One day in 1913, future Senator Robert A. Taft jotted off a note to his fiancée, Martha W. Bowers. Among the events of the day, he describes meeting a notorious woman over a game of bridge:
“One night I also went to a bridge party, and sat next to a young lady whose divorce last year created great excitement in Cincinnati. Her name was Lawson, then Baker, and now she calls herself Mrs. Lawson, which strikes me as being unique.”
Mrs. Lawson—and prefixing her maiden name with “Mrs.” after divorce may very well have been unique—did create great excitement in Cincinnati when she divorced State Senator Thorne Baker. While we may have heard of the “Runaway Bride,” this is a case of the “Hide and Seek Wife.”
Although Thorne Baker courted Anna Lucille Lawson for some time, he realized he was just one of many suitors, and left for an extended tour of Europe. On his return, he professed his intentions and was accepted. Baker was 28 years old when he married Lawson on December 4, 1909. She was just 20 when they were joined in matrimony, the marriage blessed by Father James Moore, pastor of Holy Angels Church in Walnut Hills.
Baker, an Ohio state representative, also had a law practice that was taking off. He had clients throughout the eastern suburbs of Cincinnati. One night, after a court date in Batavia, just two weeks after the marriage, Baker arrived in Cincinnati during a heavy sleet storm. He walked three miles from the station on Eastern Avenue up Delta to Erie. Cold and exhausted, he arrived home to find his wife ready to party. Baker accompanied her to a debutante ball at the Sinton Hotel but begged her to leave early. After dinner, he danced with her and she danced with several young men while he rested. Hoping to leave, he went looking for her but she was nowhere to be found. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer [1 February 1913] Baker testified later in divorce court that he could not locate his wife:
“The ballroom is on the eighth or ninth floor and I searched it all over looking in all the alcoves and down the corridors. I wandered about looking for my wife, but I could not find her, and after a second search it dawned upon me that she had left the dance for some reason. I decided to search the hotel then, and I enquired at the elevator if there was a parlor floor.”
Baker was directed to the Sinton Hotel’s second floor. He found the parlor, a large room with dimmed lights and, off to one side, an adjoining room. He walked in.
“As I entered the room I saw Mrs. Baker and Robert Black [one of her former suitors]. They were sitting dos-a-dos in one of those double chairs. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. I said, ‘Lucille, I am tired; you said that you wanted to stay and dance, but you are not dancing, but “sitting out.” Come on home.’ She wouldn’t and I started away, but went only to the elevator and got to thinking and I went back and said to Black, ‘What do you mean by taking my wife to such an unfrequented place?’ Black started to remonstrate and I told him that if he was looking for trouble he could have it.”
There was a furious row when the Bakers got home that night. Mr. Baker accused Mrs. Baker of “humbling” him. She insisted not only that she had done nothing wrong, but she would do it again—and she did.
At a country club dance a week later, Lucille again disappeared, and Thorne Baker found her at “the farthest part” of a covered porch, sitting with another former suitor, Logan Thompson.
At a summer party at Harry Cleneay’s place in 1910, Lucille really was playing hide-and-seek. Thorne testified:
“The crowd had been playing ‘hide and seek’ and ‘ferret,’ but this went pretty slow and lasted only about five minutes. But Lucille did not come in with the rest. I searched all over for her, and searched the bushes on the Cleneay and [Albert] Krippendorf [across Bedford Avenue from the Cleneay’s] places, but could not find her. Then I made a second search and when I came back, she was on the porch. She refused to tell me where she had been or who was with her.”
On cross examination, Lucille denied any impropriety:
“I don’t remember playing hide and seek and I know that they haven’t any bushes, and I wasn’t off the lawn.”
On another night, Baker returned late from his law office and found his wife gone. He went to bed, but was awakened by the sound of his automobile running. He discovered that Carl Burkhardt, yet another of his wife’s former suitors, had dropped by and took Lucille and the automobile to the Zoo while Baker was at work.
“I told him that I didn’t appreciate his actions as pleasant, and he said that he was very sorry as he had not thought anything of it. I afterward told Lucille that if she had the mental and moral inefficiency not to see anything wrong, I could not make her see.”
One wonders if Mr. Thorne Baker could see reality, as well.
Cincinnati, as Robert Taft reported, was greatly excited. The courtroom was packed, with society matrons sitting on steaming courtroom radiators rather than miss a word of testimony.
Eventually the Baker marriage was dissolved and the court ordered Thorne to pay Lucille alimony totaling $7,500 in quarterly payments. That ceased when Lucille married James A. Atwood Jr. of Norwichtown, Connecticut in 1914. Thorne Baker also remarried, in 1917, to Jane Bailey McMann Scott, a widow from New Jersey.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities