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Centralia (WA) Chronicle, January 24, 1902
John Singleton, the millionaire owner of the celebrated Yellow Aster mine, was married last October to Miss Stella Graham, of Seattle. The marriage has just been announced.

After Lillian Graham met W. E. D. Stokes at New York's Hotel Ansonia – and it was he who initiated the meeting; she was 18 years old, he was 54 – she might have thought she could follow the example of her older sister, Stella, and marry a millionaire.

Google John Singleton of Yellow Aster mine fame, and you'll find several opportunities to read an interesting story by Sam Watters, an architectural historian, author of the book "Houses of Los Angeles" and a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

A fellow named John Singleton made his millions from the Yellow Aster gold mine in Randsburg, California, which was in no man's land, north-by-northwest of Los Angeles, about halfway to the Nevada border.

In 1900 Singleton was 53-year-old, divorced, and the owner of a Los Angeles mansion. Stella Graham, just 20 at the time, may have been working as a maid for Singleton, which makes the following seem like a Cinderella story. Writes Watters:

"Singleton hired William H. Hill of Pasadena to photograph his house, stable and garden. Black-and-white-photo albums were to the 19th century what Facebook is to the 21st. Transportable and reproducible, they were perfect for bragging to a prospective spouse. With sharply focused portraits of decorated interiors and landscaped grounds, Singleton created a leather-bound volume and stamped on its cover: Singleton Court. He inscribed the opening page: 'A memento, to Stella, from Singleton.'

"Stella Graham was just 20 when she received Singleton's album. Its pages conjured up a world of Champagne taste that could be hers if only she'd marry the millionaire miner. Handwritten captions pointed to highlights in each photo. Singleton boasted of a 'pair of rare old bronze Japanese vases,' a summer house, a blooming jacaranda, a carriage and a one-horse roadster. There was the Mexican helper, the liveried driver and the boss himself, suited up in front of the mansion.

"In 1901, he and Graham married in San Francisco and honeymooned in Hawaii before moving to Singleton Court."

Unfortunately this was not a fairy tale nor a romantic movie with an upbeat ending. In 1902 Singleton's only son, Edward, shot himself to death at Singleton Court. Four years later the mansion was destroyed by fire. The marriage stumbled and the couple went their separate ways, at least for while. Stella Graham Singleton spent some time in Europe. Her sister Lillian lived with her for awhile there.

Judging by some of the letters written to Lillian Graham by W. E. D. Stokes, Mr. and Mrs. Singleton remained married and affected a reconciliation of sorts. I believe Singleton is the person referred to in those letters as "The Colonel."

Singleton died at Yellow Aster in 1914, and Graham remarried twice after that. The house at Singleton Court was never rebuilt.

Since finding that Sam Watters story, I have found out more about Stella and John Singleton. And like many others I've come across during my detour, this story is almost too strange to be true.

First a doll, then a daughter
The story that follows is true, though the writer almost certainly exercised creative license in the quotes attributed to the little girl. All of this happened while Stella and John Singleton were temporarily living in New York City at the Hotel Ansonia after being burned out of two California homes, their mansion in Los Angeles and another residence in San Francisco.

Lillian Graham isn't mentioned here, but at the time she might well have been living at the Ansonia with her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law.

This story is both heartwarming and a bit disturbing, what with an abandoned little girl being given into the custody of a couple of strangers so soon after she was found, strangers who were headed for Paris. Well, at least Mrs. Singleton was. Had the authorities investigated the adoptive parents, they would have discovered the couple was on the verge of a separation that would lead to a divorce about a year later.


The little girl, 2-1/2, or possibly 3 years old, who was found on a doorstep by a Jersey City policeman in the snowstorm of week before last, has got a new mamma. When “Mary Classey,” as the little girl calls herself, learned yesterday that Mrs. John Singleton, the wife of a wealthy mine owner of the Pacific Coast, now staying at the Ansonia, wished to take the little girl home with her, she seemed puzzled.

“Do you want a new mamma?” they asked her.

“Is my old mommer all broken so she can’t be mended?” she inquired, in an injured tone.

Later, when Mrs. Singleton saw the little girl she promised her candy, dolls, and toys galore. Still the girl hesitated. Finally she looked at Mrs. Singleton with a steady gaze.

“If I let you be my mommer, can I have a pair of nice, new red shoes?” she asked.

She could, and the red shoes gained the day.

It was long after midnight during the belated April snowstorm, when Policeman Saunders, on post in Grand Street, near Grove, New Jersey, saw a bundle lying on a cellar door, with almost an inch of snow covering it.

“Them Eytalians is careless,” said Saunders, thinking the parcel contained rubbish.

But mindful of certain finds in murder cases which had won for certain members of certain police forces much fame and glory, he began to poke at the bundle. As he turned it over a little whimper came from within. A moment more and he had torn off the old blanket which had been wrapped around a little girl, who didn’t seem to the policeman to be anywhere near 3.

“Where do you live?” he demanded, astonishment making his tone severe.

The little girl pointed her finger vaguely across the street.

“Down there,” she said sleepily

“Where?” repeated Saunders.

“Down there,” the girl said crossly, indicating a totally different direction.

There was nothing for the policeman to do but carry her to the station. On the way there he asked: “Haven’t you any papa or mamma?”

The girl sighed in his arms.

“Popper drinks, but mommer doesn’t,” she said. And then after a little pause she added.

“Mommer said popper tried to kill her, but he’s a nice popper.”

That night the little girl stayed with the matron in the station house. The next day she was sent to the home of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children at 163 Grand Street. Here she said that her name was something that Mrs. Reed, the superintendent, took to be “Mary Classey.”

“My popper works very hard in a schoolhouse,” she said, “and he comes home at night so tired he can’t walk straight. and he brings home a little bottle and drinks out of it. But when my mommer see it she says to my popper: ‘Please – please don’t do that.’ And then my popper he gets mad, and my mommer says my popper drinks.”

Here little Mary broke off her story to hold up her little feet encased in small, old tan shoes.

“Ain’t them shoes just lovely! Katie bought them for me,” she said.

At the society’s home they have sometimes kept children for six weeks to have them reclaimed by their parents at the end of that time. So they kept Mary for a time with them. Mary, too, hoped that her father and mother would come.

“I do wish my popper would drop in,” she said suddenly the other day to Mrs. Reed’s little girl, May.

“Your mother certainly ought to come for you,” declared May, who is ten.

The little girl thought a moment with a sad face. Then she said slowly:

“I guess my mommer must be dead, or she would come.”

In the end secretary Edward A. Ransom Jr. of the society thought it would be well to take some steps toward getting Mary adopted. She is a beautiful little girl. A newspaper in which he asked some responsible person to do that fell into the hands of Mrs. John Singleton at the Ansonia. The Singletons had been burned out both in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, where their home, Singleton Court, was one of the showplaces of the city.

Mr. Singleton, who is president of the Yellow Aster Mining Company of California, and has extensive mining interests in Alaska, found it convenient to visit New York with his wife until they had decided whether they would rebuild in the West.

The description of the little girl – “golden hair and blue eyes” – made an instant appeal to Mrs. Singleton. Although they had no children, the Singletons had each Christmas bought many dolls – for other people’s children. Last Christmas, while they were doing their annual Christmas shopping, Mrs. Singleton came across an enormous doll almost as large as a child of five.

“I want that doll,” she said to her husband.

“But for whom?” he questioned. “We’ve provided for everybody.”

“For myself?” she said.

“For yourself?” he echoed.

“I’ve made up my mind that if the occasion ever arises,” she said, “if a good opportunity presents itself, I’m going to adopt a little girl.”

“Why don’t you go to some asylum and picked out one?” he suggested.

“That doesn’t appeal to me,” she said. “It must come in some different way, but when it does I want a doll, and the little girl I adopt shall have the biggest doll in the store.”

So the doll was bought. But until yesterday it had no wardrobe.

The moment Mrs. Singleton read of “Mary Classey,” she rang for her maid.

“I want you to take that doll down to Blank’s,” she said, “and have it dressed and get it a wardrobe.”

This was on Friday. That evening Mrs. Singleton left a call at the clerk’s desk for 5 a.m. She had read about the difficulties of going to Jersey and wanted plenty of time. Yesterday morning at 6 she was driving toward the ferry. So it was quite early in the morning when he carriage reached the home in Grand Street, Jersey City. There she was told that the little girl, from the exposure of the night of her finding, had caught a cold which he developed into bronchitis. So she was now in Christ Hospital.

The picture of the little girl shown to her at the home only made her the more determined, so she drove to the hospital. There the little girl impressed her quite as much by her reserve as her beauty. She wasn’t at all willing to be little girl to the first comer.

“I am having a big dolly – bigger than you are – dressed for you,” didn’t more than interest her.

She appeared to be examining each proposition with a wise little mind until, becoming interested, she asked about the red shoes.

“I don’t believe she ever had a pair in her life,” said a nurse at the hospital, “and when you said you could get them she thought you were a fairy and she’d go with you.”

In accordance with the request of those at the home Mrs. Singleton will leave Mary there for a little longer that her parents may have an opportunity to claim her. Mrs. Singleton hopes, however, that when she sails for Europe in the last days of May that Mary will be with her.

Just before Mrs. Singleton had won the little girl’s consent, Secretary Ransom of the home received a letter from a woman who works as a cleaner in the Salvation Army headquarters in Fourteenth Street. She could offer the little girl a good home, she said.

But Mary is going to Europe.

Mrs. Stella Singleton went to Europe with her daughter, whom she named Lillian. She seemed to divide her time between Paris and Brussels, where she later enrolled her daughter in a convent. For awhile, after her divorce, Mrs. Singleton toyed with the idea of living at the convent herself, hoping to be a lay nun. Lillian Graham spent a lot of time in Paris, too, before she returned to the United States a few months before she had her fateful encounter with her former lover, W. E. D. Stokes.

 
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