Governor Upham and the Cleveland Diamond: Conclusion – The Diamond Queen
By Kris Leonhardt
Aside from political reasons, Gov. William Upham may have had a much greater motive for leaving his notoriety in Madison and not seeking re-election. While acting as governor, Upham had left his Marshfield business under the supervision of his brother-in-law Ed Kelly.
According to a transcript from a 1962 speech given by Upham’s son, Kelly got drunk one day and unloaded the company’s entire inventory of basswood. Subsequently, Upham needed to leave Madison to secure enough lumber to fulfill existing agreements.
Kelly’s business dealings, coupled with the economy of the previous years, may have been enough to send Upham into a debt from which he could not recover.
“I think one of the reasons he sold the diamond was possibly because his business wasn’t doing so well when he returned,” said Kim Krueger, coordinator at the Upham House. “He sold the Upham Manufacturing Co. general merchandise store in 1898, which may have been something he let go to recoup losses.”
The diamond that Upham wore so ceremoniously while in office now piqued the interest of a Chicago woman. Though born to privilege, Celia Whipple, the daughter of a New Hampshire doctor, would come into her own wealth when she met and married lumberman John Wallace while visiting her sister in the Windy City.
The couple separated early, and Whipple and the couple’s son received a financial settlement at that time. When Wallace died in 1878, everything went to his ex-wife and young child. However, when the pair’s only son died from cancer six years later, Whipple would retain the entire estate.
Wallace’s family worked tirelessly to gain the estate back from Whipple, even charging her with insanity.
Within a year of her son’s death, Whipple began buying up jewelry, starting with the purchase of a small diamond in a rare shade of blue. Newspapers of the time speculated that her actions may have been an attempt to retain what the Wallace family was trying to take from her.
She bought and traded her way into one of the most valuable jewel collections of the time. Her actions gained her a reputation as the “Diamond Queen” of Chicago.
When Upham’s great stone became available, she purchased the multifaceted jewel for the sum of $21,500. She immediately made it her own, embedding it in a star with eight points at the center of a hair ornament.
The Diamond Queen passed her days away in a room at Chicago’s Auditorium hotel as she built her massive collection of jewels but rarely put it on display. In 1901, when law enforcement attempted to deliver notice of court charges for unpaid bills, the Diamond Queen was nowhere to be found.
For 12 years, Whipple would live as a recluse. She was found later in New Haven, Conn., living a frugal life in a rundown area of the city. Wallace claimed to have sold off all of her jewels. The whereabouts of the 42 1-3-carat Cleveland Diamond remain unknown.
Many thanks to Kim Krueger and Don Schnitzler, of the North Wood County Historical Society/Upham House, for their assistance in this series.
Kris Leonhardt may be reached at [email protected]