Saturday, December 22, 2012

1912 - Circus Rider to Civil War Royalty, Agnes Leclerq

The Sun
December 22 1912

Widow of Prince Salm Salm, American.  Had
a Romantic Career.
Once a Circus Rider
Washington Gossips Told How
She Kissed Lincoln at a
A cablegram from Berlin was received here yesterday telling of the death of the Princess Felix Salm Salm, formerly Agnes Leclerq, daughter of Col. Leclerq of Baltimore, at her Villa Minnehaha near Karlsruhe, Germany yesterday.  Circus rider, wife of a dashing German Prince, prominent figure in Washington in war times and one of the conspirators for the throne of Mexico, the life of the Princess teemed with the romantic.

Although when a young woman she was continually before the public her latter days were hidden in secrecy. She was reported to be living quietly in Germany after the death of her adventurous husband and newspaper clippings tell of a visit that she made to the United States in 1899.  Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, which usually speaks with authority, says that the Princess Felix Salm Salm died in Coblentz about 1881.  The Princess had the unusual experience of reading her own obituary for a space of twenty-four years as the cyclopaedia was published in 1888.

The Princess was said to have been adopted by the wife of a member of the Cabinet at Washington and she received a good education at Philadelphia.  She left her home and as a circus rider, using the name Agnes Leclerq, attracted considerable attention.  She lived several years in Havana under that name.  She returned to take up tightrope walking and was one of the first to attempt to walk a rope from the ground to the top of a high circus tent.  The announcement of her intention brought a huge crowd.  A heavy wind was blowing and half way up the rope the young performer fell.  She was caught by a fellow acrobat and was uninjured.  this was enough to make her an idol of the circusgoer.

At the beginning of the civil war she appeared in Washington, where her beauty made her conspicuous.  Before she had been in the capital a month she had a wide circle of acquaintances and among her admirers was Prince Salm Salm, a young German officer who had offered his sword to the Northern cause.  They were married after a short courtship and she went with her husband to the war.  He was Colonel of the Eighth New York Volunteers.  She performed the useful service in the field hospitals.

She always denied the story that she rode down Pennsylvania avenue in the uniform of a captain and that other one that old Washingtonians love to tell of how she kissed Lincoln.  The story runs that she wagered a case of wine that she could kiss the President, and attended a dinner at which Lincoln was guest of honor.  At a favorable moment she arose and, gliding behind the President's chair, kissed the occupant before he could protest.  They who tell the story say that Mrs. Lincoln always referred to the Princess as "that Mrs. Salm."

The two lovers of romance went to Mexico at the end of the civil war and cast in their lot with Maximilian in his effort to build an empire.  They gained his confidence and respect and were numbered among his closest friends.  After Maxmillian's failure, the Prince went back to his native land and in the Franco-Prussian war died fighting bravely at Gravelotte.  The Austrian Emperor granted the Princess a pension for her husband's efforts to aid Maxmillian, but refused to allow her to publish her memoirs of that eventful try for a throne which she called "memoirs of Maxmillian."  She did publish "Ten Years of My Life," in 1875.

When she came to this country in 1899 she brought three flags which belonged to the eighth New York Volunteers and which she returned to that regiment.  

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