Mortimer Hargrove


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About the Artists

The only child of Edgar and Elma Hargrove, Mortimer Hessell Hargrove grew up surrounded with art and artifacts that his parents could scarcely afford. Edgar traveled extensively as an art dealer, and when he returned, he filled the house with fanciful tales of his journeys, the elite with whom he spent his time, and detailed descriptions of the "lives" of the artifacts that he brought back with him. Mortimer accompanied his father on a few trips, but found the lifestyle unpleasantly erratic, so he preferred to stay home with his somewhat withdrawn mother. Introverted himself, Mortimer spent most of his time alone, reading history books, and writing stories of imagined private lives of historical figures.

After Edgar's death by his brother's hand, Elma and Mortimer, aged fourteen, moved to New York City to live with cousins. To make ends meet, Mortimer found employment at the local mercantile, cleaning up after closing time every night, and Elma took in sewing and mending jobs. Due to the debt that Edgar had incurred with his extravagant lifestyle, Elma was also forced to sell much of her husband's collection of art. Since she was unschooled in the ways of art dealing, her ignorance was often exploited and she was not paid the full value of the works.

Mortimer fell in love with Geneva Beatrice Johnston, a quiet and intelligent local seamstress. It is believed that Geneva was the only person with whom Mortimer ever shared his stories. The two were married in 1862, and suffered a series of emotional and financial setbacks early in their marriage. Geneva endured two miscarriages and doctors were unsure of her body's ability to carry a child to term. In 1864, a daughter, Ola Mae, was born prematurely, and died moments later. A healthy son, Gideon, was born in 1866, but he contracted smallpox and died when he was two years old. In grief, Mortimer plunged himself into his writing again.
On January 18, 1870, Geneva delivered a healthy baby boy, whom they named Gilbert. In 1872, Mortimer found employment as a janitor at the newly-opened Metropolitan Museum of Art. They moved into their own apartment, and later that year, Geneva gave birth to Wilhelmina. Daughter Theodora joined the family in 1874.

Mortimer worked at the museum until his death from accidental asphyxiation of solvent fumes in 1898. By then, all the children were grown and out of the house, and Geneva took in the laundry of some of the well-to-do in the area to make ends meet. In 1914, Geneva passed away in her sleep at the age of 73.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City opened in 1872. Photo by Kadellar, Wikipedia.

Mortimer Hargrove

Portrait of Mortimer Hargrove taken in the 1880s.


Edgar Hargrove (1809-1854)
Collector of art and oddities who travelled the Atlantic seaboard performing feats of magic and seducing women.

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


Geneva Johnston (1851-1914)
Worked as a seamstress in New York City.


Ola Mae Hargrove (1864)
Died during childbirth.

Gideon Hargrove (1866-1868)
Died at the age of two from smallpox.

Gilbert Hargrove (1870-1940)
Famed world explorer and art collector who traveled the Old West and China. Inspired the character of Indiana Jones.

Wilhelmina Hargrove (1872-1890)
Eloped with an iron worker at the age of 15 and moved to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where she died in the Johnstown flood.

Theodora Hargrove (1874-1932)
Worked as a milliner for Caroline Reboux and joined the women's suffrage movement.

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.