September 24 in the year 1869 was also a Friday – the day on which Jay Gould and James Fisk attempted to corner the gold market. Gold double eagles were 35% over par early in the day and speculators were pushing prices even higher. Then President Ulysses S. Grant ordered the release of $4 million worth of government gold and the gold market collapsed. That Friday became Black Friday.
There is a lot of back story to this, involving Grant’s brother-in-law and how Gould and Fisk talked him into asking Grant to go along with their plan. They actually thought the federal government would support market manipulation if they disguised it as a plan to help wheat farmers sell grain to Europe.
What they really cared about was shoring up the Erie Railroad – which they had finagled control of away from Cornelius Vanderbilt – and shipping wheat from the midwest to the east would be good for profits.
Gould and Fisk have to be among the most blackguardly of robber barons. Once on the board of the Erie, they made Boss Tweed a director in return for legislation favorable to the railroad.
Then, early in 1873, Gould met Lord Gordon-Gordon, a Scottish noble looking to buy large tracts of land for his surplus tenants so they could emigrate. Gould thought Gordon-Gordon was the key to raising large sums from foreign investors and, to keep him sweet, gave him $! million in stock to hold against future capital. But Gordon-Gordon sold the stock immediately. The enraged Gould took him to court, where Gordon-Gordon recited his pedigree and was released on bail.
As it turned out,Lord Gordon-Gordon was a complete fraud and a fraud on an even larger scale than Gould. He was a nobody with a silver tongue who promptly fled to Canada with his ill-gotten gains.
Then things got really interesting. Gould was so outraged he organized a posse that went to Canada and kidnapped Gordon-Gordon. But on the way back, they were stopped at the border by the Mounties and thrown in jail. That caused an enormous uproar in the US, of course – the Governor of Minnesota demanded their release and put the state militia on full readiness. Thousands of Minnesotans volunteered to form an invasion force to attack Canada.
It sounds like a movie starring Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, or Chevy Chase and John Candy – make up your own combination, but you have to cast Craig Ferguson as Gordon-Gordon.
Eventually the kidnappers were bailed out and went home. Gould lost control of the Erie but went west and took over the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads. He died a rich man and left an estate of $72 million to his large family.
Fisk was shot and killed at the age of 37 by his mistress’s new lover, who served four years in prison for murder.
Ah, those were the days.