MAGPIE TALE: The Last of the Mecklenburgs
Henri's black marble bathtub with gold claw feet was long gone by then, and the portrait of him in his red smoking jacket was sold at the Presbyterian Church auction to fund the youth group's trip to Mount Rushmore that summer.
Everyone has a theory about when and how things went wrong. Some put the blame on Henri and Flora's daughter Claudine and her desperate attempts to ramp up the family's subdued sense of providence to town. When she auditioned and was turned down with the touring cast of the Floradora Girls in Detroit, she came back home and launched her own version of the show -- but on roller skates.
Claudine was not without her charms, but her voice had been compared to a cat, a raccoon and a hyena harmonizing while their tails were caught in bear traps. Her dancing abilities were even less accomplished, and when roller skates were added it was not just awkward, it filled the third and fourth floors of the French Hospital with the sprained ankles, bruises and three cracked jaws of her fellow dancers trying to avoid her rolling disaster.
"Hell on Wheels! Hell on the Eyes! Get the Hell out of Town, Claudine!" screamed the review of the show by J. Landis Fordham in the Tribune-Review.
Then there were Claudine's brothers, Rusty and Ralph. Both were fond of all forms of fireworks and gunpowder, toying with them at all times of year and at all times of night and increasingly combined with greater amounts of alcohol and other substances. Henri tried to lay down the law with the boys and put them on the right path.
Finally in 1923 he gave an ultimatum and $15,000 in cash to both. Rusty moved to Omaha and had a fairly decent run with his own Packard dealership. Ralph, as always, was not as stable. He invested his money in a poorly run lobster operation north of Portland, Maine, and then disappeared into the wilds of Quebec in 1925. Some claimed that he later opened a bar named Lucky Luc's in Montreal, but it could never be substantiated.
The end of the empire clearly came with Flora's gradual demise during World War II. She had not been seen out much since 1939, and when she passed in 1944, everything changed. The glorious banquets at Fedelmeire were never repeated. There was a certain shabbiness to Henri's usually dapper suits. He mourned Flora's loss deeply and then, in 1947 he returned from a trip to California with the new Mrs. Mecklenburg, the former Audry Babcock of Canoga Park.
The less said about her the better, but clearly this was the beginning to the end.
There were still parties, alright, out at Fedelmeire but nothing similar to the grandeur of Flora's era. By then Henri had fallen into dementia and died in the spring of 1951. The debauchery of Audrey's parties quickly descended with each weekend, sinking to the absolute depths the night of Henri's wake and the fire that brought Fedelmeire and the entire empire crashing into Craven Lake.
Whatever became of Audrey was never clear. And there are certainly plenty of Mecklenburgs still out there. Ralph alone is said to have had 43 great-grandchildren.
Each of us has likely crossed paths with at least one Mecklenburg. It's not just a sense of style but an air of whimsy. It's the cut of the coat, the tip of the hat. One doesn't ask if you are looking at a Mecklenburg. Their attire will tell you.
Labels: Magpie Tales