Sunday, April 01, 2007
Read Avoiding the Big Bang, by Kurt Vonnegut, source of the Big Jim Fisk quotation, free from vonnegutweb.com.
In 1864 he became a stockbroker in New York and was employed by Daniel Drew as a buyer. He aided Drew in his war against Cornelius Vanderbilt for control of the Erie Railroad, which resulted in Fisk and Jay Gould becoming members of the Erie directorate. Subsequently, a well-planned raid netted Fisk and Gould control of the railroad. The association with Gould continued until his death. They carried financial buccaneering to extremes, their program including an open alliance with Boss Tweed, the wholesale bribery of legislatures, and the buying of judges (all standard business tactics of the day.) Their attempt to corner the gold market culminated in the fateful Black Friday of September 24, 1869.
Fisk married Lucy Moore in 1854; he was 19, she 15. Lucy was an orphan, reared by an uncle, from Springfield, MA. She spent the years of their marriage living with a woman friend, suggesting that she was a lesbian and had no sexual relationship with her husband. Regardless, they remained close, with Fisk visiting her in Boston every few weeks and spending summers and vacations with her.
In New York, Fisk had a relationship with Josie Mansfield, a show-girl. Fisk housed Josie in an apartment a few doors down from the Erie Railroad headquarters on West 23rd Street and had a covered passage built linking the backdoors of the headquarters and her apartment building. Fisk's relationship with Mansfield scandalized New York society. Mansfield eventually fell in love with Fisk's business associate Edward S. Stokes, a man noted for his good looks. Stokes left his wife and family for Mansfield and Mansfield left Fisk. In a bid for money, Mansfield and Stokes tried to extort money from Fisk by threatening the publication of letters written by Fisk to Mansfield that allegedly proved Fisk's legal wrongdoings. A legal and public relations battle followed, but Fisk refused to pay Mansfield anything. Increasingly frustrated and flirting with bankruptcy, Stokes shot and killed Fisk in New York City on January 6, 1872.
Fisk was vilified by high society for his amoral and eccentric ways, by many pundits of the day for his business dealings, but was loved and mourned by the workingmen of New York and the Erie Railroad.