Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Poor Evelyn Nesbit: The Crime of the Century, Part 3

There has been a slightly longer gap between the posting of this latest chapter of the lovely Miss Nesbit's odyssey than originally intended, so if you have missed the earlier installments click here for part one and part two.

Part 3.

Oh, Evelyn. Really, my heart breaks for her.

Just short of her eighteenth birthday, back home in New York City, the most beautiful girl in all the world. It should have been so easy. Men lined up round the block, more stage and modeling jobs than she knew what to do with, her brother in a fine school and her mother given an income and happy, and then finally married off to a kind and loving millionaire. Some chorus girls ended up those happy circumstances, but it's a fickle world and plenty ended their days in SROs in Times Square or worse.

Back in New York, an emotionally battered and physically exhausted Evelyn landed a chorus job (against doctor's recommendations) and did her best to avoid both White and Thaw, who returned to New York shortly after she did. Her mother was busy being romanced by an old family friend, a stockbroker who she would subsequently marry. She pretty much completely broke off all contact with Evelyn, as she had clearly found a new and far less troublesome meal ticket. So, Evelyn was on her own. Friends began telling her immediately upon her return that Harry Thaw is a crazy person and a morphine addict and super dangerous. To which, she responded, rightfully so, "Why are you telling me now? I mean, this could have been super useful information for me to have before I was stuck alone in Europe with him, right? " (I'm paraphrasing).

After ignoring his messages to her, White (pictured below) finally got her attention by saying he needed to talk to her about her mother. She immediately responded, asking if anything was wrong. He replied that it was a matter of life and death and he didn't want to discuss it over the telephone. So, she (of course) agreed to see him. He showed up and told her her mother was fine and proceded to berate her about Thaw. What both White and Thaw proceeded to do in the coming months almost broke Evelyn completely. They both coerced her into meetings and tried to make her sign affidavits and statements against the other. They both harangued her about the wickedness of the other. They both had evidence of the other's criminal behavior with minors (Evelyn and others). These two men were each obsessed with destroying the other and Evelyn (not yet 18) was caught in the middle, with no responsible adult to turn to or to help her out in any way. She moved from hotel to hotel but was always found by Thaw's private detectives. Understandably, she was sick and deeply depressed. In this state she agreed to start seeing Thaw again, but only in crowded public places.

Discouraged, Thaw returned to Pittsburgh and received his mother's (extremely reluctant) approval to pursue Evelyn's hand in marriage. His lawyers advised him to stay away from her until her eighteenth birthday. Somewhat surprisingly, he did so. White planned a party for the occasion, but on the day, Evelyn, thoroughly sick of him, refused to go and went out to dinner with a jubilant Thaw instead. White went berserk, waving a pistol around, threatening to kill "that son-of-a-bitch". Evelyn had already given Thaw's letters to her to White's attorney - she now gave White's letters to Thaw's hoping that if they each had equal ammunition they would cease all hostilities. She found it increasingly difficult to find work in New York as White was apparently using his considerable influence to blackball her.

For the next couple of years, Harry was on his best behavior and pursued Evelyn relentlessly. Thaw even sent her to Europe to study sculpture and art (with a proper chaperone, this time). He apologized repeatedly for his past acts, saying he had been overcome with fury at what had transpired between her and White. He said he forgave her. It's so awful to think of the series of events and the state of mind that enabled Evelyn to marry Thaw. She had been supporting her family since she was a child. Her mother never looked after her properly, she willfully put on blinders and used her own daughter to survive and abandoning her when the complications of Evelyn's life became inconvenient. Evelyn has been painted as being a gold-digger and a whore. But, it took Harry Thaw, with his 40 million dollars, almost four years to get Evelyn to marry him. When she was twenty, she finally did. The bride wore black.

Her married life was a gothic misery. She lived with Harry in her mother-in-law's mansion, constrained by their small-minded small town Presbyterian values. They looked down on Evelyn, feeling that Harry had thrown himself away on this worthless show person, while Evelyn found them mindless and anti-intellectual, with no interest in books, music or art. Just money and their narrow view of Christianity. In other words, she was bored senseless, and in one of her memoirs wrote that she prayed that she might have "the patience to bear the burden of her spiritual friends". One day a minister friend of Mrs. Thaw's was annoyed by one of Evelyn's little dogs, so he kicked him. Evelyn swore at him like a fishwife. Harry was increasingly obsessed with White, grilling Evelyn about him obsessively for hours. Years before, White has paid to have Evelyn's teeth fixed. Harry took her to a dentist and had all the work (fillings, everything) taken out - and redone identically. He also had a photographer come to the house and had him take pictures of Evelyn in which she posed as Bluebeard's dead wives (Seriously. You can't make this stuff up).

In June 1906, Mr. and Mrs. Thaw traveled to New York en route to London. They planned to take in dinner and a show at Madison Square Garden (an odd choice, considering Thaw's obsessive hatred of Stanford White). They had dinner at Café Martin, where they saw White across the room, who was there with his son. Evelyn began to panic, worried about what Thaw would do. They proceeded to Madison Square Garden to see a new show called "Mamzelle Champagne". The show wasn't very good and Evelyn said she would have been bored had sh not been so apprehensive about what would happen when White inevitably arrived, and sat at the table that was permanently reserved for him. The Architect arrived at the rooftop theater, a teenaged chorus girl on his arm. As the song "I Could Love a Million Girls" was sung, Harry got up from the table. A moment later, a gunshot was heard and pandemonium broke out as people realized Stanford White was dead, shot through the skull, and Harry Thaw was the killer.

Part 4: The Trial will appear shortly.


Gyda said...

OOOhhhhhhhhhh. It was a rooftop THEATER. Somehow in my mind it was just on the rooftop, some clandestine meeting, like in a mob film. I didn't realize they were indoors.

Caviglia said...

Yes. It was actually during a musical number - completely crazy.