Monday, July 29, 2013

The Will and the Mysterious Jewel Chest

In 1893 the Charlier family was in need of a legal translator, because when Madame Charlotte Roulez Charlier died in New Jersey in that year, she left about $50,000 and a "unique" will that no one, according to the New York Times, was able to understand. This may have been partly because the will was in French and needed a good translation, or because of other difficulties. The New York World reported that even 6 years after her death lawyers had not yet been able to "unravel" the will. She was described as a "fortune teller" by the papers, and some said that her large fortune had been earned by her clairvoyant career - though her family said that she only did this as an amusement, not for money. In any case, a legal translator would have been an excellent idea, because the estate was not settled for many years.
Wikimedia Commons

Her heirs were her children, two of whom lived in New Jersey and then there was her son, who nobody had seen for 20 years. He was in South America "in bondage," said Madame's will. She added that she had had a dream which predicted that this son would turn up in New Jersey 8 years later and claim his share of the inheritance. Unfortunately, it seems that he actually drowned when "his vessel, a sailing ship trading at South American ports, disappeared years ago and was never heard of again."

What particularly intrigued me about her estate was the old chest filled with incredible jewels. The chest was brought over from Brussels when Madame came to America. The Buffalo Evening News reported that:

In it were found half a dozen rugs, several gold lockets, two boxes of rare Brussels lace, two gold watches, bracelets by the dozen, diamond earrings, amethyst and turquoise jewels, loose diamonds, rubies, pearls and other gems, gold and silverware, religious emblems, rosaries and medals, rich old shawls, silk handkerchiefs, and a piece of silk imported half a century ago, but never made up.

The chest also included the famous  diamond buckle that Madame said was made out of the hilt of a sword presented to her father, the Court Physician, by Louis XV. The buckle was made out of 26 large diamonds, was attached to a belt "inscribed with cabalistic characters [and] was supposed to give Madame prescience." Dr Roulez' "heavy gold medal" was in the chest, too, "for his part in the discovery of vaccination [sic]." The chest was put into a bank vault after "being brought by carriage to Elizabeth, [NJ]." I wonder what happened to it.

"Mme Charlier's Will," New York Times, Mar. 23, 1893.
"Anna Charlier, Heiress, Interviewed at Washtub," New York World, Jun. 18, 1899.
"A Chest of Jewels," Buffalo Evening News, Apr. 10, 1893.

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