Sunday, September 2, 2012

Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

Trying to solve the mystery of the exact location of the New Curtiss House, I turned to one of my favorite resources: the old newspapers digitally archived at There I discovered this account, which appeared in the Hudson Evening Register for April 15, 1881, of the abduction of a thirteen-year-old girl from Albany. Curtiss House, before it was the New Curtiss House, plays a major role in this bizarre story. 


May Adams, of Albany, the Victim

How it was Done and How it Failed

Told Her Father was Injured in Railroad
Accident--Dressed Up in Long Clothes--Rail-
roaded to Hudson, Germantown, Po'keepsie
and Back to Hudson--How She Saw Through
to Plot and Reached Home

The Albany Argus of this morning contains four columns of the history of a girl named May Adams, of that city, aged thirteen years. It is a strange story, and in many respects beyond belief. Without going into detail about the origin of the plot as told by the girl and published in the Argus, we will simply tell our reader that while at home, in the temporary absence of her mother and father, the child was informed by a man that called at the house that her father had been injured near Poughkeepsie by a railroad accident and he wanted to see her; also that her mother had preceded her and was on the way to Poughkeepsie. The girl was told to get ready at once and meet her informer, who gave his name as Macgreggor, at the depot, which she did. We here quote from the Argus:

The man bought a railroad ticket for New York and gave it to May, telling her that they would go on it to Poughkeepsie, but the conductor would think they were going to New York, and therefore would not suspect that they were going to the accident. He also said: "We have missed the 5:35 train. Your mother caught it and left word here for us to come on in the next train. You will need supper. I will take you to a house in Quackenbush street. You will get your supper there. It will be paid for. You will also ask the lady to let you go to a room to change your dress. Then you put on your mother's skirt over your skirt and a shawl. You will need them to be warm; besides, you must disguise yourself or they will know you and not let you go to your father."

The Man and May went to Quackenbush street. The house was a respectable lodging one. May took only a cup of tea, as she had no appetite. A kindly woman showed her into the back parlor. There she did as the man had told her, putting on the shawl. The change made her look like a young woman.

It was now about 7:15.

May sat in the depot. The Man sat by her, till the 10:30 train was about to start. Four detectives, detailed to watch and scan the depot, in order to find her--for her loss was now known--certainly did not find her there, and did not make any announcement which would enlighten the waiting girl, who thought she was going to meet her father.

The man said to her then: "You go on the train. Take the first seat you find empty. Put your bag under your head, lie down and go to sleep. I will wake you when we get where your father is."

May did as she was told, all but the going to sleep. The Man sat in the seat behind her with Another Man. May closed her eyes but didn't go to sleep. It seemed as if she was asleep.

After the train had been going for some time, May caught broken parts of the conversation between The Man and The Other Man like this:

The Man: "I'll say she is my step-daughter."
The Other Man: "You'll have to be careful."
The Man: "Oh, I'll be careful."

May passingly distrusted, but remembered The Man had told her they would have to act as if they were not related to any one in the accident, else she could not get near her father.

When the train reached Hudson, The Man and May got off. The Man told her they'd have to take another train to get to the accident, and couldn't do so till morning. They went to the Curtiss House.

It was now twelve midnight.

The Man took May to a room, having registered his name as J. M. MacGreggor and hers as May Le Du, saying to the clerk she was his stepdaughter.

Upstairs in the room, The Man told May she could go to bed, that she would have the room to herself, and that in the morning he would take her to the accident. He then took out a small bottle and told her "to drink it; it would make her strong." She said:
"I won't drink it; I don't want to drink it."
He said: "But you must."
She said: "I won't."

He seized her by the wrist of the right hand and pressed it, so that a ring of bruises is now on it. She struggled away from him. He then struck her on the fleshy part of that arm, but not so as greatly to hurt her.

The Man then laid the bottle on the table and said: "I am going to leave you now. If you haven't drunk that when I come back, it will be bad for you." He locked the door on the outside, put the key in his pocket and went away.

There was a window open about two inches at the bottom in the room. May took the cork out of the bottle, tilted the bottle up at this window-opening, and held it slant until all the liquid in it ran out. She then placed the bottle empty on the table. The man soon returned; saw the bottle empty, but asked no questions. He then told May she had better get to sleep and he left the room locking it as before.

May was not further disturbed that night in any other way. She slept a little, but was nearly all night worrying and praying for her father. 

Very early in the morning The Man, having knocked on May's door and told her to get ready to go, put her on a train and got off with her in a place called Germantown, eight miles from Hudson. The Other Man was on the train. He did not sit near or speak to May and the person who was with her; but that person would occasionally go and talk with him. May perceived he was accompanying them. 

At Germantown May was taken to a house where a woman was. The woman told her her hair must be parted, and parted it and did it up in a bunch behind her head. May had never worn her hair any other way than straight back from her forehead and free on her shoulders. The change still further disguised her.

May was then taken from Germantown to Poughkeepsie in another train. The Man did not take her off at the platform, but took her out of the station yard, to the river bank. He whistled, and a man came out from behind a bend, with a small boat. The man and May got in the boat, and the boatman rowed them across the river. The Man forbade May to ask questions. On the other side of the river a close carriage was waiting. May was put in that. Attempting to raise a curtain to look out, The Man rudely told her "Do not do that." He then got into the carriage, took a fur collar, with a silver buckle to fasten it, out of his pocket, and put it on his neck. From under the seat of the carriage he took a tall "stove pipe" hat, and put his soft one, that he had worn heretofore, in his pocket. This greatly changed his appearance. He then securely fastened the curtains tightly down all around, got out, shut the doors of the carriage, mounted the box and drove the horses at a furious speed for some distance. How long, or where, the girl cannot estimate.

When the carriage stopped May was taken into a house and set to work to write a copy of a bill of items amounting to $262, due A. T. Stewart & Company. The name of the person to whom the bill was made out was cut off. The girl was required to copy the items and figures. She did so and was left alone in the room at work.

The man and The Other Man were in the next room. The door was a little ajar. They were earnestly talking. May heard The Man say:
"I shall take her to New York."

Then she felt certain that, accident or no accident, she must get back to Albany; she also felt certain that she must do what the men told her to do, until she could have a chance to get back to Albany.

The Man took the copy of the bill May made and said "she did not write well enough."

May does write a nice child's hand.

May was then put in the carriage as before and driven to the riverside. The man who had rowed them from Poughkeepsie rowed them across as before. The Man, followed by the Other Man, put May on a train again and took her back to Hudson. She reached Hudson with them after three o'clock Tuesday. They gave her a pocketbook with two one dollar bills and two fifty cent pieces in it. The pocketbook was of the ordinary kind, but had a German silver plate on it marked "J. M. McG." They also placed in her hand $2.85 in change, and told her to enter the depot and buy a ticket for New York.

She said nothing, but went and bought a ticket for Albany for sixty-five cents. She put the ticket in the pocketbook and held the $2.20 change in her hand. Coming out of the station, she walked straight up to the second man, who had followed her and the Principal Person, and handing him the $2.20, said: "Give that to Mr. McGreggor, and tell him that I do not want any of his money." "Mr. McGreggor" was not visible, but was doubtless near by. The person described as the Second Man did not seem surprised. He said:
"Now you had better go to the Curtiss House again and wait till the train comes. Here is a boy: he will carry your bag up there."

A station boy did so, as requested, and when May got to the Curtiss House she felt for the pocketbook, intending to pay the boy out of one of the fifty cent pieces; but she found she had lost the pocketbook.

She looked around the floor of the office room for it, but in vain. An old and kindly looking gray haired man said to her:
"Miss, what is your name?"
May: "May Adams, of Albany. Allston Adams is my father."
The Old Man: "What have you lost?"
May: "A pocketbook with $3 in it and a ticket for Albany."

Here the contiguous and listening clerk of the hotel broke in with--
"Your name is not May Adams. It is May Le Du."
May: "I tell you my name is May Adams. Allston Adams is my father. He lives at 84 Willett street, Albany. My grandmother lives at 183 Washington avenue, Albany. I have an aunt living in Ferry street and another in Greenbush." 
The Clerk: "Did you not come here this morning early--at midnight--with two men?"
May: "Yes."
The Clerk: "One of them registered as McGreggor. He put you down as his stepdaughter, May Le Du, on the register. Girls that come to hotels at midnight with men will say anything. You haven't lost any money or any ticket."
The Old Man: "How much money have you?"
May: "Fifty cents." [That the man gave her at her father's house the afternoon before.]
The Old Man: "And you want fifteen cents more to get another ticket for Albany?"
May: "I need that much more. I will take your name, if you will give it to me, and give you my father's name. He will send you back the amount, sir."
The Old Man: "I don't know how it is with your being May Adams and May Le Du. But, I will give you the fifteen cents, and your father can give it back to me again."

May wrote on the inside of a leather cover of an adjustable dairy [sic], "Charles W. Cone, Hudson, N.Y., April 12, 1881, fifteen cents," took the money, went to the depot, carrying her luggage, and with the sum made up to sixty-five cents bought another ticket to Albany. Her words and situation followed her, on the tongue of gossip, from the hotel to the depot. 

While sitting there the baggage man, Mr. Miller, or Mr. Fuller, came to her in his shirt sleeves and said:
"You want to go to Albany? you look hungry; the Albany train won't be along for some time; go back to the Curtiss House; I'll pay for all you want to eat; you can get your father to repay me; here is my address," giving it to her.

He took her to the Curtiss House, and said to the clerk laconically: "Give her a much as she wants to eat, and I'll pay for it."

May ate a hearty meal, and needed it.

She then went back to the station and sat down. The baggage man said to her, "Now I have to work further down the track; but I'll try to send a man here to watch things for you. You be careful to take no train but the one to Albany. Ask only the men you see at work for the company round here. Don't ask any others, and don't talk to them."

He then went away, but pretty soon the clerk of the Curtiss House, who had suspected May, came up and said: "The baggage man told me to see about you. I'll put you on the Albany train. See that you get off at Albany, and that you get home."

The clerk was as good as his word. He found an acquaintance on the train who was going further than Albany, and said to him: "This girl wants to go to Albany. She has been put in my charge. You sit in the seat behind her; see that she gets out at Albany and that nobody disturbs her."

This was done and May Adams got to the Albany depot at 9:05 Tuesday night, and walked into her father's house at five minutes of ten that night, bearing carpet bag, shawl and umbrella with her.

Every statement about Hudson city is found to be completely true. The traces beyond there are receiving examination and concur with every statement made. May can identify every location except the ground traversed in the covered carriage opposite Poughkeepsie.  

The addresses furnished by kind people in Hudson are in their own writing.

All the relevant details have been given. The abductors did not injure the child in any way. The only attempt at it was to make her take the sleeping potion, which she frustrated, as told. 

May Adams is a child of strictest honor in word and act. This confirmed narrative is made out precisely by her own account in detail. The formation of it into words and sequence, with the examination and verification of fact and evidence, is the work of the writer. Except for that literary labor, the statement is hers--and it is found to be true by examination, as well as felt and known to be true by anyone who comes into relations with her, in her thorough ingenuousness of childhood, and in her intensely vital, vivid and self-evidently accurate statements of her experiences.

She had never traveled by railroad, to speak of, before. She relates movements which concur exactly with the time tables. She read the names of stations. She brought home evidences that corroborate every word. Here is a tale impossible to invent, and impossible to be even mistaken in.

Then the girl's straightforwardness saved her, made friends for her, and at the same time gave the conspirators notice that they had failed or that the chances were against them. "McGreggor" never showed in sight after the girl gave his companion the money and the curt message, at Hudson. The companion never showed in sight after he had directed the girl to go back to the Curtiss House. When they counted the change and found $2.20 had been returned out of $2.85, they knew that the missing sixty-five cents was the price of a ticket from Hudson to Albany. 

The girl's head had got in line with her heart. She was bound home.

The conspirators disappeared.

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Adams was fortunate to get her wits about her and avoid the "life" that was surely waiting for her in NYC. MacGregor & Co did well to conduct a ruse that could confuse would-be interrogators, if their conspiracy was discovered, just long enough to evade capture. Such offenses in 1881 didn't lead to a public defender and a plea deal of time served; it meant the rope.

    The side trip by boat and carriage to transcribe the bill owed A.T. Stewart & Co is curious. Quick searches revealed a prominent firm in NYC at that time with same name: ... I would not cast aspersions on Mr. Stewart's character, but suppose the conspirators could have fabricated a receipt for which they sought reimbursement in some separate fraud. $262 was a chunk of change in 1881.