Edgar Hargrove


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About the Artists

Edgar was the third of four children, and he was the only one that possessed the famous collecting habit of his father, but Edgar's tastes were decidedly more controversial. When given an object of a particular novelty, he would make up fantastic tales, offering just enough truth to make the story believable. The tales would often involve murder and intrigue, evil curses, daring heists, and adventures in far-away lands. In this way he could take an ordinary trinket and sell it for many times its value, or even better, use it to seduce an enticing young lady.

He also developed a taste for finely crafted and rare artifacts, and some said he was as gullible as he was conniving. He would spend enormous amounts on religious relics, fine works of art, and other odd treasures. He squandered his family fortunes until his elder brother, Josiah, who had inherited the family business, cut him off from all income, causing a rift that kept Edgar away from the family for many years. Left to fend for himself, he took his priceless artifacts and began traveling throughout the states, displaying his "Cabinet of Curiosities" to paying onlookers and entertaining high society with stories from the cabinet and impressive feats of magic.

He gained a reputation as a seducer of women, a shyster, and, in one formal complaint to the city leaders of Saratoga Springs, "an agent of the devil" – all of which only increased his mystique and popularity in the public eye. His taste for finer things made him an amateur dealer in art and artifacts and he maintained several wealthy clients in his travels.

In 1838, he met a dark-haired beauty, Elma, while traveling through Georgia. They eventually married and moved to Baltimore, where Edgar maintained a modest home filled with art and treasures. Due to his extravagant tastes, his connections admitted them into high society. Elma, a recluse who spent many months alone while Edgar traveled, was regarded as mysterious and exotic – a reputation enhanced by her shyness.

After Edgar's extensive travels in the south, where he witnessed the cruel treatment of slaves, he returned to Philadelphia to confront his long-estranged older brother, Josiah. He claimed that the Hargrove family business, which milled cotton picked by slaves and shipped textiles to England and several other countries, was a "violation of human decency" and urged his brother to join the abolitionist movement. During a heated debate, Edgar was shot. Claiming self-defense and playing on Edgar's sordid reputation, Josiah was not prosecuted. He remained pro-slavery throughout the Civil War, but Hargrove Textiles went bankrupt when the conflict was over.

Following Edgar's death, Elma discovered that her husband was deeply in debt, and was forced to sell most of his artifacts to maintain their lifestyle and raise their son, Mortimer. Some of the works of art that Edgar had once possessed are now worth millions.

Edgar Hargrove

Restored studio potrait of Edgar Hargrove taken in 1848.


Perry Hargrove (1776-1825)
Early authority on the American Revolution. He taught history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Anne Witherspoon (1785-1833)
The daughter of a Connecticut lawyer, Anne organized social events for Perry.


Josiah Hargrove (1804-1871)
Maintained the family textile business until it went bankrupt after the Civil War.

Evangeline Hargrove (1806-1860)
Married a wealthy Philadelphia banker who was an early investor in railroads.

Thaddeus Hargrove (1810-1813)
Died of smallpox during the War of 1812 while Perry was away in Canada.


Elma Hessell (1810-1873)
Dark Southern beauty drawn to Edgar's mysterious lifestyle.


Mortimer Hargrove (1840-1898)
Janitor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

This website is a companion to the "The Hargrove Family History" exhibit by Tara Varney and Bryan Colley at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which runs from December 2012 to March 2013. You can find out more about the artists at www.jupiterkansas.com.