Robert Ray Hamilton was 37 years old when he met his daughter for the first time. A year and a half later, he would die more famous than he had ever been, a tragic chump in a scandal that transfixed newspaper readers across the country. But in early January 1889, as he ducked past the Third Avenue Railway and entered a flat at 208 E. 14th St., the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton could still make sense of his life. He was a well-respected state assemblyman, he owned real estate all over New York City, and descended from one of the young nation’s founding fathers.
Reports from papers like the New York World, the New York Times, the New York Tribune, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle told how Robert Ray Hamilton spent weekends away from his legislative work in Albany visiting a woman named Evangeline, or Eva Steele. Hamilton and Steele would later testify in court that they met in a house on 43rd, 44th, or 45th Street in Manhattan. Three years into the relationship, Eva told Robert Ray Hamilton that he was going to be a father. He sent her money, $500 to $1,500 at a time, but saw her rarely since she traveled around throughout much of that year before settling in upstate Elmira. She told Hamilton that she intended to rest through the last few weeks of her pregnancy. At the time, a typical practice for women approaching full term was to hide away on bedrest for a period known as their “confinement.”
When Eva Steele returned to New York City, she set her life and Hamilton’s on a new course that would throw the distinguished politician into infamy. One of their defining moments took place at the boarding house on 14th Street, where Steele had ensconced herself with the new baby, along with her friend Josh Mann, nicknamed “Dotty,” and Mann’s mother, T. Anna Swinton.
An 1880 census recorded 21 people living in the house at that time, mostly salesmen, clerks, housewives, and children. In 1882, two of the wives noticed some of their dresses and jewelry were missing. At first they suspected the housemaid, but eventually discovered the thief was one of the other wives in residence who was, as the New York Herald put it, just a “dashing,” “charitable” “victim of kleptomania.” In these years, the building was part of a bustling neighborhood emerging from what was once the farmland of Peter Gerard Stuyvesant. The Stuyvesants were intertwined with another prominent New York family, the Hamiltons.
Hamilton kept even close relatives out of the loop about his relationship with Eva Steele, whom he married a day or two after she returned to New York and introduced him to the baby at the 14th Street address. His brother, Schuyler Hamilton, Jr., only learned of his new sister-in-law and niece seven months later. “I heard last night from my father of your marriage and that I am an uncle,” he wrote to Robert Ray in August 1889. At that time, the young family was staying in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “I am glad the Lady is handsome and the Baby sweet and pretty.”
By the end of that month, the first wave of the couple’s drama would hit the papers, and Robert Ray Hamilton would receive a torrent of letters from family, friends, and strangers, all voicing the same solicitous concern: “Let me know if I can be of service in any way.” The sympathy followed news reports that Robert Ray’s new wife stabbed her daughter’s nurse, Mary Donnelly.
Eva was charged with atrocious assault, and newspapers across the country followed her trial in September 1889. Donnelly told the court in May’s Landing, New Jersey that she walked in on Eva and Robert Ray arguing. She said Robert Ray’s shirt was torn, and he yelled at the nurse to call for the police. When Donnelly returned alone, she said, Eva Hamilton verbally attacked her. The two women fought until Eva stabbed Donnelly with a knife. Her defense was that the nurse, drunk, assaulted her first, forcing her to grab the weapon in self-defense. Donnelly admitted she had been drinking that day and disarmed the jury with some joke. The court sentenced Eva Hamilton to two years in Trenton State Prison.
In the span of a few weeks, Eva had turned from an open question among Robert Ray Hamilton’s close family and friends to a villainous sensation. It probably didn’t help her defense that in the days leading up to her trial, new information surfaced suggesting she had been plotting against Hamilton. Her friend Josh Mann was by some accounts already married to Eva. And police suspected that the new baby was neither Robert Ray’s nor hers. In interviews with detectives, Mann and his mother, Swinton, described the flat on 14th Street. as a staging ground for a con targeting Hamilton’s will.
If the story that emerged from the police investigation and court testimonies is correct, in the days leading up to the wedding, Eva Hamilton was scrambling to find a baby who she could convince Robert Ray was his. Her husband-to-be may or may not have met the first child she bought and brought home to the 14th St. flat; the baby died a few days later. Ray never met a second baby, who also died, or a third who was too “dark complexioned, and black eyed” to be convincing. When Eva showed him the fourth newborn she had purchased, a baby girl, Robert Ray believed she was a Hamilton. They named the baby Beatrice Ray Hamilton and hired a nurse to help take care of her.
A month after the baby-selling rumors broke, the famous reporter Nellie Bly set out to uncover New York’s underground trade in newborn children. She interviewed midwives all over the city who said they sold babies and bought one herself for $10, the same price Eva Hamilton is said to have paid for the fourth child. The scheme may never have surfaced had Beatrice and Eva Hamilton not moved to a boarding house in Atlantic City with the nurse, Mary Donnelly. Robert Ray Hamilton came and went.
With her nurse hospitalized with a stab wound, her mother in jail, and her father holed up with friends, little Beatrice stayed with Elizabeth Rupp, who ran the Atlantic City boarding house. Robert Ray Hamilton sent Rupp money for Beatrice’s care, and sent letters asking for updates about the infant’s health. At the same time, Hamilton sued to annul his marriage and block Eva from making any claims to his estate. In the summer of 1890, he drowned in the Snake River in Wyoming, where he had been living on a ranch. He was 39. Some local ranchers and friends of Hamilton’s suspected foul play. The man they accused was John D. Sargent, Hamilton’s friend, business partner, and roommate at the ranch. In 1899, Sargent was arrested on suspicion that he killed his wife, Adelaide Sargent. The New York Times reported that he was released from jail in December of that year because he was “incurably insane.”
About three months after Hamilton’s death, the New Jersey Board of Pardons voted to free Eva. She went on to star in a theatrical production of her own story, a play entitled “The Hammertons.” Hamilton’s will left Beatrice an annual inheritance of $1,200 a year, but within a decade, his brother Schuyler’s family sued to shrink her entitlement and the child winked out of the public eye.
Bly seemed to be the only one to seek out Eva Hamilton’s story beyond her court testimony. In an interview at Trenton State Prison, Hamilton told Bly that Beatrice was indeed her baby, and that Swinton was the one purchasing babies and bringing them home the week of the wedding. She accused Swinton and Mann of blackmailing her to continue supporting them with Hamilton’s money. Eva also said she had been pregnant three times since she started seeing Robert Ray, and that he had given her $300 the first two times to “consult a doctor.”
What really happened between the Hamiltons? Was Robert Ray as clueless as he let on? The warm letters from people within and outside his circle as well as news reports on the case frame him as an embarrassed but honorable man, struck dumb by love and lust. Evangeline Hamilton, on the other hand, was an “adventuress,” a “morphine fiend” and a “false woman.” As it turns out, she was not the only woman described in such a way to walk through the doors of 208 E. 14th St., nor was she the building’s only Eva.
From its boarding house beginnings, 208 E. 14th St. became a temporary group home and trade school for women. Industrial homes like this one were part of a nationwide strategy “rooted in middle class femininity,” said Erin Bush, an assistant professor of U.S. and Digital History at the University of North Georgia. “The fear was, if they aren’t doing something productive, they are a drain on society.”
Bush said there were three general categories of industrial homes; reformatories where courts would send women and girls who had run into legal trouble, private establishments where religious organizations offered trade classes for a few hours each day, and temporary homes for “fallen women.”
The home on 14th Street was most likely a mix of the latter two categories. The New York Rescue Band furnished the bottom two floors of 208 E. 14th St. as reading and meeting space, the third for classes in trades like sewing, typing, and hat-making, and the fourth and fifth for bedrooms. A swankier version of a facility on Doyers Street in Chinatown, the home was supposed to draw relatively privileged women away from the Tenderloin, a red-light district located a few blocks north, and into work and sobriety. At the facility’s opening in 1895, one volunteer told a reporter for The Sun, “We have come to recognize a difference in this grade of people just as in any walk of life.”
The organization’s president at the time, a restaurateur named Alfred W. Dennett, initially leased the space for five years. Dennett was famous for his “religious restaurants,” where he plastered scripture to the walls and required employees to start the day with prayers. That was until he lost heaps of money in bad mining investments and, in 1901, went bankrupt. The Los Angeles Times reported that “most of his creditors [were] women and missionary societies.” By 1898, the New York Charities Directory listed the Rescue Bands’ Girls’ Club and Industrial Home under a different address.
When the 14th Street location was still running, however, it folded into the story of Eva Green, stage-name Evelyn Granville, whose early Broadway career had been interrupted when her husband killed a man in their home. In the 1890s, Granville was considered “the most photographed girl in New Yorkl,” according to the Associated Press. As she popped up in arrest records for intoxication and disorderly conduct throughout the first half of that decade, her most common identifier was her role as “the cause” of the death of Charles E. Goodwin. Granville’s common-law husband at the time, Burton C. Webster, shot Goodwin, who was living with the couple, for repeatedly sexually harassing Granville. That was how the New York Times described Granville’s story when she took their new baby to court to testify on her husband’s behalf. Later she formally married Webster in the Tombs before his transfer to Sing Sing to serve an 18-year sentence.
Granville’s frequent arrests kept the story alive through the following years, and in 1896 she turned up at Bellevue Hospital on the East River. She gave 208 E. 14th St. as her address and had apparently stayed there a few weeks earlier. The New York Herald reported the industrial home staff had treated her for “the morphine habit,” and that she must have relapsed.
Granville eventually told her story to a reporter for the New York Journal, who gave her rent money in exchange. That interview switched her life onto another parallel with Eva Hamilton’s; to make the jury more sympathetic to Webster back in 1891, she admitted to purchasing a baby for $100 and lying under oath. She told the Journal she had never loved Webster: “Sober, he was all right. No one was less quarrelsome or easier to get along with. But he drank a good deal, and then he was a very fiend. I was in fear of my life half the time, but always kept up a bold front, though I was inwardly quaking,” she said. If that interview holds the real story, Webster never told her why he killed Goodwin, but “out of a sense of duty,” she told the court what it needed to hear: that he had been defending the honor of his pregnant wife.
Not long after the Journal published her story, Evelyn Granville faded from the headlines. She moved to Pittsburgh and married a man named John Scott. In 1918, however, her name resurfaced, when the Evening World wrote that a woman dragged into Manhattan’s night court had Granville’s fingerprints, later retracting the story when it appeared the woman was only imitating Granville. Granville, by then Evelyn Scott, sued the Evening World’s publishing company for libel and won.
The home at 208 E. 14th St. was just a blip in Granville’s life story, and not the one that ultimately propped her back on her feet. By the time she died in 1966, several businesses had opened and shut on the ground floor and generations of boarders had moved in and out of the upper rooms. The 1900 census shows a house full of variety actors who may have worked at the Jefferson theater a few doors down. In 1920 and 1930, most of the lodgers were immigrant cooks, waiters, and laundresses from Europe. The legacy of the Great Depression crept into the 1940 census, with multiple residents unemployed and others working for the Works Progress Administration.
In 1934, the longtime superintendent of the house, John Menns, found a 65-year-old boarder named Henry Andrew dead in his room, asphyxiated by a gas heater. In January 1938, the New York Daily News reported that two people held up Harry Galinsky’s Star Suit Dress Co. at 208 E. 14th St, stealing $40.40, along with two suits.
The 1940 tax photo of the building shows a large electric sign for “Blynn’s Food Shop.” Harry Blynn owned the property from the ‘40s through most of the ‘60s, mostly leaving the top floors vacant or using them as office space. In 1950, he applied for permits to change the sign to “Blynn’s Restaurant.” That sign would have been overhead in the early hours of April 1, 1956, by the Daily News’ account, on a cop named Robert Gorman’s first night on the job. He broke up a fight in the restaurant and tore the $100 coat he had borrowed from an older officer.
The building was demolished in the 1980s, and the one standing on the plot now went up in 2013. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation studied its “twin” and next-door neighbor, 210 E. 14th St., which still contains pieces from the original building constructed in 1855. The lot at 208, like so many sites that have probably witnessed New York City’s scandals or mysteries, is now a Dunkin’ Donuts.