THE BINGHAMS OF LOUISVILLE: The Dark History Behind One of America's Great Fortunes by David Leon Chandler
Kirkus Star

THE BINGHAMS OF LOUISVILLE: The Dark History Behind One of America's Great Fortunes

Email this review


Greed, ravenous ambition, and a probable murder form the heady brew of this compelling chronicle of the family that founded the Louisville Courier-Journal; by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. The focus of Chandler's study is the mysterious death in 1917 of Mary Kenan Flagler Bingham, who willed her husband of eight months, Robert Worth Bingham, $5 million that seeded the Bingham family's current $455-million fortune. A frisky account of the enduring rivalry between the Kenan and Bingham families--the former rich snobs, the latter scholarly snobs, both old Southern aristocracy--precedes the close-up look at Mary and Robert. After a youthful romance, for 20 years the two led separate lives, Mary marrying the co-founder of Standard Oil, Robert pursuing a corrupt and finally failed career as a lawyer/politician. Widowed within weeks of each other, the two met again: marriage at first sight, with Robert waiving marital rights to Mary's $150-million fortune. But soon Mary died and Robert revealed a new codicil in her will leaving him $5 million, in a sensational trial, the Kenans contested the will: was Mary, whose exhumed body revealed morphine addiction, conned into the codicil, then murdered? Proving nothing, the Kenans suddenly dropped their suit--and Robert went on to be Ambassador to England and to found a newspaper dynasty. This foundation set, Chandler sifts through the records (many ominously missing), positing a dark conclusion: Robert gave Mary syphilis, enabling him and a doctor ""to enter a morphine conspiracy and coerce her into signing the codicil. When her health deteriorated, they called in cooperative physicians but it was too late."" A comparison to the von Bulow case leads into an account of the recent Bingham family squabbling that has broken up the newspaper dynasty. Poetic justice? A dazzling presentation of real-life soap opera; impressive literary detective work, and grand entertainment.

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1987
Publisher: Macmillan