I struggled mightily with this one, wanting to do it the justice it fully deserves. In the end, I decided I could do no better than directly quoting this article from the August 5th 1900 Ogdensurg News, quoting an article from the New York Telegraph. I bow to greatness:
A Rich Wife For A Dollar
Operations of the Exclusive Matrimonial Bureau – Office at Canastota.
The Exclusive Matrimonial Bureau, E. Dwight Thomas. manager, of Canastota, is the subject of a long talk in the New York Telegraph. The story details the efforts of Walter J. Watson, a Brooklyn man, to obtain a wealthy wife. He answered an advertisement in a New York paper, and in reply received a letter from the Canastota bureau that for $1 he would be given the name of a lady, young, handsome and rich, who desired a speedy marriage, who was of good character and able to furnish references. Having the name, the applicant would be able to open a correspondence and press his suit to a successful issue. The Telegraph says:
“The Exclusive Matrimonial Bureau publishes a pamphlet which has added greatly to the fund of American humor. It states that any man can win a rich wife on an investment of one dollar; that the manager E. Dwight Thomas, is a student of human nature, and makes this eloquent appeal: ‘Some of our ladies are worth from $50,000 to $60,000, and some are widows who have been left in independent circumstances financially, yet they are aware that they are not competent to manage practical business affairs, and that if they draw upon the principal for their current expenses, in five or ten years’ time, their capital will be exhausted; whereas, if they were to marry some bright, brainy man with good judgment and business ability, and in whom they could place confidence, they know that he could invest their capital in some business with which he was familiar’.”
“Each would-be groom imagined himself to be the man desired. The pamphlet then sets forth this burning epigram:’There are many men who have too little confidence in themselves, and are content to trust to luck in the matter of falling in love, and to marry their neighbors’ daughter, who may be very plain and uninteresting, simply because she is handy ‘ .”
“The philanthropic Thomas, deploring the dearth of mated couples then writes:’Ours is the only matrimonial burean in America where ladies’ names are not published in lists or papers. This is a guarantee to you that the ladies who join our bureau are a select class, who would not patronize ordinary matrimonial concerns.‘ ”
“Of course, the victim was not supposed to think the ladies’ names are not published broadcast because there are none to publish. That would hardly be in keeping with the new brand of Canastota humor, and would have nothing to do with the dollar. One more delicate point is explained in the pamphlet. After the victim has sent his dollar to promote local humor and gets no satisfaction, it is to be expected that he will not ‘see the point’ at once and with good grace. He might feel slighted and imagine there was something coming to him. He would probably look for a letter, and, not finding one, become an unbearable nuisance. The thoughtful manager provides against any such difficulty by inserting in his pamphlet: ‘Important — When you write to us and do not get a reply do not become excited and condemn us as swindlers. We endeavor to fill all orders on same day as received, and if you send money to us and do not receive your order within a reasonable length of time, write us a courteous letter relating how and when you sent the money and we will give the matter our prompt and careful attention’.”
“The admonition to the patron to be courteous while being swindled is a sample of Canastota humor right off the bushes, and it is no wonder the village is in the throes of a sensation. It does not know what to do with Its new fame, and is sadly unappreciative of Its distinction.”
That an Ogdensburg newspaper was quoting a New York City newspaper goes to show the extent of Canastota’s new found fame.
Now, I can hear you asking yourself “Now who would be stupid enough to fall for that?”. If that is the case you are indeed a poor student of human nature. Our hero not only prospered at this line of employment, he apparently had enough of a customer base to take on partners. By the time the postal authorities shut him down, he’d been at it for five years and there were three other guys working with him.
Undeterred, our hero moved out to Niagara Falls, changed his name to “Jesse Montague” and set up shop again. This time, his fame had preceded him and he was shut down in fairly short order.
The 12/24/1899 Syracuse Herald had an article where one of their reporters actually went to the Thomas home in South Bay. The graphic accompanying the article is a scream: