Gone with a Gypsy

So read Clara Ward’s hometown newspaper, the Ludington Record, on Christmas Eve, 1896. It was the point at which all reportage on the subject of Michigan’s princess of Caraman-Chimay ceased appearing in the society pages and moved over to the gossip columns. It would stay there for the remainder of Clara’s life.

But what exactly caused Clara to stray into the arms of a penniless restaurant violin player? His raw animal magnetism, the newspapers said. That and his gypsy allure. According to most accounts, the first meeting occurred at a restaurant in Paris where Clara and the Prince were dining. Rigó Jancsi (whose name I’m told means “Johnny Blackbird” in Hungarian) was roving among the tables when his smoldering black moustache — I mean eyes — fixed on young Clara. She was mesmerized. Over successive evenings she would implore her husband to take her back and back to thrill to his languid movements and haunting gyspy melodies. Then, one night, she simply disappeared.

At least that’s how the papers told it, and it was a juicy story. In one version she slips her gigantic diamond ring onto Jancsi’s finger in full view of the Prince, whose royal dignity precludes him from reacting. He simply sits, frozen and humiliated. That’s even juicier. But the reality is probably much more conventional. Clara was wont to travel to Paris without the Prince. It seems more plausible that she happened to see Jancsi while dining out one evening, and they began to pay one another more and more attention.

But regardless of how they met, no one disputes the outsome: the two ran off together. The Prince shortly sued for a divorce which became final in January of 1897. By most accounts Ward saw almost nothing of him afterward, but paid him a steady alimony for the raising of their son and daughter.

As for Clara, she took her show on the road. She and Jancsi were married almost immediately and began to travel around the Europe and the Mediterranean where she is said to have lavished both her attentions and her riches upon him. Wherever they went, the Edwardian equivalent of the paparazzi followed. Their exploits never ceased to entertain. They were constantly written about, frequently photographed, and often required crowd control when dining or entering or leaving hotels. They were, in short, celebrities. And they loved every minute of it.

But it was not to last.

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