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  • Was Napoleon III an American?! February 7, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beach has already proved (to no one least of all his own satisfaction) that Napoleon III survived death. But Beach now discovers, to his horror, that Napoleon III was not Napoleon III. This story appeared in the American press in 1858. This was a story given by one Louise Mercier on her sick bed in 1853.

    [Louise Mercier] stated that twenty years ago she kept a saloon in Grand-street, well known to the frequenters of such places of resort. It was the nightly rendezvous of the profligate of both sexes. In addition to the public bar, where refreshments were sold, there were apartments above, where private parties could be served with supper; that amongst the frequenters and patrons of her saloon one of the most constant was the French Prince, Louis Napoleon, the son of Louis Bonaparte, and nephew of the great Napoleon. She said that he was in the habit of entering into conversation with all the girls who used the saloon, and of treating them to supper and other refreshments [delicately put, Beach]; latterly, that is about the middle of the summer of 1837, he seemed to have become very intimate with two girls in particular, both well known to the town and the police, one of whom was a Bayonnaise or Spanish Jewess, from Bayonne, known by the name of Josefina Ballabo, but whose real name was believed to be Julia V., and the other was a French Canadian, who was familiarly known the soubriquet of Petite Little, and of whose real name she was ignorant. He was generally accompanied by a young man, with whom he had made acquaintance at the saloon, and who was also an associate of these two girls. This young man strongly resembled the prince in person and manners, was about the same age, and spoke French perfectly. Mrs. Mercier, in fact, for a long time believed him to be a Frenchman, until he on one occasion told her he was a Yankee, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, but that he had been taken to France when very young, and educated there, and had been so long in that country that he could speak the language better than his own; that she became acquainted with his real name picking a letter which he had dropped out of his pocket, which was addressed to Lyman Cloflin Bowen. (Editor adds here: I presume these two to have been the names according to her French pronunciation, though they are probably mis-spelled) and when she asked him if it was so, he admitted the fact; though even then she had some doubt about it, as he had so many foreign ways with him. The four, that is the Prince, the two girls and Bowen, sometimes engaged a private room, where they ordered supper and spent the night. On these occasions the Prince and Bowen generally drank freely, and so much so, sometimes, that they had to be sent away in a carriage in the morning. The Prince made very little secret to who he was—the other appeared to have no friends in New York, and she never knew what his means were, whether he was in business or not, or how supported himself; she set him down as one those men who are to be found in every large city, who live by their wits and by the want of wits in others.

    Now for the narrative.

    One night, she believed it was about the beginning August, the Prince came to the bar where she was serving, he had evidently been drinking, and was accompanied by the two girls and Bowen, and called for some drink for the party—after standing there a short time, they went stairs to the room they usually preferred—where they called for wine and cards. The wine was replenished several times, and the party had been there about three hours—when Bowen suddenly ran downstairs, his face pale and his frame trembling with excitement, begged her to come upstairs instantly, for the Prince had been seized with a violent fit. She ran stairs accordingly, and found him lying on the floor, his coat, vest and shirt collar and his head resting on the knee of Josefina, who was rubbing his temples with her hands in a distracted state; the other girl was wringing her hands and exclaiming, ‘Oh! God, he is dead! He’s dead how did happen?’ Mrs. Mercier felt his pulse and heart, and found that both had ceased to beat [sic]. His hands were cold and his face growing livid; it was evident he was dead. The girls said he was seized as he was leaning back in his chair; that he suddenly put his hands to his heart, and uttered an exclamation in French; his head then dropped, and he would have fallen off the chair had Josefina had not sprung and caught him. They laid him on the floor and took off his coat, vest and neck-handkerchief, dashed water in his face, and rubbed his hands and temples, but in vain. There could be no mistake about it—Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was dead! What was to be done? An occurrence like this, taking place under such circumstances, and in a house of this description— the person being a foreigner of such high rank and notoriety, filled them all with alarm. If the police got wind of it the whole party would probably be arrested on a charge of murder, and the saloon business be ruined. The difficulty was got over by Bowen, who suggested that the body should be concealed until it could be carried away and disposed of; and as he strongly resembled the Prince in manners and appearance he should take possession of his watch and whatever other articles were about him, return to the Prince’s lodgings, shut himself there under a plea of sickness until he could sail for Europe —which would be in a day or two—that Bowen then told her for the first time, that the Prince had a few days before received a letter urging him to return immediately to Switzerland if he wished to see his mother again, as she had been taken dangerously ill, and that he had engaged and paid his passage to Europe in ship that was to sail almost directly. Bowen offered to assist burying the body, which was done the next night, it having been placed in a grave dug in the cellar of the next house which was unoccupied. It was in the interest of all to keep the secret; but Bowen told her that he intended to sail on the ship as the Prince – that he would contrive to take leave of as few people possible, and that he meant to try his luck in Europe in his new character – added that anything good came of it he would remember her and the girls, and do something handsome for them.

    Now the deception begins.

    How he managed to deceive his landlady she didn’t know, but he did – and not only her, but the servants the house and others – and sailed for Europe. She never heard directly from him for many years, but she read in the newspapers that his mother, Queen Hortense, had died either just before or just after his arrival in Switzerland, she forgot which, but she thought it a singular slice of luck, as he would certainly have been found out if the Queen had not been so sick as to be unable distinguish clearly who was near her. She remembered the riot at Boulogne and how he got sent to prison for life, and was locked in the Castle of Ham, and she had at one time thought of calling on M. Wikoff to inquire about him, as she heard that gentleman had been see him in his dungeon—but she thought she had better let him alone, and keep quiet. But when some years afterwards Bowen contrived to get elected President of the French-Republic she thought she would remind him of the affair at New York, and asked a gentleman who was going to France to take a letter to him. She merely wrote: ‘Have you forgotten the Grand St. Saloon. I have moved, and am now living at the old place in Walker-street. Petite died here in great distress about two years ago; your old chum Josefina keeps a house in Broome street. We want you to keep your promise?’ About three months afterwards, a French gentleman, whom she did not know, and who would not give his name, called and presented her with 1,000 dollars from the President Louis Napoleon, ‘as a remembrance of kind services rendered to him when he was sick in New York.’ And she says that when he was made Emperor she received another 1,000 dollars in the same way  and Josefina Ballabo also received the same, with a promise of more at a future time. Mrs. Mercier died a month or two afterwards, but Josefina is possibly still living at the house in Broome Street — if indeed there be such a place—for I would state again that I place no positive credence any of Mrs. Mercier’s statement; as hers. [sic]

    The newspaper (Chester Chronicle, 6 Mar 1858, 2) now copies some objections to this wonderfully insane story. Beach will only note that the Napoleons attracted an extraordinary number of such tales: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com He was a bow legged colossus standing astride the 19C and constantly having to pull up his sagging trousers.

    LTM, 23 Feb 2017: Union Oyster House, Boston, and another Frenchman. “The Union Oyster House has a number of famous people in history as diners, including the Kennedy clan and Daniel Webster. Webster was known for regularly consuming at least six plates of oysters. Perhaps most surprising, in 1796 Louis Philippe, king of France from 1830 to 1848, lived in exile on the second floor. He earned his living by teaching French to young women.”
    Was this the inspiration?