Mark Hanna’s 1898 Senate Bribery Scandal – page 5

Meanwhile, back at the Gibson House, Boyce was creating a stir. Around 7:00 P.M., a young hotel employee, Allen O. Myers, Jr., notified Boyce that a long distance call had come in from Columbus. After Boyce took the call, Myers, Jr. overheard him say that “Hanna was sore.”[68]

Although he was only 21 years old[69], Myers, Jr. was no novice to politics. He was the son[70] of the “erratic”[71] Allen O. Myers, Sr., a hot-tempered Democratic leader and reformer from Cincinnati.[72]

After Boyce finished his telephone call, Myers, Jr. told the Gibson House manager what he had overheard.[73] The manager, another active Democrat,[74] was not taken by surprise. Possibly because of the informants at Hanna’s hotel in Columbus, the manager knew of “reports that certain people were in Cincinnati for the purpose of buying votes….”[75] He told Myers, Jr. to direct Boyce upstairs to a private office if Boyce needed to use the telephone again.[76] Conversations on the upstairs private office phone could be overheard – unbeknownst to callers – on the phone in the downstairs hotel general office; the two telephones shared a line.[77]

Later that night, a series of telephone calls and meetings began. Boyce twice spoke on the phone from the private office to someone he addressed as “Major” in Hanna’s campaign headquarters in Columbus. Myers, Jr. secretly listened as the men discussed the amount required to bribe Otis, the delivery of the bribe and necessary paperwork.[78]

Around the time of the calls, Jerry P. Bliss, an anti-Hanna operative from Columbus, arrived at the Gibson House and met hurriedly with the hotel manager.[79] Together, they telephoned the leaders of the Hanna opposition at their hotel in Columbus.[80]

At this point, Hanna’s adversaries apparently believed that Boyce was working with Hanna and his team to secure Otis’s vote. Based on the overheard telephone conversations, they believed that one of Hanna’s friends in Columbus, “Hollenbeck,” would come to Cincinnati soon with bribe money.[81]

They could hardly contain themselves. They quickly instructed two men in Columbus to locate Hollenbeck and to shadow him on his trip to Cincinnati.[82] In Cincinnati, they retained four detectives.[83] They hired a stenographer[84] who could eavesdrop on Boyce’s future telephone conversations, take notes, and then make transcripts of what was overheard.[85]

A young Hanna campaign worker, H. H. Hollenbeck, did leave Columbus on Saturday’s 2:10 A.M. train, carrying a hand valise. After arriving at Boyce’s hotel, Hollenbeck and Boyce rode on an elevator together, but were not observed speaking to one another.[86]

Following Hollenbeck’s arrival, Boyce handed a hotel clerk an envelope to be placed in the hotel safe. The clerk joked with Boyce. “Don’t lose the key [to the safe], as it will cost you five [dollars] for a duplicate.” Boyce smiled and replied, “There is more than five in there.”[87]

Hollenbeck returned to Columbus on Saturday afternoon.[88] Otis met with Boyce and introduced Boyce to his attorney, Campbell. Otis told Boyce to conduct all future negotiations with Campbell.[89]

On Sunday, Campbell and Boyce met repeatedly. Eventually, Campbell “pretended to acquiesce” and told Boyce “that Mr. Otis had finally consented” to be bribed.[90] By Sunday night, Boyce had made two cash payments[91] totaling $1,750 for Otis’s vote and had promised to pay much more soon.[92]

On Monday morning, Boyce took the train to Columbus and was followed by a detective. In Columbus, he met with Major Rathbone of the Hanna campaign team. They spoke together in a horse-drawn carriage, ambling through town, until they realized they were being followed. Then Rathbone told the driver to “lose them” and they raced away.[93]


[68] Ibid., 6605, 6603.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid., 6612.

[71] “Democratic Despair in Ohio,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 1883.

[72] Myers, Sr. became “enraged” during questioning by Senator Garfield. “Return to Columbus,” Washington Post, Jan. 25, 1898; 33 Cong. Rec. 6612 (1900); Warken, “The First Election of Marcus A. Hanna,” 37. He was the author of Bosses and Boodle in Ohio Politics: Some Plain Truths for Honest People (Cincinnati: Lyceum Publishing Co., 1895).

[73] Horace B. Dunbar. 33 Cong. Rec. 6603, 6605 (1900).

[74] Ibid., 6604.

[75] Ibid., 6603.

[76] Ibid., 6605.

[77] Ibid., 6603.

[78] Ibid., 6605, 6606.

[79] Ibid., 6611.

[80] Allen O. Myers, Sr. and Charles L. Kurtz. 33 Cong. Rec. 6611-12 (1900); “The Anti-Hanna Campaign,” New York Times, Dec. 31, 1897. Myers, Sr. and Kurtz were staying in the Great Southern Hotel, the headquarters of the anti-Hanna forces. 33 Cong. Rec. 6606, 6633 (1900).

[81] 33 Cong. Rec. 6611, 6605-06 (1900).

[82] Ibid., 6612. The two men might have been joined by a reporter. The Columbus Evening Press reported that Hollenbeck “did not know that he was being tracked by a representative of The Press and some other gentlemen….” “Mark Hanna is Caught!” Columbus Evening Press, Jan. 10, 1898, second edition.

[83] 33 Cong. Rec. 6611, 6607, 6615-16 (1900). The transcript indicates one detective was retained on January 6, but this is likely an error; no other evidence supports it. Ibid., 6607.

[84] Ibid., 6611.

[85] Ibid., 6612.

[86] Ibid., 6614, 6618.

[87] Ibid., 6608.

[88] Ibid., 6618. The record of Hollenbeck’s activities and the transcript of his dialogue seem realistic, with one exception. On January 8, 1898, Hollenbeck supposedly told his bosses in Columbus that he had traveled “down dark alleys and byways.” Ibid., 6610. This language sounds suspiciously crime novelesque.

A professional stenographer swore that these words were “correct.” She explained that, as she listened to Hollenbeck on the phone, she wrote down notes, which she later transcribed. Ibid., 6609-10. The transcript was prepared under the supervision of an attorney hired by Hanna’s opponents. Ibid., 6612.

Maybe Hollenbeck uttered these exact words, possibly trying to be humorous or ironic. Maybe the stenographer made up this phrase and then lied under oath to strengthen the case against Hanna. Most likely, the stenographer looked at her sparse notes, tried to remember what she had heard, then wrote down what she thought best conveyed what was said.

[89] Ibid., 6622.

[90] Ibid., 6625. The Library of Congress contains a three page, typed document dated March 12, 1898 that appears to be a copy of an untitled affidavit prepared for Boyce’s signature. The document contains no actual signature. The document denies that Boyce acted as Hanna’s agent, but it does not address whether Hanna knew of Boyce’s activities. Copy of Untitled Affidavit, Mar. 12, 1898, box 2, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers. See Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, 261.

[91] After Boyce made the first payment of $1,000, he prepared a telegram to President McKinley for Otis’s signature. In the telegram, Otis promised to vote for Hanna. Otis did not want to sign it himself, but Jerry P. Bliss signed it for him, with Otis’s permission. 33 Cong. Rec. 6611, 6623, 6625 (1900).

[92] Ibid., 6625. Early press accounts were garbled, but one seems to say a total bribe of $10,000 was agreed upon before Sunday. Alfred Henry Lewis, “Hanna Persuades Legislators to Change Their Minds,” New York Journal and Advertiser, Jan. 9, 1898.

[93] 33 Cong. Rec. 6616, 6627-28 (1900); Edited Dick statement, p. 22, Hanna-McCormick Family Papers.

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Kristie Miller is the author of three political biographies, Ruth Hanna McCormick (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize); Isabella Greenway; Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies. She holds degrees from Brown University and Georgetown University. Learn more at


Robert H. McGinnis is a member of the Washington DC bar. He is a graduate of the University of Florida Law School and Harvard Divinity School. His work has appeared in the Florida Law Review, Lawyer of the Americas (now Inter-American Law Review) and Rolling Stone. He and Kristie co-edited A Volume of Friendship: The Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Isabella Greenway. Learn more at