Built by Association: Clarence Darrow

Clarence Darrow's inscription to Pearl Ball

Clarence Darrow’s inscribed copy (to “Pearle” M. Ball) of his first book, A Persian Pearl (1899).

At John King Books in Detroit, I discovered an autographed copy of Clarence Darrow’s rare first book: A Persian Pearl (1899). Although the spine is crumbling, the title page like the rest of the book is beautifully typeset.

The inscription is fascinating. It is addressed to “Pearle M. Ball, with the compliments of C.S. Darrow.” When the book was published, Pearl (the correct spelling) Ball was a 22-year-old unmarried woman. According to a Illinois Supreme Court opinion, she died just two years later “suddenly in Chicago at her father’s house, where she lived, on the evening of August 28, 1901.” Ball v. Evening Am. Pub. Co., 237 Ill. 592, 602 (1908).

“Deep mystery shrouds the facts of pretty girl’s death,” a newspaper reported. On the night of her death, Miss Ball was accompanied to a local wine room by a tall man of unknown identity. There a scuffle ensued and she cried for help, claiming that the man had insulted her honor. The bartender ejected her companion and sent her home in a taxi. Shortly after reaching home, Miss Ball collapsed and died in her father’s front foyer, the victim of poisoning. The police never found her unknown companion.

When a Chicago newspaper ran a story the following day about the strange circumstances of the young woman’s death, it printed a picture of another young Chicagoan named Rose Ball—who was very much alive and very much offended. She sued for libel, and the lawsuit went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Darrow’s partner, Edgar Lee Masters, represented the newspaper in the libel suit. This copy of Darrow’s 1899 book is the only known connection between Darrow and Pearl Ball. Biographers have never before connected them.

          – Bryan A. Garner

“Built by Association: Books Once Owned by Notable Judges and Lawyers, from Bryan A. Garner’s Collection”, an exhibit curated by Bryan A. Garner with Mike Widener, is on display until December 16, 2013 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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