Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Madison Square’s Trial of the Century

One hundred years ago this month, on June 25, 1906, New York architect and “man about town” Stanford White was killed during the premiere performance of the musical revue Mamzelle Champagne in the rooftop theater of Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, a building he had designed 15 years before. White was shot three times, point-blank in the face, by Harry K. Thaw, the son of a Pittsburgh coal and railroad tycoon, and the husband of Evelyn Nesbit, a popular actress and artist’s model, whom White had seduced when she was 15 years old.

According to Wikipedia, “when it became apparent that White was dead, hysteria ensued. William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers sensationalized the murder, and it became known as the Trial of the Century.” Thaw was tried twice for his heinous crime. The jury was deadlocked after the first trial. But in the second, Thaw’s defense team was able to make a stronger case that he had been irrational at the time of the slaying; and with Nesbit’s assistance (won through a promise of a divorce and a $1 million compensation, the latter of which she never received), the wealthy scion was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was incarcerated in an asylum. He was released in 1913, and two years later, another jury found him sane, after all. Thaw died in 1947, 20 years before Nesbit went to her own grave.

The anniversary of White’s death kicks off a new free reading series in Madison Square Park. Throughout this summer, each Thursday evening will be devoted to a different aspect of New York City life and history.


This coming Thursday--June 22, from 6:30 until 8 p.m.--White’s great-granddaughter, Suzannah Lessard, will read from her memoir, Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family. That same evening, Paula Uruburu will share selections from her forthcoming biography of the woman at the center of the scandal, American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White: The Birth of the “It” Girl and the Crime of the Century, and Miriam Berman, author of Madison Square: The Park and Its Celebrated Landmarks, will introduce the program.

On July 13, Paul Malmont will read from his debut historical thriller, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. The book is set in the Great Depression as experienced by the pulp-fiction writers who frequented Greenwich Village’s White Horse Tavern. Finally, on July 27, Amanda Stern (The Long Haul) and Darin Strauss (Chang and Eng, The Real McCoy) will read from Truman Capote’s 1958 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Other readings will take place throughout the summer at the same location--the foot of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Farragut Monument, located mid-park at 25th Street--though most don’t have a crime fiction connection. You can see the full schedule here.

READ MORE:Murder on the Roof Garden” (Crime Library).

1 comment:

Carole Gill said...

Thank you for the interesting article about the Sanford White shooting. I especially loved the marvelous photos and drawings of the old Madison Square Gardens--
I lived in the area and never saw that wonderful old building.
Again, thanks.