When Opportunity Knocks

This article began life as another in our series of Easton in the Service. While Brigadier General Edwin Norman Clark was born in Parkersburg, Iowa, he lived a major portion of his eighty years in Easton. And how many towns the size of Easton can boast having a United States Military Academy graduate who went on to become a WWII general? A general who not only served as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Deputy G-4 at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, but also hosted the future president at his home in Easton several times between 1948 and 1952, before Eisenhower was elected as the 35th president of the United States. It seemed like the perfect fit for our series.

Until maybe it wasn’t.

Soon after beginning my research, I realized that there was precious little information on the man from Parkersburg who graduated from West Point at the age of only 20; went on to earn his J.D. at Harvard in 1925; practiced law at the prestigious firm of Baldwin, Hutchins, and Todd in New York City from 1925 until 1939; and then served his country during the Second World War, ending his active military career as a Brigadier General in 1948. There are no photos of the general that appear in this article because our research team has yet to come up with one where the person identified as General Edwin Clark turned out to actually be General Edwin Clark! Finding a photograph – any photograph – of General Clark has proven to be even more of a challenge than learning about his storied career.

Something didn’t seem right.

Since Clark had such a close connection to General Eisenhower, it seemed logical to begin a more detailed search at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas. While presidential libraries don’t often offer much information online, they are usually a good place to find lists of facts and events that can then provide a starting point for an expanded search.

Found under General Edwin Norman Clark:

On February 15, 1986 Campbell L. Searle, Executor of the estate of Edwin N. Clark executed a deed of gift for these papers.

Linear Feet: 4       Approximate number of pages: 8,000.

Literary rights in the unpublished writings of Edwin N. Clark are held by his estate. Under the instrument of gift singed (sic) by Campbell L. Searle, executor of the estate of Edwin N. Clark, the following classes of documents have been withheld from research use:

1. Papers and other historical materials that are specifically authorized under criteria established by statute or executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy, and are in fact properly classified.

2. Papers and other historical materials the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy or a libel of a living person.

For a man of Clark’s standing, 4 linear feet and 8,000 pages of material between 1933 and 1981 is actually a rather small collection. Much of the inventory involves his military career during WWII along with his efforts after the war to get Eisenhower elected to the presidency. Further down the inventory list were the extremely limited amount of donated photographs: only 21 in total – remarkably few for someone who spent so many years wearing a uniform of the United States Army.

Clark’s biographical notes are less than a full page in length and leave a ton of unanswered questions.

The entire content found in the Wikipedia profile of General Clark was a word for word transcript of the third and fourth pages of “Scope and Content Note” from his file at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. Piecing together Clark’s life before 1933 and discovering meaningful aspects of his career outside of the military would be quite a challenge. It would take hours of scouring various newspaper articles and then finding a few published court cases that shed some light on his career and his relationship with another famous Easton resident, Gustav A. Pfeiffer.

Edwin Norman Clark was born April 26, 1902 in Parkersburg, Iowa.  He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1922, at the age of only 20, earning the commission of Second Lieutenant. He resigned that commission in August of that year and immediately enrolled at the Harvard School of Law.

During a seven-year period of time beginning in WWI, the USMA offered two courses of study: one for the normal 4-year program, and a second that covered a shorter 2-year time frame. The shorter period was implemented at the beginning of WWI to quickly help fill the officers’ ranks in the fast growing military.  In either case, a graduating cadet would enter the army as a Second Lieutenant. To my knowledge, it has always been mandatory to actively serve in the United States military upon graduation. While officers have often been allowed to continue their education on a full-time basis after graduation, they customarily have retained their rank and enlisted status, and then completed their military commitment after earning their advanced degree.

That Clark was allowed to resign after only a three-month stint with no apparent intention of returning after completing law school struck me as being quite unusual. I could find no mention of a physical ailment or a disciplinary problem that might have led to his resignation. It would seem that the opportunity to pursue a law degree from Harvard was Clark’s sole motive for not fulfilling his duty to serve his country in active service after receiving his tuition-free education at West Point. Instead, he appears to have been allowed to serve as an officer in the Army Reserve.

Upon graduating from Harvard and then passing the bar, Edwin Clark married Massachusetts native Ethel Appleyard on September 23, 1925 before they headed to New York. There he found employment with Baldwin, Hutchins, and Todd; a prestigious law firm located at 120 Broadway. With a resume that included completion of a West Point and Harvard education by the age of only 23, that might have been enough to land him the job.

But was there something else on his resume that might have influenced the firm’s decision to hire Clark? Something as small and seemingly insignificant as his hometown in Iowa? Parkersburg. Population: 760 in 1890, when Edwin Norman Clark’s parents were growing up there.

One of Baldwin, Hutchins, and Todd’s more important clients was Gustav Adolphus Pfeiffer, president of both William R. Warner, the pharmaceutical company that first became Warner-Lambert and is now today’s Pfizer, and Richard Hudnut Perfumes. Like Edwin Clark, Gus Pfeiffer was also an Iowa native, but more importantly, Pfeiffer’s wife, the former Louise Foote, was born and raised in Parkersburg during the exact same time period that Clark’s parents were growing up there. Coincidence or a fortuitous opportunity for Clark’s new employer to solidify its relationship with the incredibly wealthy and powerful Mr. Pfeiffer? 

In 1930, the Clarks were listed as residing at 52 William Street in New York City. A 1932 passenger list on the Bermuda Monarch, shows them living in Easton. There is no record of the Clarks owning property in Easton that early, but Gus Pfeiffer certainly did.

Gustav Pfeiffer – Pharmaceutical giant and Philanthropist

During the 1920’s, Pfeiffer fell in love with the Colonial style homes of Easton. He purchased a home in the area that now makes up the Aspetuck Historic District. The Moses Dimon House is the large white house that sits at the southwest corner of Old Redding Road and Westport Road and it would become known to Pfeiffer’s friends and colleagues as The Homestead.

Pfeiffer’s Moses Dimon house that became known to Pfeiffer’s friends and associates as the “Homestead.”

Pfeiffer was enthralled with the restoration work that the Rockefeller family was supporting in Virginia during the mid-1920’s. He had a vision to turn his new Easton neighborhood into the Williamsburg of the north. He began to acquire and then restore homes in that corner of Easton and Weston. He commissioned architect Cameron Clark (no relation to Edwin) to design the restorations to have a somewhat uniform appearance. At one point, Pfeiffer owned more than twenty homes in the neighborhood that currently makes up Easton’s one and only historical district. Initially, he retained title to all of them, either renting them out or allowing friends and colleagues to use them as weekend or summer retreats.

From all appearances, it would seem that Pfeiffer allowed Edwin and Ethel Clark to use one of his Aspetuck Farms houses as their summer & weekend residence during most of the 1930’s. Law firm correspondence between Attorney Clark and client Pfeiffer during the 1930’s often had Clark referring to Pfeiffer as “Uncle Gus” and Pfeiffer always addressing Attorney Clark simply as “Eddie.” During that era, in addition to spending time in Easton, the Clarks continued to maintain an apartment in New York.

In 1940, Clark was promoted to the rank of Major in the Army Ordinance Reserve before being called to active duty and then being assigned to Washington. There, he served as an adviser on lend-lease to the Republic of China. In an unusual move in 1941, Clark was released from active duty and allowed to perform private consulting work for the War Department on supply and logistics matters, including his continuing work with the Republic of China. He returned to less lucrative active duty in 1942 after the United States officially entered the war.

Clark was then involved in supply and ordnance matters during the North African campaign. He eventually served as a Deputy G-4 at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expedition Forces under the command of General Eisenhower. Clark’s personal connection with fellow mid-westerner Eisenhower would serve him well after the war.

Upon returning to the United States at the end of the war, the Clarks took title from Pfeiffer’s Aspetuck Farms holding company to the house at 200 Redding Road. Just prior to the war, architect Cameron Clark had taken the original house and rebuilt it to such an extent that not even the resident ghosts would have recognized it. It’s prominence on the southern point of the triangular lot that separates Old Redding Road from Redding Road until it meets Westport Road made it the focal point of the neighborhood. It was there that the Clarks would entertain the future president of the United States while Eisenhower was serving as the president of Columbia University in New York.

The original house at 200 Redding Road prior to Cameron Clark’s masterful expansion and restoration.
200 Redding Road after Cameron Clark’s expansion and restoration. This is what the house would have looked like when General Clark owned it, although this photo was taken a few years after he sold it.

Prior to the 1948 presidential election, Clark, backed by a group of internationalist Republicans who saw economic opportunities in a world with less isolationist protective restrictions, was paid to secretly shuttle back and forth to Europe in an effort to build support for an Eisenhower presidency. In the end, they were unable to convince Eisenhower to run for the office that year.

Also in 1948, Clark formed a new corporation called The Clark-Tuckerman Group. Ostensibly, it was a firm of “engineering and business counselors”. In reality, it was a lobbying group established to help influence American government officials to award lucrative contracts to foreign entities. The company was properly registered with the Department of Justice that year as doing business for the foreign principal of Ameria, E.N. – a company that was wholly owned by a branch of the War Department of the Dominican Republic.

DOJ listings of companies registered to represent foreign entities in 1948. Clark’s company is the second from the top.

In their most virulent form, influence peddlers such as Clark-Tuckerman received five percent of the value of contracts awarded to their clients by reason of their access to U.S. government officials. They were known throughout Washington as “The Five Percenters.” Clark’s firm upped the ante to play to a full eight percent for any contract they negotiated with the United States government on behalf of Ameria. In addition, they were paid $5,500 per month as a retainer fee regardless of their level of success. Clark-Tuckerman lobbied the Pentagon to have Ameria produce small arms in the Dominican Republic with little success, but continued to collect their retainer.

In August of 1951, Clark-Tuckerman’s corporate name was dealt a blow when an almost obscure article by reporter Peter Edson was printed in virtually every newspaper in the country (evidently, it was a slow Tuesday news-day and this article usually appeared several pages in). Harry Truman’s White House senior military aide, Major General Harry H. Vaughn had been awarded the Order of Juan Pablo Duarte by the Dominican Republic. The honor had been bestowed upon him for no other apparent reason than the government in Ciudad Trujillo was looking to curry favor at the White House. It was this article that exposed to the American public the Clark-Tuckerman Group’s failures to get the Dominicans everything they had been paying for. Although no illegal activity was alleged, it surely could not have been General Clark’s finest hour.

Apparently undaunted by the bad publicity, following Eisenhower’s election to the presidency in November of 1952, Clark’s consulting firm undertook an economic survey of the Dominican Republic during the summer of 1953. The study was completed in 1954 and submitted to Eisenhower in early 1955. However, there is no evidence that Eisenhower ever requested that study and no indications that it led to any infusion of U.S. cash into the Dominican economy. It would appear that Clark had simply availed himself of the opportunity to plant a seed for the possibility of negotiating future business dealings between the Dominicans and the United States Government.

During the early 1950’s, Clark also served as the president for the China Institute in America. The stated mission of the China Institute was to promote better U.S. – Chinese relations, but Clark often used his position there to promote business for firms he represented.

According to a then secret State Department memorandum dated October 18, 1951, United States Ambassador to Burma, James Barrington made inquiries as to whether the State Department had “any information regarding General Edwin Clark, an American who has recently approached the Ambassador with a view to selling the Burmese Government arms and ammunition. Assistant Secretary Dean Rusk replied that he had a vague recollection of a General Clark who was connected with the China Institute in America. This was verified by correspondence found in Mr. Rusk’s files… Both Mr. Rusk and Mr. Acly (Robert Austin Acly of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs, Department of State) agreed to make inquiries and to inform the Ambassador.”

Any need for arms and ammunition would have arisen from the desire of the Burmese government to protect themselves against the several thousand Chinese Nationalist troops that had fled to Burma following their defeat by the new communist regime during the Chinese Civil War. Their presence was a violation of Burmese sovereignty and the Burmese government was then appealing to the United Nations to force the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan to withdraw them. The fact that General Clark was looking to sell arms to the Burmese certainly didn’t appear to be a productive move towards promoting better U.S. – Chinese relations.

During the 1960’s Clark’s health declined, and he eventually abandoned his lobbying efforts in Washington. He remained in the house on Redding Road while he subdivided a parcel of property on Mills Lane before building a more modest home and selling the house at 200 Redding Road to the Lindquist family.

As a retired general, he served as the Grand Marshall for several of Easton’s Memorial Day parades, as well as speaking in Fairfield during one of their Fourth of July celebrations.

Brigadier General Edwin Norman Clark died on May 1, 1982 at the age of 80. Clark had served his country with honor during the Second World War, receiving both a Legion of Merit and the Army Distinguished Service medals. But was General Clark’s life well-lived in the service for his country, or was it lived mainly to serve his own self-interests? If only we had a fuller portrait of his life and more definitive information to go on – perhaps then we could reach a better-informed opinion. As it stands, I’ll leave the readers to form their own conclusions.

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