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The Hill County Vixen Who Tried to Snag a Vanderbilt-Whitney (1920’s)

Looking on the map, the ghost town of Huron, Texas, which used to be a town here in Hill County, Texas, is just a dot on the map. Huron is on Farm Road 933 fifteen miles northwest of Hillsboro in northwestern Hill County. The site was settled sometime after the Civil War, when Huron Gist arrived and established a general store for area farmers. Soon thereafter, a stone gristmill was added and later a church and a three-room schoolhouse. When residents applied for a post office branch, they submitted the name Huron in honor of Gist. The post office operated at Huron from 1897 to 1904. In 1918 the old Huron schoolhouse burned and was replaced by a more modern building. There are few reliable population statistics available for the community, but apparently its population never exceeded fifty.  Cedar Creek Baptist Church is there as well as a few homes. This is where Evan Burrows Fontaine was born on October 2, 1898.

Fawn aka Evan Burrows Fontaine

With a name like Evan Burrows Fontaine, she had to become famous, or infamous. The Fontaine family didn’t stay long in Huron, and by 1900, they had moved on to Dallas, Texas to live with her Mother’s family, the Evans clan. Her father was a Bookkeeper and her Grandfather sold insurance and they ran a boarding house. Just your average middle class family of the times. According to sources, she was trained in dancing by the famous DeShawn and she and her mother, Florence Fonatine, had moved to New York by the time she was 15 to pursue a career and so they did!

1916 San Francisco Chronicle

By 1915 she was living with her mother in New York City and that at an early age she traveled to California where she became a protégée of dancer Ruth St. Denis. She studied and performed with the touring Denishawn Company of Vaudeville dancers. She then embarked on her own solo Vaudeville tour in 1916, supported by Kenneth Harlan, later to be a film star. Vaudeville led quite naturally to Broadway revues, and she appeared in Ziegfeld’s Nine O’Clock Revue (1919-1920) and Ed Wynn’s Carnival (1920). She next appeared in three silent films, Women Men Love, Madonnas and Men, and A Romantic Adventuress, all released in 1920. Her time in the sun was to be short-lived however thanks to an affair she had with the millionaire Cornelius “Sonny” Vanderbilt Whitney, resulting in divorce from her husband Sterling Lawrence Adair (a young sailor from Houston, Texas whom she met on a train in 1917 and married in 1918; the marriage was annulled in 1920. He committed suicide soon thereafter). Fontaine bore a son in 1920 whom she claimed was Whitney’s, resulting in a breach of promise suit against Whitney which Fontaine lost at considerable cost to herself, financial and otherwise.

1922 Scandal!

She later married a former Olympic swimmer, Harold “Stubby” Kruger in 1928 or 1929 (he toured fairs and carnivals with fellow Olympian Johnny Weismuller; he became a Hollywood bit actor and stuntman). Fontaine had a second son, Bobby, by Kruger. They divorced in 1935. Fontaine married a third time in the late 1930s to Jack Lynch, a restaurateur. They managed a Philadelphia night club she owned called the Walton Roof atop the Walton Hotel. Her first son, Neil “Sonny” Winston Fontaine debuted there as a bandleader in 1939–he remained as the club’s master of ceremonies until it closed in 1946. Jack Lynch managed restaurants and clubs in the Philadelphia area until his death in 1957. Fontane lived out the remainder of her life in the small rural town of Paris in northern Virginia. She died at age 86 in the Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Virginia.

1923-1925 Lawsuit
Mother killer in auto/train accident in 1928

William Spotswood Fontaine was her Father and apparently moved around a lot in Texas. His father was quite well-known –

From The Columbus Commercial, Columbus, MS. November 04, 1917

Colonel Fontaine Is Dead

Jackson, Miss., Nov 3. – Col. Williamson Fontaine attached to the staffs of Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson and Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, during the war between the states. Died at his home here Friday, age 84. He was with General Jackson at the time of his death at Chancellorsville. While on General Stuart’s staff he was captured and served nine months as a prisoner in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign on Johnson Island. After the war Colonel Fontaine became a member of the faculty at Baylor Female College at Independence, Texas, and afterwards for 10 years occupied the chair of Latin at the University of Texas.

Curious as to the reason they lived in Huron as in 1880, they were in Burleson and William Fontaine was a practicing Lawyer. After that, his employment seemed to continue as an insurance salesman.

Such was her appeal that she was photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnstonthe photographer of young beauties in that era.
The San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco, California
25 Jan 1925, Sun  •  Page 119

The story goes like this – according to Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. Evan sued Cornelius for breach of promise as well as paternity of the child. She was suing for $1 million dollars, which at the time was a huge sum of money. Evidently, she came into town and asked to see young Whitney. In the room was her Mother, and her Texas Grandfather holding a gun, demanding that he marry Evan (who at the time was still married to the man who would later commit suicide.) They demanded he marry her (this was 1920 and she had not had the child as yet) as it was his child and he had promised! It was shown in court that Evan had asked for an annulment from her first husband and in order to do so, had to prove she wasn’t with him and it had not been a real marriage. Her mother backed her up and an annulment was provided. That’s when she went to confront Whitney.

Whitney’s lawyer provided photographs showing that she was still in touch and together with her annulled husband. Evan and her mother were indicted for perjury and as to the child… the paternity issue was also thrown out. This happened in 1925 and in 1929, it was still ongoing.

1925
1929
1929

I think Evan was one of the people who may have been down, but was never out. In 1928 or 9, she married Harold Stubby Kruger, an Olympic swimming champ and – she was still dancing.

Stubby Kruger

Kruger married dancer and actress Evan-Burrows Fontaine in 1928 or 29. A son Bobby was born to this union before their divorce in 1935. Kruger was a colleague of Johnny Weissmuller’s and performed at carnivals and fairs billed as the Incomparable Water Comedian. He also had a career in Hollywood as an actor and stunt double that began in the silent era and lasted well into the 1950s. His last film credit was as Spencer Tracy’s double in The Old Man and the Sea. In 1986, Kruger was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as a “pioneer swimmer.

In the late 30’s and 40’s, Miami was a hopping scene. Evan and her son Neil Fontaine, who by this time was a bandleader and a singer, were there. Neil was playing at the Club Bali.

Fun in the 40s!

Sometime in the late 1930s Fontaine became a co-owner of the Walton Roof, a Philadelphia night spot atop the Walton Hotel, along with her husband (or soon-to-be husband), restaurateur Jack Lynch. Her first son, Neil “Sonny” Winston Fontaine whose father was Cornelius “Sonny” Vanderbilt Whitney, debuted there as a band leader in 1939, and later served at times as master of ceremonies before the club’s demise in 1946. Jack Lynch was a long-time owner of clubs and restaurants in the Philadelphia area before his death in 1957. Evan-Burrows Fontaine died on December 27, 1984, aged 86, at the Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Virginia. She spent her final years as a resident of Paris, a small rural town in northern Virginia.

Hotel Walton – Philadelphia PA
The Walton Roof was a favorite spot under the direction of Jack Lynch and his friend Evan Burroughs Fontaine, and guests there could be entertained by Sophie Tucker, Georgie Jessel, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

This next clipping may get you singing the famous Barry Manilow song…. “at the Copa…..” What a story and what a life. We can only hope Evan had a full and productive life as I am sure Neil did. Neil passed away in February of 2010 at the age of 80. What stories they all must have told!

At the Copa – Neil Fontaine

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A Tragic Tale of Murder in Hubbard

On August 22, 1922, a tragic murder occurred in downtown Hubbard in front of the Taulman store. Was it a case of self-defense or a clear case of murder?

The August heat in Texas seems never-ending and it can be unbearable. Imagine the scene, a hot dry August day about 5:00 or so in the afternoon. It was a Friday. Quitting time after working a full day on constructing a building in downtown Hubbard, and Martin Luther Wisenbaker was packing his tools and getting ready to go home to his wife and 13 children. Mr. Wisenbaker was 44 years old at the time, and had come with his family to Texas from Georgia. They called him Luther and he had a twin brother who lived in Mineola, Texas.

Luther and his family lived towards Dawson, a short distance from Hubbard on a property or farm of the Wilkes family. There are a couple of newspaper accounts of the day, as well as the Appeal of Conrad Simpkins (the shooter), which I have relied upon to piece together what happened on that hot and fateful day in 1922 that changed the lives of so many people.

After working the day on constructing a building downtown in Hubbard, Luther Wisenbaker was packing up his tools when Conrad Simpkins entered the area. Did they have an argument? Were words exchanged? Conrad Simpkins was about 26 years old in 1922, and allegedly, he was interested in one of Luther’s young daughters who was possibly only 15 or 16 at the time. Luther objected to the relationship or interest Conrad took in his daughter and would not have been too happy to see Conrad Simpkins that day. Not only was he hot and tired, he most likely was incensed upon seeing Conrad Simpkins.

In 1922, was it common to carry a gun in Hubbard? We know that Conrad Simpkins did. We don’t know the intent of Conrad Simpkins that day. Why did he approach Luther Wisenbaker? Did he intend to get into an argument? Did he intend to shoot Luther Wisenbaker? We will never know. In a space of time, an argument commenced in front of the Taulman store. Wisenbaker took a hammer and struck Conrad Simpkins and Conrad Simpkins fired his pistol, striking Luther Wisenbaker three times, once in the heart, once in the side and once in the leg. He was killed almost instantly.

1920’s Revolver

According to the Appeal filed in criminal court, Simpkins was struck in the head by a hammer and this evidence was not presented at the murder trial. According to the Justice of the Peace, Simpkins stated to him that Luther Wisenbaker struck him in the head with a hammer, and Simpkins was bleeding 30 minutes or so after the shooting from a wound on his head.

The case was remanded for retrial due to the fact that the evidence of the hammer wound on Conrad Simpkins’ head was not presented at trial. What happened after that could not be determined. It is known, according to census records, that Conrad Simpkins was in Hillsboro in 1930 working at a service station. He died in 1961 at the age of 63 in Fort Worth, Texas. How much time he actually served for the manslaughter or murder of Martin Luther Wisenbaker.

There are many stories such as this in small towns everywhere. Tragedies that ripple in time down the families of those involved.

Headstone of Martin Luther Wisenbaker (Dover Cemetery, Dawson, Texas)
Newspaper Story

https://casetext.com/case/simpkins-v-the-state

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A Typical Hubbard Home in 1915

HUBBARD HISTORY — This was the home of Ward R. Dean in 1915. It was on a postcard that “Kittie” wrote home to Massachusetts August of 1915. “Kittie” appeared to be studying music (there was a music college here in Hubbard at the time). She was sailing out of Galveston and appeared to be going back home. From what I can tell from census records, this house was located at 208 Bois D’ Arc here in Hubbard. It appears to no longer be here. (If any one knows any different, please let us know). Mr. Dean was a cotton buyer and is buried here in Hubbard at Fairview Cemetery. He passed away when he contracted pneumonia in 1918. He was 43.

The “Real Postcard” thing was a huge deal from 1905 to about 1917 (ish), and lingered on until about 1930. Many of the inks and chemicals used in the postcards came from Germany, which explains the decline in interest about 1917.

[House of W. R. Dean], postcard, 1915; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/…/metapth1212784/m1/2/…: accessed October 14, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Private Collection of T. B. Willis.

308 Bois D’ Arc – Hubbard, TX?
Fairview Cemetery, Hubbard, TX