Thursday, February 29, 2024

Stratford: The Stories We Tell

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Stratford Love Stories

By David Wright
Town Historian

Stratford Love Stories

It’s February, the month of Valentines and Romance. In keeping with this romantic time, it seems appropriate to recall some of Stratford’s amazing love stories. If you’ve lived in Stratford for any length of time, you’ve likely heard of America’s most famous royal romance: Glorianna Folsom and Scottish Baronette John Stirling. We recounted that royal romance here in the Stratford Crier in March of 2021. In the event you’ve not heard of this romance, which was widely publicized from 1865 through 1960, be sure to read one of several versions of the famous Stratford royal romance at https://bit.ly/glorianna.

Stratford’s second royal romance starred Florence Merrill, who was born in 1869 in Massachusetts.  By 1880, she was living with her parents in her maternal grandparent’s home in Stratford. Florence’s paternal grandfather was Dr. A. P. Merrill, a well-known doctor in New York. 

We don’t know much about Florence’s early life, but before 1893 she’d been wooed, and engaged to Earnest Littlefield, Paymaster of Litchfield. How Florence met Earnest is unknown, but soon after his engagement to Florence, he “disappeared” from Stratford. We were able to locate him, married, and living in New Haven with his wife, before 1910.

Florence recovered from that disappointment, and was introduced to H. Carus-Wilson in September of 1893. H. Carus-Wilson was, like John Stirling, a mystery man who appeared suddenly out of “nowhere” on September 11th, 1893. From the New Haven Daily Morning Journal and Courier, November 21, 1893: “While visiting with his friend, Mr. Nichols, in Stratford, Lord Wilson met Miss Merrill. It was a case of love at first sight. She is described as a girl of superior beauty and bearing, a pure blond, very simple and honest in speech, and in fact very charming. Miss Merrill’s father is a clerk in D. M Read’s store in Bridgeport.

Lord Carus-Wilson believed Florence was a wealthy heiress. Lord Wilson proposed to Florence in December of 1893. The engagement was soon called off, however, when Florence learned Lord Wilson had taken out a life insurance policy on her for $30,000. Lord Wilson then tried to borrow heavily against the policy.

H. Carus-Wilson was a bankrupt English lord who believed Miss Merrill an heiress and in his efforts to reach her he traveled in the town’s highest circles.  …the lord was exposed and was compelled to leave the town. The engagement was called off about January 5, 1894, and Lord Carus-Wilson “disappeared”. 

Ever resourceful, Florence visited Manhattan where she met a violinist named Maximillian Lichenstein Koevessey. Maximillian, as described by the Bridgeport Herald in 1898: “his long, wavy black hair and classical forehead attracted the admiration of the fair sex. He kept all the Bridgeport girls guessing as to who he was and what business he was engaged in”.

Maximillian met Florence, and also thought she was independently wealthy. They were married November 9th, 1898 at her parent’s home by Christ Church’s Rev. Cornwall. The two honeymooned in Hamburg, Germany. They settled in Manhattan. The people in Manhattan thought Florence was rich, and Maximillian was living off her wealth. 

Florence’s father moved to Manhattan with them by 1905. The couple later moved to Brooklyn.  Florence gave birth to daughter Lily in 1911 in Brooklyn, but Lily lived only a few weeks.

By 1915 Florence was living as a lodger in Manhattan. Maximillian was not part of her life at that point. Maximillian died March 1916 in Smithtown, New York. Florence then married Alfred Munzer in July 1916. Florence passed away June 1929 in Brooklyn at the age of 60. 

Some of our royal romances were not as well-known, and happy, as Glorianna’s. However, Stratford was host to several, Florence’s being the sadder of the royal romances. What Florence’s romances may have lacked in quality were offset by quantity.

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