Oberlin’s Mysteries of History
Oberlin is a place that has traditionally been famous for giving a start to people who enlighten and inspire, and most of them with a good innovative spirit. There are, however, a few lesser-known stories in which the character, as innovative as can be, ends up in the midst of a circle of negative fame.
One of these characters is Cassie Chadwick, the woman who indirectly contributed to the building of Carnegie Library, currently operating as the College’s Office of Admissions and the Registrar’s Office.
Cassie Chadwick was born as Elizabeth Bigley in 1859 in Eastwood, Ontario, Canada. At the ripe age of 13, she attempted her first forged check. Although she was caught that first time, she improved quite a bit over the years in the art of forgery and deceit.
By 1886, Bigley had already changed her name at least three times and had traveled through all levels of society, going from a married woman in Cleveland, Ohio to a fortune-teller under the name of Lydia Scott. In 1887, she returned to Cleveland playing Mrs. Hoover, a brothel madam. It was in the brothel that Bigley met her future husband, Dr. Leroy Chadwick.
When the famously-rich doctor entered the brothel Bigley introduced herself as a widow who had recently taken on the position of the manageress of “this home for girls.” When Chadwick clarified that this was not a home for girls but a “house of very ill repute,” Mrs. Hoover fainted and asked the dear doctor to take her away from that place.
Settled in the environment in which she had always wanted to be, Mrs. Hoover was even more delighted when Chadwick proposed to her. That very same night, she reluctantly revealed to him her greatest secret, that she was the illegitimate daughter of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. She even requested that their wedding take place in Pittsburgh, saying that even though she would not be able to invite her father, it would make her feel better knowing that he was nearby. Dr. Chadwick agreed to everything.
Soon after the wedding the new Mrs. Chadwick took over the management of her husband’s fortune, which turned out to be locked in real estate with perpetually decreasing value. Although at the time Cleveland was a big and very prosperous city, any estate not in use was quickly dropping in value. It was not long until the Chadwicks were broke, a situation that Mrs. Chadwick could not live with. She had finally worked her way to the top of society and absolutely refused to step back down.
This was exactly the time when she decided to take matters into her own hands, so she went to the Citizens Bank of Oberlin, Ohio. With an address on Cleveland’s “Millionaire’s Row,” it was not hard at all for Cassie to convince the president of the bank, C.B. Beckwith, to lend her some money.
She explained to Beckwith that for reasons she could not disclose, she wanted to give Oberlin College an endowment. The two got chatty and soon enough, crafty Cassie let it somehow slip that she was the daughter of Andrew Carnegie. Further validating her statement was a note from Carnegie with his signature that could serve as a guarantee for any bank to give her a loan.
Beckwith, of course, was astounded and flattered that she would share this valuable information with him. He immediately agreed to keep the note in exchange of giving money to the College on her behalf, the money being taken from his own account.
When Mr.s Chadwick returned to Cleveland the next day, she called the Wade Park Banking Company who also let her borrow money simply because she carried the widely respected Chadwick name. With a fraction of the money, she traveled to New York where she opened an account with the Lincoln National Bank.
The rest of the money she sent back to Beckwith in Oberlin to return a part of the money she had borrowed. She then borrowed money from Lincoln National to pay off the loan with Wade Park Banking and some more money from Wade Park Banking to pay Beckwith. It took the three banks weeks to figure out what was really going on; by that time there, were even more players in Mrs. Chadwicks’s little game.
Upon her return to Oberlin, she knew that she had to do something more to convince Beckwith to continue playing along. She broke down in front of him, asking for Carnegie’s note back, because “her father had gotten mad at her for leaving the note with a banker.” Beckwith told her he could not do that because of the “misunderstanding” with Wade Park Banking Company.
She started crying even harder and pleaded with Beckwith for his help. Eventually, he came up with an idea. While he could not let her have any more of the bank’s money, Oberlin College had some money in its endowment fund that seemed to be just sitting.
Again using the Chadwick name, Cassie had no problem at all in gaining access to the money and soon the entire $50,000 of the College’s endowment money was transferred into her possession.
Thus, the plot thickened. Over the next eight years, she accumulated loans that eventually equaled between $10 and $20 million. She even forged securities in her “father’s” name, so bankers assumed that Carnegie would vouch for any debts, no problem.
Mrs. Chadwick even managed to found her very own Cleveland Loan Company.
In 1905, however, the Boston bank of H.B. Newton sued her over a loan. It was soon found that a number of securities she had at various banks were forged. The real Andrew Carnegie was questioned; he denied having ever known her.
Panicked, she fled to New York but was soon arrested and brought back to Cleveland. At the time of arrest, she was wearing a belt that held over $100,000 in cash.
On March 10, 1905, she was slapped with a fine of $70,000 for conspiracy against the government and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Unfortunately for her, the Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin was federally chartered and thus an agent of the government, which certainly did not help her case.
Cassie Chadwick died in her jail cell on her 50th birthday, but still managed to pass away in style. Her cell was littered with trunks, animal skins and clothes that she had somehow salvaged after the trial and the divorce that followed. She was buried in her hometown in Ontario, Canada, according to her last wishes.
By the archives, Andrew Carnegie felt so badly about the town and the College losing such a large amount of money to a ridiculous affair that involved him, albeit indirectly, that he donated $150,000 to Oberlin College for the new College library.