Baroness von Zollikofer Altenklingen
1826 – 1907
By Robert H. Hitchings
Sargeant’s Chronicles, Volume 1 – Number 4 – Summer 2007
Americans have always been fascinated by royalty, the wealthy blue-bloods of Europe. We are bombarded in the tabloids and on the news of the goings on of these titled few. Many Americans spend years trying to find a relationship to European royalty. At one time, persons who could not prove a blue-blood heritage often tried to marry into a rich noble European family. And this is what one Norfolk-born American woman did. She was not actually seeking a titled husband, But they found each other anyway.
er name was Mary Ludlow. She was the daughter of a doctor but her parents died at an early age and she was raised by her uncle, William Garnett, a banker. At the age of 23, she married her childhood sweetheart, Dr. Henry Seldon and had three beautiful children. Unfortunately, domestic bliss was not in her future, for in the summer of 1855 she lost her husband and two of their children in an epidemic of yellow fever. Tragedy struck again in December of 1861 when she lost her last surviving child Henry Seldon, Jr. Mary was devastated and to make things worse, the storm clouds of the Civil War were beginning to roll into Virginia. By May 1862, Norfolk was occupied by Union forces and many Norfolk families were turned out of their homes. It was an unhappy time for many Norfolk citizens. We were a conquered people.
Mary Ludlow Seldon became a spitfire and a thorn in the side of the Union soldiers. She stood up to Union forces and the occupying troops wasted no time in sending her by train to Washington, D.C. It was in Washington, D.C. that she met a former friend, Dr. William Zollikofer of Baltimore, Maryland, a colleague of her former husband. After the war they married. While traveling in Europe one summer, Mary learned that her husband’s aged great uncle, the Baron von Zollikofer of Austria-Hungary, was childless and her husband was next in line to inherit the title and vast estate. When the old Baron passed away, Dr. Zollikofer, being American born, quickly dismissed the idea of accepting the title. However, he passed away unexpectedly in 1882 before he could put his wishes in writing. The rest is history. Mary Ludlow Seldon Zollikofer accepted the title and became the new Baroness Zollikofer Altenklingen of Austria-Hungary.
With her new title, all the doors of European royalty opened up to her. She became a noted figure in European royal circles. She had lavish parties and entertained the Pope, cardinals, dukes, the Czar, and princes at her palace in Rome. She met all the crown heads of Europe, including Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary. It was at a private audience with the old Emperor that Franz Joseph said, with a twinkle in his eye, “I understand, Baroness, you are an American.” She quickly replied, “No sire, I am a Virginian.” And the old Emperor chuckled as he understood.
The Baroness never returned to America. However, she kept in touch with a few friends and when died on October 29th 1907, her body was brought back from Rome to lie next to her first husband and children in Elmwood Cemetery. The story does not end there. In her will, Mary generously started a home, the Mary Ludlow Home, for homeless Norfolk women who had no place to live. It opened in April 1918. When the trustees closed the home in 1963 after the last of the residents had passed on, the monies from the sale of the house were turned over to The Norfolk Foundation, an organization that helps so many today.
Mary Ludlow Seldon, Baroness Zollikofer, was not seeking a royal title, the title found her, and with this title came a fortune. She never forgot her home, her friends, or the city of Norfolk that she loved so dearly.