The following three articles tell the fascinating story of how a wealthy businessman, Mr. Henry B. LaRue, was declared insane, made a pauper charge of Steuben County, and was locked up at Willard State Hospital in 1891 for fifty-two days. His tale is so unbelievable that it would make a great Hollywood movie! It might also explain why The Insanity Law of 1896 (New York State) was created. Although I was able to find the obituary for Miss Jennie O’Neil Potter, I was unable to find out more information about Mr. LaRue and the outcome of the trial. These articles give a wonderful insight as to how easy it was to have someone committed to an insane asylum during the nineteenth century.
1892. Miss Potter A Defendant,
Sued For Damages By An Eccentric Hornellsville Citizen.
Miss Jennie O’Neil Potter, the reader, is a defendant in a suit for damages brought by Henry B. LaRue of Hornellsville. She has not yet been served with a summons, and the exact nature of the suit or the amount of damages claimed cannot be learned. A year ago Henry B. LaRue was a prosperous railroad contractor and inventor, and enjoyed an income of about $6,000. He was often in New-York in the interest of his railroad inventions. Last Spring he attended an elocutionary entertainment given by Miss Potter. He was very much pleased with the entertainment, and became acquainted with the young reader. He invited Miss Potter to visit his wife in Hornellsville, and made arrangements to have her give an entertainment in the Hornellsville Opera House. The invitation was accepted, and Miss Potter went to the LaRue home.
LaRue proposed to become the reader’s manager, and arranged a date for her appearance in the Elmira Opera House. He made the date and commenced advertising Miss Potter without her knowledge or consent. He bought $500 worth of bouquets and hired four lackeys in livery to travel about the city and distribute the bouquets and advertisements of the entertainment. These extravagant preparations and other unusual actions attracted the attention of the authorities and newspapers, and a stop was put to further preparations. Mr. LaRue was induced to return to his home.
Mr. LaRue’s actions in Hornellsville were very eccentric, and he made the arrangements for Miss Potter’s appearance there in such a magnificent manner that every one thought he must be crazy. The night before the Hornellsville entertainment Mr. LaRue went to Elmira and demanded the keys of the Opera House at 3 o’clock in the morning. When they were refused he created a disturbance and was arrested. A few days afterward he was examined by three physicians and declared insane, and was taken to an asylum. Miss Potter gave the Hornellsville entertainment and then returned to New-York. In a few months LaRue was liberated from the asylum and returned home. He has now commenced suit for damages against the editors of several Elmira papers, many Elmira and Hornellsville citizens, the Superintendent of the asylum, and Miss Potter. Miss Potter is quietly evading a summons, and as the summons has not been served she is unwilling to say anything about the suit.”
SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published March 7, 1892. Copyright @ The New York Times.
Thursday, March 10, 1892. Mr. LaRue Wants Justice. He Also Wants Damages Claimed To Be $375,000 For False Imprisonment And Libelous Articles Published.
Mr. Henry B. LaRue of Hornellsville who, about a year ago was arrested at Elmira and locked up as a lunatic, and then committed to the State asylum at Willard, where he remained for fifty-two days before he was released began suits for damages against his abductors for $250,000, and against the Elmira Sunday “Telegram” and Elmira “Gazette” for commenting upon the facts for $125,000.
The Rochester “Democrat and Chronicle” says that: Since his release from the asylum Mr. LaRue has been carefully investigating the motives which led to his arrest. He charges that an attempt was made at Hornellsville to procure a decision that he was insane for the purpose of getting the option for the stock of the Morden Troy and Crossing Company out of his hands, and breaking up the deal at that time. He claims that three reputable physicians called upon him and refused to certify to his insanity alleging he was sane. The arrest at Elmira he ascribes to jealously on the part of one of the defendants at the success he was likely to achieve in the managing the entertainments of Miss Potter and that the arrest was timed so as to break up the two readings arranged for that city, and was instigated by telegrams from Hornellsville, that one of the defendants might himself manage the elocutionist. One of the grounds upon which the two Elmira physicians who saw him a few minutes at the jail at a late hour after his arrest, declared him insane, was that he had adopted a peculiar method of advertising the entertainments to be given by the elocutionist. One of these was the sending of cards of invitation to the best families of Elmira accompanied by a small bouquet. Mr. LaRue explains this by saying that the bouquets were small affairs costing only 5 cents each. Mr. LaRue has retained the services of J. and Q. VanVorhis of this city in all the cases and ex-congressman VanVorhis today stated to a Democrat and Chronicle reporter the facts fully sustained Mr. LaRue’s contention as to his entire sanity. It is nowhere stated that his relations with Miss Potter were otherwise than of a purely business character. While at Hornellsville the elocutionist was a guest at Mrs. LaRue’s. LaRue is a man of strikingly handsome presence and his friends scout the idea of his personal oddities which are said to be no more marked than those of any other business man, being construed into insanity. The summonses in the suits were severed some days ago, but this is the first time the contents of the complaints have been made public.”
SOURCE: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nysteube/this_that/pg2.html, [Rochester Democrat and Chronicle] copied by the Allegany Co. Reporter, Steuben County items mentioned in the Allegany County Reporter, Wellsville, Allegany County, NY, Abstracted by Judy Allen Cwiklinski – Steuben County, NY GenWeb coordinator.
1893. LaRue Wants Satisfaction.
He Was Arrested As Insane And Made A Pauper Charge.
Rochester, N.Y., April 19, 1893. – At the special term of the Supreme Court to be held at Bath, Steuben County, N.Y., on Monday, April 24, will be called the first of a number of suits brought by Henry B. LaRue against certain newspapers and individuals for libel, abduction, and false imprisonment. The prominence of all the parties concerned, the highly-sensational character of the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint, and the large damages which he claims, aggregating nearly $500,000, bid fair to make these cases celebrated.
The preliminaries of what is likely to prove a long and expensive litigation have all been arranged, and from the documents in the cases the following allegations are taken: Henry B. LaRue is a resident of Hornellsville, N.Y., and is a wealthy and highly-respected citizen, and as a railway contractor has been identified with many large enterprises. He is a heavy operator in railway switches and frogs, and his business takes him to all parts of the country. Mr. LaRue has a pleasant home and a charming family of three, a wife and two sons.
Among the temporary residents of Hornellsville in the Spring of 1891 was Mrs. Jennie O’Neil Potter, a popular and successful elocutionist. She was, in fact, a guest of Mrs. LaRue, and, having some leisure time on his hands, Mr. LaRue undertook to get up a series of readings for the lady, to be given in the Elmira Opera House on the evenings of April 29 and 30, 1891. He went to Elmira and engaged the Opera House and expended a considerable sum in advertising and other expenses. On this enterprise Mr. LaRue calculated there would be a net profit of $3,200, although he had been quite lavish in his expenditures, and had adopted some unique methods of advertising, which, however effective they might have been, were made one of the grounds upon which he was declared insane by two physicians who saw him in the Elmira Jail after his arrest.
On the day upon which the first reading was to be given, April 29, Mr. LaRue was arrested in Elmira charged with being a lunatic, and on the following day was committed to the State Asylum for Pauper Insane at Willard as a pauper lunatic and his expense charged to the County of Steuben. Here he remained for fifty-two days, until released by the operation of a writ of habeas corpus issued by the Judge of Seneca County, it being shown on this proceeding to the satisfaction of the court that Mr. LaRue was sane at the time of his arrest, and that he was confined without due process of law.
The arrest was commented on by the Elmira Gazette and by the Elmira Sunday Telegram, and subsequently Mr. LaRue brought suits against these newspapers for aggregate damages of $125,000. He also brought a suit for $250,000 damages for kidnapping and false imprisonment, naming as defendants John O. Adsit, Charles G. Hutchinson, William Richtmyer, O.M. Warner, Charles O. Green, William H. Murray, E.B. Yeomans, Roswell R. Morse, Chief of Police Levi Little, Dr. Henry Flood, Dr. I.A. Adams, Mrs. Jennie O’Neil Potter, and Charles W. Pilgrim, the Superintendent of the Willard Asylum.
In his complaint Mr. LaRue alleges that he was arrested without a warrant having been issued; that he was not permitted to have counsel or to communicate with his wife; that he was not arraigned before any Judge, Police Justice, or other judicial officer, and that he was not insane, but was in sound mental and physical health, and had been guilty of no offense whatever. Mr. LaRue also alleges that, although he had abundant means of support, and for many years had had a large income, the defendants falsely charged him with being a pauper and dependent on the County of Steuben for support, and caused him to be confined in an insane asylum for paupers at the expense of Steuben County, all of which he says was done ‘maliciously and for the purpose of humiliation the plaintiff.’
The plaintiff also alleges that at the time of his arrest he was negotiating for the purchase of the stock of the Morden Frog and Crossing Works of Chicago, and was organizing a New Jersey Company to take over the business; that his arrest and incarceration caused him to lose the benefit of this transaction and to lose $100,000 in that one item of business. Mr. LaRue says further that an attempt was made at Hornellsville to secure a decision that he was insane, for the purpose of getting out of his hands the option he held on the Morden Company. At this time, he says, three reputable physicians refused to certify that he was insane. The arrest at Elmira, he alleges, was instigated by jealousy on the part of one of the defendants because of his success in managing the two readings arranged for that city and was caused by a telegram from Hornellsville, so that one of the defendants might himself manage the entertainment. The defendants set up in their answer to the complaint, first the usual general denial of the facts alleged, and as a second defense they allege justification, inasmuch, as they claim that Mr. LaRue was actually insane at the time of his arrest. These cases are to be fought out on their merits. Among the defendants are some of the leading citizens of Elmira, men of wealth and high social and business standing. Some of them are known throughout the State as leaders in politics and as men of prominence in great business enterprises. The attorneys for Mr. LaRue are the Messrs. J. & Q. Van Vorhees of Rochester, while ex-Mayor John B. Stanchfield of Elmira represents the defendants.”
SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published April 29, 1893. Copyright @ The New York Times.
Jennie O’Neil Potter.
Miss Jennie O’Neil Potter, the elocutionist, died Tuesday night at St. Luke’s Hospital after a long illness. Death was caused by cancer of the stomach. Miss Potter was twenty-eight years of age, and came to this city from Patch Row, Wisconsin, about ten years ago. She had an ambition to become an elocutionist, and under the patronage of Mrs. William C. Whitney she met with success at private entertainments, and later in public through the recitation of “How Salvator Won.” She afterward went to London, where she was very successful. Last year she returned to this city, and in December was compelled to give up her work and go to St. Luke’s Hospital. Her last public appearance was on the evening of December 5 last, at a charity benefit at St. Thomas’s Church. The funeral will be held to-morrow morning in the chapel of St. Luke’s Hospital.”
SOURCE: Reprinted from The New York Times. Published April 19, 1900, Copyright @ The New York Times.
Very interesting! This is certainly an insight into the happenings during that era! Wonder how many other people were committed to Willard for some “insane” reason?? Reading the articles brought pictures to mind of each person involved! You are right…reads like a script out of a movie! I wonder about all the people involved…what happened to them…? What must his wife and children have been put through while “Henry” was committed and then later released and he spent so much effort for justice…wonder what happened to his family.
Thanks, Barbara. I’ll keep trying to find the outcome of the trial. I had the same questions as you, pretty scary stuff!