Brilliant, but Worthless

“… Mrs. Augustus Kellogg, the lovely wife of a brilliant, but worthless, husband, whose escapades and eccentricities are still remembered. His funeral is recorded in no parish register. He left directions to be buried at sunrise, without religious services.” – From Recollections of the Parish of St. James, Skaneateles (1897) by Mary Elizabeth Beauchamp

Since reading those lines, especially the phrase “brilliant, but worthless,” I’ve wanted to know more about Augustus Kellogg. He sounds like my kind of guy. But apart from alluding to his “escapades and eccentricities,” few people actually went into details.

Augustus Kellogg was born at home on Onondaga Street on July 3, 1803, the eldest son of Daniel Kellogg and Laura Hyde Kellogg. His parents were comfortably wealthy and influential, and Augustus showed great promise. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1823, studied law at his father’s office, and was admitted to the bar in 1826. In 1827, he married Cornelia Hart, daughter of Ephraim and Martha Hart of Utica, N.Y., and the next year went into a legal partnership with his father and Lewis H. Sandford. So far, so good.

A daughter, Louisa Emily Kellogg, was born July 27, 1828, but she died soon after, on January 12, 1830. A son, Augustus Converse Kellogg, was born November 2, 1830. But one year later, Cornelia Hart Kellogg died, at her father’s house in Utica. She was 26; her son had just turned one.

The son, Augustus Converse Kellogg, for whatever reason, was not to be raised by his father. Instead, he was taken to Buffalo, N.Y., to be raised by his aunt, Velona (Hart) Maynard. Initially, at least, Augustus Kellogg appears to have survived the loss of his wife, daughter, and the departure of his son. Edmund Leslie later wrote:

“When he was in the prime of life, he was one of the most prominent members of the Onondaga County bar. Having a classical education, a brilliant intellect, commanding presence, fine oratorical powers, ready at repartee, and possessing a sarcasm which few would wish to encounter, he was formidable in debate. His intimacy with leading men throughout the State, and especially at Albany, became very extensive. He often visited the sessions of the Legislature, and always when there attracted attention by his commanding appearance and knowledge of all public questions. His mode of dress was exceptionally neat, always wearing gold spectacles and a silk hat. He had a ruddy complexion and expressive eyes, while his bright conversational powers always rendered him an attractive companion.”

However, Leslie continued:

“But he had his infirmities, over which we are disposed to draw a veil, but the history of his checkered life would be incomplete without reference to them. His career took a downward turn.”

And what were these “infirmities” in Leslie’s account, that prompted his “escapades and eccentricities”? I suspect they involved alcohol, and perhaps laudanum, a tincture of alcohol and opium that was a popular remedy at the time.

An anonymous writer, quoted by Leslie, described an Augustus Kellogg sighting:

“At a corner we were gratified with a glimpse of the great engineer engaged upon the fortifications of our city, who seemed to be lost in contemplation of something, the exact nature of which, whether shade-trees or telegraph-pole or flagstaff, we could not exactly determine.”

More ominously, Leslie noted that Kellogg’s son had inherited “his father’s infirmities.” In 1847, after his childhood in Buffalo, Augustus Converse Kellogg enrolled at Williams College as Converse A. Kellogg and joined the Kappa Alpha Society, whose journal noted, “His very winning manners, amiable disposition, and youthful grace made him generally popular and endeared him much to his intimate friends.”

However, Converse left Williams during his junior year and went on to Yale for a brief time in which he became a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon. By “brief,” I mean from October of 1849 to February of 1850.

Biding farewell to academia, Converse worked for a time as a telegraph operator in Chicago. But in 1851 he was back in Buffalo, working for his uncle, Elisha A. Maynard, at his newspaper, the Buffalo Republic. That year, Converse also served as a volunteer fireman, with Live Oak Engine No. 2.  And in 1852, he was listed as a director of the U.S. Health Association of Buffalo, N.Y., a health insurance company.

In April of 1853, Converse returned to Chicago to marry Mary Louise Woodworth; her father, Hiram P. Woodworth, had died of cholera in 1852, and marriage probably seemed like a good idea to a young woman living with her widowed mother. The couple returned to Buffalo, but in 1854 Elisha Maynard sold his interest in the newspaper, and Converse was out of a job. He next worked for the U.S. Express Co. in Buffalo, and there his trail goes cold for a year or two. He reappeared in 1860, said to be working as a correspondent for the New York Herald.

On April 25th, Converse Kellogg died in New York City; he was 29 years old. Mary Louise Kellogg returned, or had already returned, to Chicago. Converse Kellogg was buried in Buffalo, in a grave doubtlessly paid for by his Uncle Elisha and Aunt Velona, who had raised him.

In Skaneateles, Augustus Converse had now outlived his wife, his infant daughter, and a son he probably never really knew. And so he lived for another 11 years, until early one Sunday, in October of 1871, he was found unconscious in his father’s old law office, probably from an overdose, perhaps intentional, of laudanum.

Leslie notes that Kellogg’s relatives were informed, and that “The neighbors flocked in and the rooms were filled all day long.” In spite of his visitors, Kellogg never regained consciousness and died on the morning of October 30th. He left instructions that he wished to be buried at midnight, with no religious service at the graveside. However, at the request of his brothers, a friend read aloud a few prayers. The grave in Lake View Cemetery was unmarked, but said to be just west of the headstone of Helen M. Huxtable.

The story, however, was not over. Charles Pardee of Skaneateles, as mean-spirited a man as any who has ever lived here, wrote an epitaph for Augustus Kellogg, which he sought to have cut on a second-hand gravestone to be placed over Kellogg’s grave. The epitaph read:


Died Oct. 30th, 1871, aged 67 years.

Born in affluence, talents and education of the first order.
Died as the fool dieth — buried in midnight-darkness by his request.
With the talents of an Angel — a man may be a fool.

But as mean-spirited as Pardee was, he was even more miserly. He had wanted a cheap stone and promised to select one from among those available, but he never appeared with payment, so the order was not carried out.

What prompted Pardee’s attempt to have the last word? Possibly a number of things, but we have one clue, from a John Humphryes Skaneateles Press newspaper column of May 7, 1937, referring to an incident in the 1850s:

“It had been the custom of the village boys to have a large bonfire on each recurring Fourth of July, the place selected being Genesee street, at the foot of Syracuse [State] street and in front of Pardee’s store. Mr. Pardee ‘kicked’ at having a roaring fire so close to his property, as it blistered the red paint on the front of the building, and spoke to President Slade about it. [W.G. Slade was Village President in 1853-54.] Thereupon Mr. Slade issued a proclamation prohibiting the bonfire.

“Then Augustus Kellogg had circulars printed and distributed, denouncing the President’s order and quoting an excerpt from John Adams’ letter [to his wife Abigail, July 3, 1776] regarding the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which counseled the people to forever celebrate the event, to fire cannon, build bonfires and ring bells! This aroused the patriotism as well as the mischief that ensued in the youth of Skaneateles and the bonfire was built and Pardee’s store was blistered as usual.”

And so Augustus Kellogg, “brilliant, but worthless,” got the better of Charles Pardee. I’m looking forward to the spring, so I can find Kellogg’s grave, and remember him with some flowers and a smile.

* * *

My thanks once again to Edmund Norman Leslie and his Skaneateles: History of Its Earliest Settlement and Reminiscences of Later Times (1902).


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