We’ve learned a great deal about the Blonger brothers’ various wives and mistresses—Sam’s mercurial relationship with prostitute Sadie Wilson, Joe’s ill-fated attraction to the Widow Viles, and Lou’s unusual arrangement with mistress Iola Readon among them. Lou’s first wife Emma Loring, however, remained a cypher, until now. Don’t be surprised the beautiful young woman above has a tale to tell.
The date of Lou’s marriage to Emma remains unknown. In 1882 Lou was living in Albuquerque with Sam and was noted in a local news item as being romantically and professionally linked with the unnamed madame of a local brothel. In ’83 he apparently moved south to Deming or thereabouts, and the following year he had a saloon in San Bernardino, California.
At some point during this period, Lou married a young widow by the name of Emma Loring in San Francisco. Curiously, she makes no further appearance in the greater Blonger world, save for Lou suing her for divorce in 1889, claiming abandonment. He then promptly married Nola Lyons, to whom he would remain married (if not faithfully) for the rest of his life.
So, who was this mysterious Emma Loring, who evaded us for so long? Something of a San Francisco celebrity, as it happens.
Born in Germany in 1858, Emma K. Vohrer came to America at an undetermined age and eventually married a New York physician named Loring, a retired British army officer. Between Dr. Loring’s considerable wealth and a large inheritance Emma received after their marriage, the Lorings rose to prominence in San Francisco society, and owned numerous properties in the city and across the bay in Oakland. Dr. Loring died sometime prior to 1882, when Emma may have first met Lou, leaving her a wealthy widow.
She became known around San Francisco as a talented painter, but she was perhaps better known for a project she undertook in Piedmont, where she attempted to build a rambling pavilion intended as a beer garden and concert hall. Construction began using bits and pieces salvaged from “Midway palaces of the Midwinter Fair.” Unfortunately, wealthy residents in the Piedmont neighborhood did not care for the structure, known as the Castle Loring. As she pursued the matter in court, the unfinished building sank into decay. Eventually it burned to the ground under dubious circumstances.
A Race For A Daughter
We pick up Emma’s trail in 1895, six years after Lou sued her for divorce.
On October 12 of that year, The San Francisco Call described how Loring had gone to the county clerk’s office earlier that day intending to stop her daughter May from obtaining a marriage license, but arrived just three minutes too late. The Call noted that Emma then became “partly hysterical.”
“My daughter is little more than a child,” she said, “but unfortunately she is 19 years of age and can please herself. She has never gone into society and has never been in a theater. She was a home girl, and I have been robbed of a jewel. I have starved and slaved and struggled to secure a future for my girl, and now she has ruined her life.”
A subsequent trip to the local justice of the peace showed no sign of May or her suitor, a hired man in Emma’s employ named Herman Braulich, 33, and it was assumed they found a minister to perform the ceremony.
“This man has betrayed me,” Emma said. “He has requited my charity by stealing my daughter. I took him in and cared for him when he needed food and shelter.”
Twice Has She Eloped
Not two years later, Emma and May were in the news again, served with a heaping helping of déjà vu. This time the San Francisco Examiner got the scoop.
Within a year of her marriage Emma May (as the Examiner called her) had divorced Braulich, at her mother’s expense. Now she had found another beau, and Emma was again beside herself in a very public way. Henry W. Attenborough, 30, was an Englishman residing in Oakland, where he went by name Dan Godfrey. He was, in his own words, a “remittance man,” a term denoting a young man banished to the Colonies by his family, supported by payments from home with the understanding that he never return. It was not a point of pride.
What’s more, like Braulich, Attenborough was also in Emma’s employ, at the Piedmont property. And again, Emma was having none of it. She petitioned the county sheriff to intervene, but he had no recourse.
“I have starved myself for years to give my daughter every comfort money could buy,” she told the Examiner. “Now she has gone to a hovel with a woodchopper.”
Ouch. Though not mentioned in either article, May was in fact Emma’s foster daughter, brought into the Loring’s New York household in 1876 but never formally adopted. Twice abandoned by May, Emma seemed particularly disappointed that her foster daughter didn’t appreciate the opportunity she had seen fit to offer.
“I am done with her. She had refinements and intellectual opportunities for which I sacrificed my health to gain for her. I am almost convinced the girl is mad. When she came to me in rags and suffering I took her to my heart. “
Not long after May’s second marriage, Emma Loring left San Francisco for New York to collect a $6000 inheritance. Before leaving she made arrangements with her agent to handle various mortgage and interest payments with funds she would periodically forward from New York.
For a few months the money arrived as promised, then ceased. Six months later another $100 was delivered, but nothing followed. No letters, no indication of any kind where she was, or what had become of her.
Within a few months her creditors were getting nervous, but neither Emma’s agent, her lawyers, or her daughter May could locate her. As much as $20,000 in San Francisco real estate hung in the balance.
Nearly three years after her departure, as a series of legal actions were gathering steam, it was finally determined that Emma had fallen sick in New York, and upon her recovery had made her way to Hamburg, where another $1000 inheritance was waiting for her to claim. She remained in Germany and eventually became untraceable.
At that point her attorneys requested a guardian be appointed to care for her estate, arguing that circumstances suggested it was imprudent to presume she was dead. Everyone had an opinion on the matter, whether they thought her sick, mentally unwell, or even dead.
Emma eventually returned to San Francisco, without fanfare, and resumed her quiet life as a wealthy recluse, in declining health, and given to the occasional quibbling lawsuit against various merchants and tradesmen, all of which she inevitably lost. And she thought someone was trying to poison her. Then she quietly disappeared from the daily discourse, until one day in June of 1903.
William Martin did some gardening for Emma, and he had last seen her late in May. Since then her mail had been piling up under the front door, and a gas light had been burning continuously in the bedroom window, day and night. Finally, on June 24th, Martin approached Patrolman Attridge, who then climbed through an open window and discovered the body on the second floor.
“Beside a bed, partly crouching on the floor, was the badly decomposed body of a woman, clad only in a night robe. Her features were almost destroyed, her hair fallen from her scalp and the flesh upon the fingers of her right hand, which had tightly clutched the bedclothes in the last paroxysm of death, had disappeared from the bones.”
Martin had first befriended Emma at the Midwinter Fair, where they both had concessions. He eventually grew into a confidant and a caretaker, bringing her food when she was in need and badgering Emma’s daughter to do the right thing and reconcile. May was resolute.
He also learned of her finances, which had descended into a tangle of debts. She had fallen from the heights, descending into illness, frailty, and confusion. She was, in fact, at one point examined by the “Lunacy Commissioners,” whatever the hell they were. We can only wonder if Lou, her grievous mistake of a second husband, ever heard the news, or cared.
There was at first some question about Emma’s death: the unlocked gate and window, a few thousand in cash that couldn’t be accounted for. Though several papers covered the story, it was the Examiner that wondered aloud about a half-full container of rat poison.
May eventually had herself declared heir, but within months she died as well. The estimated value of Emma’s property continued to increase as potential claimants pled their cases, finally reaching as high as $25,000 in real estate and other property, worth some $700,000 today. Emma’s sister and second husband Attenborough were among the four parties seeking to be declared Emma’s heir, with her sister finally prevailing.