Dakota Datebook


Friday, November 21, 2008


At the beginning of the fall in 1891, there was quite a bit of tongue-wagging and gossip as a strange tale unfolded in the midst of Bismarck.

A strange woman “possessed of an undeniably exceptional beauty, of wealth reputedly great and of ‘an ancient and proud lineage,'” the Countess Adelyn Zychlinska, swept into town with her two children, W.D. and Witold, and her servants.

The Countess rented a home in the high class end of town, Prospect Heights, and she set up housekeeping. However, she wasn’t in town to make friends or acquaintances at all; she “politely and respectfully informed” any person who stopped by her property that she “desired no callers and wished to return no calls.”

Her wish for secrecy and solitude did not go unnoticed, as many citizens wished to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ when the family in question was of such interest. And so it attracted even more attention when Lewis Yorke, ex-paymaster in the navy, a man who seemed to know the family well, visited, was not rebuked, and attached himself.

Soon, Yorke revealed plans to marry the Countess, and soon, after a semi-secret engagement, they had the marriage certificate in hand, and they eventually moved away from Bismarck.

On this date in 1892, newspapers published what was later discovered about the couple. Yorke’s wife—his first wife, not the Countess—was trying to get the divorce declared illegal.

Yorke and the Countess had come to Bismarck to get a quick divorce and a quick marriage in secret, and that is exactly what happened. When the divorce was being finalized, Yorke said he didn’t know where his soon-to-be ex was located, and so they published an advertisement seeking her out in the Fargo Sun, a weekly paper with a small circulation, and in this way, carefully kept her from finding out about it. When Mrs. Yorke didn’t appear to defend herself, the divorce was granted to Lewis—but when Mrs. Yorke did learn about it, she began seeking out ways to make it illegitimate.
In the end, Mrs. Yorke (the first) succeeded in getting the divorce overturned, making Clarke’s marriage to the duchess technically illegal. Papers reported, “This is believed to be the first case in the state where divorce has been set aside after the parties had married again.”

One hopes that someone had the sense to sign a prenup.

Bismarck Daily Tribune, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 1892, p.3

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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