It is exceedingly ill-bred to repeat scandal or discuss people or topics of questionable character.
-Redbook of Dallas,
OF ALL THE rules of social etiquette that the high society of turn-of-the-century Dallas was supposed to observe, the one quoted above was violated the most. Millionaire Ned Green and his female companion, Mabel Harlow, whose morals had been irrevocably impeached, were the talk of the town.
Edward Howland Robinson “Ned” Green was the only son of Hetty Green, who was said to be the wealthiest-and the stingiest-woman in America. Hetty Green was the heiress to the fortune of the Howland family, which made its money in oil, but not the kind of oil that turned the same trick for the Murchisons and Richardsons. Hetty’s ancestors operated a huge fleet of whaling vessels out of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
When Hetty’s father died two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, she inherited more than a million dollars. She immediately set on a course of shrewd and sometimes ruthless investments that eventually earned her the moniker “the witch of Wall Street.” She was able to increase her holdings manyfold, due in part to the feet that her overhead was practically nothing. Hetty lived in a cheap boardinghouse and wore the same black dress long after it had turned green with age.
One of Hetty’s mortal enemies in the world of finance was C.P. Huntington of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Huntington had taken over the Houston & Texas Central, the first railroad to reach Dallas, and, according to Hetty, had let it go to pot. There were so many wrecks on the H&TC that Col. Bill Sterett of The Dallas Morning News dubbed it the “angel maker” and lost his railroad pass in the process.
In 1885, the railroad went into receivership, and Huntington called for the cooperation of all creditors in getting the line back on its feet. Hetty’s cooperation took the form of foreclosure on a 51-mile branch that she held a note on, and she sent Ned down to take it over.
Ned Green’s role in the operation of Hetty’s financial empire up to that point had been minimal, since Hetty really didn’t trust him. To test him, she sent him on a crosscountry train trip to California to deliver a package that she told him contained half a million dollars’ worth of negotiable bonds. Ned stayed awake each night hugging the valuable package, only to discover when he reached his destination that he had been guarding a box full of canceled insurance policies.
The railroad branch that Ned was to take over ran from the village of Roberts, just east of Dallas, to Garrett, just to the south. Ned’s challenge was to make something out of what he described as “two streaks of rust running from Not Much to Nowhere,” but he was eager to do something, and he took on the assignment with a great deal of vigor.
At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Ned was a physically robust man, and although he wore spectacles and had a receding hairline he made a strong, masculine impression. As a boy, Ned had been involved in a sledding accident that had damaged his knee. For months, his mother tried to treat the injury herself; then, when it got worse, she disguised herself and the boy as beggars (which didn’t take much work), and the two visited a New York charity clinic. Hetty’s parsimony had become infamous, and the pair was turned away. By the time Ned finally received proper medical treatment, it was too late; the leg had to be amputated, and Ned was fitted with a cork replacement.
But this handicap didn’t dampen Ned’s outlook on life, which was at its peak in the winter of 1893 when he walked into the American National Bank in Terrell and deposited a check for $500,000, immediately tripling the bank’s resources. The headquarters of the 51-mile Texas Midland Railroad was established in Terrell, a town just east of Dallas, and its 24-year-old president was in hog heaven.
Two years before he moved to Texas, Ned had discovered women. While on an errand-boy mission in Chicago, Ned was persuaded by some fun-loving cronies to visit a house of ill repute in the red-light district, and that’s where Ned met a redheaded bombshell named Mabel Harlow. Ned became infatuated with Mabel and was crushed when she mysteriously disappeared.
Ned was doing a remarkable job with the Texas Midland, doubling the length of the line and making it a model railroad. He introduced the first lounge cars and observation sleepers in the Southwest, as well as the first electric headlights on a locomotive. But he missed the nightlife that he had so recently discovered, so he and a couple of bachelor friends decided to bring a little action to the Terrell scene. The trio rented a room over the old opera house and commenced regular trips to Dallas to bring back prostitutes. To Ned’s joy and amazement, one of these hauls netted Mabel Harlow.
Ned immediately set Mabel up as his “housekeeper.” He commissioned George Pullman to design and construct a maroon railroad car with three staterooms, a dining room and a kitchen, and in letters a foot high, Ned christened it the “Mabel.” But the people of Terrell were not amused. Even though Ned had become the town’s leading citizen within a matter of months, this was a little too much. Ned was pressured into getting rid of Mabel, which he did by moving her to the Grand Windsor Hotel in Dallas.
Stocked with a wardrobe of fine clothing and a bureau full of the best cosmetics on the market, Mabel became a striking figure on the streets of Dallas. Terrell began to see less and less of Ned, while Dallas saw more and more of him. When the proprietor of the Windsor began to feel the heat of the Dallas Ministers’ Alliance, Mabel was moved to the Oriental; and when things got too warm there, Net set up house at the corner of Elm and Griffin in Dallas-with, of course, his housekeeper.
In no time, Ned became the toast of the town, at least in the eyes of the city’s more liberal element. Ned and a devoted band of revelers could be seen almost any evening touring the city’s hotels, restaurants and clubs. Ned had an abundant inventory of cork legs, and when one would start to tire him, he would replace it. Late arrivals to the festivities could often trace me party by following the legs that Ned had left behind.
Meanwhile, Hetty had mixed emotions about Mabel. She recognized that young men have lustful needs that must be satisfied, although she personally found those of Mabel’s ilk to be revolting. But Hetty had no desire to see Ned marry (which, she feared, might detract from his loyalty and devotion to his mother). So Hetty accepted Mabel (whom she referred to as “Miss Harlot”) as the lesser of two evils.
In 1899, Ned thrilled the people of Dallas by giving them their first glimpse of an automobile. He ordered a newfangled Phaeton from St. Louis, which arrived in Terrell on the Texas Midland, complete with driver. Ned and his chauffeur made the 30-mile trip from Terrell to Dallas in five hour* and 10 minutes, consuming a mere quarts of gasoline in the process.
Ned’s account of the trip (as related to a Dallas newsman) typified his boyishly ex uberant approach to life. “It was amusing notice the sensation caused along the road ” said Ned. “Cotton pickers dropped their sacks and ran wildly to the fences to see the strange sight. One razorback sow that caught sight of us is running yet, I know. At least a dozen horses executed fancy waltz steps as we sped by, and but for the fact that we were so soon out of sight, there would have been several first-class runaways.”
A few years later, Ned placed the first order for an airplane with the Wright Brothers, promising the people of Dallas that he would fly it over the fairgrounds during the annual Texas State Fair. When the plane failed to arrive on time, Ned made last-minute arrangements with the Stroebel firm so as not to disappoint the people of the city, and a dirigible was flown over the grounds instead.
By 1902, Ned and Mabel had become a political issue. John Traylor, a Dallas real estate man who had served as mayor from 1898 to 1900, hadn’t run for re-election at the turn of the century. In 1902, however, he reentered the political arena, announcing that he had been called by the Lord to rid Dallas of its impurities. Traylor had the backing of George C. Rankin, pastor of the First Methodist Church and editor of the influential Texas Christian Advocate.
The direct target of Traylor’s purge for purity was incumbent mayor Ben CabeU, an ex-sheriff who had the audacity to admit that he might be persuaded to drink a cold glass of beer on a Sunday afternoon, were he to find himself in a state of extreme thirst. But equally prominent in Traylor’s sights were a certain rich man and his harlot, both of whom Traylor vowed to run out of town the day he was elected.
Ned, who had become involved in the local wing of the Republican Party, commiserated with Gooseneck Bill McDonald, a black political ally, about this unwarranted attack on himself and his housekeeper. McDonald advised Ned that the problem could be solved by distributing a few well-placed dollars in the black wards of the city on the day of the election. Ned went to the bank and withdrew $25,000, which he entrusted to h politically astute associate. The amount proved to be quite sufficient to assure Cabell’s re-election.
Ned and Bill were quite a team. In those days, there were two distinct factions in the Republican Party in Texas: the Lily White who had no affirmative action plan; and the Black and Tans, comprised mostly of minorities but with a handful of whites-including Ned. In local politics, the Republics Party was a joke; if a Republican guberna-torial candidate could capture 10 percent of the vote, He would make national news. But national politics was another story. The vote of the delegates from Texas counted just as mush at the Republican Convention as the ballots of the Ohio delegates.
With the help of Gooseneck Bill’s tutor-ing, Ned became a prominent figure m Re-publican politics. He was elected chairman Se Republican State Committee in 1898 and was a delegate to the national convention 1900 While a Republican occupied the White House, no one was appointed to a federal office in Texas without Ned’s approval, and Gooseneck Bill is said to have earned more than $100,000 in kickbacks from office aspirants during his administration of Ned’s patronage program.
Mabel didn’t get to go to the national convention. Before she met Ned, she had worked all of the conventions, so it was decided that her attendance wouldn’t contribute in a positive way to Ned’s image.
By 1905, Ned had become involved in almost everything going on in Dallas and was a director of 27 different companies. When the boll weevil curse hit the Texas cotton farmers, Ned set up an experimental farm to work on an antidote and came up with a faster-growing variety that could be harvested before it was destroyed by the beetles. He also became involved in the flower business on a grand scale, establishing a wholesale floral business on the Kaufman Pike (now Second Avenue), a couple of miles south of Fair Park. The Green Floral Co. boasted 27 acres of greenhouses and employed 400 workmen, who gathered as many as 300,000 blooms of orchids, roses, carnations and lilies of the valley in a single day. When Dallas hosted the first visit by a U.S. president in 1905, Ned filled the Oriental Hotel with flowers to welcome the revered Teddy Roosevelt.
Not long after that, Ned and Mabel moved into a three-story brownstone at 2015 Commerce (now the site of the Dallas Municipal ding). Although deceptively plain on outside, the interior would have befitted he most decadent maharajah, with cut-glass doorknobs, gold-plated hardware and even an imitation oasis complete with a waterfall. Mothers with children crossed the street to avoid embarrassing questions about the occupants of the establishment.
Ned”s first love (or maybe his second) was still the Texas Midland. When moving pictures came into vogue, Ned cheerfully offered the use of his line for the Perils of Pauline-type productions, which invariably involved a climactic scene with the heroine tied to the rails in the path of a thundering locomotive. Ned, who had a bit of a kinky streak, always volunteered to do the tying.
Ned never got over his infatuation with the automobile. In 1905, he sponsored the world’s first 100-mile auto race at Fair Park, hiring ex-bicycle racer Ollie Savin to drive his Pope-Toledo in head-to-head competition with a Columbia, a Peerless, a Cadillac and a Franklin. Ned was ecstatic when Savin captured the cup with a winning performance of two hours and four minutes, making the last 5 miles on a flat tire.
In 1906, Ned was nominated to run for governor by the delegates to the Republican State Convention. Hetty hit the ceiling, reminding Ned that he had a railroad to run, and the dutiful son withdrew from the race. A little while later, however, to compensate for his disappointment, Ned hitched his private car to the Ringling Bros, circus train and toured the country with the show, never missing a performance.
Ned was also a major perpetrator of the Kaliph’s parade, an annual event in Dallas. In the Kaliph’s parade, the city’s most prominent citizens dressed in outlandish costumes and commissioned the construction of elaborate floats for an event that rivaled the Mardi Gras parade. During one of the grandest of the parades, Ned dressed as the Kaliph of Bagdad himself.
By 1910, the party was over. Hetty’s health was failing, and she persuaded Ned to come to New York to help run her vast financial empire. Although Ned still called himself a Texan, he never spent much time here after that. In 1916, Hetty died, and Ned and his sister inherited $75 million each.
Ned was deluged with proposals of marriage, receiving more than 5,000, including those that had been submitted before Hetty’s death. A month after Hetty died, Ned selected the woman he would marry, and he proposed. The would-be bride eagerly accepted Ned’s proposal, and on July 10, 1917, in a simple ceremony in Chicago with the bride dressed in white, Ned Green and Mabel Harlow were married. The couple moved onto a huge estate at Round Hills, Massachusetts, often wintering in Florida.
The city of Dallas would be the scene of one last act in the saga of Ned and Mabel. On June 8, 1936, Ned Green died, setting off one of the most intensive estate squabbles in American history. It seems that Mabel had signed a prénuptial agreement waiving her rights to Ned’s estate in return for a contractual promise that she would receive $1.500 a month for the rest of her life. Mabel claimed that she thought the monthly stipend was merely to be her mad money and that she had no idea she was signing away a fortune. A few days later, Mabel filed suit in a Dallas court, asking that she be appointed permanent administrator of the vast estate of her late husband.
Ned’s sister settled the suit as far as Mabel was concerned, giving Ned’s widow $500,000 to bow out. But the litigation was just beginning: The states of Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and New York all intervened to claim huge chunks of estate taxes, arguing that Ned was really a resident of their respective state at the time of his demise. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which appointed a special master to hold hearings in an effort to determine where Ned had lived.
In 1937, the special master held a hearing at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, and the Texas attorney general paraded all of Ned’s old cronies through the witness box to prove that Ned died a Texan. Gooseneck Bill and the other old-timers told how Ned always used to say that he was born a Quaker and educated a Catholic and did business as a Jew, but that he would always be a Texan. In the most dramatic moment of the hearing, the attorney general announced that a cork leg had been discovered in a Terrell apartment, proof positive that Ned had been planning to come back. But the special master didn’t buy it, and neither did the Supreme Court, which ruled that Green was a resident of Massachusetts at the time of his death.
On April 12, 1950, the Dallas Times Herald carried a brief account of the death of Mrs. Mabel Green, a prominent Florida socialite.