by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
A young man’s actions in the city of Laconia, New Hampshire in the year 1906 might be described as ambition gone awry, credit without credence, how not to start a business, the evil of impersonation, or the downfall of a slick swindler.
The story is that a young man arrived at the Lakeside House at the Weirs on June 22, 1906 where he apparently registered as H.G. Whittemore. After paying his bill the following Monday he moved to the Hotel Weirs where he made his headquarters during his short-lived business activities in the area. Mr. Whittemore was described by the Laconia Democrat newspaper as “…a young man of pleasing personality , well educated and a smooth talker. Since his arrival at the Weirs he has been quite prominent socially, appearing among the guests daily in several suits of clothes, one of which he obtained from the clothing house of George B. Munsey of Lakeport on credit.” The paper went on to identify the man as being “…about 25 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighs 150 pounds, has brown hair, blue eyes and smooth face.” It just occurred to me that the description of his appearance sounds like me at that age ( though I wasn’t around then), but not the portrayal of his actions.
“Whittemore’s” move from the Lakeside House to the Weirs Hotel can be explained by the fact that he tried to rent the stable connected to the hotel for the summer but was unsuccessful because the management would not accept the check he offered as an advance payment. He was, however, able to come to some agreement with the proprietor, a Mr. Hibbard, of the Hotel Weirs to rent space to run a livery stable for the summer, stating that he had several horses with harnesses coming from Boston. The assumption seems to be that those horses never arrived, but the young man did find the needed horses at the livery stable of D.K. Marsh in Laconia. On June 23rd he rented a pair of horses with the understanding that he would remit payment for such by the week, on Saturdays. He returned to the Marsh livery a couple of days later when he borrowed another team of horses with the same agreement to pay each Saturday. The Democrat also reported that he hired a third team from a livery stable in Tilton.
So the enterprising , young, attractive businessman had his place of business and his horses for the business, but he needed further equipment. To meet that need he visited the Laconia Carriage Company where a Thomas Pentland was the manager. From Mr. Pentland the so-called Mr. Whittemore purchased “… an Amesbury buggy, a three-seated carriage, harnesses, robes, and a miscellaneous assortment of goods…” priced at $ 467.65. After the items were delivered on a Wednesday and Thursday of the same week Whittemore arrived at the Carriage Company late on the Friday afternoon with a check issued by the Laconia National Bank, that name being crossed out and the name of the Old Colony Trust Company of Boston written in ink on the check. That check was accepted and the buyer was given a receipt for the goods he received.
The next morning (Saturday) before the bank opened for business young Mr. Whittemore arrived at the Laconia Carriage House and told manager Pentland that he was short of funds and asked him not to cash to the check he had given him, explaining that his mother was coming on the noon train and would bring the payment due with her. The problem was that Mrs. Whittemore did not arrive on the train or by any other means, so the police were called and the so-called Mr. Whittemore was arrested. But the young swindler was not quite through with his acts of deception. He now claimed that he had a guardian named Mr. T. Jefferson Coolidge who would be able to make right all the matters that needed to be settled. The arresting officer, City Marshall John M. Guay, contacted Mr. Jefferson by telephone and the latter denied having any knowledge of Whittemore. The young man, who was charged with “obtaining goods under false pretences”, then admitted his guilt and the fact that he was wanted by authorities in Concord, Mass. by pretending to be J.Montgomery Sears of Boston and apparently acquiring personal gain by his deceitful practices. It was discovered that the man had built up a record of numerous offences related to the misuse of checks in Massachusetts and had spent time in reformatories. Furthermore, his real name was neither Whittemore or Montgomery. He was identified as Harold Prouty of Milton, Massachusetts.
A man named H. G. Whittemore, apparently an art collector of those days, lived in Naugatuck, Connecticut, and a J. Montgomery Sears was said to be the wealthiest man in Boston and one of the wealthiest in the country. The man that the young man from Milton, Mass. claimed was his guardian, Mr. T. Jefferson Coolidge, was a leading Boston businessman and the great grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Coolidge had ties to New Hampshire as the manager of the largest textile mill in America at that time, the Amoskeag Mill in Manchester.
The offender was said to eventually cooperate with the police, admitting that he was wanted by authorities in Concord, Massachusetts. Chief of Police Craig of Concord came to Laconia hoping to take Prouty back with him, but Laconia officials decided to keep him for trial at Belknap County Superior Court. Prouty entered a guilty plea to receiving goods under false pretense and , unable to pay the $1,000 bail fee, was taken to jail to await trial. Not knowing what happened afterwards, I can only hope that he changed his ways and from then on directed his skills and ambitions to honest and productive pursuits.