Ask McGehee: Silver Collection at Museum of Mobile
I heard that the Museum of Mobile recently obtained a vast fine silver collection from a once-prominent Mobile family. Who were the original owners, and how did they acquire it?
Russell played a major part in the construction of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad’s Union Terminal. The Mission Revival-style building is still a Mobile landmark.
Col. Edward Lafayette Russell came to Mobile in 1875 as a legal representative for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, which was in bankruptcy. Within eight years of his arrival, he was credited with expanding the line and operating it at a profit. In 1895, he was afforded the honor of reigning over Mobile’s Carnival as its Emperor. (The title of King Felix would come later.)
The year 1907 was a memorable one for Russell. In April, he was hailed for his role in the construction of Mobile’s grand Union Terminal. Thousands of Mobilians crowded the new building at its dedication. It would serve as the gateway to the city for train passengers for nearly 50 years.
In June of 1907, the 58-year-old widower married 27-year-old Margaret Tarleton Billups, of Mobile. It was the wedding of the century. Newspapers from St. Louis to Mobile covered the event, with a great amount of space devoted to the vast array of wedding gifts that the couple received.
By far the most magnificent present was from the officials and employees of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad: sterling silver valued at $10,000. The couple left for a Canadian honeymoon aboard four private railway cars. From all accounts it was a happy, but short, marriage. By age 31, Margaret was a widow and spent the rest of her life as a renowned Sunday school teacher at Government Street Presbyterian Church, where her memorable wedding had taken place. After her husband’s death, Margaret moved in with her sister on Ann Street, leaving the colonel’s daughter, Eoline, to live in the Government Street mansion. Margaret died in 1952, and willed the silver to a niece in Virginia. Through a generous bequest from that niece, much of the Russell silver has just returned to Mobile to become part of the collection of the Museum of Mobile.