a commoner just like you and me.  If I had been alive then, I would have said, “Welcome to the club!”

When he first came to the US, with the help of the Rice family, he gained employment at the Live Stock Exchange National bank.  Then he switched to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for the next fourteen years.  Having had worked as both a bank clerk and an auditor back in France, this was the perfect job for such a skilled mathematician.

You may have noticed that I never mention the woman’s first name and that is because the press only mentioned her as being one Mrs. George E. DeKruif.   And DeKruif is much different from either her maiden name of Rice or the Marquis’ last name of Terry.  Yes, she broke the nobleman’s heart and married someone else.  Two years after the Marquis sacrificed everything for the woman that he loved, she went off and married someone else.  I can just imagine the pain that he felt at the time.

When the Great Depression hit, the Marquis was too proud to ask anyone, including the Rice family, for help.  They later learned that he had lived for nearly a year on a diet of cracked wheat breakfast food.  

His last job was as a night clerk at a residential hotel – which was located at 2828 Pine Grove Avenue – right around the corner from that attic room that he was renting.  Guests never suspected that the white-haired man that handed them their room keys every night was once a distinguished man of French nobility.  And yet, through all this time he continued to worship the woman that he loved, even though she could not love him in return. 

After his death, her brother Harry (the same one that helped the Marquis write those love letters) and Jack Rubens, the public administrator assigned to the case, searched through the Marquis’ attic room.  They uncovered a collection of newspaper articles regarding a number of French resistance movements that had fought against Nazi occupation during World War II, which had just come to an end a year before his passing. 

An envelope contained receipts for money that he had paid to support one of those resistance groups called France Forever.  Lastly, they found $1000 worth of $25.00 US savings bonds that he had purchased with his savings.

And, although he never got the girl of his dreams, she was the one that planned his funeral and arranged for the former Marquis to be buried with dignity in the Rice family plot at All Saints Cemetery, right near her deceased father.  I can’t help but wonder if she secretly did love him after all.

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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