Author: Luke DiGravio
Publication Date: 2002
Reproduced by permission from Cutten Edge, the monthly magazine of the Cutten Club, Guelph.
The mystery man of La Salle Street; a legend in his day; a quiet individual; the personification of astuteness; an oracle who spoke seldom, but weightily; a figure cloaked in mystery; the man who brought down Wall Street; a hero. Arthur W. Cutten has been described in many ways over the years. Opinions of him vary, but one thing is certain: Cutten is one of the most intriguing figures ever to hail from the Royal City. Why is he such a mystery? Many of the questions surrounding Cutten have never been answered. As a result, rumours flourish about many aspects of his life. Did he bring down the stock market in 1929? Why was he so obsessed with revenge upon the ninth man? What was his motive in his gift to Guelph of the Cutten Club? In addition - a question that club members and staff alike have debated over the last 70 years - did he bury a $90,000,000 treasure in the clubhouse? A glimpse into the life of this man certainly offers an exciting opportunity to revisit the events that led to the rise and fall of a local hero and a legend of the business community.
Arthur William Cutten was born on July 6, 1870, to parents Walter Cutten and Annie MacFadden, the second son in a family of eight children. The family home was originally located on the southeast corner of Paisley and Glasgow Streets, before the Cuttens purchased a house on Stuart Street. Every Sunday they attended services at St. George's Anglican Church. Cutten, in his later years, donated the carillon still in use by the church today. (Imported from Europe, the chimes alone were estimated to have cost over $25,000.)
To his friends, Cutten was known as "Buzz", a nickname he acquired as a child. Unable to say, "Brother," he would lisp "Buzzer." Throughout his life, his intimate associates still referred to him as Buzz, a nickname that well suited the level of energy he displayed in his business dealings. During his early days in Guelph, Cutten crossed paths with some other famous citizens of the Royal City. He attended Central Public School along with a boy who would grow up to be a famous doctor and poet, Colonel John McCrae. While in high school, he met an eight-year-old by the name of Edward Johnson, who was singing Annie Laurie to a public gathering in the town park. On the opening day of the Cutten Fields golf course, it would be Edward Johnson who would again perform to the delight of those in attendance.
As a young fellow, Cutten was restless and discontented with living in a small town. He felt an attraction to distant places. His childhood dream of becoming the driver of the Wellington Hotel's omnibus horses was succeeded by an adolescent dream of becoming a professional baseball player in the United States. As he would once say: "My brothers and I played cricket and baseball, but God save the Queen, we preferred baseball."
To further this dream, he took on a four-dollar-a-week job with the American Consul in Guelph, James W. Childs. He enjoyed the fact that the Government of the United States officially employed him. For six months, he filled out consular certificates and performed other less important duties. All the while, though, he was saving his money for a purpose. Cutten wanted to seek his fortune in the United States. He fed this desire by occasionally visiting Alec Hill, brother of James Hill, the great railroad builder from Guelph. The difference between the two brothers, Cutten concluded, was that, "One had stayed home, and one had gone out into the world". With that in mind, Cutten went out into the world. Just as James Hill had gone West to make a name for himself, Cutten decided that he too needed to go West.
In 1890, at the age of 20, Cutten moved to Chicago, Illinois. With 90 dollars in hand, his old-fashioned trunk and a high-wheeled bicycle ("It had a fifty-four-inch front wheel and a puny tear one"), his new life had begun. He was hired by Marshall Field's wholesale house for seven dollars a week to keep stock in order. However, his boarding house on the North Side of Chicago cost six dollars a week. Unhappy with a margin of one dollar a week and convinced that he wasn't cut out to be a merchant, Cutten quit this job after only two months. A string of short jobs followed, until Cutten found his calling. Sensing that tremendous wealth and power were flowing into Chicago in the form of hogs, cattle, and sheep, he took a job in the packing and provision business. He was responsible for making out foreign invoices and calculating the different exchange rates between currencies. As a result, all day long he would go back and forth between his place of employment and the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. This sparked his interest in the stock market. After experiencing the Exchange, Cutten said, "Neither baseball careeIs [sic] nor bugle calls nor anything else had so much power to stir my mind and emotions."
Cutten was a quick study. One of his first observations about the trading pit was that the loudest voices were not necessarily the biggest traders. Secrecy was important to the big dealers and traders.
In 1896, five years after beginning work in this new field, Cutten persuaded his employer that he was ready to serve the firm as a pit-broker and procured from him an $800 loan to cover the membership cost. His first order was to buy one hundred September corn, or contracts for the future delivery of 100,000 bushels of corn. He was successful. Exhilarated, Cutten said, "I was exalted. This was, for me, a kind of knighthood." Although he served as a pit-broker for his firm, under his contract he was allowed to scalp for himself. Heat became Cutten's main area of interest. He studied everything there was to know about the subject, from the effects of weather patterns to those of insects on crops. The year 1906 was a turning point for Cutten. He not only married Chicagoan Maud Boomer but had finally saved the $3,000 necessary to buy a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade. In a short time, Cutten earned the nickname "Wheat King" as he amassed a monopoly on the product. He was one of America's most successful speculators. Strangely though, in the States his name has not survived the passage of time, even though in his day he was as famous on Wall Street as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were in baseball.
Cutten's wealth was not a secret. On the evening of March 8 ,1922, while Cutten and his wife were entertaining his brother Harry, nine armed men stormed their house demanding money. Using much profanity, the men ordered Cutten upstairs and thrust a revolver against his spine. They forced him to lie face down across his bed while they searched dresser drawers, chests, and other receptacles. This went on for about an hour before the men led the Cuttens and their servants to the basement. There, they were locked in a vault and left to suffocate. Fortunately, one of Cutten's servants was able to force the door open, saving them from such a fate.
Finding the nine men would consume Cutten from this point on. Not trusting the police, he hired private detectives to search for them. The robbers made away with just under $20,000; yet Cutten spent $30,000 to bring them, one by one, to justice. His mission was often compared to Dumas' story of the Count of Monte Cristo who sought revenge against his enemies who tried to imprison him for life in a dungeon. "What made me determined to get them, if it took a lifetime," he later explained:
"[It] was the fact that they tied up Mrs. Cutten, tied up my brother and tied up the servants and then locked us in the basement vault to be smothered to death. That was an unnecessary, fiendish piece of cruelty. It filled me with rage, and I vowed then that I'd spend every dollar at my command, if necessary, to put them where they belonged - behind bars. When a man comes into my house and robs me and my family... well, I'll get him."
It turned out that a former butler in the Cutten residence by the name of Joseph Vormittag originated the plot, Captured a few weeks after the robbery, he confessed and provided the names of the other eight involved. One by one they were all found, except for the ninth man - Casper Rosenberg. Finally, in 1930, unable to take the pressure of being, "On the lam," anymore, Rosenberg turned himself in. Eight years after the crime, all nine men had been captured. However, something came over Cutten. Apparently moved by Rosenberg's surrender and rehabilitation, Cutten decided not to press charges and let him go.
In 1929, Cutten made an announcement that would forever change the landscape of the city of Guelph. Weekend Magazine reported, "He had not lived in Canada for almost 40 years, yet in April he announced his intention of giving the residents of Guelph a $2,000,000 gift in the form of a modern hotel, with a full-sized golf course and a general recreation area". It is difficult in today's atmosphere to recapture the way the announcement of Cutten's gift excited the little town. Even Cutten was surprised. "I think everybody is making too much of this," he said. "I happen to have the money, and the old town is willing to take it. So, why should there be all this fuss about it? The whole transaction is really a very simple one." Cutten's generosity should not have come as a surprise to many. After all, he kept many ties to his hometown over the years. He would customarily visit his mother who still lived in Guelph. A member of the Chicago Golf Club, Cutten often invited his friend, American golfing champion Charles "Chick" Evans, to play with him at the Guelph Golf Club. A decade earlier, he had made a $10,000 donation to the Woodlawn Cemetery, which resulted in the establishment of the Guelph Cemetery Commission. However, some doubted his motives. In 1929, when the stock market crashed, Weekend Magazine related that, "Guelph is reportedly the hardest-hit city of its size in Canada, owing to speculators who played the market on Cutten's coat-tails to the tune of about $1,000,000." Then all across North America came stories that Cutten and other manipulators had switched from playing bull to playing bear, clearing millions and leaving everyone else to get burned. Suspicion grew that in making the gift, Cutten had been trying to buy a sanctuary for use when the debacle came or that the donation was a sort of post-dated apology to Guelph. The hotel project never developed, but to date the golf course continues to thrive as it enters its 70th year of existence.
When the Crash occurred in 1929, the Toronto Daily Star labeled Cutten, "The Samson who pulled down the pillars of the Exchange," in New York. Cutten went to great lengths to dispel this story, even phoning the offices of the Guelph Daily Mercury to insist that he had suffered significantly himself. Many didn't buy his story, including the New York newspapers. In the 1930 book Mystery Men of Wall Street, New York newspaperman Earl Sparling contends that Cutten survived the Crash with a fortune of as much as $80,000,000, "Without unloading his basic holdings during the decline and fall of the market." Finally, on April 11, 1934, the Federal Government charged Cutten with failing to report $50,000,000 in grain futures holdings in 1930 and 1931. He was also charged with tax evasion in various years dating back to 1929, putting him in select company with gangster Al Capone as the only other resident of Chicago to find himself in this trouble. Under American law, when a broker or individual held 500,000 bushels or more in any one wheat option, or was 'short' that much, a report had to be made to the government. The government produced evidence that Cutten had accounts in the names of his wife, numerous friends, and relatives and some designated merely by numbers. The charge was that he juggled his holdings to keep each account below 500,000 bushels, but in 1930, he had at times been short as much as 2,000,000 and in 1931, 6,000,000. As a result, Cutten was banned from grain trading, a ruling later reversed by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals at Chicago due to a technicality in the wording of the law and upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.
As these legal problems mounted for Cutten, his health began to deteriorate. Already suffering from a chronic heart condition, he was stricken with double pneumonia in November of 1935, and was confined to bed from this point on. On March 11, 1936, deputy marshals went to his bed-side and served him with a warrant based on a federal indictment charging him with evading $414,525 in taxes in 1929. Cutten signed a $35,000 surety bond guaranteeing his appearance in court when the case was brought to trial. On June 6, 1936, Cutten officially resigned from the markets, citing poor health as the reason. It was also apparently the first time he was able to get up from bed and walk around a little since his illness began. Arthur W. Cutten died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 66, on June 24, 1936. Funeral services were held at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Chicago. His body was then returned to Guelph a day later to be buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery. Today a 36-foot-tall obelisk, the focal point of the cemetery, marks his gravesite.
While the U.S. Federal Government dropped all criminal charges against Cutten at his death, they continued to pursue his unsettled tax account. What began as a $414,525 penalty quickly grew in the months following his funeral, escalating to $1,132,000 by the end of 1936. However, when the government pursued the unsettled account with his estate, they learned that Cutten's total wealth amounted to a paltry $350,000. Not believing this, the government decided to launch a thorough investigation. Thus began an unsettled investigation that is still the cause for rumour and debate today. According to Weekend Magazine, "Shortly before his death... Cutten is said to have transferred his assets, a reported $90,000,000, to Canada. Others contend he went broke like everyone else. The preference for one ending over the other is largely a question of temperament." As a part of their investigation, Federal U.S. agents paid a visit to the Cutten Club, but nothing was found. Of interest is the fact that Cutten Club architect and one-time owner, Stanley Thompson, often added fuel to the debate. In his book The Toronto Terror (a reference to Thompson), James A. Barclay reported that, "Stanley Thompson helped feed the rumour that Arthur Cutten had millions of dollars, illegally earned, stashed away in a wall of the clubhouse. But he (Thompson) never came across a cent."
From his early start in Guelph and throughout his life in the United States, Cutten held fast to his ambition to succeed. Was he a hero or a crook? A legend or a dark figure? Only if and when the mystery surrounding Arthur Cutten's financial matters is solved will we be able to truly answer these questions.
A special thanks to those who helped on this project:
- Ceska Brennan (Woodlawn Cemetery)
- Charlotte Mackie
- Dennis Johnson
- Dorothy Darrow (Chicago Golf Club)
- Mary Mulholland (G.C.V.I.)
- Pat Howitt
- Special Collections Department of the University of Guelph
- Wayne Collins (Guelph Mercury)