Mabel Doris Mercer - "The Princess"

According to a 1911 New York Times article, Princess Farid-es-Sultaneh was born Mabel Doris Mercer in 1889, the daughter of a Pittsburgh police captain. As a young girl, she would sing as her mother played the piano. At the age of 18, Mercer became engaged to a young man, but her father was not particularly pleased with the engagement. After a heated argument, she ran away to New York City to seek her fame and fortune on the stage. She found a minor role in a Broadway musical. Mercer’s father came to New York and persuaded her to return to Pittsburgh. On the way home, they stopped in Philadelphia, where her father placed her against her wishes at the Country Home, an Episcopalian school.

At age 18, she was of age in New York, but not in Pennsylvania. Within the week, she escaped by locking one of the matrons in her room then sliding out a window and down a rope made of bed linen. Her fiancé was waiting for her and drove her to a restaurant where she changed out of her school uniform and returned to New York. Five days after she escaped, she declared that “not until she was 21 could she be beguiled again into crossing the State border line.”

Although Mercer married three times, she did not marry the fiancé who rescued her. Her first husband was Percival Harden, the founder and publisher of Club- Fellow & Washington Mirror, a monthly society gossip magazine. This was the second marriage for Harden. After his first wife obtained a divorce, Harden sued her new husband for alienation of affection and was awarded $10,000 in damages. Given this notoriety, Harden felt it took “considerable nerve” for Mercer to marry him. Mercer divorced Harden in 1919. After two years of ill health and fearing his third wife was about to divorce him, Harden left a note and shot himself in a Manhattan hotel. He was 54 when he died.

In 1924, Mercer became the second wife of Sebastian S. Kresge. She was 32 and he was 57 when they married. When Kresge first started working, he sold hardware and tin ware to F.W. Woolworth, and then partnered with John McCrory to open his first five and dime store. By 1907, Kresge bought out McCrory and formed the S.S. Kresge Company. Four years before his death in 1966, he opened the first Kmart store. In 1977, the S.S. Kresge Corporation became the Kmart Corporation.

Kresge was a penny pincher with his own money but very generous to his employees. He offered paid sick-leave, paid holidays, profit-sharing, and pensions for employees who retired. Kresge also thought it was his Christian duty to share his wealth and donated approximately $175 million dollars through his foundation. In his personal life, however, he wore his shoes and clothes until they practically fell apart, and he quit golf because he lost too many balls and did not like what it cost to replace them.

It was this frugality that finally ended the marriage to Mercer in 1928, in a highly publicized divorce. Mercer’s settlement was made in S.S. Kresge stock that was supposedly valued close to “$3 million.” However, in 1947 the IRS took her to court over what the fair market value should have been for the shares when she received them from her husband (Farid-es-Sultaneh v. Commissioner, 160 F.2d 812 [2d Cir.1947]). The IRS held the opinion that the stock should be taxed at a higher rate as a gift. Mercer argued that transfer of stock from husband to wife was not a gift but an exchange of stock for marital property rights. She prevailed, but the government was not happy losing. As a result, in 1984 Congress added a provision that transfer of property between spouses or former spouses where the transfer is incident to a divorce shall be treated as a “gift” for income tax purposes.

After her second divorce, Mercer went to live in Paris where she attracted the attention of Prince Farid Khan Sadri-Qajar, a cousin of the Shah of Persia. The Qajar dynasty ruled Iran as a constitutional monarchy until 1925 when it was deposed by the British. The Qajar dynasty was known for its corruption, poor governance in having lost much of northern Iran to Russia, and its proliferation of princes.

Although reluctant to marry again, Mercer finally accepted the prince’s proposal and in 1933, they married in a Moslem mosque in Paris. Mercer became Princess Farid-es-Sultaneh. The Prince’s family sent betrothal gifts of emeralds and pearls in the form of a necklace, bracelet, ring, and pin. The newlyweds went on an extended honeymoon in Egypt, India, and the Far East and then returned to Paris. While in Paris, the Princess rode in style. When she left Paris at the outbreak of World War II, she abandoned a 1926 New Phantom Series TC Rolls Royce. The Phantom and a second Rolls Royce were seized by the Germans during the occupation. Within two years, the Princess and the Prince were divorced. It was rumored that the Prince was a “playboy” whose main interest in Mercer was her money. Although the Prince wanted her to relinquish the title when they divorced, Mercer kept the title. When she eventually purchased Glen Alpin, the telephone company listed her as the Princess, so that was the name everyone here used.

The Princess's House

The Princess purchased Glen Alpin and approximately 80 acres in 1940 for $36,000. She made minor changes to the house, adding the murals to the first floor rooms and removing the stables to add a garage in the same location some time before 1949. She tried to sell Glen Alpin numerous times.

One of the many real estate brochures that the Princess had made describes the estate: “The house has 16 rooms and eight baths consisting of: four master bedrooms with bath, three guest bedrooms, two servant’s bedrooms, a guest cottage, a six-car garage, eight fireplaces, hand painted murals, a study, a music room, and a glass conservatory. Other buildings include a six car garage, superintendent’s cottage with fourteen rooms and three baths divided into three apartments overlooking the lake, a guest house with a studio, kitchen and pink tiled bathroom, an auxiliary three car garage at the rear of the property, a barn, and several chicken houses.”

At the time of her death, the New York Times satirically stated,

“After their divorce, the Prince ran an ad in a Paris newspaper.
It declared Mercer could no longer call herself a ‘princess’.
But the telephone company never read the ad and Mercer is listed here as one.”

Over the years, the Princess had her share of troubles. In 1943, $92,000 worth of her jewelry was stolen during a trans-continental flight from Newark to Hollywood. The gems vanished while being moved in Amarillo, Texas from one plane to another. Two men were arrested in Texas by the FBI for theft and the gems were recovered from a Texas junkyard.

In the mid 1940s, the Princess was swindled out of $99,500 by an Arizona con-man, Constantino Riccardi, who promised to divorce his wife and marry her. Riccardi represented himself as an Arizona rancher and mine owner. In fact, he was a California attorney, disbarred for embezzlement and wanted in another state. The controlling interest he owned in the Leadville Western Mines, Inc of Cortland, Arizona was worthless.

Trying to raise money, the Princess had given a New York jeweler a ring valued at $75,000 on consignment, with the agreement that he remit to her $50,000. Riccardi said he could do better and persuaded the Princess to retrieve the ring and let him sell it. He convinced her she should add six more pieces of jewelry so they could get a better price for it. Riccardi gave the Princess shares of the Leadville mine stock and a promise to advance her $50,000 anytime she needed it in exchange for the jewelry. He continued to court her and talked her into moving six truckloads of furniture, rugs, paintings, and other items from Glen Alpin to Arizona to make a home for the two for them.

The Princess finally realized she had been duped when Riccardi continued to plead difficulty in selling the jewelry and the promised divorce never materialized. He finally offered her $30,000 for all of the jewelry she had given him. When she complained to the FBI in New Jersey, she learned that he was indicted for a $16,000 stock swindle in New York. Riccardi had already been arrested ten times since 1917 and had served three years of a ten year sentence in Sing Sing before winning a new trial. Although never retried, he was barred from ever dealing in securities in New York again. Riccardi was convicted of two felonies and sentenced to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine for swindling the Princess.

In 2013 an elaborate “gold, platinum, colored stone, natural pearl and diamond necklace” that the Princess had to sell at auction in 1959 to pay her taxes was sold by Sotheby’s for $137,000.

In earlier years while the Princess was seeing Sebastian Kresge, he paid for her music studies. She had been a chorus girl on Broadway in The Earl and The Girl but was most interested in opera. After she married Mr. Kresge, a 1924 Philadelphia Inquirer article about “the new Mrs. Kresge” mentioned her operatic ambitions. At Glen Alpin, murals she had a M. Saissy paint for her music room and reception room have stage-like scenes, in some of which musicians with stringed instruments serenade women in elaborate 18th-century dress. One mural panel, now destroyed by water damage, included Venetian gondolas.

During her final years, the Princess sought solace in religion and the Bible. In 1960, she sold a portion of the Glen Alpin property on Tempe Wick Road, across the street from her mansion, to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. A church was erected on the site, and she joined the congregation where she charmed the parishioners with her operatic renditions of church hymns. She died in Morristown, on August 12, 1963, at the age of 74. In 1965, Christopher DeCarlo acquired Glen Alpin for $100,000.