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 Mary Lily <I>Kenan</I> Bingham

Mary Lily Kenan Bingham

Kenansville, Duplin County, North Carolina, USA
Death 27 Jul 1917 (aged 50)
Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, USA
Burial Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina, USA
Memorial ID 10351761 · View Source
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Socialite. Born Mary Lily Kenan, she met Henry Morrison Flagler, a founding partner of Standard Oil in 1891, at the home of mutual friends in Newport, Rhode Island when he was 61and she 23. Married, he set about obtaining a divorce from his wife who eventually had to be confined to an asylum. Although it took several years, the couple married ten days after the divorce became final. The groom was 72, she 34. Their marriage, by all reports was happy. In March 1913, however, Flagler fell down the stairs at their mansion, Whitehall, and broke his hip. At 83, the injury proved mortal. Two months later, he died with Mary Lily at his side. With his death, she reportedly became the richest woman in the country with a fortune worth between $60 million and $100 million. Within two years she had renewed acquaintance with Robert Worth Bingham, an old friend, with whom some allege she had had a youthful affair. Late in 1916, she agreed to marry Bingham, and under pressure, they agreed to a waiver to any claim of his to her fortune. The ceremony was held November 15, 1916. The bride presented her new husband with a $50,000 certified check. He allegedly gave her nothing. Within six weeks, her health began to deteriorate; and she complained of chest pains. Reportedly, her husband hired a dermatologist to attend her, whose treatment consisted of regular shots of morphine. By June 1917, she secretly added a codicil to her will: "...I give and bequeath to my husband, R.W. Bingham, $5 million to be absolutely his..." In July, during a heat wave, she was found in her tub, unconscious. Suspecting a heart attack, the dermatologist and a pediatrician treated her again with morphine. She died during convulsions shortly thereafter, only eight months after her wedding. The initial death certificate listed the cause of death as edema, or swelling of the brain, with myocarditis, a heart condition, as a contributing cause. Her family, however, found her death suspicious and on September 17, 1917, her brothers and a team of doctors exhumed her coffin to perform a secret autopsy. Her body reportedly contained what was described as 'enormous amounts' of morphine, and apparently heavy metal poisons, possibly arsenic and mercury. The family sued Bingham, but the case was eventually dropped with no action taken. Speculation as to why, and as to her cause of death is still rampant. Some dispute the conclusion that she died of natural causes, suggesting a very different cause of death running from murder via an overdose of morphine, neglect from the withholding of proper medical attention, that she was a chronic alcoholic and died of alcoholism, or tertiary syphilis, either contracted from Bingham during their affair or possibly her first husband. The mystery of her death has never been resolved satisfactorily. A book discussing the case, "The Binghams of Louisville: The Dark History Behind One of America's Great Fortunes" by David and Mary Chandler was published in 1988.

Bio by: Iola

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 20 Jan 2005
  • Find A Grave Memorial 10351761
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Mary Lily Kenan Bingham (14 Jun 1867–27 Jul 1917), Find A Grave Memorial no. 10351761, citing Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .