Mary Croghan, 16, Eloped with Capt. Schenley and it shocked not only the entire country, but England's Queen Victoria.
She was Pittsburgh heiress Mary Elizabeth Croghan, who in 1842, before her sixteenth birthday, eloped from her boarding school with 43-year-old Capt. Edward W. Schenley, of the British army.
It was the Captain's third elopement.
News of their elopement stirred the government in Washington and the Legislature in Harrisburg to action; ruined her boarding school; fired ministers and editors to vituperative denunciations.
For many years, Queen Victoria refused this granddaughter of Gen. James O'Hara, a leading Pittsburgh pioneer and land owner, presentation at court because she had been a disobedient daughter.
When her father, widower William Croghan, Jr., heard of the elopement of his only surviving child, he fainted, papers of that day reported.
Recovering from his first shock, Mr. Croghan appealed to the government in Washington to send out boats to intercept the vessel on which his sheltered young daughter had sailed with her bridegroom, old enough to be her father.
The government failed to find the honeymooners because wily Capt. Schenley had stopped en route to England on an island, perhaps Bermuda, it is suggested in a yellowed clipping owned by the Carnegie Library Pennsylvania room.
When Capt. Schenley visited the Pittsburgh heiress' school and eloped with her, he was absent without leave, old letters have revealed, from his post of Her Majesty's commissioner of arbitration in a mixed court for the suppression of the slave trade in Dutch Guiana.
With magnificent aplomb, Capt. Schenley, when he arrived in England with his young bride, requested from Lord Palmerston an extension of the leave of absence he didn't have.
Lord Palmerston reminded him of the omission, and ordered him to be off at once to his post.
So the Captain and his young bride sailed shortly for the menacing tropics of Surinam, Dutch Guiana.
Schenley's efforts there to free the Negroes so enraged the slave owners that he and his family were forced to escape by the climaxing threat to infect them with leprosy.
Schenleys Come 'Home' to See Her Father.
Back in England once more, the Schenleys were living in straitened circumstances when Mary's father, relenting, visited them, bought them a house in London, made them an allowance, and beseeched them to come to Pittsburgh to live with him.
Home again, Mr. Croghan built a vast red-brick addition to his beautiful hillside home, having the builders copy his daughter's London home.
At long last, the Schenleys arrived in Pittsburgh.
The children were sent ahead to greet their grandfather, Miss Koehler, daughter of the children's nurse, told us, and they completely won Mr. Croghan's heart.
On his second and last visit to the Croghan homestead, which Mr. Croghan called "Picnic House," but which today is known as the Schenley Mansion, Capt. Schenley talked of becoming a citizen of the United States, but before he did he "tired of the comparatively primitive life of this country," an old newspaper says, "and insisted on his family going back to England to live."
Mr. Croghan died in his vast mansion in 1850; his daughter in England in 1903.
Throughout all the years she lived in England and on the continent, she never forgot Pittsburgh or her old home.
She must have cherished a secret wish for some of her family to live here once more, for, by the terms of her will, all the furniture and other equipment of the Croghan home here were to be preserved for use of any of her heirs who might wish to come to Pittsburgh.
This will was faithfully observed until 1931, when the furniture and many old paintings, most of them family portraits, were sold at a public sale.
An irony resulting from Mary Croghan's elopement way back in 1842 is that Schenley Park, her gift to the city, and many other parts of Pittsburgh bear the name of her husband, Capt. Schenley, who scorned Pittsburgh as "backwoods," visited here unwillingly.
Schenley Park should rightfully be O'Hara Park, many students of Pittsburgh history feel, because it was Mary Schenley's pioneer grandfather, Gen. James O'Hara, who owned the land, eventually willed to her.
That Mary Schenley always loved Pittsburgh, and perhaps had a nostalgic yearning to live here once again in spite of a happy life, filled with the care of her six daughters and a son, and with the direction of her estate after her father's death, is proved by her numerous gifts to the city.
Of her gift of Schenley Park, the "Standard History of Pittsburgh," edited in 1898 by Erasmus Wilson, says:
"In 1889 she donated a princely tract which made the magnificent Schenley Park possible. She gave 300 acres out and out for this great scheme, and sold the city 120 acres more at the merest nominal price. Unborn generations will enjoy the blessings of this gift."
Her Many Donations Aided Civic Culture.
She donated five acres to the Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind in 1890; in 1894, a large lot to the Newsboys' Home; in 1895, the oldest relic in Pittsburgh, the old Blockhouse at the Point, and adjoining property, to the Daughters of the American Revolution; in 1894, "when citizens of Allegheny had almost despaired of securing sufficient money to make possible the purchase of their present beautiful park, she gave large donations, which gave such a forward movement that the present Riverview Park of that city was secured."
The same writer notes Mrs. Schenley was liberal to churches and public schools.
She also donated the 19 acres of land on which the Carnegie Library, a gift of Andrew Carnegie, is built.
Mr. Carnegie often visited Mrs. Schenley, by the way, at her beautiful villa, Mont Fleury, at Cannes, in the south of France.
Schenley Park, more than any of her gifts to the city, will perpetuate her name and the story of her elopement.
Edited excerpts from http://www.carnegielibrary.org/exhibit/neighborhoods/oakland/oak_n108.html
© 2014-2023 One World Blue, LLC ®