Canadian Club Girl”
Life & Times of Ella Walker – granddaughter of Hiram Walker
Ella Walker (drawn at the time of her
marriage to Count Matuschka). Detroit Tribune, June 16, 1897.
1897, Detroit and Walkerville celebrated one of the biggest social
events of the time. “The Canadian Club Girl,” Ella
Walker, the only child of Franklin Hiram (a son of Hiram Walker)
and Mary Holbrook Walker, announced her intention to
marry Count Manfred von Matuschka, a Hungarian nobleman. The wedding
was a gala affair. Over 500 guests assembled at the Franklin Walker
mansion after church ceremonies. Surrounded by roses and palms,
they sampled hors d’oeuvres catered by Sherry’s of New
York and sipped “red lemonade” spiked with Walker’s
Canadian Club. Reports of the wedding filled many newspaper’s
extraordinary life provides a glimpse of Detroit and Walkerville
in the Gilded Age (1890-WWI), as well as a compelling personal tale.
Both are the subject of a book project just launched by University
of Michigan professor Jennifer Widner and several colleagues around
the world. Widner spent a month at the Rockefeller Foundation’s
research centre in Bellagio, Italy this winter. Each day she passed
a photograph of an older woman who had a special sparkle in her
eye. Upon learning that the woman was the original owner of the
estate and that she had come from the Detroit area, Widner wanted
to know more. So did her fellow scholars.
outline of Ella’s story has taken form over the past several
weeks. Widner and her colleagues are looking for descendants of
relatives or friends who might have recollections or correspondence.
“I would like to know what Ella thought of the events she
lived through, what she enjoyed or found fun, and the choices she
was born in 1876. She entered wealthy Detroit-Walkerville society
whose members were beginning to turn their attention to art and
philanthropy. As a teenager she watched her uncle, Edward Chandler
Walker, help launch the Detroit Museum of Art (now the DIA). She
may also have encountered Charles L. Freer, the local business magnate
who later endowed the Smithsonian Institution with his extensive
collection. And she would have known James McNeil Whistler’s
aunt and sister, both of whom lived nearby.
was not always easy. Ella settled with the Count in Upper Silesia
after their marriage. The Count was a naturalized German citizen,
and when World War I broke out, he fought on the side of the Kaiser.
The U.S. Government confiscated Ella’s property, including
businesses in which she had a joint interest. Ella also lost her
U.S. citizenship. She lived a humble existence behind the lines
in Berlin, to the distress of her parents.
Ella’s home, Villa Serbelloni,
overlooking two branches of Lake Como, with the village of
Bellagio, Italy below.
interwar years were turbulent. In 1926, Count Manfred died. Four
years later, Ella re-married, but the union lasted less than two
years. In 1932, Ella regained her U.S. citizenship and married for
a third time. Her new husband, Prince Alessandro von Thurn und Taxis,
the Duke of Duino and Prince of Torre e Tasso, was a naturalized
Italian citizen. The two settled in Italy but appear to have lived
much of the time apart, while he sought to re-build the Castel Duino
near Trieste, his seat, and she sought to renovate the Villa Serbelloni
on Lake Como. The Prince died five years after the marriage.
the last quarter of her life, Ella’s project was the restoration
of the Villa Serbelloni and its grounds. A site of considerable
historical significance, the Villa itself had fallen into use as
a hotel, and Ella set herself to the task of its rescue. When German
occupation forces moved in, she escaped over the Alps to Switzerland,
returning at the end of the war to continue her mission.
Ella’s grandfather, Hiram Walker, had seven children
Franklin Walker – Ella was his only child
her death in 1959, Ella left the Villa to the Rockefeller Foundation
to promote international understanding. She gave much of her remaining
fortune to her adopted daughter. And she remembered the local tie
too! Franklin H. Walker, Ella’s father, was the first member
of the Hiram Walker family to attend college…the University
of Michigan. Ella left the University of Michigan a gift in her
parents’ names to help extend educational loans to needy students.
I would be delighted to exchange
notes with relatives or friends who can help me piece together
the story, including a portrait of the many cousins. I would also
like to locate descendants of May Swift, Edith Walton, and Clara
Carter, all part of the wedding party in 1897. My email address
Widner, Department of Political Science, Fifth Floor, Haven Hall
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109 e.mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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