Greed in the Gilded Age: The Brilliant Con of Cassie Chadwick
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About the Author
Against the backdrop of the Gilded Age, Hazelgrove briskly charts the career of scammer Cassie Chadwick. Born Elizabeth Bigley in 1857 in Canada, she forged checks as a young teen, was arrested, and later released on account of her age and on grounds of insanity. She later joined an older sister in America, where she changed her name multiple times, married three men for their money, and engaged in various scams. Her greatest con came under the name of Cassie Chadwick. As a wealthy doctor's wife, Chadwick spent a fortune on European trips, diamonds, and designer clothes. Claiming to be the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie, she persuaded banks to loan her money based on forged promissory notes from Carnegie and vague promises. But it all came crashing down in 1904 when she was arrested by federal agents and tried and convicted of conspiracy to defraud the Citizens Bank of Oberlin. In 1905, her trial made bigger headlines than the inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt. She died in prison in 1907. Excerpts from newspaper stories of the day dramatize the sensational proceedings. True crime fans will devour this sad, cautionary tale of a brilliant woman brought down by greed.
The con of the century is told through countless quotes and firsthand reports, bringing to life the socialites, robber barons, unsuspecting bankers, and law enforcement officers. The Gilded Age is explored as well, placing the con in context and painting a lifelike portrait of the times amid the plethora of scandals hitting newspapers. Bestselling author Hazelgrove brings a sensational tale little-told in the modern day to new readers in stunning detail. While brilliantly written and appealing to fans of true crime, seasoned readers of history and nonfiction will feel the most at home with the text.
Hazelgrove chronicles the life and crimes of Cassie Chadwick, who, during the Gilded Age, scammed bankers out of millions of dollars, causing one bank failure and leading to the death of the head of a bank. Chadwick convinced prominent bankers, attorneys, and a reverend that she was the illegitimate daughter of industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie; she even dropped by Carnegie's home to pretend to retrieve promissory notes. When her scam came to light, she was prosecuted; the ensuing trial generated so much press that Carnegie himself sat in to observe. Hazelgrove vividly sets the scene, drawing intriguing parallels and contrasts between Carnegie and Chadwick--Carnegie ruthlessly punished striking workers who were protesting unsafe working conditions, while Chadwick broke the law in the pursuit of wealth, yet only Chadwick was held accountable. The delightfully sensationalist writing ("questions that rained down like nails into his soul") evokes the yellow journalism of the era. Readers curious about the Gilded Age or who enjoy stories of con artists will appreciate Hazelgrove's lively tale of a most ambitious grifter.
Very rarely do I use the word "perfect" to describe a book, but Greed in the Gilded Age by William Elliott Hazelgrove certainly comes close! Overall, the story of Cassie Chadwick's life is interesting on its own, but William Hazelgrove has given it new depth through his thoroughness and talent with situating a story in history.