Elizabethtown in Hardin County, Kentucky — The American South (East South Central)
‘The Great Diamond Hoax’
Gem of a Swindle...
Philip Arnold was one of Elizabethtown's most notorious characters of the 19th century. A native of Elizabethtown, Arnold served in the Mexican War before prospecting for gold in the west. He returned to Elizabethtown in 1854, married Mary E. May and moved to San Francisco. About 1871, Arnold and his partners, including his first cousin from the Howevalley community of this county, John B. Slack, perpetrated a gigantic hoax concerning his find of diamonds in an undisclosed location in Colorado. A veritable "Who's Who” in business and finance became involved in the grand venture and were duped --Horace Greeley, Gen. George B. McClellan, Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, Charles Tiffany, Baron Rothschild and dozens of others. As the fraud gradually was revealed, Arnold moved back to Elizabethtown where he eventually retired to a Victorian home at the edge of town with a half a million dollars gathered from one of the most celebrated hoaxes in American history. He lived there until his death. Arnold invested in a city bank during these years, with his 'profits' while subject to a number of lawsuits from the Diamond Flat, Ruby Gulch and
Ill feelings ran high between Arnold and a banking competitor, Harry N. Holdsworth. In June 19, 1878 when they chanced to meet on the street, Arnold attacked Holdsworth with a cane, striking several blows, while holding a pistol in the other hand. The same parties came to blows again on August 16th when Holdsworth went into Charles Lott' saloon. Holdsworth was beaten by Arnold before fleeing for a shotgun and returning to the saloon with the weapon. Arnold exited the saloon, armed with his pistol, and each fired upon the other. Holdsworth was not hit. Arnold, in trying to take cover behind a tree, received a load of buckshot in his right shoulder. The shoulder wound bothered him a great deal during his last days. On February 8, 1879, he died in his home of pneumonia. His funeral two days later was "the largest ever seen in Elizabethtown. Notwithstanding, it was a public day, a number of business houses were closed in honor of his memory, and the Circuit Court...and County Convention to appoint delegates to the State Convention, were adjourned out of respect to him."
Arnold was buried in the Elizabethtown City Cemetery and his grave marker is said to be the tallest in the cemetery.
The original is a tintype donated to the Louisville Public Library by Mrs. G. L. Clury, of Cincinnati. Her late husband, Glen, left the following information regarding it: Bought from Negro named Lloyd Macintyre on August 1935 in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Pald $3.50 for it and a box containing eighteen others. Macintyre claimed that the man in the photo was Philip Arnold-a big diamond man-for whom he worked out west. Said the picture must have been taken in the 1860s because when he knew him Mr. Arnold was heavier and had fancy mustache. Claimed that Mr. Arnold gave him the picture in 1878 and that he died the year after. Complained about the kids scratching up the picture and rambled on about Mr. Arnold being the best boss he ever had and what a big funeral Mr Arnold had."
In July 1872, Arnold purchased this spacious home on Cave Spring Hill at the edge of Elizabethtown from attorney William Wilson for $17,875. According to deed book 13, page 340 of the Hardin County Clerk, the consideration was paid in cash. That price included the residence, most of the household furniture, about 34 mores of land and some livestock.
Courtesy of the Hardin County History Museum Historic Photo Archive Collection
The Gilded Age Building, here in the northwest corner of the Public Square, was built by Philip Arnold about 1872. The original architectural style of the building had many of the Italianate style features such as rounded arch windows, wide roof eaves and decorative brackets. This building had substantial decorative iron work; all traces, save one lone balcony overlooking South Main Street, has been removed.
Arnold's bank is shown to the far right in this old photo of the northwest corner of the Elizabethtown public square.
During the 1873 depression, Arnold invested money in the faltering Elizabethtown bank of Thomas, Polk, and Co. As a partner in the firm, the financial institution carried the name of Arnold & Polk, Bankers.
Original vault from Arnold's bank.
Erected 2013 by Hardin County Historical Society.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Notable Events.
Location. 37° 41.572′ N, 85° 51.505′ W. Marker is in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, in Hardin County. Marker is at the intersection of Public Square and South Main Street, on the left when traveling north on Public Square. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 56 Public Square, Elizabethtown KY 42701, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Guilded Age Building (here, next to this marker); General Custer Here (within shouting distance of this marker); Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln (within shouting distance of this marker); Gallantry in Action (within shouting distance of this marker); Hardin County (within shouting distance of this marker); Bell from the Courthouse (within shouting distance of this marker); The Cannonball (within shouting distance of this marker); Battle of Elizabethtown (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Elizabethtown.
Also see . . . Philip Arnold. (Submitted on April 12, 2021, by Darren Jefferson Clay of Duluth, Georgia.)
Credits. This page was last revised on May 5, 2021. It was originally submitted on April 12, 2021, by Darren Jefferson Clay of Duluth, Georgia. This page has been viewed 47 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on April 12, 2021, by Darren Jefferson Clay of Duluth, Georgia. • J. Makali Bruton was the editor who published this page.