Martha Wainwright performs “I Am a Diamond”: An Unofficial Slideshow About Cassie Chadwick

This is Martha’s performance of “I Am a Diamond,” a song by her late mother–Kate McGarrigle, and two aunts, Anna and Jane. This recording is actually from Sing Me the Songs that Say I Love You, which is a recording (available on CD and DVD) of a memorial concert for Kate. Her brother Rufus takes second lead, singing in a remarkably high register. The sisters apparently wrote the song for an intended musical about the life of Cassie Chadwick, which unfortunately was never produced. Originally born as Elizabeth Bigley in Eastwood, Ontario in 1857, she seems to have been involved in check fraud while still an adolescent and then followed her sister Alice down to Cleveland Ohilo in 1875. Here she  assumed the first of a series of alternate identities, as Madame Lydia Devere, a clairvoyant, which she seems to have financed with fraudulent bank loans. After a brief marriage to Dr. Wallace Springsteen in 1882 (he filed for divorce after being confronted with her bad debts), she set her self up as Madame Marie LaRose, another clairvoyant, meeting her next husband, John Scott, who she married in 1883, but only after getting him to sign a prenuptial agreement. She filed for divorce in 1887, citing adultery (seemingly her own).

Between 1889-93 she served four years in prison for forgery at the Toledo penitentiary, and then returned to Cleveland where, under the name of Mrs. Cassie Hoover, she set up a brothel on the west side of the city. At this place of business, she met her fourt husband, wealthy widower Dr. Leroy Chadwick, whose patients included many of the cities elite, some of whom had elaborate mansions on Euclid Avenue, also known as Cleveland’s “Millionare’s Row.”  After marrying him in 1897, she asked a lawyer friend of her husband to take her to the home of Andrew Carnegie (one of the richest men in America at the time) , where she apparently checked (or pretended to check) the credentials of her housekeeper. When she came back she “accidentally” dropped a paper, which the lawyer took up; he was rather taken aback to see that it was a promoisssary note for $2,000,000 with Andrew Carnegie’s signature. After swearing the lawyer to secrecy, she “revealed” she was Carnegie’s illegitimate child, who showered huge amounts of money on her. The lawyer gallantly arranged for a safety deposit box for this promissary note, which was apparently one of many.

As secrets will, this one leaked out and Ohio banks began to offer her their services, which she availed herself of, securing some $20,000,000 in loans over the next eight years. She correctly guessed that no one would ask Carnegie for fear of offending him, and the interest rates on the loans was so usorious that the bankeers were hesitant to admit to granting them. For eight years, Cassie enjoyed the high life, buying diamond necklaces, thirty closets of clothes, and a gold organ, earning the nickname of “Queen of Cleveland.”  Af the end of 1904 it all came crashing down when one of the bankers finally called a loan in; Dr. Chadwick filed for divorce and left for a European tour; and Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin was forced into bankruptcy. She was sentenced to fourteen years in prison and a substantial fine, but died after serving less than two years, in October 1907. (The above is basically and abreviated version of her Wikipedia page).  I hope the background is useful in making sense of the slideshow, if not necessarily of her character, although the McGarrigles’ lovely song offers an intriguing and sympathetic perspective upon it, further enhanced by Martha’s evocative vocals.

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