An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew(7)

Many a young woman in Allene’s position ended her life to spare herself and her family a scandal. Young men such as Tod, in turn, usually withdrew from girlfriends who had been so stupid and wanton as to let this happen. They’d have their father, an older brother, or the family lawyer buy off their former lover and then settle down in the safety of their family fortune, their respectable future, and the unblemished wife who went with it.

But Allene hadn’t been stupid. Her Tod might have been a gay libertine, but he was also kindhearted and genuinely crazy about her. On top of this, as a cherished and spoiled youngest child, he was accustomed to his family members ultimately letting him get away with things, however despairing they were of his antics at first. And so he and Allene resorted to the only possibility open to lovers wanting to stay together against their parents’ wishes: an elopement. They ran away, all the way to New York City, where, on May 14, 1891, they were secretly married in the Church of the Heavenly Rest on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-Fifth Street.

In a final attempt to save the honor of the daughter who had so suddenly disappeared from town, Charles and Jennette Tew announced the news to the world in the Jamestown Evening Journal. The birth of the baby who had triggered this would be advertised in the same place exactly ten months later—conveniently failing to mention the fact that the infant was already five months old.

Allene’s past in Jamestown was now over, but her future in Pittsburgh was just beginning. Tod’s family, suddenly confronted with a highly unwelcome, undesired, and poorly timed marriage, didn’t think for a minute of advertising this blot on the family crest in the various Pittsburgh chronicles that reported every last move made by a blue-book family.

When, days after the marriage, the couple took the train from New York to Pittsburgh, Allene could see the black cloud hanging above her new home from a long way off. There was an actual cloud, originating from the thousands of chimneys that incessantly poured out smoke and soot. This was “Smoky Town,” after all. But there was also an invisible cloud: her rejection by her new family, who considered the baby in her belly a scandal and her a sophisticated gold digger who had managed to ensnare their naive youngest son.

As green and fresh as had been the world in which Allene grew up, so gray and airless was the place where she arrived as the young Mrs. Hostetter. During the Industrial Revolution, Pittsburgh had—thanks to its strategic placement on the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio Rivers and the rich coal deposits in the soil—become one of the richest cities in North America. In those years, the city housed more millionaires than even New York. But it was also one of the dirtiest and certainly one of the most dreary places on the continent.

The so-called Golden Triangle, the plain between the three rivers where the city of Pittsburgh had been founded, was in fact a gigantic, heavily polluted industrial zone. Among the blast furnaces that burned day and night, the glass and leather factories, and the warehouses for petroleum, gas, and oil were slums and tenements. Here lived all those who had ended up on the wrong side of the American dream in circumstances that rendered downtown Pittsburgh what one inhabitant would express as “hell with the lid taken off.”

Of course the robber barons, as the industrialists and factory owners were known because of their unscrupulous practices, did not insult their noses or spoil their views with the exploited and disenfranchised workers of the proletariat. They built their mansions in still-unpolluted small towns and villages in the hills around the city, like Allegheny City, on the north bank of the river of the same name. Predominantly since the Civil War, this former farming village had developed into a real millionaires’ mecca, complete with attractive parks, music pavilions, and its own zoo.

There, on a Western Avenue freshly laid especially for rich inhabitants, Tod’s father had built a manor house in 1868. The house itself, with its heavy wooden wainscoting and leadlight windows, looked rather old-fashioned by now. But it still counted as one of the most attractive in the area, if only because it was on a double plot, unlike neighboring houses. Tod had been born and raised there, and perhaps for this reason, his father had left it to him in his will.

Up to the moment when his young bride moved to Allegheny, Tod had shared his parental home with his mother and his eleven-years-older brother, David Jr., often called Herbert. Tod’s only sister lived with her husband and children on the opposite side of Western Avenue, where, with good foresight, their father had bought a couple of extra plots of land in 1868. These came in handy now, since Tod’s mother was less than keen to share the house she had ruled over for more than thirty years with the daughter-in-law she’d had forced upon her so against her wishes. She packed her bags and moved into the house next door to her daughter’s.

The serious and responsible Herbert, who had taken on the daily running of the family business after his father’s death, wasn’t looking forward to Allene’s arrival, either. He and his wife moved near to his parents-in-law on “Millionaires’ Row,” an even richer neighborhood to the east of Pittsburgh. Later he would use the example of his brother’s marriage as a deterrent when bringing up his own children:

A great deal of the trouble in the world comes from too early or willful romances. Therefore, if one kept a boy always with boys and away from the girls, and vice versa, “love’s disturbing element” could not enter into their lives.

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