Strange Times Special 6: Ran Away With a Nun

Next week, the good folks at Harper Voyager will release my debut mystery novel, Westside, upon the world. I wanted to ask you one more time to preorder it today.

Preorder numbers will affect the publisher’s marketing budget for the book, they will affect press attention, they will affect bestseller numbers. If you dig this newsletter, preorder a copy of the book that inspired it. If you do so before Tuesday, respond to this email and I’ll sign you up for a year’s premium subscription to Strange Times, gratis.

As thanks, I’ve typed up an all-time bizarre New York Times story encountered in the research for Westside. It has absolutely nothing to do with the book, which is why it is so perfectly Strange Times.

From the New York Times of February 8, 1893, comes this rollocking tale of either a scoundrel who abducted a nun or a loving young couple torn apart by the Church. There’s no way of knowing who is in the right, but we are surely all grateful for the cameo by the strapping porter, Alphonse.

Auguste Simon, a little Frenchman employed as a professional nurse at the French Hospital in West Thirty-fourth Street, has created a stir in French circles in New-York, if not elsewhere, by carrying off a nun.

The French Hospital is under the charge of the order of Sisters of Charity known as the Marianites of the Holy Cross, whose parent house is in France. Among the nine sisters at the institution was the Soeur Anasthashie, a young Frenchwoman twenty-two years of age, whose worldly name was Rosalie Damourette, who came out from France a few years ago to join the order here. She was of a volatile disposition, quite attractive, and was not happy with her lot, which was one of exacting duty rather than of pleasure.

She found a ready sympathizer in Simon, the male nurse, with whom she had many conferences during their attendance upon the hospital patients, and at last it was arranged that both should leave the institution, with the view on her part of renouncing her vows and re-entering the world. Matrimony was agreed upon, and Simon handed in his resignation to President Joseph Thoran of the Hospital Association, and went forth on Jan. 27 to prepare a home for his bride. He secured a room at 508 Sixth Avenue and, having succeeded in obtaining the release of his affianced from the hospital at the early hour of 5 o’clock on the morning of Jan. 28, he went there with her to dwell.

Simon introduced the young woman to his landlady, Mme. Nagel, as his wife. The marriage ceremony was fixed for last Saturday, but there came an interruption. President Thoran procured the services of a detective and discovered the whereabouts of the missing couple. The young woman was amenable to discipline, and went without question back to the hospital, while Simon was arrested and locked up on a charge of procuring money from one of the inmates of the hospital on false pretenses. The charge was not pressed, however, and, on being set free, Simon went to the hospital to demand the release of his wife, as he termed her.

His demand was refused by the Mother Superior, who instead called in a strapping porter named Alphonse, who gave Simon a beating and finally threw him out of doors. Simon appealed to the law and procured the services of Lawyer Mathot of 291 Broadway to bring three actions, viz, habeas corpus proceedings to obtain his wife’s release, a charge of assault against the Mother Superior, and a charge of false imprisonment against President Thoran.

Such is the story told by Simon and his lawyer. President Thoran, however, and the Mother Superior tell a different story. They say that Simon betrayed an innocent girl and that he is a villain who came to the hospital last March from France with good recommendations. He was a good nurse and up to the time of inducing the Soeur Anasthasie to elope with him had conducted himself well. The young woman, said President Thoran, had been sent home to France to her parents, sailing last Saturday on the steamer La Gascogne, and was now out of reach of the influence of Simon, who had a wife and children in France.

Simon is a fairly good-looking young man of about thirty years.