Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Abby and Albert — their happiness was too brief
In January 1867, Daniel and Abby McFarland and their two sons moved into a boarding house at 72 Amity Street in New York City. Not long afterwards, Albert Deane Richardson moved into the same building. He used this location as his office as editor and writer for the New York Tribune newspaper, and would sometimes sleep there as well. He worked there with his stenographer and a staff artist, and a messenger boy regularly stopped by to carry papers back and forth from the Tribune offices several blocks away.
Abby McFarland and Albert Richardson struck up an easy friendship. They had met at least once before at the home of his publisher Samuel Sinclair. On February 19, Daniel McFarland found his wife standing in the hall outside Richardson's open door. Abby explained that they were merely chatting about one of his articles. She was, after all, a writer herself. According to Abby in her later written account of the incident, "When we entered our apartment, my husband flew into a rage and insisted that an improper intimacy existed between Mr. Richardson and I." McFarland got drunk and threatened to kill Abby and then commit suicide. She was terrified for herself and for her two little sons, seven-year-old Percy, and three-year-old Daniel Jr.
On February 21, Abby packed a few bags and took Percy and Little Dan to the Sinclair's home. She contacted her father William Sage in Massachusetts, asking him to come to New York. Once William Sage arrived, Daniel McFarland was requested to come to the Sinclair's. With Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair and her father as witnesses, Abby then informed Daniel that their marriage was over. After Daniel left, Albert Richardson arrived. He expressed his concern, and she responded that she would be better off with no husband at all than to have one such as Daniel McFarland. Richardson offered to help Abby in any way he could. She was touched by his words.
Two days later, Richardson told Abby that he wanted to marry her. She returned his sentiments of love, but she was still a married woman. He wrote her a sweet love letter on March 9, and sent it in care of Samuel Sinclair at the Tribune office. However, someone turned the letter over to McFarland by mistake. He now had proof regarding his wife's infidelity. On the evening of March 13 Richardson met Abby at the theatre where she had just finished a performance. McFarland suddenly appeared behind them with a gun. He fired three shots at Richardson, one of them hitting him in the thigh. Fortunately, Richardson was only slightly injured. McFarland was arrested, but somehow avoided any repercussions for his attempt to commit murder.
McFarland sued for custody of his sons. The court's decision was that Percy would live with him, and Little Dan with Abby. Abby was distraught at being separated from Percy. When she tried to visit him the boy in April 1868, McFarland once again threatened to kill her. Abby decided then to divorce McFarland. The New York courts would only accept adultery as a basis for granting divorce, so Abby moved to Indiana where she could file based on other factors, including the extreme cruelty and habitual drunkenness of her estranged spouse. She spent 16 months in Indiana before the divorce was finalized. In November 1869, she was finally able to enjoy a happy Thanksgiving in Massachusetts with both her family and her sweetheart, Albert Richardson.
Richardson returned to New York after the holiday. On November 25, at about 5 p.m., Daniel McFarland entered the offices of the New York Tribune. The place was quiet. McFarland lurked in a dark corner and waited. After a few minutes he saw Albert Richardson enter and walk up to a counter where he began looking through some mail. McFarland ran up to Richardson and shot him three times, including once in the chest near his heart. McFarland fled, and the bleeding Richardson somehow managed to climb up two flights of stairs to an office where he collapsed on a couch. When help arrived, the mortally wounded man was carried to a room in a nearby hotel, the Astor House.
Next week: A Valley Cemetery Story — A deathbed wedding ceremony..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org