Monday, March 3, 2014

Lake County Mini-Profiles -- Laura Mae Corrigan the Anomalous

Known as the "Dollar Queen", "American Angel", or "Queen of Malaprops" Laura Mae Corrigan's life story was certainly one of the Gilded Ages and Lake County's better ones.  Her story needs two back stories before we move foward in her place in 20th c. history.  First, Laura Mae Whitlock was born in Wisconsin and had societal aspirations from a young age.  Her early career as a waitress, clerk, and telephone operator provided no clue to her infamous and seemingly anomalous ways.  Second, her chance meeting with Capt. James Corrigan, the inventor of process manufacturing techniques for mineral and machine oils whose career path intersected John D. Rockefeller in Cleveland and later in Wickliffe, resulted in the rest of her story.

1907 was the pivotal year in the Laura Mae Corrigan story.  Miss Whitlock secured a position as a societal reporter for a Chicago newspaper that year.  An event allows her to meet Capt. Corrigan, now a widower as a result of a 1900 yachting tragedy.  Whitlock soon marries a Duncan R. MacMartin, a socialite and their marriage grants her access to her dream - that of social / high society entry.  A second meeting in 1913 at a party with Jimmy Corrigan, the playboy successor to Capt. James Corrigan's fortunes leads to mistress rumblings and divorce proceedings.  She marries Jimmy in 1916 and her ambitions spiral from there.  Thought of as a 'fortune hunter' by some and shunned by Cleveland's society members, Laura endures a rocky beginning.  However by 1925 Laura Mae Corrigan wrangles control of the Corrigan steel industry assets from Price McKinney, sells the 400 acre Corrigan estate 'Nagirroc' in Wickliffe and flees to NYC. 

Now in real Downton Abbey fashion, Corrigan aligns herself as a party planner for Alice Keppel, the former mistress of King Edward VII.  British social parties ensued.  Her star and fame are on the rise.  Playboy Jimmy dies of a heart attack in 1928 and four women are left to inherit the fortunes of the Corrigan steel business now desired by Cleveland Cliffs.  Three armored trucks deliver the funds that will guarantee her $800K annually henceforth.  Corrigan maintains her European socialite status with Britain's decaying aristocracy thru the start of WWII.  Novel parties, costumed social gatherings and absurd acts continue to mark the Corrigan gatherings.  While in Paris at the onset of German occupation, Laura Mae remains behind and allies with the French refugees in Vichy.  Using her enormous wealth to feed and support French partisans, Laura Mae continues on this path thru 1942.  Despite having her wealth frozen by the US government, she sells her jewelry and personal effects to support the cause.  In a unique twist of history, the items in her personal collection are sold to Herman Goering of the Nazi Party, hence the US intervention.  Laura Mae continued on this path of resistance assistance thru 1942 before all fortunes were exhausted.

She returned to America, never reclaiming her past social standings or glory.  Before her death, she donated $5K annually to the Cleveland Fund -gave $25K to the Cleveland Museum of Art to purchase great works by Cezanne and others- and absorbed the purchase and feeding costs for 14 animals to the Cleveland Zoo.  She passed of cancer in 1948.  Mrs. Laura M. Corrigan was laid to rest at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

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