The Odd Case of Carnot Ward

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
January 31, 2023

Daytona Daily News, December 15, 1915 The equivalent of his inheritance today would be ~$6.9 million.

Carnot Meeker Ward was born into a life of Gilded Age opulence. The heir of two fortunes before he turned 21, he was raised in Madison and made frequent trips to Europe with his parents as a child. His mother had thousands of dollars in jewels (until a thief ran off with them in 1906), and the young Carnot was provided an education at an elite New England boarding school. So far, so normal, as far as Morristown’s high society was concerned, but his life would become one of the more unusual stories to emerge from our community’s reign as a millionaire capital of the world.

Mueller Atlas of 1910. Around 1912, Ward inherited his uncle Carnot Meeker’s property, said to be 300 acres in total. He bought the adjacent Hopping farm in 1919.

Said to have owned 28 cars and more than a few yachts over the years, 19-year-old Ward was arrested in 1914 for driving 35 mph down Morristown’s Washington Street. Months later, he married 16-year-old Edith Adele Wilson, a niece of the McEwan brothers of Whippany, and together they had one son. As a young, wealthy entrepreneur with vast property, Ward dabbled in a variety of businesses from dairy farming to a general store in Hanover to a popular prohibition-era night spot, the Canary Cottage.

Then, on January 4, 1922, he walked out of his Florham Park home, told his butler he would be late for dinner, and never returned. A couple of weeks later, his wife thought she spotted him in NYC, but after that, no sign of him was ever seen again. Mrs. Ward filed for divorce in 1924 and told newspapers that when Ward left he had “disposed of securities for about $275,000” (~$4.9 million today) and “also withdrew funds from banks in Newark and Madison where he was known to have had large deposits.” Financially unable to maintain ownership of their sprawling estate, she was only able to retain her house and a small lot by the intervention of two of her McEwan uncles.

Carnot Ward’s seaman’s certificate of American citizenship, 1923

Until the advent of the internet, that was where the story ended. However, Mr. Carnot Ward had indeed not fallen off the face of the earth and continued to live under his highly unusual name for the rest of his life, albeit largely at sea. He first reappeared in the historical record in December 1923 when he applied for a seaman’s certificate of American citizenship in New Orleans. His employment for the next 20 years made no hint of his affluent background. Instead, he worked on a variety of ships, often oil tankers, lubricating the machinery below decks, among other duties. Frequently appearing on ship manifests as they came into port at Honolulu, HI; Port Arthur, TX; San Luis Obispo, CA; and Seattle, WA; he was never on dry land for long and didn’t have any recorded address until 1932. Transient to the end, he nonetheless remarried in 1937 and ultimately died on isolated Waldron Island in Washington State in 1945.