American Heiress Mary Scott Townsend:
Did a witch's warning
ultimately lead to tragedy?
Photo: Mary Scott Townsend
Mary Scott Townsend was the daughter of William L Scott, a Pennsylvanian
railroad and coal magnate. Later in life he became a member of congress.
She was an elegant and wealthy Washington socialite. The Tribune
pointed out at the time they were “worth ever so many millions”.
She commissioned Cartier to design and make a superb diamond
tiara and choker.
Wedding & Curse
By 1899 she had married Richard Townsend and wanted to move to the capital.
They purchased a house together on Massachusetts Ave near Dupont Circle, where
large town houses and Embassy's could be found. The House on 2121 Massachusetts
Avenue was already substantial, but Mary remembered something from her past.
A 'witch' had told her years ago that she should never sleep under a new
roof or she would die within a year. A plan was made to expand the house without
altering the roof.
Suicide & Accident
Unfortunately for the Townsends, they didn't realise what had happened under
the old roof. The previous owner, Judge Hillyer had a daughter named Bessie, who committed suicide there after a brief marriage and elopement. The house was
completed in 1901 , but Richard was not to enjoy it for long. In late November he
fell from a horse and fractured his skull. Mary continued to live in the Mansion, with
her daughter until 1931. In 1912 butlers and staff at the house reported seeing
'marching ghosts' in the house. The house was closed down that year, but things
must have improved afterwards. The house was very much designed in the French
'Beaux Arts' style and the architects Carrère and Hastings also worked on the Senate
buildings. It was partly modelled on the 'Petit Trianon' in France.
In 1905 Mary commissioned Cartier to design a suite of diamond jewellery. It was recently purchased back by Cartier. The choker has been worn by Rhianna. The tiara is surmounted
by seven exquisite pear shaped diamonds.
Mary's daughter Mathilde Townsend Welles, and her husband lived in the house until 1950.
As President Roosevelt's under Secretary of State, he entertained the President and other
members of high society. They probably would have used some of the Limoges plates with the Townsend family crest.
Limoges plate with Townsend crest and monogram 'MST' (Mary Scott Townsend).
Mary Scott Townsend Bookplate
The house survives intact , as the 'Cosmos Club' with much of the interior and fittings (including Mary's portrait) just as it was when it was owned by the Townsends. It is a private social club for "..women and men distinguished in science, literature, the arts, a learned profession or public service".
Library of Congress.