Monday, August 1, 2011

Marion Anthony Zioncheck

The recent erratic behavior of two congressmen, New York's Weiner and Oregon's Wu, calls to mind poor Marion Anthony Zioncheck, the Congressman from Seattle's First District, a manic depressive and alcoholic who hurled himself, in 1936, from the Fifth Floor of the Arctic Building in downtown Seattle, hitting the sidewalk 20 feet in front of his newlywed wife, then sitting in their car. 

Congressman Marion Zioncheck on the left,
Senator Lewis Schwellenback in the middle
and King County Prosecutor Warren Magnuson.
There were always signs of his manic depression, but they never burned brightly enough for people to call the fire department.  He was certainly a striver.  Born in Poland, he came to the US as a three year old and lived first in Chicago, then moved to the Northwest.  He attended high school in Olympia, entered the University of Washington after but had to leave because he ran out of money.  Many logging camps, fishing boats and tramp steamers later, he was able to re-enroll, at the age of 25, where he supported both his studies and his parents. 

Mayor Frank Edwards
UW Special Collections
He was a natural at campus politics.  He chaired the student election committee and introduced voting machines.  He ran numerous successful campaigns, including his own, as Student Body President.  He took on the jocks over the issue of whether the Athletic Pavilion or the Student Union Building would be built first.  A number of jock zealots roughed him up and threw him into Lake Washington.  In 1928, a year ahead of Warren Magnuson, he graduated from the UW Law School and, after practicing law, an opportunity rose to return to the political life he loved, when he was asked to run the 1931 recall of Seattle Mayor Frank Edwards.

Then, both the private utility, Puget Power, and Seattle City Light, the public agency, competed for customers.  Each utility's light poles faced each other across every street in town.  R. H.  Thomson, the great city engineer, had founded the public utility and hired J. D.  Ross to run it.  Ross would become a mythical figure, eclipsing even the great Thomson, but the Seattle City Council was not always worshipping at the Church of Public Power.  One day, with the public power pews less than half full, Mayor Edwards struck, fired Ross and had his Board of Public Works assume control of the utility.

James Delmadge Ross
Seattle City Light
Zioncheck ran a brisk, efficient and brutally successful recall campaign, crushing Edwards.

The story was of such significance that the Seattle Times pledged to announce the results as soon as the polls closed with its air horn -- two long blasts would signal a successful recall, four short ones would mean Edwards survived.

The New York Times, private power to the core, summed it all up this way:

"Mr.  Edwards is out.  Mr.  Ross is restored to utility control.  The power trust has a flea in its ear and the Moscow papers will have a good story."

Mayor Harlin
City of Seattle
A picture in the Seattle Times shows the dweebish city council president, Robert Harlin, now the Mayor, shaking hands with Ross.  The cutline has Harlin saying:   

"The job's all yours."

The populist Zioncheck was a shoo-in for Congress in 1932 and was considered a studious and serious member.  There was no backlash against Roosevelt in the off-year elections -- in fact he built on his '32 landslide in '34 -- and Zioncheck was among the beneficiaries of FDR's considerable coattails and the strong support of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, the liberal to socialist political organization that was powerful in Seattle then.

Zioncheck and Rubye Nix in 1936
WSU Collections
Always a quirky personality, his little quirks became more serious.  He drove his car recklessly, 70 miles an hour up Connecticut Avenue.  He drove onto the White House lawn and sent a package of empty beer bottles and mothballs to President Roosevelt.

He married Rubye Louise Nix, 21, a secretary at the Works Progress Administration.  He described their courtship this way:

"I met her about a week ago then she called me up one night.  She asked me down and so I went down and looked her over.  She was OK."

Rubye noted the "excitement and hubub wherever he goes" and she was "glad to go along with him." 

They couldn't get married in Washington, DC because of a three day waiting period, so they crossed into Maryland where no such statute stood between true love and its fulfillment.  Zioncheck paid for the license fee by borrowing two dollars from the Deputy Clerk, who refused Zioncheck's watch as collateral. 

Their honeymoon started in Puerto Rico where, let's say, they got off on the wrong foot.  He joined a student riot, drove his car through a rich man's gate, bit his driver on the neck and lapped, as a dog, the soup of a nearby diner.  

Spirited by the US government out of Puerto Rico, he and Rubye went to the Dominican Republic where, with a collection of reporters around, he spontaneously invented a new libation, "The Zipper," hair tonic and rum. 

Zioncheck arrested after assaulting
his landlady
On arriving back in DC, more speeding episodes took place, including a scuffle with a police officer.  He called every tenant in a toney Washington, DC apartment building on New Years Eve while looking for a friend.  In Pittsburgh, PA, he visited the Mayor Bill McNair to convince him to run for President.  When the Mayor would not see him, he slept in the Mayor's waiting room.  Taken to a Maryland hospital in a straight jacket, he climbed the fence and escaped back to Washington and assaulted his landlady, who had sent his belongings away from his trashed apartment.

He was in for re-election and out, promising to go into medical care and plunging into a campaign, which is why he was in the Arctic Building, on August 8, 1936, his campaign office of a few days.

Bill Nadeau, Zioncheck's brother in law, agreed to take Rubye and Zioncheck to a labor event.  About six o'clock, he parked the car and went up to get Zioncheck.  He got in the elevator of the Arctic Building and took it to the fifth floor.  The door was locked and a janitor let him in and he saw Zioncheck scribbling at his desk. 

Nadeau gave the Seattle Times this account:

"Marion was sitting at his desk, his coat off, writing a note.  I looked at it and it was about life and a lot of stuff like that.  I said, 'come on kid, forget it!"

Some political banter about the night's event appeared to help Zioncheck and Nadeau got him in his coat and turned to find Marion's hat.  Zioncheck sprinted toward the window as Nadeau dived for his feet.

Mrs.  Zioncheck ran to the body and stayed until she was pulled off it and driven away to their house, where Zioncheck's mother resided at 1209 E.  41st.  Outside, she sat in the car, alone, for several hours until people could figure out where she would stay that night.  A decision had been made that Zioncheck's mother, extremely ill, should not know about these terrible events.

Warren Magnuson was the King Country Prosecutor and had decided to run for Congress when Zioncheck first said he would not seek to retain his seat. 

Magnuson was everything that Zioncheck was not -- a football player at the UW, a joiner, a fraternity guy, a moderate, a person who enforced rules as a county prosecutor.  Despite the differences, he liked Zioncheck, admired his commitment to principle and thought of him as a friend.   

Warren Magnuson with J.  Robert
Oppenheimer in 1945
Magnuson's own account of the Zioncheck's death, given 40 years later, has Zioncheck lying on the street for a lengthy period of time while officials searched for Magnuson.  Magnuson said he had just finished a murder trial of an Alaska Native woman involved in a drunken murder of her partner and, distressed by his responsibilities in the face of this pathetic woman, consumed several drinks and was asleep in a room at the Olympic Hotel. 

The Seattle Times account has none of this, but doesn't specifically say when the Congressman was taken away from the site of his death.

Whatever the facts of Zioncheck's disposal, Magnuson's real career started there, when he became a Congressman and Senator serving 44 years and whose influence in Washinton, DC changed the face of his adopted state of Washington.

What is tragic about Zioncheck, is that his life was as short as Warren Magnuson's career was long.  Marion Anthony Zioncheck was just 35 years old when his life expired on a Seattle sidewalk on the early evening of August 8, 1936.

Rubye in the Center with her sister, Jesse
Stitt, two days after the suicide
Seattle Times
Rubye received $10,000 from the House of Representatives, the equivalent of a year of her husband's salary.  There was some cash from Zioncheck's estate as well and she announced that she would enroll in the University of Washington.

Zioncheck's mother died shortly after and soon a dispute arose between Rubye and Zioncheck's sister over the disposition of assets from the estate.  Sometime in the late winter of 1937, Rubye moved to Hollywood with the intent of becoming an actress.  In April of that year she returned to Seattle and, still newsworthy, let on that she was going to appear in the next Ruby Keeler - Dick Powell film due to start shooting momentarily. 

Unfortunately, the last Keeler-Powell film was done in 1935 and there is no evidence another was either shot or released.  She had changed her name to Lynn Melton by now and there is no mention of her name in the filmographies of either Keeler or Powell. 

The last reference to her I could find was in an International News Service Report from Hollywood, nearly a year to the day of her husband's suicide:

A promotional photograph of Rubye take in 1937
Silver Screen Magazine



— Answering frantic telephone pleas from Mrs. Ruby Zioncheck, who fired one shot thru her bedroom window at a suspected intruder, police today raced to the home of the widow of the late Congressman Marion Zioncheck.  The exclusive residential area in which she resides was thrown into an uproar as radio patrols on two occasions made thorough searches without finding a trace of a prowler.

Mrs. Zioncheck came here under the name of Lynn Melton to enter motion pictures after her husband plunged to death from his Seattle, Wash., office building."

I am betting that the Rubye Louise Wilson, who died in Los Angeles County in 1992 at the age of 77, is the same woman who married Marion Zioncheck, sought her own fame in Hollywood, and carried a gun.


  1. Excellent history, Bob! Thanks for reminding us that good people can do strange things from time to time.

  2. Here's a photo of Rubye Louise Nix Wilson's grave, which is listed as being in Tucson. I suppose it's possible that it's another Rubye Louise Nix, but that seems unlikely.

  3. another member of Wa state Congressional delegation is buried near Mr. Zioncheck, he is Republican Tom Pelly out at Evergreen Washelli.

  4. Thank you for writing this article. Rubye was my aunt. She did die in L.A. in 1992 and is buried in Tucson. She married Joe Wilson in the late 50's. She became a phenomenal artist. Her paintings were featured in galleries in New York and other cities. If I remember correctly, she has at least one painting in the Arizona State Capitol. She was very feisty, head-strong, energetic, and eccentric. There was never a dull moment when Aunt Rubye was around!

    1. She was my great, grand mother and I had a ton of questions now after reading all this.