Research Thoughts

She Was Hopeful Till the End – Part 1

To continue the sad story of Harry and Martha Paine Cook, we have to focus, and to place the blame on Harry coming down with “sleeping sickness” while on a business trip to New York City.

When Harry Cook was first diagnosed with “sleeping sickness” in late January 1920, I am sure that there was a sense of panic in the Cook household. For those first days he was confined to a hospital in New York, slowly improving. By the end of February he had improved enough that he could be moved to Florida, where they hoped that the warm weather and sunshine would make all the difference.

They remained in Florida the winter, sending home small notices stating that he was “improving.” But the illness was still taking its toll, and he was not really making any steady improvement, just small glimmers, and hope. On April 20, 1920, The Daily Times=Tribune reported that Harry had “recovered sufficiently to be able to leave Miami” and that the couple were “now northbound and it is expected that they will arrive in Alexandria about June 1.” [1] But I am not certain that they did return. My “chair research” into the newspaper, does not share the joyous news of their return, and the month of June is well covered.

Martha Paine Cook sent the next report, which was received August 24, 1920, from her parents home in Oshkosh, Winnebago, Wisconsin. She reported that Harry was presently in the mountains of Vermont, where he was “getting along nicely.” [2] In September, Harry moved to New Jersey, where his cousin Edwin W. Yule paid him a visit. Edwin reported that “Mr. Cook is very thin from his long illness, but that he is now on the road to recovery although his improvement is going very slowly. Mr. Cook was very glad to see Mr. Yule and expressed himself as very eager to come home.” [3] As winter approached he made his way to Florida to spend the winter with his sister, Maud, and her husband Charles F. Lancaster. Thus starting a pattern that would go on for the next eleven years, wintering in Florida, and spending the summer living at a resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

We may never know exactly what happened, and most certainly not know the full details from my “chair research,” but I have done my best to piece together the story.

“Sleeping sickness” not only affects the physical body, but can have adverse effect on a patient’s mental health. The months in Florida must have been trying for Martha as she worked to keep her husband’s spirits high, and help him recover physically. She was also the mother of a 1 1/2 year old, as Hosford would celebrate his second birthday on July 13th. I am sure that there was help in the home; nurses, housekeepers, possibly even a nanny for Hosford, but I would like to think that Martha was personally engaged and involved in the care of both of her “men.” In May, instead of being “northbound” to Alexandria, Martha took little Hosford, and traveled to Oshkosh, while Harry began to wander the country, looking for that elusive place that would cure him, moving from Vermont to New Jersey, to Florida.

As the months passed, Harry became more and more dependent on his sister, Maud, her husband, Charles F. Lancaster and his cousin, Edwin W. Yule for support and guidance in running the Alexandria Paper Co., of which he was president. In October 1922, Harry was well enough to return to Alexandria, accompanied by Edwin Yule, [4]  A short month later, in November, Martha filed a petition in the Madison County Circuit Court for a guardian to be appointed for her husband. She stated that “certain persons ha[d] exerted influence on her husband and have caused him to become indifferent toward her.” She went on to state that “she has been unable to communicate with him,” and wished to know why “certain persons” have worked to turn Harry against her. [5] An article published in The Indianapolis Star, states the same situation a bit more bluntly: “The application charges that Cook is under the control of certain parties, whose names are not revealed, and that being of alleged unsound mind he is influenced by them so that he refuses to have anything to do with his wife.” The article goes on to say that she had “spent several months trying to nurse her husband, and that when her health broke down she went to the home of her parents in Oshkosh, Wis. It is alleged that her husband developed a violent aversion to her in the meantime, and that she has repeatedly been denied the privilege of seeing him.”  In a later court document, Martha claimed that he “deserted them” on July 12, 1920, just days before their son’s second birthday. [6]

It would be two years before she was able to appoint a trust company as guardian, as Harry kept sending it back to the court on appeal. It was announced in The [Oshkosh] Daily Northwestern on March 24, 1924, that she had prevailed, and secured their wealth of nearly a million dollars in assets, mostly stock in the Alexandria Paper Company. Harry had been traveling most of the year accompanied by nurses and attendants. At the time of the final court decision, he was in Florida for the winter. [7] 

It appears as though Martha was correct in her concerns, and her wish to have a guardian named for Harry, as less than a year later, on January 29, 1925, he was back in court, his guardian, the Citizen’s State Bank of Newcastle, filing in Federal Court, a “suit charging fraud and duress in connection with the transfer of $250,000, in the Alexandria Papar [sic] Company” against “Mrs. Maud Lancaster, her husband Charles P. [sic] Lancaster both of New York, and the Alexandria Paper Company.” “The complaint alleged that the defendants…had fraudulently induced Cook to transfer to them the 500 shares of stock. The complaint also alleges that the defendants and expended between $75,000 and $100,000 of Cook’s money each year since his illness in chartering houseboats, employing and discharging physicians, hiring servants, nurses, leasing houses and apartments and for other  expenses.” They were also “voting the shares and receiving large amounts of money in dividends.” The article goes on to put it in perspective: “Cook is said to have received from his father 1, 750 shares of stock in the Alexandria Paper Company, a controlling interest. Cook’s sister is said to have become the owner of 950 shares of stock in the company at the death of her father” in April 1918. It goes on to state that the defendants “took charge of Cook during his illness and concealed his whereabouts from his wife and child.” [8]

Sadly, my “chair research” has not revealed any indication of how this suit was settled. More work to be done here!

In February 1927, the couple buried their son, Henry Hosford Cook. His story was told in the blog post titled: A Child Lost. I believe it is at this point that Martha gives up. She must have realized that her husband was not going to get well enough to return home, and they will never again have a normal, loving married life. On April 4, 1927, she filed for divorce on the grounds of abandonment. She was asking for alimony. [9] Coming to an agreement would not be an easy task, nor a quick one. In December their attorneys met in superior court in Indianapolis, hopeful that an agreement could finally be reached, they “conferred” till 3:00 on that Friday afternoon of December 16, 1927. At that time, agreement was reached on a proposal which was to be sent to Harry in Atlantic City, for his “consideration” and “specifies that a divorce shall be granted and deals with property rights and the question of alimony.” The judge “continued the case until February 20, 1928, to give attorneys time to consult Cook. Witnesses subpoenaed for the trial and who were held in superior court all day, were instructed to return on that date.” [10] 

On February 17, 1928, the long wait was over. Harry had agreed to terms for the divorce, which were that Martha would be granted her request for a divorce, and receive $100,000 in alimony, a “$25,000 insurance policy on the life of Mr. Cook, subject to the unpaid premium.” And “a portion of the furnishings of the Cook home just south of the city.”  “A total of 18 attorneys were connected with the case, ten representing Mrs. Cook and eight representing the defense. The alimony award was the largest award in the Madison county courts.” [11] The terms were agreed to out of court, Martha was in the courtroom, but Harry did not return to Indiana for the hearing. [12]

To be continued…


  1. “Harry Cook Is Better,” The Alexandria Daily Times=Tribune, 24 Apr 1920, p 1, col 1; digital images, ( : accessed 27 May 2016).
  2. “Harry Cook In Vermont,” The Alexandria Daily Times=Tribune, 24 Aug 1920, p 1, col 3; digital image ( : accessed 27 May 2016).
  3. “Sees Harry Cook,” The Alexandria Daily Times=Tribune, 14 Sep 1920, p. 1, col 4; digital images, ( : accessed 27 May 2016).
  4. “Harry Cook Arrives In City This Morning,” The Alexandria Times=Tribune, 12 Oct 1922, p 1, col 2; digital images, ( : accessed 27 May 2016).
  5. “Seeks Appointment of Guardian for Husband,” The Indianapolis News, 13 Nov 1922, p 17, col 1; digital images, ( : accessed 27 May 2016).
  6. “Mrs. Cook Asks Court For Divorce Decree,” The Alexandria Daily Times=Tribune, 5 Apr 1927, p 1, col 3; digital images, ( : accessed 10 Jun 2016).
  7. “Indiana Supreme Court Sustains Ruling In The Cook Guardianship Case,” The Daily Northwestern, 24 Mar 1924, p 1, col 3; digital images, NewspaperARCHIVE ( : 10 May 2016).
  8. “Sick Man Made Victim of Fraud,” The Elwood Cal Leader, 31 Jan 1925, p 8, col 5; digital images, ( : accessed 23 May 2016).
  9. Mrs. Cook Asks Court For Divorce Decree,” The Alexandria Times=Tribune, 5 Apr 1927, p 1, col 3; digital images, ( : accessed 10 Jun 2016).
  10. “Cook Divorce Case May End By Agreement,” The Alexandria Daily Times=Tribune, 17 Dec 1927, p 1, col 6; digital images, ( : accessed 27 May 2016).
  11. “Life Insurance Policy $25,000 to Mrs. Cook,” The Alexandria Daily Times=Tribune, 21 Feb 1928, p 1, col 2; digital images, ( : accessed 24 May 2016).
  12. “Mrs. Cook Divorced; Gets $100,000 Alimony,” The Alexandria Daily Times=Tribune, 20 Feb 1928, p 4, col. 1; digital images, ( : accessed 27 May 2016).
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