Marriage & Kidnapping
The Countess Gizycka
On April 14, 1904, at noon, a defeated Robert Patterson accompanied his only daughter to the “improvised chancel” in the paneled library at 15 Dupont Circle, before an intimate gathering of some thirty-five guests made up of family, close friends and high-ranking members of the Washington diplomatic community. Whether the assembly noticed or not, the father of the bride refused to speak to, or shake hands with, the groom. The white marble mansion had by all accounts been transformed by lavish floral arrangements, though the preponderance of white lilies lent an unintended funerary air to the proceedings. Cissy, in “a girlish affair” of liberty gauze over silk and chiffon trimmed in duchesse lace, carried a loose bouquet of white roses. She was attended by Ruth, who retired immediately after the ceremony, still deep in mourning for her father. Count Gizycki was seconded at the makeshift altar by his best man, Count Ivan Rubido-Zichy of the Austro-Hungarian Embassy.
Following the ceremony, guests were invited to a nuptial breakfast, the gaiety of which was dampened by the palpable tension between the Pattersons and their new relation. Catherine Eddy, a friend of Cissy’s and an all-American girl from Chicago, noted, “Mrs. Patterson had quite properly done everything in her power to prevent the marriage.” Ever irreverent, Alice Roosevelt was among the minority of Americans in attendance who liked the dashing “rounder” Cissy had married. He cut a picturesque figure, she thought, as if sprung from the pages of Anna Karenina. Given the cool reception the count had received from Washingtonians generally, it was perhaps not surprising that Alice found him “so friendly”—and he had given her a cigarette case. For the delectation of its readership the Washington Times, like many of its local and national rivals, recast the sad, hurried event as “a quiet affair, unattended by the slightest ostentation,” but nonetheless “one of the most brilliant and perfectly arranged weddings ever seen in Washington.”
Indeed, to achieve this effect the Times was forced to go some distance into the realm of invention with a fanciful account of the bride’s charming attendants’ taking advantage of her changing into her traveling costume, to make a lavish, surprise floral display of the carriage that was to convey the happy couple to Union Station: “It was a merry party which bid the pretty American bride God-speed to her Russian home.” The bride’s girlfriends would long remember the occasion differently, however. As Maggie Cassini put it, when Cissy went upstairs to change clothes and Gizycki left for the Willard to collect his belongings, “the fireworks began.”
The groom never returned for his bride. “We waited and waited and waited—the time seemed interminable,” Catherine Eddy confided to her diary. After no little time and confusion, an embarrassed Ivan Rubido-Zichy was dispatched to find his friend, whom he eventually located at Union Station, ready to depart. “I always felt that Cissy, who was proud, held it against me that I had been a witness to this humiliating page of her life,” Maggie Cassini charged, reporting in her memoirs the astonished whisperings that spread among the wedding guests, of Gizycki’s parting demand to be paid a dowry, or leave the bride (not to mention her mother) mortified and brokenhearted. “Of course, from Gizycki’s point of view, a bargain is a bargain: his chateaux needed repair; in return, he was offering an illustrious and ancient name and an enviable social position. It was a fifty-fifty affair,” his compatriot, Countess Cassini, concurred; “But he had to be sure there was no slip.”
In reality, though Nellie doubled the yearly allowance she had settled on Cissy to $20,000, Gizycki’s brinksmanship only served to cement Rob Patterson’s determination to withhold a dowry. In what Alice Roosevelt described as the wedding’s “depressing climax,” the twenty-two year-old Countess Gizycka set off for Union Station in her bridal carriage, accompanied not by her husband, but rather, comforted by her mother and jealously watched over by her brother. Catherine Eddy recorded in her diary that as the straggling guests watched the carriage pull out of sight in the lengthening shadows along Massachusetts Avenue, Joe stood “white with rage, on the box beside the coachman, with the evident intent of killing Gizycki when he should see him!”
“Darling, remember,” her mother insisted with unaccustomed, if belated, tenderness, before handing her youngest child into the care of her new husband at Union Station, “you can always come home.