Monday, March 16, 2009

Fathers, Part 4

(The family at Meadow Wood Park near Roanoke, Va., in the summer of 1910, Clockwise from lower left, an unidentified servant, Lulie, mother Florence, Emily, Davis, Florence and Alfred.)

As the youngest of seven children, and with three older brothers – Ambrose, Whitney and Davis – it’s unlikely that young Alfred received much attention from his father, who had become chief counsel for the giant American Tobacco Co. Spoiled by the family’s financial circumstances and the doting of his much older siblings, Alfred, according to family lore, was a bit of a hellion.

In 1911, American Tobacco was broken apart by the government’s trust busters, and A.H. Burroughs moved the family to New York. His Fifth Avenue law firm handled corporate clients, and the family resided on a sprawling estate called Woodlawn, overlooking the Hudson River north of the city, in Irvington.

Alfred was soon sent off to prep school, to Lawrenceville in New Jersey. After that, he attended Princeton University, but was soon asked to leave (again, according to family lore) for staging a prank that went bad. Whether that’s true or not, Alfred’s behavior had certainly gotten his father’s attention. A.H. amended his will, leaving Alfred, for the most part, out of it.

Avoiding further conflict at home, Alfred headed west, to Seattle, Wash., to visit his oldest brother, then involved in a mining operation. Eventually, father and son would make peace, but before he had a chance to again amend his will, A.H. Burroughs died in June 1929 of pneumonia at age 70. Shortly after his death, the New York Times reported that he had left an estate of some $4.2 million, most of it in securities – a huge fortune at the time.

Four months later, the stock market crashed.

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