William Hatten – Scrooge of Wisconsin – Part 3

Part 3

The miserliness of William H. Hatten, apparent in the youth, grew into a mania with the man. One day Hatten dropped into a store to buy a doll to give the child of a family whose hospitality he had enjoyed for years. The doll was wrapped up and Hatten put 50c on the counter.

The price, said the proprietor pointing to the salescard, “is $1.50.”

“Too much,” said the millionaire and turned and walked out. It was the same man who refused to pay 10c for a half pound bag of sugar candy because sugar was then selling at 6c a pound and that was too high a profit.

Hatten was really fond of children. Once he found a rubber ball in the street, picked it up, put it in a bag and wrote on the bag, “Joan from Mr. Hatten” and gave it to the child of another family he often visited. Hatten once upbraided the popcorn vender for not filling the bag quite full enough and of course, he never stopped kicking about his taxes.

Gave Widow Nothing

Perhaps those are small signs of a man’s character but when Bill Sampson, who had worked for Hatten for 50 years, dropped dead in the lumber yards. Hatten wouldn’t pay a cent toward thr funeral. The men in the mill had Sampson buried.

When Adam Cory died in one of Hatten’s lumber camps, and left a widow with four children and not a nickel to her name. Hatten wouldn’t even pay the woman her husband’s full wages for the month. He said: “He didn’t earn it; he’s dead.”

When another employe’s wife was on her death bed the man didn’t want to leave her but Hatten said: “You’ve got a job to do for me in Rhinelander. Go and do it.”

Another employe’s child died and the father didn’t have enough money to bury her. Hatten refused until the mayor went to him in person and shamed him into it.

As one man who knew him perhaps longer than anyone else put it, “He was hard, cold, relentless. No family and no home meant anything to him . . . he was kindly only when it cost him nothing.”

Once he did send August Barlow’s child to the hospital in Milwaukee; hep did give a little something to the church now and again, if they kept after him long enough, and some people here say “yes, he did some nice things” but when you ask “what?” they have no answer.

Hatten founded the Little Wolf High School Alumni association 50 years ago and once gave $100 toward its support but people don’t remember exactly when that was.

Gave Turkeys Away

To his employes he gave a turkey on Thanksgiving and a goose on Christmas and for a while he paid for their Fourth of July parties and for a time treated the Old Settlers’ club to picnics. He belonged to the New London Rotary club and when they tried to collect the fees, he insisted on making deductions for the meals he had not eaten. They tried to call him “Will” but even the oldest end most courageous Rotarian soon gave it up and addressed him as “Senator” or “Mr. Hatten.”

He was not a proud man but he demanded respect. There was only one person who could call him “Will” and get away with it and that was the second wife of Frank Latbrop, who was brought up in the old tradition of the south, who dressed beautifully and entertainpd lavishly, who had a butler and a French maid and a new automobile every year while old Hatten lived miserably, wore disreputable looking clothes and, when he traveled, took the day coach and slept with his head on a dilapidated old suitcase — to save the price of a pullman ticket.

He saw the Lathrops only occasionally although he traveled extensively and mysteriously, usually disappearing from the office without warning to be gone for two and three weeks at a time. Once he went to Europe but no one ever knew why or when or exactly where.

Memory Dimmed

As he grew older and his once brilliant mind gradually wandered farther off into dim regions, William Hatten stayed closer to home, and in the last months of his life, people found him trudging through the outskirts of New London, a tall, gaunt specter with a paper bag in his hand and in the bag an orange or an apple.

In those last years, too, he took more and more to visiting two or three elderly widows, dropping in around supper time and then falling asleep in his chair or forgetting where he was.

Sometimes, he would call Mrs. X Mrs. Y and sometimes he would pick Mrs. Y’s flowers and present them to Mrs. Z, and there would be more talk than ever on how “poorly” Mr. Hatten was.

He still occasionally held forth on his old theme song — the need for civic pride and community spirit but he became stingier than ever and when they passed the plate in church, he leaned over and asked if they could change a dime.

The strong features, like the fine mind, became worn, almost grotesque. The old brown straw hat he had worn for 10 years was falling to pieces. His clothes became more slovenly. Sometimes he washed the cuffs of his shirts himself, but didn’t bother to have anything laundered for weeks on end. Often he went without a shirt.

There were slories afloat that the old man who lived such a sanctimonious life was far from being above reproach, but his life was his own and he never permitted anyone to discuss it with him.

A Check for $10,000

For one year and a half, Frank Jennings, who was building the park just outside town, kept after Hatten to give some money for a stadium and recreation grounds and finally he got the old man in his office and sat and sat and sat.

“I’m busy,” said Hatten. “So be I,” said Frank, but before he left he had a check for $10,000 in his pocket and the people of the community gasped. That was shortly before Hatten died and when people on the main, street congratulated him for having done something for his city, he said he hadn’t given the money. Maybe he hadn’t consciously given it, or maybe, as some here say, he felt it was an inexpensive way to keep his memory green for, after all, the park cost $200,000 and it was named after him for only a fraction of the total cost.

And then he died – a pauper with millions in the bank – of bronchial pneumonia and “malnutrition.”

The Rev. A. W. Sneesby said of him, looking down into the grave: “His greatest interest seems to have been the making and the holding of wealth.”

Wealth! The wealth with which he had done so little good. The wealth he had so often talked about giving to Lawrence and to Ripon colleges; the wealth he had always promised his men to keep “their” mill a’running.

Everything he had always talked about; everything he had made up his mind would never happen, happened. All his dreams and hopes and preachings fell, like a house of cards, about his ears.

Those things which he hated most in life came to pass in death which he thought would never come to him.

Ugly Irony

Fate, in all its ugly irony, held that there should be no will. The grim old man had never been able to force himself to set his hand on paper and write those simple words: “I give.”

Fate wrote the word and the word was “take.”

Although almost no relatives came to weep beside his body on the day of the funeral, Apr. 1, 1937, by May 2, 25 had appeared to take part of his estate.

Out of the silent past they came; relatives he had never mentioned to anyone in his long life; many of whom he never even knew existed; some of whom had claim on him through that strange adoption by the Woodin family, a fluke and mysterious one made just 60 years before, almost to the month.

Out of an estate in Wisconsin alone, valued at his death at almost $3,000,000, the federal and state tax collectors – whom he hated so – came in to take 65% of the total.

Lawyer Were There

And hovering about the litigants was a flock of lawyers – lawyers whom he had so religiously shunned even in his most complicated transactions.

But fate didn’t leave the dead man even then. In the course of the trial over the estate there appeared a relative who bore his name, who boasted that he wanted to spend his inheritance in taverns and at fights — two things old Hatten abhorred above all else in life.

The court decided that a share of the estate, amounting to $440,000, should go to his sister, the sister who was living in abject poverty in the shadows of Hatten’s Chicago real estate holdings.

But she did not live to get one cent of the money. His sister died, ironically, on William Hatten’s birthday, Aug. 24, 1937, before the court was ready to release the money. She died just six months after he had passed on to his reward.

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