- Historic Sites
The Rage Of The Aged Lion
Alone in his empty mansion, the venerable Cassius Clay took unto himself a scandalously youthful bride; when the posse came for him, they met more than their match
June 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 4
“When I arrived at White Hall yesterday morning at about 9:30 o’clock, after a long, cold buggy ride over the hills and through the valleys bordering on the Kentucky River, I was met at the front door, which is of beautifully carved wild cherry with knobs of solid coin silver, by a handsome, dark-complexioned, spare-built young man of medium height [Clay’s illegitimate Russian son, who had apparently returned home for the wedding] who politely inquired who I was. And upon being told that I was a newspaper reporter and recognizing me from a previous visit some time ago, he conducted me down the wide hall to the library. As we entered the large, richly furnished room with shelves along one entire side, running to the ceiling and filled with books, with portraits in heavy gold frames and rare tapestries hanging on each of the other three sides, the old General was busily engaged in replenishing the wood which snapped and blazed cheerfully from the big fireplace. Laying down his poker, I was greeted by this white-bearded old man with as much cordiality as was ever extended a royal visitor. ‘You have met my son Launey,’ said he, waving to the young man who stood beside him. Nodding my head, I thought it time to explain my intrusion, so I quickly stated to the General that the American people, through me, their reporter and representative, desired to attend this wedding, which I understood was to take place that morning. I waited with my heart in my mouth as the old man hesitated a moment; but I immediately relaxed when he smiled and said, ‘Well, I will say to you what Blaine said to the committee that waited on him and asked him if he would receive the people who wished to see him. Blaine replied that if the people wanted to see him, he supposed he would have to see the people. If the people after all these years have that much interest in me, then I will have to be accommodating.’
“So saying, the old General walked over to a large walnut chest and brought old bourbon out. While he mixed himself a light toddy (despite other excesses, Cassius Clay has always been a most temperate user of alcohol), your reporter took a heavy straight, thereby stopping in their tracks the chills and shivers running over him from his twenty-three-mile ride. Mr. Clay said that his children, meaning his children by Mary Jane Warfield Clay, had placed every possible obstacle in the way of his marriage. He said, ‘They persuaded my old friend Judge John Chenault not to marry me. I then asked Squire Green B. Million, but he refused. Yesterday, I suspected my former friends and relatives might get an injunction restraining me from marrying Miss Richardson. They thought they had caught me like a rat in a trap.’
“‘So,’ he continued, ‘I determined to thwart their designs, and after dark last night, I armed McClellan Richardson, a brother of Dora, and Barlow Clark, one of my farm hands, and sent them eighteen miles into the foothills to Squire Isaac Newton Douglas, who is a good Christian, a kind-hearted gentleman, and one who sympathizes with me in my troubles. The Squire got up out of bed and rode all night on horseback over the roughest dirt roads and trails so that he might get here by morning. He has just finished washing up and scraping off the mud and is now having a bite of breakfast in the kitchen. When he is ready, the ceremony will then take place.’
“In a few minutes, Squire Douglas, a tall, slightly stooped mountaineer in butternut hand-woven jeans, a man of a good deal of unconscious, simple dignity, came from the direction of the kitchen into the room. With him was Doctor Smith, a physician of Richmond, Kentucky, and a collateral relative of the General’s, and McClellan Richardson, brother of Dora, a sturdy man about thirty years of age, obviously of the tenant class. Upon their arrival, the old General disappeared through the dining room door and immediately returned, leading pridefully his bride-elect by the hand.
“Several months past fifteen years of age, Dora Richardson, daughter of a deceased sawmill worker at nearby Valley View, tall for her age and decidedly mature in physical appearance, hardly looks the child she is. She wore no gloves, no orange blossoms, and carried no bride’s roses in her hands. She has a pleasant, rather striking face, but her cheekbones are too prominent for real beauty, and she is altogether rustic in her appearance and manner.
“The scene was a touching one, never before and probably never again to be equalled in American life. The strangely paired couple stood quietly expectant as the Squire thumbed awkwardly through his battered prayer book. A huge stick of wood burned in two, and the fire flared a little, lighting up the fine bindings of the books, the gilded picture frames, and especially the exquisite copper engravings of Grand Duke Alexis and his beautiful Princess, warmly inscribed by each of them and presented to General Clay on their own wedding day, at which he was an honored guest. Upon the death of Alexander II, which occurred quite a while ago, the Grand Duke had become Alexander III, Emperor of Russia, and his Princess, the Empress. Yesterday, across the thousands of miles of land and sea, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, which I carried in my overcoat pocket, the dead body of General Clay’s royal friend was passing through densely crowded streets of St. Petersburg to the Cathedral of Livadia, where his funeral was to be held with great pomp and ceremony. And his death, which I have since learned from the Telegraph, vies with General Clay’s marriage on the front pages of this morning’s metropolitan newspapers.