Irene was not a new character for the Little Nemo creator — she was Irene Watkins Lamkin, who accused McCay’s wife of having an affair with her husband, causing the breakup of her marriage to Harry Tobin Lamkin.
While being an incredibly confusing lawsuit, it essentially boiled down to an extortion scheme perpetrated by Irene Lamkin.
Lamkin’s husband, who was thought to be estranged from her at the time, had been stalking Maude McCay. Apparently, the man was obsessed with Maude, who at the time had been married to McCay for 23 years and had two children with him, ages 18 and 17.
Winsor McCay testified that one night he found his wife crying. She told him of Harry Lamkin’s infatuation with her.
“She said the man was calling her four or five times a day,” McCay said in the court case before New York Justice Erlanger in December 1914. “My wife had been followed home and annoyed before by (Harry Lamkin), so I told her to forget it.”
Irene Lamkin showed up with a man at the dressing room door of Winsor McCay, while he was performing at the Hammerstein Theater. She confronted the cartoonist, saying that her husband’s interest in Mrs. McCay had broken up their marriage.
The man who accompanied Irene Lamkin informed McCay that he would have to pay Mrs. Lamkin to keep her silence, or she would sue Mrs. McCay for breaking up her marriage. Irene Lamkin told Mr. McCay that he could not stand the disgrace because it would “come out” in the newspapers.
Winsor McCay reluctantly met with Mrs. Lamkin, concerning the threat, at the Hotel Hermitage on March 11, 1914. She told him she had no money and would be put out of her house if McCay didn’t pay her rent.
Then she was said to remark, “They go out together, doggone, so why can’t we go out together?” McCay told the court, “She did not act like a lady.”
In fact, McCay reported that Irene “drank and smoked cigarettes” with him in the hotel restaurant “to the tune of $28.”
McCay asked her why she had picked him out “to disgrace.” Mrs. Lamkin was said to reply, “I will drive your wife out of New York if you do not give me the money!”
Mrs. McCay was accused of having been in the company of Harry Lamkin several evenings. Winsor McCay refuted that, saying, “My wife was never away from home at night without me during all the years we have been married.”
John Stetzle, a private detective, and George Kuber, landlord of the Iowa Apartments where the Lamkins lived, both testified that Harry and Irene had “been together” since the beginning of the lawsuit against Mrs. McCay — and were, in fact, not estranged.
Attorney Elliot Norton represented Mrs. McCay. The case died as quickly as it began, and neither of the Lamkins benefited from it.
Winsor McCay moved from his boyhood home in Spring Lake around 1889, first taking residence in Chicago. A historical marker stands on Exchange Street, near Spring Lake District Library, honoring his achievements.