The Madness of Count Louis
History says little about the famous A.I. du Pont’s younger brother, and what it does say is often wrong. Here, the authors attempt a more accurate account of his life and death. Yet the mystery surrounding his suicide remains.
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GUNS, BOOZE AND WOMEN
Leonard Mosley writes in “Blood Relations: The Rise and Fall of the du Ponts of Delaware” (1980), that Louis, when visiting New York City, “spent most of his time drinking in saloons and carousing with the girls in New York’s brothels, where he was once picked up in a police raid.” Though that aspect of Louis’ life receives no commentary apart from Mosley’s, other evidence suggests that Mosley’s information is accurate.
Louis completed his preparatory studies at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. His brothers Alfred and Maurice also attended Phillips, which has no records of the period because they were lost in a flood. An interesting photo of Louis at Phillips depicts him and his brothers with friends posing as a kind of outlaw band. A muzzle-loading pistol rests on Louis’ lap.
Louis entered Yale in 1885. His time there amounts to a major part of his adult life. One account of Louis’ days at Yale was written by Charles Hitchcock Sherrill, the 1889 class historian.
Louis was supposed to have graduated in 1889. Sherrill wrote that Louis was athletic and literary, the latter area being of more interest to Louis. Sherrill portrays a lively, popular student who was referred to by others at Yale as “the Count.” There is nothing negative in Sherrill’s remarks, though Louis is often described elsewhere as a “swell,” a wealthy young man who was not reticent about his place in the world.
The December 8, 1892, issue of the Delaware Gazette and State Journal writes at length of the suicide, and quotes Dr. Draper as attributing the act “to temporary and recent mental aberration.” The last people who saw Louis alive, however, said he acted perfectly normal.
The paper goes on to say that at Yale, Louis was “one of the best after-dinner speakers of the college” and cites a professor as saying Louis was “the best natural mathematician he had ever seen.” Moreover, writes the Gazette, “on the basis of his brilliant matriculation papers it was expected by the faculty that he would graduate at the top of his class.”
This, of course, did not happen, though the newspaper notes correctly that Louis was graduated in 1891.
A mention of Louis in Volume LV of the Yale Literary Magazine says he was a member of Yale’s Gun Club, which enjoyed a victory over Harvard’s Gun Club in 1890, after which Louis spoke at a ceremony. The title of his address was “Misfire.”
There is a well-known story of Alfred, Maurice, Louis and their two sisters defending Swamp Hall after the death of their parents in 1877. They were to be sent to live with relatives until they mounted an insurrection. They “armed themselves with a rolling pin, an axe, an antique pistol and a twelve-gauge shotgun and refused to back down.” Louis was, in short, no stranger to guns, though he had armed himself with a bow and arrow in order to remain at Swamp Hall. (He was 9 years old at the time.)
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