by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Yda Addis, the talented writer, poet and journalist who was embroiled in a bitter divorce after a short-lived marriage to Santa Barbara lawyer and legislator Charles A. Storke, had a fine writer’s vivid imagination, so today’s post covers an element of her long-running fight against Storke that sounds like something out of the wildest of Victorian-era dime novels.
Early in 1892, after a sensational trial featuring all manner of bitter invective, biting accusations and surprising revelations, a Superior Court judge ruled that Yda’s allegations of cruelty against Charles were not true. The judge added that Storke’s complaint was true, though he noted that Addis was not insane, even as her mental and physical state rendered her not responsible for acts that he determined were not proved by the standard of statutes to be cruel.
Even if the judge’s determination was somewhat ambiguous, because a divorce decree was not actually given, what did remain was that Storke was obligated to pay some alimony and legal expenses for Addis and this clearly did not sit well with Charles. He was bound and determined to avoid paying her a cent and his legal acumen and temperament were particularly well-suited to seeking delays at virtually any cost.
Five months after the trial, news reports indicated that Yda, lacking funds to begin with and having to fight for what she obtained by judgment in court, was in deep financial distress. The San Francisco Examiner of 7 July stated in a short piece that Addis “has petitioned the [Santa Barbara County] Board of Supervisors for county aid.” Denoting a shift in the media’s perception of her status and situation, it added that, while “she is a literary woman of considerable note” and made good money at one time, “her health is feeble and she is now unable to support herself.”
The Examiner followed that, the next day, with an even more dramatic rendering, more in line with what the William Randolph Hearst paper employed in its journalistic stylings, claiming that
Weak, broken-spirited and sick, Yda Addis Storke has gone to the poorhouse. The vicissitudes of life were never presented in a more striking way than when she applied to the Supervisors yesterday for county aid . . . on being interviewed by an Examiner representative, Mrs. Storke stated that she had been out of employment for so long, being unable to endure the fatigue of mental work and her bodily strength being inadequate for manual labor, that she had no means or relatives on whom to call for assistance.
She added that she’d received $25 from Charles a little more than a year prior, but nothing since and was dependent on friends for her subsistence. The paper described her appearance as that of “a much debilitated woman; her face is pinched and wan, her step feeble and her eyes burn with an unrestful, suffering look that makes one pity her even before he learns her history.”
The Examiner embellished, as it was wont to do, her past, saying she came from “an aristocratic family of one of the Southern States” and had a “fine education.” Her father was a tailor and then a photographer in Kansas and the family lived for several years in northern Mexico, while she graduated from Los Angeles High School, likely a decent enough institution, but not what would be assumed to be, say, a woman’s college. The paper added that “she was a splendid descriptive writer.”
Then came another bombshell, though it was mangled in important details and one wonders how the Examiner came to obtain the information (Storke and his legal background and connections, perhaps?). After she came to California, the account went, she worked for the San Francisco literary journal, The Argonaut, and then settled in Los Angeles. While in the Angel City, it went on,
she met a Chicago journalist named Gasterfield, who became quite intimate with her, and she was eventually made one of the correspondents in the divorce suit brought by his wife, which was a cause celebre in Chicago some five years ago. To escape testifying Gasterfield sent her to Mexico . . . On returning to Los Angeles she pursued newspaper work and became, after a short acquaintance, engaged, as she claimed, to ex-Gov. Downey.
Notably, the paper said Downey fled from her to his sister’s home in San Francisco, that Yda used a writ of habeus corpus (or unlawful detainer by the sister), and that Downey paid Addis $5000 “to release him from her attentions.” There was then a recitation of the Addis-Storke relationship, marriage and divorce case, which, it was added, was on appeal to the state Supreme Court.
A week later, Yda responded to the Los Angeles newspapers, the Express and the Herald (which her estranged husband founded and owned but briefly in 1873-74) with letters that were substantially the same, but with slightly different wording (which happened with previous missives published by papers during her divorce case). In a hybrid of both, we find that Addis claimed that “I have not been, nor made application to be, nor shall I be, either in the county hospital or the poorhouse.”
She went on to aver that this was propagated by a reporter “who is domiciled in my husband’s office” and further asserted that the Examiner story “is entirely a fabrication.” She said the paper’s representative “has never dared to speak to or come near me” as her friends would have driven him off.
She threatened that “the wholesale slanders being issued about me will be duly dealt with.” She acknowledged her poverty and physical weakness, though pledging that she was in better health that for over a year. Yda concluded that “I am quite competent and determined to defend and vindicate myself to the utmost” and that “measures are now under way to that end.”
At the end of July came another startling piece, this one in the San Francisco Chronicle, and which was titled “A Tragic Romance.” The article began by praising Yda for “a good reputation by her interesting and accurate descriptions of life and scenes in Mexico and elsewhere,” but turned to “her distressing matrimonial experiences [which] have brought her name into a notoriety which to a woman of refined nature is nothing short of torture.”
The paper’s account of the Downey affair was accompanied by a statement that the great boom of the 1880s, which ended around the time that the incident receded from the headlines, included, purportedly, financial ruin for Yda’s mother, who, it was said, lost all of her Los Angeles property. It also briefly related the sordid nature of the Storke divorce case and quoted from the Examiner’s claim of Addis’ romance in Los Angeles with “Gasterfield.”
Here, too, Yda replied, telling the Chronicle that there were erroneous accounts of her age, hair color, her ancestry (some sources evidently stated she had Spanish/Mexican blood) and asserted that she came from a famed Kentucky pioneer, James Harrod. Explaining the situation with Downey, she noted that she never filed a breach of promise suit and only sought to assist him as he was “being deprived of his liberty by his relatives.”
Where Storke was concerned, Addis added something new to her narrative, claiming “nor did I ever sue my husband for divorce,” averring rather that “the suit for divorce was brought by his former wife [Martha More] on the ground of extreme cruelty” and adding that records showed that “she proved all her charges” as well as custody of the two daughters (the eldest Minita was the subject of a recent post here.) Yda, however, also told the paper that Storke “was denied on both counts” of cruelty and insanity by her against him, though, as noted above, the judge ruled that his allegations on the former were true, even if tempered by her mental and physical state, making her “irresponsible” for her actions.
In any case, the account in the Chronicle is much superior in fact to that of the Examiner, including her settlement with her family in Los Angeles in 1872 and her teaching career for several years after high school graduation. She spent time in New Mexico (her father Alfred went there first) before returning to the City of Angels in September 1882. A few months later, Downey and his wife were in the terrible Tehachapi Pass train wreck, in which she died, and shortly afterward Yda and the elderly former governor entered into the disputed relationship. The paper then stated that, in 1885, she went to Chihuahua, where the family lived in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and joined her parents (Mrs. Addis, however, was in Los Angeles during the period when Yda and Downey were first linked.)
Notably, Yda told the Chronicle that “In February 1886, my father drove me away from his home . . . because I refused to bring suit for breach of promise of marriage” against Downey. She added that she refrained from returning to California because she was told that, if she did, Downey would be killed. Instead, she went to Mexico City, where she knew Ygnacio Sepulveda, formerly a lawyer and judge in Los Angeles, but then a prominent figure in the capital city.
It was there in Mexico City that Sepulveda introduced Addis to Theodore Gestefeld, editor of the English-language The Two Republics newspaper, and she was hired as a journalist for the sheet. She asserted, however, that Gestefeld insisted upon “unwelcome but persistent attentions,” although he had his wife and children “somewhere in the States.”
Then, the account continued, “Miss Addis became the victim of one of the strangest cases of mistaken identity on record” as a woman who was described as if her doppelganger happened to show up, though “this was unknown to her at the time.” Yda related that it was after her father’s death, later in 1886, that she learned a stunning fact: “in early life Mr. Addis had contracted an alliance with another woman than his wife.” To them was born a daughter, a half-sister of Yda who “bore the most startling resemblance” to Addis.
It was asserted that “this girl had an unfortunate career” and a variety of names, one being “Maude Wallace Addis” and she happened to be in Mexico City at the same time Addis was working for Gestefeld. So, naturally, the rumors of impropriety between Yda and her boss actually concerned the remarkable coincidence of the previously unknown half-sister (she of the “unfortunate career”) and her liaison with Gestefeld. The divorce in Chicago was really about Maud and her assignations with Gestefeld, not poor Yda.
Addis looked to bolster her claim with a purported “mass of documentary evidence” including a letter written by Maude to a man in Chihuahua stating how she discovered her father and his living in that city. The letter evidently related how she lived “a life of shame in Chicago” when a man there called to her and asked why she was not in Mexico. This man allegedly gave Maude, who decided not to reveal her true identity to this stranger, the address of Alfred Addis in Chihuahua, but she went first to New York, became ill and was hospitalized—all before Alfred died in fall 1886.
Yda happened to have another letter in which Maude conveniently detailed her relationship with Gestefeld in that “they went freely in public together, and he made no secret of their relations” before a lover’s spat ended the affair. The Chronicle appears to have accepted this story wholesale, writing that “it is to this unfortunate but reasonable mistake that much of this poor woman’s [Yda’s] trouble is due.”
Moreover, these missives from Maude were penned, it was explained, while both sisters were unaware of each other’s existence in “a veritable comedy of errors.” Yda, having purportedly learned of Maude from “letters found among her father’s effects,” hired a private detective to locate her half-sister.
Consequently, the “Miss Addis” from the Gestefeld divorce suit, of course, was not Yda, but Maude and designing persons “inimical” to Yda circulated the fabrication that it was her, not Maude, who was in the tawdry affair “but have dishonestly refrained from explaining that there were two women bearing the same surname, but of entirely opposite moral characters.”
This article ended with Yda relaying to the Chronicle that, “in justice” to Charles Storke, “his friends claim that he is of a very eccentric disposition and difficult of comprehension” because of “the horrors” he suffered as a teenage prison of war of the Confederate Army at such notorious camps as Andersonville. Indeed, the piece concluded, “no man who underwent the tortures of that living hell ever fully recovered his normal condition either of mind or body.” Aside from the conditions of his divorce from Martha More, though, Storke was a successful lawyer, served in the state legislature, and would go on to be Santa Barbara district attorney.
As for Maude Wallace Addis, she did actually exist, as was briefly noted in an earlier post in this series about Yda—but there are some notable variances with what the latter claimed in her revelations to the Chronicle. For one things, Alfred Addis left his family, not in “early life,” but when Yda was about eight or nine years old and married Maude’s mother, Ellen Wallace, in Cincinnati. He then abandoned Maude and her mother, who secured a divorce in 1872 on the grounds of abandonment, and returned to his first family by spring 1868.
Maude lived with her mother and stepfather, who married in 1874 when she was about eight years old, in Illinois and Iowa and was, in fact, recorded in the 1885 Iowa state census. Now, while it is possible she then left for Chicago and an “unfortunate career” and “a life of shame” in the Windy City and then went to Mexico to conduct an illicit love affair with the employer of her then-unknown half-sister—all within a year or so—just seems highly implausible. This is notwithstanding the fact that there is no way to document that Maude was ever in Chicago or in Mexico City and that no one at the Chronicle seems to have considered the idea of trying to both verify Yda’s story or track Maude down for her version of events.
Maude died just nine months after the claims made by her half-sister in April 1893 in Newport, Rhode Island and, although she’d taken the surname of her stepfather Alvin Yeaton, her gravestone at North Burial Ground in that city bears the name “Maud W. Addis” and is inscribed “in the 26th year of her age.” Again, it is very unlikely that she could have traveled so rapidly from Des Moines to Chicago to Mexico City and been party to the most remarkable of circumstances as alleged by Yda and her death so shortly afterward obviously obviated any possibility of corroborating the narrative her half-sister spun.
The next post takes us to the next phase of the messy and protracted divorce case involving Yda and Charles, so check back for that.