Oakland: Mary Croghan Schenley
Schenley Park Donated by Girl Whose Romance Shocked a Queen
From Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, 15 September 1941, by Bernice Shine.
Mary Croghan, 16, Eloped with Capt. Schenley.
Few of the sweethearts strolling dreamily through Schenley Park know that the romance of its donor shocked not only the entire country, but England's Queen Victoria.
She was Pittsburgh heiress Mary Elizabeth Croghan, who in 1842, before her sixteenth birthday, eloped from her boarding school with 43-year-old Capt. Edward W. Schenley, of the British army.
It was the Captain's third elopement.
News of their elopement stirred the government in Washington and the Legislature in Harrisburg to action; ruined her boarding school; fired ministers and editors to vituperative denunciations.
For many years, Queen Victoria refused this granddaughter of Gen. James O'Hara, a leading Pittsburgh pioneer and land owner, presentation at court because she had been a disobedient daughter.
When her father, widower William Croghan, Jr., heard of the elopement of his only surviving child, he fainted, papers of that day reported.
Father Suffers Stroke over Her Elopement.
He really suffered a slight stroke according to Miss Charlotte Koehler, caretaker today of long deserted Schenley mansion. Mr. Croghan's home, now standing in the midst of the Stanton Heights golf course.
White-haired Miss Koehler is the daughter of Mrs. Elizabeth Koehler, nurse for Mary Croghan Schenley's children, and caretaker until 1912 of the Schenley mansion.
Mr. Croghan would have shot Capt. Schenley if he could have found him, Miss Koehler's mother told her.
Recovering from his first shock, Mr. Croghan appealed to the government in Washington to send out boats to intercept the vessel on which his sheltered young daughter had sailed with her bridegroom, old enough to be her father.
The government failed to find the honeymooners because wily Capt. Schenley had stopped en route to England on an island, perhaps Bermuda, it is suggested in a yellowed clipping owned by the Carnegie Library Pennsylvania room.
Bill in Legislature Protects Girl's Estate.
Mr. Croghan was more successful in protecting his daughter's fortune, according to the following news item in the Chronicle of Monday, March 21, 1842, headed "That Elopement and Capt. Schenley!"
"We learn from the Ledger that a bill has been passed by the Legislature of this state, and received the signature of the Governor, which places the property of Miss Crogan, the young lady that married Capt. Schinley, out of the hands of that juvenile Lothario of 56.
"The bill confirms the title of the whole of the property to the father of Miss Crogan, now the wife of the youthful captain, and places the same after his death, in the hands of trustees who are to pay at their discretion for her support.
"This is a bad speculation for the young captain of 56, but it is probably the best thing for the young lady whose favor his youthful attraction had so successfully won."
Since Capt. Schenley was born in 1799, he was 43 when he eloped in 1842. Contrary too to this item, the captain spelled his name "Schenley." His bride's family name was written "Croghan" and pronounced as though spelled "Crawn."
All Daughters Called Home from School.
Another immediate result of the elopement was that Mrs. McLeod's school from which Mary Croghan eloped was ruined.
Mrs. McLeod, a sister-in-law of Capt. Schenley, was accused of having connived with her fortune-hunting brother-in-law.
He had first met the little Pittsburgh heiress, who fell in love with him at first sight, and who remained in love with him all her life, on a visit to Mrs. McLeod at her school.
An old scrapbook clipping from the Pittsburgh Dispatch of March 4, 1888, under the signature of James W. Breen, relates:
"When the news of Mary's elopement reached Pittsburgh it created a profound sensation in society and other circles.
"Dr. Upfold denounced the school and the governess that would permit, if not arrange, for elopements, and Mr. Bissell, Mr. Bayard and other Pittsburghers who had their daughters there were not slow in summoning them home. It resulted in the breaking up of the school..."
Ironically Mr. Croghan had sent his daughter Mary to this school, according to the same writer, because it was famed for its "almost conventual debarment of pupils from gentlemen's society, and for its strict discipline...even though the trip by canal and otherwise occupied nearly a week."
'Eyes Had Hard Glint of Dollars at Mint.'
This same Mr. Breen paints a most unflattering portrait of Capt. Schenley, whom he describes as "a gentleman of diminished exchequer, traveling on his shape. He was 6 feet in height, of commanding presence, roving in his disposition, and it was said by the critics of that day that:
"His eyes had the hard glint"While his character was not questioned, he was considered by Mr. Croghan's friends as a fortune-hunting adventurer."
Of new dollars from the mint.
When Capt. Schenley visited the Pittsburgh heiress' school and eloped with her, he was absent without leave, old letters have revealed, from his post of Her Majesty's commissioner of arbitration in a mixed court for the suppression of the slave trade in Dutch Guiana.
With magnificent aplomb, Capt. Schenley, when he arrived in England with his young bride, requested from Lord Palmerston an extension of the leave of absence he didn't have.
Lord Palmerston reminded him of the omission, and ordered him to be off at once to his post.
So the Captain and his young bride sailed shortly for the menacing tropics of Surinam, Dutch Guiana.
Schenley's efforts there to free the Negroes so enraged the slave owners that he and his family were forced to escape by the climaxing threat to infect them with leprosy.
Schenleys Come 'Home' to See Her Father.
Back in England once more, the Schenleys were living in straitened circumstances when Mary's father, relenting, visited them, bought them a house in London, made them an allowance, and beseeched them to come to Pittsburgh to live with him.
Home again, Mr. Croghan built a vast red-brick addition to his beautiful hillside home, having the builders copy his daughter's London home.
At long last, the Schenleys arrived in Pittsburgh.
The children were sent ahead to greet their grandfather, Miss Koehler, daughter of the children's nurse, told us, and they completely won Mr. Croghan's heart.
On his second and last visit to the Croghan homestead, which Mr. Croghan called "Picnic House," but which today is known as the Schenley Mansion, Capt. Schenley talked of becoming a citizen of the United States, but before he did he "tired of the comparatively primitive life of this country," an old newspaper says, "and insisted on his family going back to England to live."
Mr. Croghan died in his vast mansion in 1850; his daughter in England in 1903.
Throughout all the years she lived in England and on the continent, she never forgot Pittsburgh or her old home.
She must have cherished a secret wish for some of her family to live here once more, for, by the terms of her will, all the furniture and other equipment of the Croghan home here were to be preserved for use of any of her heirs who might wish to come to Pittsburgh.
This will was faithfully observed until 1931, when the furniture and many old paintings, most of them family portraits, were sold at a public sale.
Soft Drinks Sold in Mansion Basement.
This past summer soft drinks were served in the basement floor of this once proud mansion to thirsty golfers arriving at the Stanton Heights golf course eighth hole, situated in front of the shuttered, empty home.
A huge raw, red sign on the brick wall of the addition Mr. Croghan built for his daughter, announces the sale of one of today's popular soft beverages.
The beautifully proportioned, empty rooms of the mansion, which once rang with the laughter of the Schenley children, are closed, and guarded by little, white haired Miss Koehler, whose mother crossed the ocean five times while serving as the Schenley children's nurse.
While showing us through the Schenley mansion this past summer, Miss Koehler told us, as have relatives here, that Mrs. Schenley was very happy, loved her husband deeply.
The mansion has a beautiful staircase, a perfect small ballroom, off which is a beautiful oval foyer.
Mr. Croghan with his butler, Cox, she recalled, lived there all alone except for the visits of his daughter and his friends.
Mr. Croghan did much entertaining according to an old story, "giving stag 'wine and cake' parties at Picnic."
The Schenley mansion still belongs to the Schenley estate.
Related to Dennys, Old Pittsburgh Family.
Mary Schenley's only surviving child is Lady Ellenborough, the former Hermione Schenley, who, at 88, is living in Sunningdale, Surrey, England.
In a recent letter written by one of Lady Ellenborough's nieces to her cousins, the Pittsburgh Dennys, she sent word,
"I am very unhappy about the war. We haven't been bombed yet..."
Pittsburgher Mrs. Harmar D. Denny, Jr. told us that during a visit to England some time ago, Lady Ellenborough greeted her with the words:
"Tell me about my dear Pittsburgh and my dear cousins there."
Here is the explanation of her relationship to the Dennys.
Because Mary Schenley's father, like her, was disobedient, he had married Mary O'Hara, whose sister Elizabeth O'Hara, married Harmar Denny, the first of the three Harmar Dennys, of Pittsburgh, and the son of Maj. Ebenezer Denny, first Mayor of Pittsburgh.
The O'Hara girls were daughters of Gen. O'Hara, who owned vast tracts of land, and whose will led to the Schenley and Denny estates of today.
When a young man, Mr. Croghan tarried, against the instructions of his father, with friends in Pittsburgh on his way from his Kentucky home to law school in Philadelphia. On this forbidden visit, he met Mary O'Hara, and married her a year later.
The Pittsburgh Dennys' cousin, Lady Ellenborough, in addition to hearing about Pittsburgh from her mother and from them, has memories of her childhood here (she left Pittsburgh when she was nine years old), and of several visits made after her mother's death.
On her visit in 1905, when she was still Hermione Schenley, she went to view the Schenley mansion, to be reached today at the end of a long, overgrown lane leading uphill from Stanton Avenue.
Her Visit to City Elaborately Described
Of this visit the Pittsburgh Dispatch of November 26, 1905, said:
"She was accompanied by Capt. Edward Harbord, her nephew; Kate Cassatt McKnight, Denny Brereton, her cousin, and one of the executors of the estate, and John W. Herron, agent of the Schenley estate in the city.
"The party drove from the Hotel Schenley in a carriage. It was a long, steep climb on the road which winds up hill to the homestead, and the horses were fetlock-deep in mud."
That afternoon, the paper reports, she attended a football game, told news men she meant to spend part of each year at the old homestead.
That week she went to church with the Herrons and the Dennys, attended a reception in her honor at the Pittsburgh Golf Club, given by Mrs. Herron, went to Miss Kay's wedding. (Early Pittsburgh papers seldom bothered with initials or first names.)
When she next came to Pittsburgh in April, 1926, she was Lady Ellenborough of London.
Of this visit the Chronicle-Telegraph of April 29, 1926, recorded that:
"Gazing at Schenley Park, gift of her mother to Pittsburgh, Lady Ellenborough, the former Hermione Schenley, exclaimed this morning, 'Marvelous. Only you Americans could do that...to think that I have gone beneath that beautiful park in a truck.' Lady Ellenborough was recalling the time she and her brother went through a mine in the park in a coal car. 'The site where the Schenley Hotel stands was a hollow, and there were not the wonderful buildings that are here now.'"
Capt. Schenley Scorned City As 'Backwoods.'
She did some interviewing of her own, the paper remarks; asked the photographer about his camera; told him she was an amateur photographer herself.
World War I had prevented her from paying a visit in 1914, the paper chronicled.
An irony resulting from Mary Croghan's elopement way back in 1842 is that Schenley Park, her gift to the city, and many other parts of Pittsburgh bear the name of her husband, Capt. Schenley, who scorned Pittsburgh as "backwoods," visited here unwillingly.
Schenley Park should rightfully be O'Hara Park, many students of Pittsburgh history feel, because it was Mary Schenley's pioneer grandfather, Gen. James O'Hara, who owned the land, eventually willed to her.
That Mary Schenley always loved Pittsburgh, and perhaps had a nostalgic yearning to live here once again in spite of a happy life, filled with the care of her six daughters and a son, and with the direction of her estate after her father's death, is proved by her numerous gifts to the city.
Of her gift of Schenley Park, the "Standard History of Pittsburgh," edited in 1898 by Erasmus Wilson, says:
"In 1889 she donated a princely tract which made the magnificent Schenley Park possible. She gave 300 acres out and out for this great scheme, and sold the city 120 acres more at the merest nominal price. Unborn generations will enjoy the blessings of this gift."
Her Many Donations Aided Civic Culture.
She donated five acres to the Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind in 1890; in 1894, a large lot to the Newsboys' Home; in 1895, the oldest relic in Pittsburgh, the old Blockhouse at the Point, and adjoining property, to the Daughters of the American Revolution; in 1894, "when citizens of Allegheny had almost despaired of securing sufficient money to make possible the purchase of their present beautiful park, she gave large donations, which gave such a forward movement that the present Riverview Park of that city was secured."
The same writer notes Mrs. Schenley was liberal to churches and public schools.
She also donated the 19 acres of land on which the Carnegie Library, a gift of Andrew Carnegie, is built.
Mr. Carnegie often visited Mrs. Schenley, by the way, at her beautiful villa, Mont Fleury, at Cannes, in the south of France.
The income from her vast land holdings here has dwindled enormously today, we have been told.
It is doubtful that any of Mary Schenley's family will ever live again in Schenley mansion. In time it, too, will pass.
Schenley Park, more than any of her gifts to the city, will perpetuate her name and the story of her elopement.