01 May 2007

Septimus Banks - A Butler to Stars

On September 28, 1891 the great American novelist, Herman Melville, died in New York City. On that same day, several thousand miles away, in the east London borough of Hackney, Septimus Samuel Banks was born.[1] The son of Samuel and Marian Laurence Banks, Septimus left school at the age of 15 to work for a Dr. Hanock in Leightonstone, London for three years. He then worked for two years for R.B.C. Chapman and later the Lady Donald Stewart, for about a year and eleven months.

For the next three years he worked for the Honourable Mrs. Morrison of 14 Grosvenor Crescent, London. After this, he spent four months working for Lord Islington of Harman Park, Corsham who, at this time, was the Undersecretary of State for India.[2]

He then worked for Andrew Carnegie in Scotland. On September 18, 1914, he emigrated to the United States on the R.M.S. Lusitania from Nornoch, Scotland[3]. He continued to work for Andrew Carnegie at 2 East 91st Street in New York City for four and a half years.

During the First World War, he enlisted in the 70th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery as a gunner. In May 1918, he married Rose Flynn, a native of New York City and daughter of Irish immigrants.[4] Sadly, on the afternoon of November 21, 1929, Rose Banks died from Delirium Tremens caused by alcohol poisoning. She was buried four days later in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.[5]

Banks was discharged from the Canadian Army on Christmas Day, 1918 and he returned to New York. In January 1919, he entered into service with Dwight Morrow. Dwight Morrow was a United States Senator and later Ambassador to Mexico. Septimus worked continuously worked for Mr. Morrow until October 1927 when Senator Morrow was appointed as Ambassador to Mexico. Banks stayed behind and became a free lance in the catering business working for Charles Welsh of 157 East 80th Street until June 1931 when he re-entered the service of the Morrow Family.

Septimus served as both a butler and personal valet to Senator Morrow. On October 4, 1931, he became the last person to see Dwight Morrow alive:

Shortly before midnight on Sunday, October 4, 1931, Dwight Morrow leaned on the arm of his waiting valet and walked slowly up the stairs of his darkened house. Morrow usually wasn’t one to lean, but he had never felt so tired. He and Banks climbed up the winding lantern-lit stairway to the second floor and turned toward the double wooden doors of the master suite. As Morrow wished banks a ‘good night’, Banks noted that Morrow looked uncommonly pale...[6]

Around eleven the next morning, Morrow’s secretary, Arthur Springer, and Septimus Banks entered the bedroom and found the Senator unconscious, the victim of a stroke. Two and a half hours later, Dwight Morrow died at Englewood Hospital.[7]

Five monthslater, at approximately 10:00 A.M. on 1 March 1932, Septimus answered the telephone at the Morrow Estate in Englewood, New Jersey. On the phone was Anne Lindbergh, the daughter of Dwight and Elizabeth Morrow. She was calling from her new home in Hopewell, New Jersey. She requested to speak to Betty Gow, the nanny/nurse for her 20 month old son, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. She was requesting that Betty be sent to Hopewell to help care for the baby since both the baby and Anne were suffering from a bad cold.

It was sometime between 8:00 and 10:00 that evening that the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped from his nursery in Hopewell, New Jersey. Although Septimus was cleared as a suspect by the authorities, he was interrogated and his background was investigated.

It was speculated that Septimus Banks was an alcoholic. In a 1932 FBI report, it was stated that Septimus was

“employed off and on for a period of about fifteen years; had been discharged several times because of drunkenness and re-employed. At the time of the kidnapping, [he] had been steadily employed for four or five years. [He] is said to have done most of his drinking in a speakeasy in the Yorkville section of New York City around 70th Street...and that he was very talkative and quite irresponsible when drunk and on several occasions had to be loaded in a taxicab to be taken home.”[8]

Banks was also alleged to have frequented a Fort Lee, New Jersey speakeasy called the Sha-Toe, “a hang-out for horseplayers” and reportedly told the police he was there on the night of March 1, 1932.[9]

According to one of his co-workers, Mrs. Marguerite Junge, “...none of the servants brought liquor to the estate with the exception of Banks, who besides drinking at speakeasies, occasionally had a bootlegger deliver liquor to him in bottles at the estate at night, and that the bootlegger would leave the bottles in a window where Banks could get it later...”[10]

Marguerite Junge also told the FBI that after Dwight Morrow died in October 1931, “...one of the [Morrow] servants told [her] that...Septimus Banks, the butler, [was] left out of the will, but that it was believed that Senator Morrow had intended to make some provision for [him]. It was Mrs. Junge’s opinion that Mrs. Morrow felt that if Banks received a large sum of money he would spend it in dissipation and that she kept him on as butler in spite of his drinking habits because of Senator Morrow’s regard for him, and so that he would always have a home..” [11]

Septimus Banks was rumored to be the fiancĂ© of Violet Sharp, a maid in the employ of the Morrow household. Miss Sharp was a prime suspect, for a while, in the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case because when was interrogated by the New Jersey State Police and Jersey City Police, she continuously lied, contradicted herself and misled the investigators. Finally, when the police called to schedule a fourth interview with her on 10 June 1932, she committed suicide by drinking potassium chloride – silver polish.

According to the FBI Summary Report of February 1934, Septimus was “...reported to have entered a sanitarium, Central Park West, near 66th Street, and to have remained there two weeks during August 1932. Rumor prevalent among the Morrow servants is to the effect that the death of Violet Sharpe [sic] completely unnerved him. He is reported to have again spent some time in this sanitarium just prior to Christmas, 1932, as a result of overindulgence in alcoholic stimulants.”[12]

On April 21, 1939 Septimus was once again employed by Charles Welch of 157 East 80th Street in New York City. Banks was at this time living in College Point, New York.[13]
In 1942, at the age of 50, Septimus Banks registered for the Selective Service. After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, all men between the ages of 45 and 64 were required to register for the Draft. Known as “The Fourth Registration” (or colloquially, as “The Old Man’s Registration”), this registration was conducted on April 27, 1942. At this time, Septimus was living at 304 East 72nd Street in New York and he worked at 141 East 56th Street[14].

Nothing else is known of Mr. Banks except that he died in Matawan, New Jersey in January 1970 at the age of 79.[15]

Works Cited

Adriatic, RMS. Manifest. 10 September 1922. http://www.ellisisland.org/

Banks, Rose. Death Certificate. November 21, 1929. Department of Health of the City of New York, Bureau of Records

Banks, Septimus S. Social Security Account Application. U.S. Social Security Administration,
April 27, 1939.

Banks, Septimus S. Social Security Death Master File. RootsWeb.com, Inc. http://ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com/

Hertog, Susan. Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life. Doubleday, New York: 1999.

Lusitania, RMS. Manifest. 18 September 1914. http://www.ellisisland.org/

Milton, Joyce. Loss of Eden: A Biography of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. HarperCollins, New York: 1993.

Seykora, J.E. Report. US Department of Justice. 5/10/34. New Jersey State Police Lindbergh Files. Files, F-447.

Seykora, J.E. Report. US Department of Justice. 5/18/34. New Jersey State Police Lindbergh Files, F-447.

Sisk, T.H. Summary Report. US Department of Justice. 1 February 1934.

[1]Statement, Septimus S. Banks to New Jersey State Police. New Jersey State Police Statement File. April 13, 1932; his middle name can be found on the Manifest of the RMS Lusitania. See note 3.
[2]The Rt. Hon. Lord Islington, PC KCMG DSO (John Dixon Poynder) was Governor of New Zealand from January 1910 through December 1912; Undersecretary of State for India in 1913 and a member of the House of Lords who spoke in favour of granting women the right to vote in England and, in 1923, spoke in opposition to the Balfour Declaration.
[3]Manifest, RMS Lusitania. 18 September 1914. http://www.ellisisland.org/
[4]Septimus Banks and Rose Flynn. Marriage Certificate. May 1929. Department of Health of the City of New York, Bureau of Records; also Rose Banks Death Certificate. November 21, 1929. Department of Health of the City of New York, Bureau of Records.
[5]Rose Banks. Death Certificate.
[6]Susan Hertog. Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life. Doubleday, NY: 1999. p146.
[7]Hertog. p147.
[8]J.E. Seykora, US Department of Justice. 5/10/34. New Jersey State Police Lindbergh Files, F-447.
[9]Joyce Milton. Loss of Eden: A Biography of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Page 258).
[10]J.E. Seykora, US Department of Justice. 5/18/34. New Jersey State Police Lindbergh Files, F-447.
[12]T.H. Sisk. Summary Report. US Department of Justice. 1 February 1934, p. 94.
[13]Social Security Application for Account Number. Septimus Samuel Banks. April 27, 1939.
[14]Registration Card. U.S. Selective Service.
[15]Social Security Death Master file. http://ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com/