Louis Henry Mott – 1855-1904

Louis Mott was born in 1855.  While it seems that almost every record gives a different state of birth (Kentucky, Mississippi, Maryland, etc) he was probably born in Indiana, to Dr. Francis Asbury Mott and Fidelia C Browning.  The 1850 census lists Dr. F A Mott in New Harmony, Indiana while Fidelia Mott was with her Browning family in Kentucky.  Louis’s grandfather, Henry Hopkins Mott died in April 1855. Henry listed grandson Louis as an heir, but not his own son Francis, so it appears that Louis’ father died about the time Louis was born.  Louis and his mother Fidelia  Mott lived in 1860 in Ohio with the Mott family.  Fidelia died soon after this, leaving Louis an orphan. 

Louis was raised by his uncle, Lamoine Mott, who became a successful miller and businessman in Des Moines, Iowa.  Louis graduated from high school.  Against his family’s wishes, he moved west in about 1876, ending up in Oakland, CA, where he became a laundryman, the career he kept for the remainder of his life.  Louis was convicted of grand larceny, and spent 11 months in San Quentin.  Out of prison, Louis was back in the laundry business, elected secretary of the laundryman’s union, and a registered voter by 1882.  Louis later told people that he was implicated in a murder in California, but there was not enough evidence to convict him. 

However, he started living under an alias, Louis H Browning (his mother’s maiden name.)  In 1886, he went to Miles City MT to start a laundry, but a couple months later, a news story reported that he had to sell the business due to illness.  But in only a few months, Louis was soliciting for an investor to put up $2000 for the opening of a laundry at Gardner, near Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park.  Louis worked there for a couple years.

Back to using “Mott”, Louis went to Washington, where he met Leah H (Smith) Strothman, a not quite divorced woman with two sons, Henry and Oscar.  A later newspaper article said that the meeting “almost appears to have been directed by the hand of fate.”  Mott and a friend were at Wallula Junction.  Mott wanted to go to Walla Walla, while the friend wanted to go a different direction.  They flipped a coin and as a result, went to Walla Walla.  On the street there, Mott was attracted by the face of a woman he saw in the crowd.  He turned to look at her just as she turned and looked at him.  He got an introduction and stayed in Walla Walla a few days. 

Louis and Leah went to Helena, MT, then to Fort Benton to start a laundry there.  Leah obtained her divorce on 14 November 1888 (decree issued in Helena) and she and Louis were married two days later in Seattle.

Louis and Leah moved frequently, living in Phillipsburg, Wickes, and Missoula MT, Wallace ID, and Spokane WA.  One night Louis arrived home in Phillipsburg with about $900 which he said he won in a poker game.  The next day, Leah learned that the Georgetown (MT) stage had been robbed, and she accused Louis of being involved.  He did not deny this accusation and it was later revealed that he was supposed to split the take with the stage driver, who was in on the robbery.

Louis and Leah eventually had two daughters, Alice and Ethel.  Louis’ stepson Henry said Louis was good to his girls, but not so nice to Leah even when sober, and Louis used alcohol a lot. He was described as having a nervous disorder which got worse when he drank and took drugs.  He attempted suicide by overdose at least once.  Louis sought treatment for his disorders, taking the Keeley Cure not once but twice.  The Keeley Institute had a branch at Boulder Hot Springs, MT.  The institute treated alcoholism as a disease, and combined injections, tonics, and home-like care.

Louis often left home, staying away longer and longer.  When he returned, he would act strangely.  Louis and Leah were running the Troy Steam Laundry on Missoula’s north side. Louis had a brush with the law when he fired a gun out a window to scare away some noisy revelers in the middle of the night, outside his home.  He was found not guilty of any crime but Leah got rid of the gun. Louis’s laundry staff went on strike, and Louis went to Butte, leaving Leah to manage the business.  Eventually, the business was put in Leah’s name. 

In December 1902, Louis again abandoned the family and business, going to Butte.  Leah took advantage of his absence, and sold the business. The new owners had moved into the apartments above the laundry, and Leah still lived there with her daughters.  When Louis returned, he was extremely angry about the sale. On 4 January, 1903, after the group had dinner, Leah was helping the new owners’ housekeeper clean up after the meal.  Louis came into the kitchen, and told the young daughters to go play in another room.  Attempting to avoid a confrontation with Louis, Leah started out of the building and down the stairs.  Louis pulled a gun and fired four times, hitting Leah in the back 3 times.  The housekeeper grabbed the gun away from Louis, probably preventing his suicide.

Policemen in the area heard the shots, came to the house, and arrested Louis.  Leah was taken to the hospital, but doctors knew they could not save her.  She gave a dying statement that Louis was drunk and shot her.  She died a few hours later.

The newspapers covered Mott’s incarceration and trial.  When first arrested, they reported that he only wanted whiskey, and had little concern for his wife or children.  He seemed unmoved when he learned Leah died, and could only say he didn’t know why he did it.  Reports said that drink made him the murderer. 

Louis stood trial and his attorneys attempted to use a defense of insanity.  Louis rebelled against this strategy, arguing with the attorneys and his own defense witnesses, saying he’d rather hang than be labelled an imbecile. He also said he’d rather hang than spend 20 years in prison.  One witness testified that Louis told him he went to Helena to buy the gun he used, making this a premeditated case.  The story garnered a lot of interest and the court room was usually filled with spectators.  Witnesses included young Alice Mott, the housekeeper, and physicians who treated Louis.  Leah’s pre-mortem statement was used.  Louis did not testify.  After the testimony and evidence were presented, the jury took 24 hours to convict Louis, and Judge Webster sentenced him to hang.  His original defense attorneys eventually resigned, and Judge Frank Woody was retained to handle much of the appeals process.  The defense requested a new trial based on juror misconduct, saying that two men had preconceived opinions that Louis was guilty, and another was drunk during the trial.  Both the trial judge and the Supreme Court denied the request.  One newspaper reported that Mott should have put as much effort into making a happy home as he was putting into getting a new trial.

When first arrested, Louis had reached out to his family in Iowa for help.  They refused to have anything to do with him, which seems to confirm that this was not his first scrape with the law.  But when the appeals were denied, his uncle Lamoine Mott came to Montana. Newspapers both locally and in Iowa reported that Mott would spend his fortunes to save his nephew.  The elder Mott met with Governor Toole twice, but the governor only delayed the execution long enough for the Supreme Court to respond to the appeal, and after that, Toole would not intervene.

Louis eventually shared his story about the stage coach robbery and the California murder, with the jailers who were on his death watch, just before his execution.  He was concerned that if made public earlier, the stories would negatively influence his attempts for a new trial or sentence reduction.  But in the end, it didn’t matter. 

The date of the execution was originally set for 17 March 1904, but Mott thought he shouldn’t die on St. Patrick’s Day, and the judge moved the event to the 18th.  Sheriff Harry Thompson erected a 14’ fence around the yard at the jail, and gallows were shipped in from Butte.  Although the usual invitations were sent out to witnesses (most often other sheriffs) I found no indication that any family members attended.  At Mott’s request, the hanging rope was burned afterwards, so that it couldn’t be used as a souvenir.  Louis had also requested to be buried next to Leah, but her son Henry refused this request, and Louis is buried near the main entrance to the cemetery.

Attorney Joseph Dixon had previously done some legal work for Louis, and Mott originally expected Dixon to be his defense attorney.  However, Dixon had been elected Senator, and moved to Washington DC before the murder trial.  Mott apparently still considered him a friend, and not long before he was hanged, Louis sent a letter to the senator reminding him of discussions they once had about the after-life.  Louis said he would appear to the senator 48 hours after his death.  Senator Dixon reported two days later from Washington that Mott did not keep his appointment. 

Louis’ daughters went to live with Leah’s sister Anne.  Ethel died in 1905 in Oklahoma, and Alice died in 1973 in Texas. 

 

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Frederick William Vroom 1857 – 1942

Frederick Vroom was born 11 November 1857 in Clementsport, Nova Scotia. The Vroom name traces back to the earliest Dutch settlers who came to New Amsterdam.  During the American Revolutionary War, some Vroom families fought for independence, but Frederick’s great grandfather John was a Loyalist, and moved his family to Nova Scotia in about 1790.

The town of Clementsport was established by the Loyalists from New York, 40 or so years after the Acadian Expulsion.   Located on the Annapolis basin, many were involved in ship building and farming.  Frederick’s parents were Albert Douglas Vroom and Charlotte Maria Morse.  The family was counted in the 1861 and 1871 census in Clementsport, Annapolis County. Frederick was the oldest child, with siblings Otis, Mary, Lottie, and Edward Isaac.  Albert was a farmer, and the family was Wesleyan Methodist.

The Vroom family moved to Somerville near Boston in the early 1870’s.  Frederick and his brother Otis sailed from Bear River, near Clementsport, on the schooner “Alert.”   Passage at that time was usually a two-day trip, and the teenaged boys arrived April 20, 1872.  In Somerville, Frederick’s father worked as a carpenter, and his mother ran a boarding house on Temple street near Bond.  Frederick’s father died in 1874, and Frederick began working as a clerk for “John A Carr & Co”, a grocery store in Boston.

Frederick continued to be listed in the Boston city directories, but without an occupation.  He became a naturalized citizen on 9 October 1879 at the US Circuit Court in Boston.   I have not yet found Frederick in the 1880 census.  His mother with Otis and Lottie had moved to Pennsylvania.

Frederick married Georgianna F Wheeler on 17 September 1883 in Melrose.  The marriage was also recorded in Boston.  Georgianna was 31, the daughter of Gardner and Sarah Wheeler and a resident of Melrose. He was 25, a clerk, and a resident of Boston.  This was the first marriage for both.

Frederick became involved with the local theater community.  Edwin Booth had made his professional acting debut in Boston, and had strong links to the city, living on Beacon Hill in the mid 1880’s.  No doubt he influenced Frederick, who became a Shakespearian actor. Edward Vroom also became an actor and playwright.

In November 1886, Frederick was travelling with Lawrence Barrett’s theater company, playing Guildenstern to Barrett’s Hamlet.  Newspapers of the era publicized theater events.  Frederick’s name appeared in the supporting cast of many plays – never the headliner, but always in the upper part of the cast.  His roles included Gratiano in Othello, Antonio in Merchant of Venice, The Ghost in Hamlet, Savelli in Ganelon, King Claudius in Hamlet, and Trebonis in Julius Caesar.  Edwin Booth’s last stage appearance was as Hamlet in April 4, 1891.  Frederick Vroom played The Ghost, and his brother Edward had the role of Guildenstern in that production.

A newspaper reported a slightly different kind of story on 5 November 1887.  A young lady answered an advertisement to become an actress.  She contacted the alleged theatrical agent, and paid him a $10 security, went home to wait to hear from him.  “Mr. Frederick Vroom, of the Booth and Barrett Company, happened to be boarding at the house.  Vroom told her that she was a dupe, and went with her and made the phony agent give back the money.”  She filed charges, and the man was arrested.

During the summers, Frederick and Georgianna stayed at “Camp Viking” on Heart Bay of Lake George in New York.  They were still together in August 1892, as a society news item reported that they had been called back to Boston because of the death of Georgianna’s mother.  They did return together to Lake George.   The Vrooms enjoyed entertaining, and boating on the lake.  During one outing, a friend’s canoe filled with water during a squall.  Frederick took him aboard, and towed the sinking canoe to shore to be emptied so they could continue their outing.  Fred and Georgianna eventually divorced.  Georgianna lived in the Boston area, and never remarried.  She worked as a secretary, and died in Boston in 1932.

In 1894, Frederick appeared in “The Lady of Lyons”, and one of his co-stars was Grace Addison.  She had also been a touring actress for at least a dozen years.

On April 22, 1896, a Philadelphia newspaper reported activities planned to celebrate the birthday of Shakespeare.  Frederick was going to help present a scene from Hamlet.  The newspaper also mentioned that he was travelling with his wife.    There is a Frederick Vroom who married Carrie Lee in 1892 in Washington DC.  The marriage license says they were both “of South Carolina, but doesn’t name parents nor occupations, so I’m not sure if this is the same Vroom.  If it is, this marriage also didn’t last long.

In 1897, Frederick and Grace Addison were engaged to appear at the Meffert Stock Company in Louisville, Kentucky.  That business arrangement did not work out, and Grace and Frederick sued the company for breach of contract.  They won the suit, although the amount of the award was less than they asked for.  In 1898 in Louisville, Frederick and Grace married.

Both continued to tour with theatrical companies.  In 1898, Frederick appeared in Helen Modjeska’s production of Macbeth.  One of his co-stars was Maud Morrell.  Grace was not in the cast list.  Later in the year, Frederick and Maud supported Ms. Modjeska in “As You Like It.”

Frederick and Grace formed the Vroom-Addison company, which toured the country presenting plays.   Grace and Frederick consistently received good reviews for their work, both in their earlier works, and later when they worked as a team.  A newspaper ad describes “Mr. Frederick Vroom & Miss Grace Addison and their company of 14 talented players” announcing that the company would be presenting a charming and picturesque comedy called “The Duke’s Pledge, plus “Pygmalion and Galatea” and “Love and Duty” admission 25, 50, and 75 cents.  “The Vroom Addison company presented the comedy of “Pygmalion and Gallatea” to a delighted audience at McKissick’s Opera House last evening.  Mr. Frederic Vroom gave immediate satisfaction in his portrayal of Pygmalion, the Athenian sculpter, and his grace, tone of voice, and precision of action made his character harmonize and blend with artistic taste.”  The Vroom Adison group also transitioned into vaudeville, starting about 1897.

While the professional partnership appeared successful, the personal relationship was not.  On 13 May, 1900, the newspaper San Francisco Call reported that Grace shot Frederick.  She had suspected him of being unfaithful with Maud Morrell, another actress in their company.  Frederick had also become interested in the Alaska gold rush, and was affiliated with a somewhat shady partner named W. H. Orr.  The two men kept an office which included a bedroom where Frederick claimed he stayed some nights.  Grace took her suspicions to Orr but he refused to get involved in their personal business.  Grace arranged the bedding at the office in such a way that she would know if the bed had been used.  She discovered it wasn’t, and she hired a detective to follow Fred.  They tracked him to an apartment, and when he left, Grace confronted Maud at gunpoint, collected her husband’s belongings from the apartment, and obtained a confession from Maud.  She then confronted husband at the mining company office with her proof.  He struck her, and when he turned away, she shot him.  Friends took Frederick to a doctor, and Grace went to her sister’s home.  The shooting was not reported to the police, but did get reported in the newspaper.  Grace turned herself in to the police, but she apparently gave a convincing performance as the Judge only ordered a $25 bail, and police provided transportation to her home to get the money.  The same newspapers that reported the shooting also had many articles relating to the Nome gold rush. Frederick apparently left on an already planned trip to Cape Nome by way of Seattle, and did not stay in San Francisco to swear a complaint.  Grace also blamed Frederick for losing about $3000 that she had put into the company, because his misconduct caused the company to disband and she lost her money.

The next day, Maud gave her statement to the newspaper, denying that illicit relations existed between her and “Actor Vroom”, saying she only confessed because she feared for her life.   Grace later denied even having a revolver with her when she confronted Maud Morell and extracted her confession.   Without Frederick to swear out a complaint, charges were dropped, and according to the newspaper, Grace sailed north to Nome to join a theatrical company.

A New York paper thought it strange that the two actresses should quarrel over the “exceedingly snarly and tooth-ridden” Frederick.  The anonymous reporter went on to say that “Those who have seen Mr. Vroom at work acting out on the stage in Mme. Modjeska’s farewell company must feel inclined to chide Mrs. Vroom bitterly for her careless inaccuracy in the use of firearms.”

I was not able to find Frederick in the 1900 census.  Perhaps he was on his way to Alaska and didn’t get counted.  I did find Mrs. Grace Vroom, born Oct 1856 in Ohio, no occupation listed, in Seattle at Arlington Docks.  There were no other family members with her.  This document showed mostly single people, many miners and prospectors perhaps waiting to go to Alaska.  The census was dated 18 June 1900, just a few weeks after the news report that she was headed north.

Frederick obtained a divorce from Grace in Sacramento, on 13 May, 1901, on the grounds of cruelty.  He reported that in 1899, she picked up a cuspidor and threw it at him.  “The cuspidor was of the hotel variety and it was loaded and Vroom received its contentsLater in the year, she stabbed him, and then in May 1900, shot him in the back and wrist, with two more shots aimed at him with the intention of killing him.”

Grace returned to New York where she continued to work in the theater and lecture for a professional women’s group.  Census records and city directories list her as a writer and scientist.  A newspaper item says Grace worked as a Christian Science healer.  Grace died in 1918.

Later in 1901, Frederick married Maud Morrell in Portland, OR.  Against the wishes of her family, Maud had been an amateur actress in the Oakland area.  She eventually worked with professional groups, and crossed paths with Frederick a few years earlier while touring.

Frederick continued visiting the Lake George area, and in 1903, participated in a benefit for the Defiance hose company, which had been formed 30 years earlier (now part of Ticonderoga Volunteer Fire Company.)  Through 1904, they divided their time between Lake George and New York City.

The Ticonderoga Sentinel reported in 1906:  Some time ago the friends of Frederick Vroom were deeply concerned over an article that appeared in the New York American stating that he had been drowned in Alaska and giving a picture and rather lengthy history of the well-known actor.  These fears, however, were set to rest a few days ago when a letter was received from Mr. Vroom saying “I wasn’t drowned and have never been drowned.”  He is living on a raisin ranch in California. I have not yet found the news item that reported this death.

Matrimony with Maud did not work out.  After a few years, Maud left Fred and ran off with a French language teacher.  I have not yet located Frederick in the 1910 census.  However, his brother Otis died in 1910 in Pennsylvania, and that obituary says that brothers Frederick and Edward were living in New York. Maud Vroom was living in California as the “widow” of Fred Vroom.

In 1912, Frederick Vroom got his divorce from Maud.  The newspaper coverage described him as a mining engineer, and perhaps he was still involved in Alaska mining.  In a letter that was part of the record, Maud told him that if he consulted a scientist, he would be consoled to her absence.  This may also be a reference to Christian Science.  Maud died in 1955.

Back in California, Frederick began working as a film director, with The Tie That Binds in 1914.  He also acted in motion pictures.  The newspapers began advertising his films, rather than plays.  Frederick was functioning as stage manager for the Thanhouser film company, later heading the company’s West Coast troupe from 1913 to 1914. Vroom’s screen-acting career began around 1912 with “The Forest Rose” and continued to 1939 with an uncredited role in the James Stewart movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.   (A more complete list of his films is available at IMDB.com, and Thanhouser is now a film preservation organization specializing in the early silent film era.)

In 1914, Frederick married Florence Estelle Peck, widow of Rodney Newton Parks.  She was a musician and music teacher.  Voter registrations list Frederick living in the Malibu precinct on Sycamore road, working in motion pictures.  He was a Republican.  Frederick worked for several different studios.

In 1921, Frederick was to be the director general of a new enterprise that would make short films about Bible subjects.  I do not know if the films were ever made.

In 1924, Frederick was in the Buster Keaton film The Navigator, playing “the girl’s father.”  In 1927, he was again with Buster Keaton in “The General” playing a southern civil war general, and not the title role, which was actually a locomotive.  These are probably his two most well-known movie roles, and can be seen on television from time to time.

The 1930 census shows that Frederick and Florence lived at 1210 Flores, in Beverly Hills, in a house valued at $18,000, the most expensive on this page.  His occupation was actor in pictures while she was a teacher of music and reading.  Florence died 15 April 1932 in Los Angeles.

The 5 April 1935 Oakland Tribune has a grainy photo of Vroom and other dignitaries in a beer-testing event.  They voted that Brown Derby Beer was most like pre-prohibition Pilsner.  Apparently it was more advertisement than news, as the story was repeated several times, although the photos varied.

On 5 February 1938, Frederic W. Vroom, 80, married Geraldine Baker, 69, widow of Leighton Baker, another Shakespearean actor who died in 1931.   The 1940 census lists the couple at 842 Hudson, with his occupation as “character actor” in motion pictures.  Geraldine was from Boston, and a later interview with her son said Bakers and Vroom had been friends for 60 years prior to the marriage.  A society news item reporting their honeymoon trip said she was his sweetheart from 51 years ago.

Frederick died of a heart attack on 24 June 1942 in Beverly Hills.  His obituary described him as a Shakespearean actor who toured with Edwin Booth 60 years ago, and an organizer of one of the first motion-picture companies here, located in the Hollenbeck district.  Later he was with D.W. Griffith and the old Essanay Co, and had been a character actor.   He is buried at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood.

Geraldine Vroom died 11 February 1955 in California.