One who has been fortunate enough to be raised under the guidance of governesses and private tutors, to have spent their existences spinning around their own ballroom, studying in their family's …
One who has been fortunate enough to be raised under the guidance of governesses and private tutors, to have spent their existences spinning around their own ballroom, studying in their family's private library and setting out on journeys from their very own boathouse probably does not expect to be kidnapped by bandits. But the shocking event was part of Lucy Truman Aldrich's otherwise lavish life.
Lucy was born in Providence in 1869, the oldest girl of the 11 children of Senator Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich and his wife Abigail Truman Chapman. The family lived on Benevolent Street in Providence where Lucy's education lay in the hands of private teachers until she was sent to Miss Porter's School, a private institution, in Conn.
Nelson later had a 70-room stone mansion constructed on a 225-acre tract of land overlooking Narragansett Bay in Warwick. Here, beneath the art-worked ceilings and majestic chandeliers, amid the lavish carpets and expensive draperies, the footsteps of busy servants regularly created echoes known only to the rich.
Lucy traveled quite often, collecting artwork and Asian textiles along her journeys. During the summer of 1923, she set out for China, accompanied by her maid, Miss Minnie MacFadden. While passing through Suchow on May 6, on the Peking express train, it was suddenly noticed that rails had been torn up. The train bumped along violently until it veered into a ditch. As it was nighttime, most passengers had been asleep in their berths and were startled awake by the crash. Out of nowhere, armed bandits surrounded them, aimed their rifles and began shooting at the train. The whiz of bullets soon overlapped with the sound of crashing glass as the bandits broke the windows and climbed onto the train. With their guns drawn, they began loudly ordering the passengers to disembark.
Minnie ran to Lucy’s room where Lucy was hiding her jewelry and family heirlooms. She and Minnie then went back to Minnie’s room where they were soon confronted by a gun-toting bandit who ordered them off the train. In her robe and slippers, Lucy did as she was told. After the train had been cleared of passengers, the 20 or so robbers took everything of value they could find.
Of the 150 passengers, the bandits decided to hold 28 hostage, planning to demand one-million dollars for their release. The group of hostages, which included Lucy and her maid, were divided into five groups and marched through the darkness, crossing rocky fields and maneuvering the narrow pathways they were led down, toward the mountains. Barefoot and clad in a nightgown, Minnie warned Lucy against letting their captors know who she was – to do so might result in her family being asked for an even larger ransom.
For reasons unknown, one of the captors removed Lucy from the line and pointed her in the direction of a nearby village. He allowed her to go before he marched the rest of the party away. When she arrived in the village which had been pointed out to her, she was treated very kindly by the women there. The next morning, a Chinese soldier escorted her to the train station where she was put on a train headed for Tientsin. Soon after, Minnie and the other women in the hostage party were released as well. They returned to Rhode Island with a once-in-a-lifetime story to tell.
Lucy Aldrich died on Jan. 12, 1955 in Providence. She was buried in Swan Point Cemetery. At the time of her death, her estate was valued at two and a half million dollars.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.