Althea And The Judges

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In September, Althea made a public disclosure of her claim that she was Sharon’s wife, and on her behalf William Nielson, a journalist, had him arrested for adultery with another woman. Her claim of marriage was a sensation. Sharon vehemently denied it, said it was blackmail, and vowed he would spend all his millions in defense before she would get a penny. His lawyers filed suit in the federal court, alleging that Althea’s precious marriage document was a fraud and a forgery and asking that the court compel her to give it up and cancel it. She replied with a suit in the state court at San Francisco, asking for a divorce and a property settlement. For over six years the two suits went from court to court and from hearing to hearing, and brought forth some twenty published judicial opinions, three of them by the United States Supreme Court.

The trial of Althea’s divorce suit began in March of 1884, without a jury, before Judge Jeremiah Sullivan of the superior court of San Francisco. It continued, off and on, until September. In court, Althea told her story with a goodly number of embellishments, many of them rather transparently false. She produced a sheaf of notes from Sharon written in the fall and winter of 1880, all to “Dear Allie” and all to the general purport of “come up and see me.” One, toward Christmas, said, “Come over and join me in a nice bottle of champagne, and let us be gay before Christmas. If you don’t come over and take part in the bottle, I may hurt myself.” Also she had a number of letters written in 1881 to “My dear Wife.” Sharon replied that the “My dear Wife” had been forged. In any event, the letters were quite innocent of love, or of any domestic intimacies other than this sort of thing: “My Dear Wife: Inclosed send you … the balance, two hundred and fifty [dollars] which I hope will make you very happy. … Yours, S. April 1st.”

Sharon, however, produced a number of letters from Althea that were intimate and that delighted the readers of the San Francisco newspapers. Althea wrote this one, for instance, when Sharon was insisting that she get out of the Grand and leave him alone:

My Dear Mr. Sharon: I cannot see how you can have any one treat me so—I, who have always been so good and kind to you—the carpet is all taken up in my hall—the door is taken off and away—and it does seem to me terrible that it is you who would have done it. … Oh, senator, dear senator, don’t treat me so—whilst everyone else is so happy for Christmas, don’t try to make mine miserable—remember this time last year—you have always been so good, you don’t act so—now let me see you and talk to you—let me come … & be to me the same Senator again—don’t be cross to me—please don’t—you know you are all I have in the world … I know it is not in your nature to be so hard to one that has been so much to you—don’t be unjust—Say I may see you.

Another, which tame to be known as the “Us Girls” or “Egg and Champagne” letter, had been written when they had made up and were temporarily pals again in the summer of 1882:

My Dear Senator: Won’t you try and find out what springs those were you were trying to think of today, that you said Mr. Main went to, and let me know tomorrow when I see you? And don’t I wish you would make up your mind and go down to them with Nellie and I, wherever they be, on Friday or Saturday. We all could have nice times out hunting and walking or driving those lovely days, in the country. The jaunt or little recreation would do you worlds of good, and us girls would take the best of care of you, and mind you in everything. … I am crazy to see Nell try and swallow an egg in champagne . I have not told her of the feat I accomplished in that line, but I am just waiting in hopes of seeing her some day go through the performance. As I told you today. I am out to Nellie’s mother’s for a few days. 824 Ellis Street. What a lovely evening this is, and how I wish you would surprise us two little lone birds by coming out and taking us for a moonlight drive. … 'Twould do you good to get out of that stupid old hotel for a little while, and we’d do our best to make you forget all your business cares and go home feeling happy. A.

Sharon’s lawyers did not find it difficult to underline the unwifelike quality of those letters. And even her own testimony made it easy to say that Althea had done other unwifely things. At one time she had hidden in Sharon’s room to see him and another woman undress and go to bed together—it was a good joke. At another time she had hidden her friend Nellie behind Sharon’s bureau while Althea and the Senator went to bed together. Althea had hoped that Nellie would overhear Sharon call her “wife”; but apparently her hope was not fulfilled.