The wedding and death of Paul Ford

This content run begins, as it sometimes does, with The Morning News.

If you read one published item this week, read Paul Ford’s “How to Say I Love You.” The mind behind Gary Benchley and Harper’s thin-slicing returns to TMN after too long an absence with 100 ways to say what the article’s title promises. “(29) In the late 19th century you cut her name into the cornfields, hoping someone would invent the airplane.”

Not knowing Paul Ford — I almost wrote “Gary Benchley” just now — the piece left me with a distinct but uncomfirmed impression, so I went Googling. The results took me to the New York Times archives, working in cached form, and a turn-of-the-century lede of amazing proportions.

Malcolm W. Ford, the athlete and magazine writer, yesterday morning murdered his brother, Paul Leicester Ford, the invalid and novelist. Malcolm W. Ford was insane, according to the testimony of those who knew him best. Members of his family say he had been partially demented some time, but that there appeared to be no reason for confining him in an asylum.

I was immediately, completely distracted.

Malcolm W. Ford left his home, 207 West Fifty-sixth Street, at a little before 9. He had eaten breakfast with his son in the high chair sitting opposite to him. Ford was divorced from his wife, but the courts had given him custody of the child. The little fellow at the breakfast table told of boys he knew who had mothers, and asked where his was. His father told him that he might see her very soon. Malcolm W. Ford, Jr., was persistent, and wanted to know how soon. His father begged him not to ask again, and said that when he returned home he would bring him a toy. He kissed the boy good-by, and then started for the elevator. He turned back, kissed the boy again, and told him never to think ill of his father. Getting into the elevator, he remarked to the man who runs it that it was an unusually fine morning, and that the better day the better the deed.

A murder followed, the “deformed,” “cripple” author falling from his revolving chair into the arms of his stenographer as his deranged brother put the pistol between his own fingers over his own heart and became a suicide.

To add to the misery of the mourning family, in the early evening newsboys carrying great bundles of newspapers ran up and down the street crying out the news of the tragedy, and selling their papers to a great crowd which gathered before the residence. Mr. Kidder appealed to the police over the telephone for protection and Capt. Brown sent several policemen to clear the block of the idly curious crowd and the newsboys with their shrill cries of “extra.”

The story finished shortly afterward, as the day in 1902 ended. Google’s cache then yielded the obituaries for the author and his brother, the athlete. The obit for the author glowed about his house, which he had planned himself and his father-in-law had built.

Mr. Ford superintended every detail of the building, he and his wife taking the greatest pride in it. Simplicity inside and outside was the spirit of the designer. The house, which is four stories in height, is in the style of the Renaissance, with an English basement. On the first floor is the drawing room, which occupies almost the whole floor, there being but two partitions forming alcoves. … There is a mezzanine floor with a billiard room and above it the library where yesterday’s tragedy occurred. It is a splendid big room, almost square. It is illuminated by a skylight and the walls are covered with books, and here and there a favorite picture of the author. It is one of the oldest and most valuable libraries in New York. Above the library are the living rooms.

A separate piece highlighted the siblings’ contributions to the world, but another article looked at “The Troubles in the Ford Family.” It seemed the family looked down on Malcolm’s athletics, sweaty and public competitions sullying a family of taste and letters. They even testified against him when he sued for a share of their father’s will, a will that had left him nothing. Elsewhere in the murder coverage, a column or editorial shared fond memories of only the author.

But the archives weren’t done yet. As days passed, news came that the author had used his last breaths to forgive his brother. The family was to bury them in the same grave, with services preceding in the author’s house, bloodied but loved. The author’s widow, pregnant, was said to have recovered from the shock. The athlete’s widow took custody of her son, the breakfasting boy. She later remarried.

Ninety-six years later, in February 1998, the Times wrote about the author’s house again. The real estate column wrote about plans for the building as developers gutted it.

But, yes, Paul Ford, the young and alive Paul Ford, got married this September. Random stumbling found that out. In a daily list of links, a blogger who may or may not have known Ford — I couldn’t tell — linked to Flickr pictures of the party favors from the wedding. The description explained it all.

Party favors as folk art. Finger puppets created by Wilma Yocom Ford as place settings for the wedding of Mo Flaherty and Paul Ford, September 15, 2007, in Brooklyn, New York. Some made with old lace from Mo’s grandmother and stones that belonged to Paul’s grandfather. Guests waved them in the air during the toasts; now they are flown with the guests around the world.

It took roughly one hour and thirty minutes to make each puppet — 225 hours spread over eight months.

See the puppets, worlds within themselves.

The gallery has a link to Ford’s Ftrain post about his wedding. His blog is I guess the obvious place to look for this kind of news, but if you don’t mind getting there in a roundabout way — and you’re here, aren’t you? — neither do I. Congratulations to a guy I don’t know but who sure makes my Internet run in amazing directions.

4 thoughts on “The wedding and death of Paul Ford”

  1. Oh my God, you almost gave me a heart attack. As someone who has had a long-term internet crush on Paul Ford (dreamy writing), I would be really sad if he died, in that way you can be sad about strangers.

  2. I’d be sad too! But no worries. All is well with the alive Paul Ford, or so the Internet says. Which seems like enough.

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