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Hans Bonhart Munchow
One of the most intriguing men to call Vernon home was a con man from Germany, Hans Bonhart Munchow, who passed himself off as an Austrian/Hungarian nobleman. The account that follows is pieced together from documents and newspaper articles.
He only spent three years in Vernon, but despite his duplicity and swagger he left Vernon with an iconic landmark. He transformed Valley Falls Farm from a typical small New England farm to a European style gentlemen's farm.
Hans Munchow or Muenchow was born November 5,1883 in Artern, Germany, a town of about 5,000 75 miles Southwest of Berlin, to Bernhard and Hedwig Muenchow. He says he graduated from University in Berlin at age 19 in about 1902. His first voyage to America was in October 1907 when at the age of 25 he sailed from Hamburg, Germany on the 'Patricia' to New York City. During the next two years he took his measure of early 20th Century America and the opportunities available to an ambitious young foreigner. The automobile was just emerging as the successor to the horse and buggy and the invention fascinated Americans, particularly wealthy Americans.
On his first trip to America he left Hamburg on Sept 28, 1907 and arrived at New York. He gave as his occupation merchant and indicated he was not emigrating. At the time he said he was living in Friedenau.
He purchased the Colonel Sharps farm in 1909???
Two years after arriving he made another voyage to Germany returning from Bremen in October 1910 on the Kaiser Wilhelm luxury liner out of Bremen (GET EVIDENCE) as the representative of the Geschwa shock absorber company. On the voyage he met and won the heart of Southern belle Henrietta Cassin, from a wealthy Louisville, Kentucky family, who was 25 years his senior. At that time wealthy Americans enjoyed visiting Europe and slow travel by ocean liner provided plenty of time to meet and impress fellow passengers. Hans was charming, charismatic and without scruples.
Henrietta's parents were Henry Cassin and Josephine Enderlin per her death certificate. He was from Prussia and she from Louisville so Henrietta also had German roots. [He was not Henry F. (1855-1921) married to Cathrine Bannon who was Irish and had children Florence, Frank and Mary.] [Or Henry Cassin (1820-1898) father of James and Detctive Captain Michael. He was the uncle of Henry F, assistant clerk of the US District Court.]
She is daughter of Henry Cassin (??-1900) of Selma, AL whose daughters were Henrietta Cassin and Amelia Baker. There is a lengthy will and Henrietta was the executor and living in Selma.
Henrietta was born November 15, 1875.
In the early Twentieth Century many small companies hoped to become auto designers and manufacturers, and with an established manufacturing base Hartford was in competition with Detroit to become the home of the American auto. The best known Hartford manufacturer was probably, Pope but there were others in the Connecticut River Valley including ?????
Hans chose Hartford as the place to make his mark as the representative of a German manufacturer. Germany already had a reputation for its excellent engineering and manufacturing capabilities and Hans had no trouble endearing himself to Hartford society and the fledgling automobile business community. He rented an office on the fourth floor of the prestigious Connecticut Mutual Building in Hartford at the corner of Pearl and Main. Known in the city as 'The Baron' he likely charmed the wives of Hartford's business community at social events as well as the businessmen themselves exaggerating his importance and capabilities with his employer.
He chose to make his home in Vernon where he purchased Lyman's Valley Falls farm in 1910, which at the time included the farmhouse and red barn on Valley Falls Road as well as the fields and dammed pond. The property had changed hands a number of times since the failure of Christian Sharps' trout farm in 18?? and burning of the cotton mill in 1879?. Rockville was the center of manufacture in the area and Valley Falls was a perfect site for a young man with the intention of becoming a wealthy gentleman farmer.
|CT Mutual Building at Pearl & Main in Hartford.
Munchow's office was on the fourth floor.
At the time he moved to Vernon he was unmarried, but likely engaged to Henrietta and planning to use her money to improve the farm and live the life of a wealthy European businessman. Vernon believed a millionaire had come to town and likely welcomed him with open arms. In Rockville there were several German clubs including ???? where he could speak his native language and would have been welcomed.
In Hasel Lutz' description of Munchow, who she refers to as a 'Count,' she says that he "was a tall, well-groomed man with a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard, who sat up straight in the narrow carriage with a seat just wide enough for two, himself and his Great Dane dog. This turn-out was drawn by a lovely dappled grey horse. At times he rode his saddle horses along the trails through the woods nearby. The Count was responsible for bringing other Hungarian families to Vernon to work as masons, cooks and caretakers on his estate."
Indeed living at the farm with him was the Michaels' family, also from Germany. Philip Michaels ran the farm, and his wife Katherine was a servant to the Munchows. Another German Frederick Stohl was a hired hand on the farm. Thus Hans could be the gentleman farmer while others did the work, probably primarily for a place in America to get started.
To enhance his image he bought and drove to work a large green Stevens-Duryea Roadster. He hired a stenographer from Rockville, Rose Martin, who he drove to work and, per the Hartford Courant, 'with a gallant air assisted her from the car to the elevator.' The Stevens-Duryea auto was developed in ??? and manufactured in Springfield, MA. Munchow likely had a relationship with them as a parts supplier.
Living In Vernon
|1912 shock absorber ad in the Hartford Courant.
The 1910 Census finds Munchow still unmarried and living in Vernon. He now claims to be 32 and born in 1878, not 1883 and 27. He has added 5 yeas to his age probably to seem older to Henrietta. As a gentleman farmer did it look better to be a little older?
Hans Munchow owned Valley Falls Farm from 1910-13. He built the Stable and several of the buildings on the hillside which give the farm its picturesque look. He also is credited with rebuilding the red barn. Although living in Vernon for only three years his impact on the farm was significant.
The Census lists his occupation as a traveling salesman selling mining stock. He owned the farm with a mortgage and had 91 animals.
Also living at the farm was the Michaels family - Philip (48), Katherine (32), William (7), Elsie (3) and John (5) - as well as Frederick Stahl (24). Philip was the foreman at the farm and Katherine, his wife, was a servant to Munchow. The adults were all born in Germany. The Michaels children were born in New York. Frederick Stahl was an unmarried hired man. Munchow may have brought them to America but likely brought them to Vernon. At the time Rockville had a substantial German population to support the mills.
During his period in Vernon Munchow met and married Henrietta Cassin, who is listed as his wife in 1912.
It was in January 1911, during his occupation of the farm, that the nearby Southeast District schoolhouse on Bolton Road burned. It had been unused for several years at the time.
Hans and Henrietta of Maryville, Kentucky were married at the brides home on June 24, 1911.
Hasel Lutz in her article on Valley Falls for the Rockville Journal has this to say about Munchow:
"One of the early Colonial homes along Valley Falls Road is located opposite the pond. In the late 1890's it was owned by Count Munchow, a Hungarian nobleman who lived the life of a gentleman farmer there. It was he who built the large, elaborate stable at the crest of the hill to house his fine horses. The interior walls are made of matched boards and its stable accessories are custom made."
"The Count, some recall, was a tall, well-groomed man with a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard, who sat up straight in the narrow carriage with a seat just wide enough for two, himself and his Great Dane dog. This turn-out was drawn by a lovely dappled grey horse. At times he rode his saddle horses along the trails through the woods nearby. The Count was responsible for bringing other Hungarian families to Vernon to work as masons, cooks and caretakers on his estate. Legend has it that he suddenly auctioned off all of his farm tools, sold his property and went to Hollywood where he became a successful movie producer."
Locally Count Munchow had an air of mystery. He was thought by many to be a Hungarian nobleman and certainly nurtured that impression. His demeanor and lifestyle while living in Vernn seemed to confirm this. He spent laviously on farm improvements, dressed and played the part as a tall well-roomed man with a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard, who sat up straight in his narrow carriage with a seat just wide enough for two - hiself and his Grat Dane dog. The carriage was drawn by a lovely dappled grey horse. At times he rode his saddle horses along the trails through the nearb woods.
He certainly cut a fine figure at 6 foot and 195 pounds with his Van Dyke beard.
Henrietta was likely not used to living in an old farm house and may have stayed in Hartford at first after their marriage. Hans built for her a bungalow on Bolton Road near the location of the later Beach House. He named it 'The Alabama' and some of Henrietta's family connections. Beyond mention in a newspaper article there is no other record of the bungalow. Once completed they likely lived there.
Although the cotton mill had burned many years earlier the mill's boarding house was part of the Munchow estate. It is likely that some of the help hired by Hans lived there.
During 1912 Hans advertised his shock absorbers heavily in the Hartford Courant. The newspaper listed imports of shock absorbers and auto fenders.
In March 1912 Hans returned from another trip to Germany on the 'George Washington' out of Bremen. He gave his place of residence as Berlin and listed his marital status as 'Widower'. He was 30 years old.
A month later he began transfering his property to Henrietta. He transferred title to his wife in Ari 1912. The property was subject toa tax lien, four mortgages and some commerrcial attachments including one for the Hartford Brown-thompson department store.
The 1913 Hartford Auto Show
The 1913 auto show took place from February 8 through the 15th promoting itself at 'A Trip To India"
On Feb. 25, 1913 he again departed Hamburg for New York on the 'Amerika'. He was 32 and indicated he was single, a merchant and not emigrating.
|1913 Stevens-Duryea Roadster
similar to Munchow's auto.
America fell in love with their new technology. To promote automobiles the Hartford Automobile Dealers' Association produced an elaborate show each year in February to introduce the new models. During Munchow's time the event was held at the State Armory on Broad Street in Hartford and they were grand events that all levels of society looked forward to. Each year was themed, usually based on a different country. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra performed concerts twice each day.
Hans had a booth at the India themed Sixth Annual Auto Show in 1913. It was a lavish week-long event. The Armory was transformed into scenes from India with the walls spread with enormous canvases painted with scenes of India. At the entrance a great molded tiger confronted visitors. The Taj Mahal, which took five men nearly three months to paint, covered one entire wall. It was claimed to be the largest painted curtain in the world.
A fifty musician orchestra performed concerts each afternoon and evening in the center of the floor where a great sounding board was constructed to carry the sound throughout the building. Selections ranged from ragtime to classical.
Automobile improvements for 1913 included self starters and six-cylinder engines, pneumatic tires, imported upholstery and adjusted shock absorbers. Munchow's product was promoted as producing a comfortable ride. Forty five automobile manufacturers were represented with prices ranging from $400 to $7,000.
There was an expected attendance of 100,000 people.
Although a digression from Munchow's story this description of the 1913 Hartford Auto Show tells a lot about the times and the society he thrived in. It's an era and type of event before movies, the looming war and the depression that would follow that we don't appreciate today.
"Exit Munchow;Creditors Mourn"
Two months after the auto show this was the headline of an April 24, 1913 article in The Hartford Courant.
The 1913 Hartford Auto Show was Munchow's last hurrah in Hartford. He had run up large debts from his expensive life style and developing his farm. The previous October he returned to Germany to meet with his employer. Munchow likely had been dishonest about his sales results. Also tensions between Germany and Europe were building and the First World War was looming.
There was one other major factor influencing Munchow's exit from Hartford. He was having an affair with his stenographer from Rockville and perhaps his wife was suspicious by this time. She was 54 years old, her husband had spent the money she brought to the marriage and she was far from Kentucky. They sold off parts of the Valley Falls estate the previous fall to settle some of their debts.
Munchow gave up his quarters in the Connecticut Mutual Building in March. He then rented a house at 801 Albany Avenue for one month where he and Henrietta went to live. Then he vanished.
As the Courant put it was 'as though the earth had opened and swallowed him up.' At the same time Rose Martin packed her things and left Rockville saying she was going to Pittsburgh, PA to work. The rumor in Vernon was that the Baron went to Hollywood to produce movies.
Henrietta had been left in Hartford to clean up the financial mess Hans left. Before leaving he transferred all the property at Valley Falls to her. She sold it in ???? and returned to her family in Kentucky. Henrietta was left to sell Valley Falls Farm and pay off what debts she could. She stayed with an Allen Page in Hartford on New Britain Avenue and then returned to Louisville, Kentucky where she lived with family until her death in 1940.
Henritta sold the property to Anne Werner of Fredericksburg, Virginia in August 1913 got $8,000. At this time the acreage was 154 acres and one f the largest in that part of town. One by one the liens, moargages and other debts were cleared so that Werner received cleear title. Werner did not come to Vernon and it is suspected, but not proved, that she had a connection to the Cassin family and bailed out Henrietta. Two years later in April 1915 Anna Werner sold the estate to Mary Batterson Beach.
Henrietta died at age 81 in Louisville, Kentucky still calling herself by her married name of Henrietta Cassin Munchow. At the time of death she live at 2143 Sycamore Ave. with W. Harold Franz. Her parents are listed as Henry Cassin was born in Prusia and Josephine enderlin, both in Louisville and living at 2143 Sycamore Avenue. She was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery on Sept. 13, 1940. Cause of death was myocoriditis due to senility. She had been suffering for 5 years.
The 1940 US Census lists her as Henrietta C. Munchow, 81, divorced and living with her cousin, W H Franz, 60, at 2143 Sycamore in Louisville. She was also living her in 1935. She gradualted high school but did not go to college.
The 1919 city directory also lists her as living at 2143 Sycamore Avenue.
Henrietta had previously traveled to Europe. In June of 1904 she sailed from New York to Antwerp.
The 1880 Census indicates she was 17 and at school. She had a sister Amelia who was 15. Her father was born in 1840 in Prussia and her mother in 1845 in Kentucky. Henry F. Cassin was the US Commissioner and assitant clerk of the US District Court.
Rose Martin was born in 1889, the daughter of Rockville's G. Carl Martin. She was 21 in 1910 when Munchow arrived in Vernon and probably very impressed that a young man of his wealth and nobility was interested in her. Rose's father worked at the New England Company mill on Thompson Street and lived at 26 Mountain Street in Rockville. Her grandfather, A. Leroy Martin, owned E.J. Martin's Sons, which manufactured silk fishing lines at 26 Mountain Street in Rockville. He also owned the house on Davis that Rose grew up in.
Hans and Rose did go west to hide spending the next five??? years in Texas where he and Rose gave birth to daughters Eva in September 1914 and Marie in July 1917. We wonder if his creditors pursued him and if he was arrested at any point. It is also possible that he wanted to avoid being drawn by his German employer into the war.
The Hartford Courant received a letter in October of 1914 from Mrs. Vera Calhoun of Alpine, Texas asking if the search was still being continued for Munchow. Texas must have learned Hartford problems. Did his creditors follow up?
Texas must have been too quiet for Hans. In 1919 he was back in New York City where he applied for citizenship which was granted in 1920. In the application he states that he is married to Henrietta Munchow of Louisville, Kentucky and that he has two children living with him - Eva and Marie - and that he is employed as a chauffeur.
In the 1920 US Census he is living with his family in New York City and working as a salesman for an investment broker. He lists Rose as his wife. He is at 1025 Lexington Avenue, apparently an apartment house in Manhattan with 69 families. He has Amercanized his name as 'Henry'.
He was naturalized in New York in April 1921 and at the time was still married to Henrietta. The record shows that they had two children Eva (born 1914) and Marie (born 1917). His date of birth was listed here as November 5, 1883, which would have made him 37 years old at the time. He states that he lived continuously in New York since September 1917.
The description provided says he was 195 pounds with brown hair and eyes, that his address was 246 East 72 Street in New York City and that his occupation was a chauffeur. He was born in Artern, Germany. Henrietta at the time resided in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Hanover Finance Corporation
Hans wasted little time in New York City coming up with a new scheme to make money.
With some others he formed the Hanover Finance Corporation of which he was the president. It was a time after the Great War and before the 1929 stock market crash when things were booming. His scheme was to find investors telling them that the business of the corporation was to finance banks. That they were bonded for $50,000 by the US Government, that the books were regularly audited by government agents and that it is was in touch with big banking interests. His potential investors gained the impression that the corporation was partly a governmental concent. He held out the prospect of large profits.
The investors he targeted were German immigrants of a humble station in life who had saving bank accounts. As a fellow German immigrant Hans worked slowly gaining their trust until they assigned their bank accounts to him. In Hartford he was a colorful rogue scaming the wealthy; but in New York he prayed on his fellow German immigrants.
In July 1922 the scheme fell apart and Hans, at age 37, was arrested in Manhattan with 20 people complaining they had entrusted an aggregate of $30,000 to him. This included an aged music teacher who lost her life savings, a mailman who also lost his savings and a boot black. His bail was set at $7,500.
Hans, probably under investigation, saw the collapse coming and a year earlier had resigned as president of Hanover and filed for bankruptcy.
He also did something else just before his arrest. At Bridgeport, CT Superior Court in February 1922 Hans and Henrietta were finally divorced. Two months later in April 1922 Hans and Rose married, also in Bridgeport. Three months later he was arrested. Hans didn't do things without a reason. Likely Rose needed the legal status as his wife and mother of their two young children should he be imprisoned.
We don't know if he was imprisoned for this crime. If so it was for a short time as in the 1925 NY Census, now married, he has moved to Long Island City, Queens and is in a single family house. According to the 1930 US Census he is listed as Harry Muenchow, rents at 8 Pomander Walk and is working as an Insurance Broker. Their daughters are now 12 and 14.
In 1936 Hans crimes finally caught up with him as he is arrested again and this time sent to prison - 'up the river' as they called it to New York's famous Sing Sing Prison for the July 1935 criminal act of 'obtaining money by fraudulent representation.' He was 52 years old and sentenced to 114 days. At the time he is incarcerated Rose has separated from him and he has not been supporting her or the children, but he is still living in New York.
After leaving prison Hans applied for Social Security in July 1838. He died in Manhattan on June 20, 1939 at age 56.
Hans best years were the few he spent in Vernon from 1910 to 1913. He played the role of a European Count, had plenty of money to indulge his fantasies and likely charmed Hartford. A fascinating character Hans left Vernon with a much loved site that would attract the Beach family two years later in 1915.
Rose Martin Muenchow
Rosa also seems to have disappeared. Did she change her name back to Martin, or even remarry? Did she return to her family in Rockville? An Eva and Marie Munchow show up in Australia but Munchow, Muenchow or von Munchow are not unusual names in Germany.
'History of Valley Falls Park' by Carol & Ronald Burke.
Lutz, Hazel P. (1976). Vernon Vignettes, Volume II. Vernon Historical Society. 76 pages. Short stories of Vernon's past including Valley Falls.
1910 U. S. Census
1921 Naturalization Papers