A Look Back

Phoenix Lodge and Jacques the First, Emperor of All the Saharas

Posted

Henri Jacques Lebaudy of Salisbury, how important you must have been!

What does one do when he has too much money and too much time on his hands? How about start a new country, crown yourself emperor, and plan a coronation with fake flowers?

Surely your loyal subjects bowed down at your feet as you enjoyed sitting on the massive porch of Phoenix Lodge, your royal estate.

The citizens of your made-up country, Empire of the Sahara, must have gleefully collected the stamps and coins featuring palm trees, bees, crowns, and your regal name, Jacques I du Sahara.

Did your "imperial ensign" fly high when you "abdicated" the throne to move to New York?

Jacques Lebaudy was born into a wealthy family, titans of the French sugar industry. After 1873, he made even more money as the head of a company controlling mines in Huanchaca, Bolivia. In 1903, Lebaudy took his armored yacht (such a thing exists?), Frasquita, two other vessels, and a crew of men to explore and claim the Sahara on the west coast of Morocco. He named an area where they landed the Bay of Free Exchange and intended to plant a capital named Troja near Cape Juby. Lebaudy sent five sailors to claim the land in his name, but the sailors were captured and ransomed. When Lebaudy would not pay, France sent a rescue party to retrieve the men.

Lebaudy was wanted by the French government for his escapades that resulted in kidnapping and international confusion, but he fled to London. It was in London that Lebaudy purchased a throne, donned royal garb, lived in a hotel, and hired a huge entourage of men and women to follow him around, take pictures, and run the affairs of his fake state. When his plans fell through, the emperor moved to his second-best land, the northern section of East Meadow, Long Island. Ironically, the region Lebaudy attempted to claim remains disputed territory to this day. Had he been more successful, perhaps a fully-recognized government would exist in Western Sahara. He did not attempt to colonize Salisbury.

Lebaudy was married in France in 1896 but was the cause of much suffering for Augustine Léonie Marguerite Dellière (also known as Margaret), his wife, and their daughter. On multiple occasions, Mrs. Lebaudy reported that her husband physically assaulted them. He was sent to an insane asylum, for the first time, after a fit of rage involving his wife and the sale of some livestock.

In September 1915, Marguerite called the sheriff because her husband telephoned from a hotel in New York City to say that they were not married. He threatened to send four men to "clean the place out" and attempted to cut off the utilities and change the locks on the doors in order to force her out. Jacques took out advertisements claiming that, "A French woman of no social standing has been for some time attempting to pose as being wedded to him." He was apparently worried about her debt. In the style of the day, newspapers printed sensational stories about their nuptials. A month later, the increasingly-mad Jacques found himself confined for ten days to a mental institution in Kings Park.

The Lebaudys lived in a 50-room mansion on Valentines Road named Phoenix Lodge. The house itself was built by three members the Eustis Family (siblings James, George, and Marie), who were Confederate supporters and politicians. Eventually, James Biddle Eustis became Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to France in the 1890s and moved to New York. Lebaudy bought Phoenix Lodge in 1913.

On January 11, 1919, Marguerite shot and killed Jacques at Phoenix Lodge. Accounts of the circumstances differ but all are disturbing. Secondary-source accounts claim that Jacques was attempting to burn down the house; others claim he was attempting to seduce his teenage daughter Jacqueline so that he may have sons to carry on his "royal" title. In self-defense, his wife shot him five times. Jacques Lebaudy was found with a loaded revolver in his coat. Marguerite happily confessed and told Constable Charles O'Conner that, "he deserved it." A jury refused to indict Mrs. Lebaudy. She and her daughter received most of their late husband and father's estate, valued at $13,000,000.

Jacques Lebaudy is buried at St. Brigid's. In October 1922, Marguerite married Henri Sudreau and Jacqueline married Henri's son, Roger. They had a double wedding (largely to make sure the money stayed in the family) and moved to France.

The home itself was robbed in 1921 and subsequently fell into disrepair before being sold at a tax auction in July 1926. The owner hired a caretaker to look after the property. The caretaker, Thomas Pearson, set up an elaborate still in the house during the Prohibition era and was arrested by Federal agents. Suburban homes sit on the property today.

© Scott Eckers

Dr. Scott Eckers is the author of East Meadow in Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series. He is Vice President of the East Meadow Board of Education as well as Social Studies Chair for the East Williston School District. Scott is also an entertainer and recording artist.