Two Women: Same name but different worlds

Linda’s distant relative Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe, was said to have been more than friendly with Napoleon.

Linda’s distant relative Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe, was said to have been more than friendly with Napoleon.

This is the strange story of Linda Balcom of Clarkdale and a famous relative. "Famous" is a relative term as we shall see.

Let's go back in Clarkdale history to 1941. Linda K. Balcom was born on March 17 of that year. We know little about her family other than that her father worked for the railroad as a conductor. We do know that having worked in a number of mid-level jobs, Linda was suddenly in front of the world as Playboy Playmate of the Month in August 1965. She was selected in-house, so to speak.

The Playboy Playmate interview cites her 9-to-5 duties as 'Assistant Manager of Playboy's College Bureau in Chicago,' she worked as a Playboy Club Bunny there.

"I have had lots of interesting jobs before: as a dancing teacher, stewardess, dental assistant and secretary, but my present position is the most demanding of the lot. I 'm the sort of person who is not happy unless I am busy all the time with the current responsibilities to the magazine's 450-campus representatives, in addition to college surveys, subscriptions and correspondence with students and advertisers, I am looking forward to adding the Playboy promotion tours," she stated at the time.

On her first anniversary at Playboy, Lannie (her stage name) was chosen as one of the Bunnies of Chicago pictorial and in April of 1965 was cover model for the magazine.

"I enjoyed being a Bunny, but when I found out that the magazine was looking for an editorial receptionist, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I never dreamed I would rise through the ranks so fast," she said.

At the time, Lannie shared an apartment with two colleague Bunnies at the Mansion, got homesick for her native Arizona, where she returned on vacation, but she now considers Chicago home.

Here is where the story gains depth

"The Balcoms are a very close-knit family, by nature. I guess that comes with growing up on the frontier. One of my ancestors, a distant aunt named Elizabeth Balcombe, had more than a nodding relationship with Napoleon and as a result the Balcoms had to leave Europe in a hurry after Waterloo."

Most headed for Australia, but Lannie's branch settled in America.

Balcom is said to have married briefly to Abilene, Texas, bar owner Jack McQueen, between July 1965 to December 1966.

We know that (Lannie) Linda Balcom died at age 50 in 1991. Most obituaries say the cause of death was "not disclosed." One divulged that it was a "drug overdose."

She had been living at the time in a small town west of Flint, Mich.

Lannie's distant relative was Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe, one of four children of William and Jane Balcombe. William was the Superintendent of Public Sales for the East India Company, which had charter to the Island of St. Helena, a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean, west of the African Coast.

St. Helena is now part of the territory that includes Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha and remains one of the oldest British colonies.

Elizabeth was born in 1802. Both she and sister Jane were educated in England, and also taught French.

In 1814, the two girls returned to Saint Helena from England and joined their two younger brothers and parents in a cottage called The Briars.

The following year, the British government exiled the Emperor Napoleon to the most remote island. Still, his future residence was not yet ready. While waiting for the rehabilitation of the so-called "Longwood House," Napoleon lived in a pavilion near the Balcombes' Briars home for two months.

Young 13-year-old Elizabeth Balcombe was initially afraid of 47-year-old Napoleon, but during those early months, the girl, one of the few who spoke French, reportedly became fast friends. Balcombe even called Napoleon the familiar name "Boney."

When the former Emperor was finally moved to Longwood House, the young girl would visit him regularly. The European press reportedly saw the friendship as a love story.

The St. Helena governor, Hudson Lowe, is said to have disparaged the friendship between the Balcombe family and the exiled Napoleon, believing they were smuggling out messages for him. And in March 1818, the family returned to England.

Elizabeth, called Betsy, married an Edward Abell and had one child, a daughter, and she went to live with her family, now in Australia. Still she is said to have kept contact with the Bonaparte family.

In 1830, a nephew of Napoleon gifted the now older woman with land and vineyards in Algeria.

Betsy's daughter later wrote: 'Napoleon never ceased to be the preoccupation of my mother's life ... suddenly thrown into close proximity with the most dramatic figure of the age, she was ill-prepared to withstand the resultant repercussions: glamorous, disturbing, intimate, even sinister."

She was later to author the memoir: "Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon during the first three years of his captivity on the Island of St. Helena" by Mrs. Abell (the late Miss Elizabeth Balcombe). She recalls the Emperor attacked by a cow, his rages and reaction to his reputation.

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