On a spring morning in the 1859, A.V. Lamartine walked into the Chemeketa Hotel in Salem, Oregon. The concierge noticed that the man seemed depressed, noting to his colleagues that he feared the man might burst into tears right there in foyer. However, Lamartine managed to maintained his decorum as he checked in, his only luggage a small medical bag.
Several hours later, Lamartine rang the bell in his room for assistance. When Lamartine did not answer the door, the bellhop entered the room to find the man in bed, an empty bottle of laudanum on the bedside table. Lamartine spoke only to request that a clergyman be called before he passed out
The bellhop, recognising laudanum as a powerful opiate and noting the emptiness of the bottle called first for the hotel manager who, in turn, called for the house doctor. The doctor, on examining Lamartine, discovered the suicide note. The note revealed that, due his dire financial circumstances and the shame he had brought to his family, he was taking his own life.
Word soon spread through the town of the man’s predicament and while he recovered in the hotel bed, the doctor having administered emetics to induce vomiting, the people of the town rallied together to gather a collection for the poor man. A local newspaper reported that “He [was] restored with difficulty and sympathetic people raised a purse for him.”
By the time he had recovered, he had forty dollars to his name, enough to start his life anew. He thank his saviors, promised to repay them and went on his way to fleece a new town with the exact same swindle.
Lamartine knew exactly how much laudanum to administer to knock him out without killing him. He knew which hotels would be most likely to call a doctor. And he knew when to get out of town “with a free pass on the railroad to commit suicide at some other place.”
From Salem, Lamartine made his way across Ohio, killing himself over and over, taking the kind-hearted and charitable for everything they would give. The bigger their heart, the more he would take, proving once again that the con artist’s maxim “you can’t con an honest man” is a myth.
Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne author, magician and entertainer.