In the summer of 1931, young Howard Stagg III hit the jackpot. He was summering at his family’s cottage on the east shore of the lake, next to the cottage of Mrs. Emily Sloan, who was hosting her daughter: Christy Sloan, of the Ziegfeld Follies and the Folies Bergère.
Imagine being a 17-year-old boy in the presence of such a worldly beauty. I would have been a tongue-tied idiot, but Howard Stagg asked her if she’d like to go sailing (or perhaps she asked him), and off they went. So far, so good.
But the skies did not cooperate. A sudden storm brought down torrential rain and raised six-foot waves which swamped and then capsized the boat. For the next hour they clung to the hull, first on opposite sides, then Stagg swam around to keep Miss Sloan, who had been hit in the head by the swinging boom, above the water. John Wiles, 17, son of Mr. & Mrs. Ben Wiles, attempted to reach them in a boat, but was unable.
Finally, the wind blew the boat closer to shore and the two swam to safety. The newspaper account noted that Miss Sloan’s age was 19, but she was actually 29, and had packed a lot of living into those years.
Christine Purcell Sloan was born on May 8, 1902, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Morris and Emily Sloan. The family moved to Liberty, N.Y., and at the age of 17, Christine went to New York City to study dance. Her teacher was Ned Wayburn, who had been working with Florenz Ziegfeld since 1915, both as a choreographer and as a talent scout. The author of Your Career: How to Win Health-Beauty-Fame-Popularity-Independence, Wayburn told his would-be pupils:
“I have literally helped thousands of good girls and boys to make millions of dollars for themselves, in the aggregate… Profit by my experience; let me help you with my knowledge. This will make your experience easier for you, and the more quickly fit you for the lofty position that a perfectly worthy ambition prompts you to seek.”
Dancing alone cannot make you a beauty, but Christine had that covered. In August of 1924, at a pageant on the resort island of Long Beach, N.Y., Christine was “selected as the most beautiful woman among 100 selected beauties.” (She won the contest as “Christine Morey,” having in 1920 married Howard Morey, a cab driver and amusement park employee. The union did not last.)
Shortly after the pageant, Christine was off to New York City and the life of a Ziegfeld Girl, as “Christy” Sloan. Then to Paris, in the spring and summer of 1925, ’27 and ’28, where she danced in the Folies Bergère. When not on the stage, she was posing for commercial photographers, including Alfred Cheney Johnston, the premier photographer of Ziegfeld Girls in New York City.
And then in 1931, she visited her mother in Skaneateles. The Syracuse Journal gave her age as 19; the Skaneateles Press said she was 21. Given that youth and beauty were at a premium in her line of work, the fudging of dates is understandable. And then Christine dropped from sight, until 1949, when she caught the notice of the U.S. State Department.
Emily Sloan, Christine’s mother, had died in 1948. Perhaps Christine received a small inheritance that enabled her to travel again. In 1949, she picked up a new passport on May 18th, flew Pan American from La Guardia to Venezuela on May 20th, and died in Caracas on May 24th.
The U.S. State Department file notes that she was found in her room at the Waldorf Hotel and was taken to the Centro Medico, where she died “of unknown causes” at 8:30 a.m. She was 47 years old. In accordance with Venezuelan law, she was buried the following day in the Cementario del Sur (plot 2200, Row 3, Section 2, North).
The file included an inventory of her personal effects, including $350 dollars in cash. Her occupation was listed as “cosmetologist.” Her passport was destroyed at the American Embassy. Her personal effects were shipped to George Sloan, her brother, in Middleburg, N.Y.
Also in the file, referencing a conversation with a “Mr. Carrigan,” the American Consul, George R. Phelan wrote, “He intimated that there had been some unusual circumstances in connection with Miss Sloane’s death which he was unable to discuss on the telephone, but of which he would inform the Department in writing.” Alas, the file contains no further reference to those circumstances. No one knows why she went to Venezuela or what happened to her there. It’s a mystery.
But I don’t want to leave you with that. Let’s go back to better days, in the 1920s, when she was young, happy, posing in the studio of Alfred Cheney Johnston.
* * *
“Sullivan County’s Beautiful Woman”
Republican Watchman, August 1, 1924
“Actress and Syracuse Youth Near Death in Lake”
Syracuse Journal, July 31, 1931
“Follies Dancer Poses for Local Artist”
Skaneateles Press, October 26, 1932
“Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad,” Ancestry.com